Since posting My Strange Relationship with the Mooniverse, I’ve had current members, both first and second generation, contact me. They often say that they understand to some extent on why I am “negative” (which is a dismissive term in the Unification Church), but they always assure me that the religion I grew up with is an overall positive thing for the world.
I am sorry, but I could not disagree enough.
I started my tumblr-blog How Well Do You Know Your Moon in 2009 with serious concerns over both the theology and the illegal and abusive activities of the UC. As I’ve continued to write and moderate this blog for the past six years, I’ve come to discover there are more layers of corruption in the Church than one could ever imagine.
So for those who are curious on why I take such a strong stand against the UC, I recently worked with the other writers of HWDYKYM to put together a brief explanation of the Unification Church and its corruption. This post is not comprehensive at all but somewhere to start in understanding the theology of the UC and their immoral and abusive practices.
What is the Unification Church? What do they believe?
The Unification Church, also known as the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification (FFWPU) or the Holy Spirit Association for the Unification of World Christianity (HSA-UWC), was formally founded in Seoul, Korea in 1954 by Sun Myung Moon and some early followers. Moon claimed to have inherited the mission of Jesus Christ, whose sudden death on the cross left his mission and work unfinished. Moon and his wife, Hak Ja Han, were to be the restored Adam and Eve, establishing God’s lineage on the Earth for the first time in all of history. The main textbook of the Unification Movement is the Divine Principle, which was first published as a book in 1957. The theology was almost completely borrowed from other messianic teachers in Korea, such as Kim Baek-Moon.
Providential Affairs and Moon’s Theology of Sex
Moon taught that the fall of man, which introduced “original sin”, was sexual. He taught that the sexual transgressions of Adam and Eve were inherited by their descendants and that this condition could only be removed by sexual intercourse with a “restored” or “true” Adam, which he claimed to be. Sex rituals, known as ‘pikareum’ (blood separation, womb cleansing), were introduced by Moon early in the church’s history as the method by which women could be purified of Original Sin. Men could be purified by having sex with women who had undergone one of these rituals. These practices landed Moon in jail in 1946, 1948 (also for bigamy) and 1955. His “womb-cleansing” activities included the wives of the 36 and 72 couples who blessed in the early 1960s. That is why they are known as the “Royal Couples”. His sex activities may have continued to a lesser extent after that, with three representative wives from later blessings being cleansed.
The worth of a person, especially for those born into the Unification Church, is found in their sexual purity. Most of the education for second generation is about their identity as a generation without the “original sin” of Adam and Eve’s un-blessed sexual relationship, and how to protect this identity from being forfeited by sexual temptation.
Jen Kiaba, a second generation ex-member, did a brilliant photography piece on the “purity knife” phenomena among those who participated in the Special Task Force (now called Generation Peace Academy), a program for second generation that consisted largely of fundraising for the UC. She captioned this photo with the story of a second generation who was on her STF year and was raped and murdered while fundraising. She shared her story and the reaction of church members, highlighting the sexism and victim-blaming mentality in the UC and wider culture.
A few sisters said that their mothers had given them Purity Knives, and that all of the mothers should have given one to their daughters. This ideological relic comes from the old Korean tradition where young of women of high birth wore a knife and were “expected to commit suicide to ‘protect’ their virginity, as opposed to using the knife to defend themselves.”
While giving out these purity knives was never an official church custom, Moon did recommend that members carry “a knife to kill yourself before you will be violated” because it was a theological belief that losing one’s purity was far worse even than dying. Moon had said that “Women should always carry a small pistol or razor blade to protect lineage and sexual organ” and that “if you are assaulted, you should either kill yourself or stab the attacker in the stomach with a knife.”
At least there he spoke of a woman defending herself – even if the first option is to kill yourself. And this wasn’t a one-time quote of his. According to Moon “if someone is trying to invade you, you would rather kill yourself than go through the fall. At least you won’t go to hell that way. Even if you die, you don’t go to hell.”
Like other purity cultures, there has been widespread emotional and psychological injuries for UC adherents due to the strict and toxic beliefs on sexuality, especially for those considered “fallen” or are a part of a sexual minority.
Shamanism in the Unification Church
While church members generally consider themselves to be Christian, the church’s rituals and practices share much with Korean shamanism. Practices such as ancestor worship (liberation), spiritual channeling, sacrifices (such as fasting for long periods or sleep deprivation), and rhythmic movements and beatings are all common in Korean shamanism. These practices were deemphasized when the religion was exported to the West in the late 1960’s and early 70’s, replaced with more a more palatable slate for American and European young people, like communal living and outdoor retreats.
