"I hated him," Barbara Underwood recalls after meeting Gary Scharff. "I thought he was the most evil person I'd ever encountered—a tarantula." Scharff's impression of the small, intense Barbara was a sentimental cliché. "She was really tough," he confides, "but I also knew she had a heart of gold."
The marriage that eventually resulted was not made in heaven, but just outside the dominion of the Rev. Sun Myung Moon, leader of the Unification Church. Since the messianic Moon first came to the U.S. in 1971, the church has attracted an estimated 30,000 members and become a multimillion-dollar business. Scharff and Underwood were two of the young people lured to it by a promise of spiritual fulfillment and a community of loving brethren. After spending a total of eight years in the church, Scharff and Underwood left—feeling disillusioned, exploited and betrayed. Ironically, it was their break from Moon that united them.
In March 1977 an upset Barbara Underwood entered a San Francisco courtroom with four other Moonies determined to fight their parents' legal attempts to win them back. One of the witnesses during the 12-day hearing was Scharff, an ex-Unification Church disciple then involved in the "deprogramming" of former members. He testified on the mind control tactics of church officials. The parents were granted temporary custody and Barbara's deprogramming began. Although Moonies are taught to think that "every word spoken by an ex-believer is a lie," she decided to listen because "I really wanted to know why some of my friends had left." One person she listened to was Scharff. "He showed me contradictions in the movement, how Moon said one thing but did another," she remembers. "The first time we talked we must have gone on for 12 hours straight."
Underwood's rehabilitation continued at Joe and Esther Alexander's Freedom Ranch in Tucson, Ariz., a half-way house for former cult members, where Scharff was working as a counselor. Although he was attracted to Barbara in the courtroom, he remained aloof. "As her counselor," he says, "I considered myself a professional." Underwood made the first move. "It took a while, though," she reports, "because I came out of the movement frightened of sexuality and men in general." (Sex outside of marriage is forbidden in the Unification Church.)
When Underwood enrolled at Berkeley to study sociology in 1978, Scharff coincidental^ ended up at the Graduate Theological Union in the same city. "He says he would have gone there even if I hadn't," laughs Barbara, "but I have my doubts." They were married last September.
Scharff, 28, and Underwood, 27, both joined the Unification Church in the name of scholarship. Gary had studied theology for three years at Princeton and in 1972 took a year off to live with his parents in Louisville, Ky. He went to work in a nearby tool factory and his second week home ran into a team of Moonies. "My initial response," Gary recollects, "was that their beliefs were highly naive and crude. What struck me was the sincerity and conviction of the members." Two months later he moved into a Moonie residence in Louisville. "It's hard to pinpoint when the shift in my focus came," says Scharff, "the transition from earnest student to true believer—and fanatic. My hopes and beliefs began to change and merge with those of the church."
Underwood's path into the church was similar. The daughter of a lawyer and a writer of children's books, Barbara was raised outside of Portland. After she had spent three years at UC-Santa Cruz, a friend persuaded her to enter the church in 1973. "I told everyone that I was going to study the group for three months and write a paper on it," says Underwood. "Five days later I was hooked."
Neither of them was physically coerced to join the church, but both were smothered with "sincere affectionate pressure," in Barbara's words. "You are constantly surrounded by loving people who don't give you five minutes to yourself. They even went into the bathroom and talked to you through the door."
Both Barbara and Gary became important functionaries in the church. He went back to Princeton in 1974 to appease his parents but remained a Moonie and returned to church headquarters after graduation. His job was to train recruits in leadership.
At the same time, Barbara was raising as much as $800 a day peddling roses and carnations on the streets. (She was named the West Coast's top salesperson in 1975.) She and fellow Moonies often lied to prospective buyers, she admits, telling them they were soliciting for Christian youth organizations.
In 1976 Scharff's father (a pharmacology professor at the University of Louisville) persuaded him to meet with an ex-Moonie. "I was so convinced about my beliefs that I agreed to spend a week talking to anybody," says Gary. Then, because of a court order requested by his father, he was obliged to listen to more and more disillusioned members of the church. Gary began to see the dark side of the Moon religion. "Eventually the whole facade began to crumble," he concedes.
Meanwhile, Barbara's doubts about Moon were also growing. One reason was the disparity in their styles of living. "He had his own gold-plated flatware, while we were sleeping on the floor." After the San Francisco hearing, "I slowly felt a sense of betrayal," she recalls. "I had been exploited. I was practicing idolatry by believing in Sun Myung Moon instead of God."
