22 Nov 2010

Moonies face familiar cult problem of retaining 2nd generation as membership declines

National Public Radio, U.S. - February 17, 2010

Unification Church Woos A Second Generation

by Barbara Bradley Hagerty

The Rev. Sun Myung Moon carried out one of the signature events of his church on Wednesday: He blessed about 7,000 couples in Seoul, South Korea — most of whom never saw each other before they were matched.

Some members believe this might be one of the last mass weddings conducted by the nonagenarian founder of the controversial Unification Church, whose membership has dwindled in recent years. Now the church is focusing on keeping its young believers in the fold.

Ahjn Young-joon/AP
Couples from around the world participate in the mass wedding ceremony in South Korea on Wednesday.

New Ways Of Matching

On a bitterly cold Friday night in January, more than 100 members of the Unification Church crowd into a classroom in the church seminary in upstate New York. The heat is turned on low, but the air is electric as the believers, ranging from late teens to early 20s, gather for the first of many workshops on Unification marriage.

Men are on one side of the room, women on the other. Matched or engaged couples sit at the back. They open with songs from the '60s — "Eight Days a Week" and "If I Had a Hammer" — anthems from their parents' generation. These are "blessed children" — according to church doctrine, they were born without original sin because their parents were married by Moon, whom they consider the Messiah.

One of those children is Roderick Miller, a senior at the University of Pennsylvania who will attend Harvard Law School next year. He's not dating anyone — his church doesn't allow it — and he believes that is the key to a successful marriage.

"I'm not really interested in random flings with different girls," he says. "Ultimately, what I want is a happy and successful family, and a loving relationship with someone with whom I can share my life."

Moon matched Roderick's father, Wayne, in 1979 to a French graduate student in a mass ceremony. Wayne says he "won the lottery."

"We've had our arguments over the years, like all married couples," Wayne says. "But in some 30 years of engagement and married life, we've never argued about anything important."

Roderick will not be married by Moon. Recently, the church began allowing parents to match their children, and Roderick will have a strong influence in the person they select. But Roderick says the church's emphasis on commitment is the same.

"And I think that commitment to commitment — the idea of commitment in relationships and to creating really strong, ideal families — has certainly benefited me enormously, tremendously, beyond words," Roderick says.

He says having a marriage like his parents' is "the end game." And the church wants to help him get there.

The History Of The Movement

During the pre-marriage workshop in January, family department director Phillip Schanker laid out the road map to a happy Unification marriage: no sex (or dating) before marriage, selflessness, service and the strength to weather all relationship storms.

That road map was first drawn by Moon, who says that Jesus appeared to him when he was a poor teenager, and told him to finish Jesus' mission. According to Moon, Jesus said that his crucifixion and early death were not supposed to occur; rather, Jesus had been meant to marry and raise a family. Moon says he was charged with completing that mission by raising the perfect family as a model for the world.

Moon's message of family and world peace arrived on American shores in the 1960s. It inspired an army of young people to drop out of college, live in vans and raise funds for the church. In its heyday, the church drew national headlines for conducting mass weddings and dabbling in conservative politics.

The young believers at the marriage workshop wear this history as a badge of honor. Sure, they know some people view their church as a cult, and they bristle at the term "Moonie." They know their parents were ostracized — and some deprogrammed — for following their Korean Messiah. But 19-year-old Renee Martinez says they had to.

"When the movement was first starting, Rev. Moon was a revolutionary," she says. "It was so different in the hippie era. People were talking about free love, and our church comes around, and we're talking about abstinence. So, of course, our parents had to be radical."

Going Mainstream

But the church has a different plan for the second generation, says Carrie Pimental, 18.

"Our parents built the foundation, and after that, we're, like, building the walls and finishing it up," she says. "So basically, our goal is to be successful, have families, and have an impact on the world by doing great things and being good people."

Today, the church wants college valedictorians, not dropouts, says Schanker's son Josh, who plans to be a consultant once he's graduated from Boston College. The church wants the second generation to fit into society — not fight it.

"I mean, I want to be very wealthy and very successful and have a good education," Josh says. He and his parents have similar dreams, he says: "To create a beautiful, beautiful family, and to raise children with good character and good relationships with their family."

Struggling With Membership

No one knows how many Unificationists there are worldwide. In the U.S., estimates range from 15,000 to 25,000. But the numbers have dropped since the 1970s, in part because many "blessed" children have left the fold. Jason Agress left when he was 14, after he began dating a girl over his parents' objections.

"Everything was a system of control," he says. "That's what it seemed to me like. They were kind of breeding us to be a certain way. And if you weren't that way, there was something wrong with you."

D.F. Spratt agrees. She asked that her full name not be used because she worries the stigma of being once associated with the church could hurt her career. Spratt says she used to have nightmares about being married in a mass blessing to someone she didn't know. The pressure of being blessed, and so different from her peers, drove her away — though with some trepidation.

"Back then, if you left the church, you fell off the face of the earth," she says. "It's the worst thing you could do. One person told us at Sunday school once that blessed children who fall out of the church go to a box underneath of hell."

Winning Members Back

Now the church wants to win these people back, since it is easier to reignite the faith of people familiar with the unusual doctrine than to win converts outside of the faith. James Beverley, a professor at Tyndale Seminary in Canada and associate director of the Institute for the Study of American Religion in Santa Barbara, says converting non-Unificationists is a "hard sell."

"When you tell the average Christian in North America that Rev. Moon is the fulfillment of the second coming, and that Jesus failed [in his mission to have a family and bring world peace]," Beverley says, "that message doesn't help you go very far."

So, how does the church go about wooing back those who have wandered from the faith? Phillip Schanker says the first step is acknowledging the excesses of the past.

"Although we talk universal love and the value of the family, we sacrificed our families to the extreme," he says. "And that was Rev. Moon's emphasis. He saw himself as a person who would sacrifice to create a family and gather followers, and then he asked them to sacrifice. He put his kids through hell — like Gandhi. Gandhi did the same thing in order to move India. Rev. Moon is trying to move the world."

Schanker and his generation felt an "apocalyptic" urgency to heed Moon's call, by going on missions for years at a time, fundraising for the church, and forgoing their education. But the church has turned 180 degrees, he says.

"My oldest son is in Harvard Medical School. He was valedictorian at Boston University," Schanker says. "My daughters are doing great things. I've got two other sons on full scholarships. That's definitely what we've encouraged them to do, and we hope they can not only make Unificationism great, but contribute to the world."

In this, the church is taking a page from another new religious movement: the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or Mormons, who are growing by leaps and bounds in part because of their economic success. As to style of worship, the Unification Church is looking to yet another model: the evangelical megachurch.

New Leadership

On a recent Sunday morning, 1,200 Unificationists fill the cavernous ballroom at the Manhattan Center in New York City. They leap to their feet and wave their arms as a rock band plays a mix of Fleetwood Mac and worship music with a thumping beat. They fall silent as the lights dim, and burst into applause when, theatrically, a single light comes up to reveal a woman behind a podium.

"How are you this morning?" asks In Jin Moon. "I bring you greetings from True Parents," she says, referring to Sun Myung Moon and his wife, Hak Ja Han.

She speaks without notes for 40 minutes, weaving personal anecdotes with references to the Bible, Aristotle and Christian leaders. She is the 44-year-old daughter of Sun Myung Moon, and a graduate of Harvard Divinity School. When her father appointed her to head the U.S. church 18 months ago, she focused on one simple goal: to win back young people.

"Well," she says laughing, "it's been quite challenging."

