Moonies make a comeback

The Richmond Reivew, British Columbia/November 23, 2006
By Martin van den HemelStaff

A cult that first gained notoriety in the 1970s is actively recruiting in Richmond, The Richmond Review has learned.

Now known as the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification, most locals are probably more familiar with the name Moonies, the term first used by the media in the United States to refer to the followers of the Unification Church founded by Rev. Sun Myung Moon.

Earlier this month, a recruiter was going door-to-door in the Shellmont neighbourhood, inviting residents for dinner at a home at 8760 Greenfield Dr.

The young woman, of Korean descent, posed a series of questions, such as whether the homeowner considers families to be of primary importance, and if people irrespective of cultural backgrounds should come together.

Simon Fraser University cult expert Barry Beyerstein said he would consider the Moonies to be a cult based on the checklist of attributes that distinguish religions from cults.

Beyerstein said the door-to-door pitch is a classic example of the deceptive recruiting practices that cults employ, noting that no mention of the religious movement is indicated off the top of the conversation.

By approaching people about “motherhood” issues that “no decent person could be against” they effectively gain a foothold.

“It’s called the foot-in-door technique,” he said.

“That’s right out of the textbook of social persuasion.”

Another item on the checklist is exploitation. While most, if not all, religious groups ask for followers to pay their dues, he considers those that go to extremes, such as signing over paycheques, or demanding that followers prostitute themselves, would be considered a cult.

If the group then forces members to sever ties to family and friends, and insists that they get information only from those in a leadership position, this should raise alarm bells that this is probably a cult, Beyerstein said.

As is the case with the Unification Movement, the leadership claims to be “divinely chosen” which Beyerstein said becomes the leadership’s excuse from following all strictures of morality. This could extend to telling couples to split up, or exploiting members sexually.

Moon was known to organize mass weddings, between strangers, he said.

Some cult groups use coercive tactics to force members to stay within a group, using physical means and even kidnapping to keep them from leaving.

Some cult followers are told, for example, “you’re scum without us,” Beyerstein said.

Beyerstein urged residents to do their homework before signing on the dotted line or accepting a dinner invitation from a stranger.

“I don’t think that anybody should ever sign into anything at the front door,” he said, whether it’s someone selling encyclopedias or vacuums. “If you’re looking for something, get it from a legitimate source.”

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