40 Years in America
The U.S. movement assumed center stage during Blessings ’97 and ’98. Although it did not achieve the highest blessing totals, it convened a respectable gathering at RFK and an exemplary one at MSG. The American movement especially distinguished itself through its work with Christian ministers. Nevertheless, Blessing ’99 once again was held in Korea. Most members did not regard this as an affront. Having operated at a high pitch of mobilization since early 1997 or even before, many were ready for a less prominent role. To some extent, the U.S. movement reverted back to its pre-1997 level of involvement. That is, it was largely responsible for bringing VIPs to Blessing ’99 and handling them once they were there. However, this wasn’t the whole story. American members also had learned the secret of conducting pre-Blessings on a mass scale.
The secret, as already noted, was to be utterly committed and sincere in one’s efforts and to break through spiritually. This allowed God to work. Once God was free to work, there were no limits in terms of permissible methods or achievable totals. The leading proponent of this approach was Mrs. Young Soon Kim, commonly known as "Lady General" Kim. She was assigned to the U.S. by Rev. Moon as a "prayer lady." Highly expressive with a disarming habit of embracing members in trademark bear-hugs, she organized midnight prayer meetings and fasting conditions in Alaska, Boston and Washington, D.C.
Many members began employing mass distribution techniques. They prepared plastic bags with holy candy and Blessing commitments printed on FFWPU business cards. The technique was to purchase large bags of hard candy from wholesale outlets, to sanctify the candies with prayer and sprinkles of holy wine while still in the package, and to re-pack it, two individual pieces of candy at a time, with a single FFWPU card into small plastic baggies or sealable pouches. This was time-consuming but had the advantage of involving entire tribal messiah families in assembly line-type productions. Bags, then, could be distributed where there were large gatherings of people. Dr. Hendricks noted, "Even a dour sort such as I am can hand out two hundred in 20 minutes on a crowded Manhattan corner at rush hour." Others targeted sports stadiums. Some families took to placing the bags on the windshields of parked cars in mall or county fair parking lots, rows at a time.
Spirit world blessings and spirit world mobilizations continued to play a role in Blessing ’99. Rev. Moon spoke many times about good and sometimes evil spirit world assaulting the earth. The difference in 1998 and 1999 was that rather than speaking in general terms, the movement was quite specific. This, to some extent, flowed from the MSG event, which cited thirty-four particular spirit world representatives among the 16 billion spirits blessed. Rev. Kwak reported that on October 5, 1998, "all spirit persons who have received the Blessing were assigned to mission countries on earth, and they will help us if we focus our efforts." At Blessing ’99, 56 billion spirits were reported to have been blessed. A list circulated by the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification International (FFWPUI) included the names of sixty-five Old Testament figures, twenty-seven New Testament figures, twenty-seven figures from Christian history, fifty-seven popes, twenty-six Byzantine emperors, and twenty-eight emperors of the Holy Roman Empire. The Blessing, at this point, was understood to have transcended the limitations of time and space. It had became not only a global but a cosmic event.
However, all of this came at a price. The movement was conducting Blessings on a mass level with double or even triple the number of participants, virtually every six months. It conducted Blessing ’97 for 40 million couples in November 1997. MSG for 120 million couples followed in June 1998. Blessing ’99, scheduled for February 7, 1999, was to include 240 million couples. Factoring in the billions of spirit world unions, these events exerted an extraordinary amount of material, psychological and spiritual pressure upon members. The movement dealt with this pressure essentially by ignoring it and pressing ahead. Nevertheless, it had accumulated a backlog of deferred internal maintenance needs which were reaching the breaking point. Still, it would take a major breakdown or two to force the issue. This is precisely what happened in late 1998. If the movement did not fully resolve the problems, it at least paused long enough to acknowledge them.
Rev. Moon inaugurates Hyun Jin Nim as the vice-president of the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification.
