8 episodes

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 struggle to make sense of his weird sheltered youth and the person he grew up to be. Edited and co-produced by Quinn Myers.

Growing Up Moonie Hideo Higashibaba

    • Society & Culture
    • 4.8 • 136 Ratings

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 struggle to make sense of his weird sheltered youth and the person he grew up to be. Edited and co-produced by Quinn Myers.

    Episode 3: The Mythology of Reverend Sun Myung Moon

    Episode 3: The Mythology of Reverend Sun Myung Moon

    Sun Myung Moon was born the son of poor farmers in present-day North Korea and by the time he died ruled a global cult and was a billionaire. Hideo digs into some of  the stories and legends surrounding the charismatic leader of the Moonies.
     
     
    TRANSCRIPT
    Hideo Higashibaba [00:00:03] Thanks for listening to Growing Up Moonie. Just a heads up to our listeners, this episode includes lewd references to women. Please take care of yourself as you listen. Okay, back to the podcast.
    News Announcer [00:00:17] A decade ago, the Reverend Sun Myung Moon was accused of controlling the minds of young people creating so-called Moonies. 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 [00:00:32] Do you pledge to establish an eternal family with which God can be happy?
    Crowd [00:00:39] YES
    Interpreter [00:00:41] We are talking about absolute fidelity here. If anybody deviates from this God-given principle they are bound to hell.
    News Announcer [00:00:50] But the church has a different plan for the second generation.
    2nd Gen [00:00:53] I felt like we weren't equipped for the world. You know we aren't just like this bubble.
    2nd Gen [00:00:59] 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 [00:01:04] Then 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 [00:01:12] My name is Hideo Higashibaba. Until four years ago, I was in a cult called the Unification Church. You might know them as the Moonies. This is growing up Moonie, stories from people who grew up in the church like me. Before we continue hearing the stories of people who were born into the church, the second generation, I want to tell you a little about the founder a man named Sun Myung Moon. This man matched my parents. On their wedding day they and 2074 couples made their vows to him.
    Interpreter [00:01:53] Do you, as an ideal husband and wife, pledge to establish an eternal family with which God can be happy.
    Crowd [00:02:01] Yes!
    Hideo Higashibaba [00:02:04] In a way. I exist because of this guy. There is no way my parents would have had children together otherwise. My parents don't like each other at all. But in the church not having children is not an option. It's seen as a sign of weakness or failure. Sure, my parents had some kind of choice; to join a cult to get married to have children with someone they disliked. But the fact remains that my existence is tied to a man who abused, used and manipulated my parents. A man that demanded their faith and took their money while they worked 70 hour weeks and counted pennies. But to the world, Moon is just some strange character, the charismatic leader of a distant cult. With the mass weddings and rumors of brainwashing. He kind of became a household name in America.
    Clip from Seinfeld: Elaine [00:03:02] Anyway, Mr. Costanza I want you to do is go into the shop with me and tell me what they're saying. You do speak Korean?
    Clip from Seinfeld: Mr. Costanza [00:03:10] I want to talk to the Reverend Sun Myung Moon. He bought two Jesus statues from me. He's a hell of a nice guy. Ever seen that face on him. It was like a big apple pie.
    Hideo Higashibaba [00:03:21] Moon was like family to me. He was more important to my parents than anyone else,  even their own parents. And so naturally I held him near and dear to my heart too. My parents told me he loved me that I was special to him and I never met the guy.
    Hideo Higashibaba [00:03:42] I did see him speak a few times. Once, I must have been five or six years old, I remember I was very confused because it was a school night and me and my sisters were up way past our bedtimes. We drove into Boston to some fancy hotel with maroon carpeting that I was not allowe

    • 18 min
    Episode 4: Teruko

    Episode 4: Teruko

    In the early days of the Moonies, members all lived together in centers across the country and world. But when the second generation were born many families decided to move out and try something new: being totally separate from and yet a part of society. That’s what the second generation had to juggle, all the time and every day. Hideo and Teruko talk about the struggle to understand identity and belonging as the second generation.
     