Nowadays Scharff and Underwood worship at the Catholic Newman Center, not far from the large, tidy Berkeley house they share with three friends. They are frequently asked to describe their experiences to high school, college and religious groups. The newlyweds get by on small fees from lecturing and counseling, Gary's $7.99-an-hour salary as a part-time Bekins moving man and the modest advance Barbara received for Hostage to Heaven, an account of her four years as a Moonie and how her parents handled it. The book, published by Crown last month, was co-authored by her mother, Betty. "We're at a career crossroads," admits Gary, who is interested in social work while Barbara is thinking about publishing.
They have continued to help in deprogramming, which took them as far away as Australia in December. They spent a disappointing 13 days there trying to sway a Moonie of 5½ years. "She just didn't listen to us," says Gary sadly. "There are times when I would like to walk away from it," adds Barbara, "but I can't because I understand the pain people are in and the urgency they feel." Her young husband sums up: "For these messed-up souls, it's a matter of life and death."
To Bigotry, No Sanction, Reverend Sun Myung Moon and the Unification Church, by Dr. Mose Durst,
Chapter 8. "Deprogramming": Abduction, Kidnapping, and Faithbreaking,
The most serious threat of the anti-religious movement to both civil and religious liberty is the criminal activity of deprogramming. The word "deprogram," like cult, is loaded jargon used by those hostile to a particular religion. If you do not like another's beliefs, you claim they have been programmed or brainwashed. You may then feel responsible for de-programming or un-washing the minds of such unfortunate people. Since you do not believe they can think straight, you cannot use logic, discussion, or information to change their beliefs. What is necessary is to kidnap them and lock them up in a controlled environment where they can be forced to see another point of view. You continue the forced imprisonment, intimidation, and harassment until they change and you can break their faith. Such is the nature of deprogramming.
The public is generally unaware that this is a crime whose perpetrators have victimized thousands of people of virtually every religious group in America. Ironically, the public believes that it is the religious groups that imprison members and hold them against their will. Further, the public believes that when deprogramming occurs, it is only in the context of cults, and thus is to be tolerated. The real story of this violent abuse of religious liberty has yet to be told.
Ted Patrick, considered to be the "father" of the modern deprogramming movement, has set himself up as a specialist with a mission to destroy cults and pseudo-religions. Although his background, as with almost all deprogrammers, includes only a high school education, he has been quoted as an authority on new religions in magazines like Playboy, and has been praised for his book Let Our Children Go. He lumps together most religions he does not like and calls them "Manson-like," claiming that the central power exerted by them is the use of mind control. In Let Our Children Go he describes his exploits in heroic, crusader-like terms, admitting to practicing the very things he claims to see in the new religions: physical violence, imprisonment, harassment of individuals.
In a March 1979 Playboy interview Patrick says:
What I do is not kidnapping. What I do is rescuing. When I deprogram a person, he has already been unlawfully imprisoned. His mind has been unlawfully imprisoned by a cult .... The so-called experts on brainwashing make me glad I didn't go to college. Those people don't realize you don't have to use torture any more. It's all done with love and kindness---and deception .... TM is one of the damaging forms of meditation. It's also one of the biggest cults in the nation .... When I deprogram someone, I work with a security team. We have somebody accompany the person to the bathroom. Then, at night, one person sleeps across from him and another sleeps in front of the door.... Hell, Jimmy Carter's sister is one of the biggest cult leaders in the nation. Ruth Stapleton uses all the same techniques they do. She's nothing but a cult leader .... she programs people. I've seen members do it in meetings, and she's got a mailing list like you wouldn't believe. I also have reason to think she's using the same techniques on members of the government. I saw one Cabinet member on TV talking about how he was born again through Ruth Carter Stapleton. He looked just like a Moonie, glazed eyes, the works .... (pp. 53, 58, 77, 120) 1How does Ted Patrick gently persuade someone to join him in dialogue? He gives us a clear picture in his book Let Our Children Go. Wes, a member of a new religious group, has been surrounded by Patrick and some of his goons:
Wes had taken up a position facing the car, with his hands on the roof and his legs spread-eagled. There was no way to get him inside while he was braced like that. I had to make a quick decision. I reached down between Wes's legs, grabbed him by the crotch and squeezed-hard. He let out a howl, and doubled up, grabbing for his groin with both hands. Then I hit, shoving him head first into the back of the car and piling in on top of him. 2What kind of logic and moral persuasion does Patrick use in his discussion with the captive? "Moon is a pimp. He's a pimp, that's all, and you're nothing but a male prostitute. You've given yourself to him body and soul, and you go out in the streets and sell yourself and bring the money back to him." 3
The pattern of kidnapping, forced imprisonment, and intimidation is the same for all those engaged in the faithbreaking process. There are, however, various methods by which kidnappers will attempt to break the religious faith of his victim. If the victim is moved by the tears of a former girlfriend or boyfriend, then extended conversations between the two, with or without seduction, will follow. Distraught parents are brought into the room to induce guilt. "How can your religious group be so pure if you have caused us such pain?" Tapes of former members who had their faith broken are then played to induce the same breaking in the current captive. Selective information is offered as proof that the leaders are frauds and only out for their self-interest.
