The Words of the Dunkley Family

Interview with Demian Dunkley

Ariana Moon
December 2011

Demian Dunkley is married to Yumiko Sakarnoto and is the father of three children. He was born in 1973 in the USA and was raised by his British father when tis American mother joined the Unification Movement. He joined the movement himself years later in 1995. He and his wife currently lives in Las Vegas and together serve as Lovin' Life Pastors of Las Vegas.

Question: When did you and your parents meet the church?

I was born in 1973, and first met the movement as an infant in 1974 when my mother joined. I was their only child, and we had about a year of normal family life before my mother's younger brother introduced the church to her. My father didn't really know what to do when she joined. He went to my god-father, who is a catholic priest, trying to figure out what the Unification Church was all about, and my god-father recited all the lies about the Unification Church and told my father to run as fast as he could out of there. So the assessment he made about the church was based on not only his own experience but also negative feedback from people that he trusted. He got scared.

Question: When were you entrusted back into his care?

I think around 1976, my mother was fundraising and witnessing on the west coast, and it just came to a point where she needed to find some other person to be responsible for me. So when I was about three, my mother called on my dad to take care of me for a couple of years, not knowing that a couple of years would turn out to be about 20 years. Her parents refused to take care of me because her and her elder brother had already joined the movement and my grandparents were really anti-Unification Church -- they thought they had lost two children to this "cult." So as a sort of statement, they refused to take care, of me, and my mother really had no one else to turn to than my father, who was still very young at the time.

Question: How did your father view the Unification Church?

My father blocked her and anything to do with the Unification Movement from me. About 20 years later I made my own way back. He thought the movement was an evil cult. He bought into that whole philosophy, and out of love for me, did everything he could to distance me from my mother and the church. I think I was about nine years old when I asked him where my mom was. I remember sitting there in an Italian restaurant and he started telling me his fantastic testimony. The way I heard it, it sounded like a spy-movie. There were interrogations, brainwashing sessions, breaking through windows to escape for his life. My mind was probably embellishing things like high-speed car chases, and wire taps.

The stories were fascinating, and led me to think of him as my hero. But ultimately I understood what he really wanted was for me to grow up and make my own choices, and he felt that if I grew up in the church community, I would be in a way handicapped and unable to reason for myself. Really, his motivation was his love for me, and frankly I think there was some value to that.

Question: So how did he shape your view of the Unification Church?

He was preparing me to be completely immune to any form of witnessing from the church. He told me all kinds of stories, personal testimonies of members who had been deprogrammed and left the church. He introduced me to these kinds of people with a heart to protect me, but what he was doing was generating a lot of fear and negative perspectives. I used to be afraid that I would be kidnapped by the Unification Movement.

Question: Did you see your mother or any other Unificationists growing up?

I didn't meet any other members who were active in the movement apart from my mother who I met once when I was 9-years-old, once when I was 14-years-old, and once when I was 21-years-old. My mom was, of course, praying for me and writing me letters all the time; but I used to discard these letters. The first time I met my mother was in Tuscany, on my grandparents' wine farm, and my grandparents gave her three conditions: not to mention God, not to cry, and not to be with me alone. These were the three conditions she had to meet in order to have lunch with me. So I didn't really have an objective, balanced perspective; I didn't really know anything other than what my father told me, and my mother never really made the effort to try to counter what I was told. Whenever I met her she just tried to be a loving mother.

Question: How would you describe your relationship with your father?

My father and I only have about 18 years between us. We were always very close. Some thought we were brothers. I loved my father and trusted him, so when he was, you might say, pre-deprogramming me, I respected that as his love and protection for me. But whatever he had available to him he used to support me -- internally and externally -- so we have a really deep relationship, even now. He really did take care of me, the best he could.

Question: How did you finally encounter the church again?

I kind of always knew that I would one day meet my mother and the church, and yet I had this instinctual sense that if I left without my father's blessing or involvement or, at least, knowledge of it, I would really damage my relationship with him. So it took until I was 23. We'd been doing some business together at that time and I sat in front of him and said, "Dad, I think it's time," and he said, "You know, I think you're right. I agree." So with his blessing and support I left Italy and bought a one-way ticket to America to find out what was really going on and to evaluate it myself, which frankly, was what my father had always wanted me to do -- make my own choices, right? That was 1995.

I met my mother, who was remarried within the Unification Church and had received a child. Interestingly, she really didn't seem to have a witnessing agenda with me. What she really did was help to restore my awareness of God's existence and His love for me. It was her spiritual father [her younger brother] that actually brought me to the church. Ironically, before telling me anything really great about the Unification Movement, he let me know some of the struggles the movement had had, the mistakes that perhaps some of the members had made, etc. This was actually a really good segue for me to help me understand some of the contexts that carried the negative things I had heard. He didn't just club me with the Divine Principle text, he gave me an objective and realistic overview. He drove me to New York, where I was able to listen to the Reverend Dr. Sun Myung Moon's God's Day address on New Year's Eve at the New Yorker in 1995, and by then I had studied the Divine Principle a little. When I saw him speak, I instantly recognized why so many people were afraid of him. He was simply awesome and there was no • turning back.

Question: Did you keep in contact with your father during this time?

Yes. I was joining the movement, returning to the Unification family, but I kept an open line of communication with my father, continuing to write him, letting him know what was going on.

Question: What were your father's feelings towards the Holy Marriage Blessing Ceremony?

