They are smart, and they work hard to be accepted, but they clearly teach heresy.

Everybody has seen a Moonie. They are those strange-looking, apparently mindless people selling flowers at airports. They are led by a mysterious Korean who has probably brainwashed them. They are bizarre and alien—not at all like “normal people.”

At least that is the idea. But the Reverend Sun Myung Moon’s Unification Church has now been in America for 23 years, the first missionary having arrived in 1959. “Moonie” became a household term in the early seventies when a network TV news team visited a Unification Church commune and found alarming things happening to the sons and daughters of Americans.

In what could be called a legitimacy blitzkrieg, the Moonies are launching a multi-pronged, sophisticated campaign to become accepted in America. Biblical Christianity, already arrayed against dozens of cults and competing philosophies, faces a newly formidable foe. The Moonies are vying for their place in the sun.

Many are no longer (if they ever were) distant-eyed automatons, robbed of individual personality or intelligence. Instead, Moonies include bright, amiable men and women who, for those who want only to deal with them simplistically, are disconcertingly “normal.”

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Mose Durst, president of the Unification Church in America, dismisses charges of brainwashing and profiteering. He admits the Unification Church has done “stupid” things. But that, he maintains, was due to the youth of the movement and Moon’s desire to spread his message rapidly. Durst has a pervasive sense of humor, and he observes that Moonies are becoming more established in society. “We used to sell flowers; now we’re the proprietors of flower shops. We used to solicit at airports; now we own the planes,” he says.

But that is an exaggeration. Some members own businesses, tithing up to half their income. None of the businesses are nationally known, Durst says. Ex-Moon Incorporated, a body of disenchanted former Moonies, lists 69 businesses owned by Moonies in 13 states. These include jewelry stores, health food stores, and travel agencies. A church-related company in Korea is the world’s largest exporter of ginseng tea.

The cult, says Durst, hopes more Moonies will settle into the middle-class establishment so they can get off the streets. Street soliciting is “not the way to win hearts,” he admits. “It’s a bad image, not a practical way of making friends.” The Unificationists hope to end all such soliciting within two or three years.

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Moon’s church no longer shuns the news media. “We used to ignore it or be sarcastic,” Durst says. Now they ignore what they view as unfair reporting, and welcome journalists. The Moonies do not want to be outcasts any longer.

In many cases, their moves for legitimacy are above-board and overt, and apparently flow naturally from Moon’s ideology. In other cases, they use subtlety. Durst claims the organization wants to identify itself openly. Fund raisers, for example, are supposed to wear plastic cards identifying them as members of the Unification Church. Those who do not are disobedient to church orders “Would that we had as much control over people as the media think we do,” Durst comments sardonically.

The most-publicized legitimation tactic is probably the Moonie professional conferences. Most are organized under the auspices of the church’s New Ecumenical Research Association (New ERA). The Moonies have convened with evangelicals, scientists, lawyers, and journalists.

Moon’s theology foresees a day when science and religion will be unified, and so there have been 10 annual conferences on the “unity of the sciences.” Scientists from such institutions as the Sorbonne, Oxford, Southern Methodist University, Harvard, and Yale have attended the conferences. The conferences are often held in such exotic locations as the Bahamas, and participants’ transportation is paid, Durst says. Altogether, the Moonies spend $3 to $4 million yearly on such gatherings.

The conference programs forthrightly list Sun Myung Moon as a member of the organizing board and note that participation denotes “neither acceptance nor endorsement of the tenets and activities of the Unification Church.”

The Moonies have established a charitable agency, Project Volunteer, which recently distributed 87,000 pounds of government surplus cheese to needy people. Their publishing house, Rose of Sharon Press, now boasts 24 circulating titles. One, The Social Impact of New Religious Movements, is used in college sociology courses to present a sympathetic view of cult development (what the Moonies prefer to call “new religions”).

A Moonie film production company spent a whopping $46 million on the movie Inchon, starring Laurence Olivier, Jacqueline Bisset, and Ben Gazzara. (By comparison, Hollywood’s hottest film last summer—Raiders of the Lost Ark—cost $20 million.) The movie recounts Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s Korean story. It premiered in Washington, D.C., last May, but not to rave reviews. One film critic rated it a negative 13 “on a scale of 1 to 10.” The Moonies are negotiating to show the film throughout America.