However, in the 1990s shamanistic elements again came to the fore with the rise of “Dae Mo Nim”, a woman who claimed to channel spirit of the deceased mother of Hak Ja Han and the deceased son of the Moon couple, Heung Jin. This woman led a series of revivals at the church’s Cheongpyeong Lake facility that became permanent and institutionalized because of their popularity with members. Her teachings were where essentially Muism, a type of Korean shamanism fused with elements of Moon’s teachings. As would be the case with a Muist priestess, she acted as an intermediary for spirits and gods and conducted long sessions of intense purification rituals. Many of these rituals involved ansu (an appropriated shamanistic practice of slapping out evil spirits from one’s body), sleep and food deprivation, and limitations on personal space.
Marriage in the Unification Church
The marriage ceremony, or “blessing”, is the main sacrament of the Unification Church, and is believed to engraft couples back into God’s lineage. Most couples, especially First Generation, had their marriages arranged (or were “matched”) by Moon and other leaders. Once married by Moon, a member is able to produce children born without original sin, or “blessed children”.
In order to be eligible for the “blessing”, one had to meet a set of conditions, although these conditions changed much over the years. In the early days of the American Movement, members were required to convert at least three people (as protective archangels, or Satan could invade their marriage) and be celibate for three years. They also had to be completely devoted to a “public mission” or fundraising for years.
Later, as Moon began to see the marriages as a source of money and publicity, the conditions for entry were diluted, most recently to the point where eligibility became the willingness to pay a fee and little more. In one example, the Unification Church infamously solicited single men in Korea, many of which were older, poor, and/or desperate, offering wives, mostly from Japan and the Philippines, in exchange for a matching and blessing fee. Many violent and otherwise unhealthy marriages were produced from these unions, and fairly recently a Japanese member in Korea murdered her alcoholic Korean husband, a man who had been drawn to the Church solely to obtain a wife. He was never an active member.
The Extra-Sacramental Rituals
After the Blessing ceremony, for the First Generation there is an “Indemnity Stick ceremony” where the couples all have to beat their spouse’s buttocks as hard as they can with a baseball bat or heavy stick. The purpose of this is to pay a price for the sin of Adam and Eve by hitting the sexual area. It is also meant as the one time a couple is allowed to physically assault one another, after-which all disputes should be settled verbally. This ceremony is public, and is not a private experience. Members have been hospitalized with spinal injuries because of this ceremony.
Following a further separation period of at least 40 days a “Three Day Ceremony” of sex rituals between the couple is conducted. This mirrors the pikareum ceremony of earlier times, which also required three sessions of sexual intercourse on different days in different positions for spiritual restoration to be valid. However, after the blessing ceremony, it was common for couples to remain separated for periods of up to seven years, often not consummating for years after their union. Single members are able to devote more time to fundraising and witnessing to boost Moon’s empire.
More recently, with the rise of Dae Mo Nim, the practice of Ansu became an accepted ritual in the Unification Church. In Cheongpyeong, ansu rituals were practiced three times a day until fairly recently, as it was reduced to twice a day. They are crowded and sweaty sessions that last about an hour and a half. Members sing a UC hymn (Grace of the Holy Garden) in Korean while slapping their bodies and the bodies of those in front of them. During the ceremony, members follow the instructions of a dancing/singing/drumming troupe on stage called the Chanyang team. The Chanyang team calls out what body part from which to expel evil spirits, which includes the genitals and the buttocks. Medical ansu is a specialized ansu ceremony where members strip naked and beat parts of the body that they feel needs the most ansu. As you can imagine, this has resulted in some severe groin injuries, especially for men.
Fundraising and Unpaid Labor in the Unification Church
Fundraising activities for new recruits mostly consisted of travelling cross country in groups, usually in a van, and selling trinkets or asking for donations. These groups were called Mobile Fundraising Teams, or MFT. Fundraising was considered both a way of raising money for church activities and a spiritual activity tied to the idea that members needed to suffer, or “pay indemnity”, for the sins of previous and current generations. However, as church expenses grew and the Moon’s lifestyle became more lavish, pressure for ever more money meant that MFT was increasingly members’ only activity, rather than a rite of passage for new recruits. The emphasis on money and lack of concern for member safety caused thousands of members to leave in the 1970s and 80s. During that period there were many traffic accidents, some resulting in injury or death, often caused by sleep deprivation. Worse, more female members were sexually assaulted or raped than has ever been acknowledged.
As the church matured and acquired business interests, members would typically work at these businesses for either no or submarket wages. This would allow the businesses to maximize cash generation, funneled to either the Moon family or to church activities, as both were assumed to be the same. Rarely were wages sufficient to support a family, so many moonlighted selling flowers or trinkets in order to make ends meet, much as they had in their MFT days.