He trusted me, but it was a long course of winning his heart, especially when I wrote him a letter saying that I was going to be married in the Unification Church Holy Marriage Blessing Ceremony. He felt that he was losing his son, so then I went back to visit, and work with him for three months. Throughout the whole visit he reiterated all the reasons I should be careful about the decisions I was about to make. His final argument was: "Why don't you just go to Tibet for six or twelve months, hang out with the monks, and just think about what you're doing?" My final argument was: "Dad, Reverend and Mrs. Moon want to give me a blessing -- is there anything wrong with that?" His final answer was: "Well, I guess not.. I guess there is nothing wrong with receiving a blessing." I knew he still had reservations in his heart, but I took that as his acceptance.

Soon after, I was matched and engaged to Yumiko, and we received Rev. and Mrs. Moon's Blessing in marriage in 1997. About a year after, we moved to Italy to be with my dad. It was time to win his heart at deeper and deeper levels. As a young couple, we often struggled, but I realized that being a little vulnerable in front of my father was a good thing. It gave him a place to stand, so to speak. He could be there for us when we needed him. He was always a great support.

Reverend Moon had told everyone to go to their families and announce that they are the "Tribal Messiahs" of their families, so after living and working with my father for five years I told him. We went out to lunch and I said, "Dad, before I go there's something I have to say, because I feel that if I don't say it, I'd feel like I failed in a way. I'm our family's tribal messiah." I just thought it was the most ridiculous thing to say, but he looked at me, put his fork down and said, "Hey kiddo, I know. I've always known that. And honestly, when I saw you and Yumiko move out here after you got married, I didn't think you'd make it. But five years in, when I see your couple, I see light. When I see your children -- my grandchildren -- I just see shining light." And he went on to say how much he loved us and how much he trusted us and how much he hoped for our continued blessing in the future. He recognized our place in the family, in that sense. I can't say that we have yet lived up to our responsibility as Tribal Messiahs, but it was a fruitful conversation piece.

Question: Wow. So what happened afterwards?

With that, I came back to America, and my father went to India to catch up on his own youth, which he never really got a chance to experience because he was a father at such a young age. There, he started doing these 7-day, 14-day meditations and 7-day fasts. I met up with him a couple of years later in Italy and he said, "I've been doing a lot of thinking and a lot of reflecting, and I realize now that all of the years I spent touting anti-Unification Church things, I was doing so based on fear; I was driven by fear, and I just want to let you know that I'm not afraid anymore, and if you want to talk about whatever it is, then that's fine."

I know he has difficulty with one thing: he doesn't accept that a human being can speak about who God is. He tried to connect to God directly, through his own meditation, his own practice, his own compassion -- he's a very generous, compassionate, conscientious person -- but I can't say he has been able to be victorious in the realm of the family. I think he hasn't really been able to understand that that's what Reverend Moon's trying to give, that Reverend Moon's trying to educate people about the family.

Question: Do you still keep in contact with your dad?

We speak to each other regularly, and we visit each other as often as possible.

Question: And your mom?

My mom lives in Wisconsin with her husband and daughter.

Question: How do you feel when you encounter people with the same negative viewpoint that you and your dad used to have of the church? How do you feel when you speak to people like Steve Hassan?

[On September 14, 2011, Demian and Reverend Staffan Berg spoke with Steve Hassan, an ex-Unificationist and a critic of new religious movements during a live radio interview broadcast by KNPR Las Vegas, an affiliate of National Public Radio.]

I feel that Steve Hassan's just on a painful journey and hasn't come home yet. You know, I got off the radio show and many that I met seemed really moved by the answer I gave to his accusations, but a couple of members that heard the interview wanted a more aggressive response from me. I see that as sort of a knee-jerk reaction to years of persecution and pain on their part, and they, too, are on a kind of process of healing. I've seen both sides. Steve sees himself as a former member now critic -- I could introduce myself as a former critic now member. I have compassion towards him and I don't really find that any of his arguments carry much weight -- a few of his claims are based in facts, but they are misconstrued or distorted or re-contextualized to sound bad. It's painful to me that he would speak badly about Reverend Moon and his family, but his words just kind of bounce off me after a while. It reminds me of some of the ignorant things I used to say; it brings me to a place of my own repentance. I'm looking forward to the day that Steve comes back and says, "Wow, I was a Unification Church member, then I was a critic for several years, but now I'm back, and this is the real truth. I'm sorry."

Question: Is there anything you want to say that I haven't asked you about?

When I was a kid, I remember friends asking me what it was like growing up without a mother, but it was a question I couldn't answer. I didn't know what it was like to have a mother, so I couldn't really calculate the loss. Now that I am a parent, I can see how much I lost as a child. In a similar way, those that do not know Reverend and Mrs. Moon -- our True Parents -- don't know what they are missing.

If growing up without my mother was the price I had to pay to meet and know True Parents in my lifetime, then I count myself very lucky. I am proud of my mother's choice to attend God through True Parents, and I am proud of my father who did the best he could to raise me by himself.

For me to join the church and receive the matching and marriage blessing from True Parents must have been my father's worst nightmare, but since then, he has been blessed with a daughter-in-law, and three beautiful grandchildren whom he loves very much. He has been through many changes in his heart and now admits that so many of his previous judgments were driven by fear. So it's a process. I understand that it is easy to get upset with someone like Steve Hassan when he attacks Reverend Moon, but it is Reverend Moon who has set the standard; look how he has loved his own enemies and forgiven them. Of course, it is an incredible struggle for us to try and reach True Parents' standard of heart, but I think the real struggle is for those who live without knowing True Parents at all. 

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