In The Shadow Of The Moons: My Life In The Reverend Sun Myung Moon’s Family.
Little, Brown & Co. Boston, New York, Toronto & London, 1998
The book has also been published in Japanese, French and German.
The ‘ghost writer’ who helped with Nansook Hong’s book was Eileen McNamara from the Boston Globe (Globe Metro columnist). Nansook needed help with her English. The story is authentically that of Nansook Hong.
Sun Myung Moon selected Nansook to be the wife of his dissolute son, Hyo Jin Moon. In 1982 the age of consent was 17 in New York state. Nansook was married at 15, pregnant at 16, and a mother at 17.
▲ I am singing at a Moon family birthday celebration at the mansion in East Garden. The Reverend Sun Myung Moon would make each of us sing at family and church gatherings, a practice I dreaded because of the poor quality of my voice.
Prologue (pages 3-12)
The bleating of my beeper snapped me awake. I realized in a panic that the sun was already up. Light, streaming through the bay windows, played on the blue striped wallpaper of my baby’s nursery. I could see the outline of the hills outside from the floor at the foot of Shin Hoon’s crib, where I must have fallen asleep just before August 8, 1995, dawned.
I knew it was Madelene trying to reach me. A quick glance at my watch confirmed that I was late for our prearranged 5:00 A.M. rendezvous. How could I have been so careless on this of all days? After months of secret meetings and cautious planning, had I jeopardized everything at the last minute?
I stole across the wide corridor to the master bedroom, my naked feet silent on the crimson carpet. I was barely breathing as I pressed my ear to the dark lacquered door. I heard only the guttural cough that always punctuated my husband’s all-night cocaine sessions.
Our only hope was that Hyo Jin’s high would render him oblivious for one more morning. For months he had barely noticed as furniture, clothing, and toys disappeared from the second floor of the brick mansion where we lived on the estate of his father, the Reverend Sun Myung Moon, founder of the Unification Church and self-proclaimed Lord of the Second Advent.
It was only a week ago that Hyo Jin’s bloodshot eyes had registered the absence of the IBM computer that usually occupied a corner of Shin June’s room. “Where’s the computer?” he’d asked Shin June, the oldest of our five children. At twelve, she fell all too naturally into the role of coconspirator. Living in the Moon compound — an atmosphere suffused less with spirituality than with palace intrigue — had taught all my children well how to keep secrets.
“It’s broken, Appa; it’s out being repaired,” she replied without hesitation. Her father just shrugged and returned to his room.
I say “his” room because I had long since abandoned the master suite. It was less a bedroom than my husband’s private drug den, its cream-colored carpet littered with cigarette butts and empty tequila bottles, its VCR programmed to play an endless assortment of pornographic videotapes.
I had tried to stay as far away as possible from that room since the previous fall, when I had discovered Hyo Jin snorting cocaine there after so many of his false promises to stop. I tried to flush the cocaine down the toilet. He beat me so severely I thought he would kill the baby in my womb. He made me sweep up the spilled white powder from the bathroom floor even as he continued to punch me. Later Hyo Jin would offer a religious justification for beating half senseless a woman seven months pregnant: he was teaching me to be humble in the presence of the son of the Messiah.
The eighteen-acre secluded compound where we lived in Irvington, forty minutes north of New York City, is the world headquarters of the Unification Church and the home of the founder of the religious movement the world knows as “Moonies.” The estate, called East Garden, had been my personal prison for fourteen years, since the day the Reverend Moon summoned me from Korea to be the child bride of his eldest son, the heir to Moon’s divine mission and earthly empire. Then I was only fifteen, a naive schoolgirl eager to serve her God. Now I was twenty-nine, a woman ready to reclaim her life. Today I would escape. I would take the only thing holy about this marriage, my children, and leave behind the man who beat me and the false Messiah who let him, men so flawed that I now knew that God would never have chosen Sun Myung Moon or his son to be his agents on earth.
It is easy for those outside the Unification Church to scoff at the idea that anyone would have believed such a thing in the first place. To most of the world, the name Moonies conjures up images of brainwashed young people squandering their lives hawking flowers on street corners to enrich the clever and charismatic leader of a religious cult.
There is some truth in that view, but it is much too simplistic. I was born to my faith. Just as children of more mainstream Christian religions are reared to believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, sent to earth to redeem the sins of mankind, I was taught in Sunday school that the Reverend Moon had been chosen by God to complete Jesus’ mission to restore the Garden of Eden. The Reverend Moon was the Second Coming.
With his wife, the Reverend Moon would sire the first sinless True Family of God. His children, the True Children, would build on that flawless foundation. Members of the Unification Church would be grafted onto the True Family’s pure-blood lineage in wedding ceremonies arranged and blessed by the Reverend Moon, the mass nature of which has attracted so much attention around the world.
Those beliefs, isolated from the theology in which they are embedded and the culture from which they sprang, admittedly sound bizarre. But what of the miracles of Jesus? Or the parting of the Red Sea? Are Bible stories of virgin births and resurrection not equally fantastic? All belief is a matter of faith. If mine was different, it was perhaps so only in its intensity. Is there any faith more powerful, more innocent, than the faith of a child?
But all faith is tested by experience. The Reverend Moon, sinless? The Moon children, flawless? Father— who demonstrated contempt for civil law every time he accepted a paper bag full of untraceable, undeclared cash collected from true believers? Mother — who spent so much time at chic clothing emporiums that her youngest son once answered, “She shops,” when his schoolteacher asked him to describe his mother’s life-work? The eldest son — who smokes, drives drunk, abuses drugs, and engaged in premarital and extramarital sex, in violation of church doctrine? This family is the Holy Family? It is a myth that can be sustained only from a distance.
Accepting the Reverend Moon for the fraud I now know him to be was a slow and painful process. It was only possible because that realization, in the end, did not shake my faith in God. Moon had failed God, as he has failed me and all his idealistic and trusting followers. But God had not failed me. It was to God that I turned in loneliness and despair, a teenager on my knees in a strange house in a foreign land praying for succor. It was God alone who comforted me, a woman-child in the hands of a husband who treated me either as a toy for his sexual pleasure or as an outlet for his violent rages.
God was guiding me now as I surveyed my sleeping children and the suitcases we had been packing clandestinely for weeks. My belief in Sun Myung Moon had been at the center of my life for twenty-nine years, but a shattered faith is no match for a mother’s love. My children had been my sole source of joy in the cloistered, poisonous world of the True Family. I had to flee for their sake, as well as my own.
When I first told the older ones that I would be leaving, not one chose to stay behind, despite what they knew would be the end of the lavish lifestyle they had always enjoyed. There would be no mansion, no chauffeurs, no Olympic-sized swimming pool, no private bowling alley, no horseback riding lessons, no private schools, Japanese tutors, or first-class vacations where we were going.
Outside the walls of the Moon compound, they would not be worshiped as the True Children of the Messiah. There would be no adoring church members to bow down to them and compete for the chance to serve them.
“We just want to live in a little house with you, Mama,” the oldest told me, her humble fantasy mirroring my own.
And yet doubt and unanticipated sadness had kept sleep at bay for most of the night. Long after the household fell silent, I paced the halls and familiar rooms of the mansion, praying and weeping softly. Each time I had closed my eyes, my mind had filled with the questions that had haunted me for months. Was I doing the right thing? Was leaving truly a manifestation of God’s will or was it a sign of my own failure? Why had I been unable to make my husband love me? Why had I been unable to change him? Should I stay and pray that my son, once grown, might one day return the Unification Church to a righteous path?
I had even more pressing fears. Leaving the orbit of the Reverend Sun Myung Moon would render me and my children spiritual outcasts, but would it put us in physical danger, too? If I fled, would the church track me down to silence me? But if I stayed would I be any safer? How many times had Hyo Jin threatened to kill me and the children? If he was high enough on drugs or booze, I knew, he was capable of making good on those threats. He certainly had the guns to do it, a veritable arsenal purchased with church funds that he used to terrorize me and anyone else who got in his way.
