Elgen Strait was not only born into the Moonies but participated in an arranged mass marriage ceremony (the so-called “blessing”). His parents were active members when I was in the cult in the 1970s. He’s a fellow survivor. Strait hosts Falling Out with Elgen Strait, a podcast focused on the experiences of second-generation survivors of the Moonies. Strait’s work on the podcast aims to expose the abuse, manipulation, and hypocrisy of the Moon cult. He provides a forum for ex-second-generation members to share resources that can aid them in their journeys out of the cult and through the transition into living in the “outside world.” Listening to Falling Out has been a catalyst for many members to wake up and exit the cult. Many who left the cult continue to have difficulty staying connected and accepted by their parents, who remain in the cult.
Strait talks about being born in the 80s into the cult, a product of an arranged marriage between his parents. He heard of me in the 80s and was told by his parents that I was “influenced by the devil” and was “like the boogeyman” to members when he was growing up.
We talked about my history of leaving the cult in 1976. I was a leader held in esteem by Moon. So members were told that my deprogrammers brainwashed me. Additionally, cult members tried to persuade me to return as Moon held me up as a model member. However, I was horrified that I had believed Moon was sinless and realized he taught all these fascistic, horrible, right-wing authoritarian beliefs. I worried about my family and friends. They were all traumatized by my radicalization. I wanted the people I recruited to get out. They trusted me. I realized that I had been lied to and manipulated. And I went on to lie and manipulate them. After leaving, I was told that in a leadership meeting, I was discussed, and Moon named me the “Negative Messiah” by Moon. He said I was leading people straight to hell by leading the ex-members against Moon group.
Strait tells the story of his mother meeting Neil Salonen when she went to her first meeting, and this led to her joining the cult. Salonen was later appointed President of the Unification Church of America. When I was a leader in New York, the National Headquarters was moved from Washington D.C. to 4 West 43rd Street in New York City. I was installed in that building and was instructed by Takeru Kamiyama that “Father wanted me to be the “internal Abel to Salonen” so he would learn the model of total obedience I had adopted. Moon later instituted a 120-day leadership training program as Moon thought all the American leaders were weak and “thought too much.” I was given an exemption by Moon at Kamiyama’s request as I was told I was “too important where I was.” In retrospect, Kamiyama knew that if I went to Ken Sudo’s training, he would lose direct control over me.
Parental Neglect is Encouraged
Like most destructive cults, members always are told to put the group first and family second (or third). So even though the ideology taught that creating perfect families was the goal and raising “sinless children,” parents rarely lived with their children and actively participated in their children’s upbringing. I shared with Elgen about Salonen’s meeting with Moon when he complained that he and the other parents couldn’t spend enough time with their children. Moon was upset. He told Salonen to let him know if he wanted to “open a kindergarten” and no longer be President of the Moonies.
Strait talks about the mass marriages performed by Moon in 1975, leading to a baby boom in the late 70s and early 80s. Moon wanted to keep those parents working for him full-time, and thus a group childcare facility was opened called Jacob House outside New York City. It was packed with infants and young children who were living there so their parents could continue working for Moon, fundraising, and gathering new members. The lack of a bond between parents and children was helpful in creating a Moon army where they are loyal to him and not to their families.
Strait discusses his feeling of how deeply wrong this is, that at the beginning of life, these children are abandoned by their parents. Their parents sometimes returned years later, and their children didn’t recognize them. Strait posits this created an institutionalized system of neglect. Fortunately, he was not involved in that, but he was brainwashed from an early age into extremist cult thinking.
The Age of Innocence Lost
He tells the story of his father reading about Adam and Eve from an illustrated children’s Bible when Strait was four years old and explaining to him how the story was wrong. It was really about Lucifer seducing Eve, so he was told what sex was at the age of 4 and how Eve then seduced Adam. He was informed this was the catalyst for all the suffering in human history. His father told him Strait was free of original sin, and it was his job to ensure that lineage continued to be a “good soldier for Moon and his family.”
He discusses being in speeches with Moon where he would talk about sexually impure thoughts and the remedy for those being to cut your genitals with scissors. He would suggest to women that they pour concrete into their vaginas. Strait talks about this exposure to sexual things being a part of losing his childhood.
He was also literally schooled in the Moonie dogma by attending an indoctrination camp in South Korea. Strait went to this camp at age thirteen, living in a dormitory with 100 other kids. Strait was in eighth grade, and his education ceased for a year so he could learn the Korean language, culture, and indoctrination theology.
Being Schooled by the Moonies
Strait was fortunately allowed to attend a normal public high school. But he could have been told to attend a Moonie day school, high school, or even a Moon-owned university. He feels it’s important for people to understand it was possible for cult members to “spend their whole life as part of this institution that places itself in the role of parents.”
Strait informs us of the unhealthy environment around sex, which I also experienced while a part of the Moonies. He talks about being told if he ever fantasized about anyone, he would be connected to them by black tentacles when he went to the spirit world. We discuss how members were lied to about the number of women Moon was having sex with and previously married and how many children he had out of wedlock. Hypocrisy was rampant within the cult.
In the Shadow of Moons
We discuss Nansook Hong, who was married at the age of fifteen to the eldest son of Moon’s latest wife. She later exited the cult and wrote a book called In the Shadow of Moons. She confronted Moon regarding his having sex with numerous women. Moon didn’t deny it and justified it providentially that he did so.
