Former wife of Hyo Jin Moon, the eldest son of Sun Myung Moon and Hak Ja Han
1999 American Family Foundation National Conference, Minneapolis, MN.
Hanna Whitfield, AFF – Conference moderator:
Our speakers this afternoon are going to be Mr Herbert Rosedale, president of the American Family Foundation. He is a senior partner in the law firm of Parker Chapin Flattau and Klimpl in New York City. He has written several articles on Cults and the Law. He has also contributed a chapter to the book ‘Recovery from Cults’ and is the co-editor of the Boston movement ‘Critical perspectives on the International Churches of Christ’. Mr Rosedale will be talking with Nansook Hong, who was born in South Korea to prominent members of the Unification Church. She was hand-picked at age 15 by the Reverend Moon to marry his son, Hyo Jin, the heir to Moon’s spiritual and economic empire. After 14 years of marriage, Nansook and her five children escaped the Moon compound in New York. Divorced from her now former husband, Hyo Jin, Nansook and her children live in Massachusetts. She is the author of the book ‘In the Shadow of the Moons – My life in the Reverend Sun Myung Moon’s Family’.
Please welcome Herbert Rosedale and Nansook Hong.
ESQ – AFF President: What I would say is never say never. And if any of you sitting in this room would have believed a year ago that you would sit and listen to Nansook, and that Nansook would be on the same stage with me, it just reinforces that never say never. And it shows how there is hope, there is change, and a lot of it is initiated by things you really don’t expect. Because I think that the process by which we came to meet at all was as fully unexpected by you as it was by me.
Nansook Hong: Well as being a member of the Unification Church, formerly now, I always viewed you as this monster. I mean that’s how we were told that this Herb Rosedale person who is, well of course this whole satanic figure that we thought. I had that view of a person who is a very, is an incredibly horrible person. That is how you were viewed. But when I needed your help, it was Madelene, my best friend, who helped me to meet you. And I found out how a wonderful and loving and caring a person you were. And I was, I am grateful, for all the help you have given me, and at the same time for a lot of people out there. People like us who need help, and when we came to you, you are there.
HR: Nansook, people always would wonder how it felt to be chosen, and to be put in such a position at such an early time of your life.
NS: Well, since I was born into the church I was taught to believe that Reverend Moon was the messiah and I was supposed to wait for Reverend Moon to choose my spouse. And that was basically absolute. It was something that we had to do. So when I was chosen to be Reverend Moon’s daughter-in-law, I really didn’t have any choice. It was either going against God, or say, ‘yes’ and that’s what I did. I was a good girl. I said yes to my parents; yes to Reverend Moon. Looking back, trying to understand what I really felt at that point is pretty difficult because it was such a shock for me to get married at that point and especially to Reverend Moon’s son. And I think I kind of blocked a lot of things out and I kind of withdrew from the actual situation that I was in. It’s kind of pretty cloudy, that’s how I put it. I try to remember exactly how I felt, what my emotions were, and I don’t really remember that much.
HR: During that period of time, was the life that you were living as the wife of the eldest son of the Reverend Moon a different one than the life you had before or a different one from that which you had expected?
NS: Yes, I grew up with my parents, they were the early members, so they had to endure a lot of hardships, of course psychologically and at the same time physically. We were poor, we didn’t have a lot, we didn’t have anything much. And then there’s a difference of lifestyle between members versus the [Moon] family. I always viewed the family as these idealistic people who were chosen by God, who had this true love. There was, I guess, a kind of awakening, once was in the Moon family, trying to live in their whole atmosphere. First it was a whole materialistic difference. The Moons have everything, they have cars, they have servants, basically they have a lavish lifestyle. They have beautiful compounds. They have everything their heart desires, and the members really don’t have much. That was one aspect. Another aspect was I looked up to these people as people who were the model family, who were basically perfect. It was pretty easy to have that idealism. We didn’t really have that much of a close relationship with the Moon family. There were the portraits, the beautiful portraits with smiles which they had, that we looked up to. Living with them, having to get to know them as people, it was pretty sad. I never felt Reverend Moon and his wife as loving people, as we all believed they were. Their children were basically spoiled little rich kids. So the whole idealism was basically shattered.
