FBI Report on the Official and Unofficial Theology of the UC
Updated June 12, 2018
FBI Report (San Francisco office) on the UC / FFWPU,
A letter from the Church of the Nazarene in Seoul, reproduced on pages 9-11 of this FBI Report gives an interesting summary of the official and the unofficial theology of the Unification Church.
Extract from the FBI report referring to the letter:
[Unknown] further provided a letter containing information about Sun-Myung Moon prepared by the Church of the Nazarene, Korean Mission, Box 63, Young Deung T.O., Seoul, Korea. The letter indicates that Mr. Moon is the founder of the Unification Church which is officially titled “The Holy Spirit Association for the Unification of World Christianity“. Moon was born in Chung Ju, North Korea, in 1920. In his teenage years, Moon is said to have seen frequent visions and to have grown up surrounded by an atmosphere of mysticism. The letter indicates that he has divorced three wives having had one child by each of them. He was accused in 1955 of conducting a group sex orgie for which he served a three-month jail term. Moon founded his organization in 1954 basing it on his supposed religious visions. The letter alleges that actually Moon borrowed his doctrines from those taught at the Monastery of Israel.
The following doctrinal statement with [was] filed with the Korean Government by Moon’s Unification Association:
1) The one creator is the only God and father.
2) The only son, Jesus, is mankind’s savior.
3) The Second Advent of Jesus is in Korea.
4) Mankind shall become one united family centered around the event of the Second Coming.
5) Ultimate salvation rests upon the elimination of Hell and evil while establishing good and the Kingdom of Heaven.
The letter additionally states that the group also secretly observes such other beliefs and practices as the following:
1) Founder Moon is the Second Advent Jesus.
2) A believer receives a spiritual body by participating in a ceremony known as blood cleansing which is for women to have sexual intercourse with Moon and for men to have intercourse with such a woman. This idea of blood cleansing comes from the teaching that Eve committed immorality with the Serpent and she passes on to all of us serpent blood.
3) Secretly observed doctrines are Holy covenant and are of more value than the Bible.
4) Members who have experienced blood cleansing can produce sinless generation [children].
5) Founder Moon is sinless.
The letter indicates that, according to the National Religious Statistics published in 1969, the Unification group has 936 churches and 304,750 members in Korea. Leaders of other religious groups say that these figures are greatly exaggerated. There are no elders or ministers in the Unification Movement. The Unification group operates several business enterprises in Korea. A novel feature of Unification is mass wedding ceremonies which it performs. Once founder Moon joined 777 couples in wedlock. Mr. Moon has bought $100,000 ads in the New York Times newspaper to publicize his movement. Great and sweeping claims are made by the Unification members concerning their strength in Korea. Actually, they are not an important influence in Korean society. One may travel extensively in Korea and never see one of their meeting centers or never meet a follower of Reverend Moon.
Chicago Tribune, Monday, March 27, 1978
St Petersburg Independent, Tuesday March 28, 1978
The Moonies: Government Files Trace Church from Sex Cult to Korean CIA
Rev. Sun Myung Moon’s controversial Unification Church: Is it a front?
WASHINGTON — Once-secret government files released by a House subcommittee trace the so-called “Moonie” church from its origins as a small-time Korean sex cult to a worldwide organization operated by the Korean Central Intelligence Agency.
The documents, soon to be the subject of public hearings, indicate the Uniﬁcation (Moonie) Church was used by the Korean government as part of a lobbying effort in the U.S. Congress.
Diplomatic cables said that the church patriarch, Rev. Sun Myung Moon, headed a Korean cult that “interprets the Bible in sexual terms.” The KCIA decided to use Moon in a scheme that grew to include other Koreans bribing congressmen, the documents said.
A U.S. Central intelligence Agency report, marked “unevaluated” and written in February 1963, said that Lt. Col. Bo Hi Pak of the Korean army was working to expand the church into Washington under the direction of Kim Chung-pil, the director of the KCIA.