Nansook talks in her book about her ex-husband, Hyo Jin Moon, the eldest son of Hak Ja Han- the current leader of the cult called The Family Federation for World Peace and Unification. Even though Hyo-Jim was supposedly “sinless,” he snorted cocaine, had sex with prostitutes, and even in an uncontrolled fit of rage, kicked her in the stomach when she was pregnant. Strait says Hong’s book is what started him on the path to escape. It came out in 1998, and he was around 18 at that time. Initially, Strait didn’t believe Hong’s accusations against Moon, so he asked someone within the cult who was married to a Korean. Koreans were “more in the know” about what was happening with Moon, and the man said the allegations were true but tried to lead Strait to believe Moon felt terrible when he was having sex with these women.
Justifiable Bad Acts
Strait began thinking anything could be justified at that point. There was no internal logic to it, which is “when I started mentally to leave.” Strait was able to attend university at the time, which was not afforded to everyone in the cult. Some parents were not supportive of it. Educational neglect was rampant among Strait’s cohort. However, when Strait was 22 and finished university studies, he was pressured into marrying someone within the group. He became engaged at 22 and married at 24 in an arranged marriage. His ex-wife is half-English and half-Brazilian. Her English heritage is what brought him to London, where he currently lives.
Strait now works in sales in the tech industry, having abandoned his dreams of becoming an engineer due to his difficulties with the required Calculus in the engineering career path. He states this is part of the educational neglect he spoke of earlier in that the year he was in Korea is when he should have been learning Algebra. It was only after he returned that he tried to learn the foundational math, which he was able to do. Unfortunately, Calculus proved too difficult at that point.
Arranged Marriage and Divorce
Strait and his wife were married from 2005 to 2018. He states his ex-wife was similar to him in that she was not particularly religious, but the remnants of the cult control remained within him. After the divorce, he started to examine his life and work on understanding what happened to him. He read books, went to courses, and tried to understand cults. He talks about how most resources are aimed at getting people out of cults rather than helping people who grew up in them.
Strait describes the guilt and shame built into the experience of being in a cult despite being children born into it with no choice. These negative feelings give the organization greater control over its members. Strait feels that talking about what happened is a good start to removing that control. It was this mindset of talking about it and collecting the stories of others that helped him start his podcast.
Different Cults, Same Experiences
His podcast is focused on the experiences of children who grew up in the Moonies and later left the cult, but he has listeners from all walks of life, including those who haven’t been in cults before. His podcast could also be helpful to people in other cults, including Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons, Children of God, and many others. While the organizations are different, a lot of the BITE Model experiences are the same.
Strait shares that within a week of the show launching two years ago, he learned three people left the Moonies cult due to listening to the first six episodes. We discuss the many problems within the cult, both for parents and children. Members were labor trafficked (fraud, force, or coercion). Strait states he had never heard of trafficking before starting his podcast. Now he realizes that is what happened to himself and his parents.
The children are led into labor trafficking by becoming a part of the Special Task Force (STF), which is the fundraising component of the Moonies, where they are encouraged to sell trinkets on the side of the road. When I was involved in the cult, it was called Mobile Fundraising Teams (MFTs). This was my last job in the cult, where I was sleep deprived (awake for three days due to a goal) and nearly died in a van crash. I was told by the insurance agent for the group that there were five major crashes a week happening at that time. STF has now changed names (a common tactic with cults), and is now named “Generation Peace Academy.” A quick google search on March 2nd, 2023, reveals the Generation Peace Academy website, including the photos, first names, and last initials of roughly 80 young people believed to be currently labor trafficked by the Moonies, as of March 2023.
Member’s lives were rarely considered when a fundraising goal was met. Examples include an 18-year-old woman who was raped and murdered on one of the fundraising runs. While the Moonies speak of their members as blessed people who need to be protected, they are sent into dangerous situations for money. For those who do not understand, the Moon cult has billions of dollars of assets. During the height of the COVID pandemic, children were still being sent out, endangering their health.
Diverging Paths of the Moon Children
We talk about two of Moon’s sons, Sean and Justin, whom Strait met and interacted with during his time in the cult. He describes meeting Sean at a summer workshop and states he was a bully while his brother Phillip was a lovely person. They were polar opposites. Ultimately, Phillip committed suicide in 1999 by jumping from the 17th floor of a Reno, Nevada hotel room while Sean went on to head The Rod of Iron Ministries, a far-right “church” that worships carrying AR-15 weapons. Justin owns a gun factory making AR-15s as well as Kahr pistols.
We talk about the emotional and physical dangers inherent in the environment Strait grew up in, including sexual abuse, depression, suicidal ideations, attempts, and completions. It’s an exhausting and scary place for children and adults alike. Women have no rights within the cult and, in fact, are sometimes asked to give their children away to others who cannot have them. They are considered heroes and given money for doing so. Strait heard some of these stories from guests on his podcast.
Getting Help and Getting Out
People affected by cults as children can contact ChildUSA, an organization headed by Marci Hamilton, a law professor involved with the lawsuit of three individuals against the Church of Scientology for trafficking. There is help out there, and listening to Strait’s podcast is an excellent start to understanding what happened and continues to happen to people within these cults and how they can get out.
The Truth about Sun Myung Moon by Steven Hassan
Chapter Two of Combating Cult Mind Control (My Life in the Unification Church) by Steven Hassan
Blog and Interview with Allen Tate Wood, former leader- head of the Political arm