I reminded myself that I was not acting hastily. I had been planning for this day since the previous winter when Hyo Jin’s latest, most blatant infidelity roused even the Reverend Moon from his usual indifference. When Father continued to insist that it was I who was to blame for my husband’s sins, that it was my failure as a wife that accounted for his son’s wayward path, I knew I had to go.
I had taken every precaution. I began to save money as soon as I made the decision to flee. I withdrew money from the bank that I had set aside for the children’s education. I held on to every dollar of the thousands in cash Mrs. Moon would periodically hand me for spending money; when she took me to a Jaeger boutique to outfit me for the church ceremony honoring the birth of my baby, I wore the thousand-dollar outfit she purchased with the price tags discreetly tucked out of sight. I returned the clothes for a cash refund the next day.
With the help of my brother and his wife, the eldest daughter of the Reverend Moon, I found a modest house in the Massachusetts town where they already lived in exile from the Moons. I had been envious when they first left the church, and now here I was, a few short years later, relying on them to lead me to the freedom they’d found. I had worried for them just as I had worried for my own parents, members of the elite group of Moon’s original Korean disciples, who had abandoned the Unification Church in disgust around the same time. My parents were waiting in Korea for word from my brother that I was free.
I was so very grateful. Too often I took my brother’s support for granted, even as a child. Even when we disagreed — and we often did — Jin was always there for me. Jin found lawyers to advise me how to protect myself and my children once we were free. Their counsel helped pinpoint the day we would leave. We would flee on a Tuesday because the family court in the Massachusetts county where we would live heard requests from battered women for restraining orders against their abusive partners on Wednesdays.
I tried, too, to protect those I would be leaving behind. Kumiko had been my baby-sitter for five years. She was a devout member of the church from Japan, as was her husband, a gardener on the East Garden estate. For weeks she had watched me pack boxes, but she said nothing. No member would be impertinent enough to question one of the True Family. But for years she had seen the pain in my life first-hand. I worried that she would be called to account when the Reverend Moon learned that we were gone.
A month before we were to flee, I asked Kumiko where she and her husband would most like to live in the world. They wanted to return to Japan, to her husband’s parents. They were aged and he was an only child. They wanted to go home to care for their elders.
I knew that no personnel changes happened in East Garden without the approval of Mrs. Moon, or Mother, as we addressed her. Twenty-three years younger than the ageing Reverend Moon, she is increasingly the power behind the throne. We had never been close, in part because she surrounded herself with influence-hungry sycophants who elevated their own standing by reporting my perceived failures as a wife or mother. Still, long years of experience had taught me how to coax small favors from Mother.
I found myself embellishing the story as I went along. Kumiko’s husband’s parents were not only old in my account, they were ailing. The couple needed to return to Japan to tend to them. I would rather do without a baby-sitter than hold them from their duty. That last point would strike a chord, I knew, with Mother. How often had Father complained that his staff was too large, too expensive to feed and house? One less baby-sitter and one less gardener would be a feather in Mother’s cap. She willingly agreed to let them go, telling me to be certain that Peter Kim, the Reverend Moon’s personal assistant, gave them money for the trip. They flew to Japan two days before we fled.
Another young woman who helped me care for the baby was due to be married soon at home in Korea to a security guard at East Garden. I told her to extend her visit home until October, time enough, I hoped, to put some distance between our flight and her return.
Ever since the Reverend Moon had built himself a separate, twenty-four-million-dollar house and conference center on the grounds, we had shared the common areas of the nineteen-room mansion in East Garden with Hyo Jin’s sister In Jin and her family. As luck — or God’s design — would have it, they had gone away the weekend before and had yet to return. Even if In Jin had been alerted that I might be planning to leave, she would never have taken it seriously. Maybe I was trying to scare Hyo Jin into behaving by taking the children away, she would think. Maybe I was trying to teach him a lesson. I would be back. Neither In Jin nor anyone else in the Moon family would have believed that I would leave for good.
The truth is that not one of them knew me well enough to know what I would do. None of them knew me at all. In fourteen years in the heart of the Moon family, no one had asked me what I thought or felt about anything. They ordered; I obeyed. Today I would turn their ignorance to my advantage.
Quietly I roused Shin Hoon. He was nine months old this very morning and such a good baby; he did not cry as I dressed him in a short-sleeved jumper and then gently shook his siblings awake. I cautioned the children to dress silently while I went to meet Madelene.
In the last year, Madelene Pretorius had become my first real friend. Now, at the other end of my beeper, she was an instrument of my escape. Madelene had been lured into the Unification Church ten years earlier during a chance meeting with a Moonie on a fish pier while vacationing in San Francisco. It is a classic church recruitment technique, befriending a young person traveling alone far from home. The conversation is soon steered from pleasantries to philosophy to the church. A successful encounter ends with the tourist agreeing to attend a lecture or meeting. Some of them never go home.
For the last three years, Madelene had worked for Hyo Jin at Manhattan Center Studios, the recording facility the church owned in New York City. She had seen my husband’s cocaine abuse and raging temper firsthand. When I confided my plan to flee, she had offered her help. It was risky. If he knew she had helped, he would turn on her, too.
Hyo Jin was already suspicious of our friendship. Only weeks ago he had come into the kitchen to find us talking quietly over cups of tea. He ordered me upstairs and Madelene out of East Garden. Upstairs, he threatened to break every one of my fingers if I dared to pursue a personal friendship with a church member. Such threats were typical of his controlling and possessive behavior.
I shivered now at that memory of my husband’s efforts to control me. I waved at the gardener and the security guards as I drove alone through the iron gates of East Garden to meet my friend. She was waiting in front of the local deli. I would spirit her back into the compound just as I had been spiriting our belongings out of the estate for weeks. Almost daily, I made my way past the omnipresent security cameras with chairs and lamps, boxes and suitcases. The guards had accepted without question that I was just rearranging furniture and storing old clothes at Belvedere, another Moon mansion down the road. Mrs. Moon did it all the time.
In truth, I had been headed into town to the storage room I had rented to hold the furnishings of a new life. Today it was time for us to go, too. My brother and Madelene were waiting.
The streets of Irvington and Tarrytown were quiet. It was high summer, when tourists in search of the spirit of Washington Irving’s Sleepy Hollow share the countryside with the locals. But it was too early for either to be stirring. I met Madelene on the designated street corner and smuggled her back into the compound under a blanket so she could help me with the children. We would return to this same corner to retrieve her car, rendezvous with my brother, and travel together to Massachusetts in a caravan.
Once we had loaded the last of the suitcases into the van, Madelene and I led five barefoot children on tiptoe past the master bedroom, down the central staircase, and out the front door. Their father never stirred.
Madelene tucked each child into any available crevice in the overloaded van and then slid into the passenger seat, careful to use blankets to conceal the children and herself from view. I eased the van slowly down the long winding driveway, lined with ancient elms, and out the front gate, smiling at a security guard who had taken his post only a few days before. I turned out of East Garden onto Sunnyside Lane. I did not look back.
The Reverend Sun Myung Moon is a small, compact man with thinning gray hair that he dyes a shoe-polish shade of black. If you passed him on a street in Seoul, you would not notice him, his physical appearance is so nondescript.
He is an electrical engineer by training. His speaking style is notable more for his endurance — he can drone on for hours in Korean — than for his charisma. When he preaches in English, he is barely comprehensible, eliciting unintended laughter on those frequent occasions when he fractures the language.
How, then, did this seventy-eight-year-old farmer’s son emerge as the leader of a religious movement that has ensnared millions of people around the world and enriched itself with the fruit of their labors? The answer has as much to do with the time and place in which the Uniﬁcation Church emerged as it does with the man himself.
The messianic message of the Reverend Sun Myung Moon might have sounded like the ravings of a madman had it been delivered on a soapbox in New York’s Times Square, but the Reverend Moon sprang from Korean soil, out of the particular circumstances of my country’s spiritual traditions and its turbulent century of foreign occupation, civil war, and political division.