The first breakdown resulted from publicity surrounding the divorce of Rev. and Mrs. Moon’s eldest son, Hyo Jin, and his wife of fifteen years, Nan Sook Hong. In actuality, Ms. Hong fled from her husband in August 1995, taking their five children with her. Divorce papers were filed in December 1996, and the divorce was finalized a year later. It was a private, family matter until Nan Sook Hong published In the Shadow of the Moons: My Life in Rev. Sun Myung Moon’s Family (Little, Brown and Company, 1998). Prior to that, most members had only a vague idea of problems in their marriage. Hyo Jin’s early struggles were common knowledge following his decision to inform the membership in a public speech a decade before. However, members generally assumed that his situation had stabilized since then. The minority of members who knew of the separation or even that the divorce had been finalized still hoped for a reconciliation. For this group but far more so for those who were entirely unknowing, the charges in Nan Sook’s book as amplified in her nationwide promotional book tour, on various radio and television talk shows, and on CBS’s popular "Sixty Minutes" were shocking and unsettling.
The book itself was one-sided and retaliatory. It also was ghostwritten, having been penned by Eileen McNamara, a Pulitzer Prize-winning Metro columnist for the Boston Globe who had written articles critical of the church and of Hyo Jin Moon previously. In this sense, the book packed a triple or even quadruple punch. It was, first and foremost, one partner’s account of a failed marriage. However, it also was an apostate account since Nan Sook rejected the Unification faith. Third, since Eileen McNamara, the book’s unacknowledged ghostwriter, was a self-described gender-obsessed "shrieker," the book had an element of feminist rage. Finally, as Nan Sook’s lawyer was Herbert Rosedale, a long-time Unification Church opponent and president of the American Family Foundation, the book reflected an anti-cult perspective.
The end result was an "atrocity tale" worthy of its predecessors in the nether world of confessional apostate literature. There was a dramatic "captivity and escape" motif, wild allegations of all manner of excesses and deceptions, especially of a sexual or financial nature, and a sympathetic depiction of Nan Sook’s readjustment to the values and behavioral norms of conventional society. There were no ambiguities, no nuances. Nan Sook was the heroine, Hyo Jin the villain. Apart from this, Nan Sook took a number of gratuitous swipes at Mrs. Moon; at select members of the True Family; and at Rev. Moon whom she alleged had extramarital or, more accurately, "providential" affairs. She also asserted that he had at least one illegitimate son. Her conclusions? Rev. Moon was a "con man," he and Mrs. Moon were indifferent parents, and the True Family was dysfunctional.
Sociologists and historians of culture who have studied religious atrocity narratives point out that they are not rightly personal or factual replications so much as they are cultural renderings of what mainstream society has "already agreed upon to see." This was not to assert that Nan Sook’s claims had no basis in fact. The fact pattern was such that she won a divorce and handsome settlement. However, observers would have been well advised to exercise caution in leaping from a failed marriage to a failed messiah or a failed messianic movement. The media, of course, was not subject to these constraints. Nan Sook’s revelations corresponded to what they had "already agreed upon to see." Conditioned to probe for flaws and operating under a hermeneutic of suspicion, which oddly enough did not extend to Ms. Hong, most media accounts took her testimony and conclusions at face value or corroborated them with those of other disaffected members, including Rev. and Mrs. Moon’s third daughter, Un Jin, who appeared on "Sixty Minutes."
The irony was that In the Shadow of the Moons had a relatively short shelf life. There was an initial flap surrounding the book’s publication and Nan Sook’s promotional tour that included pointed comparisons between what the movement preached and what it allegedly practiced at its core. Some pieces juxtaposed photos of Blessing ’98 against Nan Sook’s allegations. "Sixty Minutes" was especially cunning in leading an "unidentified" bride and groom into comments about Rev. and Mrs. Moon’s "true family" and "children of goodness." However, the public soon tired of this. Essentially, Nan Sook was saying that the Moons were "like everybody else, but a little more dysfunctional." This was not exceptionally newsworthy. It was the bizarre and unusual that kept the public’s attention.