In her first interview with a reporter since taking over the church, she tells NPR that a major challenge came from the Asian church elders, who were upset that a woman was selected to run the American church. Then, they balked at her vision: a national church, which she calls Lovin' Life Ministries, based in New York City, with smaller satellite churches.

In Jin Moon replaced the old holy songs with rock 'n' roll, and fluorescent lighting with concert lighting and a giant video screen.

"I think a lot of the leaders wanted to put an end to Lovin' Life after the first couple of weeks, but we just kept at it," she says.

She did so because she faced a problem that plagues even established churches: How do you transmit the passion of a convert to a child who merely inherits the faith?

"The first generation made a conscious decision to join, in that they had a conversion experience," she says. "They had some kind of spiritual experience that made them feel, 'This is what I want to do, this is where I want to be.' Whereas for those of us — myself included — who were born into this movement or born into this family, we had no choice in the matter."

Strategies To Bring People Back

So In Jin Moon did what the evangelicals do: She used music and technology to spark spiritual experiences. She says it is working.

"Some have called it 'electricity running through my body, feeling of warmth — just feeling as if they're engulfed in love,'" she says. "For those kids who come and have that conversion experience, then their belief system becomes theirs."

Since In Jin took over, weekly attendance has nearly doubled. The question is: Can these bells and whistles woo back former members? For her part, D.F. Spratt, who is happily married to a non-Unification member, sees no reason to return.

"I don't believe in the theology," she says. "And I don't think there's necessarily anything missing or wrong in my present life. So if I felt there was a void and I needed to fill it, maybe that would help. But I don't."

But the church hopes that as it adopts an American style — in finding one's mate and worshipping in church — the second generation will carry the Unification Church into the mainstream.

This article was found at:



Future of Unification Church lies with 2nd generation, those who were born, indoctrinated and remain in bizarre cult

Exposing the abuses and frauds of cults makes advocate a target for regular legal and physical threats

How Cults Rewire The Brain [video]


  1. In Jin Moon is a cult leader. Everybody at Lovin' Life Ministries praises her and she is not ashamed of praising herself but she has much to hide... such as her substance abuse in the past, her husband's substance abuse (reported in the New York Post... google James Park and Joe Biden), and her affairs (with Sammy Pak, her half brother, and Alistair Farrant). And then she persecutes those who support her brother, Hyun Jin Moon, who seems to be leading a movement within the Church. Not only that--she fires them from working for her and has been behind a campaign of spreading lies about him.

    In Jin Moon is a crook.

  2. Virtually all of the Moon family are crooks.

    1. You've got to understand that Rev. Moon himself has a lot to hide and is hoping the information never comes out in the western world. I'm talking about his early years and how 1. he stole the ideas "the divine principle" from a variety of other Korean fringe Christian groups in the 30s; 2. throughout the 40s, 50s engaged in a lot of sexual relationships with women, some had children through this ritual. Very few people will speak out about this but all of the church elders know this, and many participated themselves. It was very popular among youg male members. Many of them will not talk about it - it's shameful. But the evidence is there, from some older people now (ex-members)who have chosen to speak about it. Plus there's the illegitimate son, Sam Pak. It's time to get this information out there about what this man is realloy like, and what he's really done.

  3. Lead Us Not Into Temptation: Inside the Secret World of Cults

    by LUKE MCKENNA, Bullet Magazine CULTURE / SPRING 2012 March 02nd, 2012

    Across the world, millions of everyday people subscribe to the teachings of magnetic cult leaders, many of whom spread the gospels extolling the virtues of incest, child abuse, and rape. Luke McKenna meets some of the victims who eventually escaped-and one cult enthusiast who's just getting started.

    Peter Frouman was only 10 years old when, on December 31, 1985, in a small, run-down house in Corrientes, Argentina, he sat naked among 25 members of the Children of God, waiting to become a man. He watched as a candle and a worn-out green T-shirt, a totem meant to represent truth, were passed from person to person, each of them unclothed and confessing their sins to the group. It was the first time Peter had been invited to take part in the adults-only ritual, his first taste of the sect's twisted take on coming of age. He could barely contain himself.

    Children of God, the apocalyptic sex cult that famously raised Rose McGowan and River Phoenix, is just one of countless high-intensity religious factions hiding in the shadows of conventional society. Rise International, a nonprofit organization that specializes in helping children raised in "restrictive, isolated, or high-demand communities," puts the global population living as part of these groups in the millions. In America alone, there are said to be more than 3,000 functioning cults, ranging from the quaint and quirky to possibly destructive, each with its own rites and rituals to mark transitions from passive observer to active participant, outsider to insider, and youth to adult.

    "The idea was to break me down with nudity and confessions," Frouman, now 36, says of that fateful night in Argentina. When it finally came time for him to wear the T-shirt, which was steeped in sin and reeking of sweat, the young boy admitted to pride and independence-vices, according to COG. "I considered it an honor to be allowed to participate considering I was still 10 years old," Frouman says of a time when he didn't know life any other way. "I have never forgotten this warm moment from my childhood."

    Frouman currently runs xFamily.org, a Wikipedia-like online resource that documents the lives and experiences of former child members of COG, since renamed The Family International, which has had up to 35,000 members pass through colonies in 15 countries. Formed in California in the 1960s, the cult and its deceased founder, David Berg, capitalized on the blossoming hippie movement with its promises of spiritual revolution and sexual freedom. Beneath the group's quiet, communal exterior, however, hid a particularly bawdy brand of evangelical Christianity.

    Alongside entries about Family music and art, xFamily carries graphic descriptions of pedophilia, incest, and violent beatings. Frouman watched while sexual boundaries were abandoned within immediate families. Once members reached the age of consent, considered to be 12 years old until well into the 1980s, they were encouraged to share their bodies with the group, imagining they were having sex with Jesus as they did it. (Males were instructed to visualize themselves as females while engaging with the Lord, since homosexuality was a no-no.) Young women were prostituted, luring outsiders into the group via the bedroom, a practice that became colloquially known as Flirty Fishing or FFing. Christian notions of sexual guilt and repression were bent over and defiled. This was sex for salvation.

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    The Family, whose numbers have sagged dramatically over the past decade, was forced to publicly sanitize its teachings after a series of raids, investigations, and testimonies by escapees exposed the cult's more sordid practices. Most communes have been disbanded and members are now permitted to make decisions for themselves. But these changes came too late for Frouman, who escaped the cult around the time of his 14th birthday, after he'd already endured years of sexual and mental abuse.

    Months after Frouman's New Year's Eve awakening, the boy's virginity was put to a Family vote. It was decided that a 28-year-old mother of five, who was visiting from Brazil, would deflower him. The encounter took place in a darkened room, next to the woman's sleeping children and the boy's own mother. "At the time it seemed fairly normal to me," says Frouman, who had seen kids younger than him with adults older than she was.

    Juliana Buhring, who also grew up in COG, works with Rise International to help children escape similar cults. "All these groups have almost identical dogmas or ways of operating," she says. Charismatic cult leaders are deified, their ideas treated as gospel, while the outside world and nonmembers are portrayed as evil and dangerous. "Cults are naturally secretive, so society at large has no idea," Buhring says. "But there is a very large group of ex-cult kids who all struggle with the same problem: trying to reformulate an identity outside what they believed, or what they felt, or how they thought about things."

    Donna Collins was the first Western child to be born into the Unification Church, an international Christian sect headed by charismatic Korean businessman Sun Myung Moon. A "blessed child," as she was labeled, Collins became a powerful, white poster child for the predominantly Asian religion, which seeks to unite all religions under Moon. They said she'd been born without sin. They said she was perfect.

