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Hideo Higashibaba left the cult he was born into when he was 22 years old. The Unification Church, also known as the Moonies, was founded in Korea by a man named Sun Myung Moon who proclaimed he was the Second Coming of Christ. In Growing Up Moonie Hideo asks people he grew up with what their childhoods were like and shares his struggles to make sense of his weird sheltered youth and the person he grew up to be. Edited and co-produced by Quinn Myers. 

If you would like a transcript of any of these episodes please email Hideo at


Mar 4, 2019

Hideo and Jenn grew up going to church, Sunday school, and church camp together, but they had wildly different home lives. Hideo talks with Jenn about the pressures, guilt, and strict rules that guarded the childhoods of second generation Moonies.




News Announcer [00:00:02] A decade ago the Reverend Sun Myung Moon was accused of controlling the minds of young people creating so-called Moonies. So called Moonies,  followers of the Reverend Sun Myung Moon, head of the Unification Church who became well-known in the early 80s for his mass wedding ceremonies.

Interpreter [00:00:16] Do you pledge to establish an eternal family with which God can be happy.

Crowd [00:00:22] Yes!

Interpreter [00:00:22] We are talking about absolute fidelity here. If anybody deviates from this God-given principle they are bound to hell.

News Announcer [00:00:35] But the church has a different plan for the second generation.

2nd Gen [00:00:38] I felt like we weren't equipped for the world. You know we aren't just like this bubble.

2nd Gen [00:00:42] To me it sounds culty. I know it's what brought our parents to church but it's not what keeps me in the church.

2nd Gen [00:00:48] Then if I'm not doing everything that they want me to do or I don't believe everything that they believe. We still have this like line that connects us.

Hideo Higashibaba [00:01:00] My name is Hideo Higashibaba. I grew up in a cult called the Unification Church. You might know them as the Moonies. This is Growing Up Moonie, stories from the childhoods of people born into the church. Like me.

Hideo Higashibaba [00:01:24] I was a Moonie until about four years ago. When I left, my life was ripped into chaos and I had a lot of trouble coping without the church. I had to find new ways to make sense of the world. In my journey, I reached out to other people born into the church to ask them about their childhoods what their lives were like.

Hideo Higashibaba [00:01:45] One of those people is Jenn. Jenn Is not her real name. She asked to change it for this podcast because people finding out you're a Moonie can make life, well, awkward. More than that it can sometimes make it hard to keep friends or even get a job.

Hideo Higashibaba [00:02:03] Yeah. We haven't seen each other in what like Oh it's been a minute.

Jenn [00:02:08] Yeah, I don't know maybe like six years or maybe more.

Hideo Higashibaba [00:02:13] I saw Jen and her family every week at church in Gloucester, Massachusetts at a place called Morning Garden. It's a retreat center owned by the church. An enormous mansion with a chapel where we held services members weren't allowed in most of the house mostly because it was reserved for the founder.

Hideo Higashibaba [00:02:32] Sun Myung Moon and his family. We mostly just use the chapel and the kitchen. Moon bought Morning Garden in the 70s for his fishing ministry, which basically means he bought a whole bunch of boats and got a lot of church members to fish for him. It was the beginning of a global fishing business which Moon used to fund his religious empire. Morning Garden is right on the ocean, so there's a dock where we would swim and an old stone tower down by the water.

Hideo Higashibaba [00:03:03] There's another tower on a hill overlooking Gloucester Harbor and several acres of woods which we kids spent hours playing in. Jen and I were in the same Sunday school class and groups at camp and workshops. So we saw each other a lot. I called her to ask how she felt about growing up in the church.

Jenn [00:03:22] I said I don't know all my memories of growing up are like really great. I don't really have anything negative to say. For the most part I think like sometimes looking back I can see how some things might have been negative. But honestly like I think personally that we had like a great childhood.

Jenn [00:03:39] I just remember like running around at morning garden and we would all hang out and like going to church was like pretty fun. I think when we were younger once I once I became a teenager I was like hated going but I know when I was a kid I actually really liked to go and like going to see everyone and hanging out after church and just like going swimming at Morning Garden or having cookouts or whatever and I think it always felt like a big family.

