UBF Info Pages, April 2004
In his Second Letter to the Church in Corinth, chapter 11, the Apostle Paul discusses a serious problem. Alleged spiritual leaders have appeared, puffing themselves up and trying to rule over the others. Because of this presumptuous attitude, Paul calls them “super-apostles,” and convicts them of this. Because of their wrong teachings, he also calls them “false apostles, deceitful workmen.” However, it is interesting to note that Paul doesn’t only complain about these “super-apostles,” but also about the church members tolerating such false and domineering leaders over themselves, even regarding them as particularly humble and spiritual. Paul writes ironically: “You gladly put up with fools since you are so wise!” He reproaches them for tolerating even extreme spiritual abuse from the “super-apostles”: “In fact, you even put up with anyone who enslaves you or exploits you or takes advantage of you or pushes himself forward or slaps you in the face.” It is amazing, how aptly the situation in the UBF “church” in Bonn is described here. Again, Paul can only reply to such an incomprehensible behavior with irony: “To my shame I admit that we were too weak for that!”
Indeed it is hardly comprehensible with how much the Bonn UBF members are putting up from the side of their leader, Peter Chang. They not only let themselves be exploited, humiliated, beaten and subordinated under him, they even let him interfere into their marriages and families. Strangely, they are still ready any time to testify in favor of him and even depict the statements made by a sibling or spouse as being lies and slander and write counterstatements in favor of Peter Chang. Why are the members of Bonn UBF putting up with the spiritual abuse? Why is nobody speaking up? This “silence of the lambs” seems to be inexplicable. The reproaches against Peter Chang and the description of the situation in Bonn UBF are so unbelievable that one is inclined to believe the UBF propaganda, according to which everything is only slander. But unfortunately, the reports correspond to the reality, and similar things have been reported from other UBF churches, though in most cases not so extreme as in Bonn. We are trying to make this phenomenon more comprehensible here, by revealing some of the psychological mechanisms Peter Chang is exploiting.
At first it must be diagnosed as a so called “attachment phenomenon.” UBF and other similar groups built on the principles of “shepherding,” “discipling” and “covering”, are based on strong emotional relationships and bonds between individuals and the whole organization as a hierarchical-authoritarian system. These strong personal relationships and bonds are the glue keeping UBF together, much more than the common beliefs or the common tasks of “world campus mission.” These relationships are always directed: one of the two persons having a relationship is the “shepherd,” the other one the “sheep.” The “sheep” can develop, depending on how much they are disposed to it, a strong dependency on their “shepherd” culminating in a real bondage, the “sheep” becoming slaves to their “shepherds”. And UBF is deliberately based on this kind of relationship, they teach that “sheep” must trust and obey their “shepherds” absolutely. How do such relationships work? Why do young people engage in them living for years and decades in such dependency on other people?
One explanation would be that UBF members are showing a “dependent personality disorder”. This is a psychological personality disorder characterized by dependent, obsequious behavior, lacking the ability to make independent decisions on the part of the individual and fear of being abandoned and of being criticized. Individuals suffering from this disorder perceive themselves as helpless and incompetent and let others make important life decisions for them. The question is whether this personality disorder is caused by UBF or whether UBF members were already disposed to it before they joined UBF. It is likely that most members recruited by UBF had at least a disposition for a dependent personality disorder, otherwise it is hardly understandable why they could “bear with” UBF at all.
Since UBF is addressing the students on the campus by hundreds and thousands, it is not amazing that they also meet students with certain predispositions and personal weaknesses which can be exploited by the group for their purposes. In this sense, UBF could be regarded as a kind of trawl net, in which mainly students with dependent personality disorders and various other problems, making them susceptible to the teachings and practices of UBF, are caught up. On the other side, it has to be mentioned that especially in the initial phase, no obsequious behavior is demanded, but the students are made believe that they are respected and they are “love bombed.” Only later, when a social and spiritual dependency on the group and its leaders has emerged, are they demanded to subordinate themselves, and the real spiritual abuse begins. Sometimes, this can start only years later. The leaders seem to know very well how far they can go with a person. As soon as a person is showing signs of weakness, feelings of guilt or dependency, this is mercilessly exploited by the leaders in order to manipulate them.
Such attachment phenomena are hardly understandable by outsiders. Peer pressure and indoctrination are applied over years through the weekly “Bible studies” and “testimony sharing sessions.” They always use the same teachings, a system of punishment (blaming) and reward (recognition), as well as the continuous being together with UBF members exclusively. At the same time they more and more cut off from friends, family and other Christians. This cannot be without impact in the long run. Terms such as “brainwashing” and “mind control” can be rightfully applied here. Add to this the permanent “emotional contrast baths,” such as being called a “child of the devil” for missing a Bible study, or, conversely, being applauded by hundreds of people at a UBF conference for delivering a conformity “testimony.” Or if one is “engaged” with another member and shortly before the marriage the engagement is cancelled again because of some “disobedience.” Such emotional experiences can very much mold the personality and can lead to incomprehensible attachment phenomena, by which outsiders can only shake their heads.
A comparable example of this emerging of incomprehensible, seemingly paradoxical relationships under extreme circumstances is the so-called “Stockholm syndrome.” Here the “emotional contrast baths” only take place during a relatively short period of time, but they are incomparably more extreme. The phenomenon became a part of the scientific literature since 1973 after a bank hold-up in the Swedish capital, when an amicable relationship had developed between hostage-takers and victims. In this life-threatening situation, sensed as hopeless, the victims developed a liking for the perpetrators and even showed solidarity with their aims. It is a subconscious psychological protection mechanism. The persons affected protected themselves from the feeling of being at the mercy of the hostage-takers by identifying themselves with their torturers. This relationship could continue to exist even after the end of the distress. In extreme cases, the hostages at their liberation even protected their kidnappers from the police and perceived the police as a threat.