    Moon, the self-anointed Second Coming of Christ, separated Collins from her family when she was 11 years old, moving her from home to home. Her travels took her to Korea, where she studied the language and UC teachings at the church's Little Angels School. Collins was instructed to devote herself entirely to God, Moon, and the UC. "There weren't a lot of boundaries," says Collins, who, as an 8-year- old girl, doled out relationship advice to followers who would also confess to her intimate details about their sex lives. "They would come and say, 'My marriage isn't working, what do I do?' In one case, I remember telling a man, 'I don't think you'll ever be happy with your wife-she's not a very nice person."

    Collins, who left the church in her early 20s, was always skeptical of the Moonies, as Unificationists are unhappily known to the outside world. "I saw through the church from a very young age, but I also wanted to be a good Moonie, and to be loved and accepted like any other person," she says. "It took me a very long time to leave because I was afraid. It was all I knew."

    While the young Collins was struggling with questions about her faith and her leader, he was matching her peers-some as young as 16-for marriage. Unificationists believe that Moon has divine insight into their spiritual compatibility, and so they submit to his decisions with the understanding that they are, quite literally, matches made in heaven. Early on, there was talk of Collins being betrothed to one of Moon's supposedly sacred sons, perhaps in one of the giant ceremonies that join masses of Moonies in a single afternoon. The biggest even in the West, at which Moon blessed 2,075 couples, took place in New York's Madison Square Garden in July 1982; some ceremonies blessed as many as 30,000 couples.)

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    The ritual, which participants consider to be as much a commitment to Moon as it is to each other, is a vital part of growing up in the church. Ahead of the ceremony, couples strike each other with sticks to rid themselves of sin, before vowing to live their lives for others and to create a family that contributes to world peace. A commitment to "sexual purity" precedes a "separation period," where couples are directed to go without sex for 40 days following the ceremony. You can sweep the rose petals off the bed -there's nothing hot about a honey-Moonie.

    Collins observed the dissolution of many Unificationist marriages, but she says some do prosper. Either way, she doesn't fault the followers. She says that unlike their leader, the Unificationists who support Moon's religious and business empire, which was valued at more than $100 million at its peak in the late '90s, are some of the kindest people she has met. "They're very idealistic," she says. "They genuinely want the world to be a better place."

    According to the International Cultic Studies Association, the majority of people who devote themselves to these fringe groups are as well-adjusted as they are educated; most of them come from stable families and have college degrees, a statistic that's not lost on many sects, such as Scientology, whose disciples notoriously target university campuses. The UC even went so far as to make a formal investment in Connecticut's University of Bridgeport in 1992. (The institute regained financial independence in 2003, but a number of Moonies still hold administrative positions there, and followers are urged to attend the school to be educated among their own kind.)

    Leaders want people who are intelligent enough to contribute to the group and, in the future, to win over the minds of others. Curious youths, living away from home and searching for answers in those tender years, are ripe for the plucking. It's Cult Recruitment 101.

    Daniel Maldonado was first introduced to Rael, leader of the Raelian Movement, as a teenager growing up in the grimy housing projects of New York's Upper West Side. The atheistic extraterrestrial sect, which believes that every prophet from Moses to Mohammed was a visitor from a superior alien race called Elohim, first attracted the boy because it filled in so many of the mystic gaps in his Catholic education.

    Raelians argue that Elohim, through science, created life on Earth about 25,000 years ago. The group believes in using similar technology to revolutionize the human existence, including cloning for immortality and the betterment of mankind. The science behind the teachings fit with Maldonado's own rigorous education about the universe, physics, and humanity. "Little by little, it all added up to the Raelian philosophy," he says.

    Elohim officially acknowledged Maldonado, now 21, on a sunny autumn day in New York last year, at an intimate gathering in a gay support center downtown. The date, December 13, was significant: It marked the anniversary of Rael's first encounter with the extraterrestrial race at a volcano in France in 1973. The 4-foot-tall green creatures reportedly told the sportswriter and racecar driver, then named Claude Vorilhon, that he must change his name to Rael and prepare the world for their imminent return. So far he has reached roughly 55,000 people, according to the group's own estimates.

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    Ten Raelians watched as a trained bishop, or "guide," baptized Maldonado and another convert in a ceremony called "the transmission of the cellular plan." At exactly 3pm, when the Elohim were said to have their antennae facing the east coast of the United States, the regional leader dipped his hands into a plastic bowl of water and placed them on the front and back of Maldonado's head, which then became a conductor to beam the boy's unique genetic code to the all-seeing beings above. "Elohim has recognized you," the guide whispered, leaning in for a charged hug from the newest member of the group.

    After the ceremony, the endearing assortment of New Age sensualists and Trekkie types discussed "paradism," their belief that in the near future a new class of clones and robots will perform all labor. According to Raelians, not only will this harmonize society, but it will also leave plenty of time for some of their more hedonistic pursuits, such as the Cosmic Orgasm, a kind of sexual nirvana achieved through meditation and erotic massage, and Go Topless Day, which is exactly what it sounds like. Nothing is taboo, so long as all parties are satisfied-and Raelians strive for universal satisfaction.

    "It wasn't no normal day," Maldonado says of the baptism, which could only happen once he was deemed mature enough to choose the religion for himself, and to sign an Act of Apostasy renouncing all others. "I've been thinking a little different, a little less selfish, like I need to fix things."

    Maldonado's situation is different than most in that his group membership was voluntary. "People who join cults can go home to their families and friends, and live like they did before," says Collins, who was born into the UC. "Those of us who grew up in cults, we had no other life. When I left, there were none of these online support groups. You were out on our own, you would lose the majority of your friends, and the cult would often demonize you."

    At first, Collins relied on a handful of friends she met while attending an independent college. It wasn't until she married outside of the church, in a Methodist ceremony to a man she loved, that the fallen Moonie truly found herself. It was the first step toward creating her very own stable family. "And there was no beating the sins out of each other," she says, laughing.

    Buhring, of COG, spent her formative years away from her parents, surrounded by sex. After a childhood of enduring the worst kinds of adult encounters, she discovered what it really meant to be a grown-up in the simple splendor of outside life: opening a bank account, renting an apartment, savoring a warm cup of coffee alone in a cafe, free from the regimented schedule of the cult that stole her innocence. "I felt this incredible sense of maturity and freedom," Buhring says of the first year following her willful excommunication. "It's like being blind your whole life, and suddenly you see. At first you don't understand what it is you are seeing, but as you start to understand, the beauty of it all becomes overwhelming. You can sit for hours and just smile, taking it all in. That, I think, was my coming of age. That's when I finally became an adult."


  7. Creating a new generation of the Unification Church

    By GLENN SHRUM, The Daily Pennsylvanian · May 10, 2012,

    On a Sunday morning, Lovin’ Life Ministries of Philadelphia on 41st and Sansom streets is alive with congregation members. Some of them shuffle around tables holding coffee and pastries near the front door of the house, which is painted white with accents of electric blue.

    At quarter of 10 a.m., Leighton DeGoede, co-pastor with his wife Crescentia, leads the congregation through worship songs. There are nearly 40 people — young children, teenagers, older adults — seated in the small chapel room.

    At 10 a.m., a sermon is broadcasted from the church’s national headquarters in New York on a large projector screen at the front of the room.

    A history of controversy

    Lovin’ Life was founded nationally in 2009 as a contemporary ministry of the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification, more widely known as the Unification Church. Founded in South Korea by Sun Myung Moon in 1954, the Unification Church spread to the United States in the 1970s. Moon’s daughter, In Jin Moon, is the current president of the Unification Church of the United States. The branch on 41st Street has been affiliated with the Church for decades, often called affectionately the “Family Church” by members living in the area.

