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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. 

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Mar 4, 2019

Sun Myung Moon was born the son of poor farmers in present-day North Korea and by the time he died ruled a global cult and was a billionaire. Hideo digs into some of  the stories and legends surrounding the charismatic leader of the Moonies.




Hideo Higashibaba [00:00:03] Thanks for listening to Growing Up Moonie. Just a heads up to our listeners, this episode includes lewd references to women. Please take care of yourself as you listen. Okay, back to the podcast.

News Announcer [00:00:17] 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 [00:00:32] Do you pledge to establish an eternal family with which God can be happy?

Crowd [00:00:39] YES

Interpreter [00:00:41] We are talking about absolute fidelity here. If anybody deviates from this God-given principle they are bound to hell.

News Announcer [00:00:50] But the church has a different plan for the second generation.

2nd Gen [00:00:53] I felt like we weren't equipped for the world. You know we aren't just like this bubble.

2nd Gen [00:00:59] 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 [00:01:04] 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 [00:01:12] My name is Hideo Higashibaba. Until four years ago, I was in a cult called the Unification Church. You might know them as the Moonies. This is growing up Moonie, stories from people who grew up in the church like me. Before we continue hearing the stories of people who were born into the church, the second generation, I want to tell you a little about the founder a man named Sun Myung Moon. This man matched my parents. On their wedding day they and 2074 couples made their vows to him.

Interpreter [00:01:53] Do you, as an ideal husband and wife, pledge to establish an eternal family with which God can be happy.

Crowd [00:02:01] Yes!

Hideo Higashibaba [00:02:04] In a way. I exist because of this guy. There is no way my parents would have had children together otherwise. My parents don't like each other at all. But in the church not having children is not an option. It's seen as a sign of weakness or failure. Sure, my parents had some kind of choice; to join a cult to get married to have children with someone they disliked. But the fact remains that my existence is tied to a man who abused, used and manipulated my parents. A man that demanded their faith and took their money while they worked 70 hour weeks and counted pennies. But to the world, Moon is just some strange character, the charismatic leader of a distant cult. With the mass weddings and rumors of brainwashing. He kind of became a household name in America.

Clip from Seinfeld: Elaine [00:03:02] Anyway, Mr. Costanza I want you to do is go into the shop with me and tell me what they're saying. You do speak Korean?

Clip from Seinfeld: Mr. Costanza [00:03:10] I want to talk to the Reverend Sun Myung Moon. He bought two Jesus statues from me. He's a hell of a nice guy. Ever seen that face on him. It was like a big apple pie.

Hideo Higashibaba [00:03:21] Moon was like family to me. He was more important to my parents than anyone else,  even their own parents. And so naturally I held him near and dear to my heart too. My parents told me he loved me that I was special to him and I never met the guy.

Hideo Higashibaba [00:03:42] I did see him speak a few times. Once, I must have been five or six years old, I remember I was very confused because it was a school night and me and my sisters were up way past our bedtimes. We drove into Boston to some fancy hotel with maroon carpeting that I was not allowed to lie down on. Hundreds packed into the ballroom of the hotel and I remember I was very uncomfortable because unlike other Moonie gatherings men and women all sat together. And there were no kids.

Hideo Higashibaba [00:04:15] During events like this, parents usually left their children at home or went to the children's room which had a video feed of the speech. My mother sat us at the back of the ballroom. People glared at us and told my mom she should be in the children's room with her kids. She glared back or ignored them. My mom is a minister so she was often responsible for hosting guests and other ministers at speeches. It was infuriating that she was expected to miss most of the ceremony in a room of screaming children. No one thought that maybe her husband should be taking care of the children, although I am sure that idea crossed her mind more than once. She told me and my sisters we had to behave perfectly. No squirming, no talking, no crying. We behaved like angels in our dresses and tights that were always a little too small. We resisted the urge to kick our feet or climb up on our chairs to look around. Because these events were so boring. I spent hours of my childhood trying to stay awake during the preliminary musical offerings. Then came an introduction.

Rev. Walter Fauntroy [00:05:35] And I'm so pleased to stand with you to rebuild the family and to save the nation and the world. We thank God for each of you. We thank God for the Reverend Sun Myung Moon.

Hideo Higashibaba [00:05:51] And then Moon would finally speak. He knew very little English so he had an interpreter.