Korea is a land deﬁned by its geography, a peninsula at once attached to and divided from the east Asian mainland by the Everwhite Mountains and the Yalu and Tumen Rivers. Those natural barriers kept my homeland isolated for centuries from the outside world, just as its twenty-six highest mountain peaks kept our people separated from one another. That we managed to forge a national identity and a mutual language is something of a miracle.
When foreign influence did infiltrate Korea, it came from China through the mountain passes of the north and from Japan, whose largest island, Honshu, lies only 120 miles to the east in the Sea of Japan. Because of Korea’s strategic location, its history has been likened to a shrimp buffeted in the battles of whales. Outsiders eager to exploit its seaports and natural resources brought their commerce and their cultures to Korea — and, too often, their guns. They also brought their religions.
The native religion of Korea is a sort of primal shamanism. Shamans, or mudangs, as we call them, are believed to have special powers to commune with the spirit world. They tell fortunes and petition the spirits for blessings, such as a bountiful harvest, or relief from suffering, such as illness. They also commune with the spirits believed to inhabit the forests and mountains, and individual trees and rocks.
When the Chinese introduced Buddhism to Korea in the fourth century, this folklore did not disappear or formalize itself into a distinct religion like Taoism in China or Shintoism in Japan. Koreans merely grafted our ancient beliefs onto Buddhist teachings, which remained the dominant religious inﬂuence in Korea until the fourteenth century. Similarly, when Confucianism rose to command a prominent place in religious life for the next five hundred years, it did so alongside that folk tradition, not in place of it.
That process of incorporating native beliefs into other religious doctrines continued in the nineteenth century when Buddhism experienced a resurgence and Christianity was introduced into Korea. Even today, when Christianity is the fastest-growing religion in a still predominately Buddhist country, folklore continues to exert a powerful hold on the imagination of even the most modern Koreans. A Christian who attends church services on Sunday morning might also make an offering to the house god in the afternoon and see no inconsistency.
In addition to ancient beliefs in ancestor worship and the spirit world, there is a strong messianic strain in my culture. The notion that the Messiah or Herald of the Righteous Way would appear in Korea predates the introduction of Christianity into Korea a hundred years ago. It has its roots in the Buddhist notion of Maitreya and the Confucian idea of Jin-In, or the True Man, and in Korean books of prophecy, such as the Chung Gam Nok.
Likewise, the notion of kings ruling by divine right appears in the country’s earliest legends. As children we all learn the ancient Korean folktale the myth of Tangun. Tangun was the son of the divine spirit Hwan-Ung, who was himself the son of the Lord of Heaven, Hwan-in. According to legend, Hwan-in granted his son permission to descend from Heaven and establish the Kingdom of Heaven on Earth. Hwan-Ung came to Korea. There he met a tiger and a she-bear who asked him how they could become human. Hwan-Ung gave them sacred food to eat. The bear obeyed and was transformed into a woman. The tiger did not obey and was forced to remain a beast. Hwan-Ung married the woman, and Tangun was born of this union of a divine spirit and a former she-bear. Tangun established his royal residence in Pyongyang and named his kingdom on earth Choson.
It was in this fertile soil that the messianic ideas of the Reverend Sun Myung Moon took root in the second half of the twentieth century. How much of his official biography is historically accurate and how much manufactured myth is a question I never asked as a child. I absorbed the story of the Reverend Moon in the same way rice absorbs water. From birth I was taught that he was not just a holy man, or a prophet. He was anointed by God. He was the Lord of the Second Advent, the divine guide who would unite the world’s religions under his leadership and establish the Kingdom of Heaven on Earth. Denunciations of him by mainstream religions as a cult leader were akin to the persecution of Jesus, whose mission the Reverend Moon was divinely inspired to complete.
The Reverend Sun Myung Moon was born Yong Myung Moon in a rural village of North P’yongan province in north-west Korea, three miles from the coast, on January 6, 1920, the fifth of eight children. His birth name translates as Shining Dragon. This became a problem later in life. Because the dragon is a symbol of Satan, he changed his name to Sun Myung Moon when he became an itinerant preacher.
At the time of the Reverend Moon’s birth, my country was suffering under the yoke of Japanese occupation. Japan had colonized Korea in 1905, an occupation that did not end until after World War II. Christians then composed less than 1 percent of the Korean population, but Christianity developed an ardent following in our stratified society. Protestant missionaries had arrived in Korea from Europe in the mid-1880s. They had survived despite their opposition to ancestor worship, in part because Christianity taught that everyone was a child of God, something of a revolutionary idea in what was still a rigid, feudal society.
Even the aristocracy in the ancient Korean kingdom of Silla was classified according to what was known as the bone-rank system, or kolp’un-je. The elite were divided into three classes: the songgol, or holy bone class, from which the sacred kings sprang; the chin’gol, the true bone class or the upper aristocracy; and the tup’um, head classes, which included all other members of the aristocracy. This would influence Sun Myung Moon’s organization of his own religion.
Most Koreans, of course, were poor farmers, not aristocrats. Christianity offered them the hope that if there was no equality on earth, there would be in Heaven. Though small in number, the Christian churches became a center of resistance to the occupying forces. A year before Sun Myung Moon was born, a declaration of independence from colonial Japan was drafted, on March 1, 1919, by a coalition of Protestant ministers, Buddhist monks, and leaders of the many messianic religious sects then gaining popularity in Korea. The signatories were arrested and jailed.
Despite that setback, many Christian leaders — those who did not collaborate — stepped up their agitation for an end to Japanese occupation after the colonial government imposed Japanese as the national language of Korea and established the Shinto shrine in 1925. Korean schoolchildren were required to acknowledge the divinity of the Japanese emperor and to attend sacred rites for his ancestors. Every Korean family was ordered to erect a Shinto shrine in its home. Two thousand Christians who refused were imprisoned; dozens were executed.
By the time the Reverend Moon’s family converted to Presbyterianism, in 1930, the economic hardship of Japanese occupation was as evident as the religious persecution. Nearly all Korean farmers were tenants. Although they were producing record amounts of rice, most of it was exported to Japan, while the local populace went hungry. Japanese nationals made up only 5 percent of the workforce but they held most of the top industrial jobs. Japanese firms owned 92 percent of the working mines in 1932, for example, but it was Korean miners who toiled below ground and lived in unheated shacks above. Those Koreans fortunate enough to secure positions with the government were restricted to low-level jobs.
Such oppression was the backdrop to Sun Myung Moon’s childhood. He is said to have been a studious and prayerful boy, a devout Presbyterian following his family’s conversion when he was ten. All that changed on Easter morning in 1936, when Sun Myung Moon was sixteen. He had been deep in prayer on a mountainside when, he says, Jesus appeared to him and told him that God wanted him to complete the work Jesus himself had left unfinished on earth. While Jesus’ death on the cross had delivered spiritual salvation to mankind, his crucifixion came before he could complete his mission to bring physical salvation to man by restoring the Garden of Eden on earth.
At first the boy refused to listen, but Jesus persuaded Sun Myung Moon that Korea was the new Israel, the land chosen by God for the Second Coming. It was up to him to establish the True Family of God on earth. The Reverend Moon would later write about this vision: “Early in my life God called me for a mission as His instrument. . . . I committed myself unyieldingly in pursuit of truth, searching the hills and valleys of the spiritual world. The time suddenly came to me when heaven opened up, and I was privileged to communicate with Jesus Christ and the living God directly. Since then I have received many astonishing revelations.”
