Preview Mode Links will not work in preview mode

Hideo Higashibaba left the cult he was born into when he was 22 years old. The Unification Church, also known as the Moonies, was founded in Korea by a man named Sun Myung Moon who proclaimed he was the Second Coming of Christ. In Growing Up Moonie Hideo asks people he grew up with what their childhoods were like and shares his struggles to make sense of his weird sheltered youth and the person he grew up to be. Edited and co-produced by Quinn Myers. 

If you would like a transcript of any of these episodes please email Hideo at


Mar 4, 2019

Katie and Hideo talk about Katie’s recent marriage to another second generation, the struggle to live the values of the church, and the innate need for belonging.





News Announcer [00:00:01] A decade ago, the Reverend Sun Myung Moon was accused of controlling the minds of young people creating so-called Moonies

News Announcer [00:00:08] So-called Moonies, followers of the Reverend Sun Myung Moon, head of the Unification Church, who became well-known in the early 80s for his mass wedding ceremonies.

Interpreter [00:00:16] Do you pledge to establish an eternal family with which God can be happy.

Crowd [00:00:25] Yes!

Interpreter [00:00:25] We are talking about absolute fidelity here. If anybody deviates from this God-given principle, they are bound to hell.

News Announcer [00:00:35] But the church has a different plan for the second generation.

2nd Gen [00:00:38] I felt like we weren't equipped for the world. You know, we aren't just like this bubble.

2nd Gen [00:00:43] To me it sounds culty. I know it's what brought our parents to church but it's not what keeps me in the church.

2nd Gen [00:00:48] Even if I'm not doing everything that they want me to do or I don't believe everything that they believe, we still have this like line that connects us.

Hideo Higashibaba [00:01:00] My name is Hideo Higashibaba until four years ago. I was a part of a cult called the Unification Church. You might know them as the Moonies. This is Growing Up Moonie, stories of people who grew up in the church like I did. One of the only Moonies I still talk to is my friend Katie. We've known each other since we were babies. Her mum took care of me when my mum was a full-time missionary. Katie is a year older than me, and we were never very close, but we tried to look out for each other at workshops and church camp. After high school we lost touch and the next time we saw each other was in our early 20s in Japan. I was in Tokyo for an internship and she was visiting family nearby.

Hideo Higashibaba [00:01:44] We met at a cafe can caught up. It had been a tough few years for Katie. She had struggled with her health, her brother had left the church and wasn't talking to anyone in his family, and her parents had been looking for a match for her for years. She got her hopes up with each person and each time it didn't work out in money matching everyone both the kids and the parents have a say. Katie had been rejected both by potential matches and his parents and that hurt.

Hideo Higashibaba [00:02:17] After Tokyo we stayed in touch over Facebook and texts. We spoke in the summer of 2017 for this project and by that time Katie had some big news.

Hideo Higashibaba [00:02:27] You look really sleepy are you OK?

Katie [00:02:30] Oh no, I'm fine. I just got back last night from Iowa.

Hideo Higashibaba [00:02:34] Oh, what were you doing in Iowa?

Katie [00:02:36] I was seeing Kenny.

Hideo Higashibaba [00:02:38] Kenny is Katie's husband now. When Katie and I talked they were about to go to Chun Pyung in South Korea to be married along with 4,000 couples. It's weird, but even though we were bombarded with the matching and blessing our whole lives, neither I nor any of my siblings went through the process. I actually didn't know very much about how it works. So I asked Katie what it's been like for her.

Katie [00:03:02] I started when I was 20 and the first guy was four months and we got really close to getting engaged. That one was a good relationship, but definitely not what I am experiencing now with the relationship I'm in right now. It's a totally different dimension. With that one it was more about you know doing what your parents want, like going into the process because you know it's the right thing to do and it's part of the church and you know all that stuff. And I feel like a lot of the relationships I went through was sort of on that dimension. I've been through five before Kenny and I feel like I was taking on that other perspective kind of thing where you like in it, but you're not in it, you know, like your heart isn't fully in it.

