A History of the Unification Church in Canada: 1965-1991

by Franco Famularo

Chapter Five - The Porter Era [Part 3]

A Married Couple leads the Church -- Rev. Moon's Fourth Visit to Canada -- Three Areas of Activity: Outreach, Ideological, Financial -- Increasing Opposition and the View of Outsiders -- Canada at the Crossroads Speaking Tour -- A New Phase

D. Increasing Opposition and the View of Outsiders

Although the pioneer years of the Unification Church in Canada took place in relative obscurity, the mid-1970s marked a period of intense scrutiny by non-members of the church. On one hand some Canadian academicians at several Canadian institutions of higher learning, (especially at the Universities of Toronto and Waterloo) provided a limited segment of the populace with scholarly appraisals of the Unification Church. Articles appeared in a number of scholarly journals and numerous books were published, which offered comparative evaluations of Unification Theology, and analysis of such issues as recruiting practices and the psychological well being of Unificationists. There were numerous published studies by scholars which, unfortunately for Unificationists, did not gain a mass readership.54 Most of the scholarly works were rather objective in their assessment of the Unification Church and its founder and often concluded that the Unification Church was a bona fide religion. In an attempt to define the Unification movement two scholars, Herbert Richardson and Darrol Bryant, provided the following explanation:

What, then is the Unification movement? ... It seems to be a reform movement within Christianity since it seeks to restore unity to the Christian Churches. It seems to be an evangelical movement since it seeks to awaken us all to the love of God, to rekindle a passion. It seems to be a social gospel movement since it seeks to transform the social, economic and political orders. It seems to be a theological movement since it is developing an insightful and systematic theological stance. It seems to be a spiritual movement since it is seeking to develop a spirituality which, centered on instructing and shaping a God centered heart, will lead to perfection in individuals and families. It seems to be a cultural movement since it seeks to enlarge our understanding of Christian revelation by interpreting it in Oriental terms. It seems to be a scriptural movement since it believes it has discovered the true center of scriptural teaching. Although all these elements are present within the Unification Church, it is not yet clear how to characterize this movement most adequately.55

Their conclusions were that the Unification Church was primarily a religious movement.

The general population, however, acquired most of its information about the Unification Church from members of the mass media and representatives of organizations which were ardently opposed to the Unification Church. So called "Cult Information" centers sprang up across the country.56 Thus, especially from the mid-1970s onward, the Canadian public was made aware of the Unification Church and Rev. Moon mostly through media reports. The view that emerged through the press was that Rev. Moon, who was often referred to as a Korean industrialist, had created a religion to further his business interests and political schemes. Since, in the view of the media and the "anti-cult movement", no intelligent person could have possibly made a free choice to join the Unification Church, the members had supposedly been "brainwashed" and were subjected to "mind control." Furthermore, Unificationists, supposedly used deceptive recruiting techniques to entice people to join. The latter issue was consistently repeated in the press and was given as a reason for fearing the "Moonies".57

Such an image of the Unification Church was given legitimacy through being consistently repeated in thousands of media reports. Besides offering increased challenges to membership growth, spiraling opposition also contributed to an increased centralization of the church. Opposition to the church falls under the following categories: kidnapping and deprogramming, media coverage, and government inquiries.

1. Kidnapping and Deprogramming

The forcible kidnapping and attempted deprogramming of members of new religious movements in an organized manner is a surprising development of the 20th century.58 Not only did those involved in such activities seek to dissuade people from joining the Unification Church, but they also worked actively to have Unificationists recant their faith. Presumably, members of the new religions, such as the Unification Church, were brainwashed and had been subjected to "mind control." According to proponents of the deprogramming movement, members of the Unification Church were mentally ill and required treatment. Part of the "treatment" was forcible abduction and confinement of members against their will. Through coercive means, members were forced to disassociate themselves from the "cult" they had joined. "Cult" was the word used, especially by the mass media, to refer to new religions such as the Unification Church. Although difficult to define, the word "cult" was explained as follows by a professor, Leo Pfeiffer, at a St. Louis symposium on Law and Religion:

I'll tell you what a 'cult' means. If you like another person, you call his faith a 'religion.' If you are indifferent toward him, you call it a 'sect.' And if you hate the person, you call it a 'cult.'59

The complexity of the subject and the desire to retain a sense of objectivity led scholars in the late 1970s to use the term "new religious movements" instead of "cult." "Cult", by then, had become associated with the 1978 mass suicide of People's Temple members in Jonestown, Guyana and other dangerous practices.60 The media, however, did not follow such scholarly advice.