A cable sent to Washington from the American embassy in Seoul on Aug. 26, 1966, describes an initiation ceremony for the church involving sexual relations. The cable said the church refers to such initiation as “baptizing.”
The author of the cable quoted Thomas Chung, president of the Korean Students’ Association in Washington, as saying: “Colonel Pak was in trouble because he had attempted to initiate into his church (i.e. to have sexual relations with) the wife of a visiting ROK (Korean government) official (either the minister of national defence or the chief of staff).”
The cable continued: “According to Chung, the matter had been hushed up, but only with difficulty, and Pak had nearly lost his job because of it.”
That cable also quotes another intelligence source: “He said that the church interprets the Bible in sexual terms and maintains that religious experience is interrelated with sex. MUN Son-myong (sic), leader of the church, was once arrested because of the sexual practices of the organization.”
Spokesmen for Moon have acknowledged that the religious leader was arrested but maintained he was cleared of the charges.
The 1963 CIA document explained that the Korean intelligence agency planned to open a branch of the Uniﬁcation Church (also called Tong Il) in Washington with Bo Hi Pak as the real leader.
Pak was to organize the church in America, the CIA report said, through an organization called the Korean Cultural and Freedom Foundation. The authors of the CIA in-house reports said their sources disclosed in 1963 that the KCIA chief, Kim Chung-p’il, was using the church to advance his own political moves in Korea. The KCIA director was a ringleader in the coup that installed Park Chung Hee as president.’
Summaries of other top-secret U.S. intelligence reports released by Rep. Donald Frazer, D-Minn., indicate that in 1970 President Park Chung Hee launched a plan to use the Uniﬁcation Church as part of the Korean effort to stop the U.S. from pulling troops out of the country.
One summary said that President Park planned to use Bo Hi Pak to operate lobbying efforts through the church, while the millionaire socialite, Tongsun Park, focused his efforts on entertaining members of Congress and passing out gifts.
In the final months of the Nixon Administration, the Uniﬁcation Church held vigils outside the White House to oppose impeachment moves. Other Moonies walked the halls of Capitol Hill and urged congressmen to support Nixon and foreign aid for Korea.
Most church members are young unmarried adults who live in dormitories and devote their time to fundraising and other church-related activities in exchange for food, clothing and shelter. Church members and investigators who have infiltrated the church in recent years say that the Moonies live by a strict moral code that forbids sexual activity outside marriage.
However, the State Department reports — based on investigations of the Unification Church in the 1960s — paint a different picture.
At the time of the alleged effort to “baptize” a top official’s wife, Pak was assistant military attache at the Korean embassy in Washington.
Pak has told the House Subcommittee on U.S. Korean Relations that he left the embassy in 1964 to become affiliated with the Korean Cultural and Freedom Foundation. He is now president of the foundation and acts as interpreter for Moon.
During a lengthy and emotional speech before the House subcommittee, Pak branded as false all charges about his ties with the KCIA. He accused the House and the U.S. press of persecuting members of the Uniﬁcation faith and trying to “crucify” Moon.
Pak ridiculed assertions that the Moon religion is actually a foreign affairs arm of the Korean Intelligence Agency.
“The subcommittee, in the powerful name of the US Congress, gave unqualified authenticity to a so-called intelligence report. which is trash, total lies, distorted and vicious in nature,” Pak said.
He said that the Moon church is no more political than Catholic, Protestant, or Jewish congregations in the United States. Those churches, Pak said, actively and lawfully champion political causes as the Unification Church does.
Pak was not questioned about the alleged sexual practices. Fraser announced he will return Pak to the witness stand April 11 for more testimony.
The above text is from the St Petersburg Independent, Tuesday March 28, 1978. It appears that the article has been edited down from the Chicago Tribune version of the previous day. The following sentence was omitted:
“That Moon, and Moon alone, is Lord of the Second Advent, and subsequently cleanses women from sin after having intercourse with him.”
