Judah and Tamar, school of Rembrandt
At a theology class recently, we were asked as an assignment to examine a Biblical story that has impacted our lives. I paused and it hit me: ‘The Story of Tamar’. A rock slammed into my gut. My heartrate quickened. I felt sick. Tamar. Just thinking of her name shook me. Digging down I found trauma. Guilt. Confusion. And anger. That’s when I knew I wanted to write on how the misuse of Biblical stories, and wrong interpretations, can be so dangerous in the hands of perpetrators and cult leaders.
I thought I was Tamar
You see, years ago I thought I was like Tamar. I had her mission. That I had to give myself sexually, sneakily, for God’s providence – like a prostitute.
My overactive imagination (or delusion) came to that understanding due to false/distorted interpretations of the Biblical story of Tamar and other stories taught to me by the Unification Church (Moonies) in the Divine Principle; further secret sexual teachings of our founder, Rev Moon (‘True Father’); and my attempts to theologically justify and understand the sexual relationship I found myself in with a predator, Mr Son – a church elder 30 years my senior.
I shared about my grooming and sexual abuse by Mr Son in my blog ‘Conned: A story of adult grooming in the Moonies’. As part of his grooming, Mr Son shared with me secret teachings that only the early members (Korean elders) knew about regarding Rev Moon's sexual rituals with female church memers (‘sisters’). Rev Moon used his interpretation of the story of Tamar as part of his justification.
Let me quickly explain a short version of Tamar’s story in the Old Testament and the Divine Principle (Unification teaching) understanding…
The Tamar story: Two versions
Tamar is the ancestress of much of the tribe of Judah in the Old Testament, in particular, the House of David. This makes her an ancestor of Jesus Christ. She was Judah’s daughter-in-law who had been married to two of his sons. But both sons died before she could have a child. Judah believed her responsible for their death. While, according to Jewish law, she was entitled to marry Judah because he didn’t have another son over 10 years of age she could marry, he did not do this. Tamar then claimed her rights by pretending to be a prostitute and had sex with Judah, ultimately bearing his son. So she tricked him into having sex with her to fulfil the law and her role. She ends up giving him two sons as he eventually takes her into his household.
Moon used Tamar’s story as an example that God uses illicit sex outside marriage to further his providence of restoration to purify the blood lineage of the Messiah (to restore the sexual fall of Adam and Eve). He distorted aspects of the story, labelling it adultery.
Moon said, “…Who did Tamar have a relationship with? Her father-in-law. How could a baby born out of such a relationship inherit the blood lineage of Israel?… … According to the law in those days, a woman who committed adultery had to be stoned to death. Tamar’s first husband had died, and then her second husband had died also; but she knew God loved the blood lineage of her husband. She knew she had to protect and continue that blood lineage. For Tamar, her personal dignity was not a factor. She was only concerned about preserving the blood lineage which God loved. Since she loved that blood lineage, she stood in a providential position, and she was able to establish the proper condition of heart. With such a heart, she had a relationship with her father-in-law.” (Ref: http://www.unification.net/gww/gww-04.html)
So we Unificationists understood that Tamar had an illicit and adulterous love relationship for the sake of God’s providence. Rev Moon also said controversially that Mother Mary did not conceive Jesus spiritually/miraculously through the Holy Spirit but through sex with Zacharias, the chief Priest and father of John the Baptist. This was an example of sex outside of marriage for God’s providence, as was the example of David and Bathsheba.
The 6 Marys
Mr Son told me that Rev Moon, in the early days of his church, used to have sex with ‘sisters’ (female members) to restore the fall of Adam and Eve and purify/change the blood lineage – a process called p'ikareum in Korean. (Rev Moon in the position of restored Adam and the sisters in the position of fallen Eve). The women would then have sex with other brothers, often their husbands chosen by Rev Moon, to restore them. Some early male ex-members said they had sex with sisters also to restore them. In particular there were at first six women, called The Six Marys, who Rev Moon would have sex relays with.
It is reported now that some of these women, finally after many years, have come forward, with much shame, to say what happened. We have learned that the 6 Marys would be swapped out with others. So there were a few 6 Mary groups. Some would be cast aside when they became pregnant. This was to reverse the fall of Adam and Eve. In this case Adam (Rev Moon) was restoring Eve sexually.
Ms Son said these sex rituals only stopped when Mrs Moon told Rev Moon they must, otherwise she would divorce him. Then the church switched to symbolic spiritual rituals. But this didn't stop Mr Son teaching me and then somehow using these past stories to justify what he was doing to me.