Hideo Higashibaba [00:03:56] When we were younger the founder of the church, Moon, still arranged marriages in what were called matching ceremonies. That's how most first generation were married. There was also something called 'parents matching' where many parents would find a spouse for their kid, and then there was a variation on that where second gen would find someone on their own and ask their parents permission. The process has modernized over the years. There's a website now like a for Moonies.

Hideo Higashibaba [00:04:26] Do most people find their matches through their parents through the website?

Katie [00:04:31] No. These days people are actually like finding other people they think would be good matches and then having their parents, like talking to their parents about it and seeing what their parents say so that the kids are very much involved these days. Just because there's been so many mistakes and so many break ups and so many matches that broke and stuff and it's always really hard for the kid. So parents see that and they don't want definitely kids, so they're a little more loose these days. There are people who are getting blessed to people you know who are first gen outside the movement and they go to the blessing and there are people find each other like me and Kenny except not through our parents but through just like mutual friends or just they themselves met up and thought they would be a good match because they felt very connected.

Hideo Higashibaba [00:05:24] Are they even holding meetings anymore?

Katie [00:05:26] No they're not. It just got weird. At one point they were matching people based off their thumbs.

Hideo Higashibaba [00:05:35] You heard that right. Their thumbs. Moon died a few years ago and his wife Hak Ja Han took over, but she did it a little differently than her husband. Hak Ja Han had men and women stand on each side of the room. Then she told everyone to fold their hands like they were praying. Then the women were told to cross the room to find someone with a matching thumb on top. But no women were moving, so they had the men choose instead. Yeah, that's when it got weird. Katie's family really wanted her to be blessed to another second gen. I think there was extra pressure to marry her off because she was the first child. Originally, she and Kenny chatted for a few months and it was going well. Then they got into a fight and Katie broke it off. But two years later...

Hideo Higashibaba [00:06:26] He actually texted me out of the blue, even though I said never contacted me again. He texted me out of the blue and he said like there's so many things that I think could work out about us and things that I feel like I still think about and it's true. Like for me the whole relationship, the first time was amazing. I felt so connected to it's interesting like when you meet someone and you feel like it's so different from any other person you've been with. And it just feels right. It's kind of like my last attempt to keep my mother involved in the process and to show her that you know all her attempts weren't in vain. So he was actually kind of my last chance, after him I was actually kind of thinking about dating other people and not really being churchy. So anyway it's a weird dynamic but I'm here, I'm in this life, and it's working out really well right now. So that's all I'm really grateful for.

Hideo Higashibaba [00:07:37] Katie is a second generation, a Blessed Child born without original sin. The entire purpose of her life, for her entire life, was to marry another blessed child and have a family with him. To do something or be someone else felt impossible. But after spending most of her 20s looking for a match she was about to give up, try dating. She told Kenny to never contact her again, but he ignored her and they kept talking and she fell in love and found a reason to stay. She made the choice to stay. As children we were told to beware of the temptations of Satan, of outsiders. We had to protect ourselves and our purity. Katie says she worked so hard to be unattractive it just seemed impossible for someone to have a crush on her.

Katie [00:08:31] If a guy was attracted to me I never knew. Because one thing, I gained a lot of weight. I was very smelly. I just never never thought that anyone would like me because I tried so hard not to let people like me so if there was someone who did like me it surprised me. It was like I was watching the world from a different perspective, like I wasn't really part of it. But I wasn't really not a part of it. If that makes sense?  I spent a lot of time in my house not really hanging out with people, just kind of on my own watching TV a lot. And I've watched the TV and definitely wanted to kiss or wanted to make out or wanted to like, really try those things and really, you know, experiment I guess? Curiosity, all that stuff, but I just never really felt like I was missing out on anything because...I feel like sometimes I'm from a different world, one where I'm and doing the right things because I know in my heart that that's based off my values.