Hideo Higashibaba [00:04:04] That was the idea one family under God. People who joined the church as adults are called First Generation people born into the church like Jenn and I are called second generation or second gen. Another name for us is blessed children or BCs and the second generation, these special children, were the whole reason behind the huge mass weddings Moonies were famous for. To create so-called "true families" free from the sins of the world.

Hideo Higashibaba [00:04:36] The idea was that if the Messiah, Moon, blessed the marriages then the children that came from those couples would be free of Original Sin. That's right. According to my parents I don't have original sin. So there. Anyway not having Original Sin is kind of a big deal. And because of that, we Blessed Children were told we were special. That we were destined to continue God's Will to win the world back from Satan. And it was kind of a lot for kids who still have to go to school with a bunch of normal Original Sinner people.

Jenn [00:05:14] I feel like we were always kind of made to seem like we were better than other people because we were second gen. Or yeah, just because we throw our lineage and being born without Original Sin or at least like that's what it said I always felt like we were made to look like we were better or supposed to be perfect.

Jenn [00:05:34] I think like going to school are like so many of the things I took part in. I've met someone like the best people that, you know, they're not in the church and they're not BCs and like I don't know. To me I can't look at that as like a bad thing or that they are not as good as me or anything like that. So I think that was a big thing for me. Even in high school or anything like that.

Hideo Higashibaba [00:05:57]  It seems like for you you were like a part of the public school system like you were really a part of your Gloucester community as well as the church community. So seems like that cross pollination could happen more easily.

Jenn [00:06:07] Yeah. No that's right because yeah. Even like me and my siblings we were always like very involved in sports or other stuff like that within our high school. So we always hung out I think we hung out with BCs more than actual BCs. So for us it was kind of like, most people didn't even know we were Moonies or anything like that.

Jenn [00:06:25] I still to this day, like they don't know because we were just always with like other kids a lot. So I think it was very different for me. Rather than you I know you like your school is very small and very closed off kind of from other stuff. And I think your parents were a lot more strict than mine with certain things.

Hideo Higashibaba [00:06:46] That is definitely true. Because being born into a cult wasn't enough, my parents also put me in Waldorf School, an alternative private education where kids don't learn to read until third grade, and there's a lot of knitting and poems and lamb's wool but that's a different called for a different podcast. My school was really small and I was an awkward, nerdy, poor, hyper-religious kid who got a note exempting me from sex ed. I did not have a lot of friends. I played sports but came home straight after and did my homework. I once asked my mom if I could sleep over at a friend's house and she said, "why?". Jenn on the other hand, went to public school, had non church friends, did sports and went to parties. Her parents wanted her and her siblings to follow the values of the church but they also wanted their kids to have pretty normal lives.

Hideo Higashibaba [00:07:47] I was wondering, were you ever afraid that your friends at school would find out your Moonie.

Jenn [00:07:51] Yeah I was so afraid. I was terrified of that.

Hideo Higashibaba [00:07:55] Well what did you think was going to happen if they found out.

Jenn [00:07:59] I don't I think it was, I mean I had even had like no one had ever asked if I was a Moonie but he would ask others kids were Moonies and never really. Yeah. So that I would get nervous and think they were gonna find out about me and it was never like...I guess it was seen kind of negatively but people just more found it weird and it was always this thing where no one really knew much about it they just knew we were supposed to get like arranged marriages and everyone that we like lived in a castle in Morning Garden.

Hideo Higashibaba [00:08:29] The city of Gloucester has changed a lot since the Moonies rolled in 40 years ago. Back then people would scream at Moonies in the street telling them to leave and giving them the finger and mooning them. I don't actually know if that's true but I read it somewhere once and I think it's hilarious. Anyway, things have calmed down a lot since then but church members are still cautious like Jenn asking to be anonymous. Moonies didn't live in a castle in Morning Garden and we went to regular school. Still, I know you don't have to be physically confined to be controlled. Second Gen we're told from birth that we were separate from the world, better than the world. So we had to act like it. We were told to strive for perfection for complete control over our bodies through our minds. That meant proper thoughts and proper action at all times. No swearing, no parties, no alcohol, and definitely no dating. We were representatives of God and Moon. Wherever we went and that was a lot to carry around.

Jenn [00:09:34] If you're not following every single rule you doing everything you feel very guilty. And I found that with a lot of things like if I was doing any little thing wrong or kind of you know like you think other things or you think you do something with the church might be wrong you start to feel kind of guilty or at least for me to have that way.

