A Weekend With the "Moonies"By Brian Anderson
One of the characteristics of children that I have always valued is their readiness to take another person's word at face value. In this respect, there is a wonderful innocence that is beautiful to behold in small children. It is only as we grow to adulthood that we lose that quality. Sooner or later we all must learn that it is not safe to take everyone's word at face value. There are many people in this world who prey upon the gullible and unsuspecting.
For me, this important lesson snapped into sharp focus in January of 1980, when I was twenty years old. At the time I was playing the five-string banjo in a gospel bluegrass band called Gloryland. We had been touring the Western United States, performing concerts primarily in small churches. During January there was some lapse time in our schedule, so each of us took the opportunity to spend some time at home, agreeing to reconvene in Southern California later in the month. When my extended leave was over, I packed up my suitcase and banjo, and found my way to the Greyhound bus station in downtown Sacramento. While I was waiting in line for my ticket, someone spotted the bright red letters J-E-S-U-S on my beaten and tattered banjo case. The young man asked excitedly if I was a Christian. When I answered that I was, he nearly pleaded with me to attend a special dinner that he and several other Christians were going to be enjoying together at a nearby home. I promptly replied that I would be delighted to come. I was always looking for an opportunity to spend time with other Christians, and after all, couldn't I always catch another bus later that evening?
When I arrived at the designated home, I found many other young people milling about. After what seemed like a very long time, we finally sat down to a very simple dinner. I wondered why this dinner had been called "special" but decided that perhaps the host family was rather poor, and I ought to just overlook it. Afterwards, there was something resembling a "talent show" where everyone was expected to participate in skits or songs. I thought all of this a bit strange, and began wondering what kind of a situation I had gotten myself into. However, at this point in my life I was so excited about Jesus, and so desirous of being with other followers of Jesus, that I allowed myself to be swept along in spite of some uneasy feelings. Finally, toward the end of the evening the eldest man, and apparently the leader of the group, showed some slides of what he called a "Christian Retreat Center" located near San Francisco. He detailed the wonderful weekend retreats that were hosted there, and exclaimed happily that we were all in luck, for that very weekend one such retreat had been planned. Unbeknownst to me, several of the others in the room, had been invited to this special dinner from off the streets of Sacramento as well. Now all of us were being urged to come along with them to experience a wonderful Christian retreat in the beautiful woods outside of San Francisco. I told the man in charge that I didn't think I could come, though I would very much like to, for I had to be in Southern California to meet my band members very soon. Well, this individual would not take "no" for an answer. He dialed up the leader of my band, and personally told him that I was in good hands, and that as soon as the weekend was over he would send me speedily on my way. And with that, I found myself very suddenly breezing down the highway in an old van, with eight or nine others, singing old gospel songs at the top of our lungs.
It was a dark and rainy night; by the time we finally pulled to a stop, I was completely disoriented, and had no idea where we were. We piled out of the van, and were shown to our sleeping quarters. At this point I found that I had a newfound friend who attached himself to me for the rest of the weekend. Unknown to me, he had been assigned to stay with me wherever I went. I found that I could not go anywhere, including the bathroom, without him tagging along behind me like my shadow. That first night I found myself in a large room with wall to wall people sprawled out in sleeping bags all over the floor. My "shadow" asked if he could give me a back rub before going to sleep.
About six or seven hours later I awoke to someone ringing a bell and calling us awake with a song. We were led out to an open area, where we were led in some morning exercises. We were also informed of some new "secret code words" that we needed to begin using like "close in" and "warm". I later learned that these words were used as opposites of "far out" and "cool" and were intended to produce a kind of bond between us.
At breakfast, everyone was served very small portions. I quickly found out that the new members of this group were made to feel welcome and loved as others shared their food, and gave them back rubs and hugs.
All day long there was singing and teaching sessions. A band replete with a drummer, electric guitarists, and vocalists nearly lifted the roof off the building as the hundreds of voices melted together into one. The songs were upbeat and joyful. Afterwards a man came out and spoke for a long time without ever really making much sense. When he was through speaking, I met in a small group of about twelve others to discuss the lecture. The leader asked questions of us, and if any of the new members seemed to say something he approved of, all the others would clap wildly and say nice things. At the end of each of these small group sessions, we were called together into something of a huddle, and then were made to chant, "choo choo choo, choo choo choo, choo choo choo POW!" I had no idea why were chanting these words, but went along with the rest. In time I would learn that this chant referred to a train, and meant that all of us were on the right track.
