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Book Review - In the Shadow of the Moons

This article is an electronic version of an article originally published in Cultic Studies Journal, 1999, Volume 16, Number 1, pages 64-66. Please keep in mind that the pagination of this electronic reprint differs from that of the bound volume. This fact could affect how you enter bibliographic information in papers that you may write.

Book Reviews - In the Shadow of the Moons: My Life in the Reverend Sun Myung Moon's Family. 

Nansook Hong. Little, Brown and Company, New York, 1998, xxx pages.

In August, 1995, the psychologically and physically abused wife of Reverend Sun Myung Moon's eldest son surreptitiously escaped with her five children from the Unification Church compound called East Garden in Irvington, New York. There she had lived a life of great position and luxury for fourteen years. She knew she could never return.

In this astonishing memoir, Nansook Hong, chosen by Reverend Moon himself to wed his son, Hyo Jin, when she was fifteen years old, relates how she came to an important realization during her disastrous marriage to the heir apparent to Reverend Moon's Unification Church empire and Messiahship. She describes how she came to understand that it was NOT her divine mission to reform her narcotic and alcohol-addicted husband, that her failure to do so was NOT her fault, and that, indeed, to preserve her life and the well-being of her five children, she had to leave.

She makes vividly clear to the reader why deciding to leave was so difficult. Aside from worries about how she would support herself and her children and possible physical retaliation from the Unification Church, Nansook had to go against everything she had ever believed. Her parents had joined the Unification Church in the 1950's; her father built up from nothing and headed the Il Wha Pharmaceutical Company, one of Moon's most lucrative businesses. Born into and raised in the Unification Church, Nansook had always believed that Reverend Moon was the Messiah, just as, she explains, a Christian is raised to believe that Jesus is. It had been a great honor for Nansook and her family to be joined by marriage with the sinless True Family of God. As a Korean woman she had been taught passivity and the virtue of compliance. As part of the Unification Church, she had been discouraged from critical thinking and certainly from questioning anything about the Moon family.

While Nansook bore five children and led a double life as an American high school and college student. She explains how nobody at her schools in the outside world, even her college advisor, knew who she really was. She had to cope with a loveless relationship, Hyo Jin's verbal and physical abuse, his openly-flaunted adultery, contracting herpes from him, Hyo Jin's alcohol and drug addictions, harsh criticism from both Reverend and Mrs. Moon for not properly fulfilling her role as a good wife, and, worst of all, she says, the loneliness and isolation which forced her to keep her true feelings to herself.

But it was the hypocrisy she saw in the Moon family's behavior that convinced her to question her lifelong beliefs. Integral to Unificationist theology is the concept that Moon's family is the True Family of God. Sun Myung Moon and his wife are the World's True Parents. According to that theology, Moon had married a perfect woman. This would restore mankind to the state of perfection of the Garden of Eden, and the Moons and their children would be sinless.

However, what Nansook witnessed was far different. The Moons ignored their children, and Nansook was "stunned," she relates, by the "antipathy between the Moon children and their parents." The parents did not discipline them, and their indulgence of their son, Hyo Jin, led to his downfall. The frequent beatings administered to Nansook and to others in the group were sanctioned by Moon himself. She learned of Moon's own infidelities and of his illegitimate son. The final straw came when Hyo Jin beat Nansook severely when she was seven months pregnant with their last child, endangering the unborn child's life, and, she felt, her own, since he had frequently threatened to kill her. As Nansook concludes in the book's epilogue, "The evil at the heart of the Unification Church is the hypocrisy and deceit of the Moons, a family that is all too human in its incredible level of dysfunction. To continue to promote the myth that the Moons are spiritually superior to the idealistic young people who are drawn to the church is a shameful deceit."

Nansook saw first-hand other behavior by the church that didn't fit its public image. She witnessed "huge sums of cash" stashed in the mansion for the family's luxuries— including the financial support of Hyo Jin's ever-growing drug habit— and the servitude of Church staff members. Nansook and her parents began to question their commitment to the Unification Church when Mr. and Mrs. Moon pronounced themselves Emperor and Empress of the Universe and had themselves crowned in an elaborate ceremony. But, she says, the final blow to her faith came when Moon married his dead son, Hueng Jin, in a ceremony to Bo Hi Pak's daughter and later allowed a man from Zimbabwe to announce that he was possessed by Hueng Jin's spirit. The "Black Hueng Jin" traveled the world administering beatings to straying Church leaders with Moon's knowledge and blessing.

Nansook gradually garnered the strength to say no. "More than any other factor," she explains, "I think motherhood was responsible for my change in attitude. It was one thing to suffer the True Family's abuse myself; it was another to subject my children to it."

In addition to Nansook Hong's fascinating accounts of her experiences and of the hypocrisy and corruption of the Moon family, she also relates general facts, such as the historical-ideological context out of which the Unificationist theology and Moon's claims to Messiahship arose, the huge financial support of the Church from Japan, a Unification Church front group's takeover of the University of Bridgeport, Moon's political activities (such as the founding and support of CAUSA), his alliance with the political right in the United States, his exploitation of entertainment figures and leaders (such as George Bush and Gerald Ford), and his manipulation of the media, civil rights activists, and black clergy to further his goals.

This moving and wonderfully-written book should be read by everyone interested in destructive cults and in the dramatic journey of a brave young woman from bondage to freedom. Because of Nansook's unique position in the Moon family, cult apologists cannot dismiss, as they do with other ex-member accounts, her story as a mere "atrocity tale." The compelling credibility of this book demands that Nansook's story be paid attention to. Many Unification Church members are paying it attention, for, according to Nansook and others, the first-hand testimony delivered through this book has already caused many Unification Church members to leave the group.

Marcia Rudin

New York, New York

Cultic Studies Journal, Volume 16, Number 1, 1999, page 1