The Family And The Unification Church Edited by Gene G. James

The Archetypal Cult: Conflict and the Social Construction of Deviance - David G. Bromley and Anson D. Shupe, Jr.

In recent years deviance theorists have stressed the centrality of power as a factor in the social construction of deviance. At a structural level conflict theorists have argued that normative definitions of deviance are a product of power differentials and that more powerful groups dominate both the construction of such definitions and the imposition of social control mechanisms. At the social psychological level labeling theorists have asserted that deviance is the product of reaction to an act rather than a quality of the act itself. They have attempted to identify both the process by which deviant labels are applied and the personal, situational and relational characteristics associated with the imposition of various labels.

In this paper we are concerned with an issue related to both of these theoretical perspectives: the conditions under which one out of a group of actors (individuals or groups) comes to be designated as the archetypal offender. In some conflict situations one actor may be selected to symbolize the entire set of "offenders" (i.e., less powerful actors who come to be designated as deviant). Using data on the new religious controversy we shall analyze the selection of the Unification Church as the archetypal "cult." It is our contention that the Unification Church became symbolic of the "cult problem" not because it was the largest, wealthiest, most powerful, most violence prone, most manipulative, or most rapidly growing of the new religions. Rather, we shall argue, the Unification Church became the archetypal cult as a result of two sets of factors: (1) the pattern of conflict engendered with other powerful groups and (2) the organizational requisites of the anti-cult movement.

Background to the Conflict

Early in the 1970s a number of new religious movements appeared in the United States and became the focus of one of the major religious controversies of the twentieth century. The best known of these movements were the Children of God, the People's Temple, the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (the Hare Krishnas), The Way International, Transcendental Meditation, Divine Light Mission, the Church of Scientology, and the Unification Church. These movements differed significantly with respect to their histories, beliefs, and organizational styles (see Bromley and Shupe, 1981). Scientology and the Unification Church actually had been in the United States since the 1950s while the Children of God originated in the late 1960s. The Divine Light Mission and Hare Krishnas grew out of distinct ancient Hindu traditions, while the Children of God and the Unification Church were grounded in Christianity. Some of these groups (e.g., the Hare Krishnas, the Children of God and the Unification Church) were organized communally, while others (e.g., Transcendental Meditation and Scientology) made relatively few lifestyle demands on their followers. Leadership structures also varied enormously. The Reverend Jim Jones apparently dominated the day-to-day lives of his followers, at least toward the end of his leadership; the Divine Light Mission's Guru Maharaj Ji, alternately, served as that group's spiritual master but was relatively inept as an organizer. Prabhupada died some years after transplanting the Hare Krishna movement to the United States and left that fledgling American group with a federated political structure but no single dominant charismatic leader. The new religious movements also ranged in size from the Divine Light Mission and the Children of God, which numbered their American membership in the hundreds by the end of the decade, to Transcendental Meditation and Scientology, each of which could claim as many as several tens of thousands of members.

Despite such obvious differences among the new religious movements, they were viewed by the American public and the media simply as "cults." The term "cults" implied a number of negative characteristics which, it was often assumed, were shared by all of these groups. These alleged attributes included (1) manipulative and psychologically coercive recruitment/socialization tactics, (2) authoritarian leadership, (3) deprivation and exploitation of converts, (4) economic and political adventurism disguised as religion, and (5) deliberate destruction of ties to all outsiders including family members.1

This stereotypical conception of the new religious movements was conceived and disseminated by the anti-cult movement, a countermovement which had as its goal the suppression or destruction of the new religions and the "rescue" of individual converts (for a detailed history, see Shupe and Bromley, 1980a). The anti-cult movement consisted of three distinct but mutually supporting groups. The most active and effective wing of the anti-cult movement was the coalition of anti-cult associations, local or regional groups composed primarily of parents and family members of converts to the new religions. These associations sought to arouse public concern, media attention and governmental action against those groups designated as "cults." Closely related to the anti-cult associations was a loose network of deprogrammers, i.e., individuals (professional and amateur) who acted as agents for family members to "rescue" converts to the new religions, often against the latters' will, on the assumption that they had been involuntarily induced to join. The other major wing of the anti-cult movement was made up of fundamentalist and evangelical Christian groups that vigorously denounced the theologies of the new religions since the latters' beliefs either represented sectarian challenges to orthodox Christian teachings or alternative routes to spiritual experience and salvation.