HR: It must have been difficult as the idealism got shattered, because you were born into, and consistently a part of this movement, with the ideals and with the figure of the Reverend Moon at the head. How did you deal with the doubt and the conflict?
NH: Well, I did firmly believe I was chosen by God to be there and I began to doubt whether Reverend Moon really was the messiah because the realistic person that I had seen up close was in no way what he was presenting [himself] to be. He was a very egotistic, very selfish, a very egocentric person. He’s not loving at all, in any sense. But I was there, I was born into the system, I had children, and so my theory was that maybe Reverend Moon was failing his children, his children are failing, but I could still make a difference in that place. I felt that my position was somewhat unique and I was there to raise my children to be decent so that they could use the foundations that the church had to do so some good, some good for God, some good for humanity.
But later on I realized that I couldn’t change my ex-husband’s behaviors, and whatever I could do, whatever my part, I suppose I felt helpless. I didn’t see any hope in there. A lot of people, there are a lot of good members out there with a pure heart. They are there for the idealism, for God, and I think that’s what the church uses. But the whole upper hierarchy – they are just so corrupt. I don’t know whether when they started they had compassion about God or people. But being there 20, 30, 40 years, and when they preach the absolute power, and I think absolute power corrupts. And that’s what happened to this church. And the upper class elders they have a better lifestyle and they abuse, they manipulate the system and they manipulate the members, what they call the bottom, the workers, that’s how they portray [the members]. And they are there what, 10, 20 years working selling flowers thinking it’s for God, and in fact the Moons buy their Mercedes, their Rolls Royce and their 20 million dollar jets. That’s what they do. And it’s heart-breaking.
I thought I could make a difference but I realized, that’s just not possible, its just one against this whole empire and I also felt that the whole environment that my children were growing up was not a place for anybody to grow up. And no matter what I tried to do as a mum, when I saw my children becoming like their aunts and uncles being spoilt brats and telling members what to do and yelling at them I realized I really had to get them out of there. I couldn’t really do anything for them. So the whole realization I had, my awakening, and seeing Moon as a flawed person. The whole Moon family as being not idealistic but just this absolutely dysfunctional family. Of course they portray themselves as the ideal family who is, who are the family of God’s representatives who embodies true love, and that is absolutely absurd. And also I am, I was a battered woman. I see a lot of similarities between battered women and also cult members. I felt that I could change this person and with my love would guide me, if I could do my responsibility, and with God’s help anything was possible. But then I realized that’s not the case. You have your heart, you have your motivation, but the whole environment, when the environment is so corrupt, there’s nothing you can do. And that’s what I realized. And also I was afraid for my life. I knew one day my ex, he would be, and when he snapped then I would be dead. And I didn’t wait for that day. Basically I took my children and myself out of there and that’s what I did.
HR: Nansook, what role was played in support of you by your family?
NH: Well luckily my parents left before I did. My brother and his wife left, so that was a big help. And I didn’t really have to wait, well I didn’t have to worry about my loved ones and how they were going to be punished by Moon, so that was a good situation for me. But I didn’t have any friends. Being there [in East Garden] one thing I learned very early is that I couldn’t trust anybody. I was 15 when I got married, two months after being there in East Garden I realized that I had to protect myself and I couldn’t trust anybody. Every single word that I uttered, I had to think what that was going to do to me later on. Everybody there is all for power and they will kiss up to the Moons to get money and power and that’s what they are there for. So I didn’t really have any friends and the only thing I had was my faith in God. I think I created God for myself so I could be comforted and I could be loved and luckily about six months before I left I met Madelene, my best friend, Madelene Pretorius, who was working for my ex at that point. I came to the point in my life that I really had to talk to somebody, I felt completely alone for about 14 years. And at that point, the first person that I trusted, luckily, was a good person because they could [have been] another [kind of] person that could manipulate me and abuse the situation I was in. But luckily, she has been a great source of love and comfort. She’s been helping from packing the baggage, lying to my ex where I was when I had to go to the lawyers. She’s the one who told me to go see you and that worked out wonderfully. [laughter]
So my family was there and we do have some… all families have difficulties as well, and we are not perfect. My parents have been in the church for so long and they do have a certain mentality [about] the religion. I think it’s a bit difficult for them to let go of [it]. My parents and I have a little different view. I see the Unification Church as the organization that’s just there to rich Moon’s bank account basically, and their lifestyle, to feed the Moon’s kids. My parents thought that there is some truth in there, in which I disagree. So that’s where we are, and I love them and they love me and that’s what we have as family. And that’s a lot more than what Moon can say about true love and true family. I think all of us, are a lot better than the Moon family who is back there preaching to the whole world about love. I think we know more about love and I think we have more love in our hearts than they ever will.