The kidnapping and attempted "deprogramming" of members of the Unification Church began in the United States during the early 1970s. This activity targeted the members of not only new religious movements, but also those of older more traditional religions. Ted Patrick, who is often referred to as the father of "deprogramming," initiated the activity of trying to have members of religious organizations recant their faith. In the course of his anti-religious activities he sought to "deprogram" for example, two American young women who had rejected their Greek Orthodox parents' traditional lifestyle and also a 23 year old Canadian, Debbie Dudgeon, who converted to Roman Catholicism from the United Church of Canada.61

The activity was strongly anti-religious and for some reason the Unification Church became a prime victim. According to a memorandum from the Committee to Reunite Families (CERF), an organization devoted to "deprogramming" members of new religions who had supposedly been separated from their families, the Unification Church was the principal target. George Swope, a member of CERF, summed up the deprogramming strategy in the 1970s when he said:

Because we cannot be effective using the buckshot approach, we must zero in on ONE cult. If our government investigates one cult and finds ground for prosecution we can move on to other cults. The cult we have chosen is (Rev. Sun Myung) Moon's Unification Church.62

Of course, the deprogrammers and their teams did not engage in these activities without the consent and funding of the parents of members. Some paid anywhere from $7,000 to $25,000 to have their "children" (usually adults over the age of majority) "deprogrammed". One member in Canada, Trevor Brown, who experienced an attempted deprogramming, once explained how his family had spent close to $40,000 to forcibly remove him from the church.63

During the latter part of the 1970s and the early 1980s a number of Canadian Unificationists were victims of kidnappings and attempted deprogrammings. Some resisted and returned to the Unification Church, while others did not. The majority of these were Canadians who had joined in the United States and were members of the American church. Two instances, which received much publicity in the Canadian press, were the cases of John Biermans and John Abelseth. Biermans was abducted with the assistance of a former friend and Canadian Federal Cabinet Minister, Norman Cafik, in 1977.64 John Abelseth was abducted twice in 1981, the second time he was held for 75 days. Abelseth's case received much publicity in Western Canada, especially in Calgary, Alberta where it took place.65 Both Biermans and Abelseth eventually returned to the church.

Members of the Canadian church were not excluded from this activity. In the autumn of 1980 a number of kidnappings took place. For example Christine Preisler and Dyllis Henkins were kidnapped in Vancouver. In September 1980 Elizabeth Wyckoff, a Canadian member who had joined in England a year earlier and returned to Canada to be closer to her family, was kidnapped by members of her family in Vancouver. In a personal statement, Elizabeth described her experience:

On Tuesday September 16, 1980 I received a call to go out and meet a friend in North Vancouver. When they came to pick me up we did not head towards North Vancouver but rather headed out to Delta ... I was asked to go downstairs to the basement ... I was then to spend the next three days of my life forcibly detained in this room. During my detention I was forced to discuss my religion and then the information was taken and turned against me. I was not allowed to make use of the lavatory facilities without someone watching me at all times. I was never left alone. My books, shoes, and purse were taken from me and when I wanted to speak to my family alone I was not given any time with them.66

Her case also received media coverage when she was interviewed by a reporter from the Vancouver Sun. Also present at the interview was a Rev. Wesley Wakefield of the Bible Holiness Movement who was chairman of the Religious Information Center in Vancouver. Although Wakefield did not agree with the religious tenets of the Unification Church, he and other clergymen and scholars were concerned about the abuse of the religious liberty of the members of new religions.67

It appears 1980-81 was a busy period for deprogrammers in Canada as several other members were kidnapped and forcibly confined in attempts to have them leave the Unification Church. Another such case is that of Barbara Christie who was abducted in November 1981 in Toronto. Her story was somewhat similar to Wyckoff's but her ordeal lasted for about two weeks.68

Perhaps due to the flurry of kidnappings the Unification Church in Canada posted a $10,000 reward for people that provided information that resulted in the arrest and conviction of the abductors of any member of the Unification Church.69 This came on the heels of a Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) televised program, "The Fifth Estate", which glorified the kidnapping of a member of the Unification Church by Martin Faiers, himself a former member of the church in Canada.70 This leads us to a discussion about media coverage of the Unification Church in Canada. Media coverage, which was rather biased against the church, served to further strengthen the solidarity and centralized nature of the church.