It is not known if anything else was edited out.
The pull of Sun Moon
Thousands of young Americans believe he has led them to truth and love. Hundreds of parents have formed a national organization to get back their children.
New York Times Magazine May 30, 1976 Berkeley Rice
This Tuesday evening, God willing, and perhaps helping, the Rev. Sun Myung Moon will join such illustrious ancestors as Babe Ruth, Joe Louis, Johnny Unitas, Pope Paul VI, and Billy Graham as a featured performer at Yankee Stadium. Over the past few weeks New Yorkers have grown accustomed to Moon’s face smiling at them from thousands of leaflets handed out by cheerful young “Moonies.” The leaflets, posters, and radio and TV ads invite everyone to attend Moon’s Bicentennial God Bless America Festival. Moon hopes to draw 200,000 people to the stadium (even though it will hold only 50,000). Those who get in will be treated to a rousing revival meeting, with classical fan dances by the Korean Folk Ballet, inspiring songs by Moon’s New Hope singers, and a lengthy, energetic speech in Korean by Moon. The leaders of Moon’s Unification Church say the rally will promote the spiritual significance of the Bicentennial, and help “restore confidence in the American dream.” But it will also celebrate the Second Coming of the millionaire-evangelist who proclaims himself the new Messiah.
In a country whose young tripped out radical politics or drugs in the 60’s, religious cults seem to be the opiate of the 70’s. Several are prospering but Sun Moon’s Unification Church is by far the hottest – and most controversial. It now has 30,000 followers, 5,000 members, has fund raising and recruiting centers at 100 American cities and college campuses and takes in more than $10 million a year in donations and sales from solicitations.
To many anguished parents who have lost their children to him, however, this new Messiah is a spiritual fraud, a devil who enslaves young Americans by means of brainwashing and mind control. Parents have tried to rescue or kidnap their sons and daughters from his communes, but often the kids can’t be found, or refuse to come home.
The Moon phenomenon, “his Moonies and the controversy they have caused are exemplified by the struggle of Mr. and Mrs. Elton Helander, of Guilford, Conn., who have been fighting the church since their daughter Wendy joined it two years ago at age 18. Until then Wendy had led a well-rounded and unremarkable life. She was pretty, healthy and bright enough to complete high school in three and a half years, with time to spare for cheerleading, skiing and sewing. “She had so much to offer,” says her mother, “and her morals were so good. She was dead against drugs and sex and anything like that.” As a college freshman, she seemed a bit “confused” to her mother, perhaps because she became interested in such exotic notions as meditation and eastern philosophy. Wendy later described herself that fall as an idealist, troubled by the suffering and violence in the world, and searching for a “meaningful life.”
Approached by Moon’s campus recruiters, Wendy attended a Unification weekend in Maine, where the members “radiated so much love, so much warmth” that she soon decided her search had ended. She called her mother breathlessly to ask if she had heard the “good news.”
“What good news?” asked Mrs. Helander.
“That there is a new Messiah on this Earth,” said Wendy.
When she came home at Christmas, her mother found her troubled. “She cried a good deal of the time, and yet she was telling me how happy she was.” About that time, Wendy gave away many of her cherished possessions to fellow members of what she began calling “the Family.” She dropped out of college, joining the church as a full-time member.
“I never had any questions,” she said later. “It all made sense.” It did not make sense to her parents, and eventually they abducted her from a church center and had her “deprogrammed” by Ted Patrick, a man who specializes in such treatment, to cure her of Moon’s spell. It didn’t work. She left home soon after taking only a toothbrush, and returned to the fold. “I think the poor kid was afraid,” said her mother. “They had her mind all along.”