HR: People have said that you were very courageous when you left—you don’t regard yourself as an image of a courageous person, yet you took some really serious risks in leaving. As you said in your book, before you actually left you really didn’t know how it was going to turn out and you were very concerned.
NH: I was scared to death. I was a scaredy cat so I don’t know anything about courage. I knew I had to leave for a lot of reasons and I had no resources. I was 29 years old with five children. I had no skills, I had nothing, but I knew I had to leave. But I was telling Madelene either I was completely stupid, or as Madelene put it, I was brave. But I somehow had a sense that it would work out OK. And I think that’s the courage that Madelene gave me. I didn’t know who in reality was against me. Because I was going against a whole empire, I knew they were gonna come after the kids, I knew they were going to squeeze me financially to come back. But at the same time I had my best friends, I had you, I had my wonderful friends and lawyers. Sometimes we all hate lawyers, that’s what we all believe… [laughter and applause] It was along legal battle. It took three years, but it worked out eventually. There were times I didn’t know how I was going to survive. I thought the custody was going to be taken away, because I couldn’t buy notebooks for my kids; the school started and I couldn’t buy notebooks for them. But it did work out.
HR: Nansook, before you left, did you talk to your kids about leaving?
HR: What did you tell them?
NH: I told them that I was leaving and they understood. I asked them… I gave them a choice whether they could come with me or they could stay with their dad. It was their choice. If they [had] said, ‘Mom I’ll stay with dad,’ then there was nothing I could do. But I knew in my heart that they were coming with me. We were very close. The only thing I had was my kids, and they didn’t really trust anybody else except mum. So we had a really tight relationship and I think that helped a lot in terms of having the plan and the youngest one that I had, she was four, it was about 2-3 months before we actually left and we packed and things were disappearing but they all kept the secret. They were very happy.
HR: What do you mean things were disappearing?
NH: Oh because I was packing. I had to take the picture albums, their clothes, well most of our belongings, of course we couldn’t take the furniture. I rented a storage room nearby and I started packing as I took the stuff out of there little by little. The kids helped, they packed their stuff. People did ask ‘What are you doing’ and I said, ‘Oh I’m organizing’. [laughter] So if your wives are organizing you should pay attention! [laughter] So we all helped. It was our plan to leave and I was very happy when my daughter said, ‘Mum, we want to go with you’. And I did explain the differences of the lifestyle that we will have. I said, ‘you guys have everything that you want here, and a big house, a swimming pool, everything. The place I’m going will probably be a small house, probably you will not have anything you want, but you’ll have mum.’ And they said, ‘I don’t care about this big house, I just want to live in a small house with you, mum’. So that’s how we carried out our plan.
HR: If someone asked you what is the strongest positive feeling you have as a result of having left, what would it be?
NH: Ah, that’s a difficult question.
HR: I think it is an easy question.
