Adapted from a story originally written for the Facebook group Unification Church under the Microscope (*)
I’m from Luxembourg but I met and joined the Unification Church in the United States – twice, in 1975. The first time was during its teaching workshops in Barrytown (on the Hudson River in upstate New York, later the site of the Unification Theological Seminary) that spring, where I went through 3-, 7-, 21- and 40-day programs and also saw Moon (Sun Myung Moon – the Korean church/cult founder who died in 2012 and whose followers regard him and his still active wife Hak Ja Han as “the True Parents of humankind” representing God on Earth) for the first time. I must say he didn’t make a good first impression because to me he seemed terribly arrogant. I was mostly impressed with his “Divine Principle” teaching and the friendliness of a majority of the members, which is why I stayed in the movement.
In the summer I worked in Boston for a few weeks with a group from Barrytown led by Henry S. to restore a basement apartment that we later used as a witnessing center.
Peter S. (a member of that FB group at the time I wrote this) was my central figure for a short time at 4 W 43rd St. (the church headquarters in New York City) under Neil Salonen (then-president of the American church) in the fall of 1975. During that time I traveled a couple of times with Larry O. in a big truck down to the Sophie Mae factory in Atlanta to pick up loads of peanut brittle, which we dropped off for Mobile Fundraising Teams (church members who move from town to town selling various items door-to-door or in parking lots or bars to raise money for a “good cause” – the church) in the Carolinas, the Virginias, Tennessee, Kentucky, Ohio and Pennsylvania. Later I worked for a few weeks with Ron P. and Toni M. at the Going-Up Press printshop in Washington DC under its director George E.
After telling everyone I needed a break I left the job and the Washington DC branch of the church on Veterans Day (11 Nov.), and hitch-hiked down to Durham/North Carolina, then west along Interstate 40 all the way to California, sleeping under highway bridges a couple of nights. I briefly visited Brad B., a member friend who had quit, in San Rafael/Marin County, then tried for a few days hitch-hiking north from Sacramento, sleeping in bushes.
Later I rode freight trains with a hobo I met at a Sacramento soup kitchen but didn’t get very far. He was badly hurt on one train and I took him to a clinic (27 Nov.), then I was robbed near Livermore of all my meager possessions, and finally I was invited to a free Thanksgiving dinner in a house near University of California Berkeley campus by two “students” who said they belonged to a local “Creative Community Project” organization. I recognized quickly enough that it was the Unification Church by another name, but by that time I was ready to rejoin the fold anyway.
After a few weeks attending Divine Principle workshops and working in their garden at Boonville, and a few more mostly spent “witnessing” (proselytizing mostly young tourists) at Fisherman’s Wharf / San Francisco with Matthew Morrison I was sent east in a bus with many new recruits. Then came Moon’s big religious rallies at Yankee Stadium in New York in June 1976 and at the Washington Monument that September, and before the end of that US Bicentennial year (1776-1976) I became part of the editorial staff of our new daily The News World in New York City. At first I worked briefly in the National Department with Josette S., and then I was transferred to International under, first, Hal McK., then Robin K. and finally Betsy O.
I might mention here that I was an illegal alien the whole time I was in the US, never qualified to get a “green card” residence permit.
I pressured my bosses, publisher Mike W. and chief editor John D., to let me go to Bangkok, Thailand as correspondent, and after some time they agreed but told me I had to pay for the trip and most expenses from my own pocket.
In July 1979 I went home to Luxembourg to make some money working with local church members. In October I took the trans-Siberian train across the Soviet Union (from Luxembourg to Nakhodka, a journey of well over 11,000 kilometers on trains in 11 days, stopping overnight only in Moscow and Khabarovsk on the way), then a Soviet ferryboat through a typhoon in the Pacific to Yokohama, where I arrived exactly two weeks after leaving my country (6-20 October), followed by another two weeks traveling in Japan with my “spiritual mother” — a Japanese lady who had introduced me to the church in New York and who had invited me to visit her in Tokyo (her husband had been one of the first followers of Moon in Japan in the early 1960s – they are both deceased now).
In early November I went to Bangkok to try to work as correspondent. I didn’t manage to get a work permit and the high spiritual atmosphere in the local center (I didn’t have enough money to afford a place of my own) was not at all conducive to journalistic work.
In New York, Mike W., John D. and others left their jobs and the church during that time, and the paper was in trouble — so in early 1980 after three months in Thailand I was called back.
Over the following two years I spent another 18 months working for The News World in NYC and several months in Luxembourg or traveling in Europe on my own, once spending 3 days in prison in Czechoslovakia in March 1982 because I was found in possession of “anti-Soviet” literature and documentation on nuclear weapons. My last time in the US was March-June 1982 when I did research for Russian émigré author Lev Navrozov in NYC.