     
    TRANSCRIPT
    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 [00:00:24] 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 [00:01:10] My name is Hideo Higashibaba. For the first 22 years of my life I was a member of a cult called the Unification Church. You might know them as the Moonies. I was born into the Unification Church and so were thousands of other people all over the world. This is Growing Up Moonie, stories from people who grew up in the church like me. People who joined the church as adults are called first generation and people born into the cult like me are called second generation blessed children or BCs. When first generation joined most of them gave up their worldly possessions and moved into church centers all over the country. My family lived in one of those centers in Boston. Every day the adults would go out fundraising or evangelizing and left their kids with a couple of other missionaries in a makeshift nursery. When I was born I was too small to be in the nursery so I spent the first year of my life with my mom at her meetings or the lectures she did on the church's teachings. When I was 2, my family moved out of the center and joined the hundreds of other Moonie families trying something new; being totally separate from and yet a part of society. That's what the second generation had to juggle all the time and every day. The next person I spoke with for this project was Teruko who was friends with my older sister Yojin when we were kids.
    Hideo Higashibaba [00:02:48] I'm really happy to connect with you I feel like we spent a lot of time to get always you in Yojin spent a lot of time ago those kids and I kind of idolized you. And then when you moved away it's sort of like I don't know and everything felt like it changed.
    Teruko [00:03:01] Yeah I mean I am the center of a lot of people's lives.
    Hideo Higashibaba [00:03:04] Pretty, pretty humble and modest I can see as well.
    Hideo Higashibaba [00:03:11] Teruko's family lived in Gloucester near a lot of other Moonie families. She went to school with a lot of other BCs and saw them every week at church. I always felt like an outsider, even at church. But I remember Teruko was in the thick of things, playing with the other kids, tearing around morning garden with Yojin and getting into trouble for running off into the woods. When she was in middle school Teruko's family moved to Omaha. She says the church community out in Nebraska was a lot more spread out and isolating.
    Teruko [00:03:45] There is actually a girl in

    • 28 min
    Episode 5: Ritual in the Unification Church

    Episode 5: Ritual in the Unification Church

    In the textbook definition of a cult, a group must have three things: a charismatic leader, insider/outsider identity, and shared ritual. In this episode, Hideo shares some of the rituals of the Moonies and what he had to leave behind.
     
     
    TRANSCRIPT
    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 [00:00:24] 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 [00:01:05] 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 from people who grew up in the church like me.
    Hideo Higashibaba [00:01:21] In my second year of college I took a social psychology class and there was a whole chapter in our textbook about cults. And you guessed it, the Moonies were in it. I learned that for a group to be called a cult it has to have three things: a charismatic leader, insider outsider identity, and shared ritual. The Moonies charismatic leader is obviously Sun Myung Moon and we've heard a lot about the insider outsider identity in past episodes. But before we go into the next interview I want to take a minute to talk about that last thing. The rituals of the Unification Church. I have two decades of Moonie knowledge, stories, poems, chants, and songs in my head. Even after I rejected the reasons behind them, the shared ritual is in my bones. I catch myself singing church songs, what we called Holy Songs. I can even remember most of the words.
    Hideo singing [00:02:29] Pure new life that was sown within the gardens furtile soil. Sprouting seed has now become blossom of heavenly loveliness. Father above...
    Hideo Higashibaba [00:02:47] The words are bananas. That's partly because a lot of them were translated from Korean but also partly because they're just crazy.
    Hideo singing [00:03:01] The Father's dwelling place is the fountain of our life drawn to the light of eternal day we banned the darkness. May the Word of God...
    Hideo Higashibaba [00:03:19] There is no reason for me to sing these songs now but I catch myself singing them in odd moments. The lyrics kind of creep me out.
    Hideo singing [00:03:27] So eternally to receive his love. We shall be his pride...
    Hideo Higashibaba [00:03:41] Correct church etiquette dictates that one always bows in the presence of the founder Sun Myung Moon and his wife, who are called the True Parents. If they weren't around you bow their picture. There was the full bow, where you place your right hand over left. Then put your hands to your forehand as you bend down to crouch in front of the picture. Then there was the half bow, where you just bend at the waist for when you were outside or in a rush or something. Being a Moonie is made up of dozens of small rituals like this. There are way too many to mention them all here so I'm just going to tell you about three important ones. During the week Moonies were expected to read the sacred texts of the church for at least an hour a

    • 15 min
    Episode 6: Katie

    Episode 6: Katie

    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.
     
     
    TRANSCRIPT
     
    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 t

    • 25 min
    Episode 7: Hideo

    Episode 7: Hideo

    In this final episode Hideo shares his reasons for leaving the Unification and all he lost—and gained—when he left.
     
