Family members say Unification Church caused suffering

Yomiuri Shimbun file photo
Tomihiro Tanaka, president of the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification’s Japan branch, center, speaks at a press conference in Shinjuku Ward, Tokyo, on July 11.

Two people described to The Yomiuri Shimbun how they suffered after family members became followers of a religious group known as the Unification Church, against which Tetsuya Yamagami, the suspect in the shooting death of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, is said to have harbored a grudge.

Yamagami, 41, was quoted by Nara prefectural police as saying that a particular video convinced him to switch the target of his revenge from the religious group to Abe.

“The news [of the attack] made my heart ache,” said a company employee in her 50s in the Kanto region. She felt that way because she has had a similar grudge against the Unification Church, which is now officially called the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification.

She said she found out that her mother had become a follower of the religious group after her elder brother died in a traffic accident. It was when she was in her 20s.

After she married and left her parents’ home, she learned that her mother had borrowed ¥2 million from a relative to donate to the Unification Church and did not repay the money. There was other financial trouble as well, including her mother donating without permission about ¥20 million of another relative’s inheritance to the group.

The woman tried to persuade her mother to leave the group, but she became resentful and refused to talk. When the woman tried to talk her mother into leaving the group at the daughter’s home, the mother shouted out the window, “I’ve been kidnapped!” The woman said that her mother seemed not to trust her and had fallen under the mind control of the group.

The woman’s father and younger sister, who lived with her mother, gave up on efforts to persuade her to leave the group. Having become emotionally exhausted, the woman cut off communication with her mother about five years ago.

“What Yamagami did is utterly unforgivable, but I similarly feel mortified by experiencing the disintegration of my family. I also feel powerless for having been unable to confront the church,” she said.

According to the National Network of Lawyers Against Spiritual Sales, it is difficult for followers to leave the religious group as they are bound by a sense of fear. The followers are asked for donations as they “have to work hard” to rescue their deceased parents, children or others who are said to be suffering in the spiritual world. They are also led to believe that not only they but also their families “will go to hell if they leave the group.”

A 54-year-old man from eastern Japan found out that his mother had joined the group when he was a college student and made her leave them eight years later.

She joined the group after she became burdened with problems as she was scolded by one of her relatives over the care of the man’s grandfather. Persuaded by her, his father also joined the group.

They are said to have had a wedding in the group’s “blessed marriage” system to be recognized as a married couple by the church. The man, who had been living away from his parents’ home, returned to them and discussed the matter with them several times. But his parents did not agree to leave the group.

After his father died, the man took time off from work to focus on making his mother leave the group. He rented an apartment and lived with his mother and his younger sister for about a month and a half. Having invited a pastor who was helping people leave the church, the man asked him to explain to his mother the problems with the group’s teachings over and over again.

The mother is said to have eventually agreed to leave the group.