Thursday, January 17, 2019

More Hidden Yelp Reviews of Gracepoint Berkeley

A few commenters have pointed out that Gracepoint has changed and are not like this anymore. This being the stuff that are described on this blog.




Here is a Yelp Review (that is hidden and not tallied into their final score) that is from October 2018 from  "Christain" that sounds exactly like the Berkland I attended decades ago.


My experience at Gracepoint has been spiritually abusive. Please, please avoid this church as much as you can. Their teaching is unbiblical; the extreme emphasis and focus on sin is unhealthy. 
Their practice of rebuke seems to me out of the context of Scripture, as leaders assert their power, authority and dominance on younger members.
Let's be clear, rebuking sessions at Gracepoint are not fun. In fact they are down-right humiliating and induce a lot of guilt-driven repentance. And, to be fair, if you're being rebuked, there is a fair chance that you did do something wrong... or not (e.g. - this post). But does this type of rebuking do more harm than good? I say it is extremely damaging! It is the reason why many people who leave feel so traumatized.
I'm not going to get into the correct, or Biblical way to rebuke, for that material is abundant. But let's talk about the culture of "getting rocked"  Gracepoint. I'm not sure who started calling getting rebuked, "rocked," but it really turns something negative into something of a badge of honor. Again, it is often a horrible, humiliating ordeal. You sit there, being yelled at, belittled, guilt being heaved upon you, sometimes getting tag-teamed by two or three leaders. The "leaders" force you to confess to the point where you better start crying and feeling contrite. I have no doubt that leaders often agonize over what to do or say when contemplating a rebuke. But simply put, the ends do not justify the means.
Looking back, it is very disturbing to realize that I have seen many, soon after getting rebuked, smugly proclaim that they "got rocked". Why? After all, there was a lot of yelling, most likely some crying, and maybe some forced fervent and desperate prayer. To put it very simply, in the spiritual economy of the Gracepoint ecosystem, getting rocked is like getting audited and passing. Yes, finally, what you did caught up to you, it got addressed by the leaders, and if you repent, you have a small stamp of approval. Enough stamps and certifications and you will be qualified to move on up the ranks. To be fair though, some people just need to get corrected more often, because frankly, they just screw up a lot. However, my opinion is that there is too much guilt-driven manipulation and fearmongering, and not enough careful correction. Also, I've even seen leaders refer to how they got rocked by Pastor Ed or Kelly with a smug smile. Not always, but I've seen it.
You see, this behavior is modeled for other church members and it starts to become apparent that unless you get rebuked, the leaders must not care about you, or think of you much. Very silly, I know, but I know this is true because people have confided in me that they feel this way. I'm not making this up. Of course, they are not trying to get rebuked on purpose (who wants that?), but there is a really unhealthy element of the culture that I believe is one of the root causes of the spiritual abuse at Gracepoint. Just like a victim of domestic abuse, you tolerate more and more emotional damage, and begin to rationalize, because in the end they supposedly "love you." In reality, the abuser needs to control and manipulate you. If the abuser fails to do that, they rationalize by saying, "they don't love me and I guess I never loved them." At this church, it is the same, because if you do not respond to rebuke, you are spiritually desolate and they cannot shepherd or love you. For fledgling believers, it is very hard to know the right thing to do or how to respond, especially if you are a young impressionable college kid.
This is how you move hundreds of young people to mobilize quickly, efficiently, and without much complaint or deviance. Believe me, I would love to say everything is done out of a passion for Christ, but it is often not, not by most. The irony is, that on numerous occasions, I've heard a rebuke about not doing things out of a love for God and others, but the result is that people act because they do not want to get rebuked again. It's a vicious cycle.
Please, do not get sucked into this cult. They are excellent at outreaching to newcomers--it is insane. The experience I have had at this church has led me further away from God, and I really hope no one will experience what I underwent.

I remember all too clearly the day that my entire class got rebuked because one class member was found to be secretly dating another member of the church. I had no idea that this person was dating until the rebuking session over and I asked someone what was that all about. Kelly Kang/Ed Kang accused all of us of using the church for personal gain (marriage). Everyone was crying. I remember being very sleepy because this happened very late at night. Traumatizing and the message was clear. We control your dating life, you need to tell your leaders everything, you will be shamed in front of your class if you don't obey what we say. Needless to say, they were forced to break up. They both ended up leaving the church, one a few years after that and one many many years later.