Sun Myung Moon never had any formal theological training. Two years after his original vision, he went to Seoul to learn electrical engineering and from there to Japan to continue those studies at [a Technical College associated with] Waseda University in 1941. [In his Autobiography, Reverend Moon confirms that he went to a Technical College, not to Waseda University. The architect, Mr. Aum, who was a student friend in Tokyo, explained in his testimony that they both worked their way through school in Tokyo. Reverend Moon only attended evening classes. Waseda University has no record of Sun Myung Moon.] There, according to church historians, he joined an underground movement to work to end the occupation of Korea. He continued his personal search for truth by traveling into the spirit world himself to speak directly to Jesus, to Moses, to Buddha, to Satan, and to God himself. How he accomplished this transfiguration is one of Unificationism’s mysteries.
The Reverend Moon’s teachings are contained in Divine Principle, a document shaped over many years by the revelations the Reverend Moon says he received through prayer, study of the Bible, and his own conversations with God and the great prophets. Divine Principle is the central text of the Uniﬁcation Church, but it was not actually written by Sun Myung Moon. Hyo Won Eu, the first president of the church and one of the Reverend Moon’s earliest disciples, wrote Divine Principle based on the Reverend Moon’s notes and their conversations about his revelations.
Kwang Yol Yoo, a Uniﬁcationist biographer, writes that the Reverend Moon could not transcribe his divine revelations fast enough. “He wrote very fast with a pencil in his notebook. One person beside him would sharpen his pencil, and he couldn’t follow his writing speed. By the time Father’s pencil got thick, this next person could not sharpen another pencil, he wrote so very fast. That was the beginning of the Divine Principle book.”
For a heavenly inspired document, Divine Principle is awfully derivative. The 556-page sacred text of the Uniﬁcation Church is a synthesis of Shamanism, Buddhism, neo-Confucianism, and Christianity. It borrows from the Bible, from Eastern philosophy, from Korean legend, and from the popular religious movements of the Reverend Moon’s youth to stitch together a patchwork theology, with the Reverend Moon at its center.
The modern roots of the Uniﬁcation Church can be found in Ch’ondogyo — the religion of the Heavenly Way — originally called Tonghak, or Eastern Learning, a nineteenth-century sect closely tied to Korean traditional religion. Like the Uniﬁcation Church, Ch’ondogyo taught that every individual’s spirit is created by God, that our souls are everlasting, and that all religions one day will be uniﬁed.
Even the Uniﬁcation Church’s central tenet, that the Fall was caused not by Eve’s eating a forbidden fruit but by Eve’s having sexual intercourse with Satan, is not an idea that originated with the Reverend Moon. He was taught that theory in 1945 when he studied for six months with a visionary named Baek Moon Kim at the Israel Monastery in Seoul. Kim taught that the Garden of Eden could be restored only through blood purification. Eve’s sin, the theory holds, has been transmitted to new generations through Satan’s bloodlines. It was part of Jesus’ mission to purify man’s bloodlines by marrying and producing sinless children. He was killed before he could do what God intended. As a result, Jesus’ death brought spiritual but not physical salvation to the world.
Kim was not alone in this belief. Seong-do Kim was the founder of the Holy Lord Church in 1935 in Chulson in North Korea. She claimed that Jesus had appeared to her and given her a similar explanation about the sexual nature of the Fall and promised that the new Messiah would return to Korea. She taught her followers that sexual abstinence, even in marriage, was necessary to create an environment pure enough to receive the Lord of the Second Advent. After her death, her followers joined the Uniﬁcation Church and accepted the Reverend Moon as the Messiah.
Divine Principle acknowledges its debt to the long messianic tradition in Korean religious thought.
The Korean nation, as the Third Israel, has believed since the 500-year reign of the Yi Dynasty the prophecy that the King of Righteousness would appear in that land, and, establishing the Millennium, would come to receive tributes from all the countries of the world. This faith has encouraged the people to undergo the bitter course of history, waiting for the time to come. This was truly the Messianic idea of the Korean people which they believed according to Chung Gam Nok, a book of prophecy. . . . Interpreted correctly, the King of Righteousness, Chung-Do Ryung (the person coming with God’s word), is a Korean-style name for the Lord of the Second Advent. God revealed through Chung Gam Nok, before the introduction of Christianity in Korea, that the Messiah would come again, at a later time, in Korea. Today, many scholars have come to ascertain that most of the prophecies written in this book coincide with those in the Bible.
The Uniﬁcation Church teaches that God chose Sun Myung Moon to fulfill that role. The introduction to Divine Principle, published by the Unification Church in 1973, is explicit on this point. “With the fullness of time, God has sent His messenger to resolve the fundamental questions of life and the universe. His name is Sun Myung Moon. For many decades he wandered in a vast spiritual world in search of the ultimate truth. On this path, he endured suffering unimagined by anyone in human history. God alone will remember it. Knowing that no one can find the ultimate truth to save mankind without going through the bitterest of trials, he fought alone against myriads of satanic forces, both in the spiritual and physical worlds, and finally triumphed over them all.”
The Reverend Moon’s task was to fulfill the mission of Jesus. He would marry a perfect woman and restore mankind to the state of perfection that existed in the Garden of Eden. He and his wife would be the world’s True Parents. They would be sinless, as would their children. Couples blessed by the Reverend Moon would become part of his pure-blood lineage and be assured a place in Heaven.
As individuals, we all have an active role to play in this restoration drama. Before the Messiah can fully establish Heaven on earth, mankind must make amends for the sins of the past. In Uniﬁcationist terms, they must pay “indemnity” to compensate God for humanity’s past failures. The Uniﬁcation Church’s strict rules of behavior — no smoking, no drinking, no gambling, no sex outside of marriage — are designed to help individuals in that task.
“The conclusion of the Principle is that you must make up your own mind to love True Parents more than your own self, spouse or children,” Sun Myung Moon has written. “Ultimately, the True Father is the axis around which all children and posterity are centered.”
The Reverend Moon’s own life is said to be a model of willing sacrifice and patient suffering. According to church historians, he was first arrested in 1945 on a charge of using counterfeit money to buy apples by Communist officials who suspected he was a spy from the south.
When he began his public ministry in Pyongyang, his ideas were rejected as heresy by Christian ministers and denounced by local Communist authorities. It was [June 1946]. The city was occupied by Soviet troops. Korea would soon be formally divided into two states, the Communist North under Soviet domination and the democratic South under the influence of the United States. The Communist authorities are said to have tortured Sun Myung Moon and tossed his body outside the prison gates, where he was retrieved and nursed back to health by one of his early disciples, Won Pil Kim. The Reverend Moon resumed preaching despite the ban on religious teaching by Communist authorities.
He was not to be free for long. The Reverend Moon was arrested again in 1948, this time for “advocating chaos in society.” [It was his bigamy with Mrs Chong-hwa Kim who was married with three children.] He was convicted and sent to Heungnam prison, a hard-labor camp where prisoners often were worked to death. By his own account, as prisoner no. 596, the Reverend Moon was underfed and overworked, filling hundred-pound bags with fertilizer and loading them onto railroad cars. The ammonium sulfate in the fertilizer burned the skin on his hands, but he never complained during his two years and eight months in the camp.
“I never prayed from weakness. I never asked for help. How could I tell God, my Father, about my suffering and cause his heart to grieve still more. I could only tell him I would never be defeated by my suffering,” he wrote.
The roots of the Unification Church’s adamant opposition to international Communism are grounded in the Reverend Moon’s personal experiences. His anti-Communist political beliefs would become a fundamental tenet of his religious philosophy. Those convictions would align him with the anti-Communist governments of South Korea, no matter how oppressive, for the rest of the century.
While he was imprisoned, North Korea invaded the south, provoking the civil war that led to the formal political division of the peninsula. United Nations forces pushed Communist troops north of the thirty-eighth parallel, and in October of 1950, UN troops liberated Heungnam prison, one day before Moon claims he was scheduled to be executed. [Only political prisoners were executed. Moon had been jailed for bigamy and was not listed for execution.] When he was freed, the Reverend Moon and two disciples, Won Pil Kim and Chong Hwa Pak, began the long journey to South Korea on foot. According to church legend, the Reverend Moon carried Pak on his back for hundreds of miles after Pak injured a leg. [He had a fractured bone in his ankle.] A grainy photograph of this feat is something of an icon in the Unification Church. [Later it was acknowledged by the Unification Church that the photograph was not of Reverend Moon or of Mr Pak. Mr Pak has said that Moon did carry him. However, it was only once or twice, and each time for about 300 yards. Once it was up a steep hill; it was never through water. For the first half of the journey south from Pyongyang, Mr Pak used a bicycle; for the second part down to Kyongju, where he stayed, he walked. Michael Breen details the journey in his book, Sun Myung Moon, the early years.]