The anti-cult associations and deprogrammers had as their primary goal the extrication of converts to new religious movements. The religious groups opposing "cults" were circumspect on the issue of vigilante style rescue and legalized deprogramming, given the substantial implications for religious liberty. Therefore, it was the former two sets of groups which formed the nucleus of the legal and extra-legal initiatives against the new religions. It was these groups which formulated the brainwashing ideology which provided a basis for legitimating legislation that would grant parents legal custody of their adult offspring and organized informal "rescues" and deprogrammings.

In its simplest form the anti-cult ideology constituted a classic illustration of a conspiracy theory. Conversion to new religions was explained in terms of brainwashing, drugging or spot hypnosis; this explanation effectively reduced "converts" to "victims." The remainder of the anti-cult ideology provided the rationale for such manipulative and abusive practices. Leaders of new religions were portrayed as authoritarians and charlatans who exploited their young followers for power and profit. Thus, these groups were not religious at all but merely self-aggrandizement schemes masquerading as religions to avoid taxation and criminal prosecution. Since conversion was neither voluntary nor to a legitimate religion, even forcible removal hardly represented a serious infringement of constitutional rights or personal freedom.

The foregoing elements of anti-cult ideology have been discussed elsewhere (see Bromley and Shupe, 1981). It is clear that this ideology, however distorted, was extremely functional in mobilizing public opposition to new religion, for it raised the specter of thousands of innocent youth being reduced to automatons in the service of unscrupulous gurus. It has not been as clear why the Unification Church became the symbol of the struggle against cults. We shall examine the pattern of conflict between the Unification Church and other institutions as well as the requisites of the anti-cult movement in order to interpret this outcome.

The Unification Church as the Cult Archetype

There is compelling evidence that the Unification Church quickly became the new religion synonymous with "cult" both in the minds of the public at large and institutional gatekeepers whose support the anti-cult movement sought. For example, the media was filled with stories about glassy-eyed Moonies who had been reduced to automatons by sophisticated mind control techniques. There was a succession of potboiler books by apostates who attested that they had indeed been brainwashed: Crazy for God (Edwards, 1979), Hostage to Heaven (Underwood and Underwood, 1979), Moonstruck: A Memoir of My Life in a Cult (Wood and Vitek, 1979), Heavenly Deception (Elkins, 1980), Moonwebs: Journey Into the Mind of a Cult (Freed, 1980), Life Among the Moonies: Three Years in the Unification Church (Durham, 1981), Lord of the Second Advent (Kemperman, 1981) and Escape from the Moonies (Swatland and Swatland, 1982). Two of these were made into movies: "Heavenly Deception" and the better known "Ticket to Heaven." In addition there were literally thousands of newspaper and magazine stories of the same genre (for an analysis of a sample of such stories see Bromley, Shupe and Ventimiglia, 1979).

Public officials who began investigating cults as a result of complaints from anti-cult groups frequently focused their inquiries on the Unification Church. For example, at the time she sponsored conservatorship legislation in Connecticut, Senator Rcgina Smith was quoted in the Meriden Record-Journal ("State Senate OKs Smith's Anti-Cult Bill," 8 May 1981) as follows:

Mrs. Smith said numerous cases of families in her district being "victimized," especially by the Unification Church, prompted her to push the bill, which was the subject of an emotional day-long hearing earlier this year.

Similarly, hearings in the Vermont legislature prior to the introduction of anti-cult legislation focused primarily on the Unification Church. The Senate Committee's final report- (Vermont, 1977) stated:

The committee held five days of hearings as authorized by S.R. 16 and received testimony from approximately 30 different witnesses.... Allegations were lodged mainly against the activities of the Holy Spirit Association for the Unification of World Christianity, otherwise known as the "Unification Church..."

Sources of Conflict


Since family members of converts to the new religions comprised the heart of the anti-cult movement, conflict was most intense with those groups which posed the greatest direct threat to families. From this perspective the most threatening groups were those which aggressively recruited young adults and which were organized communally (thus removing converts from mainstream middle class domestic and career trajectories). With the exception of the People's Temple, which recruited both older individuals and entire families, most of the new religions appealed mainly to young adults. There was some variation in age range, however, as groups such as the Hare Krishnas and the Children of God attracted relatively young individuals (i.e., ages 16 to 20), whereas Transcendental Meditation and Scientology attracted somewhat older individuals (Wuthnow, 1976: 279-85). There was even greater variation in the aggressiveness with which new religious movements recruited new members. The Children of God, the Hare Krishnas and the Unification Church conducted recruitment campaigns on college campuses and in centers of youth subculture. One major consequence was that converts often were out of immediate contact with their families at the time they were recruited. As a result, by the time parents learned of their offspring's involvement with one of these groups, major commitments had already been made. Parents therefore had little opportunity to influence a decision that they perceived had major, long-term implications, and their anxiety was heightened by the apparent swiftness of the change.2