2. Media Coverage

Due to geographical proximity, the Canadian public was exposed to numerous negative reports about the Unification Church through American media outlets. This was the result of the availability of American television in most Canadian homes and the reproduction of American newspaper articles by the Canadian press. Even those stories which focused on the Canadian church borrowed heavily from stories widely circulated in the United States. In these stories, until the late 1970s, the Unification Church was just one more, albeit rather unorthodox religion, doing a little missionary work in the United States. However, reports in the media became more alarmist in the late 1970s. One reason for this was the mass suicide of followers of the People's Temple under the leadership of Jim Jones in Guyana. The other was a series of front page newspaper articles that appeared in the Canadian press.

Moonstalkers, Moonwebs and Ticket to Heaven

A series of six long front page articles entitled Moonstalkers, authored by Josh Freed, appeared in the Montreal Star in December 1977 and January 1978. These were later reprinted by several other Canadian newspapers such as The Hamilton Spectator and The Calgary Herald. The articles recounted the story of how Freed and his colleagues had "rescued" their friend, Benji Carroll, a 28 year old college graduate with strong ties in Montreal's Jewish community. Carroll had become involved with the Unification Church in California. The articles provided an account of how Freed and his colleagues had first discovered of his friend's involvement. It then gave a detailed account of how the kidnapping and eventual "deprogramming" took place; how they dodged the San Francisco police who were in pursuit, and concluded with an account of Benji's "recovery period." Each article, which took up part of the front page and an entire page of the newspaper, also included "sidebars", shorter features which provided supplemental information about the church which were mostly derogatory.

The articles obtained a wide readership in Canada, won the Canadian National Newspaper award and were then expanded into a 214 page book entitled Moonwebs: Journey into the Mind of a Cult by the same author.71 As Freed commented in the forward to his book, his work did not attempt to present "both sides" of the story, but to explain what happened to Benji and his friends.72 The book was later made into a movie - Ticket to Heaven - which won Canada's top film prize, the Genie Award, in 1982.

Freed's book also contained a few references to the church in Canada, including a three page "Canadian Appendix" which later became one of the major sources of information for the Canadian press about Unificationist operations in Canada. The appendix stated that although the Canadian branch was still its infancy (1980) it was growing fast. According to Freed, it owned more than a million dollars in property and claimed over 300 members. A list of church owned property was provided, as well as references to Unificationist businesses and activities which were all depicted as front groups of the church.73 This information was re-produced in several Canadian magazines and newspapers and for a long time was the only source quoted with regard to Canadian Unificationist activities.74 The media reported the views of "anti-cult" organizations and "deprogrammers" very freely. It might have appeared to some that there was some form of collusion between them. Nevertheless, through increased lobbying activities, legislation was sought to virtually ban the outreach activities of new religions such as the Unification Church. This, however, proved to be more problematic.

3. Government Inquiries

Government officials had been pressured since the mid-1970s to introduce legislation to restrict the activities of so called "cults." In 1980, Ontario Provincial Legislator Sweeney, introduced a bill which would establish a government commission "to investigate and report on any cult or mind development group, adherence to which is alleged to constitute a danger to the mental health of any person."75 Attempts to introduce similar legislation occurred in other North American jurisdictions such as New York and Pennsylvania.

The Dan Hill Report

In early 1978, the government of Ontario announced that it would begin a public inquiry into "the need for safeguards regarding the practices of organizations professing mind development."76 Thus, on October 24, 1978, Daniel Hill was appointed by then Attorney General of Ontario, Roy McMurtry, to be the central researcher in what became commonly known as the "Dan Hill Report" or officially as The Study of Mind Development Groups, Sects and Cults.

