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Converts at What Price? Unification’s Techniques Not Unusual

Date: Monday, January 7, 1980
Section: RUN OF PAPER
Page: ?
By James L. Franklin Globe Staff

This is the second in a two-part series examining the recruitment policies of the Unification Church.

When Deborah Block left the Florida seminar conducted by CARP, the student group of the Unification Church, she had spent at most five hours at the YMCA camp where the week-long seminar was held.

Her decision to leave that seminar – advertised on campuses throughout the nation as a week of “sun, fun, people, excitement, sports, inspiration and top topics with great speakers” – was regarded by many as an escape from almost forced enrollment in the controversial organization founded by Rev. Sun Myung Moon.

What happened at the rest of that seminar, offered to college students for a token $20 fee? How did it compare with other programs run by the Unification Church to recruit new members? How successful are such recruiting efforts and what are the susceptibilities of those who attend them?

Interviews with Block, the organizers of the seminar, present and former members of CARP and the Unification Church, and other observers show:

- The Florida seminar that began a week ago last Saturday was typical of programs run by the Unification Church to build interest in its views and recruit members.

- There are heated differences of opinion on how much pressure is put on persons attending such programs to join either CARP or the church, as well as agreement that there are many similarities to techniques used by other groups, religious or not.

- Relatively few persons are converted by such programs, but the most susceptible are highly idealistic persons in late adolescence who are often good students and leaders in their own groups, even though persons of all ages and personality types can be reached by such efforts.

The Florida seminar was one of two national seminars run by CARP, the Collegiate Association for the Research of Principles. The summer seminar was held in Colorado; the winter seminar, “New Leadership for a New Age,” was held at the YMCA’s Camp McConnell near Gainesville, Fla.

Despite the national publicity and the low fee, only 150 persons attended, according to the organizers. Another 80 members of CARP also attended.

CARP officials stress that the group is incorporated separately from the Unification Church and that not all the 600 CARP members in the United States are members of the church.

However, the church’s New England director, Aidan Barry, acknowledged that “CARP is based on the Divine Principle,” Rev. Moon’s statement of the group’s beliefs.

The schedule at the seminar was tight, according to two participants, Christine Edwards, 23, a June graduate of the State University of New York at Purchase, and Edward Roberts, 21, a graduate of Kingston-upon-Hull University in England and now a special student at Yale University.

They said in Boston on Friday that the schedule called for rising at 7 a.m., with breakfast at 8, preceded by “two or three songs and prayer to God in the name of his son.” After breakfast there was a short period of free time, followed by three one-hour lectures given by seminar leaders and academics, with discussion in between. Lunch was at 1 p.m., again preceded by songs and prayer.

The two said the afternoon was devoted to organized sports, although both of them said they were able to decline to participate and did at least once during the seminar. The schedule allowed for an hour of free time before more songs, prayer and dinner, which was followed by entertainment and dessert.

Both Edwards and Roberts said they were not members of CARP or the Unification Church but did not feel they had been manipulated during the program. “There were two open question sessions when we were able to ask anything we wanted,” said Edwards.

A very different picture is presented by former members of the Unification Church and of CARP. Steven Hassan, 25, of Brookline, who has organized a group called Ex-Members Against Moon, says that he directed the most successful CARP group in the nation in New York City between March and October of 1974. “We got 22 students who quit school and joined the church full-time.”

Despite statements of church and CARP officials that students are encouraged to stay in school, Hassan said the “standard course of action was to get people to drop out and become full-time members even though CARP was registered as a student club.”

After making contact with students, he said, the students were invited to the local CARP center to “meet people from 12 different countries . . . Moon is never mentioned till way down the road after the introductory lecture.

“We tried to gain the trust of new people and get them to volunteer as much information as possible,” Hassan said. Information such as parent’s marital status or an individual’s sexual activity was passed along to the center director and to those running later workshops and seminars.

He said the three-day workshops were not intended to convert people but were structured to encourage participants to stay to the end and begin as soon as possible a seven-day workshop, which usually began immediately after the weekend workshop.

Workshop sites were deliberately set in isolated areas and communication was restricted. “If you go with a friend, your wife or husband, we would separate you, trying to cut down all possibilities for reality testing,” Hassan said. “Every week we went to the training center at Barrytown, N.Y., the one pay telephone was out of order.”

The intense lectures, usually three to four in a daily schedule sometimes lasting as long as 13 or 14 hours, were intended to “soften people up so they could receive the (church’s) information on an emotional basis,” he said. “People would think the things that were happening were arising spontaneously or spiritually – in reality it was carefully orchestrated and planned, an engineered rebirth experience to let them know the messiah is on earth and they’ve got to join, otherwise they will be fallen.”