A kidnapping or taking of hostages is from a psychological view one of the most terrible experiences for human beings. Suddenly they are helplessly at the mercy of dangerous perpetrators. In this situation people can react in the most different of ways. Some refuse acceptance of the reality, some quickly panic and become aggressive, and some attempt to start negotiations. But after some time, almost everyone gives up their resistance and subordinates themselves to the perpetrators for reasons of an existential risk minimization.
Sometimes the victims meet them with kindness, bringing something to eat or seeking contact. The feeling of proximity and familiarity lets a relationship arise between the two parties, which can go on to friendship. If victims of kidnappings or hostage takings then even show their solidarity with their torturers, this is usually a desperate attempt to make a threatening situation more tolerable. Most victims are in a permanent alternating hot and cold bath of their feelings – between hope and fear. By-and-by, it becomes clearer and clearer for them that the hostage-taker has their lives completely under control. At the same time he seems to care for the hostages, perhaps even saying something friendly to them. This is already considered a mercy by victims who are under an enormous emotional pressure.
As already mentioned, the Stockholm syndrome can lead even so far that hostages at the liberation stand up for the perpetrators and show their solidarity with their torturers. Cases in which victims have begun close emotional relations with their perpetrators, which weren’t ended after their release either, are also scientifically documented. In the case of the German tourist Nicola Fleuchaus kidnapped in Costa Rica and her Swiss tour guide, police psychologists assume that they had looked for a certain proximity to the kidnappers in order to survive. This mechanism takes place completely subconsciously and primarily points to the fight for survival. The victim doesn’t consider this a tactical or instrumental behavior. It is a mechanism completely steered by the subconscious.
In order to be able to survive mentally in a devastating situation, an inner agreement is looked for with the attacker. Similar to this, torture victims can show a distinctive appreciation of the motives of their torturers. Children and young victims of sexual abuse tend to excuse the perpetrators and to shamefully take the fault on themselves instead. There is also the fact that prostitutes, most of them being women abused sexually in their childhood, later get dependent on abusing men, i.e. pimps, who knowingly abuse this preformed psychic structure of their victims. Especially women seem to be disposed to remain in violent relationships and to bear circumstances of maltreatment and even still protect the abusive men on whom they are dependent.
The hostage taking of four employees of a bank in Stockholm lasting five days got special attention because the media showed not only the result of the events but also openly showed the fear of the hostages. Contrary to all expectations, the hostages seemed to fear the police more than the hostage-takers. In a telephone call with prime minister Olof Palme, a hostage expressed this fear, typical of the group, with the words: “The robbers are protecting us from the police.” Others asked themselves after their liberation: “Why don’t we hate the robbers?” Even weeks after the events and being under the after-care of psychiatrists, some of the hostages paradoxically had nightmares about fleeing the offenders, yet had no feelings of hatred towards them. They felt that they had given them their lives back and therefore they were grateful for their generosity. This bank hold-up didn’t only become famous because of the surprising statements of the hostages, but also because the victims asked for mercy for the perpetrators and later also visited them in prison. One of the hostages later even got engaged to one of the hostage-takers.
Although it seems to be a completely different phenomenon, the Stockholm syndrome has very much in common with what UBF members experience. People experience the permanent threat of their lives in UBF too – though not of their physical life, but their spiritual, eternal life. In the “Bible studies” eternal life is promised to the “sheep” at first and they are told many pleasant things. However, as soon they are convinced to have eternal life, UBF starts to question it again and make it dependent on the quality and quantity of co-working in UBF. In UBF, you can be sure to have eternal life as long as you write the weekly testimonies, attend the Bible studies, obey your “shepherd,” utter no criticism, attend the UBF worship services and engage in “feeding sheep.” You learn that actually only the shepherds and leaders can decide and judge whether you are “spiritual,” i.e. have eternal life, or not. Leaders, then, are the arbitrary rulers about the (eternal) life of a member, exactly like the hostage-taker has the (physical) life of the hostages in his hand. UBF leaders also like to say, “it is for her a matter of live and death,” not meaning a general decision for God, but an “absolute attitude” when adhering to the services and other compulsory exercises in UBF. A UBF member, at least during the first years, goes through quite similar alternating hot and cold baths of emotions like the hostages at a hostage taking – one time they are told they are “saved,” another time they are not. In UBF, only when you have learned to behave in conformity and to be subordinate, can you assume to be allowed to keep your eternal life. This conforming and subordinating under the leaders can be considered an unconscious protection mechanism for keeping eternal life. As in the case of the “Stockholm syndrome,” a paradoxical, hardly understandable bondage to a “spiritual leader” has arisen, although he is spiritually abusing his “sheep”.
Such inexplicable relationships can be developed under extreme emotional circumstances, and a long-standing stay in UBF can be considered, such a circumstance by completely ordinary people. How far “completely normal people” can go in submitting to an authority and following obviously inhuman orders, has also been documented by the social psychologist Stanley Milgram in a famous experiment in the 1960s. He wrote: “I set up a simple experiment to test how much pain an ordinary citizen would inflict on another person simply because he was ordered to by an experimental scientist. Stark authority was pitted against the subjects’ strongest moral imperatives against hurting others, and, with the subjects’ ears ringing with the screams of the victims, authority won more often than not. The extreme willingness of adults to go to almost any lengths on the command of an authority constitutes the chief finding of the study...” This psychological phenomenon of the readiness of people to be subordinate under an “authority” must also be taken into account looking at the phenomenon in Bonn. Peter Chang is considered, the highest “spiritual authority” by the members of Bonn UBF.
