The Aspects Of The Unification Church

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Various Christian-based groups have been associated with violence and cultic activities. The groups have been charged with brainwashing to increase and retain participants in churches. The literature review sets out to focus on the Unification Church, with conflict as an underlying theme. Focusing in on it as a new religious movement, criminal movement, cultic movement, brainwashing movement and business enterprise. With the intention to conclude on whether there is a consensus in the field or not, and where future line of research around The Unification Church needs, in order to advance.

Literature Review

The New Religious Movements were charged with evil activities that caused conflict. The Unification Church (UC) is among the NRMs and was founded by Sun Myung-moon. The development of the church was most rapid in the 1970s-1980s. The UC is well known for its unique form of blessings and mass weddings.

Unification Church as a Criminal Movement

Laycock (2013, p.86) aimed at determining the relationship between Unification Church and criminal activities. The author argues that the media, through the film of The Manchurian Candidate, stated that the church used a character called Raymond Shaw who could commit an assassination and had no memory afterwards about the act (Laycock, 2013, p.86). The Unification Church was accused of using a charismatic leader referred to as ‘The Leader’ whom the media claimed was a con artist who had no faith in his doctrine. Consequently, the study considered the UC as a criminal movement. The conclusion of Laycock (2013, p.86) reinforces the results obtained by Possamaï and Lee (2004, p.341), which claimed that the UC was associated with consequences as they were linked to mass suicides. The media stated that the organisation was engaged in mass killings. For instance, an episode called the “Chitty Chitty Death Bang” was aired showing Meg Griffin committing mass suicide (Possamaï and Lee, 2004, p.341).

The ACM as a crime prevention group claimed that the UC had engaged in various religious crimes including drug use, mass suicides, and the abduction of children and therefore it could not be categorised as a religious movement (Possamaï and Lee, 2004, p.345). Reiterating the conflict between the UC and society. The study by Barker (2018, p.45c) on the activities conducted by the UC, supported the ACM by indicating that the leader of the church was imprisoned on several occasions from the year 1940 and cases of killings were reported in the church, therefore terming the UC as a criminal movement (Barker, 2018, p.45c). The activities of the church caused the ACM to engage in de-programming activity to rescue the members. Therefore, it caused social conflicts between the church and ACM, as the church feared of reduction of its fundraising due to the reduced number of followers (Barker, 2018, p.45c).

Unification Church as a Cultic Movement

Barker (2018, p.21c) considered activities of the UC as for a cultic movement. The author indicated how parents were afraid of the church’s customs, that promised their children to marry them to individuals whom they had met for hours, if they continued to contribute money for the church and recruit new members (Barker, 2018, p. 21c). Additionally, the analysis indicated how parents could pay money to let their children who had joined the movement to be rescued as they considered it as a cultic organisation (Barker, 2018, p.21c). The study is in line with earlier research conducted by Barker (2014, p.240d) which determined that the UC was engaged in suicide cases of its members promising them to believe that they would later be promoted to a ‘level of existence above human’ (Barker, 2014, p.240d). The incidences indicated that the Unification Church was a cult movement. The activities of the UC resulted in social conflicts between the church and parents whom their children had been recruited in the movement.

Barker (2018, p.44c) described the UC as a non-religious movement. The church had charismatic leaders, focused on money and recruitment of new members and engaged in criminal activities (Barker, 2018, p.44c). The conclusions of Barker (2018, p.44c) reinforces the results obtained by Barker (2014, p.250d) as it suggested that engagement of the church in conservatorship, and child abuse indicated that the organisation was a cultic movement. People characterised the organisation as ‘destructive cult’ therefore causing social conflict among the individuals of the community, in an attempt to rescue young people who had joined the church (Barker, 2014, p.250d).

Unification Church as a Brainwashing Movement

Laycock (2013, p.82), suggested that the Unification Church was one of the NRMs that was associated with brainwashing activities in recruiting new members. News media were among the groups that took an interest in the events of the UC. The research by Yoshihide (2010, p.331a) and Barker (2018, p.45c) agrees with the conclusion of Laycock (2013, p.82) by acknowledging how findings from non-members about the recruitment and the belief of the UC demonstrated that there was an engagement of the UC in converting participants by indoctrination process. Therefore, the process made it difficult for the members who had successfully escaped from the church, hence labelling the actions of the church as brainwashing acts (Yoshihide, 2010, p.331a). The recruitment process included visiting children in their homes or the streets (Yoshihide, 2010, p.328a). Additionally, the conclusions of the study agree with the data collected by other researchers who include Barker (2011, p.21a) which supported the idea that the UC activities were of a cultic movement as parents allowed the church to abduct their children with a hope that they will be influential followers of the movement.Consequently, various groups, including the Anti-cult movement and the media engaged in deprogramming actions to rescue the majority of the participants in the church (Barker, 2011, p.21a).