And so the day went. Singing, lecturing, small group, meal... singing, lecturing, small group, meal... all day long, with plenty of hugs and warm compliments to bolster our self-esteem. Once during the day I was able to talk briefly with another young Mexican man. We found out to our joy that both of us were born-again Christians. By this time, we had begun to wonder just exactly what kind of an organization this was.
The turning point came the next morning. After morning exercises and breakfast, the speaker began telling us finally about Jesus. He told us that Jesus was an illegitimate child because his mother had conceived him in an act of fornication. He asserted that Christ came to do God's will, but ultimately failed. He told us that the cross was Christ's greatest failure. Actually what God intended Jesus to do was to marry and bring forth perfect children into the world, who would beget others of a perfect race. By this time I had become extremely uncomfortable with this whole place. I was a very new Christian, and didn't know much, but I knew enough to know that what this man was telling us was not what the Bible taught about my Savior. In the small group discussion afterwards, instead of answering the way the leader wanted me to and receiving wild applause and compliments, I told the group that the lecturer was dead wrong about Jesus. The cross was no failure of Christ's, but His greatest work. At the cross He had laid down His life to save sinners. This is what all of Old Testament history had been leading up to, as the priests of old offered animal sacrifices year after year. Christ as the lamb of God had come to lay down His life a ransom for many. Well, needless to say, this didn't go over very well with the group. They just stared at me in silence. Finally, the leader told me that I needed to be humble enough to submit quietly to more educated men than myself so that I might be able to learn the truth.
At this point I couldn't take much more. I broke out in tears. I was beginning to realize that the man who had promised to get me back to Southern California on another bus, had no intentions of that at all. I had spent all my money on my bus ticket back in Sacramento, and had no money to get to Southern California after all, even if I could somehow get to a Greyhound station. I began to panic. As I silently cried out to God to deliver me from this evil place, Jose, the Mexican Christian I had met the day before, suddenly found me. He told me that he was going to get out of this place no matter what it took. I expressed my wholehearted agreement with his resolution, but also my financial problem. I had spent all of my money on a bus ticket that was no longer valid, and had no financial resources to get to Southern California where I was supposed to rendezvous with my band. We stopped right there, with dozens of others milling around us, held hands and prayed that God would somehow get us out of this crazy cult we had mistakenly found ourselves in. As we prayed, many others around us began to shout at us ordering us to stop, but we prayed on. When we were through praying, Jose pulled out his wallet and gave me the money I needed for a bus ticket.
The leader of our small group tried to persuade me to stay with them in this commune, but I was adamant. I demanded that someone drive me into town where I could catch the next bus out. By the grace of God, my prayers were answered. I quickly found myself in a van heading out of that scary place, and within an hour was purchasing a one-way ticket to Southern California where I would meet up with my bluegrass band. For many years afterward, I would have nightmares of being abused in a fanatical cult. Needless to say, this experience has had a lasting impact on my life.
That was my first exposure to the "Moonies" or as they prefer to be called, "The Unification Church." Since that time I have done some reading and research on this cult, and found them to be extremely deceptive and dangerous. Many of those that found themselves at that "Christian Retreat Center" no doubt ended up joining this cult. Young people who come out of broken homes, starved for love, will readily find emotional needs met by all the affection, warmth and acceptance freely offered. After a person has committed himself to the organization, however, his life becomes filled with brainwashing propaganda and frenzied efforts to please the founder, Reverend Moon. All of their possessions are given over to the Church, and they spend the majority of their days seeking ways to make money for the Cause. The Cause turns out, however, to be a pack of deceptive lies, bearing no resemblance to the pure gospel of Jesus Christ revealed in Holy Scripture. I'm so grateful that I was able to detect the lies being spoken so that I was not sucked into this movement. I owe my deliverance and protection to God Himself.
Looking back on the whole affair, I realize that this experience taught me a great deal about taking people at face value. I'm sorry to say that I'm more cynical now. But I'm not sorry to say that I am not taken in nearly as easily by deceivers either. My weekend with the "Moonies" went a long way towards curing me of my propensity of believing anything anyone would tell me. I now understand that the merchandise of discernment always comes with an expensive price tag attached.