Edin Løvås, a well-known Christian leader in Scandinavia, writes in his book “Wolves in Sheepskins – Power Mongers in the Church”: “The feelings of guilt which vulnerable people carry about with themselves after the clash with a power monger can cause the abnormal and destructive impulse to attain the forgiveness of the power monger. The victims can come to the point where they sort do not address their prayers to God any more, but to the man who is tormenting them. A similar relationship of dependence often emerges between a torturer and the tortured person. Power mongers use the same subtle methods towards weak Christians that torturers employ against those whom they want to wear down: They loosen the pressure from time to time. Instead, they appear from a side reminding of tenderness and love. Shortly after this the reproaches and charges start again. In this alternating hot and cold bath the longing for forgiveness and for a kind of positive attention emerges.” This is a very important aspect for understanding the means by which such extreme relationships of dependence are created. Power monger in the church often do not look like one imagines “ravening wolves” to look like. They don’t yell at the people enslaved to them the whole week long or beat them and give them orders. They know exactly when they have to be authoritarian and when they have to appear as a friend and patron. UBF leaders like Peter Chang occasionally invite their subordinates to sinfully expensive restaurants. After that, how can you ever prove yourself ungrateful to such a person? But the friendly atmosphere then can tip over without reason again, and you again will be guilt-tripped or commanded by the UBF leader. Actually, one never knows what is to be expected. The fear always accompanies you, and in the long run the same caricature of God emerges in you that is conveyed to you by the “servant of God” – you are completely at the mercy of an unfathomable, arbitrary, imperious being, whom you will never be able to satisfy after all.
To be able to better understand the strong bondage of Bonn UBF members, we will have to be more concrete, and reveal a little bit more of the methods from the box of tricks of Peter Chang. This UBF leader, like his foster father Samuel Lee, the founder of UBF, is an extremely clever psychologist who in order to bind members to himself uses psychological mechanisms, which are outwardly hardly recognizable, but are very effective. Once again the question: Why do the members let themselves be exploited so willingly by him, submit to the strict program, make huge debts and let their children and themselves be trained and even beaten by him? As said above, the people aren’t tied up or held by him in a physical way, but in a psychological way, and such a mental relationship is often even fundamentally stronger than a physical bond. Indeed, the main hindrance to charge Peter Chang was that people let themselves be beaten voluntarily. If somebody had held them tight and beaten them after this, then it would have been illegal restraint and bodily injury. If somebody, however, extends his hands voluntarily in order to receive blows with the stick, this is regarded as the “own stupidity” of the victim and the beating goes unpunished. Unfortunately, the law knows very little about the invisible psychological bonds, which have been applied to the victims before, and these can also hardly be proven. These bonds nevertheless exist, and the members of Bonn UBF are not only tied up with one, but even with several chains:
One of the strongest chains is the feeling of being obliged to be thankful to UBF and Peter Chang. This is explained in more detail below.
A similar chain is the obligation to loyalty and faithfulness. As in the case of thankfulness, these are actually virtues, but they are understood in an extreme and excessive way and only directed towards UBF. Loyalty in Bonn UBF is very concretely demanded of members. Like for example at their wedding ceremonies in UBF, letting them take an oath to “endanger their very necks” (risk their lives) for Peter Chang. This expression was taken from the Bible passage of Rom 16:4, where Paul gives thanks that Priscilla and Aquila risked their lives for him (but of course Paul never wanted to say that they had been obliged to do so). By letting them take this oath Peter Chang at the same time defines the role allocation: He himself is the apostle Paul, the others are his co-workers who have to risk their lives for him, or have to testify in favor of him and protect him, whenever he is in difficulties. To this oath the married UBF members feel bound. Actually, the central element at a wedding ceremony should be the wedding vow of course. But a UBF marriage is centered on the oath of allegiance to UBF and its leaders, also understood as eternal gratitude for their arranging the marriage. On the other hand, the real promise of marriage isn’t valued very much in UBF. If one of the marriage partners leaves UBF, this is regarded as an adequate reason for the other one to divorce and to remarry a “more loyal” member. Numerous such cases definitely happened in UBF. The leaders, particularly Peter Chang, do not only threaten others with the dissolving of an engagement in cases of disobedience, but occasionally also threaten people with arranging for a divorce. So, in a UBF wedding, one is actually married to UBF, not to one’s spouse. Korean missionaries especially in the past used to express this by choosing signet rings with the headband inscribed with the letters “UBF” as their wedding rings. They are used to calling their spouse their “co-worker” and their marriage a “house church.”