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The Unification Church helps publish the News World Daily News, a New York newspaper with 70,000 circulation, and more than 10 other newsletters or magazines. It has about 15 politically involved groups, from the Communist Research Group to World Freedom Institute. The church sponsors (or helps sponsor) a track team, a ballet company, a theatrical group, and 19 other cultural or social organizations.

The Moonies’ primary college campus recruiting force is the Collegiate Association for the Research of Principles (CARP). It is expanding with chapters at Princeton, Rutgers, and the University of Chicago. (CARP-sponsored rallies support Ronald Reagan’s stance on El Salvador.) There is also a high school recruiting arm, known as the High School Association for the Research of Principles. Six rock bands seek to attract converts, touring under names like the Blue Tuna Band and ironically, Front Group.

In upstate New York, near Barrytown, the Moonies have now solidly established the Unification Theological Seminary. About 150 students attend classes presented by Roman Catholics, Protestants, Jews, and even Greek Orthodox clergymen. Professing evangelical Richard Quebedeaux has had his evangelical commitment called into question over his activities with the Moonies. He is listed among faculty in the seminary’s 1980–81 catalog.

Most students are in their early thirties, and they are open to a variety of theological influences. Four took a course last summer from evangelical theologian Carl F. H. Henry at New College (Berkeley, California). The books of Teilhard de Chardin are popular on campus, as are Quebedeaux’s and those of the controversial Catholic, Hans Küng. The comfortable seminary library now houses 25,000 volumes and regularly receives about 400 periodicals.

Oddly, only 1 of the 15 teachers at the seminary is a Unificationist. She is Young Oon Kim, a disciple of Moon for 27 years, and the original Moonie missionary to America. Kim has a Master of Theology degree from Toronto University, although her doctorate is in education. Her book, Unification Theology, “rephrases” Moon’s Divine Principle in “theological terms,” Kim says. (Moon has a degree in electronic engineering but no formal training in theology. When asked what it is like, as a person trained in theology, to study the theology of an untrained theologian, one student shot back, “It’s like reading Acts.”)

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Kim’s book, coded the “red book” by students because of the cover’s color, indicates her wide reading. Any one page may include footnotes from Barth, Aquinas, or a church father. The Moonie theology and ideology make its adherents impossible to pigeonhole. They accept a literal interpretation of the creation story, insisting on the historical existence of Adam and Eve. But they reject the inerrancy of the Bible as a whole and, says Kim, consider fundamentalist spirituality “shallow.” Evangelicals, Kim believes, should “deliberately learn from liberal theology and bring fundamentalist spiritual fervor into liberal camps. Bring about the reconciliation of these two great camps so you can be the great force to fight evil.”

The Moonies, says Kim, acknowledge the supernatural. Satan is real. Some Moonies speak in tongues, experience ecstatic visions, and hear voices. It is not unusual to witness visible spirits, Kim says, or to notice an odor of perfume when a good spirit is near. Despite the thoroughgoing belief in the supernatural, Moonies are also friendly to generally liberal process theology. Compared to orthodox Christianity, Unification theology is clearly heretical. As Kim notes in her book, Moonies doubt the “total sufficiency of Jesus’ atoning death on the cross.” In essence, Christ saved mankind spirtually, but it remains in need of physical redemption by the marriage and family-bearing of an ideal man and woman. The man is to be from Korea. Although it is not an explicitly stated doctrine, many Moonies believe the new messiah is Sun Myung Moon.

It is significant that the controlling theme of Moon’s Divine Principle is not derived from the Bible, but from the Taoist Book of Changes. Moon sees reality as a series of polarities: positive and negative, man and woman, in and out, and so on. Because of this, the savior must be matched with a woman—salvation, too, must follow the theme of polarities. As James Sire puts it in his Scripture Twisting (IVP, 1980), “the Bible, despite constant references to it, is really tangential to Divine Principle. All the intellectual framework comes from other sources—Eastern thought, modern science, and Moon’s own fertile imagination.”

The Moonies’ high esteem of marriage grants them more ground for legitimacy in American society. Although Moral Majority constituents would disagree with the Moonies on much, the Unificationists’ high view of the family, staunch anticommunism, and strong pro-Americanism might appeal to Jerry Falwell and friends. Such points may make for bridges from the Moonies to surprising places on the American landscape.