The Helanders brought suit against the Unification Church, which refused even to produce Wendy in court, because of the “trauma” she would suffer. At the trial, her lawyer argued that Wendy had not been brainwashed and was not under the church’s control. “Her big crime,” he told the court, “has been believing what she chooses to believe.” Both sides produced members or ex-members who testified about the independence or lack of it. Both sides produced psychiatrists who argued about the state of Wendy’s mind. The judge finally dismissed the case, ruling that the parents had not proved the church had exercised “control or restraint over her person.”
The trial left no one happy, Mrs. Helander said. “Our daughter is not our daughter any more.” Wendy said she still loved her parents, but no longer trusted them. She was right. Last fall, while visiting Wendy at a church training center, her parents took her for a walk near a back road. A car pulled up, and Wendy was shoved in and driven away. She was held captive for about three months, moved frequently to avoid detection, and continually deprogrammed. However, one of those who worked on her was a Moonie plant. With his help they both escaped and returned to the church.
The Helanders have not seen or heard from Wendy since, and the affair has left them emotionally and financially devastated. “We were such a quiet, happy family before this happened,” says Mrs. Helander, “but it’s ruined our lives.” They have spent close to $40,000 on legal fees, deprogramming and other costs, and are heavily in debt. Yet they have not given up hope: “All we want for our daughter is her freedom. We’ve got to save her mind.” Wendy doesn’t want to be saved, but still hopes for an eventual reconciliation if they “are ready to accept the fact that this is where I want to be.”
In cases like Wendy’s, it is not easy to tell the good guys from the bad. Do good guys kidnap? Or, bad guys rescue? Or, do both do both? Both sides claim to have truth, justice and love on their side. Whoever’s right, thousands of young Americans like Wendy have left their homes, schools and jobs to join Moon’s crusade. Hundreds of parents like the Helanders have formed a national organization to fight the church and free their children from its control. And the church, in turn, has counter attacked, trying to achieve respectability through community good will and political influence.
To improve its image, Sun Moon’s church hired Burson-Marstellar, the same P.R. firm that has done work for Exxon and General Motors. (The relationship ended, in part, because the firm began to worry about how the account might affect its own image). And they make great efforts to win friends in Washington. Groups of Moonies walk the halls of Capitol Hill offering tea and flowers to Congressmen and trying to engage them in chats about God and His purpose in America. With bipartisan agility Moon has had his picture taken (and used repeatedly in church publications) with such senators as Hubert Humphrey, Edward Kennedy, Strom Thurmond and James Buckley. With the enthusiastic support of Representative Richard Ichord, former chairman of the Internal Security Committee, Moon recently presented a speech on “God’s Plan for America ” in the House Caucus Room. (Perhaps the Congressmen should listen. Moon once told a group of trainees: “If the United States continues its corruption, and we find among the Senators and Congressmen no one useful for our purposes, we can make senators and Congressmen out of our members.)
The church operates a political affiliate in Washington called Freedom Leadership Foundation, which lobbies for United States military and economic support for South Korea; hence, some critics suspect that Moon’s movement is directed or subsidized by the South Korean C.I.A., a charge the church denies. It is interesting however, that two of Moon’s closest aides are former Korean Army colonels who served as military attaches in the South Korean Embassy in Washington. Indeed, a House committee plans hearings next month on possible attempts by South Korea to influence American politics through the Moon movement.
Because of complaints about the Unification Church’s interest in politics, and its emphasis on fund raising, various Federal, state and local government agencies have begun questioning its claims as a religious movement. The Internal Revenue Service has not taken action against it – on complaints about its $10 million income tax exemption – but the U.S. Immigration Service has – ordering the deportation of 600 Moonies, mostly from Japan, for illegal soliciting. Their visas had been granted for “religious education and training.” But the Immigration official in charge of the case subsequently found little evidence of formal religious education: “As nearly as we can determine their “training” consists of soliciting funds and selling some items.”