Thank you to all the brave souls who left reviews on Yelp using their genuine profiles. I encourage you to continue to do so as it seems like profiles with one reviews often get "hidden." Thank you "Christain" and I'm sorry your review is hidden.

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Did you used to go to Gracepoint Riverside?

Looks like lots of people and families are still hurting from their experiences with Gracepoint. A commenter is looking for ex Gracepoint Riverside attendees. Please comment below if you are open to helping them out.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Hidden Yelp Reviews of Gracepoint

As pointed out by a commenter, the hidden Yelp reviews of Gracepoint Fellowship Church at Berkeley are rather telling. Here is a review posted by "Grace" on 8/19/2016.


As new students arrive to Berkeley, I must review Gracepoint rather than stand by. I don't deny that the outward actions of Gracepoint members seem nice. I myself experienced the positive aspects many describe: a sense of community, people bringing me food or helping me move, etc. But there are deeper issues at stake:


At Gracepoint, thinking for yourself is discouraged. In a bible study, I heard one member respond to "How can you believe in something you cannot see?" with, "By listening to authority, by trusting people who are wiser and know more than you." Yet Christianity is deep and complex and requires thought and understanding, not blind following.

Obeying authority is a constant theme. Leaders often quote Hebrews 13:17, "Obey your leaders and submit to their authority..." The verse doesn't bother me, but rather the proportion of times this is quoted at Gracepoint compared to other passages, such as those that describe the role of a spiritual leader. For instance, they never quoted 2 Timothy 2:24-26: "And the Lord's servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will." The congregation is constantly reminded to obey leaders, but the role of leaders as gently correcting and patiently enduring while erring Christians repent of their own volition is unmentioned. This imbalance conveys the sense of being controlled rather than repenting on one's own.

Bible studies are structured rigidly so that multiple interpretations are discouraged. In addition, sin is emphasized while God's love is de-emphasized. Once, in prayer and devotion group, I shared that Hosea 11:1-4 showed me the magnitude of God's love. My leader replied that I should instead think specifically about how to repent. In another bible study, one girl said she thought the passage showed God's love. The leader instead emphasized the sinfulness of the characters in the passage. Later, when I was having dinner one-on-one with the bible study leader, she recalled the discussion and said she thought the girl was wrong in emphasizing God's love, and that we should focus on our sin. This focus on sin and reluctance to allow the congregation to recognize God's love results in a legalistic, Old Testament church experience that centers one's actions entirely on guilt, and creates dependence upon Gracepoint leaders for guidance in all areas of one's life. It breaks my heart that some Gracepoint attendees will only ever experience Old Testament guilt, but none of the New Testament love that comes from Jesus' death for us.

Moreover, hanging out with non-Christians, or even non-Gracepoint Christians, is discouraged, though indirectly and subtly. A Gracepoint member told me she had no non-Christian friends, because "What would [she] talk to them about?" Members occasionally remarked on how "other bible studies" drink alcohol, or how "other churches" were unfriendly and didn't have as many activities. This institutes an us-versus-them mindset, transforming Gracepoint into an exclusive group. Whereas Christianity is about loving other people and not judging them, and emulating Jesus, who actively chose to spend time with prostitutes and tax collectors. This Gracepoint exclusivity is judgmental, and results in members forming an identity that is completely dependent on Gracepoint group identity. E.g., members who sometimes doubted Gracepoint behavior told me they would never consider leaving because "all their friends were at Gracepoint" and they lived with other members so even their housing depended on Gracepoint. Two other members said they would rather spend Christmas with Gracepoint than with family. The subtle discouragement against spending time with non-Gracepoint people results in isolation and total dependence on the church.

I left Gracepoint because as a Christian, it was difficult in such an environment to distinguish between what Gracepoint wanted for me and what God wanted, and my focus should have been on the latter. Leaders would tell me, "My vision for you is that you become a leader in this church." I find that problematic, since I'm concerned with God's vision for me, not another human's vision for me.

