A former senior Unification Church official, who was at the church group’s headquarters for about 20 years before leaving in 2017, told the Mainichi Shimbun that the group had set an annual donation-raising goal in Japan totaling about 30 billion yen (about $210 million). ), which put immense pressure on subscribers to meet the quotas.
Masaue Sakurai, 48, was the deputy director of the family education office at the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification, better known by its former name, the Unification Church. He responded to an inquiry from Mainichi Shimbun in a rare instance where a former executive exposed the group’s internal affairs while revealing his real name. Sakurai condemned the group’s stance, saying, “The group’s methods were clearly against social morality, and the collection of donations through coercion continued even after 2009, when the group claimed that he enforced compliance with laws and regulations.”
Sakurai is a second-generation follower whose father served as the fifth president of the Japanese branch of the Unification Church between 1995 and 1996. He started working at the headquarters in 1998 after graduating from college and dedicated many years of providing support and education. for second-generation followers. In 2017, he released a document that raised objections to Unification Church administration policy and left the group. He told Mainichi Shimbun that “the group no longer shows any signs of improving their characteristics. I would like to raise my voice as someone who knows the inner workings so that a tragedy does not happen again.
During consultations with the children of Unification Church followers, Sakurai apparently met many people who said their parents’ donations had caused a collapse in family finances and interfered with their daily lives and academic careers. . He encountered many instances where second generation followers faced issues of parents creating debt with credit cards in their children’s names, becoming unable to face relatives because their parents had borrowed money. excessive money and taking on debts on behalf of parents.
Eventually, Sakurai began to receive consultations from the parents of the Second Generation followers. A senior leader of a church in the group, who even donated their son’s part-time salary he earned to cover his school fees, said: “I did something I wouldn’t have shouldn’t have done as a parent,” and expressed his heartbreak at the reality. pressure to meet donation quotas.
The Unification Church holds the doctrine that members will be saved by giving. Sakurai also learned from a follower that once they opened up about family or religious issues, they were immediately asked to donate.
At a press conference in July, Tomihiro Tanaka, head of the Japanese branch of the Unification Church, insisted that he was ensuring that improvements and guidance had been made to “sales spirits,” a deceptive method of persuading people to buy goods since 2009, when a follower was arrested for allegedly coercing others into buying expensive seals and other items by stoking anxiety. However, Sakurai recalled the time and said, “The characteristics of the group have not changed.”
He said: “Instead of selling goods to third parties, he simply changed his approach to forcing insiders (subscribers) to donate.”
“Everyone inside was aware of the absurd donation quotas. However, seeing donations as a problem was seen as a sign of infidelity, and there was an atmosphere that made it difficult to express it,” he said.
According to Sakurai, the donations consisted of periodic types in which 10% of subscribers’ salaries were donated to the group, as well as “special donations”. For special donations, after target timelines and amounts were decided, headquarters assigned quotas to regional chapters.
“Under the system, regional bodies pass on quotas to the parish below them, which are then passed on to churches. President Tanaka said at the July press conference that there are no quotas for followers, but there is no way he is ignoring the structure in which the quotas towards the church will be ultimately imposed on individual followers. Headquarters should also have been aware of the quotas for each church, as well as their achievement rate,” Sakurai said.
When churches were unable to meet quotas, the special giving period was extended. Each church had some idea of the status of congregants’ assets through other congregants who were responsible for collecting money, and if relatives held ceremonies, donations were apparently demanded under the guise of making offerings.
Sakurai revealed, “Since around the late 1990s, the teaching that offerings and blessings to ancestors are necessary to atone for past sins, which did not exist within the scope of the original doctrine, has widespread, and it was often claimed that donations were necessary. to achieve this. After manipulative “spiritual sales” tactics became a problem, instead of selling and buying goods, the church began offering tower figures and prayer materials in exchange for large donations. »