The Unification Church had $210 million. annual donation target in Japan: former senior official

This September 9, 2022 image shows a document compiling Unification Church issues that was sent to Mainichi Shimbun by former Unification Church leader Masaue Sakurai. (Mainichi)

TOKYO — 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 the group had set an annual fundraising goal donations to Japan totaling about 30 billion yen (about $210 million), which put immense pressure on subscribers to meet 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 an objection to Unification Church administration policy and left the group. He told the Mainichi Shimbun that “the group no longer shows any signs of improving in its characteristics. I would like to raise my voice as someone who knows the inner workings so that a tragedy will not be repeated.”

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.

The headquarters of the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification is in the Shibuya district of Tokyo. (Mainichi)

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,” said he declared.

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, the regional bodies pass the quotas to the parish below them, which are then passed on to the churches. President Tanaka said at the July press conference that there was no of quotas for congregants, but there’s no way he wouldn’t be aware of the structure in which quotas to the church will ultimately be imposed on individual congregants 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 became frequently asserted that donations were necessary After the manipulative tactics of “spiritual sales” emerged as a problem, instead of selling and buying goods, the church began offering figurines of tower and prayer materials in exchange for major donations.

(Japanese original by Shota Harumashi, Tokyo City News Department)

Jerry B. Hatch