When a member of our church is kidnapped by Galen Kelly, for example, who, like the other kidnappers, charges many thousands of dollars per head, he introduces his standard manual of so-called "information" to discredit church leaders. He will drag out charges about Reverend Moon that the victim has never before seen. When confronted by captors and kidnappers with distortions, untruths, and half-truths, the victim is made to believe that he or she has been following a charlatan. Of course, the captive is never given a chance to call church officials for their explanations of the material or given access to means to challenge his captors.
A favorite ploy of kidnappers is to try to discredit me because of volunteer work I did at Lewisburg Penitentiary in Pennsylvania. In 1967-68, when I was a professor at Lycoming College in Pennsylvania, a friend of mine and I established an educational program for convicts at Lewisburg. I have sometimes mentioned this experience over the years as one that awakened me to the need for profound structural change in our society. When a victim is held captive he is shown a letter by the warden of the penitentiary to the effect that he never knew me and I never "worked" at Lewisburg. I am not sure what warden has written this letter, but I know of members whose faith has been shaken by this simple deception of kidnappers. One bit of disinformation is piled upon another.
Abduction and restraint, sleep deprivation, guilt inducement, violence, verbal abuse, harassment, and outright deception are all means used to draw someone away from religious commitment. Michael K., a current member of the Unification Church, tells how in June 1976, while shopping with his mother in New York City, he was tackled from behind by several men, including Galen Kelly, and pushed into the back of a van. He was held down by four men, one holding each leg and another his arm. Galen Kelly sat on his chest and held his hand over his mouth to prevent him from shouting for assistance. His arm was twisted, causing considerable pain, and his mouth so tightly gagged he feared he would suffocate. Michael was kidnapped several times in a similar manner. Each time he escaped and continued to trust and seek a good relationship with his family, yet he maintained his commitment to his religious ideals.
A new institution has been built up by the faithbreakers, a kind of spiritual brothel, a center where relatives pay kidnappers to exercise the pleasure of their ways upon their captives. The Freedom of Thought Foundation in Tucson, Arizona, was one such house of pleasure. When Barbara Underwood's parents took out a secret conservatorship order on her in California, claiming that she had become mentally incompetent since joining the Unification Church, she was taken for treatment to the lonely house in Tucson. With bars on the windows and guard dogs prowling the isolated desert landscape surrounding the house, Barbara was given the "freedom" to think "objectively" about her life of faith. Gary Scharff, the scholar in residence, eventually gave her a passing mark as she lost her faith. She was then rushed to the local newspaper to tell how she had discovered the evils of her former ways. Barbara and Gary have now been rushing to the media and into the arms of potential clients for several years.
What happened to the Reverend Walter Taylor, an Old Catholic priest, when he was abducted from a monastery in Oklahoma City and brought to Akron, Ohio?
My monastic clothes were ripped off me while four persons held me down. My ... crucifix was taken away from me. I was harassed for thirteen hours or more per day about my religious beliefs by various persons working in shifts. I was kept awake and not permitted to sleep on various occasions when I wanted to sleep.. . I was threatened with commitment to a mental institution if I did not cooperate and renounce my religion . . . . 4The priest said that Phoenix attorney Wayne Howard and a deprogrammer named Gary Scharff were present part of the time. Howard and a Tucson attorney, Michael E. Trauscht, and a clinical psychologist from Tucson, Kevin M. Gilmartin, cooperate in deprogramming efforts from Arizona.