So while on the surface, Gracepoint seems like a biblical church, I strongly advise anyone checking it out to 1) think for yourself; 2) attend other churches too and gain experience on the various manifestations of a biblical Christian church, especially if you are new to  Christianity; 3) read the Bible on your own, as verses can be taken out of context or interpreted narrowly. 4) Reconsider whether you are worshipping God or a church. Some church cultures lend themselves too easily to worshipping the church itself rather than God, due to subtly legalistic behavior.



It's too bad that so many one star reviews are hidden. And while I understand reviewers' desire to post anonymously (only having 1 review in that profile), it seems Yelp hides those reviewers more easily. It's actually quite telling that so many are afraid to come out publically with their past experiences of Gracepoint. Don't you think?


If you feel comfortable with it, I encourage you to post a review using your regular Yelp profile so that your review doesn't get hidden and does get factored into the star rating.


You can find all reviews here: https://www.yelp.com/not_recommended_reviews/gracepoint-berkeley-berkeley

Friday, October 7, 2016

What if we asked for our offerings back?

I had a thought the other day. I was wondering what would happen if all of us who were spiritually and/or emotional hurt/damaged/abused by Gracepoint/Berkland asked for our tithes and offerings back.


I did some cursory research and it doesn't seem like churches are legally bound to give offerings back to the giver but it sure would send a loud and clear message if a lot of us did this. Not sure about you but I gave thousands and thousands of dollars to Gracepoint/Berkland. And this was when I was a student.


Of course, I was giving to God, not to Gracepoint/Berkland but it does make me kick myself to know that I was financially supporting the legalistic hierarchy.


Your thoughts?

Monday, August 1, 2016

Love Bombing

Got a comment recently:


Hey John,

Read these articles:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Love_bombing
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cults_in_Our_Midst

I think it would be useful if you could relate them to your experience and share your conclusion on this blog.

Sincerely,
Just Left





From the first article:


Love bombing is an attempt to influence a person by lavish demonstrations of attention and affection. The phrase can be used in different ways. Members of the Unification Church of the United States (who reportedly coined the expression) use or have used it to convey a genuine expression of friendship, fellowship, interest, or concern. Critics of cults use the phrase with the implication that the "love" is feigned and that the practice is psychological manipulation in order to create a feeling of unity within the group against a society perceived as hostile."


While I don't completely agree with the above definition, I can say that from my experience Berkland/Gracepoint definitely encourages the staff to lavish "love" on newcomers and new students. Whether it is genuine or not, is a question for each person. I personally experienced a lot of pressure to "love" freshmen, even if there was no genuine connection between me and the newcomer. When I used to go, each new person was "assigned" to a small group and it was the small group's responsibility to ensure that this new person felt welcomed and loved.


For example, I was told to give a ride to someone who lived in San Francisco during the summer so that this person could come to church. Had I been a stronger person, I probably would have said no. But at the time, I thought that I had to obey everything my leader asked me to do.


As an older student, I felt pressured to get a car, so I could "do ministry." I gave countless rides to the airport, Costco, Target, etc. and to Southern California. Most passengers did not have to decency to offer help to pay for gas.


I helped countless persons move. I've cooked countless meals.


Was this genuine love? Maybe some of it. But not all. We were taught that our feelings didn't matter. What mattered was obedience and sacrifice. If love didn't hurt or cost me something, it wasn't real. This is how we prove our love for Christ, by pouring out our lives for another.


Sounds wonderful.

But when there is so much pressure, it takes away a person's ability to choose to do this on their own. For the Holy Spirit to do the work inside a person's heart. It also takes away gratitude from the receiver. It was almost expected that whatever someone "needed," the person trying to reach out to the newcomer had to fill that need.


I was a recipient of "love bombing" as well. I needed to get a small table but didn't have a car. An older person in my small group had a car but this person didn't really want to give me a ride. The leader told this person to give me a ride. This person was rebuked in front of me for being selfish. Totally shamed. Looking back on it, I feel very bad for this person.


Even though this person and I went together to get the table, the whole experience left a bitter taste in my mouth. To receive from someone who did not want to give. This is not "love."

Monday, June 20, 2016

Have you left Gracepoint recently?

An editor at the Daily Cal is looking to do a story on Gracepoint and is looking for people to interview. If you have left the church recently (Berkeley only, I believe) and are willing to be interviewed (and potentially be cited as a source, not anonymously) please contact Jenny Cain at jcain@dailycal.org.