NH: The first thing that I felt, was I felt completely free as I left. I put my five children into my caravan. I drove out and basically I never looked back. I drove to Massachusetts, it took about four hours. I cried the whole trip. But when we arrived, it was the whole feeling that I had planned this for about eight months and I knew if my ex found out that day I was leaving, that was it, either I would be dead or be a prisoner in that compound for the rest of my life. And at the same time there was a lot of soul-searching. I wasn’t sure whether my decision was the right decision, and [I had] a lot of emotions. You know it was 29 years of my life, that’s the only thing I knew was the church. I was starting a new life which I didn’t know how I was going to handle. But I felt, the most enjoyable feeling that I had was that, even though I didn’t know how I was going to pay the next month’s bill, I had a choice. I had choice. In my life I was able to do what I wanted to do, but at the same time I knew there was responsibility with that choice. But I have to say it was the freedom, the feeling of being free. I think that’s the most precious things that I found when I left.
HR: There are a lot of people who are born within a group and brought up within a group and they really don’t get to know things outside and people outside [the group], and yet you were lucky enough to have a little light filter in outside that helped you make your decisions. What would you say to people, who are born in a group, about the possibility of leaving and what it does for your life afterwards?
NH: Well, I think anything is better than being in that group. I know we all have… I think for anybody to live a life is difficult, it’s not all happy. We have our difficult moments and we struggle from time to time, financially and emotionally. Well, I was born, and I started from that place and I completely trusted my parents. They believed with all their heart that they were doing the right thing. Well, I went to school and that was a big help. I started to develop the critical thinking as well. But at the same time, even though you do have education, and you associate with people outside, still you have this belief which is powerful because it’s a religion. How can you ever go against God? That’s what they have against you, if they use God – and you can’t even dispute when they talk about God. How can anyone say this is what God is saying, and then no reason and no logic can go against that. And that’s what they have, these cults. [Sigh]
HR: And how about the hypocrisy—or the difference between the words and what you saw– [how did it] affect you?
NH: I theorized, I developed my own way to cope with that hypocrisy. Yes, I saw some of the discrepancies. I saw the Moons going to gamble in Las Vegas and Atlantic City and their lifestyle versus the members lifestyle. They are the ones that you have to sacrifice, and they are the ones who have this true love when I didn’t see any. Um, I think because a lot of times once we get into a situation we want to make sure that is this step we made the correct one. So we, you, go around those pictures saying well, maybe. Especially the examples that Moon gives, he is going to gambling because he has to rescue and save these people, the gamblers, so he has to be there [laughter] and actually associate with these people. So then you do accept that and think, OK, well maybe that’s what it is. And also I think you do completely cut off your critical thinking; at that point. You just accept. And this is God’s representative, so your words, your voice, your inner voice really can’t do anything about it. You just basically accept what it is and the fact that. And you like to see the nicer side, not the darker side. You want to believe. Especially when, I suppose, the members who do not get to have direct access to the [Moon] family [themselves]. So, you do want to believe that they are working for God and [that] they pray all the time and they rarely sleep. In terms of my being there [with the Moon family], even though I saw the hypocrisy, I felt that I had to do my part even though other people were failing. God gave me the mission and I had to do it, and that was my theory.
HR: You actually, for a while, worked in one of the Unification Church controlled businesses.
HR: Did you have an opportunity to see there how people were treated?
NH: Well, I didn’t have to go outside the compound to see how people were treated. But, yes, I did see how the members were treated, especially by the Moon family. The Moon children, since they were young, they were taught they were the special ones, and the members, the staff who worked there were supposed to be—they were the chosen ones out of all the members—to serve these people. So any contact with the Moon family is basically considered as privileged and honored. So, yes, you get yelled at and you get spat at and that’s that. If you have any contact with these heavenly people, you’re grateful. And that’s how they translate [their experience]. And I am also guilty. I had my babysitters and I am a flawed person as well, and I do feel in my own way I try to be a good person, but I’m sure I was horrible to them from time to time, and I regret that. I hope they can forgive me if I can see them some time later. I tried to teach my children that the staff are there for God, [and] not just for the Moon family. But when their aunts and uncles say, ‘These stairs are only for the True Family and staff—and to go there, members have to use those’. And that’s what is ingrained in them. They are perpetuating this behavior that they are special people and they are better than anybody else and so they have to be treated in a certain way.