Hideo Higashibaba [00:09:37] I heard this a lot when I was a Moonie. I even said it. Things like, I don't need friends or I'm not interested in dating because romance before marriage doesn't live up to my values. 'Living up to my values' was like a place holder for how I actually felt which was miserable and lonely. And for Katie...

Katie [00:09:58] It's definitely made me feel isolated and lonely for sure but I don't feel like I had some support from other BCs too like I feel so much support from them. And even going to church every week I felt like I could be myself more, I felt like I was supported more. Most of my friends are BC because, you know, 'the outside secular world, you don't want to be friends with them' kind of thing. I had my community and I think that really helped me pull through the loneliness and isolation.

Hideo Higashibaba [00:10:35] Growing up, Katie's parents weren't around much. Like most Moonies, they worked a lot. Many of the first generation didn't finish college and spent most of their 20s and 30s as full time missionaries which made it hard to find good paying work to support a family. So a lot of church members work for companies owned by the church. My dad works for a church owned business so does Katie's mom. Katie's parents also had a flower shop they worked at on weekends. Her brother was going through his own stuff so Katie spent a lot of time alone.

Katie [00:11:09] You could definitely feel that they were trying. They were trying really hard. They just wanted to do the right thing. Sometimes you didn't really found my parents but they were there which is the weird part.

Hideo Higashibaba [00:11:19] Without support from her parents Katie's sole refuge became the church community. More than the teachings or the rituals, it was the people that held her up, held her together. So she was heartbroken when her brother left and stopped talking with his family. I also left and no longer speak with my family and it's hard for Katie to not think of her brother when we're talking. Her grief is so near the surface.

Katie [00:11:48] And the thing is I don't care about doctrine or dogma. I don't really care for it if it splits up people that you love, people that, you know, you care about, people who are...for some people people in their family and it just hurts me that he's he just he's hurting because see he just strongly doesn't believe in the dogma and because of that that led to breaking off his relationship with us and I just don't believe in the dogma like that. I don't believe in a doctrine like that.

Hideo Higashibaba [00:12:23] Oh Katie, it's probably more complicated than.

Katie [00:12:26] Yeah.

Hideo Higashibaba [00:12:28] It's all the more frustrating for Katie because she doesn't believe some of the church's most important teachings.

Katie [00:12:35] I don't believe in True Parents being the Messiah. I don't really. It's not really something I strongly believe in. I mean I thought they brought really important ideas that the world could really benefit from. I'm here because of the community rather than because, you know, True Parents and they'll save the world from evil in return all our minds the Original Mind and all that stuff, because to me it sounds culty. It sounds very untrue. It sounds very difficult to fathom and very out there. I know it's what brought our parents to the church but it's not what keeps me in the church.

Hideo Higashibaba [00:13:18] Katie's found so much love and belonging in the church, maybe it's hard for her to imagine that it's not the same for other people. And now she's married to Kenny. When we spoke just a few weeks before they got blessed she sounded so happy and content.

Katie [00:13:35] It's just the connection is so magnetic and so like strong and I know it's not really like 'parent's matching,' it's not really churchy or not very by the books but it just works and is still working and I see it working for the rest of my life.

Hideo Higashibaba [00:13:56] Are you in love with him?

Katie [00:13:57] I am so in love with him. I am head over heels in love with him and it has been from the beginning.

Hideo Higashibaba [00:14:02] I mean did you did you expect that for yourself when you thought about this when you were young.

Katie [00:14:09] Not at all. For me I was just like a duty like I had to do because my parents wanted me to do it and I did it because it's like it's something I've been saving up for my whole life and it's just a bonus that I fell in love with him. Because with my parents it was over time that they fell in love with each other. It wasn't at the beginning but their love grew and actually it was what keeps them together I guess. So that's what I'm worried about is just like if if this magnetism and this infatuation phase that we're in right now when it ends will we be able to continue it. On his side, I mean, I know for myself that I committed I'm going to work through anything to be with him anyway. We'll see. It's in the future.