Please do not leave a comment or ask questions here. Please contact her directly.


Thank you.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Gracepoint at UC Davis

This is from a UC Davis Wiki page and is written by "jonwoo"


https://daviswiki.org/Gracepoint_Davis_Church


Since it was on the internet, I hope it is OK that I share it here. The content is good, even though it was from three years ago.


2013-04-10 17:49:39  
I am a former member. I knew most of the reviewers who have posted here personally during my time there. I wholeheartedly agree with what Kevin Yu stated. There are many people that have been hurt by the practices of this church. I’m writing this because I was hurt for many years, both while I was a member and after I left. That part of my story is not unique to myself, many former members have similar experiences. I genuinely hope what I write can help anyone who is currently attending or is a former member or even thinking about going. Please note, that the other reviewers after Kevin’s post talk about how great the church is without directly addressing the many problems he brought up. They may be trying to act Christian and take the high road on a public internet forum. Rest assured, they will likely not discuss or try to address these issue in private either.


They may do some good things, especially to outsiders looking in. So maybe I shouldn’t just make a blanket statement like, don’t go to this church. Rather, I think this is the church for you if:
  • You don’t believe in confidentiality. All the information you write on your reflection sheets are circulated and systematically shared in staff meetings. Keep in mind there is a lot of soft pressure to be as honest and forthcoming as you can on these. Anything you tell your leader gets reported back up the chain so the upper staff knows what you are “struggling with.” Former staff members have confirmed that they had “quotas” to meet in terms of how much they share about their ‘sheep.’ - You have too much time on your hands. Or if you’ve ever sat down and thought, you know, I should be spending every waking free moment of every day doing some kind of church activity. And I’d really like someone to be looking over my shoulder and get on my case if I don’t. - If you truly believe God wants you to be subservient to a church leadership structure, even at the cost of your own mental health. I’m not exaggerating, there are people who left this church that had to seek psychiatric care and medications. - If you’ve ever thought, “Choosing a spouse is hard. Wouldn’t it be easier if there was a committee of church leaders to pick my spouse for me? I’d like it to be a surprise as to who, when and where they decide, without regard to my opinion on who it is. I don’t care if we have any shared interests, personality traits, mutual attraction or compatability, what our families think of each other, etc. After I meet him/her, I’d like to go through an expedited dating process of about a month, and let the leadership make most of the major decisions in regards to when and how our wedding will go.”


Unless of course, the leadership overlooks or forgets about you and/or decide you are not “spiritually ready” to be married. Be ready to be single a long time. Cause you should never make a decision like when or who to date on your own. I can’t make this stuff up, I seriously believe this church on it’s way to starting a monastery.


  • You are ready to sacrifice your career, education, grades and interests if they are perceived to come into conflict with serving the church’s’ interests. I quite literally almost failed out of school due to this church's practices and pressure to attend church activities. - If you think sleeping is for wussies. I got rebuked several times for sleeping too much. I didn’t even know that was possible- I thought when you are hungry, your body is saying you need food. When you are thirsty, your body is telling you to drink something. When you desire love, something like love must exist. But if you feel tired and sleepy, it’s cause you’re a selfish lazy bum that needs rebuking. These rebukes weren’t very consistent either. Later I was rebuked for not being enthusiastic enough at church activities, probably because I wasn’t sleeping enough. - You firmly believe that leaving a church or changing your opinion over time as you grow up is a Cardinal sin. Pay attention to how they talk about former members- most if not all of them were too prideful, too angry, too selfish, too *****. They don’t make it easy to leave, and once you do, it’s a full on character assassination blitz.

When I was a freshman, one of the staff told me, and I'm paraphrasing, "**** is a religion based on fear. Christianity is a religion based on love." Looking back, this seems ironic. When I was there, I remember being afraid a lot. Afraid of being rebuked, of being reported on to the leaders about something, about when or if I would be 'ready to date' in their eyes, if I would have to drop out of school to keep up with all the church activities. In conclusion, I’ve come to terms that in their minds, I will always be in the wrong, because I have challenged the infallible wisdom of the leadership of this church.


-jonwoo




There are some other good descriptions of practices that go on at UC Davis Gracepoint Fellowship on the webpage. Seems like a good resource for anyone who is considering going there, is currently going there and am feeling unease, or who is considering leaving, or has left.