HR: You said that the members have this reverential attitude towards meeting and doing things with the Moon family. I noticed today that people who were former members of the Unification Church, when they come and they meet you, they have a similar reaction—in terms of, maybe it’s just a little trepidation. Maybe it’s just something that makes them feel funny. Have you seen that?
NH: Yes, I have. I have mixed emotions, I’m happy that they are happy to see me. At the same time, I guess it’s that if I am still treated in a certain way, then I feel guilty for them to have that kind of response when they see me and hopefully they can…
HR: Nansook you said to me once, ‘If I could leave, anybody could leave’. What did you mean by that?
NH: Well, looking at my situation I think I was in a pretty difficult, I was stuck. I was born there. All my family were there. I had five children. I had nothing else except the church. That was my whole life. And also the fact that my whole life revolved around what I thought God wanted me to do. I just didn’t… I don’t think I was in a good situation to leave that place. But, given that I saw the light, I think I came to my realization. And if I could find a best friend then I think anybody could. Even though at this point they have their belief system set in their mind. But, especially if I can talk to the relatives, to the mums and families, and just keep trying, you know, then somehow, somewhere… because what they believe in, is not true. I think they believe in their own idealism in their heart and think that’s more beautiful than anything that Moon can give them. And if you keep trying hard you’ll break them. If it’s not today, maybe tomorrow, if it’s not tomorrow maybe five years or ten years. They do need that love and your support and just don’t give up, and they’ll come around. With your love they’ll come to your heart.
HR: How do you feel about coming here?
NH: Well, it’s just wonderful. I know I’ve been wanting to attend an AFF meeting for a while. This is the first time that I’m here. I met a lot of great people and I really do appreciate when you come up to me and say ‘Oh, I read your book and it was really helpful’. I know a lot of people did write to me, and I’m trying to write everybody back, but that’s not always possible. I am grateful that my experience could be somewhat helpful to other people and that gives meaning to my life. I felt that 29 years of my life was a total waste and I thought that was a mistake, but if I could just turn that around and help somebody else who are in a similar situation, who are in doubt and use my information to change their lives, then I think that’s a blessing for me.
HR: I’d like to leave a little time to answer questions, and since we have so many people here it would help us if people submitted question in writing. We will take them as they are handed up to us. I didn’t tell Nansook that we would be having questions from the audience. You can see the kind of person she is, and we can continue this discussion almost indefinitely.
NH: Then my kids will miss me.
HR: That’s right. Nansook said, if we did that her kids would miss her. Do you want to read the question.
NH: Two points. One. Thank you for enabling us and the world to learn about the truth as seen from someone who has been inside the empire. Your liberation gives us all hope.
NH: Thank you.
NH: Two. There are thousands of workers who refer to the Moons as True Parents. Our daughter among them. They now say that they are working for the good of humanity, for the Pure Love Alliance. What is your message to them?
NH: Well, I think it is anybody’s choice to believe what they want to believe. But it is my experience being in there for 29 years, I have been living with the Moon family for 14 years, and what I saw and experienced is, is not what they preach. They don’t practice what they preach. They have their lives. They take drugs. They drink. They have their sexual liaisons and they talk about actual love and be true to your spouse and eternal love—and so if I can tell them, and I know a lot of people will decide not to listen, saying, ‘Oh, there is this rumor and this situation’. I heard that I, from some of the members, that I was not spiritually strong enough to go through what I went through. But then, if that is the case then why don’t the Moons [be] more truthful about their own lives and their flaws. But then at the same time, they cannot say they are flawed people. They are supposed to be these divine, absolute, human beings. So, I can only offer my experience – [they are] not what they say they are. They have a lot of hatred inside, rather than love. And I hope some of the members can see through that.
HR: Nansook, if we answered all the questions, I think you could write another book. A number of the questions are similar, and they ask, very simply, what are you doing now?