Another chain is the fact that UBF is made the only social environment for its members. Many students already were suffering from loneliness when they came to UBF. The love and attention with which they were suddenly overwhelmed in UBF, made them quickly ignore any reservations they may have had. But even those who had their family or a circle of friends as a social environment quickly lose this environment in UBF. Though contact with friends and family isn’t directly forbidden in UBF, the program, which must be gone through in UBF, is laid out in such a way that it completely fills up all spare time. Other contacts and activities cannot be observed any more, simply because it is not possible due to lack of time. This UBF program consists of the participation in meetings in the early morning and in the evening, of “Bible study” with one’s shepherd and perhaps already with ones “sheep,” additional “fellowship meetings” and “group Bible study,” “testimony sharing sessions,” “choir rehearsals” and many more. Added to this are “Bible schools,” “invitation evenings” and at least four “Bible conferences” a year, which need to be prepared weeks before with additional meetings and practices of singing, dancing and plays. The participation in all these events is mandatory and has always the highest priority. Thereby, always, an artificial contrast is built up between the things which one is doing “for God,” that is everything which is connected with UBF, and the rest of life which is restricted already only to university studies or job anyway. University studies or job has to be also done “for the honor of God,” but they have only second priority compared with UBF. Everything else, such as family life, hobbies, further education, friendships outside of UBF etc., is considered “unspiritual” and “unneeded,” and UBF members must completely do without these due to lack of time. The UBF Sunday service, which must be adhered to without exception (“with an absolute attitude” as this is called in UBF) has always absolute priority. This is another reason why the contact of the students to their parents breaks off. They cannot visit them over the weekend because they then would miss the UBF Sunday service. And visiting a service in another church doesn’t count in UBF. While in this way the contact to friends and parents breaks off, UBF becomes the new family. Often, as in Bonn UBF, members meet already at 5am or 6am for the “early prayer hour” and after this have breakfast together before they go to the university or to work. This is creates very tight social relationships.
Often UBF members also avoid talking with parents and friends, fearing this could be a threat to their “faith,” especially if these people they are talking to are skeptical or critical about UBF. Every kind of criticism, including obviously legitimate criticism, is interpreted as being “persecution.” It welds the members together even more and confirms their belief of being true Christians, since the Bible says, “everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.”
Another strong chain which can hold people in UBF is the belief that student mission in UBF is “God’s absolute calling” for him or her. As soon as somebody in UBF begins to believe in God, at the same time this belief of having a calling in UBF is systematically implanted into the new member. The actual faith in God and the gospel is inseparably connected with co-working in UBF. Most members don’t even think about having the option of leaving UBF without losing their faith in God and believe that nobody can live a life as an active Christian outside of UBF. This impression is often amplified by the fact that criticism of UBF and the suggestion of leaving UBF is mostly given to them by non-Christians. While for some members the “social” bonds are predominating, for others the social environment in UBF is not so important, but they really firmly believe that UBF is “God’s calling” for them and do not want to leave “God’s calling” for their lives, accepting the fact that they don’t actually like UBF or the people in UBF.
Also, most members do have an honest desire to pass the Gospel on to other people, however, connected with the belief that this is only possible in UBF, only in this special way and only by their own efforts. The natural type of evangelization (“rubbing off” on the surroundings, their own family, friends, colleagues) isn’t practiced. On the contrary, as had been explained already, if only for lack of time, members disassociate themselves from family, friends and colleagues. Instead they are practicing an “artificial” type of evangelization, inviting total strangers, making them their “sheep.” It should also be mentioned, that evangelization in UBF actually only means “recruiting of members.” And UBF members also don’t talk about “evangelizing” like other churches, but always talk of “inviting” (for Bible study in UBF).
Another chain holding many in UBF is the belief that through the efforts in UBF they are not ordinary Christians, but something very special. The concept of a “royal priesthood,” applied in the Bible at first to the people of Israel and later to all Christians, is applied only to their own organization - UBF. At UBF conferences, they conjure up again and again [ad nauseum], “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood!”, and already the atmosphere makes it perfectly clear that this is actually only about UBF. All other Christians are regarded as being lukewarm, virtually not even believers. By membership in UBF, you are part of a “spiritual elite;” while without UBF you would be a “nobody.” This is also shown by outward appearance, such as the mandatory wearing of suit and tie, which actually is not common practice among students (at least not in Germany). Suddenly you are somehow important.
A similar chain is the one of recognition and flattery, to which UBF members get used to and to which they can even become dependent. It starts with the already mentioned phase of “love bombing.” But even later people are permanently praised for sharing a good “testimony” in the sense of UBF and for compliant behavior. Particularly, the native “A”-students who are canvassed by UBF, get much recognition, while handicapped, problematic or foreign students get far less attention. These “A”-students, are soon made “fellowship leaders” and are allowed to deliver messages at UBF conferences. This incites their ambitions and seduces them to become hypocritical and compliant in order to continue getting such attention and recognition.
A psychological chain of a different kind is the irreversibility of the decisions because of the already “sunken costs.” This is a phenomenon known from economics, nevertheless, it can be observed in the behavior of UBF members too. The members have already invested so much into UBF (money, time, heart, nerves), and on the other side have already broken and risked so much (former friends, relationship with parents, career in the university or profession, hobbies). By leaving UBF they would have to “write off” all of this. Possibly some members are regarding their co-working in UBF as refunded on a “heavenly bank account” (misunderstanding Mt 6:20) and believe that by their leaving, this bank account would be nullified. At least it is very likely that every UBF member who spent years or decades in UBF and offered so much for this organization, feels that everything would be questioned by his leaving, and would be in vain and senseless. People have already invested so much, that they are not able or do not want to turn back any more.
And Peter Chang deliberately lets people invest a lot: At first, the relationship with the parents and friends is ruined, many thousands of Euros need to be paid for mission journeys, purchases of center buildings and cars, regular and special offerings, credits have to be taken, infinitely much time and commitment is demand. A “shepherdess” had to write testimony during the whole night before the written diploma examination, so that of course she fell through the examination. Now she has nothing any more. All members of Bonn UBF actually have nothing any more and therefore are panting so much for the recognition of Peter Chang. Only his sons receive a different treatment.