    The atmosphere for growing up and living as a Unificationist has changed dramatically since the 1970s, when the “first generation” joined the movement.

    The Church met with controversial criticism in its early years in the U.S. Anti-cult associations, like the American Family Foundation, were formed to counter what they believed to be religious cults that were characterized by zealotry, authoritarianism and deception.

    Penn religious studies professor Stephen Dunning studied religious movements like the Unification Church in the 1970s and 1980s and taught a course called “Understanding the Cult Controversy” until the early 2000s.

    Dunning believes the real controversy surrounding movements labeled as cults occur when “families feel they were being robbed of their children and their children believed their families were being irrational and not letting them choose their religion the way they want to.”

    Young people who would spend long spans of time in isolation from their homes, schools or places of work may be worrisome to their families, he added. Their families may tell them to seek counseling as a last resort.

    While those kinds of desperate measures have effectively disappeared in the United States, they’re still in use in other parts of the world.

    Pastor Iwasaki Shota, supervisor of Lovin’ Life Ministries in Delaware and Pennsylvania, said more than 4,000 members of the Unification Church have been abducted in Japan and have undergone “deprogramming” — tactics like humiliation, starvation and sexual harassment used to force them into giving up their faith.

    He added that there has been a “whole operation of media, government and police working on the side of the deprogrammers” against not only the church’s first generation in the United States in the 1970s and 1980s, but also the current generation in Japan.

    Shota said he and other activists are appealing to students and get them to work with Congress and ministers in the U.S. to help the situation in Japan.

    The first generation

    For members of the first generation in the United States, however, joining the church entailed a brand new way of looking at the world.

    Kevin Convery, a local artist known at Lovin’ Life as “Uncle Kevin,” joined the church in 1978 when he had just graduated from art school and was “wandering on my quest for the spiritual holy grail out west.”

    During this time, Convery met a group of people he seemed to get along and share the same beliefs with. One of them invited him to visit the Unification Church.

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    “At the time, I was very critical of religious movements,” he said. “I challenged the person who invited me, but she told me to hang around with them and get an objective look.”

    Convery explained that they would often buttonhole potential new recruits in restaurants and drive-in movie theaters, distributing information about the church and raising money.

    Their assertiveness and counter-culture energy came as a product of the fact that early Unificationists “often had more enthusiasm than sense,” he said.

    However, it also contributed to their negative portrayal in the media at that time.

    “The people we approached or came across in the community, they all believed what they heard [in the media],” said Chris Bush, another member of the Church. “And they treated us accordingly with what they heard.”

    Convery said people would put their children behind their backs when he and other Unificationists went door-to-door fundraising.

    “I was very conscious of the way I was perceived, but I thought I was doing something restorative for American culture,” Convery added. “It was worth looking like a weirdo, of going against the norm.”

    Some of these original stereotypes and criticisms still exist today and pose significant challenges to members of the Church and the DeGoedes’ ministry.

    Cresentia encourages those interested in the Church to meet its members in person, attend its services, then make judgments for themselves. “As a second-generation member, I just describe my life to them, and when I do, it sounds very different from what they might have thought,” she said.

    The second generation

    In the late 1980s and 1990s, as the church continued to grow, first-generation members married, had children and settled into family life and their careers.

    Their children — the second generation or the “peace generation” — show more variable levels of commitment to the church than their parents.

    Groups such as the Collegiate Association for the Research of Principles, or CARP, were established to support the Unification movement on college campuses.

    CARP had a presence at Penn but disbanded when the group’s leader graduated, Crescentia said.

    Like their parents, the second generation has faced, and continues to face, challenges of its own.

    Insook Spacek, a second-generation member like her husband Shinho, recalled her childhood in a family “very normal in our thoughts, in what we did, and at the same time we were the odd-balls.”

    She added that while growing up there had always been a conflict of “what we were taught against what the world thought was okay.” Both she and her husband remain active members of the Church.

    College sophomore Aelita Parker said while she finds that some of the second generation do not hold their faith as strongly as their parents, others are stronger for having been brought up in the Church.

    What can be said for both generations is that there is “a degree of compassion and selflessness that becomes much more sparse in the population once you exit religious communities,” she wrote in an email.

    After the Sunday morning service, members of the first, second and third generations commingled in the pews. They proceeded to the basement and enjoyed a potluck lunch of deviled eggs, plates of fruit, Crock-Pots of rice and Korean meat and vegetable dishes.

    The lunch line moved slowly: Whoever was in front would often serve himself as well as the person behind him.


  9. Waning of the Moonies

    With founder Reverend Moon's death, Unification Church believers and disaffiliates debate its future.

    By Ariel Fournier, TheTyee.ca September 24, 2012

    There are two major occasions for a member of the Unification Church: a wedding called the "Holy Blessing," and a funeral called the "Ascension." This summer marked a landmark moment for the church, whose members are popularly known as the "Moonies" -- a term the church does not condone.

    For one, the church celebrated the 30th anniversary of its most notorious mass wedding, the largest ever in North America. On July 1, 1982 more than 2,000 couples of followers were married at Madison Square Gardens in New York.

    Thousands again gathered on Sept. 15 at the Cheongshim Peace World Center in South Korea to attend the funeral of the church's leader and founder, Reverend Sun Myung Moon.

    The Unification Church invited members from around the world to pay their respects, but an even greater number of ex-Moonies stayed home, conspicuously not commemorating the occasion. What was once a growing new religious movement is ever-shrinking -- around 100 followers remain in Vancouver. And with the death of founder Reverend Moon, the fate of the church now rests in the hands of an uncertain lineage given to internal family conflict.

    At one point in his life, K. Gordon Neufeld would have been among those mourning the reverend's passing, but now he describes a mixture of resentment towards the church and relief that their leader can no longer exercise control.

    "I once told someone I would break open a bottle of champagne when he died, but I didn't do that," said Neufeld. "I did feel a certain elation in a way, because he was a terrible influence. He was a fraud and his legacy is false."

    Others, like Heather Thalheimer, a minister in the church, say the day marked a sad, but ultimately significant occasion.

    "We believe strongly in the eternal world and so don't feel a huge separation," said Thalheimer, "It's a day of joy as we celebrate this incredible life and everything that this man did for humanity."

    Moon rising

    Born in a small town in what is now North Korea, Moon established a religion founded on Christian values in 1954. Moon had two central tenants in his faith: to eradicate communism and to promote chaste Christian marriages. He and his wife, Hak Ja Han, are considered the "True Parents" of humanity in the Unification Church, and Moon is the messiah.

    The religion spread through South Korea and Japan, and in 1972 Moon established his headquarters in New York City where he began recruiting members throughout the U.S. The religion gained recognition in the country by way of missionary work in California, New York and Washington D.C. Sociologists have remarked on the particular success of its missionaries in the San Francisco Bay area, linking it to a lingering hippie culture.

    Researcher Eileen Barker noted in her book The Making of a Moonie that many converts were people raised in strict religious homes, who were drawn to New Age philosophies but scandalized by the seemingly loose morals of those around them. The Unification Church offered both an alternative lifestyle and a strict moral code.

    Moonies made news in the 1970s and '80s for sweeping conversions, group weddings, and alleged "brainwashing" practices, but the scandals eventually faded from the headlines. In 2004, Moon crowned himself "the King of Peace" in front of 12 congressmen at the U.S. Senate building. Though he has many monikers, including the self-dubbed "King of the Ocean," his followers will mostly remember him as their messiah and "True Father."