The Reverend Moon settled in the port city of Pusan in 1951, building his first church by hand on a small hillside. With a dirt floor, mud walls, and a roof constructed from wood scraps and army ration boxes, the church was little more than a mud hut. The city was crowded with soldiers and refugees displaced by the war. The Reverend Moon worked by day as a dock laborer and resumed his preaching at night.
The Reverend Moon’s official biographers skip over the fact that Sun Myung Moon had married in April 1945 at age twenty-five. His wife, Sun-gil Choi, gave birth to a son, Sung Jin, one year later. They were living in Seoul on June 6, 1946, when the Reverend Moon went to the marketplace to buy rice. En route, he now says, God appeared to him and instructed him to leave immediately for northern Korea to preach. Sun Myung Moon, who teaches that he is the ideal Father of all God’s children, abandoned his wife and three-month-old son without explanation. They did not see or hear from him again for six years.
It was not until the Reverend Moon arrived in Pusan with his disciples in 1951 that Sun-gil Choi was reunited with her husband. They did not stay together long. His wife and son moved with the Reverend Moon to Seoul in 1954, where he founded the Unification Church, known formally as the Holy Spirit Association for the Unification of World Christianity, but the marriage soon broke up. The Reverend Moon dismisses this marriage in a single sentence: “With the Christian people opposing our movement, my first wife was influenced and, being weak, that caused the rupture in my family and I got divorced,” he has written. It was as though Sun-gil Choi and their son, Sung Jin, ceased to exist.
“Rev. Moon’s wife became increasingly unhappy with Rev. Moon’s dedication to the members who joined his movement, and finally demanded a divorce,” Hendrik Dijk wrote in an internal history of the church. “Rev. Moon did not want this, but finally the situation became irresolvable, and he granted her the divorce. She was in the position to follow him, but found herself unable to do so. She also differed with him theologically and thought the Messiah would return on the clouds. She was strongly influenced by the negativity of the Christian churches.”
His wife’s departure coincided with the first published reports of sexual abuse in the Unification Church. Rumors were rife that the Reverend Moon required female acolytes to have sex with him as a religious initiation rite. Some religious sects at the time did practice ritual nudity and reportedly forced members to have sexual intercourse with a messianic leader in a purification rite known as p’i kareum. The Reverend Moon has always denied these reports, claiming they were part of efforts by mainstream religious leaders to discredit the Unification Church.
In the early days of the Unification Church, members met in a small house with two rooms. It was known as the House of Three Doors. It was rumored that at the first door one was made to take off one’s jacket, at the second door one’s outer clothing, and at the third one’s undergarments in preparation for sex. There was an apocryphal story of the woman who went to church wearing no fewer than seven layers of clothing, hoping to thwart any attempt to undress her.
With these stories in wide circulation in July 1955, the Reverend Moon was arrested for gross immorality and draft evasion. [In court in Seoul on September 21st, Reverend Moon did admit to the judge that he had falsified his age to avoid the draft. He was sentenced to two years in jail.] Both charges were eventually dropped, but rumors persisted that the church practiced p’i kareum.
Mrs. Gil Ja Sa Eu, the wife of the first president of the Unification Church — the man who wrote the Divine Principle — was one of five professors and fourteen students expelled from Ewha University in Seoul because administrators there believed the rumors about the Unification Church.
In a speech in 1987, Mrs. Eu traced the origin of those stories back to the Holy Lord Church of Seong-do Kim. Because they prayed so devoutly, Mrs. Eu said, “many people in that group received that they were being restored to the position of Adam and Eve before the Fall. Therefore, they felt totally purified, with no sin. They said, ‘We are like Adam and Eve, who were naked and unashamed!’ So one time, out of great joy, they took off their clothes and danced naked. This event spread all over Korea and, despite its very remote relationship to the Unification Church, it became one cause for the persecution of our church from other Christians.”
The record of those early days became all the more confused in 1993 when Chong Hwa Pak, the disciple whom the Reverend Moon is reputed to have carried on his back to South Korea in 1951, published a book entitled The Tragedy of the Six Marys. In it Pak states that the Reverend Moon did practice p’i kareum and contends that the Reverend Moon’s first wife left him because of his sexual activities with other women. The Reverend Moon is said by Pak to have impregnated a university student, Myung Hee Kim, in 1954 while he was still married. [They divorced in January 1957.] Because adultery was a criminal offense in Korea, the Reverend Moon sent his lover to Japan to give birth. A son, Hee Jin, was born [on August 17, 1955 in Tokyo] and was acknowledged to be the son of the Reverend Moon. The boy would die in a train accident thirteen years later, [on August 1, 1969].
Chong Hwa Pak was persuaded by the Reverend Moon to rejoin the church after publishing his memoir. He disavowed his account of the early days of the Unification Church. I’ve always wondered what the price was of that retraction.
My own parents saw no evidence of sexual misconduct when they were each recruited independently to join the church in Seoul. By 1957 the Unification Church had a presence in thirty Korean cities and towns. Though they came from different places and disparate backgrounds, my parents were attracted to the Unification Church out of the same sense of idealism. Religion had not been central to the life of either of them as children. They were like so many young Koreans in the late 1950s, reeling from civil war and searching for a way to help their divided, destitute land. My mother and father, each in their own way, were looking for a purpose in life larger than themselves.
My father, Sung Pyo Hong, joined the church in 1957. He had been sent to the city by his parents, to study pharmacy, from the small town of Ok-Gya, South Cholla province, where his family grew rice and barley on a small farm. That farm, according to tradition, would be inherited by his older brother. He and his three sisters would make other lives for themselves.
He liked the city. He was a good student and a grateful son, so he was torn when his parents expressed their disapproval when he told them of his interest in a new religious sect. He had been recruited into the Unification Church, as most new members are, on the street. He and a friend were invited to attend a lecture by one of the Reverend Moon’s early disciples. My father came away intrigued.
Soon he was attending lectures regularly and acting as caretaker for the church. During summers and school holidays, he went out preaching, trying to recruit new members. He worked tirelessly for the Reverend Moon, but he did not give up his studies, as so many recruits do.
My mother, Gil Ja Yoo, had grown up in Gil-Ju in what is now North Korea. Her family was part of the mass exodus of refugees who came to South Korea in the 1940s. She was studying for her college entrance examinations when she, too, was invited to attend a lecture at the Unification Church. A religious life was not what she had planned. My mother was a talented classical pianist and dreamed of a career on the concert stage.
Her parents were even more adamant in their opposition to the Reverend Moon and his church than my father’s family. My grandmother was especially fierce in her disapproval. She forbade my mother to go to church. My mother, nonetheless, would sneak out of the house to attend services. More than once, she was caught and beaten by one of her brothers as punishment for her defiance.
Most Koreans were like my grandparents; they considered the Unification Church a bizarre, if not dangerous, cult. In 1960 their concerns were heightened when the Reverend Moon selected the bride who would serve as True Mother to the family of man. Hak Ja Han was only seventeen years old when the forty-year-old Reverend Moon chose her to be his wife. Her mother had been a devout follower of Seong-do Kim and believed the Reverend Moon to be the Lord of the Second Advent. She was happy to give her daughter for God, to become the True Mother of the True Family.
“The fall of man can be condensed into one sentence: human beings lost their parents,” Sun Myung Moon has written of Adam and Eve’s being cast out of the Garden of Eden.
“The history of man has been a search for parents. The day people meet their True Parents is their greatest day because, until then, everyone is like an orphan living in an orphanage. You have no place to call true home.”