Connected with the chain of “investment” is the chain of “righteousness through works,” i.e. believing that salvation is not given once and for all, by believing in the Savior, but that it can be lost any time if one doesn’t do good works diligently enough. In UBF this means that you have to diligently serve “world campus mission” and discipline and train yourself every day by the strict program in UBF, in order to be saved. This program in turn makes the members only more indoctrinated and believing in works. A vicious circle arises.
Permanent indoctrination is another chain. By permanently repeating always-the-same thoughts, the UBF members simply are not able to think differently any more in the course of time. These always-the-same thoughts are written down in weekly “testimonies” and delivered in front of the group, and members have to listen to dozens of such testimonies always repeating themselves every week. Divergent thoughts are immediately “cut off,” as it is called in the language of UBF. The regularity and continuousness of the program, which recurs every week doesn’t offer any opportunity for “breathers” in which members could meditate on this all without ruffle. It already would help many to only one time rest and meditate without UBF program for three weeks. And many actually are longing for such a “time out.” But such a “break from UBF” is already the first step for leaving and therefore is forbidden in UBF. If you are missing the Bible studies or even the Sunday service only one week, you will have to listen to severe reproaches, being regarded as endangered of falling off from faith, and subjected to special treatment. Usually people are also immediately called at home and asked what is wrong with them, if it is noticed that somebody is not attending a meeting. Then reproaches are made until they come anyway. Therefore, most members don’t miss any meetings, if only for the reason to avoid all the hassle, which is usually triggered in such a case. People also fear losing their faith as soon as they do not “faithfully lead their life of faith” for only a week, as they are made believe in UBF, i.e. if they do not everything which is prescribed to them in UBF.
Besides the indoctrination, as another chain a restriction and limitation of the thought horizon is systematically caused. The Bible is only studied with the help of “questionnaires” provided by UBF, without additional auxiliary materials. The use of commentaries is not recommended. In this way, the understanding of the Bible is solely gained from UBF sermons, questionnaires and testimonies of other members. Everything is jammed in the context and the language of UBF. For instance, it is even claimed that Abraham made “Bible study.” The meaning of many biblical concepts and terms is redefined and preoccupied with certain fixed connotations. If you then read passages in the Bible in which such terms occur (such as “calling”) you automatically understand them as related to UBF. Also in other regards the language is reduced and redefined, in order to limit the thinking and steer it into the predefined tracks. It was already mentioned that the spouse is called “co-worker” and the marriage a “house church” in UBF. The titles “missionary,” “shepherd,” “sheep,” which are given to the members and the title of “the servant of God” (with the definite article) for the leader also mold the thinking decisively. The typical UBF arranged marriage is called “marriage by faith.” In this way, any other way of marrying is automatically characterized as an act coming from unbelief, not done by faith. UBF itself is called “the work of God” (again with the definite article). Conversely, leaving UBF is called “running away” and associated with cowardice, laziness, ingratitude and leaving one’s calling. Nobody would like to let others say about him that he had “run away.” By this kind of manipulating, the members are using their own language to limit thoughts, fatally resembling George Orwell’s “newspeak.” Added to this, comes the fact that the Korean “missionaries” are speaking a bad and primitive German language which is not improving over time, but rather gets worse, since they mostly communicate among each other and do not want to learn from German students, considering them as “sheep” which have to be taught and trained. For this reason communication in UBF must take place on the smallest common denominator. Most German members got accustomed to the limited vocabulary, wrong word order and strange Korean mispronunciation, already making the same mistakes. Certain idioms literally taken over from the Korean language and other strange expressions are used again and again even by the German members: “Missionary Thingamabob was fatalistic and his face was dark, however, God has preciously used him for the pioneering ministry in Bonn and his face got bright again.” Complicated and more subtly differentiated facts cannot be expressed in this “UBF language.” Events aren’t simply described as they happened, but it is always said that “God did this or that” (when it is about UBF) or “the Satan did this or that” (when it is about criticism of UBF). Everything is easy and clear, black and white in the view and language of UBF.
In Bonn UBF, Peter Chang tries to nip every kind of criticism in the bud right away and keep it away from the members. A former member of Bonn UBF reported that once he had printed out and stapled several critical articles on UBF from the Internet, which then were secretly put into the bags of all members in the UBF center by a critical member. The first one to find these reports in his bag, unfortunately, was a particularly loyal member, and he immediately notified the director Peter Chang. After this, all employees were immediately called and had to return to the center to have their bags searched by Stephanus Park, the right hand of Peter Chang. The critical documents were confiscated. It was quite clear who the “wrongdoer” was since besides him, actually there weren’t any critical members in Bonn UBF. The following day the key to center building was taken away from him. It was reported that such actions like the search of bags or throwing away of pieces of paper which Peter Chang finds in the Bibles of co-workers took place more frequently. This event also documents the atmosphere prevailing in Bonn UBF. Nobody dares to openly speak up.
Another hindrance to independent thinking and behavior is the strict hierarchical rule, which is called “spiritual order” in UBF. By the way, this is another example of how language is used to restrict thinking: This order cannot be questioned because it is “spiritual” by definition. The concept of the “the servant of God” is a similar example. The underlying mindset is taken from Confucianism and Peter Chang builds upon the fact that at least the Koreans have already internalized this mindset from their culture. Everybody has a certain place in the hierarchy. Already the children are educated to internalize these hierarchies. In the Korean language there are six levels of politeness, corresponding to the “hierarchical levels” between the people talking to each other. This mindset is also reflected in many other peculiarities of the language, such as for example, for older brothers and sisters or playfellows, a different word is used than for younger ones. In UBF, everybody has to address each other with the correct titles, and Peter Chang takes care that the children, even the German ones, are using the correct expressions, and distributes blows if they don’t observe the hierarchy correctly.