As part of its campaign to gain respectability, the church has spawned several quasi academic front organizations ostensibly devoted to the search for world peace and freedom. Though they are said to be independent, these groups generally share the leadership of Sun Moon and other church officials. One group, the International Cultural Foundation, held its annual conference on “the unity of the sciences” last fall at New York’s Waldorf Astoria, drawing several hundred scientists and scholars, including a few Nobel laureates. While anti-Moon parents picketed outside with placards comparing Moon to Hitler and Mussolini, the scholars debated “the standard of values in society.” The letters of invitation – offering to pay all expenses, plus $3,000 for co-chairmen – failed to mention that the affair was sponsored by the Unification Church or that Sun Moon would give the opening address. When they learned of Moon’s involvement, many of those invited – Buckminister Fuller, Norman Cousins and several others who had agreed to serve as advisers for the conference – withdrew.
Yet, obviously, not everyone feels this way about Sun Moon. Many parents either approve of or don’t mind their children’s joining his cult. Some figure its better than drugs, or drifting aimlessly around the country. Others look with favor upon it as a Christian youth movement.
While church members accept Moon’s theology as revealed truth, nonmembers generally find it a mind boggling mixture of Pentecostal Christianity, Eastern mysticism, anti-communism, pop psychology and Meta physics. According to “Divine Principle,” Moon’s book of revelations, God intended Adam and Eve to marry and have perfect children, thereby establishing the Kingdom of Heaven on Earth. But Satan, embodied in the snake, seduced Eve, who in turn passed her impurity on to Adam, bringing about the Fall of Man. God then sent Jesus to redeem mankind from sin, but Jesus also bungled His mission, and died before He could marry and father a new race of perfect children. The time has now come for a second Christ who will finally fulfill God’s original plan. The Unification Church coyly refuses to identify the new Messiah, but like Moon, he just happens to have been born in Korea in 1920. As told by Moon, and embellished in successive accounts by his disciples, the story of his life presents impressive qualifications for the position of Messiah. “From childhood I was clairvoyant,” he once told a group of followers. “I could see through people, see their spirits.” When he was 12, he began praying for extraordinary things,” and must have caught God’s attention. At 16, while he was praying on a mountainside on Easter morning, Jesus appeared to him in a vision and called upon him to carry out His unfinished task.
After further visionary chats with Moses, Buddha and assorted biblical luminaries, Moon began preaching his own version of Messianic Christianity. In 1954, self ordained, he founded the Holy Spirit Association for the Unification of World Christianity. As his cult grew, Moon ran afoul of the civil and religious authorities, a pattern that continues to plague him in this country. He was excommunicated by his own Presbyterian Church, and arrested various times by the police – for anti-communist activities, according to Moon; on morals charges, according to his Korean critics, involving “purification” rites with female initiates.
Moon’s church has thrived under the military dictatorship of South Korea’s Gen. Park Chung Hee. While the Park regime has suppressed, jailed or exiled hundreds of critics, particularly among the clergy, it has formed a friendly association with the Unification Church. Moon preaches anti-communism and holds mass-rallies in support of the government; Park extends various forms of official support, sending senior civil servants and military officers to Unification “leadership seminars,” for example. A man of many parts, Moon has managed to divert enough attention from spiritual affairs to build an industrial conglomerate in Korea with sales of $15 million a year, drawing in part on the voluntary labor of his Korean followers. Moon’s factories turn out heavy machinery, titanium, paint, pharmaceuticals, marble vases, shotguns and ginseng tea.
Since moving to the United States in 1973, the short, stocky, moonfaced evangelist, now 56, has settled with his wife, eight children and a staff of 35 Moonies in a 25 room mansion overlooking the Hudson River in Irvington, NY. When not looking after his religious and corporate affairs, he spends a good deal of time fishing on his 50 foot cabin cruiser, New Hope. Church officials bristle at criticism of Moon’s luxuries. “Why must a religious leader be an ascetic?” asks one. “Look at the Pope,” says another. “Followers of many religions honor their spiritual leader with physical comforts worthy of the dignity of his position. I trust Reverend Moon’s relationship with God, so I don’t object to his life style.”