The Reverend Moon never spoke to me about his own father, but he spoke with great respect for his mother and her capacity for hard work. His cousin remembers True Father as the smart, favored child of six daughters and two sons. Two other babies, a set of twins, had died in infancy. Young Ki Moon, one of the Reverend Moon’s cousins, spoke at a memorial service in Korea in 1989 commemorating the birth of Kyung Kye Kim, the Reverend Moon’s mother. His cousin recalled the Reverend Moon as “very mischievous when he was a boy. One day when he was six years old big mother spanked him so much that he nearly fainted. I think after this incident big mother was shocked and I never heard her scolding him again.”
It was his mother who recognized Sun Myung Moon’s intellectual gifts, according to his cousin. She was desperate for him to have a university education. “He had to go to Japan for further study but there was no money to send him, so he had to return to his hometown,” his cousin recalled. “Big mother wanted to sell the land that was in my father’s name to pay True Father’s tuition in Japan. Since all the land was in my father’s name, she couldn’t sell it. So she told me to borrow my mother’s stamp so that she could sell the land and send True Father to school in Japan.” This deceit was part of God’s plan for the Messiah. In order to support the divine plan for the Messiah, others in the Moon family had to suffer.
Hak Ja Han’s childhood had centered on the spiritual movements with which her mother identified. She led a sheltered, protected life on Jejudo Island until 1955, when she and her mother moved to Seoul. She was reared by her grandmother, her mother being so engrossed in her own religious life. Her father had abandoned the family when she was still small. [He was already married.] When Hak Ja Han was eleven years old, her mother became cook to Sun Myung Moon. Hak Ja Han was still a child when the Messiah first met her and made his decision to marry her.
As the Reverend Moon later recalled,
Women of the early Unification Church wanted to love me at the risk of their lives, coming to see me even late at night. S0 people gossiped about us. The women didn’t even know why they made such visits to a man who they knew remained centered on God. And when the Holy Wedding came, even the elderly widows wanted to be able to stand in the position of Mother. Some women even claimed to be the True Mother, their eyes shining with confidence. An old lady of 70 years said she would become my wife and bear 10 children! Of course, she didn’t know why she was saying such things. Women with daughters prayed to God with deep sincerity and said they received revelations that their daughters would become the True Mother.
But the woman who would become the True Mother appeared unexpectedly. She was a person whom few had met. . . . I was 40 and about to marry a 17-year-old girl. If this were not God’s will, who could be crazier than I? Just imagine, from that time on Mother’s great responsibility was to carry all the burdens of the Unification Church. Many wonderful, college-educated women were lining up and listing their qualifications, but I shook them all off and chose an innocent 17-year-old girl as Mother. What a surprise it was! Old ladies and mothers exclaimed and rolled their eyes!
Youth should not be a barrier to marriage, the Reverend Moon told his followers: “As soon as you notice your child is an adolescent and aware of sex, they are blessed in marriage. Why should they fall? God, or Heaven, is responsible to each person on Earth to feed, to educate, and to marry. Nowadays, people work hard and yet do not have enough food. People are ready to marry but they cannot. . . . Why should someone be left after one has started to have the impulse of love? It is the parents’ responsibility to determine the proper time.” Sun Myung Moon and Hak Ja Han were married on April 11, 1960, at the church’s headquarters in Seoul. A dozen members had recently left the church, carrying stories about the Reverend Moon’s claim to be the Messiah and his practice of personally choosing marriage partners for his disciples. There were protests from the outraged parents of church members on the street outside as Sun Myung Moon and Hak Ja Han were joined in holy matrimony.
The opposition was as providential as the wedding, in the Reverend Moon’s view. “Jesus was persecuted by the nation, by the priests, by everyone. Unless we are in the same situation as Jesus was, the restoration cannot be done. This is why the entire Korean nation was mobilized to persecute us. We held the Wedding while hearing voices opposing us from outside the gates. By doing this, the Unification Church gained the victory in the midst of battle. If we had not done so, God would not have rejoiced.”
A week later, the Reverend Moon joined his three closest disciples — Won Pil Kim, Hyo Won Eu, and Young Whi Kim — in marriage to church women he had selected as brides for them. These weddings were followed within a year by thirty-three more arranged marriages, my parents’ among them. The Reverend Moon had given my father the option of selecting his own bride, an unusual opportunity because the church teaches that marriage is a spiritual union that should not be influenced by such distractions as physical attraction. My father deferred to the Reverend Moon’s judgment.
My parents did not know one another when the Reverend Moon made the match, but both were trusting when he said that he had paired them because he knew they would have children who would bring credit to them and to the Unification Church.
When my grandmother got wind of the pending nuptials, she hid my mother’s shoes and locked her in her room. My mother appealed to her younger brother to help her. He found her shoes and unlocked the door. She ran all the way to church. My grandmother was not far behind. She was, however, too late. By the time my parents heard her shouting and banging on the doors of the church, the Reverend Moon had already blessed their marriage.
The Reverend Moon has never forgotten how my grandmother burst into the church that day, beating on his chest with her fists, denouncing him for marrying off her daughter to a man she did not know, in a church she did not trust. Over time, Sun Myung Moon and I both came to believe that I had inherited my grandmother’s spirit.
The Messiah is seventy-eight years old. His claims of divinity notwithstanding, even Sun Myung Moon cannot live forever. When he dies there is every possibility that the Reverend Moon will take the Unification Church with him to his grave.
The Reverend Moon has made no concrete plans for his succession. To do so would require him to relinquish some power while he is still alive, and that prospect is inconceivable to a man accustomed to being the central figure in a tightly controlled universe. The Unification Church is a classic example of what psychologists call a cult of personality.
The failure to designate and groom a successor all but guarantees a familial bloodletting after the Reverend Moon’s death. His sons are already locked in a battle for control of his business empire. That struggle will only intensify when the Unification Church itself is up for grabs.
Leadership, of course, should fall naturally to the eldest son, but given Hyo Jin’s continuing problems with alcohol and drugs, his brothers are already jockeying for position. Even In Jin, who has no chance to succeed her father because she is a woman, is desperate to salvage Hyo Jin’s candidacy. She cast her lot with him a long time ago. If he goes down, she and Jin Sung Pak go down with him.
When he addresses the issue at all these days, the Reverend Moon implies that the True Mother will rule when he ascends into Heaven. No one in the church seriously believes that Hak Ja Han Moon is either capable of taking or inclined to take any more than a symbolic role at the helm of the Unification Church.
A month before I left East Garden, Mrs. Moon and I spoke about the future of the Unification Church. I urged her not to turn control over to Hyo Jin. I could not imagine a more unstable individual to lead a nominally religious enterprise. She reluctantly agreed that Sun Myung Moon might have to look to one of his other sons to lead the Unification Church. I know that possibility saddened her. Hyo Jin’s birth, after her first child was a daughter, had sealed her position as the True Mother. Her fate and his had seemed bound together.
The evil at the heart of the Unification Church is the hypocrisy and deceit of the Moons, a family that is all too human in its incredible level of dysfunction. To continue to promote the myth that the Moons are spiritually superior to the idealistic young people who are drawn to the church is a shameful deceit. Hyo Jin’s failings may be more conspicuous, but there is not a member of the second generation of Moons to whom the word pious could fairly be applied.
Sun Myung Moon wrote the epitaph for the Unification Church in a sermon in 1984 about the moral and spiritual decline of the United States. His words could better be applied to his own family. “Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed by God’s judgment for the immorality and pursuit of luxury. Rome was in the same situation. It did not collapse from external invasion but from the weight of its own corruption.”
The Unification Church still claims millions of members worldwide. How many of those are active fund-raisers and participants in church affairs is another question. Unlike other religions, the Unification Church has few formal worship sites where attendance could be taken. Some cities have churches, others don’t.