Even more disconcerting to parents was the major transformation in lifestyle and direction that accompanied conversion to certain of the new religions. In contrast to groups such as Transcendental Meditation and Scientology, which made few lifestyle demands on members, the Hare Krishnas, the Children of God and the Unification Church all were communally organized. These latter groups portrayed the existing social order as deeply flawed and corrupted and withdrew from it in all but certain public relations and ritualistic modes (i.e., fundraising and recruiting) in order both to preserve their own purity and to set the stage for a transformation of society. Conversion to any one of the three groups involved disposing of most personal possessions, abandonment of former domestic and occupational career plans, separating one's self from former friends and even family, and total commitment and loyalty to the cause. The groups differed somewhat in the specific tactics used to create distance from former relationships, personal transformation and strong loyalties. For example, converts to the Hare Krishnas radically transformed their physical appearances, members of the Children of God assumed new names, and novitiates in the Unification Church recalculated their birth-dates to the dates of their conversion. Whatever the specific tactics employed, parents shared a sense that they had lost the capacity to influence and sometimes even to communicate with their sons and daughters.

It is not surprising, then, that the Unification Church, the Children of God and the Hare Krishnas were the new religions that evoked the greatest antagonism among parents. In particular, the Unification Church presented an inviting target to the anti-cultists as a result of its explicit development of a fictive kinship system within the movement. Moon and his wife were designated as "true' parents" clearly differentiated from members' biological parents, and members referred to one another as "brothers" and "sisters." While family imagery is common in communal groups, the Unification Church's explicit development of it made the group particularly useful to the anti-cultists in their campaign to portray the new religions as callous destroyers of family ties.


None of the established religions responded favorably to the appearance of the new religious movements. Most of the converts to the new religions were at one time members of mainline denominations. Although the new religions never attracted enough converts to pose a meaningful threat to the membership base of mainline denominations, their success in attracting young adults was a source of embarrassment to these groups. If the Christian tradition in particular was indeed the repository of ultimate spiritual truth, how could the apathy of youth be explained? The success of the new religions forced religious leaders to painful self-examination. As one evangelical Christian writer (Sparks, 1977: 261) put it:

... much of what we call the Church has failed -- often miserably -- in carrying out its role before God, itself and the world. Though it is still loved and even protected by the Lord, it has moved an embarrassingly great distance away from its original foundations.

Thus "cults" represented, in Van Baalen's classic words, the "unpaid bills of the church." Further, all of the new religions presented some type of challenge to traditional Christian theology. Some groups, such as the Children of God and the Unification Church, charged that the major denominations had been thoroughly corrupted and fallen away from God; other groups, such as the Divine Light Mission, offered an alternative basis for "true" religious experience that ignored mainline Judeo-Christian tradition.

While all of the new religions drew some opposition from Jewish and Christian groups, those new religions which innovated on the Christian tradition understandably evoked the greatest hostility. They were, after all, most likely to "prey" on "sheep" within the same "fold" or religious tradition. There was little likelihood that the new religions emanating from the Hindu tradition would attract large numbers of American followers or cause many Christians to question their own faith. But new religions in the Christian tradition challenged basic Christian tenets by which many Christians, and particularly fundamentalists, organized their lives. Thus fundamentalists angrily attacked the Unification Church and the Children of God as heretics, considerably more vehemently than other Christians.

Both the Children of God and the Unification Church directly challenged the authority of the established churches. The former's Moses David Berg declared the Christian churches to be totally corrupt while the latter's Sun Myung Moon claimed that God's true will and message could only be understood through Divine Principle. From the standpoint of the established churches, if doubts were raised about the truth or completeness of traditional Christian teachings, this would rob them of their meaning, personal sacrifices and commitments made by Christians on the basis of religious beliefs or norms. Berg claimed to be an important prophet; Moon's own biographic characteristics were strikingly close to those he declared would be possessed by the Lord of the Second Advent. If the claims of either man to spiritual leadership were granted legitimacy, then Berg or Moon would command virtually complete authority over all Christians. Of course, Moon's messianic pretensions were particularly offensive to fundamentalists, for Moon would in effect supplant Jesus as the Christ, or messiah. Both men predicted an imminent transformation of the world based upon their spiritual revelations. These predictions, if taken seriously, would have required all Christians to mobilize themselves for the imminent last days. Mainline denominations obviously were in no position to make extreme demands on their membership, and their leaders had no interest in pressing for such extreme commitment. Moon clearly posed a greater threat to fundamentalist Christians than Berg. Moon sought to unify (under his own leadership) all Christians, while Berg merely condemned the established churches. Moon developed an elaborate theological system whereas Berg never produced anything resembling a systematic theology. Finally, Moon's thinly veiled messianic Utopian claims had much more serious implications for Christians than did Berg's apocalyptic visions.