     
    TRANSCRIPT
    Hideo Higashibaba [00:00:01] Thanks for listening to Growing Up Moonie. Just a heads up for our listeners, this episode includes mention of mental health crisis, rape, family abuse, death, hospitalization, homophobia, and child abuse. Please take care of yourself as you listen. And now the final episode of Growing Up Moonie.
    News Announcer [00:00:21] A decade ago, the Reverend Sun Myung Moon was accused of controlling the minds of young people creating so-called Moonies.
    News Announcer [00:00:28] 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 [00:00:36] Do you pledge to establish an eternal family with which God can be happy.
    Crowd [00:00:44] Yes!
    Interpreter [00:00:45] It. We are talking about absolute fidelity here. If anybody deviates from this. God. You may be about to go.
    News Announcer [00:00:55] But the church has a different plan for the second generation.
    2nd Gen [00:00:58] I felt like we weren't equipped for the world. You know we aren't just like this bubble.
    2nd Gen [00:01:03] To me it sounds culty. I know it's what brought our parents to church but it's not what you see in the church.
    2nd Gen [00:01:08] 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 [00:01:20] My name is Hideo Higashi Baba. I am queer, brown and transgender. I like reading, watching TV, swimming, and hiking, and hanging out with my dog Stanley. And oh yeah I grew up in a cult. This is Growing Up Moonie, stories of people who grew up in the Unification Church, Also known as the Moonies. And for this last episode I wanted to tell my story.
    Hideo Higashibaba [00:01:48] For the most part before I left, I was a really good Moonie. When I was 18 I told my parents I wanted an arranged marriage just like they got. I read the sacred texts, I didn't date or smoke or drink. I got good grades and honored my father and mother. At church, I was taught the Divine Principle the sacred teachings of the church. I learned that the source of all sin was sex that I had to save my virginity for my husband. In my heart I knew what the founder Sun Myung Moon told us about the world was right and it was my job to protect myself from anything that would contradict that.
    Hideo Higashibaba [00:02:30] I am my parent's third child out of four. There are my two older sisters than me than my younger sister. Before I was born my father Shinichi prayed and prayed for a boy but all he got was another kid with a vagina. He doesn't know that I'm transgender. I'm pretty sure he would not be happy to find out.
    Hideo Higashibaba [00:02:51] My parents had four children in six years, and from the moment we were born we were told we were special. Unlike my classmates, their parents, the people we saw out in the world, we didn't have Original Sin and that meant we were better than everyone else. It also meant that we had to be better. Better behaved, better in school, more modest, discreet, and generous. We were literally born to save the world from Satan, to reunite humanity with God. And we could not f**k that up.
    Hideo Higashibaba [00:03:27] But there's something else. I grew up in an abusive family. My mom Andrea would fly into rages and yell at us until she was hoarse. She also hit us. My dad Shinichi did too. You might not know that much about abusive or co-dependent family structures; in my family, we were raised to take care of Andrea. Our needs came second. No matter how much she yelled at us or hit us. Our job was to make sure she felt OK. How we felt didn't matter. As a kid I tried not to cry when she hit me but it wasn't because I was tough. It was because I didn't want to ma

    • 28 min
    Growing Up Moonie Trailer

    Growing Up Moonie Trailer

    Join cult survivor Hideo Higashibaba as he talks with people who were also born into the Unification Church, aka the Moonies. Growing Up Moonie is a podcast of stories of the awkwardness, pain, struggles, and even a little hope that can come from growing up in a cult. Subscribe now and get all 9 episodes in your feed March 4. 

    • 2 min

Customer Reviews

4.8 out of 5
136 Ratings

136 Ratings

Dannerzz ,

Incredible indie production

Fascinating dive into the life of growing up in a cult. Excellent work.

mmw19796 ,

Incredible!

Phenomenal podcast! So heartfelt, informative and overall incredible I loved every second. I feel incredibly honored to have listened. A must listen!

Washupppp1425377782535 ,

Amazing. Thank you.

I did not know much about the unification church but grew up JW and now, decades later, still deal with the trauma of leaving everything and everyone I knew. It took me years to make the decision, having believed the rest of the world was a dangerous, evil place deemed to destruction. I also empathize with your listeners who have fond memories of their childhood, growing up in a bubble has its benefits in that way, but I definitely mourn not having a relationship with my grandparents/cousins outside of the religion.

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