The 773 page study, completed in June 1980, was published by the government of Ontario. Through exhaustive consultations with medical and psychiatric professionals, members of the clergy, numerous scholars and also members of new religious movements it stated in its general conclusions the following:

In the light of the evidence at hand, there seems to be no area in which the people of Ontario would be served by the government implementing new legislative measures to control or otherwise affect the activities of cults, sects, mind development groups, new religions or deprogrammers. To the extent that the movements and the deprogrammers foster problems that are susceptible to legal resolution, the criminal and civil law appear already to afford sufficient avenues of punishment and redress.77

The results of the study drew a sigh of relief from members of the Unification Church as it had been earlier feared that the probe could become a "witch hunt."78 The Unification Church chose not to formally co-operate with the study, but granted the study staff a "hospitality" meeting, provided published materials and participated in interviews of group members.79

Religious Liberty Issue

Although members of the Unification Church did not participate formally in the Dan Hill study, a number of reputable scholars did. This provided the Government of Ontario with a perspective that might have assisted them in reaching their conclusions. In 1978, a group called "Canadians for the Protection of Religious Liberty" (CPRL) was formed in Toronto. Several scholars formed this educational organization to inform the public about modern religious discrimination and the illegalities of deprogramming. Some of the participating scholars were Rodney Sawatsky and Darrol Bryant of the University of Waterloo, James Penton of the University of Lethbridge and clergymen Juris Calitis of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Toronto and Rev. Wesley Wakefield of The Bible Holiness Movement in Vancouver.

CPRL held a number of meetings throughout Canada to inform public officials that the use of force to "deprogram" members of religious "cults" was a violation of an individual's human rights.80 Partially funded by the Unification Church and the Church of Scientology, CPRL provided a scholarly approach to the issue, but did not gain as much media coverage as the "anti-cultists" received.

Another effort made by scholars to point out the danger to religious liberty was a number of conferences on deprogramming held in the late 1970s and in 1980. The University of Toronto Conference on Deprogramming, the University of Ottawa Conference on New Religions, and the Toronto School of Theology Seminar on Media Ethics all brought the issue of discrimination against new religions to light. Some of the proceedings were published in New Religions and Mental Health.81 As mentioned, however, these views did not gain much circulation in the media.

4. Responses to the Media by the Unification Church

Martin Porter tried on several occasions during his term to deal with the media in the hope of correcting their views of the church. For example, in November 1979 he held a press conference in the Toronto center, where he sought to explain what the Unification Church's aims, beliefs and practices were. He also tried to deal with the issue of deception, which the church was persistently being accused of. At one point during the conference he remarked:

We have often been accused of being deceptive in our methods of recruiting, but anyone who comes to this center can have no doubt where they are. The picture of Rev. Moon is prominently displayed in the main living room and there are other pictures of our very large and successful rallies, I doubt whether this has escaped your attention. We want people to know who we are and where we are... Perhaps this accusation of deception has arisen because the "Moonie" you meet on the street or at your door does not fit the image one would come to anticipate from the reports in the media. What do our detractors want us to say? Hi! I'm a brainwashed Moonie!82

Statements such as the above to the press, however, did not change the minds of reporters. By 1982 the reports in the media had become repetitious and it seemed that reporters consistently reproduced stories that had been written years earlier. In any case, the image of the Unification Church, to say the least, needed improving. For example one member of the Unification Church in Vancouver could not acquire a peddler's license for private purposes on account that it was discovered he was a member of the Unification Church.83 Some individuals who were seeking to damage Proctor and Gamble's reputation, a major soap and toothpaste company, even spread rumors throughout Canada that the company had ties to the Unification Church. The company had to take legal action to stop the spread of such rumors which were hurting their business.84 It seems some reporters even used the word "Moonie" when criticizing political leaders who were of a persuasion they did not concur with.85

Negative publicity was experienced by the church world-wide, but most particularly in the United States, where Rev. Moon resided and conducted most of his activities during the 1970s and 1980s. The impact of such publicity on the development of the church in Canada was significant in that it proved difficult for the church to grow during a period of increased hostility. Rather than retreat in the midst of this atmosphere, Martin Porter decided that it was time to take a more aggressive approach and begin a nation-wide speaking tour in 1982.

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