Friday, September 22, 2006

True Father Loves You: mixing and mingling with the Moonies

Sunday 9/10/2006

Moonies. To the uninitiated, the word sounds like a cookie or fattening dessert. Perhaps, both are attractive on the surface, but contain questionable ingredients that may warp your body or mind.

For some time now, I’ve wanted to visit the Moonie Church in Mount Pleasant. As a part of my ongoing spiritual exploration, I discovered the place when I lived briefly in the neighborhood in December 2005. They go by a few different names. They’re known as the Unification Church, but they’ve recently changed their name to Washington Family Church. However, when I arrived, the name on the building read “Peace King Church.” The program cover read, “Family Federation for World Peace and Unification.” And, according to this webpage, their really, truly, official name is The Holy Spirit Association for the Unification of World Christianity. For the purposes of this column, I will refer to them simply as “Moonies.”

Most people have a negative image of the Moonies as a cult. After all, why shouldn’t they? This is the group that Reverend Sun Myung Moon of Korea founded in his youth. According to Church Doctrine, when Moon was 16 years old, Jesus Christ came to him in a dream and asked him to complete the second coming.

In his youth, he practiced blood separation. Originally, "Blood cleansing" as defined by Moon was accomplished for any male by having sexual relations with a woman that had been "cleansed" by Moon (i.e., had sexual relations with Moon). Let me stop here for a brief editorial comment: any guy who starts a religion and says all the women have to sleep with him – and the women comply – is a genius. Ok back to the story…

My housemate used to be a Moonie in Siberia. While he is no longer a Moonie, he is still very fond of them. Why? You may ask. Well, the Moonies were the ones who taught him English and invited him to their weekend training camps. It was there that he lost his virginity. Now, try to tell him that the Moonies are a weird group! As radical feminist author Catharine Mackinnon once said, you can’t argue with an orgasm.

Morning Service
While I told my housemate that I would like him to accompany me on my initial visit, he has been much too busy. Recently, I met John, a GW student with a similar interest in the occult. He visited the Church in the Spring and survived, so as a precaution, I thought it would be a good idea to visit together. (There have been reports of the Moonies kidnapping people and holding them against their will for some time.) So, one Sunday morning I meet John outside the Church for the 10am service. The 16th street gates are closed. We enter on the side where there’s a little cafĂ© with a menu written on a large wooden tablet.

We go up some steps. A video camera in the corner records our entry. The room has six rows of 10 seats each. The piano lady is playing a familiar tune: "The Battle Hymn of the Republic?" A black lady sits in the back behind a table. A few people are already in their seats. Surprisingly, the congregation consists mostly of black members. One gentleman wears an African dashiki, a colorful flowing robe with bright oranges and reds. A few kids sit in the aisles. One Korean woman sits in the very back.

Although today is 9-10-2006, the date on the wall reads 8-27-2006. Two white banners hang on either side of the stage:

The left banner: “God’s ideal family.” In the middle of the banner reads the title “Interreligious and International Federation for World Peace.” Below it is an image of the world with two doves with olive branches in their beaks.

The right banner: “The model for world peace.”

It’s still a few minutes before 10am, so I look around for someone to talk to. As I step outside the hall, Joseph, a Palestinian Christian from Bethlehem, Israel asks me, “Excuse me, where is the exit?” I point him in the right direction. Joseph is also visiting for the first time. I catch him as he sneaks out for a cigarette break. An amiable gentleman, he speaks with a heavy accent. He’s in his mid 40s and has been in the DC area almost two years. He’s nearly bald, with a round face. He has the hands of a wrestler. His thumb is about three times the size of my thumb. Joseph is in the construction business, but is currently unemployed.

“It is hard to find a job in the US,” he says with a sigh. “You don’t even know your neighbors.”

He complains, “no one speaks the same language here. You walk in this neighborhood and everyone speaks Spanish.” He has tried to find a construction job at a site, but the Spanish-speaking managers tell him to return the next day, with no luck.

The service begins about 10:10am. Moonie time.

The pastor stands behind the podium with a laptop, and a tissue box on the side. The stained glass window behind him consists of three tablets that contain a globe and some flowers below.

Pastor Gam, in his suit and tie, announces that Family Pledge #1, 2, 6 and 8 are changing. “From now on, please start using this version,” referring to the new one in his hand. He is from Zambia and has been in the DC area three years and four months.

A ginormous portrait of Moon hangs on the back wall, occupying one half of the stage: He and his wife are adorned in white robes with vertical gold lines, white crowns like the Burger King crown, and a big smile.

The service continues with praise songs: “In my heart of hearts, Father, I pledge my life to you.” Father, in this case, refers to Rev. Moon, not the God of Abraham.

The members read the Family Pledge, first in phonetic Korean and then in English.

After a number of songs, the service leads to a very Catholic ritual: the shaking of one’s neighbor’s hands. However, there is no accompanying phrase like the Catholic Mass, “May the Lord be with you.” So, I improvise, “May the True Father be with you!” No one repeats my phrase.

A pregnant pause.

Minister Gam, with a heavy African accent, (which is 80% incomprehensible) introduces himself to John and me. He is a friendly soul with glasses and could just as easily be a Catholic Priest in another time and place.