    Moon leaves behind the conservative newspaper he founded, The Washington Times, a business empire, and a religious legacy that with his death appears more tenuous than ever.

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    Heartbreak and rage

    In 1976, Neufeld had just graduated from the University of British Columbia and moved back home to Calgary. In his post-collegiate aimlessness, he bought a ticket to San Francisco and joined this new religion that was sweeping the West Coast. Ten years later, Neufeld left the Unification Church. He tells that story in his autobiography, Heartbreak and Rage, and as the title suggests, his account of the church is scathing.

    Neufeld first joined the Moonies not even knowing they were part of the church. Members he met in San Francisco called themselves "The Creative Community Project," and he followed recruits to a camp in Northern California. Neufeld remembers initially planning to stay for a few days, but after convincing him to stay for nearly a month they eventually revealed the Reverend Moon's doctrine. Neufeld argued with other members about religion, but persuaded by their idealism, the religious aspects slowly grew on him.

    "They pitched it like a scientific experiment where I could try out the doctrine and see if it worked, and if I didn't agree then I'd leave," recalls Neufeld. "But the more you get hooked in, the more you go along with it even though you have doubts. And the more you get to that point in your life where you decide to put your doubts aside, the more you go on as if you do believe. You're dealing with a cognitive dissonance and then at some point you just say 'OK, I do believe!'"

    At the time, the church expected constant work towards the cause from followers. Neufeld eventually began selling flowers and trinkets in the streets, handing the money over to the church. This was a common initiation practice, with followers working in groups called "mobile fundraising teams" to raise money.

    Initially at the camp, the church restricted his access to outside people and rarely left him alone. Daily activities were constant. As life in the church continued, things became less frenetic, but still arduous. He joined a seminary in New York where work expectations were less demanding, but continued to devote all his hours to church life.

    As the new religion took hold in North America, accusations of brainwashing plagued the church. In some cases followers were kidnapped and "deprogrammed" by concerned families -- a form of counter-conversion in which followers were restrained and coerced into accepting that the church was evil.

    Sociologist Eileen Barker rejects the theory of brainwashing in her book The Making of a Moonie after spending nearly seven years with the group. She writes that the theory, as put forth by psychologists like researcher Margaret Singer, fails to explain the high defection rates in the church and why so many people who initially attended recruitment dinners or camps never returned. Ninety per cent of people who attended "residential weekends" never joined up with the Moonies, and Barker found those that did stay on could only be manipulated for a certain amount of time. Those that stayed with the faith likely remained out of their own sense of religious freedom.

    Heather Thalheimer, the head of the church's ministry development department in the U.S., has been with the church for 35 years. She said she was kidnapped and deprogrammed and described the experience as much more scarring than anything she experienced as part of the faith.

    "I was scared for my life," said Thalheimer. "Traumatic is an understatement."

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    After leaving the church, Neufeld returned to UBC in the fall of 1990 and entered the creative writing program. He set out to write a book about a church member that is "deprogrammed," but once he began researching mind control he recognized tactics that were used on him; the church forced him to work grueling work hours, rarely left members alone and regularly deprived of Neufeld and his colleagues of sleep, even encouraging members to jostle one another awake during especially long sermons.

    Neufeld was also scandalized by the perceived hypocrisy within the Moon family. Nansook Hong, the ex-wife of one of Moon's sons wrote the expose In the Shadow of the Moons, detailing her life in the Moon family home. The book revealed stories of illicit drug use, abuse and adultery and many other activities that were explicitly forbidden by the church. Disillusioned, Neufeld then turned away from the teachings of the church years after he had formally left the institution.

    "He claimed to be the Messiah and I really staked my life on that."

    After the ascension

    There is some division among sociologists over whether or not more followers have defected since Sun Myung Moon's passing. Susan Palmer, the author of Moon Sisters, Krishna Mothers, Rajneesh Lovers, believes members have left the church since Moon's death. Sociologist Massimo Introvigne from CESNUR (Centre for Studies on New Religions) maintains defections have been low.

    The number of followers is difficult to measure. The Unification Church has claimed at various times to have between three and seven million members in 200 countries around the world, but according to Introvigne, it likely has closer to around 100,000 followers.

    The church measures their membership differently than outside observers, Introvigne says.

    "The UC [Unification Church] claims millions of members, six millions or occasionally more," he wrote in an email. "I would emphasize that from the point of view of their theology this is by no means a fraud. You can, paradoxically, become a 'member' of the UC without knowing it, for example, by signing a document in the street believing you are simply supporting certain family values. God knows that in this way your marriage has been 'blessed' even without your full awareness of it, and this is what really counts. But of course sociologists do not count 'members' in this way."

    About 100 followers live in Vancouver, according to the church's pastor in an interview with the Vancouver Sun. Al Wilding acknowledges that scandal has made recruitment difficult over the years.

    Both Introvigne and Palmer hesitated to say where the religion was headed at this point. Palmer expects the faith to continue due to its high level of organization and relatively stable size, but said she has been burned before by the volatility of such groups.

    "I actually published a paper saying the Rajneesh in Oregon were doing all the right things, and right before it got published they collapsed," said Palmer. "New religions are unpredictable. There are a lot of secret forces at work that you don't find out about until later."

    The Unification Church loosened their strict guidelines over the years, and practices have become less prescriptive. Today marriages are no longer set up by the Reverend, but instead matched by a committee or parents based on compatibility, and couples already married can become blessed in the church. The "residential weekends" used to aggressively convert new members and "mobile fundraising teams" are a thing of the past. It is a more open, but maybe less persuasive church.

    The family conflict is likely to escalate now that the Reverend Moon is dead, according to Neufeld. Moon's wife Hak Ja Han continues to be the symbolic head of the church in the wake of her husband's departure, and Moon's youngest son is set to take leadership over religious affairs.

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    Moon had once pronounced his third son Hyun Jin the "fourth Adam" and it was long assumed that he would be the next leader of the church, but Hyun Jin Moon has started a dissenting group along with the Reverend Moon's former assistant, Reverend Kwak. Now because of complicated legal matters, Hyun Jin still owns the trademark for the "Unification Church International" and Moon's sushi restaurant supplier business. To further complicate matters, another son heads the business part of Moon's dealings.

    Though Thalheimer maintained that she is not concerned about the rift in the family, the church may split into factions under the strain of divided leadership and legal battles according to Palmer. But Reverend Moon himself was not concerned about his own legacy after his death having once claimed: "I will continue to lead the Church from the spirit world."

    The holy blessing

    On July 1, 1982, Neufeld and his new bride were among the 2,075 couples married in Madison Square Gardens. Marriage is fundamental to the Unification Church; the religion's central text theDivine Principle teaches that the fall of man was due to Adam and Eve's "premature conjugal relationship." According to Moon, the restoration of man can only be achieved through marriage as blessed by a central, sinless messiah. Couples selected by the church become part of his lineage through ritual wedding ceremonies called "The Holy Blessing."

    It is standard for newly-blessed couples to go through a 40-day separation period, but in the past some couples waited much longer while they complete devotional missions for the church. Neufeld's then-wife left the church after nearly three years of forced separation.

    "We were each supposed to recruit three new members," said Neufeld. "[My wife] decided she couldn't stand the long wait and so she quit the Unification Church, which meant our marriage was effectively nullified."

    A newly-single Neufeld stayed with the church for some time but two years later, exhausted from his duties with the ministry, he too left.
    After he published Heartbreak and Rage, Mary Jo Downey, another former Moonie, read the book and contacted Neufeld. She too had become disillusioned after an abusive marriage matched through the church. Though Downey and Neufeld were both scarred by their church-organized marriages, they eventually re-married one another. Neufeld admits that this was one positive side effect of his time with the Moonies.