With a few exceptions the new religious movements have not become deeply involved in controversial political activity. Jim Jones was involved in a variety of local civic projects in San Francisco which initially gave him a rather favorable public image. Although he eventually stirred up considerable controversy, which finally led to an expose article in New West magazine, Jones was named as one of the 100 "most outstanding" clergymen in America by one interfaith group, Humanitarian of the Year in 1976, and recipient of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Humanitarian Award in 1977 (Shupe and Bromley, 1980a: 208-10). Of course, the mass migration he engineered to Guyana and his anticipated move to Cuba or the Soviet Union were sources of considerable embarrassment to the United States Government since Jones, at the time, was openly supporting the cause of worldwide socialism. Scientology openly responded to what it considered to be governmental harassment by infiltrating certain government agencies in order to gather evidence on agency improprieties. On a local level, the Children of God, Hare Krishna and Unification Church all ran afoul of local authorities in the course of fundraising activities. Fundraisers were prosecuted, municipalities were sued, and there was considerable rancor on both sides of the conflict. None of these conflicts. however, involved a challenge to supremacy of the state or to the delicately balanced relationship between church and state.

What distinguished the Unification Church from other new religions was the explicit, theological legitimation of the intrusion of religion into political affairs. According to Divine Principle the fall of man was in fact two-fold. The "vertical fall" occurred when Eve was sexually seduced by Satan, who thereby became the spiritual ancestor of humanity. The "horizontal fall" took place when Cain slew Abel, which divided mankind into two warring camps -- the forces of Godless communism versus the forces of God-fearin' democracies. Each fall had religious/political implications. The consequence of the vertical fall was that mankind became separated from divine purpose. In order to achieve restoration to its divinely intended relationship to God, mankind had to recognize the true source of its problems (through insights contained in Divine Principle) and to pay indemnity for the failure to assume its proper responsibility. Once sufficient indemnity had been paid, an opportunity for restoration would be divinely proffered. The implication of this doctrine was that social and political problems could be resolved only through proper spiritual knowledge. The church, therefore, clearly assumed supremacy over the state in matters of ultimate policy. Moon's open advocacy of theocracy and the break with traditional American separation of church and state drew opposition from both, for each had a vested interest in maintaining the hard won precedent of non-interference in one another's affairs.

The horizontal fall implied an ongoing struggle between communism and democracy in which, Moon predicted, the latter would win. In depicting this fall and restoration Moon went so far as to specify the roles various nations were to play in this cosmic struggle, including a role for the United States as the "archangel" nation. America was divinely mandated to defend the New Israel (South Korea), the birthplace of the "Lord of the Second Advent" who many converts believed to be Moon himself. On the basis of this doctrine members of the Unification Church actively lobbied for political and military aid to South Korea. Further, Moon defended the Nixon presidency at the height of the Watergate crisis in the winter of 1974, declaring that God had chosen Nixon as president to fulfill a divine providence and only God could remove him. Unification Church officials vigorously denied that Moon had intended support for Nixon personally. They asserted that Moon was advocating a course of forgiveness, love and unity instead of condemnation and rejection, in order to preserve American strength and determination in the struggle against communism. Nevertheless, the link created between the Unification Church and Nixon in the media during 1974-75, coupled with the Koreagate scandal soon after (connecting a number of congresspersons to pay-offs and bribery by South Korean influence peddler Tae Sung-Park) led to high visibility as well as unprecedented journalistic investigation of the Unificationist movement. It was Reverend Moon's announcement of support for the Nixon presidency in 1974, more than any other factor, that triggered negative media coverage of the Unification Church and that prompted a virtual pull-out of Moon's potential sympathizers in Congress.

The various political positions and initiatives by the Unification Church had the further effect of alienating both liberals and conservatives. Liberals were offended by the Church's staunch anticommunism, by its support for what they viewed as an authoritarian and repressive political regime in South Korea, and by the support the Church received from right-wing industrialists and politicians in Japan. In addition, liberals were concerned by protestations from the American Jewish Committee that the Unification Church was anti-Semitic (Shupe and Bromley, 1980: 178). In a report to the American Jewish Committee, Rabbis Marc Tanenbaum and James Rudin claimed to have found more than 125 examples of anti-Jewish teachings in the Divine Principle. Jews also were extremely sensitive to recruitment of Jewish youth. There were a number of allegations from Jewish spokespersons claiming that anywhere from ten to fifty percent of Unification Church members were Jewish. Despite surveys which refuted these claims, Jewish hostility to the Unification Church remained intense. Other liberal groups which expressed reservations about Unification Church practices and policies included feminist organizations which regarded its theology and organization as sexist, and population control organizations, which worried about the Church's opposition to birth control.