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Richardson and Introvigne (2007, p.2) focused on this conflict, suggesting that there was concern for the high rate of young people that were reported to have joined the movement. The findings indicated that the UC brainwashed the children as they were said to quit from college to join the organisation. Furthermore, there are similarities in the conclusions of this study and findings of Yoshihide (2010, p.332a) that indicated how the UC considered using brainwashing techniques. The techniques included ‘mind control’ of the followers that curbed losing its participants. The number of church members reduced because various defenders of human rights and religious tolerance in Japan who challenged the movement’s process of recruiting its members in courts (Yoshihide, 2010, p.332a). However, majority of findings by Laycock (2013, p.82) and Barker (2011, p.21a) did not agree with the results that the UC was engaged in brainwashing activities because individuals in news agencies had negatively been misinformed and developed bias against the NRMs. The media staff were claimed to have created opinions regarding the Unification Church without having detailed information about the movement (Laycock, 2013, p.82).

Unification Church as a New Religious Movement

Introvigne (2014, p.307) observed how the court declared that UC did not engage in evil acts, therefore overturning the ruling on the brainwashing theories. The court presided by Judge Mosk stated that it was unconstitutional to argue that the organisation participated in brainwashing practices even with David Molko and Tracy Leal who had brought a suit against the Unification Church who claimed to have been ‘deprogrammed’ (Introvigne, 2014, p.307). However, the judge did not declare the Unification church to have engaged in unlawful activities considering that the participants were involved in the brainwashing process knowingly and they voluntarily submitted themselves to the coercive influence just as the novice does on entering the seminary or monastery (Introvigne, 2014, p.312).

Additionally, Baker (2018, p.45c) agreed with Introvigne that the UC was not a brainwashing movement but a new religious movement because over one thousand members of the church who had been converted in the church, joined as full-time members for over a week and left. Therefore, it was an indication that the UC efforts were not irresistible (Barker, 2018, p.45c). However, the ruling increased social conflict as relatives whom their people had joined the movement wanted to find a way to of abducting them from the church. The author concluded that UC was not a cult movement and did not engage in unlawful acts as they did not subject participants to the coercive persuasion without their knowledge (Introvigne, 2014, p.313).

Richardson and Introvigne (2007, p.10) disapproved the study by Yoshihide (2010, p.328a) and the groups opposing the UC made good use of the media by publishing, producing television and radio programmes that were used to condemn or indicate the evil acts committed by the UC. However, the study opposed that the Unification Church was a cult movement ( Richardson and Introvigne, 2007, p.10).

Unification Church as a Business Enterprise

Yoshihide (2010, p.328a) described how the recruitment of mature women included the use of ‘fortune-telling by palm reading’ that could lead them in selling goods, including personal seals or Korean marble jars. However, engagement in the sale of ‘spiritual goods’ was considered as a business activity for the church, and its main aim was to raise funds. Moreover, the objective of recruiting large numbers of participants was to increase contribution (Yoshihide, 2010, p.328a). Barker’s (2011, p.19b) research agreed with Yoshihide’s (2010, p.331a) findings as it considered the Unification Church was involved in converting the young population to its movement to increase its fundraising.

Barker’s (2011, p.19b) analysis indicated that youths donated their assets to the organisation and quit from their careers or education to work full-time at UC. However, after several years, individuals were considered to develop medical problems as the church did not allow them to have insurance policies. Causing a conflict between the church and its followers. Furthermore, the converts were supposed to have developed physiological anxieties concerning where they could live in future (Barker, 2011, p.19b). Furthermore, Yoshihide (2004, p.1b) agreed with the other authors concerning the recruitment of members in the UC to increase the funding in the church. The author suggested that the recruitment of members by the Unification Church in the 1980s was illegal. The church had not revealed the movement’s name and its actual activities. The UC raised money by fraudulent sales of spiritual goods, therefore being considered as a non-religious movement. Furthermore, the Unification Church was considered to be engaged in academics, politics, and economics (Yoshihide, 2004, p.2b). Barker (2018, p.45c) agrees with Yoshihide (2004, p.2b) by stating that members of the church had been accused of participating in selling on the street without peddler’s licence, murder and burglary making the UC to be a business movement (Barker, 2018, p.45c).

Research Gap

Furthermore, all scholars contribute to different aspects of the topic, hence there is more agreement within the specific contributions to the topic but further disagreements on the wider field of it and the conflicts caused. On the contrary, two gaps in the literature reviewed were found. Firstly, the scholars did not give the various beliefs of the participants in the church, that may have been the causes of their stay in the movement and the rate of men recruited in the church, as the researches considered recruitment of children and women. Additionally, when considering the organisation as a business movement, studies do not issue more information regarding the extent of the movement’s business interest. Considering that the church’s global interest includes any activity from ranching, fishing, and manufacturing of arms.


Majority of the authors’ findings identified deceitful recruitment, criminal activities including murder and suicide, engagement in business without a peddler’s licence, and fundraising events as the reasons why the Unification Church was considered as a non-religious movement. However, some scholars disagreed with the main conclusion as they stated how courts ruled that the church’s activities were legal. Therefore, to an extent it can be said, there is disagreement in the field as different scholars see the purposes the UC formats from different perspectives. Further study should evaluate the activities engaged by the UC and the challenges it faced, including opposition from non-members. Additionally, the studies should consider providing the challenges that the non-members face in fighting the NRMs.

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