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Moonie seminarians are quite able to articulate their beliefs and will obviously be in the vanguard of the Unification Church’s efforts to become accepted in the next generation. About 40 Unificationists are now working for their doctorates at Yale, Harvard, Chicago, and other divinity schools. In many cases, the Unification Church pays their tuition. The first crop of Moonies will graduate from these seminaries within two years, and can be expected to provide an increasingly refined apologetic for Unification theology.

In spite of all that, however, the Moonies may only be dog paddling to stay afloat, and not swimming forward. The huge amount of money and energy the Unification Church expends does not appear to attract a significant number of new members. After about 20 years, there are 30,000 Moonies in America, by their own estimate. That’s many more than the 2,501 members Jehovah’s Witnesses had drawn after 20 years of existence, but only half of the 60,000 who followed Mormonism after its first 20 years. In addition, observers believe there may be only three to four thousand committed Moonies, and that there may be as many ex-Moonies (25,000) as present members of the organization.

Hard work has never proved a barrier to the followers of Sun Myung Moon. They have invested stupendous amounts of time and labor to gain (and keep) one recruit. In the process, however, they have extended their influence far beyond their own numbers. As The American Baptist for January put it, the Moonies seem to have “put down sufficient rootage in the pluralistic garden of American religious life to be a serious contender for a permanent place.” That permanent place is not likely to be at the airport selling carnations.

This special report was written by CHRISTIANITY TODAY’S assistant news editor, Rodney Clapp, who spoke with cult experts, and visited Moonie headquarters in New York City, and their seminary in Barrytown, New York.

A Plea For More Deprogramming

Distraught parents may already think members of cults suffer from mental illness—but do they suffer from a new kind of mental illness never known before?

That is the conclusion of two researchers writing in the January issue of Science Digest. The researchers, Flo Conway and Jim Siegelman, call the “new” emotional disturbance “information disease.”

The Digest story ends with a strong plea for stepped up “deprogramming” of members of offbeat religious groups.

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Conway and Siegelman contended that cults depend on the use and abuse of deceptive and distorted language, artful suggestion, emotional experience, and physical exhaustion and isolation to enslave members intellectually.

The researchers mailed 1600 surveys to former members of cults and received 400 completed surveys. (They deleted surveys of persons with emotional problems before their cult involvement.) Those surveys showed high percentages of the former cultists suffering from nightmares, amnesia, hallucinations, violent outbursts, and suicidal tendencies. More than 52 percent of former members reported the alarming experience of “floating” in and out of altered states of consciousness.

Conway and Siegelman discovered that it took former Scientologists the longest average time (25 months) to recover from negative effects. Some ex-Scientologists are said never to recover. “The only thing I got out of this scam was deep suicidal depression coinciding with the fear of death within five years after separation,” one former member wrote. “We were told that 90 percent of all ‘refund cases’ eventually commit suicide.”

The researchers also contended that the amount of time spent in a cult apparently corresponds with the severity of emotional damage. But most of the damage appears to occur within the first six months, they said. They concluded that Scientology and Hare Krishna inflict the most harm on members. Those two groups and the Unification Church were even in reports of physical deprivation.

Conway and Siegelman (the authors of a 1978 book on cultic conversion, Snapping) concluded their article by pleading for acceptance of deprogramming. They called it a “lifesaving intervention.” Deprogrammed cultists are said to recover faster than former members who were not deprogrammed.

Deprogramming is not finding much support in the conventional religious community. The National Council of Churches has criticized the practice. Lynn Buzzard, executive director of the Christian Legal Society, notes that “anticult bills” (once proposed in nine states) “would legalize deprogramming on a very wide basis. We need to remember that any machinery set up to deal with cults can be used someday against ourselves. After all, Christians were the cult of the first century.”

Deprogrammers, called “faith-breakers” by cult members, have concentrated not only on cultic groups, but have also abducted Roman Catholics and Baptists. Ted Patrick, the best-known deprogrammer, was indicted in Ohio last October on charges of abduction, assault, and sexual misconduct. He was attempting to deprogram an alleged lesbian. Patrick was paid earlier to deprogram a 35-year-old woman from her liberal politics.

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