The Words of the Emery Family
August 11, 2001
I am reminded while reading these posts about pensions and paychecks of the nascent beginnings of the Washington Times, and the struggle to get paid:
Once the founding members of the Washington Times were settled in DC (first in the basement of the church, later in several group homes on Capitol Hill), the real work of creating a newspaper from scratch began in earnest. A few old timers from the Washington Star were hired to copy edit and teach us the ropes, but mostly we were just thrown into it. I discovered I could at least doggie paddle, and so I did not drown.
After a very short time, the issue of paychecks reared its ugly head. This did not come from the members but from none other than the DC government, which forbade any type of labor within its borders without compensation. (At that time, our offices were downtown in the basement of the National Press Building, not out on New York Avenue just over the DC line. That would come later.)
What to do? What to do? Giving members paychecks ran counter to the whole spirit of the movement -- it simply did not happen, at least not on this scale! Some leaders might get allowances, but that was different. They had important missions schmoozing with VIPs and acting like heavenly tycoons, so they were required to have some walking around money. Besides, everyone knew it wasn't their personal money. It was God's money. They were simply helping God get even bigger results!
This we all knew, so the very notion of us -- lowly, nobody, grunt members -- getting PAID! was practically heretical. I recall an enormous amount of central finger hand wringing, from Col. Pak on down. But the law was the law, so they had to pay us.
A diabolical plan was hatched to save our souls from being corrupted by the filthy lucre that the satanic DC government said must be paid to us. We would get the legal minimum wage (roughly $15,000/yr. if I recall the amount correctly) -- AND THEN WE WERE TO SIGN OUR PAYCHECKS BACK TO THE CHURCH IMMEDIATELY! They even tried to make it as easy as possible for us by letting us endorse the checks just as we received them; in return we'd get some allowance. I think it was $20 a week.
Right away the DC government said, "Oh no you don't. That ain't legal." So a letter was drafted that each members was supposed to sign saying something to the effect that as missionaries the Unification Church provides all our room and board and therefore WE DON'T WANT TO BE PAID and "voluntarily" choose to "donate" our paychecks back to the Unification Church. Col. Pak launched a major effort to get every Unification Church member at the Washington Times to sign this letter. It was Code Red.
Col. Pak pulled out all the stops to make us all feel extremely guilty about getting a paycheck. "Father has no money..." Taking the money would be a bad condition. Brothers and sisters in Japan were fund- raising day and night, EVEN DYING, to pay for the Washington Times. Etc. It was some of Col. Pak's finest work.
The subtext, of course, was the terrible precedent this would set for the rest of the movement. A paycheck virus could infect the rank-and- file, and anyone manning a flower stand or mall kiosk might suddenly start looking at the Washington Times members getting paid and say, "Hey, wadda about me?" It was a legitimate concern. Slavery was the norm, even if we deluded ourselves by calling a moneymaking business, "missionary work."
Well, the Washington Times was threatening to abolish the Moonie slave trade, so the leaders lobbied us hard to sign that letter and give up our paychecks. Oh how I remember that! The guilt trips! The threats! The deep, deep scowl on Col. Pak's face if we didn't sign! "Father not happy! Father very angry this situation!" We were reminded that we were not really journalists or newspaper people, that Father had given us this privilege only to fulfill a providential condition and that in reality WE DID NOT DESERVE TO GET PAID BECAUSE WE WEREN'T QUALIFIED FOR OUR JOBS. How's that for a confidence builder? Talk about sabotaging your own enterprise.
It worked too. Most everyone I know signed the letter and gave up their right to feel human, to perform honest labor and receive a decent wage. I am proud to say I did not sign the letter, nor did I ever sign over any of my paychecks to the church. It was the first time I had openly and consciously and willfully disobeyed Abel. I didn't feel good about it, about disuniting like that, but in my heart I knew it was the right thing for me to do. My rationale: If you want me to be a professional, treat me like one.
Eventually, word spread that a few people had refused to sign the letters and were cashing their paychecks and keeping all the money for themselves. Soon it was observed that these renegades (myself and a few seminarians) still kept their jobs, were not struck by lightning, were not invaded by Satan, were happy for the most part, and all in all acted more liberated than the indentured servants who signed the letters. The paycheck virus spread and within a few months the letter was rescinded and everyone was released from that evil, malignant obligation. But there were constant reminders about the biblical admonitions to tithe, with "suggested" amounts well in excess of the biblical standard of 10 percent.
That is the saga of how I first got paid and lost my Unification Church "virginity." By today's standards it was chump change. But for the first time in my Moonie life I actually felt appreciated and valuable. I felt alive and happy, maybe more so than ever before since joining.
Oh yes. There was one more unexpected dividend, the most precious one of all: I was eventually able to buy my freedom and start my life anew.
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