Interpreter [00:05:56] During the course of my life. I have totally committed myself to the salvation of humankind centered on God's will. I have lived my life with a single minded goal to accomplish God's Will transcending time and space and forgetting everything else.

Hideo Higashibaba [00:06:13] My mother often reminded me and my sisters that we were lucky to have been born in the time of the Messiah. Not many people were so blessed to be able to see him in person. Not surprisingly, Moon the self-proclaimed savior of all humanity, covered a lot of ground in his speeches.

Interpreter [00:06:34] In order to understand human history and the world from the perspective of God's providence, I would like to speak on the topic: the path for America and humanity in the new millenium.

Hideo Higashibaba [00:06:48] Moon was born in what is now North Korea in 1920 during the Japanese occupation. The story goes that when he was 16 years old Jesus Christ appeared to him in a vision and told him he was the person chosen to carry on his mission. Moon went to Japan to study engineering and then the Korean War happened. The United States invaded, driving out the Japanese and razing the Korean peninsula to the ground. Eventually, Moon wrote The Divine Principle which he said held all the secrets of heaven and earth and God's will. There's a lot to it but some of the more crazy parts include a bit about how the Virgin Mary was not actually a virgin because, uh, that's not possible...duh. Also, Moonies believe Jesus did not come to earth to die for our sins. Moon said Jesus was supposed to get married and have a family, blessed by God of course. The fact that he was crucified instead wasn't exactly a failure but it was not a part of the plan. The Divine Principle, known as the DP, had other little gems like this one. This is my editor Quinn reading a section.

Quinn Myers [00:08:02] Jesus came as the bridegroom to all humanity. All devout believers should become his brides awaiting the time of his return. After these brides celebrate the marriage of the lamb with Jesus, their bridegroom, they are to live in the kingdom of heaven in oneness with him as his wives, in a metaphorical sense.

Hideo Higashibaba [00:08:23] Clearly Moon had a pretty loose relationship with things like science and reality. Reading back through the DP, it reads like a step by step justification for men to own their wives as property, why black people are actually inferior to everyone else and why gay people are trash. A little 'how to' for patriarchy, racism and homophobia.

Hideo Higashibaba [00:08:50] By 1955, Moon's church had 30 centers all over Korea. A few years later he sent missionaries to Japan and then America where the hippies and free love people were gaining traction. If they wanted a revolution Moon wanted a counter revolution where women knew their place, homosexuals were punished for their sins, and God's will prevailed. He literally called for America to return to its Puritan roots.

Interpreter [00:09:19] Homosexuals lesbians or even those who go after a free sex life. God doesn't want those people. If they practice that kind of unprincipled life they are less than animals.

Hideo Higashibaba [00:09:37] I'm not sure why people were attracted to this kind of bullshit. I vaguely remember first generation, the adults I grew up with, giving testimony, telling the story of how and why they joined the church. One first gen said they were really uncomfortable with all the sex and drugs their peers were getting into. The Unification Church claimed a moral high ground over all that. The first gen didn't have to think about why the free love revolution made them uncomfortable. Moon did it for them.

Hideo Higashibaba [00:10:09] In the early days Moonies called their leader, master. By the time I was born he was called True Father and his wife Hak Ja Han was called True Mother. Together they were the True Parents, the Messiah of all humanity. Moonies think the True Parents are the first people to achieve perfection and oneness with God since Adam and Eve screwed up and were kicked out of Eden. When Moon spoke he had planned remarks but he went off script a lot and asked the audience questions. People would shout back answers or clap. As a kid it made me very uncomfortable. I was always told to be quiet and seeing all these grown-ups yelling was really off putting, especially when Moon would bring up women and their bodies, which was kind of a favorite topic for him.

Interpreter [00:11:02] What about the very organ which makes you as a woman, wife. Is that organ just strictly belonging to you or is it there for your husband.

Sun Myung Moon [00:11:19] Huh? [Speaks Korean]

Interpreter [00:11:19] The ladies should answer, not the men. For whom? For you or for your husband?

Crowd [00:11:37] Husband!

Sun Myung Moon [00:11:37] Husband! Make loud voice, husband!

Crowd [00:11:50] Husband!

Sun Myung Moon [00:11:50] One more time!

Crowd [00:11:50] Husband!

Sun Myung Moon [00:11:50] Amazing.

Hideo Higashibaba [00:11:50] It's so clear that moon hated women and people who have vaginas. Or at the very least, didn't understand them at all. But for men, it was a different story.