The Church hardly fared any better with conservatives. Its emphasis on collective-communal over private-individual values alienated many conservatives. There also were racial overtones to conservative opposition. The Church actively promoted racial integration both through recruitment and marriage. Church members were encouraged and regularly volunteered for interracial marriages, most often between Caucasians and Orientals. Further, conservatives found it difficult to accept salvation from the East. While a number of Eastern religions had gained popularity in America, most conservative Christians could not accept the prospect of Orientals refashioning Christianity and engaging in reverse missionizing. And there was no possibility that such conservatives would acquiesce to the notion that the messiah could be a South Korean industrialist.

Public Visibility

Given the foregoing potential sources of conflict between new religious movements and the larger society, actual conflict depended partly on the extent to which these movements gained visibility. Several factors influenced public visibility: (1) leaders' activities, (2) the groups' activities and (3) the groups' locations and mobility.

The extent to which leaders of the new religions achieved or sought the limelight varied considerably. For example, Prabhupada, founder of the Hare Krishna movement in the United States, lived the life of an ascetic monk and died a few years after arriving in America, leaving the group without a single dominant leader. He maintained such a low profile that few of even those Americans who had heard of the Krishnas would have been able to name their leader. L. Ron Hubbard has been in seclusion for a number of years discovering stages of enlightenment toward which his followers work. While his name, for a time, became a household word due to his popularity as an author of science fiction and the popularity of Dianetics, Hubbard could today easily pass unnoticed in public. At the other extreme was Jim Jones who became (in) famous as a result of the tragic events at Jonestown; however, this notoriety was the result of desperation rather than design. Jones did seek out public recognition through civic projects and political contacts while the People's Temple was in California, but his efforts yielded a mixture of accolade and notoriety.

Sun Myung Moon stands in sharp contrast to other leaders of new religious movements in the extent to which he sought and attained public recognition. Moon carefully orchestrated five national speaking tours which visited approximately eighty cities between 1972 and 1974 (Bromley and Shupe, 1979b: 150). At each stop there were press conferences and meetings with local or state officials, and local luminaries were invited to the speeches, thus insuring media coverage. In addition, Moon gave speeches at two major public rallies -- one at Yankee Stadium and one at Washington Monument. Finally, his public support for Richard Nixon during the Watergate crisis also increased Moon's personal visibility, albeit in a counterproductive fashion. Because Moon had so assiduously sought the public limelight he became a convenient caricature of new religious gurus.

Of all the organizational activities of the new religions, fundraising and recruitment created the greatest public visibility. Several of the new religions achieved a national presence; for example, Transcendental Meditation and Scientology established organizational centers across the country where classes/lectures were offered.3 However, it was the Children of God, Hare Krishna and the Unification Church which attracted the greatest attention through fundraising and recruitment campaigns. All three groups relied upon public solicitation as a major means of generating financial resources (Bromley and Shupe, 1980 and 1981), and all three organized recruitment teams that sought out young adults.

The Unification Church clearly maintained a higher profile in both recruiting and fundraising than either the Children of God or the Hare Krishnas. Unification theology contained an explicit spiritual rationale for fundraising and made it an integral part of each convert's training. Both because public solicitation provided a major part of the Church's economic resources and because new members were required to fundraise, the Unification Church organized fundraising more systematically and effectively. Even though the Church was organizationally centered on the east and west coasts, it mounted a national fundraising effort by operating a fleet of vans which continuously crisscrossed the country. As a result, the terms Moonie and fundraiser became virtually synonymous. The Unification Church's recruitment tactics gained exceptional visibility for two reasons. First, among the new religions only the Unification Church attempted to develop a national network of campus organizations (much like those of mainline denominations). Efforts to organize chapters of the Collegiate Association for the Research of Principles (CARP) almost always met with resistance and gained considerable local media coverage. Second, the Unification Church was frequently accused of deceptive recruitment practices. Potential converts to either the Hare Krishna or the Children of God hardly could mistake the true identities of these groups. In most parts of the country the same could be said of the Unification Church, since lectures and slide shows for guests contained frequent mention of Moon. However, the west coast branch of the Unification Church, referred to as the Oakland family, taught a more humanistic, less doctrinaire version of Divine Principle in an effort to appeal directly to the needs and aspirations of idealistic young adults. Discussions of the Oakland family's connection to the Unification Church and of Divine Principle were deterred until potential converts' interest in the group had been stimulated. The Oakland family also made greater use of encounter group style tactics than other branches of the Church. Despite