Hideo Higashibaba [00:15:03] And that future got way harder than Katie imagined. About a year into her marriage Katie had a realization about the church: the overwork and fundraising and constant guilt weren't necessary. The church wasn't everything it said it was. Katie's doubts about the True Parents, the doctrine and practices of the church all came to a head and she had to take a mental step back. And even though Katie loves the church and the community she's struggled with loneliness and isolation.

Katie [00:15:35] For me the hardest thing about being in the church, and just even being half-Asian, is that that I can't talk about it with other people because they don't understand. Like they'll never fully understand my experience. And the fact that you're so open about it and the fact that you can talk to other people about it is so amazing for me to hear that from you and that you're so open with other people because I think and I'm kind of jealous.

Katie [00:16:03] I wish I could be more open but I feel...for me the worst thing for me in the world is that if someone rejects me. And I can't do that. I can't fathom the idea that someone would reject me because it's part of who I am and I realize it's very difficult to take.

Hideo Higashibaba [00:16:28] The Unification Church is a cult that isolates its members by telling them to fear the outside world. And Katie was born into that fear. If she's rejected from the church she will lose everything; her community, her friends, her family. So she hides parts of herself to avoid rejection. She's not the only recently married, half-Asian, religious person in the world or even in her city. But she only feels safe with other Moonies. People outside the faith are scary to her, not trustworthy. She expects them to have an ulterior motive. She knows the church is weird but she says Moonies are just more pure.

Katie [00:17:09] I know this sounds culty but just feels like pure in the sense that we know we're not supposed to be dating so we know that even if we do have an attraction it's not something that we act on immediately. It's more about like knowing that that person is for someone else and then treating them just as a friend or just like a sibling or something and then you just show real close to them and realize that you know it's not going to go further than that.

Katie [00:17:37] Another thing too is I notice like, people they expect something in return instead of just giving because they want to give. People are always like kind of protecting themselves because they feel like no other person can be a complete monster. And I just never really thought that from this community I don't feel as judged. I don't feel as as much of a stranger as more of a part of their family kind of. I don't know it's just this whole bond that I feel with them is what keeps me going. I can't imagine myself leaving the church because if I left the church it would be leaving that bond and that feeling like that I'm home in that part of this family and I'm part of something bigger.

Hideo Higashibaba [00:18:26] But with her new realization Katie doesn't want to just believe whatever she's told. She worries about being seen as brainwashed or delusional. We recently started emailing back and forth and I asked if she's still considered herself a church member. This is my friend, also named Kate, reading from one of Katie's emails .

Kate [00:18:46] I do still go to church and I do engage with the community but it feels slightly disjointed. I'm more about the church lifestyle. I don't consider myself as having broken away but at the same time I don't consider myself as having fully stayed.

Hideo Higashibaba [00:19:02] Katie is the only person I spoke to for this project who is committed to staying in the church but is also determined to think for herself. She refuses to accept the idea that you have to believe all the church's teachings to be a church member. That you have to give up your community just because you don't agree with them on some things. I wonder how hard that must be, especially on things that hit really close to home.

Katie [00:19:27] One thing I really don't appreciate about Kenny's viewpoint sometimes, is that he thinks being gay is something that you can flip and that you can learn to get out of. I truly don't believe that. He said he was going to send me a book, I can't remember what it's called, it's basically 'Getting the Gay Out' or something like that.

Hideo [00:19:49] That stuff is so hateful Katie.

Katie [00:19:52] I know! For me my thinking is that this love and this connection that I have with Kenny is so precious to me that I know that there are people out there who happen to be same sex but I know that if they have the same feelings that I have for Kenny then I really wouldn't want them to lose that.