    Thalheimer is still with the faith 35 years after joining. She was also married in Madison Square Gardens in 1982, but has a much fonder recollection of that summer day.

    "You have this connection with the other people that you are blessed with that is so intimate," said Thalheimer. "It's the opposite of loneliness. It's this beautiful feeling of love and togetherness."

    This summer, Thalheimer and her husband celebrated their anniversary at the Manhattan building with other blessed couples. They have three children that were raised in the fold. One of her daughters is no longer a member, though Thalheimer says her daughter is "proud of her heritage."

    Neufeld and his current wife now live in upstate New York, a short drive from the seminary where Neufeld once lived and from where Thalheimer now works. Divine Principle teaches that only married couples go to heaven. Despite rejecting the church, Neufeld and his wife are still likely considered members. In spite of their best efforts, the pair are halfway to salvation -- the Moonies work in mysterious ways. 

    Ariel Fournier is a freelance journalist based in Vancouver.


  13. Meet the Love Child Rev Sun Myung Moon Desperately Tried to Hide

    How the family values crusader made the publisher of the Washington Times raise his secret son.

    By Mariah Blake Mother Jones December 9, 2013

    When the Washington Times threw its 20th anniversary gala in 2002, conservative luminaries lined up to pay tribute, including Ronald Reagan, who addressed the packed ballroom via video. Afterward, the paper's enigmatic founder, the Rev. Sun Myung Moon, took the podium. "Even before the term 'family value' became a popular phrase, every day of the week the Times was publishing articles highlighting the breakdown in values and what must be done to return to a good, moral society," he said, through a translator. "Today, family values have become an essential piece of the social fabric in America, even becoming part of the political landscape. We can be proud of the Washington Times' contribution that promoted and elevated family values to an essential part of society in America and the world!"

    Moon, the founder of the South Korea-based Unification Church, which had hundreds of thousands of adherents at its peak, claimed to be on a divine mission to salvage humanity by rebuilding the traditional family. Before his death last year at age 92, the self-proclaimed messiah—who was known for marrying off his followers in mass weddings—presided over a multibillion-dollar business empire. And he plowed huge sums of money into politics, launching a vast network of media outlets and front groups that promoted conservative family values and left a lasting mark on the modern-day GOP.

    But this family values crusader harbored a secret. While he was promoting marriage as the solution to society's woes and inveighing against "free sex," his personal life was full of philandering—including at least one adulterous relationship that produced a son. To hide the boy's identify from his followers, Moon instructed his right-hand man, who was also the founding president and publisher of the Washington Times, to raise the child. Moon's illegitimate son, Sam Park, who is now 47 years old and lives in Arizona, also helped guard his father's secret, by staying silent. Until now.

    Park, who has shaggy salt-and-pepper hair and a mellow demeanor, resides in Phoenix with his 77-year-old mother, Annie Choi. Their story, which I touched on in a recent article about the unraveling of Moon's empire in The New Republic [1], casts a spotlight on the hidden history of Moon's church, a strange but influential institution that has maintained close ties to the Republican Party since the Reagan era.

    Choi joined Moon's church along with her mother and sister in the early 1950s. At the time, the family lived in the southern Korean city of Pusan. Moon had fled there after escaping a communist labor camp [2] in North Korea, where he was imprisoned, reportedly on bigamy charges. Initially, he had only a few dozen followers, who met in a two-room house on the outskirts of town and were expected to sacrifice everything for the church. For young female members, this included their virginity. Choi says the initiation rites for early female disciples involved having sex with Moon three times. She also alleges that Moon kept a stable of a half-dozen concubines, known as the Six Marys, and inducted her into the group when she was 17. Sometimes, she adds, he would assemble them all in a circle and take turns mounting them. Choi's account is consistent with those of other early followers, who claim that Moon's church began as an erotic cult, with Moon "purifying" female followers through sexual rites. (One former acolyte published a book on the topic [3] in Japan.)

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  14. According to Choi, Moon persuaded her mother, whose husband owned one of Korea's largest insurance companies, that their family played a special role in God's plan: Just like Jacob, who married two women and had children by them and their handmaids, Moon would marry both of her daughters, and they would give birth to the world's first sin-free children. Choi's mother was so devoted to this vision that in 1954 she sold one of the family's homes and gave the proceeds to Moon. Soon thereafter, he opened a church in Seoul and his movement began to flourish. By 1959, more than 30 churches had sprung up around Korea, and Moon's teachings started to spread to other countries.

    But that year Moon's marriage plans hit a snag, when Choi's older sister abandoned the church and broke off the engagement. Rather than marry Choi, in late 1959, Moon, who was then 40, began casting about for another bride. He quickly settled on his cook's daughter, a shy 17-year-old girl named Hak Ja Han. After their wedding in early 1960, Moon—whose church was rapidly expanding into the United States—began teaching that marriage was the key to salvation. He and his new wife would create the "prototype of the perfect family" and give birth to sin-free children. Followers could join his sinless family by keeping themselves chaste until Moon married them off in one of his now-famous mass-wedding ceremonies and then building strong, faithful families of their own.

    During this era, Moon preached that sex outside of marriage was the worst possible sin. But Choi and other insiders allege that Moon's philandering continued long after his own marriage. Choi says she kept having sex with him regularly until 1964, when she moved to the United States to attend Georgetown University, in Washington, DC. Prior to her departure, Choi claims, she and Moon were married in a secret ceremony at his church. The following year, Moon made his first trip to the United States and stayed for several months with his deputy, Bo Hi Pak, near the nation's capital. During the trip, he spent a good deal of time with Choi. (One photo from the era [4] shows the two of them and Pak huddled in front of the Washington Monument.) Before long, Choi was carrying Moon's child.

    This news could have destroyed the fledgling American movement, but Moon and Pak made sure that didn't happen. Choi says Moon instructed her to hide her pregnancy and give the child to the Pak family to raise. As he traveled Asia and Europe over the next few months, Moon sent Choi a string of tender postcards [5], praising her "noble heart" and giving additional instructions, including what to name the baby: "Deliver the message to Bo Hi [Pak] and his wife to use Kyung."

    According to Choi, the Paks, who already had five children, pretended they were expecting another. Mrs. Pak stuffed her midsection with an expanding mound of cloth diapers to mimic pregnancy. When Choi went into labor, Pak drove her to a Washington, DC, hospital and passed her off as his wife. The Paks were even listed as the child's parents on his birth certificate [6]. (Lawyers for Bo Hi Pak and his wife, who now live in Korea, did not respond to interview requests.)

    After the birth, Pak dropped Choi off at her apartment and took the baby to his family's home in northern Virginia. It was a snowy day. Choi, who still believed Moon was the messiah, recalls her small apartment feeling vast and empty, as she sat weeping into her soup. "I asked myself, what am I doing?" she recalls. "But then I reminded myself: I was born for this mission. My personal dreams are no big deal."

    Choi stayed in the United States to be near her son, who was born Samuel Pak, but went by Jin Kyung (a combination of the name Moon requested and the character "Jin," often used in Moon family names) or the American name Sam Park. At the time, not even the Pak children knew Sam was not their biological brother.

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  15. Choi dropped by periodically and lavished the child with affection. When Park was in elementary school, she also began inviting him for dinners and sleepovers at her place, a colonial-style townhouse on a quiet Northern Virginia cul-de-sac. But Moon took pains to distance himself from Park. While he regularly visited the Pak home, especially after moving to the United States in 1971, he avoided conversing with the boy. "He never asked me anything: How old are you? How's school going?" Park recalls. "It was as if he was making a point of not showing an interest."