Even many of the church training centers, where religious services and seminars were held, closed in the early 1990s during Sun Myung Moon’s disastrous experiment called home church. In response to the negative publicity about the public proselytizing of the Moonies, the Reverend Moon sent members home to convert their relatives and neighbors. Such decentralization, however, weakened the control the Reverend Moon maintained over his flock. Many members, re-exposed to the wider world and their families’ disapproval of Sun Myung Moon, just drifted away.
In the wake of that failure, the Reverend Moon and church leaders regrouped. In the last few years, they have orchestrated a remarkably successful campaign to win respectability and wield political influence. As usual, they have succeeded by deceitful means. The Unification Church has launched dozens of civic organizations around the world dedicated to women’s rights, world peace, and family values that have made impressive inroads into mainstream society. None of them advertise their relationship with Sun Myung Moon or the Unification Church.
The Women’s Federation for World Peace, the Family Federation for World Peace, the International Cultural Foundation, the Professors World Peace Academy, the Washington Institute for Values in Public Policy, the Summit Council for World Peace, the American Constitution Committee, and dozens of other organizations present themselves as nonpartisan, nondenominational groups. All of them are funded by Sun Myung Moon.
In March 1994 for instance, the Women’s Federation for World Peace sponsored a program “promoting peace and reconciliation” at the State University of New York campus in Purchase. Hyun Jin Moon, the Reverend Moon’s then twenty-five-year-old son, opened the event with a declaration that Sun Myung Moon had a new divine revelation for America. The organization had solicited a welcoming letter from Sandra Galef, the local state assemblywoman. She was never told the group was affiliated with Sun Myung Moon.
“I have never supported the Unification Church,” the angry assemblywoman later told the New York Times. “I have always felt they are a group that destroys families. If the individual who came into my office requesting a letter had honestly told me what this organization was, I never would have given it to them. Basically it was a hoax.”
The same month, the Toronto chapter of Women’s Federation for World Peace and the University of Toronto branch of CARP cosponsored an AIDS-prevention program for teenagers at North York Public Library. The promotional flyer invited parents to enroll their children to ensure that they “choose a lifestyle without disease and drugs.” Nowhere did it mention the Unification Church or Sun Myung Moon.
Some of the biggest celebrities in the United States have been seduced by exorbitant speaking fees to participate in programs sponsored by these groups without ever knowing their affiliation with the Moonies. Gerald Ford, the former president; Barbara Walters, the television journalist; Christopher Reeve, the actor; Sally Ride, the first American woman in space; Coretta Scott King, the civil rights leader; and Bill Cosby, the comedian, have all spoken at functions sponsored by the Women’s Federation for World Peace.
Perhaps the worst offenders have been former president George Bush and Barbara Bush. They do know the relationship between the Reverend Moon and these groups, and yet they were reportedly paid more than a million dollars in 1995 to address six rallies in Japan sponsored by the Women’s Federation for World Peace.
The former president is not naive. Certainly George Bush knows that when he hails Sun Myung Moon as “a visionary,” as he did in a speech in Buenos Aires in 1996, he is legitimizing the work of a man who uses manipulation and deceit to recruit cheap labor to work to finance his lavish lifestyle. President Bush was paid to attend a party with the Reverend Moon in Buenos Aires to launch Tiempos del Mundo, or the Times of the World, an eighty-page weekly Spanish-language tabloid newspaper distributed to seventeen countries in South America.
Every photograph of the Reverend Moon with a world political leader enhances his credibility. Pictures of Sun Myung Moon as an international religious leader get politicians like Argentina’s President Carlos Saul Menem to meet with him when he has no more than a few thousand followers in that country.
What influence the Reverend Moon does not wield through his political connections, he exercises through his financial investments in real estate, banking, and media. In Latin America alone, those holdings are valued at hundreds of millions of dollars.
Mainstream religious leaders in the heavily Catholic region have proved less than receptive to Sun Myung Moon’s recruitment efforts. “Deceptive proselytizing by institutions like the Unification Church are hurting the good faith of Christians of our country and other countries across Latin America,” a group of Catholic bishops in Uruguay said in a statement issued in 1996. “These organizations promote fundamental human values, but in reality they attempt to convert believers to their religious movement.”
The Unification Church’s biggest challenge in the years ahead will be holding on to Japan as the financial engine that runs this moneymaking machine. For decades Japan has been Sun Myung Moon’s strongest base of support and most reliable source of cash. However, fund-raising efforts there have begun to stall in the last few years in the wake of public complaints, lawsuits, and government scrutiny of church operations. The church claims to have 460,000 members in Japan, but critics say the figure is closer to 30,000, and that only 10,000 of those are active members.
The Reverend Moon founded the Washington Times in 1982 to counter what he charged was the liberal bias of the American press, especially the Washington Post. The Washington Times Corporation also publishes a weekly newsmagazine called Insight, also founded to parrot the Reverend Moon’s anti-Communist ideology. His timing was perfect; the Washington Times became a favorite publication of the conservative Republican president Ronald Reagan. Key Reagan administration officials often leaked information to its reporters. Although editors claim that both publications are independent of the Unification Church, the first editor and publisher of the Washington Times, James Whelan, was fired after he objected to the church’s interference.
With its marble columns, brass railings, and plush carpeting, the Washington Times headquarters looks like a more profitable operation than it is. The paper continues to lose money sixteen years after the first press run. It is subsidized by the profits of the Reverend Moon’s other business holdings and, increasingly, by “donations” from Japanese members.
At a dinner celebrating the tenth anniversary of the Washington Times in 1992, the Reverend Moon said he had invested close to a billion dollars in the paper in its first decade in order to make it “an instrument to save America and the world.” The Reverend Moon told the crowd at the Omni Shoreham Hotel in Washington that he founded the Times because “I believed it was the will of God” to have him run a newspaper with a mission of “saving the world from the collapse of traditional values, and to defend the free world from the threat of communism.”
That was the same year the Reverend Moon rescued the University of Bridgeport from bankruptcy, providing the Unification Church with a legitimate academic institution from which to mount its efforts to save the world. The Professors World Peace Academy, a Moonie front, has spent more than a hundred million dollars to keep the Connecticut university afloat. A group calling itself the Coalition of Concerned Citizens had opposed the Reverend Moon’s offer to bail out the university in exchange for a controlling number of seats on the board of trustees. The university community voted for survival. In the end, professors’ fears about the influence of the Moons on academic freedom were overwhelmed by their desire to save their jobs.
Trustees were willing to overlook the real source of the bailout to save their school, blithely accepting Sun Myung Moon’s assurances that the Unification Church itself would have no contact with the university. In 1997 the Unification Church made explicit its relationship with the University of Bridgeport by opening a boarding school on campus. New Eden Academy International serves forty-four high-school-age children of church members. Its headmaster is Hugh Spurgin, who has been a follower of Sun Myung Moon for twenty-nine years. His wife is the president of the Women’s Federation for World Peace, another Moonie front. University classrooms are being used by the high school for a full array of classes, including religious training. The students eat in the university’s dining halls and study in its library, but the boarding school still insists it is independent and merely renting space on campus.
City councilman William Finch, a leader of the Coalition of Concerned Citizens, was right when he told the New York Times: “It shows just how far the Unification Church has come in its efforts to be accepted by mainstream society, because nobody seems to care, or be bothered by this.”
Plenty of people are bothered by the Unification Church in Japan, however. Hundreds have sued, charging they were cheated out of their life savings by Unification Church members who promised that Sun Myung Moon’s intercession could save a deceased loved one from the fires of hell. Government consumer protection officials in Japan say they have received nearly twenty thousand complaints about the Unification Church since 1987. The church already has paid out millions to settle many of the lawsuits involving the sale of vases, icons, and paintings said to have supernatural powers.