The Unification Church currently has many assets, thought to be in the billions of dollar value. However, over the years those assets have largely come to be owned directly or indirectly by the Moon family, and thus have been split, much as the family has split. Many of the assets are no longer under the supervision and management of the “mainline” Church (FFWPU), effectively stolen by the Moon family, namely Hyun Jin (H1) with UCI but also Kook Jin, owner of SAEILO USA and Kahr Arms.
Though the American Church is not as aggressive as it once was in its fundraising, there remains teams of youth teams throughout the US, Asia, Europe, and Latin America living in vans and church centers, raising money for the Unification Church, as well as international First Generation fundraising groups. MFT teams still exist in the US, formerly associated with the Santa Monica “video” center and currently with the New Hope Foundation International, though not much is known about these young members, even to active members.
The Church in Japan
Even more extreme fundraising in Japan started around 1970 and continues to this day. There members deal with a higher demand of required financial giving to the Unification Church. It has been reported that about 75% of 2nd generation Unificationists in Japan do not attend college because they are unable to afford it. One example of absurd tithes was when Moon personally extracted $500 million from Japanese sisters in the fall of 1993. He demanded that 50,000 sisters attend his workshops on Cheju Island and each had to pay a fee of $10,000.
Not only are tithes and special “love offerings” exceptionally high, but the Church has systematically scammed Japanese people. The Church sent members door-to-door for the sales of a variety of art and religious objects that were sold for highly inflated prices, in the most extreme cases $30,000 for a set of two marble vases or more than $50,000 for a small jade pagoda. The religious objects were represented as having the power to liberate suffering ancestors and prevent misfortune. One member reported that “members were told to focus mainly on housewives, women over 30 who appeared to have some money.” Members would read these women’s palms and greatly flatter them. This scam has also run in other Asian countries, including Singapore. Moon supported the swindling as the practice raised an average of $1 million per month.
As well as putting members in providential roles in his drama, Moon put nations in providential roles. He put Japan in the role of Eve, to Korea’s Adam. (Moon explained that the shape of Korea was like a penis.) Because Eve seduced Adam, Japan had to pay the largest price of any country. In addition, because of Japan’s occupation of Korea from 1910 to 1945 and appropriation of Korea’s resources during that time, the UC of Japan is endlessly held responsible for financially supporting the entire UC providence. The Japanese members tend to be very superstitious and tend to feel guilt and shame more than most. Moon understood this and severely manipulated the Japanese.
Moon in the West
Perhaps the role of other nations in the West was mainly to give Moon prestige and power. This was largely achieved because of the money coming in from Japan. The example of the Washington Times comes to mind, which has been supporting the causes of the Christian Right since its inception.
Moon understood the power of the media and bought himself protection through establishing newspapers in key countries. The amount of money he spent on PR, for example on his US rallies from 1973-1976, and on publications, is huge.
As a major funder of the Christian Right, Moon had a friendship with Tim LaHaye (writer of the Left Behind series), the Bush family (George H.W. Bush, and other family members, have spoken at many church-affiliated events), Jerry Falwell (as Moon poured millions of dollars into Liberty University), and dozens of others respected leaders in both the Evangelical Church and in right-wing politics.
His influence in American politics died out towards the end of his life, and many of his messianic dreams never came to pass. That said, his financial empire still exists, though now fragmented. The value of Moon-held businesses and properties throughout the world, is estimated to be in the tens of billions dollars. Most all of these have nothing to do with building any “Kingdom of God” on earth. That seems to be just a facade. The price for followers has been high.
Moon never became sovereign of a nation. He was not given a Nobel prize. He ended up as a rather grumpy shaman king with over 120 crowns but no kingdom. His “wisdom” was stolen. His talk of love was hollow, and his ideal family is anything but. He was talented at manipulating others for his own benefit. His strongest legacy has been as a warning to others.
The history of the Unification Church is quite complex. The experience of members in different regions and decades varies tremendously. The only consistent thing about the Unification Church throughout the years and throughout the globe is that it has always been manipulative and abusive towards members. Over the decades there have been countless of lives lost in service to Moon’s organization, and one can imagine the chronic suicidal presence and action among those affected by such a manipulative organization. There have been many untold and forgotten stories of those harmed by the Unification Church, and in the honor of these individuals, and for the sake of those still being abused by the church, I will continue to seek justice in any and every way I know how.
For more information, you can check out my blog dedicated completely to this very topic: How Well Do You Know Your Moon
Change of Blood Lineage through Ritual Sex in the Unification Church by Kirsti Nevalainen
In the Shadow of the Moons: My Life in the Reverend Sun Myung Moon’s Family by Nansook Hong
A video of Sam Park, one of Moon’s children from his extramarital affairs, telling his mother’s and his story
Video testimonies against Moon by early members