    Along with raising Moon's son, Bo Hi Pak—a former Korean military officer with Korean Central Intelligence Agency ties—oversaw much of Moon's US empire, and promoted the Korean messiah's grandiose goals of vanquishing communism and uniting all nations and faiths under Moon's dominion. Pak was founding president and publisher of the Washington Times, which launched in 1982. He also headed Unification Church International (now UCI), the holding company for a constellation of Moon-owned companies that were collectively worth billions. And he directed several of Moon's influential political groups, including CAUSA International, which aided anti-communist rebels in Latin America and promoted Moon's theology as an antidote to communism among congressional staffers. [7]

    When Park was about 13, Choi finally told him who his parents were. "When she said it, it made so much sense," Park recalls. "Of course, she's my mother! How could I not have seen if before?" Park continued living with the Pak family, but gradually Moon's 13 other children began to figure out that he was their half brother. Not all of them took it well; Park says that the eldest of Moon's sons, Steve, once pointed a gun at him and threatened to rape and kill his mother. (Steve, who had a taste for cocaine and high-caliber weapons, was famously prone to violence. He would die of a heart attack in 2008, at the age of 45.)

    But Moon's second oldest son, Heung Jin, who was about Park's age, embraced him as family. During his high school years, Park regularly visited Heung Jin at the Moons' estate in New York's Hudson Valley, where the pair spent their days hiking and talking about girls (a forbidden subject). Park, who longed for acceptance by the Moon family, recalls this as the happiest period of his youth.

    In the winter of 1984, Heung Jin, who was then 17, smashed his car into a jack-knifed semi on an icy New York road and died. Park was so crushed he could barely pry himself out of bed—even today, he breaks down crying when the topic arises. "It was probably the most devastating thing that ever happened to me," he says.

    Shortly before Heung Jin's death, Park had moved in with his mother. Most of Moon's followers still believed that Park was the Paks' son. To avoid raising questions, Park and Choi kept largely to themselves. "I let very few people close to me," Park says. "There were ramifications for a lot of people if I didn't maintain that identity. It shaped how I related to others in that I became guarded and private." Initially, Bo Hi Pak continued playing the father role; he bought Sam a car and paid much of his tuition at George Washington University, where Park earned a bachelor's degree in history. Park, meanwhile, clung to the hope that Moon would one day acknowledge his existence. "I remember Sam saying, 'I just want him to recognize me publicly as his son once before he dies,'" recalls one member of the Pak family, who confirmed many details of Park's account.

    In a bid to win his father's love, Park married the daughter of a church elder at a Moon-officiated mass wedding in Seoul in 1992. The couple celebrated with a lavish reception at a South Korean hotel, complete with ice sculptures and floral mosaics—all underwritten by the Pak family.

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  16. After the wedding, Park's wife moved in with him and his mother in Virginia, where he was a partner in a small money management firm. But Park says she and her parents, who knew Park's family secrets, treated Choi coldly, which created friction in their marriage. According to Park, his wife eventually admitted that Mrs. Moon had approached her before the wedding and asked her to spy on him and his mother—an allegation his then-wife denies. (The Unification Church and lawyers for Mrs. Moon declined to comment.)

    Park says his marital woes destroyed what was left of his faith. "Suddenly, the blinders came off," he recalls. "I could see how strange life inside the movement was—the things we did, the way we thought. When you begin to break free from that kind of brainwashing, it's almost like an out-of-body experience." Eventually, Park's marriage crumbled. In 1999, he and his wife divorced (a taboo in Unificationist circles). Afterward, he left his firm and moved with his mother to Arizona. Park began period of soul searching. "He was looking for a father figure," says Donna Orme-Collins, a former church member and close friend of Park's. "He would get overly excited by different schools of thought that would help him find peace."

    By this time, changes were afoot in Moon's movement. With the collapse of global communism in the late 1980s, Moon's focus shifted increasingly to promoting family values. He launched the American Family Coalition, which quickly became one of the nation's leading religious conservative organizations. And he worked with religious conservative leaders and the lobbying group Christian Voice on a grassroots campaign to nudge the Republican Party toward social conservatism. These efforts, and his political largess, earned him plaudits in high places. Speaking on the Senate floor in July 1993, Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.) urged fellow lawmakers [8] to celebrate True Parents Day—a holiday honoring the Moons—in the name of family values. "It is in the interest of society and government to adopt policies strengthening and sustaining fathers and mothers," he said. The following year, Congress passed a bill designating Parents Day a national holiday.

    While lawmakers were lauding Moon's family values message, his own family was unraveling. In 1998, his ex-daughter-in-law, Nansook Hong, published a devastating expose [9] of Moon family life, which claimed that her husband, Steve, blew huge sums of church money on cocaine and beat her during her pregnancy. Hong and Moon's estranged daughter, Un Jin, went on 60 Minutes [10], where they presented a litany of allegations about drugs, sex, and corruption inside Moon's church. They also disclosed that Moon had an illegitimate son named "Sammy."

    Courtesy of How Well Do You Know Your Moon [11]
    These revelations struck at the heart of Moon's teachings, and his followers began drifting away. Had Park and Choi gone public at this point, it could have worsened the fallout. Once again, Moon's loyal deputy Bo Hi Pak took steps to protect his leader. In late 1999, he approached Choi and Park with a contract releasing Pak and the Moons [12]from "any and all past, present or future actions," and relinquishing all inheritance claims. The contract also stipulated that the agreement's terms and any "personal differences" would remain confidential, meaning Park and Choi could never speak of their relationship to Moon. In return, Park and his mother would each receive $100.

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  17. Park and Choi ultimately signed the deal. They maintain they did so because Moon's then-personal secretary, Peter Kim, promised that Moon-owned entities would pay them $1.5 million, plus $20 million if Park wasn't tapped for a leadership role in the family's business empire upon Moon's retirement. (Through a church representative, Kim declined to comment.) According to court records, over the next several months, Park and Choi each received two lump sum payments totaling $1.5 million from an offshore account with ties to Moon-owned entities.

    Up until this point, Choi says Moon had paid her roughly $35,000 a year through the Washington Times—even though she never worked for the paper. (Moon had a history of dubious financial dealings: A 1978 congressional investigation found his organizations "systematically violated US tax, immigration, banking," and currency laws. He also served 18 months in a US prison for tax evasion.) But after the deal was signed she and her son were cut off from the Moon and Pak families. Gradually, they ate through the $1.5 million. Park says they lost about a third of it in the stock market. The rest they spent or gave away. Those who know Park say he was generous, especially to former Moon disciples, many of whom gave everything to the church and wound up destitute. In one case, Park helped to pay for a Unificationist missionary and his family to vacation at Disneyland after his 11-year-old daughter was diagnosed with leukemia.

    Around 2006, Moon, who was in his 80s, began dividing his business empire up among his children. Two years later, he named his youngest son, Sean, as his spiritual successor. When it became clear that Park would not be tapped for a leadership position, he and his mother began pressing Bo Hi Pak for the additional $20 million they were allegedly promised. Pak moved to have the dispute heard by an arbitrator, based on an arbitration clause in the contract. Park and Choi couldn't afford the arbitration fees, so a friend introduced them to Robert Hirsch. A slight man with scraggly bleached-blond hair and skull-shaped rings studding his fingers, Hirsch was once a high-rolling Manhattan lawyer. But in 1994 he and his partner, Harvey Weinig [13], were convicted of laundering millions of dollars for Colombian drug cartels, in a scheme involving rabbis, diplomats, and a police officer [14]. (Weinig, who was also found guilty of aiding a kidnapping and extortion scheme, later had his sentence commuted by then-President Bill Clinton [15].)