Hideo Higashibaba [00:20:14] It's 2019 and Kenny thinks being gay is a choice and he's married to my friend. Katie is a gentle, kind, understanding person. She was very supportive when I told her I'm queer and transgender. So finding out that she's married to someone with such terrible and ignorant opinions is kind of scary for me. If Kenny doesn't have enough empathy to believe gay people exist is he really going to be able to take care of her? Katie has told me more than once that she wants to have children with Kenny. What if they're gay?

Hideo Higashibaba [00:20:50] Sure, I might be overreacting. I bet there are plenty of homophobic people who are in perfectly fine relationships. But Katie is my friend. We were chatting once and she said, 'I would love for you to meet Kenny' and I reminded her that I'm gay. I don't want to meet him. Katie's intense commitment to Kenny reminds me of my parents who have been miserably married for 36 years. I'm not claiming to know anything about relationships. You might have missed it, but I was kind of raised in a cult, so I don't know shit about anything and I know that. But neither my parents nor Katie had any other relationships before they got married. I wonder if that makes it hard to know what's healthy and what's not and what really makes two people compatible. But what Katie always comes back to is the community. In a recent email she said that her choices about the church aren't just for her.

Kate [00:21:46] In thinking about the future and my future kids, I think the most important thing about growing up is having a community you can turn to when things get rough. A community of people who want to support and love each other. I can't fathom not having that community of support and raising my kids alone. I have my beliefs and I believe that they are strong enough that I can teach my kids to think for themselves rather than subscribe immediately to the church doctrine. My community just happens to be considered a cult. The most important part of growing up money is deciding truly what you believe and sticking with it no matter what the popular opinion is.

Hideo Higashibaba [00:22:24] Katie told me she doesn't think all of the church's teachings are bad. She still thinks that most of society's problems could be fixed by resolving quote 'familial relationships' and that it's freeing to relate to people without thinking of them sexually.

Hideo Higashibaba [00:22:40] Knowing my friend believes those things is hard for me. The Christian far-right has been saying that we need to 'rebuild the family' for decades. It's a way to push queer and trans people, single parents, and survivors of abuse to the margins. And how do I explain to her that yes, some people see others just as sex objects and we all agree those people are horrible and gross but not everyone is horrible and gross. My friends and chosen family certainly aren't. But I think what Katie is really saying is that she doesn't like that people outside the church are connected to their sexuality. They aren't afraid of sexual attraction and they act on those feelings even if they aren't married or dating. Katie doesn't want to live around people like that. And she doesn't want to raise her children around people like that. People like me. What she wants is all the goodness and purity she expects from Moonies.

Katie [00:23:36] I've met some people who kind of fit the bill in terms of the genuineness and the love that they have for other people. And the fact that they're constantly trying to improve themselves so that they can show that they really care for other people without the whole like, 'do they want to have sex with me' or 'are they just doing that because I know they are hurt and they act that way because they've been hurt before.' I mean obviously not church kids have that sort of feeling. They definitely have been through a lot. It's just like there are certain people who are so genuine that they've worked through all those thoughts and feelings and they have found something that really gets them through it. And get them through difficulties and I found it for myself, I think. Within this church community and within this life.

Hideo Higashibaba [00:24:43] Next time on Growing Up Moonie...

Hideo Higashibaba [00:24:46] I feel like the closer I get to being who I am by coming out as gay and coming out as gender nonconforming like, there is no shred of doctrine that could justify my existence at this point.

Hideo Higashibaba [00:24:57] That's next time on Growing Up Moonie.

Hideo Higashibaba [00:25:09] Growing up Moonie is written by me. This episode was edited and produced by Quinn Myers, with music by Podingtonbear. Special thanks to Kate Bennett. If you like what you're hearing please give us some stars or leave a review wherever you're listening. It really helps to boost the show and helps this project reach a wider audience. I'm Hideo Higashibaba. Thanks for listening.