As already mentioned, the feeling of being obliged to be thankful is, however, probably the strongest chain holding many members in UBF. A real “culture of thankfulness” exists in Bonn UBF, a personality cult around Peter Chang. All members believe in being obliged to be infinitely thankful to Peter Chang, and therefore they would do anything for him. However, it is remarkable that this gratitude did not arise in them without human intervention, but they were systematically steered and manipulated by Peter Chang to be always grateful to him.
This gratitude in principle results from the fact that the members believe that without Peter Chang their lives would have been lost and without him they would not be saved. They believe that Jesus Christ was important for them, but Peter Chang was much more important, since without him they would not even know Jesus Christ and without his hard training they would have lost their faith a long time ago. They also believe that without Peter Chang their life would have proceeded miserably and they would have remained nobodies. Through Peter Chang however, they are allowed to take part in world mission as “royal priests,” and their lives get an “absolute meaning” by this (and only by this!). Peter Chang further teaches his subordinates systematically to be grateful to him. They also have to express their thankfulness for him at least once in the weekly testimonies. A typical phrase in such testimonies is the mentioning of the “sacrificing care and love, by which God’s servant missionary Dr. Peter Chang is bearing the pains of spiritual childbirth.” With this allusion to Gal 4:19, Peter Chang again is compared to the Apostle Paul, and his leadership described as being a self-sacrificing, painful job, for which one has to be eternally thankful to him. Peter Chang even gave the name “Danke” (“Thank You”) to a “shepherdess,” because she wasn’t grateful enough. She now has to be called as “shepherdess Danke” by all members and thereby reminded to be more grateful. In the course of the time the members begin to be thankful to Peter Chang for everything happening to them in their lives. Of course, if a member is married by arrangement of Peter Chang, this again is a special reason to thank him. They would have never been able to marry without the help of Peter Chang, so they believe. When they get children, they of course have to thank Peter Chang again, and he of course determines the names of the children.
To achieve this dependence through gratitude, Peter Chang actually invests something as well. For instance, he initially helps a student to get a little more discipline into his studies, or gives him this or that “orientation,” apparently caring for him. Later, however, it turns out, that this help wasn’t selfless but that he expects his “servantship” and “love” to be repaid to him, by their eternal gratitude and loyalty. This “trick” can be observed again and again in UBF. For example, a student is invited to have “common life” together with the missionaries, who are telling him how much they love him because he was such an exemplary Christian, and that they want to live together with him. Flattered, the student accepts the offer and believes that the missionaries really like to live together with him. But if the student gets critical later, he is reproached and charged with being ungrateful to them, who have “loved and served and borne him for all these years.”
You can see this chain by gratitude very clearly in the “counterstatement” to the critical report of Andreas P. on Bonn UBF written by Stephanus Park. Instead of answering the criticism, Stephanus Park cannot but extensively express his personal gratitude to Peter Chang, both at the beginning and at the end of his counterstatement. However, this gratitude isn’t an ordinary feeling of gratitude, but is understood as a real “debt,” which cannot be paid off eternally.
Of course this “culture of thankfulness” again has its roots in the Korean culture or in Confucianism respectively. You give something, and doing so you actually also invest a little bit, but with the ulterior motive to make the respective person dependent and oblige him to eternal gratitude and to have the person repay everything later. As has been mentioned, this principle is heavily used in UBF in general. Peter Chang has refined it, however, and uses it as his main instrument to maintain the personality cult around himself.
Andreas P. reported that a “shepherdess” in Bonn UBF, prior to her marriage arranged by Peter Chang, had to write and deliver a special testimony on this occasion. Andreas felt queasy when he had to listen to this testimony, because every sentence began with the words: “I thank the servant of God, missionary Dr. Peter Chang, and the servant of God, missionary Sarah Chang, for ... “. In this way it went on and on. Andreas got more and more disgusted and wondered when Peter Chang would finally put an end to the embarrassing play. But Peter Chang listened until the end and at the end he was very contented. The “shepherdess” was allowed to marry after this.
If you want to get an idea of how Peter Chang arranges a marriage, you can find an example on the Internet pages of New Jersey UBF. The director of this chapter, John Park, is a close friend of Peter Chang. In their testimonies, the American “shepherd” David Gates and the Korean “shepherdess” Dr. Jeong-Eun Jung (she is called Sarah Gates now) frankly report how their “marriage of faith” was accomplished. By the way, Peter Chang also married his son to a Korean from New Jersey UBF.
David Gates writes: “... What happened next really made my head spin. After the Sunday message which Dr. Peter Chang prepared, ‘Have faith in God!’, Missionary Aromi came to me very nervous and said, ‘Dr. Peter Chang wants you go buy a dozen roses and propose to Shepherdess Jeong-Eun.’ I was kind of stupefied, but immediately the voice of Samuel Ju echoed in my head, ‘Absolute obedience.’ So I took a ride with missionary Samuel and tried to stall by visiting many flower stores that I knew were closed. But the word of God came, ‘lest haply you be found to fight against God,’ and I repented my doubts that it was His hand at work building my house church and I spent my last 50 dollars on some roses and a card to give to Dr. Jung when I proposed to her. ...”