Interpreter [00:12:00] Promise that you will keep absolute fidelity. If you do that with your family together that you will become the master of your family, your family will come to owner, the center of your nation, your nation will become the center nation of the world, and eventually will be able to be the Kingdom of God on Earth.

Hideo Higashibaba [00:12:19] All Moon asked for in exchange for these nuggets of wisdom was absolute faith, absolute love, and absolute obedience. The True Parents weren't technically God but they were given a sacred respect the best of everything was set aside for them. We bowed to them or their pictures. We prayed in their names. We were told to read his teachings every day.

Interpreter [00:12:47] We are talking about absolute fidelity here. If anybody, any husband any wife, deviates from this God-given principle they are bound to hell.

Hideo Higashibaba [00:13:01] It's all pretty horrific stuff, but back when I was a Moonie I believed all of it. I believed that sex before marriage made me worthless and that gay people were sick and twisted. I believed that there would be divine retribution for those who violate God's laws. I thought Moon loved me, not just the idea of me, I thought he loved me specially. I thought he loved my parents and my siblings. I thought he knew what he was doing when he put my parents together even though they were unhappy.

Hideo Higashibaba [00:13:42] When I left the church I felt totally betrayed by Moon. I felt like I had been lied to. I had to realize that this person who I worshiped and prayed for and carried in my heart for two decades didn't care about me at all. I know it might seem silly especially if you weren't born into a cult and controlled by fear and shame for the most formative years of your life. But I was heartbroken. I still am a little I think. It's embarrassing, because listening back to those speeches I'm disgusted, but also I'm really angry. Moon sold my family this idea of the kingdom of heaven on earth. He demanded sacrifice after sacrifice, but really he used his followers to build a massive empire that made him and his family rich. He took money from us to build fancy mansions in places we would never see. And I didn't realize how messed up all that was until I left.

Interpreter [00:14:47] I'd like to conclude by expressing my hope for the beginning of a new millennium dome overflowing with peace, freedom and justice, may God's blessing be with you and your families. Thank you very much.

Hideo Higashibaba [00:15:02] Moon died in 2012. He was 92 years old. His legacy is a complicated mess. His sons and wife are fighting over his estate and spiritual leadership. Moon was a cult leader but he was also a business man. It makes me wonder how much of that creepy and shitty theology he actually believed. Maybe at some point it became less about controlling masses of people and more about the money. Maybe it was both.

Hideo Higashibaba [00:15:33] I'm not a psychologist, I don't know why evil people do what they do but I'm trying to find meaning for my life here. And I would not exist were it not for this man. This greedy, manipulative, lying, sexist, racist, homophobic pig and it kind of blows my mind. It's just so fucking random!

Hideo Higashibaba [00:15:56] I'm a small, queer, trans, nerdy, Japanese American and Moon was the son of poor farmers. He was born during the Japanese occupation in present day North Korea. He had to learn his language and culture in secret while Japanese soldiers tortured and raped his community. So at the risk of empathizing with this horrible person, I think he must have felt totally powerless. He must have discovered that he had a way with people, that people listened to him for whatever reason and that gave him power. Later, that charisma gave him wealth too which gave him more power which made him wealthy and on and on.

Hideo Higashibaba [00:16:38] It's not an excuse. The way Moon and his family manipulated, abused the people who followed him is inexcusable. I'm trying to wrap my mind around all this even though I know most of it has no good explanation. What I really want is to heal. I want to feel whole and good about myself. And to do that, I have to look back. I have to find a way to make sense of the past that created me, in order to be free from it.

Hideo Higashibaba [00:17:31] Next time on Growing Up Moonie.

Teruko [00:17:33] My parents never really were affectionate. I remember them fighting a lot of kids. But I just remember never being afraid of that like I was just normal to me. So I just remember never being afraid like oh yeah they're not going to get a divorce, that's not allowed in the church. So I was never afraid of arguing so it just seemed super normal to me that you would just always fight.

Hideo Higashibaba [00:17:54] That's next time on Growing Up Moonie. This episode of Growing Up Moonie was written and produced by me and edited by Quinn Myers. Music by Podington Bear, Blue Dot Sessions and Soularflaire. Special thanks to Elecia Harvey-Spain for transcription help. Please take a moment to leave us a rating and a review wherever you're listening. It really helps other people find the podcast and we are so grateful for your support. I am Hideo Higashibaba. Thanks for listening.