Who are some of the kidnapping victims? Debbie Dudgeon, a practicing member of the Roman Catholic faith; Peter Willis, a member of the Episcopal Church of the Redeemer; Susan Wirth, a thirty-five-year-old woman involved with liberal politics in San Francisco; Stephanie Reithmiller, a computer operator, who had a female roommate that her parents did not like. The list of victims, and the reasons for their kidnappings is almost endless. And yet one hears almost nothing except, "Oh, it's just one of those cult members." That is usually the attitude of the local police, the FBI, and other law enforcement officials when they are asked to prevent an or interfere in an abduction. Often, they will actively aid the kidnappers. "Oh, it's only a family affair." Of course, the multimillion-dollar aspect of this kidnapping racket is overlooked.
The professionals and groups who have studied the deprogramming-faithbreaking criminal activity always condemn it. Only those few who benefit financially or who are opposed to freedom for the beliefs of others seek to justify it. They speak of the process as counseling, although they neglect to mention the "expert" qualifications of Ted Patrick, Galen Kelly, Joe Alexander and their like.
Deprogramming has been denounced by religious bodies, constitutional experts, civil libertarians and mental health authorities:
National Council Of Churches
The Governing Board of the National Council of Churches believes that religious liberty is one of the most precious rights of humankind, which is grossly violated by forcible abduction and protracted efforts to change a person's religious commitments by duress. Kidnapping for ransom is heinous indeed, but kidnapping to compel religious deconversion is equally criminal. It violates not only the letter and spirit of state and federal statutes but the world standard of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
American Civil Liberties Union
The current epidemic of 'deprogramming' of religious followers by professionals who blithely violate the laws of the land while the authorities 'look the other way' is ominous and... [is] an early warning sign for the American people. This is a tricky business, and the freedom of an individual to choose his own religion and even his own lifestyle is at stake.
Dean Kelley, the Director for Religious Liberty for the National Council of Churches:
It should be prosecuted, not just as any other kidnapping undertaken for mercenary motives should be, but even more vigorously, since it strikes at the most precious and vulnerable portion of the victim's life, religious convictions and commitments.Dr. James Penton, Professor of History at the University of Lethbridge, and Vice-President of Canadians for the Protection of Religious Liberty:
Deprogramming is a violation of human rights. If an adult makes a choice---never mind whether that choice is wise or not, self-directed or not---the choice should be respected. Deprogrammers who literally snatch people off the street and then subject them to intensive 'reprogramming,' are breaking laws.Mental Health Experts
Lee Coleman, MD, Psychiatrist in Berkeley, California:
Deprogramming, however, is unmistakably an example of the end justifying the means. Crimes (kidnapping and false imprisonment) are committed and then justified in order to rescue the brainwashed convert. I maintain that persons engaging in or condoning such criminal behavior have no solid moral platform on which to make their allegations against new religious movements. They must first renounce their own vigilante tactics.Annual Convention of the New England Psychological Association at Clark University Worchester, Massachusetts, November 12-13, 1977:
We the undersigned members of the professional psychological community protest the use of coercive 'deprogramming,' disguised as psychological therapy, to force adult individuals to renounce their religious beliefs and affiliations. We regard such tactics as a serious threat to civil liberty in America.Sociologists
David G. Bromley and Anson D. Shupe, Jr. Associate Professor and Chairman of the Department of Sociology, University of Hartford, Connecticut, and Associate Professor of Sociology, University of Texas, respectively:
Deprogrammers are like the American colonials who persecuted 'witches': A confession, drawn up before the subject was brought in for torturing... based on the judges' fantasies about witchcraft, was signed under duress and then treated as justification for the torture. In the end, the similarities of ex-members' stories is not the result of similar experiences but rather of artificial and imposed reinterpretations by persons serving their own needs and purposes. Deprogrammers are self-serving, illegal, and fundamentally immoral. In some cases, despite their protests to the contrary, they have profited handsomely from this practice. [Emphasis added.]The story of deprogramming has yet to be told to the American public. Members of new religious movements do as many dumb things as members of old religious movements. But, overwhelmingly, they are more sinned against than sinning.
1. "Playboy Interview with Ted Patrick," March 1979, pp. 53, 58, 77, 120, Copyright © 1979 by Playboy.