Jeong-Eun Jung writes: “... When Missionary Peter (Chang) asked me three general questions about my heart for God’s world mission, I could faithfully answer, ‘yes.’ But the fourth question was the most difficult one to reply. It was if I could get married by faith with anyone, anyone from any country like Uganda. I had to answer quickly so he would have breakfast then. I felt dizzy because it was the moment that I realized of my little faith. All those years of Bible study and faith training became futile. Actually his suggestion was of shepherd David Gates. ...”
Among other things, here it is illustrated again how the concept of “marriage by faith” is used to propose an arranged marriage. Well – which member of UBF would like to admit that he or she doesn’t have any faith? So the members agree with a marriage arranged by the leaders in order to show that they have real faith. Sometimes it turns out well, but often it goes terribly wrong. If the marriage goes bad, the leader who arranged the marriage then will reject any responsibility on his part, however.
We want to give another example showing how far the culture of thankfulness and the personality cult around Peter Chang in Bonn UBF can go. This example is taken from the report on a journey to the UBF European Summer Conference 2000, published by Waterloo UBF, Canada. Like New Jersey UBF, Waterloo UBF is not at all suspicious of wanting to represent UBF in a negative way. Both are conservative UBF chapters, which are oriented against reform. Unfortunately, no examples of Bonn UBF itself can be given, since their web site is completely password protected.
A member of Waterloo UBF reports about meeting Sarah Chang, the wife of Peter Chang, and “shepherd” Ingo S. from Bonn UBF, whose first name had been changed to “Fels” (rock) by Peter Chang already earlier: “.... At the same table was Missionary Sarah Chang, and Shepherd Fels Chang. Fels means ‘rock’ in German, and he prays to be a rock of faith for Germany. I learned a lot through talking with him because he shared his life story with me. Shepherd Fels began Bible study in 1988 and he grew to be a shepherd in the ministry. However, he had no deep faith, and he struggled with sin, so after 11 years, he ran away. He fell into despair, thinking that he was hopeless and lost, but the Chang family never gave up on him – they prayed continually for him, and finally he came back and experienced a new birth in the year 2000. After this, he changed his last name to ‘Chang’ because, he felt, that he was adopted by the gracious Missionary family who were serving him. ...” According to this, the gratitude of Ingo S. to Peter Chang went even so far, that he did not only accept his changed first name, but, even assumed the last name of Peter Chang. Apparently Peter Chang was very flattered by this and he let Ingo S. marry a Korean UBF missionary one month later (whose name is not “Chang” by the way). This marriage in turn, will surely again have been, a reason for Ingo to become even more thankful to Peter Chang.
Marrying off German members of Bonn UBF with women missionaries from Korea is by the way another method by which Peter Chang ties up these members to himself. Most of the Korean women missionaries are enslaved to Peter Chang facilitate for him to control the German members indirectly. Peter Chang will, at the disobedience of their husbands, also threaten to send their wives back to Korea. There are also, however, some German women in Bonn UBF who are almost even more enslaved to Peter Chang than the Korean women. Generally, the women seem particularly susceptible of getting enslaved to Peter Chang. Actually they consider Peter Chang their true husband and consider their husbands only as “training objects.” How far the reported intimate relations of the women to him go, cannot be uncovered, of course. Anyway, it is reported that female members of Bonn UBF go swimming with him and visit the sauna and he lets them massage him and treat his athlete’s foot. Most Bonn UBF members are living very closely together in house-sharing communities in the houses of Peter Chang. Through this he is also able to permanently control their private lives, allegedly not even being shy to enter bedrooms of female members. Peter Chang tries to control and silence male members who start to become critical, as in the case of Andreas P., through their wives.
In order to get the members to the point as described above, Peter Chang uses many “proven” methods known from classic destructive cults: milieu control, loaded language, generating feelings of guilt and powerlessness, overloading people with activities and last not least sleep deprivation. Deprivation of sleep as a means is applied in Bonn UBF; compared with the other UBF chapters – where it often also occurs – in a particularly methodical way, in order to keep the members in a permanent state of sequacity, persuasibility, spiritual ecstasy and confusion. Sleep deprivation is a well-known method used for indoctrination, causing an increased suggestibility in the members. The members often have to write their “testimonies” in the UBF group rooms till midnight or longer and nevertheless have to show up there at half past four in the morning again for common prayer. A former Bonn UBF member told how one of his UBF “common life” roommates suddenly fell with his head into the sandwich he just had prepared and dozed off there, due to this sleep deprivation. Even outsiders frequently notice the dark rings under the eyes of the Bonn UBF members.
The already mentioned name changes aim at consolidating the personality change towards a cult personality, and typecast the members into certain roles. However, the manipulation by change of name has not been invented by Peter Chang, but copied from Samuel Lee; it is a common tradition in UBF. The Koreans always get biblical first names instead of their real Korean names. Some Koreans in UBF also got names such as “Loyal,” “Work hard,” “Grace,” “Humble” or the last names of famous missionaries like Zinzendorff as their first name. German UBF members got names like “Fels” (rock), “Warmherz” (warm heart), “Danke” (thank you) or “Niemand” (nobody). Of course, names like “Humble,” “Thank you” or “Nobody” serve in producing a feeling of subordination for the more self-confident members. But there is also manipulation in the opposite direction: Inspired by Peter Chang, the director of Kiev UBF gave two tender Ukrainian shepherdesses the names “Jean d’Arc” and “Bulldozer” (particularly nice). The intention was that they should learn to manipulate their “sheep” ruthlessly and stand up to them.