Darrald Gibson of Milford, Del., is a Dartmouth graduate and former member of the Unification Church who organized the CARP chapter in Chicago. Interviewed by telephone, Gibson said that church members “believe Moon is the lord of the second coming and the purpose of CARP is simply to convince others that this is true.

“To do this they use a program of sophisticated mind control or manipulative techniques,” he said. Part of the technique is to provide workshop participants with a high carbohydrate diet to “raise their blood sugar level and make them more susceptible to emotionalism . . .

“Members go through an intense period of training in how to recruit new members. We would teach them how to develop friendship and a bond of love to encourage membership.”

Some mental health professionals believe such manipulation to be easily accomplished. John Clark of Weston, a psychiatrist who has often warned of the danger of such groups, writes that based on interviews with former members of what he terms “destructive cults,” such as the Unification Church, it is clear that “radical conversions were apparently easy to accomplish . . . Very recent converts seemed to be able to convert others in their turn after very little training . . . ”

William Goldberg, a psychiatric social worker who runs a volunteer counseling service for former members of the Unification Church in the suburbs of New York, said techniques described by former members include “mass hypnosis, isolation from the outside world, appeal to unconscious guilt, working on the individual’s need to be accepted by his peer group.”

There is a “tremendous difference in degree between what happens in the Unification Church experience and what goes on in other conversion situations,” Goldberg said. “Everything is defined as either positive or negative, godlike or satanic. That doesn’t happen in football training and even in the Army, people still have the ability to make independent decisions. Ex-members said they followed blindly, with no questions asked.”

Other professionals make a more cautious assessment. J. Stillson Judah, professor emeritus of religion at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, Calif., is one of the few to have surveyed members of the church. In a paper published three years ago, he wrote that “only a small percentage of those attending . . . a weekend workshop . . . appear to remain for a longer period. Of . . . present Unification Church members, only 10 percent were converted withing a two-day period.”

In a telephone interview last week, Judah said that a more recent survey found that more than half of the full-time members converted within a month’s time, while the balance took longer. “But there’s a high percentage who attend workshops who never converted,” he said.

(Aidan Barry, New England director of the church, said that “of the 204 persons who became full-time missionary members in 1979, 97 took more than two months to join and 107 took less, from the time they first attended a church program to actually making some dedication to the church.”)

Orlo Strunk Jr., who teaches the psychology of religion at Boston University, said in an interview that while there may be a difference “in the intensity or singlemindedness of the conversion experience, the processes are the same . . . whether we talk about a religious cult or a change from being a Republican to a Democrat.”

Conversion, Strunk said, is a process of resolving conflict within a person, especially in the case of an adolescent, who is coping with “economic and personal identity issues . . . For some, they are reaching out to a meaning system that promises the answer to those issues, which can be a powerful motive in a person’s life.”

A meaning system like one of the new religions can exert a powerful hold on the individual, he said. “Even when we want to make a change in jobs, we are in one sense captured by the retirement system, the mortgage, the risks involved.”

Both Judah and Strunk warned that very little study has been made of religious conversion by psychologists and psychiatrists.

Who are the most susceptible to such conversions? “They tend to be brighter kids but I would definitely classify most of them as naive,” said social worker Goldberg. “They tend to be idealists who project their own goodness on the rest of the world. Secondly, there’s the belief that most individuals have that they’re too smart, clever and healthy to get sucked in. That’s a fatal fallacy – any of us can be converted under the proper circumstances.”

Debbie Block said in an interview Friday that “most of the kids I talked to said that the trip to Florida for just $20 was a pretty good deal, that if we don’t want to listen to the lectures we’ll just go break out and hitchhike back.’ A couple of the boys did but the girls were too frightened.”

(Michael Smith, East Coast director of CARP, said that 10 of the 150 guests left the seminar, including Block.)

Darrald Gibson said that when he looks back on his experience in the church “one of the things I see is that I was trusting, naive, unaware that men would go to great lengths to decieve and use others . . . My best friend invited me to go to my first CARP meeting. I didn’t expect what I found . . . Now I’m more cautious in dealings with organizations and groups than I was previously.”

Block, who said she first accepted the invitation to stay at CARP’s Boston center because she had lost her apartment and felt “too ashamed to go home,” said:

“What I learned was that you can’t trust someone else to put your life in a new direction. You have to do it yourself. The reason they were able to get to me was that I was in kind of a vulnerable state wondering how to do all this stuff, to get an apartment and go to school and not disappoint my parents. When I got back from Florida they told me they weren’t disappointed and wouldn’t have been if I came to them before . . . It was a question of pride.”

END OF SERIES

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All content herein is © 1996 the Globe Newspaper Company and may not be republished without permission.