The Unification Church has never had much religious appeal in the United States or in Europe. Its business holdings are extensive and the wealth generated by those enterprises is enormous. As a spiritual entity, however, the Unification Church has been something of a bust. The church claims to have fifty thousand members in the United States, but I would put the number of active members at no more than a few thousand in the United States and no more than a few hundred in England. Sun Myung Moon himself was banned from Britain in 1995 because the Home Office, which is in charge of immigration, declared his presence was “not conducive to the public good.” It isn’t as easy as it used to be to find impressionable young people willing to spend eighteen hours a day selling novelty items out of the back of a van to raise money for the Messiah.
The Reverend Moon hoped to find those recruits among the ranks of his old enemies, the Communists. In 1990 the Unification Church began a major recruitment and investment drive in the Soviet Union. Sun Myung Moon met in the Kremlin with President Mikhail Gorbachev and also invited a select group of Soviet journalists to his home in Seoul for his first interview in ten years. That same year, Bo Hi Pak, one of Moon’s top aides, led a delegation of businessmen from Korea, Japan, and the United States to Moscow to explore investment opportunities. Before leaving, Bo Hi Pak wrote a one hundred thousand dollar check to one of Raisa Gorbachev’s favorite cultural foundations.
The Reverend Moon’s efforts in Russia seemed to stall after the collapse of Communism and the breakup of the Soviet Union. His false start there was overshadowed by his disastrous investment in China. At the urging of Bo Hi Pak, the Reverend Moon invested $250 million to build an automobile plant in Huizhou in southern China. He promised to invest a billion dollars in Panda Motors Corporation to blanket the country with subcompact cars. The Reverend Moon claimed his goal was not to make a profit but to invest in poorer nations. His commitment to the development of mainland China disappeared when bureaucratic obstacles and poor planning slowed down progress on the plant. He soon abandoned the project and redoubled his efforts in South America, where church leaders think the future is brighter.
I have begun taking courses at the University of Massachusetts while my children are in school. I am studying psychology, perhaps motivated as much by a need to understand what happened to me as to prepare for a career helping others in emotional distress. I was a battered woman, but I was also part of a religious cult. I am in the process of trying to understand the decisions I did and did not make over the course of fourteen years.
One thing I have learned from experience: the mind is a complicated thing. Words like brainwashing and mind control are better suited to political than psychological discussions of the Unification Church. Catchphrases cannot fully explain the attraction of groups like the Moonies or the hold they have on their followers.
If I believed I had been brainwashed, I could escape the depression and self-flagellation that have accompanied my new freedom. I do not yet fully understand how I remained blind for so long to the charlatan in Sun Myung Moon. My experience was different from that of recruited members. I was not deprived of sleep or food, subjected to hours of indoctrinating lectures, or separated from my family. I was born into this religion. My parents were steeped in the traditions and beliefs of a church that dictated where they lived, what work they did, and with whom they associated. I knew nothing else.
I feel duped, but I do not feel bitter. I feel used, but I feel more sad than angry. I long to have the years back that I lost to Sun Myung Moon. I wish I could be a girl again. I wonder if I will ever know romantic love, if I will ever trust a man or any so-called leader again.
In many ways I am a thirty-year-old woman experiencing a delayed adolescence. I am learning along with my fifteen-year-old daughter about independence, rebellion, fashion, peer pressure, personal responsibility. I am sometimes overwhelmed by my responsibilities, but I savor the freedom I now have to make my own choices. I am in control of my life. There is no more liberating feeling in the world. For the first time, I have a sense of real happiness. I have a renewed sense of energy as I pursue my studies and my volunteer work at a shelter for battered women. I have discovered with satisfaction that I have a contribution to make to my community, as well as to my children.
There is an old Korean proverb: Blame yourself, not the river, if you fall into the water. For the first time in my life, that dictum makes sense to me. I, alone, am in charge of my life. I, alone, am responsible for my actions and for the decisions I make. It is terrifying. I spent half of my lifetime ceding all decisions to a “higher authority.” Learning to make decisions for myself means being willing to accept the consequences — the bad ones as well as the good ones.
I spend a lot of time explaining that principle to my children these days. I know the time could come when one of them will tell me that he or she wants to go back to the Unification Church. As Hyo Jin Moon’s eldest son, Shin Gil, I know, will one day be subjected to enormous pressure to return. On the jacket cover of the latest compact disc by his new band, the Apocalypse, Hyo Jin has used a photograph of himself with Shin Gil. The title of the album is Hold on to Your Love.
I pray that neither Shin Gil nor any of his siblings will be lured back to East Garden as adults. If they are, I will be saddened but accepting. I hope I will have taught them to make thoughtful, informed choices. I hope I will have taught them not to be swayed by the temptation of money or the illusion of power. I hope I will have taught them that we all must work for what we want in life; that unless we earn something, it is not really ours; that if something seems too good to be true, it probably is.
I will always love my children, no matter what their choices, just as I have always loved my parents, no matter my regret about some of theirs. I hope my relationship with my children will always be open and honest enough to allow us to disagree without those disagreements coming between us. That is real love, not marching in lockstep behind any Messiah.
I admit to some cynicism these days about organized religion. Those who see dangers only in “cults” ignore how fine the line is between the religious mainstream and the religious extreme. What really distinguishes those who believe that Sun Myung Moon is the Messiah from those who believe that the pope is infallible? What religion does not claim that it alone knows the best path to Heaven? Many faiths demand some suspension of critical thinking. The difference, of course, is that legitimate religions encourage believers to come freely to belief. There are no deceptive recruitment practices, no economic exploitation, no forced isolation from the rest of the world.
I have become disillusioned about religion, but not about God. I still believe in a Supreme Being. I believe that it was God who opened my eyes and God who gave me both the strength to survive and the courage to flee. My God is an all-embracing deity who supports me through my most painful struggles. He was at my side when I was a child bride, when I was a teenage mother, when I was a battered wife. He is with me now as I work to raise my children in his image. People of faith call God by different names, depict him in different ways, but we all know his heart. The God I trust gave me the ability to think; he expects me to use it.
On November 29, 1997, Sun Myung Moon presided over a mass wedding at Robert F. Kennedy Stadium in Washington, D.C. It was a far cry from a similar event in Madison Square Garden in 1982. For this latest gathering, the Unification Church had to beat the bushes to fill the stadium. Most of the twenty-eight thousand couples who attended were already married and members of other religions. Many had accepted free tickets passed out at suburban shopping malls and in supermarket parking lots to attend what the Unification Church billed as a “World Culture and Sports Festival.” The lure was not Sun Myung Moon, the Messiah. It was Whitney Houston, the pop singer. She had been offered one million dollars to sing for forty-five minutes. Unfortunately for those who came to hear her, after Houston learned just days before the event of Sun Myung Moon’s sponsorship, she canceled, citing sudden illness.
She was not the only celebrity who begged off. Pakistani prime minister Benazir Bhutto, Christian Coalition leader Ralph Reed, Camelia Anwar Sadat, daughter of the assassinated Egyptian president, all changed their plans to attend after learning that the festival was a publicity stunt by Sun Myung Moon.
When the Unification Church realized it could not hide its association with the festival, Sun Myung Moon took out full-page newspaper advertisements inviting married couples to attend an “ecumenical” event designed to renew their wedding vows and strengthen family values. “You may think of me as a man surrounded by controversy,” the Reverend Moon’s ad read. “We are not trying to promote me as an individual or expand the Unification Church as an institution. Our goal is to bring together all peoples and all religions in an effort to strengthen families.”
Of those in attendance at RFK Stadium on that chilly autumn afternoon, only a few hundred were newly matched couples in the Unification Church. Sun Myung Moon’s two youngest sons were among them. They had actually been married a few months before. At the lavish family banquet that followed their double wedding, the head table was set with place cards for every member of the True Family. The Moons were determined to maintain the public fiction of family unity and perfection. There was a place setting for Je Jin and another for Jin, though Sun Myung Moon’s oldest daughter and my brother were at home in Massachusetts with their children.
There was a place card bearing my name on the head table alongside the one for Hyo Jin Moon. My chair was empty, as if I had just stepped away from the table and the True Family expected me to return at any moment.