Though Moon takes little part in the church’s day-to-day operations and meets only occasionally with its leaders, he supposedly approves all major decisions himself. “What he says goes!” says a nonmember who has dealt with the movement’s top officials.
At his rare public appearances, Moon is usually introduced by Unification’s president, Neil Salonen, 31, a smooth speaker who tells audiences this country is going to hell because of all the crime, suicide, alcoholism, divorce, sex, drug abuse, college radicals and communists. He says God has sent the Rev. Mr. Moon to the United States to solve these problems and to immobilize an ideological army of young people to unite the world in a new age of faith.”
Because Moon addresses his American followers only in Korean, outsiders can’t appreciate his charisma. His speeches often run two hours or longer and are full of hellfire and Korean brimstone punctuated with kicks, karate chops, laughter and tears. (One reporter calls the performance a “kung fu tantrum.” Through his translator, a former South Korean Army colonel named Bo Hi Pak, Moon tells his audiences of the approaching apocalypse, and offers them one last chance for salvation: “You can be the citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven if you meet the coming Messiah. He is your hope and the only hope of America and of this world.”
Last fall, I observed Moon at a sunrise service at Belvedere, the church’s magnificent $800,000 estate in Tarrytown, NY. By 6 a.m., Moon was talking to about 500 young members who had come up by church buses from New York City. Shivering in the predawn chill, they listened, seemingly captivated. When Moon laughed, they smiled. When he yelled, they stared back in awed silence. When he finished, an associate led the audience in a 15 minute prayer in which he asked repeatedly if they were willing to sacrifice themselves for the church. To each question, they responded in unison, “Yes, Father.” I thought they meant God.
After the service, Moon marched up to the top of the hill overlooking the Hudson, circled by a phalanx of husky bodyguards and followed by the members. There he stood on what members call “the Holy Rock.” With the rising sun just shining on his head – a setting and timing obviously choreographed with considerable care – everyone sang a church hymn called “Shining Fatherland.” Moon then gave a 10 minute prayer in Korean, during which I caught the phrase “Yankee Stadium” several times.
Later, as Moon talked with church officials inside the mansion, I noticed a Korean identified as Colonel Han – “He used to be with the embassy in Washington” – giving orders with military crispness. Another fellow, in a blue uniform turned out to be Spiro captain of Moon’s yacht. As Moon prepared to leave, his party moved with the precision of Secret Servicemen escorting the President. Moon’s bodyguards communicated by means of tiny wrist transmitters and earphones, saluting him as he climbed into his black limousine. As he sped away, they jumped into another limousine and followed.
When I returned to the Holy Rock, I found about 20 Moonies kneeling around it, praying aloud, some sobbing with fervor. Some jerked spasmodically, in spiritual transport, crying out, “Father, oh Father, please help us…” By then, I was no longer sure whether they were praying to God or “Father” Moon.
To understand such devotion, one must follow the process by which the Unification Church recruits and trains its members. Wherever the clean-cut, smiling Moonies can find them – on city streets or college campuses – they engage young Americans in discussions of the state of the country or of their souls. Many Americans are anxious to talk. As one church official told me: There are a lot of lonely people walking around.”
The discussions always end with an invitation to a lecture or retreat. Recruits get a daily dose of six to eight hours of mind-numbing theology based on Moon’s “Divine Principle.” By the final lecture, they learn that God has sent Sun Myung Moon to save the world in general, and them in particular.
The rest of the days are filled with group activities: discussions, calisthenics, meals, sports, lots of singing and praying, generally starting at dawn and lasting well past midnight. In the evenings, the Moonies give testimony of how they have found peace, purpose, love and joy in the Family. Never left alone, recruits are encouraged to pour out their hearts to their new friends, who offer continuous attention and comfort. The weekend ends with a hard-sell pitch for commitment to the next stage in the conversion process, a week-long seminar devoted to more of the same. About one in four makes the step.