the tact that these recruitment tactics were not characteristic of the Church as a whole, and in fact generated considerable controversy and conflict within the Church, they were seized upon as evidence of manipulative cult tactics. Deceptive and manipulative practices were central to the anti-cultists' allegations of brainwashing and mind control; hence the practices of the Oakland family were generalized to the entire Unification Church and other new religions as well. Once again the Unification Church became a convenient symbol of the "cult menace."

Development of the Anti-Cult Movement

There is little doubt that the Unification Church presented an inviting target to the anti-cultists, given the number and nature of conflicts it engendered with major institutions and its high profile recruiting and fundraising. Still the question remains, "Why didn't the anti-cultists simply combat cults in general?" In part, of course, they did, but the Unification Church clearly was the focus of the attack. There were two major reasons for this decision: (1) the organizational requisites of the anti-cult movement and (2) the developmental timing of the Unification Church and the anti-cult movement.

The anti-cult movement has never numbered more than a few thousand members, and it has been consistently plagued by membership turnover and organizational fragmentation. Numerous attempts were made to increase membership size, generate additional revenue and create a federated or centralized national organization. All of these efforts met with mixed success at best, particularly in light of the movement's goals. In order to gain sufficient public and official support to continue its extra-legal deprogramming campaign or to gain legal sanctions (in the form of expanded conservatorship/ guardianship provisions), the anti-cultists desperately needed money, members and visibility. While the movement did gain a great deal of publicity, mostly as a result of sympathetic hearings given to distraught parents and wholesale acceptance of atrocity stories recounted by apostates (Bromley, Shupe and Ventimigha, 1979), the other two crucial resources proved more difficult to mobilize. The anti-cultists concluded that in order to effectively combat cults in general, they had to generate solid opposition against one "cult" and then generalize their attack.

The targeting of the Unification Church was formalized during the February 18, 1976 "unofficial" public meeting in Washington, D.C, between a cadre of congressmen and federal bureaucrats and a group of 352 anti-cult supporters (including parents, other family members and ex-Unification Church members; see Citizens Engaged in Freeing Minds, 1976a, vol. 1). The meeting was held, convener Senator Robert Dole claimed, in response to a petition containing over 14,000 of his constituents' signatures (Dole, 1976). By deliberate consensus of the anti-cultists' representatives. Sun Myung Moon's Unification Church was chosen as the only group against which complaints would be brought during the two hour meeting with Dole and other governmental officials. In a promotion letter prior to the meeting (Swope, 1976) the logic of this strategy was clearly stated:

Because we cannot be effective using the buck-shot approach, we must zero in on ONE cult. If our government investigates one cult and finds grounds for prosecution, we can move on to the other cults. The cult we have chosen is Moon's Unification Church.

The anti-cultists faced another major organizational problem: the term "cult" had no empirical referent. The motley assortment of groups categorized as "cults" bore little resemblance to one another in terms of size, growth rates, recruitment tactics, fundraising tactics, socialization techniques, organizational structure, leadership styles, or movement objectives. The only real commonality was that each of these groups offended family members of converts in some fashion by reorienting member's goals and lifestyles away from those espoused by the larger society. The anti-cultists could hardly hope to capture public support or legal sanction tor their objectives if all that cults had in common was that parents objected to their offspring's participation in them. Hence, the anti-cultists made a concerted effort throughout the 1970s and early 1980s to portray cults as virtually identical structurally and the consequences of involvment as uniformly pathological (i.e., the "cult syndrome"). In attempting to construct "the cult problem" the anti-cultists obviously needed to make reference to specific groups in order to document their allegations. The Unification Church was the ideal candidate because, as we pointed out in the preceding section of this paper, it had achieved a high, negative profile and it had become embroiled in conflicts with several major institutions. The anti-cultists were able to capitalize on this conflict and visibility, referring to the Unification Church whenever evidence was necessary to bolster their allegations. Of course, a spiraling process ensued; heightened visibility facilitated allegations which served to increase visibility. By the mid-1970s there is little doubt that (with the exception of the People's Temple) the group most likely to be associated with the term "cult" was the Unification Church. Playing upon this association, the anti-cultists simply added references to other groups, with which the public and government officials were less familiar, when seeking allies.

