Unification Church (the Moonies): the Bizarre Mail-Order-Brides Cult from Korea

On this date, Sun Myung Moon was born in Korea. He’s considered a messiah figure by the so-called “Unification Church” (aka the Moonies), a bizarre cult that incorporates radical heterosexist ideology, conservative Christian politics, and Asian mail-order-brides. Well, not exactly, but sort of. People would fill out paperwork to “apply” for a spouse and, for a small fee, their messiah would choose their future spouses for them. And the members had so much faith in their leader that they would marry complete strangers from other parts of the world, ignoring the language barrier and other potential problems, and fully trusting the most important choice of their lives to a man from Korea who claims to have personally spoken with Jesus Christ when he was 16.

In 2012, Steve Hassan–who has dedicated years of his life to raising awareness about cults and their mind-control tactics–wrote a piece for The Guardian titled “I was a Moonie cult leader“. Upon being segregated from his family and community by the cult in the ’70’s, he says:

Little did I know, within a few weeks I would be told to drop out of school, donate my bank account, look at Moon as my true parent, and believe my parents were Satan.

Back around the year 2000-ish, I had a Moonie church almost next door to me in a neighborhood on the north side of Chicago. They had either Korean or Japanese ladies walking up and down the neighborhood, very friendly and sociable all of them, aggressively proselytizing and amicably encouraging people to visit their church. The church had a banquet hall and offered delicious Asian food, which I imagine attracted many homeless or poor residents of the neighborhood. I visited the church three or four times–usually at the friendly but firm insistence of the missionaries–, enjoyed the food and had a chance to read some of their religious literature, which is how I realized how crazy their doctrine was.

The last time I was there, one French lady who had befriended me insisted that I should apply for a bride. I found the idea nauseating, not only because I’m gay, but also because no one (not even a Korean messiah) should have this asphyxiating level over control of someone else’s life. I don’t even think parents should have the right to choose their sons’ and daughters’ spouses. This is a such an intimate, private matter, that it’s hard for me to understand how anyone would put this in the hands of Sun Myung Moon. Upon my refusal to purchase a mail-order bride from their messiah, she insisted I had to show more dedication to the study of the Divine Principle–this is the name for their scripture, which basically postulates salvation through heterosexual marriage.

The friendliness and warmth of cult members quickly makes one ashamed of non-compliance. After this awkward exchange, I never went back. I later learned that the Moonies have given generous contributions to far-right causes in American politics, which is probably why they haven’t yet invited a greater degree of public attention as a bizarre cult. Homophobic ideology buys clout in certain political circles! As it is, leaders of a cult that is seeking normalization have plenty of reasons to buy influence from career politicians whose moral compass points to the far-right.

During my visits to the Moonie temple, I remember that one of the applicants who applied for a wife was an immigrant from Morocco–a country where more than half the women suffer domestic violence. This was before September 11, so everyone back then was much more innocent and uneducated about the many dysfunctions of Islamic societies. The wives available from the Moonies’ catalogue were almost always east Asian. I can not imagine that their messiah had the means to carry out background checks, or investigate the criminal records or mental health of the applicants. How would he have done that from Korea, with applications from all over the planet?

Moon died in 2012. I’m pretty sure his followers will build a mythology around him now that he’s dead. It’s possible that some of them found spouses through him that ended up being alright or even great spouses or parents, but I suspect that many of them–especially the women–will have many stories of disillusionment to tell in the coming years.

About hiramcrespo

Hiram Crespo is the author of 'Tending the Epicurean Garden' (Humanist Press, 2014) and 'How to Live a Good Life' (Penguin Random House, 2020), and founder of societyofepicurus.com. He's also written for The Humanist, Eidolon, Occupy, The New Humanism, The Secular Web, Europa Laica, AteístasPR, and many other outlets.
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