In the Northeast, the church’s training headquarters is situated in upstate New York, in Barrytown, in a 250-acre former Christian Brothers monastery purchased the compound. The Moonie commune offers a welcome refuge: no drugs, no drinks, no sex, no money, no problems, no choices, and no decisions. From the team leader’s cheerful “Rise and shine” at 5:30 a.m. to the last group songs and prayers at midnight, Moonies rarely have to think for themselves. Full of fervor, they follow orders and perform their assigned chores with gusto.
Those who observe Moonies closely often notice a glassy, spaced out looks which, combined with their everlasting smiles, makes them resemble tripped-out freaks and gives rise to rumors that the church drugs them. Although some of the glassiness is probably due to a lack of sleep, many Moonies really are on a high – but they are tripping out on faith and devotion, not drugs.
Most parents find that hard to believe. They also have trouble understanding the church’s puritan attitudes toward sex, which govern every minute of its member’s lives. During a tour of Barrytown with Michael Warder, a 30 year old Stanford graduate who serves as director of training, I asked why all activities there and at local church centers were so carefully segregated by sex. “That way, everyone feels more comfortable in their study and in their search for the truth,” Warder replied. “As soon as they’re mixed together you find the boys and girls begin thinking about other things. We feel there’s too much permissive sex and promiscuity today.”
Even if they were in favor of sex, the Moonies would scarcely have time for it. They put in grueling dawn to dusk days recruiting and fund raising. They peddle candles, peanuts, and dried flowers. Some work in pairs at street corners or shopping plazas; others go out in teams selling door to door in suburbs. They rarely mention the church or Sun Moon. They are polite, but persistent. When asked what they’re raising money for, they give vague or misleading answers like “Christian youth work” or “drug abuse program.”
Fund raising leaders send their troops off in the morning with songs, prayers and pep talks, encouraging competition among one another and with other teams. Stoked up like Marine recruits for a bayonet drill, the Moonies hustle for the Lord with a fervor no profit motive could inspire. Those who fail to meet a respectable daily quota often spend the evening praying for God’s help the following day. The average Moonie takes in about $50 to $200 a day; the more successful can make up to $500. Every penny is turned in to the team leader who then turns it over to the church.
Many Moonies are ready for such commitment, and need little pressure: “I’ve been looking for something like this for years,” one told me. “It answers all the questions I was asking.” An ex-Moonie who had spent eight months in the movement said: “I’ll tell you what attracted me. I saw people who looked happy at a time when I felt lonely and desperate. I had no idea what to do with my life, and they had a purpose.”
About half of those who complete the week-long seminar join the movement. Some join as “followers,” remaining at their jobs or at school, and working evenings or weekends on church projects. Some contribute part of their salaries. Those who join as full-time members either move into a local center, or stay on at Barrytown for increasingly intense seminars lasting from three weeks to four months.
During their first few months in the movement, new members often get phone calls or letters from distraught parents and friends, urging them to drop out or at least to come home and talk it all over. One who refused told his parents, “At least I believe in something.” Those who waver are often told their parents or others who oppose the church are acting on behalf of Satan. An evening of intense prayer and guidance generally brings such wayward sheep back to the fold. A few do drop out, but only after strenuous objections from their group leaders.
Once they move in, new members often give what possessions they have to the church. They no longer need money anyway. The church takes care of all their daily needs, from toothpaste to trousers. Directors of the large centers sometimes buy up cheap lots of nearly identical clothing for their resident members, thereby increasing the degree to which Moonies tend to look as though they were cloned rather than recruited.
