One of the most helpful and revealing pieces of information about the UBF shepherding system is the knowledge of their strategies. How do they convince new students who are well-grounded and even strong in faith to join the system? How do they train new recruits in the system?
The UBF strategies appear to be derived from the Chinese novel, Romance of the Three Kingdoms. This novel is very popular in China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, South Korea, Vietnam and Japan. I am convinced that a study of this book's cultural impact will prove insightful in relation to understanding the UBF shepherding system.
- Oversimplification is a major strategy the UBF leaders use to convince a young adult to join their system. They tend to reduce major life choices down to the binary choice of either praise God or abandon God. They teach this so that students feel compelled to stay. Leaving the system or staying in the system becomes the primary choice embedded in the students' minds. For example, To stay or not to stay? is the most commented article on the first version of the ubfriends website. Students are taught that leaving the system is bad, sinful and dishonorable. Staying, regardless of consequences, is seen as good, holy and honorable.
- The Bible teachers in the system will use the reduction strategy in their one-to-one Bible study meetings and Sunday lectures. They reduce the Bible canon down to about 10 or 12 books, and rarely study the other books of the Bible. This Bible reductionism can be easily seen by reading any of the hundreds of online lectures publicly available from the UBF websites.
- This strategy also works in reverse. Not only do they reduce ideas, they also inflate ideas. This is the Create Something from Nothing strategy found in the Chinese novel, Romance of the Three Kingdoms. UBF has a knack for creating the illusion that they are a massive, prominent, worldwide mainline Christian church. In fact, they are a very small new religious movement desperate for credibility. "Create Something from Nothing: A stratagem to make an audience believe of something’s existence, when it in fact does not exist. On the flip side, it can be used to convince others that nothing exists, when something does exist. (Ch. 36)"
- When confronted with the abuse or flawed theology of their system, the UBF leaders tend to resort to silence. They refuse to answer, claiming to be justified by Jesus' remaining silent when accused by many people. The UBF leaders like to feel holy by being silent. They claim that the accusations made against them for over 50 years by thousands of people is just the work of 1 or 2 bitter former members, and that there is some grand conspiracy against them. They teach students to view critical thinking as something evil or as spiritual poison. Those who criticize them are said to be engaging in godless chatter.
- The silent treatment is also a strategy used in training new recruits. They often will be silent when asked questions. To question a leader is seen as disrespectful and sinful. Those who go through the painful exit process from the UBF shepherding system find that silence is maddening. Those who claim to be spiritual parents suddenly stop communicating in any way with former members, who are said to have run away and are now dead to the group.
- This strategy of going silent is nearly the same as the Empty City strategy found in the Chinese novel, Romance of the Three Kingdoms. "Empty City: When the enemy is superior in numbers and you are expecting to be attacked at any moment, drop all pretenses of seeming like you’re preparing something militarily and act calm, so the enemy will think twice and will think you’re setting a trap or an ambush. It is best used sparingly, and only if one has the military aptitude to do so. It’s also best used if one’s enemy is an over-thinker. (Ch. 95)"
- It is helpful to realize that UBF missionaries and shepherds are often thinking on a superficial level. As such, they rarely can outwit someone. Ironically, they can appear to be very clever at times, but the norm is that they intend to outlast you. They will teach about the importance of "waiting on God". If a student is not growing enough into the system, they will wait. They typically try to outlast critics by going silent for about six months at a time.
- Partly due to the strong influence of Korean ideas and Eastern religion in the UBF shepherding system, the UBF shepherds and missionaries will often use distraction. In Western cultures, especially in America, people are comfortable with direct confrontation. But in Eastern cultures, especially Korea, people tend to avoid direct confrontation and use indirect, subtle and round-about ways to communicate. The UBF shepherding system, then, becomes highly manipulative due to the endless supply of implied commands and teachings. Without realizing it, a young adult in the system will make decisions they think are their own, but all the time they were being lead to do what the leaders wanted. This strategy of distraction is seen most clearly during the arranged marriage process, which they call marriage by faith.
- Insiders to the UBF system will quickly recognize the phrase "be a blessing". This is a strategy derived form Genesis 12:1-3 primarily. The story of Abraham leaving his father's household is a near-perfect story for motivating young students to leave their family, since the young adults are away from home and usually living on their own for the first time. The blessing strategy is used to guilt trip students into making adverse or unusual decisions that demonstrate loyalty to the UBF system. The shepherds ask sheep questions such as "You want to be a blessing don't you?" and "You used up so much blessing from your shepherds! Why don't you repay that blessing by doing this new thing?".
- The blessing strategy is used as a dangling carrot. They claim you will get a future blessing, such as being sent out as a missionary or getting married to a "most beautiful" spouse (called a co-worker). This is nearly the same as the cult control technique called love-bombing.
- Another strategy is seen in the way UBF people present themselves to outsiders. From an outside viewpoint, UBF people and their organization look so beautiful. They present themselves in the best possible light, and put on a good show. This is part of their strategy used to attract new students. They cover themselves in holy paint and cover up their past abuses. They proof-text this strategy with Bible verses that speak of forgiving past sins. Instead of following the Bible's cover over principles of repentance, UBF tweaks the teaching to be a "cover up" of sins, void of repentance.
- This strategy is nearly identical to the Beauty Trap strategy found in the romanticized Chinese novel, Romance of the Three Kingdoms. "Beauty Trap: Send the enemy beautiful women to cause disorder at his site. This trick can work in three ways: firstly, the ruler can become so entranced with the feminine allure that he neglects all else. Secondly, the men will start competing for the females’ attention, which will cause friction and rifts, and hinders cooperation and eradicates morale. And lastly, other women motivated by jealously will begin to plot, only worsening the entire situation. Also known as the “Honey Trap”. (Ch. 55-56)"
- The divisions caused by this strategy are called pioneering in UBF terms. The UBF life is often filled with friction and competition with other shepherds. Instead of reconciling, the shepherds tend to divide their ministries or go to other cities. This is seen as a good thing in UBF, and proof-texted with the Bible stories about Paul and Barnabas going their separate ways at one point (UBF often fails to teach that Paul and Barnabas reconciled later). The strategy is to use all this diversion to make members forget or ignore the terrible abuses committed by their leaders. In this way, the strategy leads to promoting abusers in order to protect their honor and glory, instead of holding them accountable.