Timing also played a major role in the emergence of the Unification Church as the archetypal cult. The anti-cult movement in fact did not arise in opposition to the Unification Church, but rather as a limited response to the conversion of young adults to the Children of God. In 1971, the twenty-two year old daughter of a California school teacher left home, her fiance and a career as a registered nurse to join the Children of God. When her parents were unable to induce her to leave the north Texas commune in which she was residing, they began a campaign to warn the public of the danger posed by this group. At about the same time, Ted Patrick (later to become the best known of the deprogrammers) discovered the Children of God when his son and nephew were approached by street missionaries and returned home, by his own account (Patrick and Dulack, 1976), noticeably and mysteriously disoriented. The aforementioned parents, supported by Patrick, had gained sufficient press coverage by 1972 that other angry and concerned parents of converts to the Children of God had begun contacting them. Out of informal group meetings among these parents emerged the first anti-cult association, The Parents' Committee to Free Our Sons and Daughters from the Children of God Organization.

Why didn't the Children of God then emerge as the archetypal cult, for as we previously noted the Children of God were similar to the Unification Church in some important dimensions? In fact, by 1973 the anti-cultists had convinced public officials to investigate the Children of God. In that year the Attorney General of New York, with support from the Governor, launched an investigation; although the resulting report was not issued until two years later (New York, 1975). In the meantime, however, the Children of God's prophetic leader, Moses David Berg, had revealed to his followers a vision that the United States was to be destroyed by the hand of God and ordered his followers to Europe. The resulting mass exodus of members left the fledgling anti-cult movement without its chief target.

Parents of converts to other new religious movements had been pressuring this first anti-cult group for assistance, but these pleas were resisted initially for fear that the campaign against the Children of God, a known evil, would be diluted. However, once the Children of God had left the United States in 1972, the number of aggrieved parents and apostates dropped off rapidly. At almost exactly this same time the Unification Church was rapidly growing and gaining visibility. Moon's series of national public speaking tours began in February-March 1972 and ran through December, 1974, with the high point of activity occurring in the spring of 1974. Further, it was in the winter of 1973-74 that Moon mobilized his followers in support of an embattled Nixon presidency, the act that generated journalistic investigation and the beginning of substantial negative media coverage. Finally, it was early in 1972 that mobile witnessing and fundraising teams were formed and began crisscrossing the country in search of members and money. The number of these teams was increased rapidly over the next several years giving the Unification Church a national visibility well out of proportion to its actual membership size. It was therefore a relatively simple matter to redirect anti-cult activities against the Unification Church as concerned parents, apostates and public notoriety which had been associated with the Children of God were now associated with the Unification Church.

There was one point at which another group might have supplanted the Unification Church as the archetypal cult, the period following Jonestown. Virtually all of the anti-cultists' worst fears and allegations seemed to have been confirmed by the mass suicide/murders. The problem, of course, was that in the process of confirming anti-cult allegations the People's Temple had destroyed itself. While the People's Temple could be called up as evidence that the anti-cultists had been right all along, an existing group was needed to personify the continuing danger posed by cults. Somewhat ironically, therefore, the Unification Church was dubbed the "suicide cult," and evidence was gathered from apostates that suicide drills were also practiced in the Unification Church and that another Jonestown might be just around the corner. The Unification Church thus remained the archetypal cult and was shackled with the legacy of Jonestown.

Summary and Conclusions

The social construction of the "cult problem" affords us an interesting case study of the way in which the labeling of deviant groups proceeds. Labeling and conflict theorists have pointed out that deviant status is a function of the response to an act rather than a quality of the act itself. The success of label application is contingent upon a power imbalance -- an individual or group must lack the capacity to resist being labeled. Both of these observations are confirmed in the case of new religious movements. These groups had numerous antagonists, coordinated by the anti-cultists, and few allies. The stereotypical image that grew out of the controversy bore little resemblance to reality.

What is particularly interesting about the construction of the cult problem was the selection of one group to symbolize the "evils" associated with "cults." As we have shown, the group was selected as the archetypal cult for a varigated set of reasons. The anti-cult movement needed a single group to focus upon, partly to maximize the effect of its limited resources and partly to obscure the fact that the groups they termed cults had little in common. The Unification Church began to grow precisely at a time when the anti-cult movement lost its initial target group and needed another. Finally, the Unification Church had engendered conflicts with several major institutions and achieved high visibility in pursuit of its "world saving" goals. This conflict and visibility facilitated the process of gaining consensus that there was indeed a cult problem. This case study thus illustrates the way that a set of factors (rather unrelated to relative danger, destructiveness or injury) may converge not only to produce deviant labels but also selection of one actor (group or individual) as representative of a whole set of actors who have been allocated to deviant status.