2. Ted Patrick and Tom Dulack, Let Our Children Go (New York: E. P, Dutton Company, 1976), p. 96.
3. Ibid., p. 18.
4. William E Willoughby, "Now-Deprogramming for Everyone", Washington Star, 18 December, 1976, p. D8
April 3, 1980, The New York Review of Books, The Moonies, by Betty Underwood, reply by Francine Gray,
In response to: The Heavenly Deception from the October 25, 1979 issue.
To the Editors:
In Francine du Plessix Gray’s response to the several books on Unification, she has fallen into a common trap and got herself stuck in what I call the simple outrage stage. It goes with a preference for the lurid, yellow journalism type of reporting on cults.
What cults can do to individuals is indeed terrible. Nobody understands that better than parents who have watched it happen to their family members. But in order to respond in a realistic and helpful way, Unification in all its complexity must be understood and described.
For many, if not most, Unification members, their membership is not experienced as one long nightmare. With painful honesty, Barbara Underwood has described the experience in all its multi-level realities. At the expense of personality and autonomy, membership can release from depression and personal crisis, it can provide strong religious feelings, it can give security. And therein lies its enormous threat, not defined as a simple-minded exercise to titillate but as the ambiguous, complex and baffling experience it is. Until this is fully reckoned with, we are helpless before it.
Though the hearing was intended to be the climax of Hostage to Heaven, to say that Barbara came out of Unification like a kid going down a slide is nonsense as any careful reading of pages 213-290 will attest. “…I have struggled to piece together my past, to regain the positive aspects of my surging idealism. It’s not easy to go from being a ‘world server’ to being just one person among billions. Especially as a lone student matriculating at a crowded undergraduate university, I often felt crippled…. Often I was depressed by the harshness of real life…. As I gradually and painfully learned to accept appropriate limits, I have said good-bye to many of my dreams…. I stormed through feelings of marginality, anonymity, and purposelessness.”
Here is no pendulum response to an experience simplistically described as a horror.
Several of the country’s major theologians have praised Hostage to Heaven. I believe far better than your reviewer they have understood its bitter, complex, and alarming implications.
The reviewer also made an unsubstantiated personal attack on the honesty of the writers which is not only unjustified but libelous.
Francine Gray replies:Timothy Miller’s attempt to obliterate differences between Reverend Moon’s Unification Church and other religious sects, his wonder as to why it should be more “singled out and subjected to hysterical denunciation,” totally overlooks the principal theme of my article: Unification Church’s extensive, cold-blooded use of deception toward its recruits. I took some pains to stress that young men and women persuaded to live in the indoctrination centers run by Reverend Moon are not told the name or the identity of the cult they’re being proselytized into until after the basic stages of behavior modification have been completed. If Dr. Miller can cite any other religious organization large or small (from Bahai’ to Sufi, from mainline Christianity to Buddhism) which recruits its converts with no statement of its principal tenets, with equal obfuscation of its true identity, I’d be glad to hear of it. Even People’s Temple showed more fundamental honesty toward its new members.
In answer to Mrs. Underwood: She quotes a passage that attests to the anxieties that her daughter suffered after her experience in deprogramming. I could quote many apposite passages which suggest that Barbara Underwood did not begin to reach the levels of anxiety described in the studies of Dr. Margaret Singer and numerous other psychiatrists who have documented the post-cult experience. Moreover, I took pains to stress, at the end of my review of the Underwoods’ book, what bothered me the most about Barbara Underwood’s first-person account: the striking nostalgia she still feels for life in Reverend Moon’s church. When she writes that she has not found “a community of worship as energizing” as the one using totalitarian techniques that have turned thousands of young Americans into lying hustlers, one can only wonder how successful the process of deprogramming has turned out to be. One is equally perturbed by her attachment to a system of values which continues to admire the sense of “being energized” at the expense of fundamental principles of human probity.
In an address given last November at the Reverend Moon’s yearly ICUS meeting, Professor Walter Kaufman, of Princeton University’s philosophy department, reported with some bitterness that “Several people who had agreed to appear on our program backed out after a review article in theNew York Review of Books dealt harshly with these conferences and with the Unification Church.” If Mrs. Underwood and Mr. Miller are as dedicated as they claim to be to lessening the power of the Unification Church in the United States, I would think that they’d welcome critical journalism that contributes to that goal. Any such critical enterprise must by necessity focus on the techniques of “heavenly deception” which differentiate the Unification Church from most or all other sects in the religious spectrum. And it is bound to document the complex varieties of self-deception which this technique inevitably breeds, in turn, in the psyches of its converts.