Leaving the Unification Church

Jen Kiaba, a young woman who left the Unification Church — the Moonies — that she was raised in, has a really incredible article about her life in that cult. It focuses a lot on the marriage she had arranged by Rev. Moon himself and the story is heartbreaking to read.

My mother dropped me off at East Gardenone of the Moon family’s mansion-compounds in Tarrytown, NY, and I entered into the ballroom of the estate with approximately 10 other nervous young people. For the next several hours, one of the Korean leaders proceeded to lecture us on our unworthiness. That’s when I found out that by the time we left, we were all going to be Blessed to someone.

The panic blossomed. I had to leave and began approaching anyone, even strangers, to ask to borrow their cellphones. Repeated calls home, begging my parents to come pick me up, were answered in the negative.

By the end of the day, the ballroom was packed to capacity. Young people from all over the United States, Asia, and Europe had answered Rev. Moon’s call. Late in the evening, Rev. Moon came out to address us through his interpreter. Though I had never heard them from his mouth before, I desperately wanted to hear words of wisdom — or something that rang true — from the man who held my future in his hands.

One phrase stuck out to me in the monotony: “Do you want me to match you tonight?” A thunderous “Yes” answered Rev. Moon’s question, and we were lined up into rows, divided down the middle, and categorized.

I should have left, I tell myself. I should have simply snuck out of the sweltering ballroom, slipped out of the mansion, and found my way through security to get outside of the compound. Even if I had had to follow the train tracks from Tarrytown back home, I should have left. But with no money, no means of communication, and no idea if I would have a home to go back to if I left, I was frozen in place. Besides, I had been trained to obey.

Suddenly Rev. Moon began pointing. A girl, then a boy would stand up, acknowledge each other, bow to Rev. Moon, and then be ushered out to be “processed” by administrators. My breathing was shallow; I tried to quiet my mind and draw upon the things I had been taught.

Absolute faith. Absolute Love. Absolute Obedience.

When Rev. Moon’s finger pointed to me, time stopped. I looked deep into the eyes of the man who had bidden me to rise with his gesture and saw nothing. I was gazing into the eyes of the man who was determining my future, and I had expected to see some sort of timelessness, or to feel as though his eyes were digging into my soul. But he was looking through me, as though his finger had arbitrarily found its way to me in a game of love roulette. I felt suspended over an infinite emptiness.

The whole thing is very long but absolutely worth reading. She was “blessed” to a Norwegian man she’d never met and endured a miserable marriage for two years before managing to escape the marriage and the larger cult she had known her entire life. She and her sister, who escaped before she did, have a blog about their experiences.

6 comments on this post.
  1. Sastra:

    Oh, the Unification Church.

    I thought you were talking about the Unitarian Church.

    My mind is relieved on that score.

    And even further appalled — if possible — re the Moonies.

    Haven’t read the full article, but I saved this little snippet from another one:

    Another strange thing associated with the Unification Church “Blessing” is the “tangam ceremony”… this was a secret marriage initiation ritual in which the husband was required to first hit his future wife as hard as he could with a baseball bat 3 times on the buttocks. If she passed out in between, he had to wait and then continue. Then it was her turn and if she was too weak, another member had to take her place to perform the rite.
    According to the Unification Church this was supposed to “indemnify” (pay for) the sin of Adam and Eve (which Moon says was sex) and the historical resentment between men and women since the Fall, and to prevent future resentment in the marriage. There are people who have suffered serious back injuries as a result of this, and some of them are still sitting in wheel chairs today. The “tangam ceremony” has been somewhat toned down and modified since then, but it still has the same concept and doctrine behind it.

    Don’t you love spirituality?

  2. Sastra:

    Just read the article (it’s not as long as I feared) and was struck by something in particular, a passage which reminded me of something I read from Ayan Hirsi Ali, who escaped from fundamentalist Islam. The subversive literature which initially gave these women the inspiration and courage to break from the mold … was stuff that we would consider banal, and not subversive at all.

    In Ayan’s case, it was, iirc, Nancy Drew mysteries. And then, Barbara Cartland romances, smuggled into a private room and read while wearing a Burqa. For Kiaba, it appears to have been a Cosmopolitan magazine.

    Sometimes I wonder where my life would be if I had sat next to someone else on the plane, who offered to let me borrow a copy of The Economist instead. The girl next to me on the plane offered a small form of salvation; in a kind gesture she offered me a glimpse into a world that I had had no idea existed… It was a world that encouraged me to discover who I was, not a world in which I had to break my inner-self down to fit a preconceived notion of goodness and of womanhood.

    Most people, most women I know, would not consider cliche romances or Cosmo to be radical breaks from “a preconceived notion of goodness and of womanhood.” On the contrary. But we all fail there to take into consideration the real scope of the problem. Obviously.

    Fascinating read.

  3. raven:

    There are people who have suffered serious back injuries as a result of this, and some of them are still sitting in wheel chairs today.

    Don’t you love spirituality?

    This is very sophisticated theology. So sophisticated, normal people can’t possibly understand it.

  4. Gretchen:

    Sastra said:

    Most people, most women I know, would not consider cliche romances or Cosmo to be radical breaks from “a preconceived notion of goodness and of womanhood.” On the contrary.

    I can see how they could induce a sort of novice feminism, if what you’re used to is purity-based anti-feminism. After all, Nancy Drew and women in Cosmo are exerting some form of will, and that’s precisely what had been completely forbidden previously. Ann of Green Gables was a raging rebel, in the terms of that world.

  5. Stacy:

    Most people, most women I know, would not consider cliche romances or Cosmo to be radical breaks from “a preconceived notion of goodness and of womanhood.” On the contrary.

    In The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood has her heroine granted access to a contraband old issue of Vogue and thinking how proud and defiant the models look.

  6. Pierce R. Butler:

    She and her sister, who escaped before she did, have a blog …

    A bravely revealing and highly articulate blog it is, too.

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