Bromley, David G., Bruce C. Busching and Anson D. Shupe, Jr. "The Unification Church and the American Family: Strain, Conflict and Control.'' New Religions Movements: A Perspective for Understanding Society. Ed. Eileen Barker. New York: Edwin Mellen, 1982, pp. 302-11.

Bromley, David G. and Anson D. Shupe, Jr. Strange Gods: The Great American Cult Scare. Boston: Beacon, 1981.

"Financing the New Religions." Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 19 (September 1980): 227-38.

"Just a Few Years Seem Like a Lifetime: A Role Theory Approach to Participation in a Religious Movement." In Research in Social Movements, Conflict and Change. Ed. Louis Knesberg. Greenwich, Conn.: JAI Press, 1979a, pp. 159-86.

"Moonies" in America: Cult, Church and Crusade. Beverly Hills, Calif: Sage Publications, 1979b., and Joseph C. Ventimiglia. "Atrocity Tales, the Unification Church and the Social Construction of Evil." Journal of Communication 29 (Summer 1979): 42-53.

Committee Engaged in Freeing Minds. A Special Report. The Unification Church: Its Activites and Practices. Vol. 1 and 2. Arlington, Tex.: National Ad Hoc Committee, Committee Engaged in Freeing Minds, 1976.

Citizens Engaged in Reuniting Families. "Memorandum." Scarsdale, N.Y., 30 January 1976.

Coser, Lewis A. The Functions of Social Conflict. New York: The Free Press, 1976.

Durham, Deanna. Life Among the Moonies: Three Years in the Unification Church. Plainfield, N.J.: Logos International, 1981.

Edwards. Christopher. Crazy for God. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1979.

Elkins, Chris. Heavenly Deception. Wheaton, 111.: Tyndayle House, 1980.

Freed, Josh. Moonwebs: Journey Into the Mind of a Cult. Toronto: Dorsett Publishing, 1980.

Gutman, Jeremiah. "Extemporaneous Remarks." The New York University Review of Law and Social Change 9 (1979-80): 69-71.

Kemperman, Steve. Lord of the Second Advent. Ventura, Calif: Regal Books, 1981.

Nelson, Geoffrey K. "The Spiritualist Movement and the Need for a Redefinition of Cult." Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 8 (Spring 1969): 152-60.

New York, State of. Final Report on the Activities of the Children of God to Honorable Louis ]. Lefkowitz, Attorney General of the State of New York. Albany, N.Y.: Charity Frauds Bureau, 1975.

Patrick, Ted and Tom Dulack. Let Our Children Go. New York: E.P. Dutton, 1976. Shupe, Anson D., Jr. Six Perspectives on New Religions: A Case Study Approach. New York: Edwin Mellen, 1981., and David G. Bromley. The New Vigilantes: Deprogrammers, Anti-Cultists and the New Religions. Beverly Hills, Calif: Sage Publications, 1980a.. "Reverse Missionizing: Sun Myung Moon's Unification Movement in the

United States." Free Inquiry 8 (November 1980b): 197-203. Sparks, Jack. The Mind Benders. New York: Thomas Nelson, 1977. Stark, Rodney and William S. Bainbridge. "Of Churches, Sects, and Cults: Preliminary

Concepts for a Theory of Religious Movements." Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 8 (June 1979): 117-33.

"State Senate OKs Smith's Anti-Cult Bill." Meriden (CT) Record Journal, 8 May 1981, pp. 1, 4, 6.

Swatland, Susan and Anne Swatland. Escape from the Moonies. London: New English Library, 1982.

Swope, George to "Friends" Letter from the National Committee of Citizens Engaged in Reuniting Families, Inc. regarding organization of a Day of Affirmation and Protest, Scarsdale, N.Y, 30 January 1976.

Underwood, Barbara and Betty Underwood. Hostage to Heaven. New York: Clarkson N. Potter, 1979.

Van Baalen, J.K. The Chaos of the Cults. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Erdmanns, 1938.

Vermont, State of. Report of the Senate Committee for the Investigation of Alleged Deceptive, Fraudulent and Criminal Practices of Various Organizations in the State. Montpelier: Senate, January 1977.

Wood, Allen T with Jack Vitek. Moonstruck: A Memoir of My Life in a Cult. New York: William Morrow, 1979.

Wuthnow, Robert. "The New Religions in Social Context." In The New Religious Consciousness. Eds. Charles Y Glock and Robert N. Bellah. Berkeley: Univ. of California Press, 1976. pp. 267-93. 

Table of Contents

Tparents Home

Moon Family Page

Unification Library