I felt especially chosen, special, to be taught these secret teachings from Mr Son! What he was doing thought was conditioning me that sexual love from elders was acceptable for restoration purposes. And that God often did such things in secret, in order to trick Satan. What mattered was your motivation. I then naturally thought that if Father Moon wanted to have sex with me, I would do that. I would sacrifice.
I was Tamar. I was a prostitute. And I was in a cult within a cult.
Mr Son eventually ‘matched’ me with another Australian brother, ‘Liam’, who was similarly beguiled by Mr Son. Liam told Mr Son after our first experience of intercourse that he felt like he was restoring me, as if it was part of some special providence. ‘Restoration’ is a key word in unificationism. The whole theology is about God restoring man. Restoring the blood lineage of mankind. Restoring the world. Liam was restoring me like Rev Moon was supposedly restoring those sisters.
At one point a brother, 'Vin', who had brought me into the Unification Church and was in Mr Son's inner circle also engaged with me sexually. I felt like a prostitute in all this, but my conscience was completely pushed to the side, and I related myself to Tamar. I even thought I was chosen to be Mr Son’s third wife like Rev Moon had three wives over time.
In reality I was going so far against the values I’d had when I joined. I was the girl who joined the church a virgin and told my previous boyfriends I intended to stay that way until marriage! But I was needed. For something significant. This was all going to magically help God's providence and save Australia. We were a special group with a mission. Cult delusion at its best.
Me with 'Liam' and 'Vin' on a church holy day
You are not Tamar
So 35 years later, when thinking of Tamar and contemplating writing about her, I felt so ill. Deep down that belief has been sitting inside me. I have been working with my psychologist for a while to dig out and release so many layers of guilt for so many things. Some things that I am not responsible for at all. Now I’ve discovered this identification with Tamar.
Thankfully with new Biblical studies and psychology sessions, I’m changing my neural pathways.
This history with Mr Son and those men happened over 35 years ago. Some might say, “Just get over it.” But sometimes things can be buried for years, and just when you think you’re in a ‘happy place’, it starts to bubble up to be dealt with. There is no timeline on healing. And returning to Biblical studies, in the traditional Christian churches, has brought things up for me too. Triggering.
When my psychologist said to me recently, “You are not Tamar”, I burst into tears.
“Really? I’m not?”
“No, you’re not. You’re somebody who has been through a horrendous experience in the Unification Church, and you were sexually abused. You were brutalised.” That ‘brutalisation’ was not just the sexual abuse, but the spiritual abuse (e.g. forced cold baths in winter and false accusations of sins and possession), misleading theological indoctrination that places unwarranted guilt and responsibility on members, and domestic abuse in my arranged marriage amongst other things. Then there was domestic abuse from my matched husband.
Hearing somebody just say it like it was … well, it’s so refreshing and is clearing my head. And helping me release my guilt. Misplaced guilt at my ‘sexual sins’ with Son et al.
Apologies and forgiveness
Now, I am slowly letting go of my guilt over this situation. I have received two very sincere, heart-felt, apologies from some special people within Unificationism about what happened, one back in the 1990s and one recently. I am grateful … But it’s not the end of the story…
And word is that Mrs Moon is now saying that Rev Moon did do those sexual rituals and it was all a mistake that hurt many people. She's distancing herself from this past.
For now, I realise that it is too early for me to just simply say, ‘Ok. I forgive the Unification Church’ as it’s been suggested to me. (Yes, I know Jesus' spoke of forgiving our enemies. I'm not there yet.) I first must allow myself, for pretty much the first time, to feel anger at what happened. And that it has taken the top leadership, that is Mrs Moon, so many decades to denounce these things. I could say more on that, but I won't for now.
What I can say now is I’m not Tamar. I wasn’t a prostitute. I was sexually abused.
I was a victim. I was deceived.
And at some point in one's recovery, it is okay to say, "I was a victim." It is. It's a step in a process. And the anger is okay too. I won't get stuck here. But I need to allow myself to feel it. For a while. And to feel self-compassion for that 18-year-old girl who joined the cult. And for the 21-year-old girl who was groomed.
By the way, Tamar is actually regarded as an example of a loyal Israelite woman who was willing to be assertive and unconventional in following the Law. She isn't regarded as an adulteress by Jewish teachings at all. So in fact, it would be okay if I was Tamar. What I am NOT is the disorted view of Tamar I have had in my head all these years. Sorry, Tamar!
PS: I can't recommend enough finding a good psychologist. It might take a while to find the right one for you. And some might just be with you for a season. There are also great cult recovery organisations. Please check out my Support page.