In order to generate feelings of powerlessness Peter Chang according to reports of ex-members had already used techniques such as “dead dog training,” where someone is arbitrarily scolded, beaten and kicked, without being allowed to reply or defend himself. Only crying was permitted in this “training.” Of course such techniques are applied only in the inner circle of members, not for the new “sheep,” which are treated more cautiously in the beginning as long as they haven’t become completely dependent yet and “used to the abuse.” The milieu control is so strong that a former member calls his time of membership “living on the dark side of the moon for ten years.” The children and teenagers of Bonn UBF were not even allowed to take part at the Germany-wide organized youth convention of their own umbrella group UBF. Peter Chang organized their own youth convention for them instead, with the argument that they had to be kept from the “bad influence” of the teenagers in the rest of UBF. Of course the reversed argument, that they themselves could exert a good influence, didn’t count. Peter Chang apparently was afraid that the children could notice that even in the rest of UBF things are not so bad as in their own group or that the kids could report something about his special methods of child education to the others.
Peter Chang has managed to make the group members look upon him as more than an ordinary human being, to whom the same rules would apply as to all others, but as someone who is above everything and exempt from everything. In Bonn UBF the rule applies “Quod licet Iovi, non licet bovi” – “What Jupiter may do, the ox may not.” Peter Chang is Jupiter, the supreme God; the members are only oxen and sheep, they only have to work and obey. This is the God-given order for them, an unshakable axiom of their faith and the basis of their world outlook. Peter Chang is not only “the servant of God “ for them, but virtually equated with God, with the added value of being visible, whereas God is invisible. Thus, they can demonstrate obedience and fear of God very practically, by obeying Peter Chang and submitting to him.
The members probably would not even deny the many frightening facts reported about the behavior of Peter Chang, but they would simply interpret them completely differently. If he would beat somebody, they would assume that he does it out of love, and therefore they would tolerate it. When he is leading a completely different, much more comfortable life than the ordinary members, they approve it. Peter Chang is saying about himself that he “sacrificed” his private life and his doctor title for the sake of world mission. The members buy into this claim, since everything he is doing is by definition not considered as his private life, but as ministration for the mission. When he watches TV, then he would do this only in order to be well informed and to be able to give good examples in the Sunday messages. When he is sleeping very long while others have to come for early morning prayer, and when he goes swimming and into the sauna, he would do this only in order to preserve his health, so that he can better take care of his ministry as servant of God. If he does not work unlike all other members, then this is regarded as sacrificing his doctor titles with tremendous self denial. The fact that everybody has to address him with the doctor title anyway is not perceived by them as a contradiction to that claim, because from their view, as the visible direct representative of God, he deserves the utmost honor and respect. Even if he possesses four houses while claiming that UBF is a “manger ministry” and demanding poverty from all others, then members would not find it unusual at all. And as already has been noted, everything is dominated by the feeling of gratitude and unpayable debt to Peter Chang. And again, gratitude to God can be demonstrated very practically as gratitude to Peter Chang.
All of this reveals a relationship between Peter Chang and members of his group that is known from the great cult leaders such as the Korean Sun Myung Moon or the Indian Rajneesh Chandra Mohan, the legendary “Bhagwan,” who also managed to be deified by their followers. They deed not even need to hide their wealth and luxurious life-style; they were simply entitled to this according to their God-like role. Very similar to what we can see in UBF Bonn, the discrepancies were not perceived as contradictory or scandalous anymore. The Bhagwan left India in 1981 and founded a religious city state in Oregon, where his followers had to toil every day, got no money, and became ill from lack of food. He, however, lived in luxury and possessed a huge fleet of Rolls-Royces, in which he was driving every day along the dusty roads of the camp being celebrated by his followers who were ecstatic about being so close to him, and hailing him. Nobody criticized his luxurious life-style. Journalists, who asked cult members about the contradiction between their life full of privations and the extremely comfortable life of the Bhagwan, got the amazing answer: They do not really understand the question, given the marvelous feeling for them to see that the Bhagwan is doing well. They said they work happily so that their leader can have all imaginable comfort. The members of Bonn UBF Similar may think similarly about Peter Chang. In addition to this, as already mentioned, “absolute obedience,” “humble submission” and “eternal gratitude” are regarded as the hallmarks of a true Christian. Since God is invisible, this must be practiced in relation to the visible God, Peter Chang.
Certainly much more could be said about Bonn UBF and the subtle methods of Peter Chang. The “Bonn syndrome” example shows how power mongers manage even in allegedly Christian churches to make people depend on themselves and to dominate over them. By the way, the title “Bonn syndrome” shall not indicate that Bonn UBF is an exception within UBF and that the rest of UBF is completely different. Unfortunately, the reality in other UBF chapters is very similar. Bonn sticks out in particular merely in its extremity. The same methods of manipulation and indoctrination of members in order to subdue them under the leaders and the organization, can be found in all other parts of UBF as well. It should also be mentioned that the current leader of Germany UBF, Kaleb Hong, sees no reason to dissociate himself from Peter Chang, but on the contrary he tries to cooperate with him well. Particularly the UBF founder, Samuel Lee, and his chapter in Chicago are similarly extreme as Peter Chang in Bonn, partially even more extreme. And this is not astonishing, since Chicago UBF and Samuel Lee constitute the prototype for all other chapters and leaders in UBF, who have only more or less copied this “example.”