NH: Here, I am here talking to everybody. Well, I have five children and so basically that is my main role. I am a taxi mum and a soccer mum. I have 4, 9, 11, 12 and 16 [year-olds]. And my daughter has just got her permit, so she is driving and I am sitting next to her and I’m petrified. [laughter] I do a lot of mum stuff and I’m taking some classes. I am taking psychology classes and at the same time I am working in a battered woman’s shelter. And I am hoping I could go to law school. [applause]
HR: A number of questions have asked, how have the top officials, including the Rev. Moon and his wife, reacted to your leaving?
NH: My leaving. I think it was a shock for them. I don’t think anybody suspected that I would leave. Initially I think they wanted me to come back. And they tried all different tactics and it didn’t work. One tactic was they were not going to give the child support if I didn’t give up my confidentiality. I wanted to write a book, I wanted to just tell the people about what I experienced. So that we had our battle. I think, at this point, they have given up. My ex married again, another arranged marriage. It is not just my situation that they are struggling [with]. Most of their children are either divorced, getting divorced or left [the church]. There is a power struggle between the sons and daughters to inherit the money. I think in their heart they are going through difficult times, but I am sure they do not want to show that to the world.
HR: I’d like to repeat one of the things that Nansook said because it has not been accurately reported. And that is that in the course of negotiation of the settlement, she was on the one hand offered a financial reward if she would give up the right to write that book. On the other hand she was told that if she insisted on preserving that right, she would have to fight for child support. At that moment in time, as she has described it, she did not have the assurance of any resources to give her a continued standard of living. And yet I know, because I assisted counsel, that Nansook’s statement was ‘I will not discuss any settlement that will muzzle me.’ [applause] Fortunately, I think you have seen today that, even from her own perspective, she made the right decision.
NH: Of course, I did make the right decision.
[Herbert Rosedale reads the cards with questions.]
HR: Reject… Reject… Reject…
NH: Meanwhile he is reading [laughter]
HR: Very good. And you told me you were shy. [laughter]
NH: No, I am only shy. I couldn’t even speak. I couldn’t speak a word of English when I came [to the US] and I still don’t.
HR: What concerns do you have about your safety at this point?
NH: At this point, well being ex-cult and also being a battered woman, especially being a battered woman. I think being one, we all have to look over our shoulder, and basically that is what we have until we die. We don’t know what is gonna happen. Initially I was petrified that my ex would just show up in front of my door with his shotgun. I was very cautious. I think time heals things for either side—for me and for them too. I am sure they are still full of their hatred for me, but I think they kind of moved on with their lives. So at this point I am pretty content with my life, but at the same time I don’t know what will happen to me tomorrow if somebody decides to do something. But I decided that fear was not going to control my life.
HR: This one says, I am a Unificationist and I am very grateful for my parents and True Parents because they have shown me what true love is. My mother Korean, my father, American, live very happily and two brothers. When one is blessed one is happier than I have ever seen him. Money really shouldn’t matter because I’d rather have a happy family than Mercedes. Also, I talk to a lot of college kids about sex, and most kids are so depressed for not saving themselves for marriage. I am a virgin, thanks to the Unification Church.
NH: Well good for her. It’s her or him? It’s her, right?
HR: I would assume so. I am not sure.
NH: I understand. There are a lot of good people. My parents were married there [in the church], and they have been married for forty years. They have their differences, but they love each other. And I don’t think it was because of Reverend Moon. They are both good people and it is working out. And if they are matched by Moon and if they are compatible, and they are both good people and they are working for some single goal, I think it does work out. They learn to love each other, that is good for them. But at the same time, there are cases like mine that just do not work out. I do not want to give credit to Moon for their loving family, their loving relationship. I think they are genuinely good people and that is why it is working out, not because they found this true love in the Moon family.
Herbert Rosedale: I want to thank you very much, Nansook. I just think it has been a remarkable period of time, and one that a lot of us will not forget for a long time. Thank you.
Nansook Hong: Thank you very much.
This transcript has been very lightly edited to improve readability.
Hyo Jin Moon – In the UC he was often called Hyo Jin Nim (Nim = honored)