Another speaker makes some announcements about upcoming workshops and moving sales.

The announcement in the back of the program reads,

“Pledge Service To Be Held Every Eight Days on Ahn Shi II—On April 19th, 2004, on True Parents’ Day Father proclaimed that the time of the Sabbath as one day has been fulfilled and we are now in the era when every day should be the Sabbath. From April 19th Father proclaimed that every eight days will be the day in which we conduct the Cheon II Guk Pledge. (Sunday will no longer be the pledge.) April 27th Father held the first such pledge service. On May 5th Father held the second Pledge Service and on that eight day, Wednesday, May 5th Father conducted the commencement of the Ahn Shi II…”

Let’s fill this room!
Rev. John Dickson delivers the sermon with a constant smile. He is upbeat, wears a khaki sports jacket sans tie. In his mid to late 40s, he speaks with a gentle cadence. By now, the room grows to about 30 people.

His original degree was in architecture at Cornell. He recounted the story of how Cornell built a new wing to a building. “The builders planted grass and waited one year. They built the sidewalk over the areas where the grass did not grow.” He continued with the building metaphor.

“We’ve built the house. The foundation is complete. Now we need carpenters and electricians.”

“Father Moon says, once the marrow has left the bone, it’s done. There are 6.5 billion people who struggle in agony and sin. Your third mission is to ‘bring them home.’ After all, they are our brothers and sisters.”

Referring to the giant portrait of Rev. Moon and his wife behind him, Dickson asks, “Have you ever seen a picture of George Bush this big? Or George Washington? Or Lincoln? For Americans to come into this culture, it’s a difficult thing. We’re all very different.”

Unlike Joseph, the reverend praises the neighborhood’s linguistic diversity. “You almost never hear English in this neighborhood. For example, a German guy was asking an Ethiopian and Hispanic for directions to downtown DC.”

He discussed their goals and how to accomplish them.

“Lenin and Stalin were imitations of the ideal of showing the world ie Satan.” Rev. Dickson was in Romania one week after their dictator Caecescu was shot. “I went into the palace, which is big enough for you to park a 747 airplane. We overthrew the Kings. George Washington gave up power after two terms. That was the biggest revolution.”

Sweet Potato Search
“How many people were born in the US?” he begins. Four hands go up. “Notice I did not ask how many people are American! My wife speaks English, and is from England. Women come from a much more different culture than people from another country.”

Reverend Dickson describes the sweet potato and how its roots are connected to other sweet potatoes underground. “Be careful not to yank it out. Pull it out gently.” Once you do this, then you can reach other sweet potatoes. “That’s what we do wrong now. We yank it out.” In other words, don’t be too forceful when talking to non-Moonies about the movement or you risk offending them.

“Don’t expect Father Moon to be popular. You know my biggest fear when I joined this movement?”

A pregnant pause.

“That it would become popular!”


Dickson dispensed some advice on dealing with powerful people in Washington, DC. “I always get introduced to them.” He gave the example of Frank Carlucci, former Secretary of Defense under President Ronald Reagan, claiming him as a “friend of mine.” Since Carlucci knows many other powerful people, it is much easier for them to accept him if Carlucci makes the introduction.

After the introduction, Dickson can then ask the new person, “Do you know someone who would like to go to the Bahamas to discuss the nature of God?” If they want to go, “they’ll tell you.” He continues, “I invite everyone to everything.” That way, there’s no obligation. For example, I send you to Korea for one week, then you come back and feel like you owe me.

“We only have 7 years and 6.5 billion people. Don’t wait! It’s time now.” We’re building. We’re above ground now.” He encourages the people in the room to recruit new members, “Let’s lift this screen. We almost filled the room today. Invite a friend.” Expressing his admiration for his parishioners, he waxed, “I appreciate all of you. You’re so special! You’re willing to do this even though it’s not your own culture. God bless you!”

He stated that the unification of the spirit world is not complete. He ended by alluding to a popular view of insanity: if you do the same things over and over again, but expect different results. In other words, it’s time to try a new approach to expand membership.

Concluding prayers
“Heavenly Father—thank you for loving us. We offer you our whole family, and our future is to invite those 6.5 Billion people home to know you.”

In the gift shop, I discover the book, The Role of a True Wife, a collection of thoughts by one of Moon’s disciples on the role of a Moonie wife. For example, it teaches that a wife should always be affectionate with her husband; furthermore, she should never sleep in bed with her back to her man. It also expounds on the health benefits of massaging one’s intestines.

One gentleman asks us if we are first or second generation? I reply “second,” thinking he is asking about my immigration background. John explains to me later that in reality, he wants to know if I am a convert or the child of Moonie converts.

He invites us to lunch in the basement dining room. We decline as we head out the door. Maybe next time. Besides, I want to introduce John to Ercilia’s, the best pupuseria restaurant in the Mt. Pleasant neighborhood that serves up El Savodorean pancakes. At least I know what ingredients go into making them.

* * *

If you want to become a Moonie or join the True Family, go to:
1610 Columbia Rd NW, Washington, 20009 - (202) 462-5700

They welcome new victims…er, ah recruits. If you join, that’s one down and only 6,499,999,999 more to go.

Here are some websites for more information.

Salon article

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