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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

When Hideo Higashibaba left the Moonies he had no idea how he was going to survive without them. He wondered if other kids born into the church had as much trouble adjusting to adulthood, even if they didn’t leave. In this first episode Hideo reflects on his own strange origins and the history of the Moonies.



Hideo Higashibaba [00:00:03] Thanks for listening to growing up. Moonie I am so excited to share these stories with you. Just a heads up to our listeners this episode has mentions of suicidal ideation and mental health crisis. Please take care of yourself as you listen. And now for the first time ever Growing up Moonie.

News Announcer [00:00:23] 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 [00:00:38] Do you pledge to establish an eternal family with which God can be happy.

Crowd [00:00:45] YES.

Interpreter [00:00:48] We are talking about absolute fidelity. If anybody deviates from this God given principle, they are bound to hell.

News Announcer [00:00:56] But the church has a different plan for the second generation.

2nd Gen [00:00:59] I felt like we weren't equipped for the world. You know we aren't just like this bubble.

2nd Gen [00:01:05] To me it sounds culty. I know it's what brought our parents to church but not what keeps me in the church. 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 [00:01:21] My name is Hideo Higashibaba. I grew up in a cult called the Unification Church. You might know them as the Moonies. I was in the church for 22 years and then four years ago I left.

Hideo Higashibaba [00:01:37] Almost overnight. I lost my faith my community my family my mind. And since then I have tried to not kill myself. Finish school, find work, and peace a life together on my own. For me, leaving the Unification Church was and is deeply liberating but equally terrifying. There are times when it feels like a dream and other times when it is all too real. When I first left I felt completely out of my depth; the entire way I made sense of the world was gone.

Hideo Higashibaba [00:02:13] My explanation for everything from why the sky is blue to Why Bad Things Happen to Good People was gone in the space where meaning and purpose used to be was just a vacuum of infinite nothingness. I went insane. With time therapy medication and a lot of generous support from friends, I survived. I stabilized but recreating meaning is a lonely process.

Hideo Higashibaba [00:02:42] I started to wonder if other people had as much trouble when they tried to live outside the church. I wondered if they felt as ill equipped for life as I did even if they didn't leave. So I reached out to some people who were born into the church and asked them what their childhoods were like and who they are now. This podcast is some of their stories. This is growing up Moonie.

Hideo Higashibaba [00:03:11] In case you don't know much about them let me give you a little background on the Moonies. The Unification Church, also known as the Unification Movement, was founded in Korea in 1954 by a man named Sun Myung Moon. He said he was the Second Coming of Christ, the Messiah of all humanity, and that Jesus told him to unite all Christian denominations to bring world peace. In the late 1950s Moon sent missionaries to Japan and the United States. They recruited people on sidewalks and college campuses. By the 1970s there was a church center in every state and a few thousand members Moonies became especially famous for their mass weddings.

Hideo Higashibaba [00:04:00] My parents were married in 1982 in New York City at an intimate romantic venue known as Madison Square Garden. They shared this special day with 2074 other couples that got married at the same time.

Hideo Higashibaba [00:04:18] And thanks to the internet I have footage of the wedding. This man is out on a roll.

Interpreter [00:04:24] Do you pledge to be the center of love before the society nation world and universe based upon an ideal family.

Hideo Higashibaba [00:04:36] It was a sea of white dresses and black suits the men wore white gloves. The women veils. It's hard to make out any faces in the crowd.

Hideo Higashibaba [00:04:46] I think my parents got stuck up in the balcony somewhere. Moon stood on the red carpeted stage with his wife. They both wore white robes and crowns their red and gold thrones behind them.

Interpreter [00:05:05] I proclaim that these two thousand seventy five couples are wedded before God. The True Parents the world and the universe. On July 1st 1982.

Hideo Higashibaba [00:05:23] Just a few months before this special day my parents were just acquaintances. My mom told me she found my dad to be awkward and unpleasant. My dad thought my mom was cute. Then they were put together by Sun Myung Moon in what's called a matching ceremony. In the ceremony, a small crowd of people gathered in a room with women on one side and men on the other. Moon stood at the front and pointed at my dad who stood up. Moon spoke to my dad through an interpreter. Then he turned to the women's side of the room and questioned a couple of people. Finally he pointed at my mom and that was that. My mom and dad then left the room to discuss whether they wanted to say yes to the match or disobey an order from the Messiah and returning Christ. They were married a few months later and had four kids. Me and my three sisters.

Hideo Higashibaba [00:06:17] I guess you could say we had a pretty weird childhood although I didn't know it at the time. My mom is actually a minister in the church so it was like everyday was Sunday school. She saw God working in everything from a lucky scratch-off ticket to a flying bird formation to Hurricane Katrina. Everything was an indication that God was working in the world and she passed that belief down to me and my sisters. As a kid, I knew my family and I were different but the main reason I knew that my church was weird was my extended family my mom's family. My grandparents, aunts and uncles mocked us for our beliefs and told me and my sisters we were brainwashed and that my mother was weak-minded that we belonged to a cult. It made for some pretty tense family dynamics. Despite my extended family. I was a proud Unificationist, a proud Moonie. When I was 18, I told my parents I wanted an arranged marriage just like they got. In my heart. I knew what Moon told us about the world was right and it was my job to protect myself from anything that would contradict that. And that worked until about four years ago.

Hideo Higashibaba [00:07:36] The transition out of the Moonies has been a lonely, heart wrenching, infuriating, strange, and fascinating process. I've learned more about the church itself. The rumors about its dark origins, the racist misogynist ideas it holds and propagates, its deep seated homophobia. The Unification Church is just the religious part of an enormous empire. Through the church Moon's family owns restaurants, fish distribution companies, at least one gun manufacturer, newspapers a ski resort, a soccer team, and billions of dollars in properties around the world. The list goes on and on.

Hideo Higashibaba [00:08:17] Don't get me wrong. The religious part of this empire is pretty big too. There are still church centers in almost every state and on almost every continent. Moonies still hold mass weddings now with live simulcast, so even more people can be married at once. What I keep coming back to is how it felt to be a part of all that yet totally oblivious to most of it. Moon's cult created and shaped the lives of thousands of people including me. We all share this strange experience of belonging to a cult but we all coped with that reality differently. It affected who we were and who we became. Those are the stories you'll hear here on growing up. Moonie.

2nd Gen [00:09:11] I feel like we were always kind of made to seem like we were better than other people.

2nd Gen [00:09:16] Once we got there I was just like oh my gosh I don't want to do this but it was kind of that like everyone's watching. You need to make this work. It's going to be difficult and you just kind of accept that.

Hideo Higashibaba [00:09:29] I feel like the closer I get to being who I am the further I get away from the people who raised me.

2nd Gen [00:09:34] I don't care about doctrine or dogma. I don't really care for it if it if it splits up people that you love.

Hideo Higashibaba [00:09:43] That's coming up on growing up. Moonie. Growing up Moonie is written by me. I also produced this episode. Quinn Meyers edited music by Kai Zabriski and Kai Engel. Please subscribe to this podcast and write in reviews wherever you're listening. It really helps this project reach a wider audience.

Hideo Higashibaba [00:10:06] For more information go to Growing up Moonie dot com. My name is Hideo Higashibaba. Thanks for listening.