Hideo Higashibaba [00:09:52] Do you remember like a specific instance of that?

Jenn [00:09:56] I think I'm trying to. Even like if people talked like badly about the Church not knowing I was part of a Moonie family I would feel like this guilt of not sticking up for it or you know even if I was at a party where there was alcohol I would feel this like huge events guilt.

Hideo Higashibaba [00:10:13] That you wouldn't even drink it and you would fee guilty.

Jenn [00:10:17] It was just that I was involved in that type of thing. Or anything, or even if you if I had a crush on a boy I would feel very guilty. Because that wasn't supposed to happen. And stuff like that that's very normal. Like you would I would feel very guilty about just because we were drilled in our heads that it was wrong and you're not supposed to be doing that. And we were supposed to say on this specific path where it's kind of like a crazy path if you think about it like what was expected of us.

Hideo Higashibaba [00:10:47] So in your mind what was expected of us. Like what's that path.

Jenn [00:10:51] I think it was just that we would like live life just you know, in the church and like just following those rules and growing up and getting matched at like 16. You know, basically being married off so young and like I don't remember it like a couple of people getting matched or Blessed at 16. If you think about like getting married at 16 is insane. You don't know who you are. You don't know what's going on and you don't know what you want to do in life.

Jenn [00:11:20] And like looking back thinking, I don't know I always had it in my head like I was to be married, like very young and you know just always be with whoever I was blessed you and you always. I remember even we would talk about it like oh I wonder who we're gonna get married. We talk about who it's going to be.

Jenn [00:11:35] Yeah all the time. And it was so I feel like it was so much expected that we'd be married, have children and that was like our life. Like I never really I don't know, I don't even remember ever talking about, you know, going to college or like what type of job I would get or anything like that. More, the more important thing was like getting matched and blessed and having a family.

Hideo Higashibaba [00:11:56] Some second gen were matched by the leader like their parents. Some were matched by their parents. The Blessing is the wedding part, and we talked about it constantly as kids. I remember Jenn and me at workshops and church camp imagining who are husbands would be, wondering if they would be from a different country or speak a different language. The reality is that a lot of Second Gen didn't end up getting matched or Blessed. The older blessed children got, the less they went to church, especially once they finished high school. More and more their lives blended into the outside world.

Hideo Higashibaba [00:12:32] So would you consider yourself to be in the church. Like do you still go to church?

Jenn [00:12:37] No I don't go to church. I wouldn't say I'm like out of it but I wouldn't say I'm necessarily in if that...I don't know that it's possible, but I think what I mostly hold on to is that I definitely believe in God for sure and like the creation and all those things I believe in that. But I do see how some things in the church were working toward bringing peace to the world and bringing people together of different cultures and backgrounds. And I think with the whole Blessing of matching people, I don't know, for the Blessing, the big marriage ceremony, I think certain things about that is right where you're matching people completely different so that the kids turn out for the better.

Hideo Higashibaba [00:13:29] Wait, you're saying that is or is not...?

Jenn [00:13:32] I think that aspect is interesting and I think I do somewhat agree with it. Where you know if you take two opposites like to make the kids better people. That is a very self sacrificing thing to do.

Hideo Higashibaba [00:13:44] The Blessing didn't just cleanse the second generation of Original Sin. It was also the key to world peace. Moon said if people from opposite or even enemy countries or cultures got married and had babies then their families would love the children. The theory was the more different the cultures the more powerful the reconciliation. That's how my dad a Japanese guy and my mom a white American WASP got together you know because of World War II. Jenn and I, all second generation, were born from the Blessing without Original Sin but also with the specific task of making the world a better place to advance God's will for world peace. That's a hard thing to shake even when you learn other things or your opinion changes like Jenn.

Jenn [00:14:35] I think looking at a lot of parents that we're blessed and even second gen too I do think I don't agree with that. Just looking how unhappy some people are and how it affected the kids as well. If your parents are always fighting or never speaking or stuff like that and there's really like not I mean I guess there's like some love there but I think in some blessings there is just it's just is not fair. I think for the parents or for the children at all. Yeah, so I don't know if that whole thing I kind of...I don't know, I think I was very lucky to have, like you know, my parents go on for the most part they fight of course which any married couple fights.