The 1970s image of "Moonies" as brainwashed zombies had far more staying power. The effect of Nan Sook’s disclosures on the membership was more difficult to gauge. Some members were devastated. Others refused to read the book or discuss any of the issues. Others marshaled many of the same resources and arguments by which they coped with previous charges.
Nan Sook’s book certainly wasn’t the first apostate account the movement had endured. There were literally dozens of them. Many of them included similar wordplay on the name "Moon," i.e., Moonstruck, Eclipse of the Moon, The Moon Is Not the Son, etc., and were ghostwritten. However most of the accounts were written from the standpoint of ordinary members or, at best, mid-level leaders. Many attempted to inflate their credentials or insinuate that their role was more than it really was. Some published books on the basis of having attended several workshops or of having been a member for a matter of weeks or months. These were easily dismissed. Nan Sook’s book had considerably more insider credibility and clout as it was the first apostate account to come from a member of Rev. Moon’s family.
A second important difference related to the time and circumstances of publication. Virtually all of the other apostate accounts had been penned between 1975-85. Especially during the early years of that period, the movement was almost universally regarded as a cult. The situation was quite different in 1998. Although the movement had not entirely shed the cult label, it made numerous inroads into American society and was accepted as legitimate in many quarters. Some members still engaged in full-time spiritual or business missions, but many others had returned to their hometowns as tribal messiahs or worked outside the church and were, more or less, independent. These circumstances created a much different environment. Between 1975-85, the movement’s defenses were up, and most members had neither the time nor the interest to assess criticisms. By 1998, the movement’s defenses were down. If members still were disinclined to read apostate accounts, many were forced to assess this one if only in response to their older children who were as yet not fully formed in the faith and who were sensitive to public criticism. In some cases, this led to painful reassessments.
The movement as a whole responded to the situation in several specific ways. Hyun Jin Moon, recently inaugurated as Vice-President of the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification, International (FFWPUI), sent a letter addressed to all members on September 9th, which was intended to share "the heart and spirit of my family." He stated that they considered "Nan Sook to be part of the family...do not criticize her, even though we do not agree with what she sets forth in the book...[and] are ready to take care of unresolved problems and ... would like Nan Sook to be part of the healing process." The following day, HSA Headquarters sent a letter to members intended to help them respond to issues raised by the book. The letter outlined the movement’s position on personal and marital abuse, financial accountability, issues of political power, religious freedom, the teaching and practice of family values, and lifestyle issues.
Finally, though declining to speak with media representatives, Rev. and Mrs. Moon submitted a brief statement to "Sixty Minutes" stating in part: "We commiserate with Nan Sook’s over the suffering arising from the tragic personal problems our son has faced. We, as parents, feel a deep sense of responsibility."
On Monday, September 21st, the day after the nationwide "Sixty Minutes" broadcast, Rev. Moon addressed the movement’s East Coast members. Calling them together indicated that he took the book, the media attention, and members’ concerns seriously. Nevertheless, he placed the controversy "in the same category as other attacks upon his work" and made it clear that he would "not allow these attacks to interfere with his fulfillment of God’s will." He told members, "Don’t worry about Nan Sook’s story" and denied that he "even spent one hour talking with her." He said that he had no regrets that there was nothing of which he was ashamed in his life, and that he committed no fall. He concluded by asking members to send him off "with a comfortable heart, by reassuring me that you will be strong to deal with this media and keep going toward the goal." These were the last public statements he made about the incident.