    Despite Hirsch's tainted past, Park says he and his mother came to trust him and asked him to handle the arbitration. But Hirsch, who had lost his license to practice law, was barred from arguing the case. So the three of them hashed out an agreement: Hirsch would pay all legal expenses, and Park and Choi would sign over the rights to any award or settlement to him, with the verbal understanding that they'd split the money. Hirsch, who now goes by Reuven Ben-Zvi, maintained that this arrangement would allow him to become a party to the case and represent them in the proceedings because litigants in civil cases can represent themselves. But the deal put Park and Choi at the mercy of a convicted felon.

    Ultimately, Hirsch and the lawyer he enlisted to assist them, Alisa Lachow-Thurston, failed to file key paperwork or show up to the July 2010 arbitration hearing. Lachlow-Thurston says she was just a "side assistant" and made no decisions about "what to file when and how." Hirsch maintains they chose not to participate after discovering that the arbitrator assigned to the case worked for a law firm that had business ties to the firm representing Bo Hi Pak. "Sam and Annie could continue in the biased arbitration—without me—or they could elect to not further participate in the arbitral proceedings," he says. If they had taken part, Hirsch argues, they would have forfeited their legal rights to "pursue redress in the courts."

  18. Bo Hi Pak traveled from his home in South Korea for the hearing. According to sealed transcripts, which were obtained by Mother Jones, he admitted under oath [16] that he was not Park's father, even though his name is listed on Park's birth certificate. He also claimed to have no idea who Park's father was and said he'd raised him as a favor to Choi. "I was fond of her at that time," he said, "and really want[ed] to help her somehow."

    The arbitrator ultimately found the release agreement was valid and rejected Park and Choi's $20 million claim. A county court affirmed the ruling. Alleging Choi and Park had been victims of "theology-based" racketeering, Hirsch appealed in 2011, but the district court refused to hear the case.

    The legal battle has taken a heavy emotional toll on both of them, and their financial situation has grown increasingly shaky. Their Phoenix home is on the brink of foreclosure, and Park is inching toward bankruptcy. Whatever the outcome, they are ready to finally leave their painful double lives behind. By going public they also hope they can help other Moon disciples break free from the Unification Church. "So many people sacrificed for the movement, but they didn't really know what they were sacrificing for," Choi says, weeping. "I used to worry about my financial future and about my son's security. But now it's very clear to me: My job is to light the candle—to light a candle so that people can see that the entire movement was built on a lie."

    Mariah Blake is a reporter in Mother Jones' DC bureau. Got a tip? E-mail her at mblake [at] motherjones [dot] com. She's also on Twitter. RSS | TWITTER

    Source URL: http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2013/12/reverend-moon-unification-church-washington-times-secret-son

    [1] http://www.newrepublic.com/article/115512/unification-church-profile-fall-house-moon
    [2] http://www.unification.org/ucbooks/earlyyears/Chap07.htm
    [3] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6n6Mnts_tkY
    [4] http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2013/12/reverend-moon-unification-church-washington-times-secret-son?page=3
    [5] http://www.motherjones.com/documents/886190-moonpostcards
    [6] http://www.motherjones.com/documents/886193-samuelparkbirthcertificate
    [7] http://www.motherjones.com/as%2520an%2520antidote%2520to%2520communism
    [8] http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/z?r103:S27JY3-241:
    [9] http://www.amazon.com/In-The-Shadow-Of-Moons/dp/0786182679
    [10] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HdvQGD5Lnsc
    [11] http://howwelldoyouknowyourmoon.tumblr.com/post/67311086317/observations-on-moon-with-sams-mother-in-1965
    [12] http://motherjones.com/documents/886192-releaseagreement
    [13] http://www.nytimes.com/1995/09/22/nyregion/lawyer-admits-he-laundered-drug-money.html
    [14] http://articles.latimes.com/1994-12-01/news/mn-3622_1_police-officer
    [15] http://www.nytimes.com/2001/04/14/nyregion/special-pleading-a-felon-s-well-connected-path-to-clemency.html?pagewanted=all&src=pm
    [16] http://www.motherjones.com/documents/886191-bohipaktestimony

  19. Experience - I escaped from the Moonies

    I was told I was being posted to Korea. I realised I would be cut off from the world

    by Chris Killingbeck as told to Gabriella Jozwiak, the Guardian June 3, 2016

    growing up in the 1960s and 70s, I was drawn to an alternative way of life. I was the son of a businessman and I wanted to discover the meaning of life beyond materialism; I felt religion may hold the answers. After school, I trained as an accountant, but hated it. My plan was to live in a bread delivery van that I’d converted and offer people handyman services in return for payment in kind.

    One day, a man knocked on my van and invited me to join his community for a weekend. They were the Moonies, named after their Korean founder Sun Myung Moon, and they were operating from a farmhouse just outside Reading. The community of 15 was led by a local man and his wife; it was clean, drug-free and essentially Christian, all of which appealed to me. By the end of the weekend, I had agreed to stay for six months.

    When Moon called us to America six months later, I didn’t hesitate; I was barely in touch with my family by then and I thought the apocalypse was coming. I suppose I’d been brainwashed.

    Much of my time was spent travelling between Moonie centres along the east coast, preaching on the street corners of nearby towns and helping to establish new communities. Five years after I joined, Moon declared that I should marry. He paired couples at random; no one questioned his judgment. My bride was to be a young Austrian girl called Heidi.

    We had no contact until the wedding day. Moon performed the ceremony in a hall in Washington with 700 couples and, after the vows, I was made to cane my wife as hard as possible. It wasn’t in my nature to do that and I didn’t enjoy it, but you didn’t question Moon, and his men were watching us closely.

    Soon afterwards, my superiors told me I was being posted to Korea for seven months. I realised then that I would be cut off from the world, and that I had been controlled for years. I also couldn’t see myself being happy with Heidi. I was desperate to escape. I acted quickly. I was trusted to run errands alone in the van, so I knew I could leave the site without arousing suspicion. It was my only means of getting away.

    I had always known that my dad had put some money in a US bank account for me – just enough to cover a plane ticket. Still, it all felt like an enormous risk: I believed everything the Moonies told me, particularly the threat in the movement’s teachings that if you left, you exposed yourself to losing control of your life.

    But I knew I couldn’t stay – it was now or never. I packed my few belongings into a tea chest when no one was around and drove out. The guard on the gate waved me through, as he always did.

    As I drove away, I felt relieved to be leaving, but not euphoric: I was lost. For years, I had nightmares of being recaptured. When I finally arrived at my father’s house in Maidenhead, he couldn’t understand how I could return with nothing after so long: no job, money, wife or children. I was 41.

    The church never contacted me, but Heidi called twice to say she loved me and that I should come back. For her, my disappearance was a slap in the face, and I regret causing her that pain, but she would have been reassigned to a better choice. Our “marriage” wasn’t recognised outside the mission.

    My father stood by me. He installed me in the basement of a bedsit he owned in Reading, where I became the landlord. I never joined another church.

    I remarried twice. The first marriage ended after 18 months, but my fortune changed when I met my second wife in the late 1980s. She was one of my tenant’s sisters, and we’ve run the property together ever since. I’m 80 now, and losing a battle with cancer. If I had stayed with the mission, I might still be in Korea. I have never regretted my time in the Moonies, but I’m relieved I found the courage to escape.