Hideo Higashibaba [00:15:20] And unmarried couples too.

Jenn [00:15:24] Exactly, any couples, but there's going to be fights and there's going to be huge blow outs. But I think a lot of kids were affected by it in a negative way. And I think a lot of people kind of just got Blessed because they thought that's what the Church was saying you have to do. And that's I don't know it's that I can't...I can't fully agree. It is like a big thing that I just think is unfair.

Hideo Higashibaba [00:16:01] So for sounds like from what you're saying, you're not going to get matched or Blessed like that's not a plan for you.

Jenn [00:16:07] Yeah I don't know, I always like...honestly I would love to be married to a Blessed Child. I think, not one that's like crazy about the church or anything like that but just because because they have that experience and it's very relatable like this is a hard childhood or anything and I think it is a huge part of us of how we grew up. It's hard to explain and it's really hard to relate to. So I think like I would love to be married to a BC but I do not want to get married to someone random like I have always said I want to pick who I'm with, I need to know them, and it's not, I wouldn't that I wouldn't go to the Blessing and just get like a random person.

Hideo Higashibaba [00:16:46] So Jenn's relationship with the church is complicated. She's kind of in and kind of out and that's not possible for me. I can't be myself: queer and transgender and brown and to be a part of the church and my family. But Jenn is white, she's straight, she's cisgender, just generally more accepted by the world.

Hideo Higashibaba [00:17:11] This division between who we are and how the church treats us is something I've been thinking a lot about. Something we'll explore more throughout this podcast. Second Gen we're told to prepare for whoever God chose for us. It could be someone we knew, but it also could be a total stranger even someone who didn't speak the same language as us. For Moonies commitment to God to Moon and his wife and world peace were more important than anything else. So as kids looking forward to our marriages...

Jenn [00:17:50] I kind of always like had hoped that I would end up with them I actually liked. But I think it was you kind of just had to have it in your head of like if you end up with someone horrible or like somebody you don't get along with at all or don't like at all then you're just stuck in it. Yeah I mean I always had hoped for it to be romantic and happy and I'd get along with the person but it was also like if I didn't then that's just who I was with kind of thing.

Hideo Higashibaba [00:18:26] There was nothing you could do about it.

Jenn [00:18:27] Right. And it's just gonna be like that and like you were supposed to love whoever you ended up with.

Hideo Higashibaba [00:18:31] Did did you notice that those expectations changed once you started dating. Like when you were in relationships you were like, Oh that's actually not how it has to be or.

Jenn [00:18:39] Yeah. No I think I realized that and also just being around like other like my friends who were dating or like even being in college and where relationships are more serious than like in high school and you can see like that give and take between couples and where. Of course it's not always easy but like the two people love each other and get along well and they have similar interests and that's where I kind of I realized like, oh hey like I'd way rather have this than end up with someone I can't stand.

Hideo Higashibaba [00:19:07] Or that you don't speak the same language as.

Jenn [00:19:10] Right! Like you share nothing in common. Not even from, not from the same country. Nothing.

Hideo Higashibaba [00:19:17] Oh that's so intense. People know it though.

Jenn [00:19:21] Yeah I remember it. There was always this thing is like you shouldn't be matched or Blessed to someone that is the same as you.

Hideo Higashibaba [00:19:27] Right. It wouldn't be like I don't like this we we equated like being a holy and god like and like you know good with being as different as possible and in, in that, by that metric my parents are like should be the perfect couple for their opposite. I mean they're like Asian and American but also like just personality-wise just nothing.

Hideo Higashibaba [00:19:51] In the entire time I lived with them, I never saw my parents enjoy each other's company. Actually, I don't think I have ever seen them show anything but open or passive aggression to each other. There was one time when my dad was in a really bad car accident. When my mom got the news, I remember she looked worried and it took me a moment to realize she was worried for my dad. I'd never seen her show any kind of concern for him. Usually, they just tried to avoid each other even at home. There was a lot of fighting especially when I was younger. I learned to fall asleep with the sound of shouting outside my bedroom door. To Moonies, my parents situation is unfortunate and a bit extreme but not sad or even regrettable. Love and happiness was just not the most important thing in a marriage. And that's what kids like me and Jenn grew up seeing and believing.