However, Rev. Moon re-blessed Hyo Jin at Blessing ’99. He commented, "I have forgiven some of the worst criminals of history. Can’t I forgive my own son?" A second breakdown during the latter part of 1998 precipitated less a spiritual than a material crisis. It revolved around the apparent collapse of Tongil Group, a conglomerate or chaebol of the movement’s business and industrial holdings in Korea. According to one report, difficulties facing the Tongil Group had become increasingly apparent since May when one of its member firms, the Il Hwa soft drinks maker, went out of business. This was followed by failure to win the right to develop a tourist resort in North Korea, part of an agreement Rev. Moon had reached with the late North Korean Premier Kim Il Sung but which was lost during the autumn as a result of financial concerns about Tongil. On November 30, 1998, four companies of the Tongil Group -- Tongil Heavy Industries, Hankook Titanium, Il Song Construction and Il Shin Stone -- filed for court protection after having failed to keep up with bank loan repayments. An official of the South Korean government’s newly formed financial supervisory service said that the debts of the group’s sixteen companies exceeded $1.7 billion U.S. dollars.
South Korea’s economic crisis, particularly restrictions on bank lending following the International Monetary Fund’s $58 billion bail-out of the Korean economy, contributed to Tongil’s decline. The wider Asian economic crisis, especially in recession-hit Japan, an important market for Tongil Group products, also contributed. However, the main problem, according to a South Korean analyst, was that "The Tong Il companies suffer from bad management.... They relied too much on church donations. It was a kind of moral hazard." There also were misunderstandings between management and labor. Tongil Heavy Industries laid off 800 workers who then charged that they had been illegally dismissed without pay. Those who lost their jobs staged demonstrations and even threatened violence during a speech tour Rev. Moon conducted in Korea during January 1999.
Amazingly, these breakdowns had little effect on Blessing ’99. Rev. Kwak announced that on September 29, 1998 the worldwide movement had accomplished the goal of pre-Blessing 240 million previously married couples. The focus now was on finding single Blessing candidates, unmarried young people willing to be matched. However, the venue for the main ceremony was still undecided. Rev. Moon expressed the desire to hold it in Japan but the problems with obtaining a visa for him could not be overcome. He also offered to conduct it in Taiwan but the movement there was not ready. Finally, in January thirty-three days before the event, scheduled for February 7th, Rev. Moon settled on Korea. Still, this wasn’t the whole story. As related by Rev. Joong Hyun Pak, About twenty days before the actual day of the Blessing...I received the news that...Blessing ’99 would be held not in Cham Shil Gymnasium as planned by the Korean Church, but rather at Seoul Olympic Stadium!! Outdoors! In February! Wintertime! I remembered how shocked leaders were when they heard in 1997 that we were going to use RFK Stadium in Washington, D.C., also an outdoor stadium! In November! Wintertime!
How the Korean movement mobilized more than 100,000 people and 3,000 buses, filling practically all seats in the stadium three hours before the event was something of a mystery to Western observers. However, it was apparent that the weather had cooperated. Sub-freezing temperatures warmed considerably, and conditions on the day of the ceremony were quite good. Blessing ’99 and associated events penetrated Korean society far more than had the previous two International Blessing Ceremonies and WCSFs in 1992 and 1995. The key breakthrough was South Korean President Kim Dae Jung’s presence at the Tenth Anniversary Celebration of the movement-owned Segye Times newspaper on February 1st. Though Tongil Group might be suffering, The Segye Times had "placed its founder on the map in Korean society and in its corridors of power." Kim Dae Jung not only disregarded those who would dissuade him from attending but, according to a movement report, "brought with him the Speaker of the House of Representatives, the leaders of political parties, and other figures central to the administration of the nation." He shared the podium with Rev. Moon and participated in an anniversary cake cutting. Gen. Alexander Haig, Jr., former U.S. Secretary of State under Ronald Reagan and White House Chief of Staff under Richard Nixon, provided a similar focal point for the WCSF’s Special Convocation on "Family Ethics and World Peace." In an introduction to Rev. Moon, Haig described how their lives first intersected during the Korean War, praised Rev. Moon for his conciliatory approach to President Nixon during the Watergate crisis, and again praised Rev. Moon for his role in the downfall of communism. At a well-attended press briefing, when asked if he were a Unification Church member, Haig replied, "No, but who couldn’t support the values espoused here at this conference? It would be like being against motherhood."
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