— I’m telling you all this only so that you can see I was nothing at all like a model member. I was always more or less on the fringes of the movement, even though I believed in Divine Principle, True Parents and all that, and was deeply troubled by my own inability to completely “submit” (=this word always reminds me of the meaning of Islam; my few weeks as a practising Muslim in the Middle East in 1972-73, when I performed the full Haj pilgrimage to Mecca and Medina, had left a lasting impression).
Despite my status as a sort of loose member I was strongly urged by many friends and former central figures to participate in a matching (of couples by Moon himself for an arranged marriage – one of his many publicity-seeking mass weddings) in Seoul in October 1982, and this is where I had my one and only close encounter with Moon himself.
In the school of the Little Angels (a children’s singing and dancing troupe founded by Moon to charm world leaders, and whose large hall was crammed this time with men and women members waiting to meet their matches) he asked Western men who wanted to be matched with Oriental women to come forward. I was one of several dozen or more who did so.
After matching a few others he reached over somebody else’s shoulder, gently took me by the chin and – to my great surprise – asked me directly in English why I wanted an Oriental wife. I said I thought it was more interesting and I could learn more. He seemed to like my answer, then he asked where I worked and where I was from, and after hearing my answers he took me along a row of Oriental women and chose my wife, who is Japanese.
I realized later that I was chosen for the “Blessing” not because I was a good member or ready but simply because they needed to try to get as close to 6,000 couples together as possible. So bodies were needed to fill the quota.
Later I helped to start the weekly newspaper Middle East Times in Cyprus and worked there and in Greece for a few years while my wife worked in one of the church’s secret accounting offices in Japan and also went out fundraising (street selling) there.
I didn’t see my wife again until almost 4 years later, and then only for a week when we went to Luxembourg to meet my parents. In 1987 we got legally married in Japan but did not stay together as I took up an assignment as correspondent in Pakistan. We only started our family in 1988 when I returned to Japan, and later lived in Greece, where our first son was born (1989), then a year in Egypt, and Cyprus again until we finally settled in Luxembourg in late 1991 after my father died.
We had another son in 1994 and a daughter 2 years later. Both our sons turned out to be seriously mentally handicapped and autistic, totally unable to live independently. They inherited the fragile-X chromosome syndrome. Luckily, our daughter did not inherit any of it and is not handicapped at all.
During the late 1990s I completely turned away from the Divine Principle teachings about “God” and “True Parents”, and developed my own ideas about how we and the universe came into existence, etc., but I did not impose anything on my wife, who remains a loyal follower of Moon and now his wife. I no longer believe in the “God” postulated by the monotheistic religions at all.
I don’t hide the fact that I reject Divine Principle from leaders here in Luxembourg but nonetheless my wife and I are regarded as regular members – though I don’t participate in most church activities, including one of the most basic – prayer.
Our daughter knows I don’t believe, but I let her choose her own way – though under the influence of my wife — so she has gone to several short workshops to learn Divine Principle in the Netherlands and has also been to Cheong Pyeong (the church’s main spiritual headquarters in South Korea, in a resort area by a lake of the same name) for 21- and 40-day workshops. It seems she fits in well and can take it all in stride without the terrible mental/spiritual struggles I went through, and also without becoming any kind of fanatic. She is very level-headed.
She has always been able to make friends easily, and has some close friends here in Luxembourg who have nothing to do with the movement.
She studied for 5 years at Sun Moon University (the church’s own university) in Korea, which she really seemed to enjoy. She met an American fellow student and member there, whose parents contacted us because he had told them he was interested in our daughter as a matching partner. When our daughter agreed we arranged a matching with him and his parents, and they were “blessed” by Mrs. Moon in 2018.
So, somehow I am both still inside as well as outside the church – inside in a practical sense through my wife and daughter, even tithing, but outside because I don’t believe any of their teachings at all and don’t follow any instructions. Of course, it’s like a house of cards, and it could all come crashing down if my wife insisted on following a course that would go totally against my convictions.
- Originally written March 2016. Updated May 2023.
ON DEATH – MY OWN …
I feel I should add part of a previous post here about my death:
Diary entry Thursday 3 September 2020 (adapted):
I’m reading an article in Psyche magazine about how to overcome our fear of death.
Do I fear death? In one sense, yes. It’s the fear of the unknown, a natural fear.
But I believe in essence I do not fear death itself – being no more. What I fear far more than anything else is the likely and the possible consequences of my death for those I leave behind – my immediate family. My wife and our children.
How could they cope when I am gone? I worry about that much more than about myself dying. Also, I worry very much that I might become a burden to them if I lose my mind or parts of my body.
This is what I fear and what I worry about much, much more than my own demise. I believe I am now fully reconciled with the idea that I will die. I certainly would not want to live too long – only long enough to be able to take care of my family as much as possible. I do want to leave this existence once I feel I have done my best in this. … And I definitely do not want to exist beyond this earthly life.
I, this self – whatever it is – clearly began at some point in time after I was conceived in my mother’s womb. I believe it is quite natural that I should cease to exist at some point in time.