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A few weeks ago I was doing homework in the library. I am a commuter, so for me this was a little out of the ordinary. Sadly, my Wi-Fi was out. I had been sitting there for about an hour, and I was making good progress until I was approached by two 20-somethings that seemed to be students as well.
“Do you mind if we interview you for our club?” one asked me.
Being fairly outgoing and friendly, at times too much so, I was perfectly fine with it. They eagerly pulled up chairs and sat down next to me at my seat next to the computers. They asked me a handful of non-specific questions and attempted to carry on a normal conversation after asking every question. After a few minutes of this, I asked what this interview was for.
Only one of the two had said anything since sitting down and this was his response, “We’re actually not college students.”
At this point I was spooked. I asked what they were then, and he replied “Missionaries.” I grew up with a grandma in the Mormon church, so this wasn’t a big surprise to me. I have met many persistent missionaries in the past, and actually relaxed a little bit upon hearing this. I have never met a menacing or threatening missionary and these two were no exception; never dropping their smile, telling me that this is something they do with college students a lot. They said they felt it gives students a much needed opportunity to vent.
I asked for their particular brand of Christianity and they gave me a simple answer of, “non-denominational.” They said they were with The Family Federation for World Peace and Unification. The name they use when talking to college students is C.A.R.P or Collegiate Association for the Research of Principles. I questioned them further and they told me that they are trying to find a set of principles that all religions and people can agree on, hence the words unification, world peace and principles in the two names. It seemed like a noble goal. I exchanged numbers with the speaker and took one of their papers and told them I had to leave for work.
As they handed me the paper, the speaker nonchalantly mentioned their founder, a small box on the back page with the statement: “God has sent one person to this earth to resolve the fundamental problems of human life and the universe. His name is Rev. Sun Myung Moon.”
This is the part where things start to get murky.
After leaving the two missionaries I put the name straight into the internet, this was the first article to come up: “Reverend Moon: Cult leader, CIA asset, Bush family friend is dead.”
My first instinct was to call my mom. She had never heard of this group, but sternly told me that “You can’t join a cult, Jobe.” I assured her I wouldn’t, but I was still spooked by the encounter, and how close I was to actually being interested in this group.
Later, I mentioned the encounter to my grandparents when they came to visit me. Apparently the “Moonies,” as they called them, had been around a long time and were very active in the 70s and 80s. With their knowledge and the information from the pamphlet I received I started doing my research.
Vice News has two very well-done documentaries showing the two sides of this group that I viewed as part of my research. The first is Ex-Cult Member Explains How He Escaped the Moonies and the other is Guns For God: The Church of The AR-15. Both these titles sound very much like click-bait, but the documentaries show two sides, the first a piece documenting a former member’s experience with the church, and second an impartial view of the inside of one of these churches.
One of the first things I learned when conducting research on this group was that I had been the victim of a practice called “Love-Bombing.” A term coined by Rev. Moon himself, where missionaries would target seemingly isolated students and young people and gain their trust. Sometimes this leads to recruitment. From my encounter, the two young missionaries seemed intentionally vague and all too eager to be a friend to a stranger. There is nothing wrong with that, until you dig deeper into the belief systems of the church and what membership entails.
To explain the deep and confusing history of this group we have to start with its founder. According to Britannica, the Unification Church believes that in his teenage years Rev. Moon received a vision from Jesus. In this vision, Jesus charged Rev. Moon with completing his work, that the true meaning of life was love and that Moon was God’s third attempt at “restoration,” following Adam and Eve and Jesus Christ. According to Rev. Moon, Jesus had failed as Messiah because he had failed to get married, and Moon was the new Messiah. He was told to get married and raise the “ideal” family.
He fled North Korea and became a successful businessman in South Korea, producing a variety of products in his factories. Moon has been accused of having ties to fascist Japan and was staunchly anti-communist, regularly aligning his church with right-wing American values. Moon was also a friend of the Bush family.
Moon and his wife were referred to as “Father” and “Mother” by members of the church, or their “children.” A staple of the Church is their mass wedding ceremonies, where thousands of members gather to be married by Rev. Moon in one large joint ceremony. Each marriage was arranged. The bride and groom would be picked by Rev. Moon or a “matching advisor” from within the church. The newly-weds must then wait 40 days before consummation and when that period is over, they then must perform a ritual that I would rather not get into.
The church has continued to grow and expand with the help of Rev. Moon’s children and his wife, each with their own particular sect. One of Rev. Moon’s sons, Sean Moon, founded the World Peace and Unification Sanctuary, also known as Rod of Iron Ministries. Where guns are routinely implemented into their rituals. This is the church that went viral online for posing with AR-15s following the Parkland Shooting a few years ago.
Dismissing this church purely as a “cult” is insulting to its members, although many former members allegate that this is a proper term for the church.
I for one did not pursue the missionaries further. I do, however, want to make clear to students at IUPUI that members of this church approached me on campus, inside the University Library.
Their recruiting techniques have routinely been called “brain-washing” and “coercion” and while these may be harsh terms, I did find in my own encounter that the missionaries were vague about their beliefs, and they lied about their reasons for approaching me. While I am not one to condemn a person practicing their freedom of religion, I do believe that their methods were misleading and manipulative. They have been accused of targeting isolated students they believe to be “down on their luck.”
To students studying alone on campus, please be safe and be aware.
Jobe Ulshafer(he/him) is a Sophomore at IUPUI majoring in Finance and pursuing a minor in Video Production. He is a photographer and reporter for The Campus Citizen