Church or cult? Inside the Moonies’ ‘world of delusion’


In March 1993, Japanese former Olympic gymnast Hiroko Yamasaki disappeared seven months after participating in a mass marriage ceremony ceremony organised by the Reverend Moon Sun-myung’s Unification Church in Seoul.

After an in depth police search, she instantly re-emerged from hiding 46 days later to explain her expertise by the hands of the church whose followers are generally referred to as Moonies.

“Everything was a mistake,” Yamasaki advised reporters at a press convention. “I was placed in a world of delusion where people’s minds were being controlled. So I still cannot figure out to what extent the affection I felt towards [my husband] was real.”

Thirty years after Yamasaki’s organized marriage, consideration has once more turned to the “world of delusion” allegedly inhabited by the Korean church’s followers.

Tetsuya Yamagami, the person suspected of killing Japan’s former prime minister Shinzo Abe final week, is reported to have been looking for revenge in opposition to the church. His mom, who repeatedly attended church occasions, allegedly made ruinously massive donations.

Not a member of the church himself, Abe praised the church’s actions throughout a speech in September. His grandfather, former prime minister Nobusuke Kishi, is reputed to have helped the fiercely anti-communist church set up its foothold in Japan.

Hiroko Yamasaki advised reporters in Tokyo in 1993: ‘Everything was a mistake’ © The Asahi Shimbun/Getty Images

The alleged connection to the Abe assassination is the most recent controversy for a church that has constructed a sprawling multibillion-dollar enterprise empire with pursuits starting from a Brazilian soccer membership to a Californian chinchilla ranch.

For followers and sympathisers, the church stays misunderstood and unfairly maligned. But to critics, it’s a cult that has used its religious maintain over followers to complement the faith’s founding household.

“It is a business based on religion,” stated Tak Ji-il, a professor at Busan Presbyterian University. “On the surface, they are fighting over religious principles but they are actually fighting over money.”

Moon, an excommunicated Presbyterian minister born in what’s now North Korea, based the Unification Church within the South Korean metropolis of Busan in 1954.

He argued that Adam and Eve’s fornication had led to the prevalence of “selfish love” all through the world. Jesus had been despatched to revive God’s like to the world, however died earlier than he had the possibility to marry.

As Jesus’s self-anointed successor, Moon described his mission as to marry, increase the “ideal family”, and encourage his followers — whom he personally paired off forward of the mass weddings that made his motion well-known — to do the identical in order to “create one world under the sky”.

The religious depth and political idealism of Moon’s message, which targeted on overcoming racial, spiritual and nationwide variations, resonated significantly strongly with younger folks in Japan and the west.

Moon Sun-myung and his wife bless brides and grooms at a mass wedding ceremony at Jamsil Olympic stadium in Seoul in 2000
Moon Sun-myung and his spouse bless brides and grooms at a mass marriage ceremony ceremony at Jamsil Olympic stadium in Seoul in 2000 © Park Mee-Hyand/AFP/Getty Images

“Ideologically, it was a sort of religious version of communism — we’re all one family of mankind, and the idea is to build a unified world,” stated Michael Breen, a British public relations guide who was a member of the church between 1978 and 1982. “You felt you were part of something very noble and very wholesome.”

But critics accuse church leaders of exploiting members’ labour and capital — together with billions of {dollars} transferred from Japan to the US — to construct and seed its enterprise empire.

Affiliates of Tongil Group, a South Korean conglomerate based by Moon in 1963, embody ski, ocean and golf resorts, a development group, a defence firm, a chemical compounds group, an auto components enterprise and a newspaper. In the 2000s, the church entered right into a joint automotive manufacturing enterprise with the North Korean authorities.

The church’s US enterprise pursuits embody the conservative Washington Times newspaper, the New Yorker resort in New York, the True World Foods seafood wholesaler and an enormous actual property portfolio.

In Japan, described by specialists because the principal supply of the church’s international wealth, the church has lengthy been dogged by allegations of forcibly extracting donations — a problem on the coronary heart of Yamagami’s alleged grievances in opposition to the Moonies.

For a long time, Japanese followers have engaged within the observe of promoting “spiritual goods” corresponding to costly ginseng tea or miniature stone pagodas produced by church-affiliated enterprises in Korea.

At a press convention this week, the president of the Japanese department of the church acknowledged that it had forcibly extracted donations prior to now, however claimed that the observe had lengthy since ended.

But attorneys for former church members in Japan level to a 2020 Tokyo courtroom resolution that ordered the church to repay about $34,000 to a member on the grounds that “the demand for donations was made through an unfair method of stirring up anxiety and fear”.

“I did all kinds of part-time jobs to donate more money to the church to fulfil a quota for each member for anniversaries and church events,” stated Lee Young-sun, a Korean former member who runs an organisation aiding victims of the church.

“Otherwise, you would be isolated within the organisation and couldn’t endure the pressure. They claimed to build a paradise on earth but in reality it was like living in hell.”

Since Moon’s demise in 2012, his widow has been battling in opposition to her sons for management of the church and management of its companies.

One son tried to grab management of the church’s US holding firm earlier than his mom wrestled it again from him after a decade-long courtroom battle.

Another has established his personal breakaway church in Pennsylvania. Known because the “Rod of Iron Ministries”, it encourages followers sporting crowns of bullets to tout semi-automatic weapons throughout its ceremonies.

Breen stated that the divisions inside the household have been doubtlessly deadly for the motion. But whereas acknowledging the church’s many scandals, he rejected its frequent characterisation as a “cult”.

“All religions begin as cults — people have always feared these groups because by definition they are radical,” stated Breen, who’s writing his second biography of Moon and stays sympathetic to the motion.

“But in my experience, the Moonies are very nice people — and you can leave any time you want.”