Inside the Moonies: 'Perfect' cult celebrates mass weddings, sex rituals

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As far as cults go, the Moonies — and Moonies hate being called "Moonies", by the way — is pretty boring. 

Its official name, The Family Federation for World Peace and Unification, usually shortened to ‘The Unification Church’, is a boring name. 

The Unification Church’s philosophies, listed boringly in The Divine Principle, a book written by cult leader Reverend Sun Myung Moon, are boring reinterpretations of bits of the Christian bible. 

Even the church’s main principle — that family is everything and heterosexual marriage is the only path to family — is a boring rehash of some of the world’s least interesting conservative values.

The Unification Church is almost uniformly snoozeville except for two things: their unbelievable mass wedding ceremonies, and their three-day sex ritual.

The Moonies are the subject of the tenth and final instalment of Yahoo News Australia's exclusive video series Cults Unpacked.

Followers of the Unification Church attend a ceremony to mark the 2nd anniversary of the church's founder Reverend Sun Myung Moon's death. Source: Getty Images
The Moonies are known for their giant mass wedding ceremonies. Source: Getty Images

Okay, the cult’s early days were full of people being gently coerced from university campuses into vans and sent to groups that looked like bible study camps but were really recruitment and indoctrination sessions, which is pretty interesting. 

And sure, the Moonies are an incredible example of the practice of ‘love bombing’, where new recruits are given so much praise, love and attention that their lives outside the cult feel vastly inferior by comparison. But it’s the weddings and the sex ritual for me.

To shortcut the cult’s history, Reverend Moon grew up in North Korea, moved to South Korea to capitalise on the rapid growth of Christian-seeming new religious groups in the post-war period, and absolutely raked in followers with his family-values rhetoric. 

He and his much younger wife Hak Ja Han had 14 children, painted themselves as Messiah and wife, and took their ‘Perfect Family’ on the road to the US, settling in New York State and calling themselves their followers’ ‘True Parents’.

While they continued recruiting for their cult in the West, expanding their business empire and becoming extremely popular with ultra-conservative Republicans, the Moon family proved themselves — mostly in secret — to be about as far from the Perfect Family as you can get. 

A Moonies mass wedding. Source: AP
Couples exchange or reaffirm marriage vows in a Unification Church mass wedding. Source: AP

Brought up as incredibly spoiled rich brats, the Moon children variously shot their fellow high school students with BB guns, took unbelievable amounts of cocaine, beat up their spouses, got divorced, died in car crashes, of heart attacks, and of suicide, and had a bunch of affairs. 

Pretty inconvenient for a father who was busy telling Americans that you only get to heaven if you’re well-behaved and married.

And married, Unification Church members certainly were, a few thousand at a time. 

Rev. Hyung Jin Moon (L), and his wife Rev. Yeon Ah Lee Moon (R) of the Sanctuary Church. Source: EPA via AAP
When Reverend Moon died in 2012, his wife and two of his sons all continued their own different versions of the cult, with his son Hyung Jin Sean (left) incorporating weapons. Source: EPA via AAP

Hundreds of couples marry during mass weddings

If you search ‘Moonie wedding’ you’ll find astounding pictures of hundreds and hundreds of couples in enormous mass wedding ceremonies. 

The men are all dressed in tuxedos with red neckties, the women are all draped in white wedding dresses with identical cheap synthetic veils and gloves, and some of the couples have only met for the first time in the last few days. 

Moonie couples do not choose their own partners. 

Traditionally Reverend Moon would pair people up, or a "matching advisor" within the cult would do the job, as Moonies believe that if all races are united in mostly loveless marriages, there will be peace. 

The ceremonies have been held in arenas from Seoul’s Olympic Stadium to Madison Square Garden, preceded by hours and hours of hair, make-up, and long speeches from the Reverend or, since his death, his widow.

The weddings are massive. The weddings are deeply, deeply weird.

But let’s not muck around. You probably want to hear about the sex ritual, by far the most interesting and least hygienic of the Unification Church’s rituals.

Bizarre three-day sex rituals

Okay. So you’ve just married a virtual stranger, you’re both virgins, and you’ve waited the prescribed 40 days since you tied the knot with thousands of other chaste, horny cult members. 

It’s finally time to consummate your union with a three-day boink-fest. Of sorts.

First, pick a holy place — a room with a picture of the Reverend Moon and Mrs Moon hanging on the wall will do, because there’s nothing like losing your virginity while your parents watch. 

Sprinkle salt around the room and pray to bless your bedding. You’ll need some bowls filled with blessed water and a handkerchief, which you dip in the water to wipe your entire body. Pray, bow to the picture on the wall, pray, bow, and then, with the woman on top, absolutely go for it.

For the second day, just repeat the whole thing, again with the praying and the bowing and the hankies and the salt and the woman on top.

For the third day though, you get to mix it up. 

According to Moonie law, you’re about to be reborn as Adam and Eve, so the prayers are a bit different and the man gets to be on top. When you’ve finished, there’s only one more step, and it’s an icky one. 

Each of you take your holy handkerchief and give your genitals a good wipe with them. Don’t you dare ever wash that hanky, and make sure you store it for the rest of time, perhaps in the same box you keep your Christmas cards in. 

It’s a souvenir of your love. And by all reckoning, a bit of a crusty one.

A woman wears a crown and holds an unloaded weapon during services at the World Peace and Unification Sanctuary.
A woman wears a crown and holds an unloaded weapon during services at the World Peace and Unification Sanctuary, which was created by Reverend Moon's son. Source: AP Photo/Jacqueline Larma

Leader's son incorporates love of guns into cult's beliefs

Like those disgusting hankies in the attic, the Unification Church has hung around for a long time in various guises. 

When Reverend Moon died in 2012, his wife and two of his sons all continued their own different versions of the cult, with his son Hyung Jin Sean really cornering the market on inappropriateness with his version.

A massive fan of automatic firearms, Sean decided that the ‘rods of iron’ referred to in the Christian Bible are definitely guns, and he invited his followers to renew their wedding vows in a mass gun-themed ceremony in Pennsylvania. 

Rows of couples in formal wear all holding AR15 rifles is upsetting enough, but the ceremony took place just two weeks after a school shooting with an AR15 in Florida. Read the room, Moonies. No thank you.

Don’t join a cult.

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