Hideo Higashibaba [00:20:50] How do you feel like growing up in the church with Blessings and matching things and children and all of these things. How did that affect how you saw love or How do you perceive love or your expectations around love.

Jenn [00:21:04] That's a good question. I think I definitely saw love as something very different than I do now. I think I more, I don't know. I don't think I ever really understood like what love was. I think I more I looked at most people's marriages as like or Blessings as you just weren't supposed to break those. I never really saw too much love between a lot of parents. I think like I think there's there is love there. But it's not like...I think it's like a sacrificial love. More than like an actual love.

Hideo Higashibaba [00:21:47] Yes! That is exactly what it is it's like martyr love.

Jenn [00:21:50] Right. It's like I'm supposed to be here and I'm supposed to be in this Blessing type thing. And I think there is, of course like you know everyone cares about each other but it's not because they didn't choose each other. I think it's...It's a different type of love. I don't know. I don't know how to explain it. But I don't know. It's kind of like a harsher type of love. It's not like an easy love at all.

Hideo Higashibaba [00:22:16] On the other side of it I wonder if that can really be considered love at all. Things between my parents cooled as I got older and they fought less but I could still feel the venom between them throughout high school and until I left home. Now Jenn and I are grown. She moved back home after finishing college to save money. She works, dates, goes out with friends, and she wants to open her own business someday.

Jenn [00:22:43] I'm in a completely different place than I thought I would be when we were growing up. But yeah I mean I would say I'm very happy and I live like a very normal life. I would say.

Hideo Higashibaba [00:22:56] So what what did you where, did you think you if you asked you're like 10 year old self like where you gonna be when you're...are you 24 now?

Jenn [00:23:04] Yeah I'm 24.

Hideo Higashibaba [00:23:04] Yeah. Like what were you gonna be when you're 24 like what. What do you think. Like what would did you imagine.

Jenn [00:23:11] Wow. I Oh oh yeah I definitely thought I would be married by now, for sure. I think I thought I would be living in a different country. Because I think I always wanted to be blessed to someone from like Australia or Ireland.

Hideo Higashibaba [00:23:25] Sure.

Jenn [00:23:26] Or somewhere in those areas which probably would never have happened but...

Hideo Higashibaba [00:23:29] It's far too, those people are white. That's far too sinful.

Jenn [00:23:32] There's no way I would definitely be in like Japan but...

Hideo Higashibaba [00:23:36] Oh no!

Jenn [00:23:38] Yeah. I don't know if I ever really pictured my future too much because it was like so based off of who I was gonna get Blessed to. So there, it was so hard to like pick a lane because it was always like it was going to involve two people's lives not just my own. And I think now I'm more focused on my life and where I'm going. So yeah I don't know if I ever really pictured so much where I was gonna be because it was so up in the air. Who I would end up with.

Hideo Higashibaba [00:24:17] Yeah absolutely. I totally get that, like it's so hard to plan when you're planning for somebody else who doesn't even exist yet.

Jenn [00:24:23] Right. Exactly. Yeah that's not true you're planning for someone you don't even know who they are.

Hideo Higashibaba [00:24:28] Yeah and they don't know who you are and it's like it's so hypothetical.

Jenn [00:24:33] Yeah that's so true actually.

Hideo Higashibaba [00:24:35] Yeah.

Jenn [00:24:36] I never really thought about that.

Hideo Higashibaba [00:24:40] It didn't take much for Jenn to stop centering her life on a non-existent husband and family and start to focus on her own interests and career. But now that I've left the church I'm struggling to know what I want to do with my life. I just can't picture my future like I used to. I have trouble knowing what I want.

Hideo Higashibaba [00:25:10] Next time on growing up Moonie...

Interpreter [00:25:12] Homosexuals lesbians or even those who go after free sex life. If they practice that kind of unprincipled life they are less than animals.

Hideo Higashibaba [00:25:23] That's on the next episode of Growing Up Moonie.

Hideo Higashibaba [00:25:32] Growing up Moonie was written by me. This episode was edited and produced by Quinn Myers with music by Podington Bear. If you like what you're hearing, please take a moment to leave us some stars or review wherever you listen. It really helps other people find the podcast. My name is Hideo Higashibaba. Thanks for listening.