Grace to you all.

Friday, May 6, 2016

Do you need help?

There have been several people asking for help in the comments. If you read through the posts and associated comments, you will find many emails of people offering to help. Please contact those people. I hate to be suspicious but typically, I never get a response when I reach out to those who need help and I'm left to wonder if someone is trying to find out who I am in real life.


This is not to discourage those of you who need to talk to someone. Please continue to reach out and get the help you need. Talk to peers who've left. Talk to leaders who've left. You need support in making any drastic life change and leaving Gracepoint at Berkeley, Davis, Hsinchu, Austin, Riverside, San Diego, Minneapolis, Los Angeles, Irvine, Santa Barbara, or Seattle is a drastic life change if you were a "core member."




Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Community and Accountability

Another great post up on The Chief Sinner blog on community and accountability.

http://chiefsinner.org/2016/04/06/demystifying-church-community-and-accountability/

When I read that post, I am reminded of the amount of shame and guilty I experienced while at Berkland/Gracepoint. There were public and private rebuking sessions, public shaming for minor offenses, and so much guilt. So. Much. Guilt!

While I was there, I felt guilty about:

  • not doing quiet time everyday
  • forgetting someone's birthday
  • forgetting to thank someone for something they did
  • not wanting to become staff
  • not going to prayer meeting
  • not praying passionately for 1 hour +
  • wanting to take care of my family or visit them during the holidays
  • liking someone of the opposite sex (just having the feelings!!)
  • when someone of the opposite sex seemed interested in me
  • not repenting well enough
  • being me
  • not wanting to give someone a ride every Sunday. They lived in S.F. I lived in the East Bay. I did it anyway.
  • not giving more money to Gracepoint
  • getting reimbursed for valid church expenses
  • not showing up to see Mary, John, Mark, and Grace off to ABCD
  • not liking one of the members of my small group
  • not liking someone in my class
  • not having 10 people I was reaching out to
  • etc.
What a drastic change compared to how I feel now. I feel little to no shame these days and guilty only when appropriate (when I've done something wrong).

Be free. It was for freedom that Christ set us free.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Good blog on church structure and authority


I recently started reading this blog called The Chief Sinner.

They have a post about the position of pastor at church and the use of honorific titles. You can find it here:

http://chiefsinner.org/2016/03/23/demystifying-church-the-pastors-calling-authority-and-our-use-of-honorific-titles/

Please read it. It's a good read.

If you are or were a part of Gracepoint Ministry, you are probably very familiar with ALL of the honorific titles that are or were used at that church. When I was a student, even the non Koreans used Oppa, Unni, Hyung, Noona, Jundosanim (JDSN - literal translation is evangelist) and Samonim (honorific title for a pastor's wife). At the time, I felt like it was a good thing to show honor to your elders by using these titles. But now I see it as potentially another way that the hierarchical and authoritarian structure of the church was reinforced.

I mean, it's a bit ridiculous that a white dude from the Midwest was calling an upperclassmen Hyung and Noona when he was not culturally Korean in any way, shape or form.

I realize it's a somewhat minor thing, but when I used to go there, I would have felt like a "rebel" if I had gone against their culture and did not call someone older than me Unni. I don't even call my biological siblings this! But I very easily conformed to this culture while at Berkland. Even now, I feel slightly uncomfortable when I write Kelly Kang instead of Kelly Samonim. And it's been over a decade since I left that church!

.

In light of Good Friday, let us all remember that nothing we do can earn or prove our salvation in Christ. It is a gift. Freely given to all.

It doesn't matter if you attend Gracepoint or another church or no church.
It doesn't matter if you do not have a desire to become staff, or explicitly don't want to become staff.
It doesn't matter if you do not want to move to some random city because Gracepoint decided that that's where the next church plant will be.
It doesn't matter if you love your spouse and are actually happily married.
It doesn't matter if you didn't do your quiet time every single day of the year.
It doesn't matter if you don't do what your leader says you should do.

These things do not make you a Christian. Nor more lovable to God, nor more worthy, nor more honorable. Do not believe the lies. You are enough, just as you are. God says so. You are worthy, just as you are. While we were yet sinners, Christ died for the ungodly.

Rest.

God calls you to rest. It's a commandment. Go read it. Want to be obedient? Obey that.