Except for the Spartan food, clothing and shelter provided for its members, the church invests most of its funds in real estate. It owns property in many states, including more than $15 million worth in New York alone. Earlier this month, Unification agreed to pay more than $5 million for the 42-story 2,000 room New Yorker to be used for its world headquarters. As an investor in real estate, the church has a significant advantage over commercial competitors; its religious status exempts it from property taxes; and most of the repairs, renovations and maintenance on the buildings are performed (critics call it “slave labor”) by willing Moonies.
The New York City Tax Commission is questioning the Unification Church ’s right to its tax exemption, and other challenges are being made to its legitimacy as a religious movement. The New York State Board of Regents has held up recognition of the church’s new seminary at Barrytown. The New York City Council of Churches has rejected Unification’s request for membership, in part because of Moon’s role as the new Messiah, and his claim that Christ failed in his mission. “They call themselves a church,” says one council leader, “but they do not act like one, particularly in the matter of individual freedom and he alleged incarceration of young people.”
Under the leadership of Rabbi Maurice Davis of White Plains, the national organization that has been formed of parents who have lost their children tries to locate them through the network of ex-members. If the parents wish, the organization puts them in touch with professional deprogrammers like Ted Patrick, who may try to rescue the children for fees that can run several thousand dollars. The deprogramming can be more brutal than any brainwashing the church may practice. Rabbi Davis warns parents that such attempts may be illegal and dangerous. “And if it doesn’t work,” he tells them, “you may lose your child.” But for those like Wendy Helander’s parents, who feel they’ve already lost their children, the warning seems meaningless.
Rabbi Davis and others who have studied the movement say that what happens to the young Moonies follows the classic pattern of brainwashing: They are isolated from past and outside contacts; worn down physically, mentally and emotionally; surrounded with new instant comrades and a new authority figure; and finally programmed with new beliefs and pressured into total commitment. “I am your brain,” Moon has told them. “What I wish must be your wish.”
But while total conversion to the church may require or cause the suspension of one’s critical faculties, and while one may well question the independence of a true converts mind, no one has proven the church holds its members against their will.
Perhaps the Unification Church has been criticized unfairly for doing much of what established religions have been doing for years. For example, suppose I described a church that has amassed great wealth and property in this country through charitable donations and profitable investments; a church whose leader lives in splendor while young novitiates live in ascetic communes, cut off from family and friends, leading lives of absolute devotion to the church and absolute obedience to its authority. Would this description not fit the Catholic Church as well as that of Sun Moon?
Unification’s leaders distinguish their movement from other cults by stressing their concern about crime, drugs, alcohol and other social ills. But none of the recruits I saw looked like ex-junkies, and most come from middle class homes rather than crime-ridden ghettos. For all its talk about social problems, the church runs no programs aimed at solving them, and devotes almost no effort to helping nonmembers. Most of its resources are directed inward, producing more money and more members, who in turn will recruit more members and raise more money. When I asked one church official how this would benefit society, he replied, “We can change the world by changing men’s hearts.” When I countered that such a policy would solve society’s problems only if everyone joined the movement, he smiled.
Obviously not everyone is joining the Unification Church. Through a process of self-selection, Moon’s movement seems to attract only those youths already seeking some form of commitment. Many have been drifting from cults to communes for years, sampling the spiritual fare like diners at a smorgasbord. The church may be capitalizing on their loneliness, but it can hardly be blamed for their vulnerability.
While critics describe the movement as authoritarian, the church leaders prefer to call their approach “loving and parental.” I think both descriptions may be accurate. To thousands of young Americans threatened or frustrated by the prospect of adulthood, Moon’s family offers the security of perennial childhood. To lonely young people drifting through cold, impersonal cities and schools, it offers instant friendship and communion, a sense of belonging. To those troubled by drugs, sex or materialism, the church offers a drugless, sexless world of ascetic Puritanism.
To those hungering for truth and meaning in a complex world, it offers purpose and direction. In exchange for their labor and devotion, Moon gives them a life of love, joy and inner peace, with no hassles, no doubts, and no decisions. Critics call that exploitation, but the Moonies consider it a bargain.