Moonie (nickname)

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Moonie is a pejorative term sometimes used to refer to members of the Unification movement, also known as the Unification Church. It is derived from the name of the movement's founder Sun Myung Moon,[1] and was first used in 1974 by the American media.[2] Members have used the word "Moonie", including: Moon himself,[3] President of the Unification Theological Seminary David Kim,[4] and Moon's aide and president of The Little Angels Children's Folk Ballet of Korea Bo Hi Pak.[5] In the 1980s and 1990s, the Unification Church of the United States undertook an extensive public relations campaign against the use of the word by the news media.[6] Journalistic authorities, including The New York Times and Reuters, now discourage its use in news reporting.[7][8] In other contexts, it is still sometimes used and not always considered pejorative.[9][4]


The word "Moonie" is derived from the name of Sun Myung Moon, the founder and leader of the Unification movement.[1][10][11] Some dictionaries mention that it is considered an offensive word.[12][13] The Dictionary of the Modern Politics of Japan describes it as a colloquial term.[14] Secondary meanings include: "Any blind, unthinking, unquestioning follower of a philosophy".[15][16][17]

The word "Moonie" is also a family name in the United Kingdom. The town of Moonie, Queensland in Australia was founded in 1840.[18] It is also a common nickname in English-speaking countries.[19][20][21] In more recent times, it has also been used to refer to fans of the Japanese anime franchise Sailor Moon.[22] In 2009, The Daily Telegraph suggested that the Manchester City football club be nicknamed "The Blue Moonies" for their "evangelical zeal."[23] In 2010, The New York Times noted that the word "Moonie" was being used in Washington D.C. to denote that someone was a "swooning loyalist."[24] In 2016, The Jerusalem Post used the word "moonies" to refer to followers of United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.[25]


Early use[edit]

The word "Moonie" was first used by the American news media in the 1970s when Sun Myung Moon moved to the United States and came to public notice through a series of public speeches he gave, including at Madison Square Garden in New York City in 1974 and at Yankee Stadium and on the grounds of the Washington Monument in 1976.[2][26][27] It became prevalent and was used by both critics of the Unification movement[28] and movement members themselves.[4] In 1982, a report sponsored in part by Auburn University noted: "In informal interviews with U.C. members have indicated that they do not consider the term 'Moonie' derogatory."[29]

In the 1970s and early 1980s, the word "Moonie" was used by Unification movement members both within the movement and in public[26][30] as a self-designation,[31][32] and "as a badge of honor".[4] Members could be seen on subways in New York wearing T-shirts that read: "I'm a Moonie and I love it".[4] Religious scholar Anson Shupe notes that "on many occasions," he heard "David Kim, President of the Unification Theological Seminary, refer to 'Moonie theology,' the 'Moonie lifestyle,' and so forth matter-of-factly".[4]

The principal aide to Moon, Bo Hi Pak, was quoted by Carlton Sherwood in his book Inquisition: The Persecution and Prosecution of the Reverend Sun Myung Moon as declaring to the United States Congress: "I am a proud Korean – a proud 'Moonie' – and a dedicated anti-Communist and I intend to remain so the rest of my life."[33] Moon himself declared: "In two and a half years the word 'Moonie' shall become an honorable name and we will have demonstrations and victory celebrations from coast to coast."[3]

During the proceedings of United States v. Sun Myung Moon in 1982, federal prosecutors argued that the word "Moonie" be banned during the jury selection process because they said it was considered "a negative term," and prejudicial in nature. Defense counsel for Moon instead asserted use of the word in the jury selection process was necessary to identify the Unification movement and to question jurors about possible prejudice. Judge Gerard L. Goettel denied the prosecution's request, and ruled that the word was appropriately "descriptive."[34][35]

British sociologist Eileen Barker titled her 1984 book, which was based on seven years of first-person study of members of the Unification movement in the United States and Great Britain and has been influential in the field of the sociology of religion, The Making of a Moonie: Choice or Brainwashing?.[36]

Response by church members[edit]

In 1984, The Washington Post noted, "Members of the Unification Church resent references to them as 'Moonies'", and quoted one church member who said, "Even in quotation marks, it's derogatory".[37] In 1985, the president of the Unification Church of the United States, Mose Durst, said: "In one year, we moved from being a pariah to being part of the mainstream. People recognized that Reverend Moon was abused for his religious beliefs and they rallied around. You rarely hear the word 'Moonie' anymore. We're 'Unificationists.'"[38] In 1987, civil rights activist Ralph Abernathy, who was also the vice president of the Unification Church-affiliated American Freedom Coalition and served on boards of directors for two other related organizations, equated the word "Moonie" with the word "nigger".[26][32][39][40]

In 1989, the San Francisco Chronicle reported that members preferred to be called "Unificationists."[32] The Washington Post reported that "Unification Church members are being advised no longer to accept the designation of 'Moonie,' and to declare any such nomenclature as indicative of a prejudiced view of the church."[39] In 1989, the Chicago Tribune was picketed after referring to members as Moonies.[41][42] Moon directed minister and civil rights leader James Bevel to form a protest by religious officials against the Chicago Tribune because of the newspaper's use of the word. Bevel handed out fliers at the protest which said: "Are the Moonies our new niggers?"[42]

In 1990, a position paper sent from the Unification movement to The Fresno Bee said: "We will fight gratuitous use of the 'Moonie' or 'cult' pejoratives. We will call journalists on every instance of unprofessional reporting. We intend to stop distortions plagiarized from file clippings which propagate from story to story like a computer virus."[6] In 1992, Michael Jenkins (who later became president of the Unification Church of the United States[43]) commented: "Why, after so many years, should we now be taking such a stand to eliminate the term 'Moonie?' For me, it is a sign that the American Unification Church has come of age. We can no longer allow our founder, our members, and allies to be dehumanized and unfairly discriminated against. ... We are now entering a period of our history where our Church development and family orientation are strong enough that we can turn our attention toward ending the widespread misunderstanding about our founder and the Unification movement."[4]

In 1992, Unification movement member Kristopher Esplin told Reuters what is normally done if the word is seen in media sources: "If it's printed in newspapers, we will respond, write to the editor, that sort of thing."[44] On an October 6, 1994 broadcast of Nightline, host Ted Koppel stated: "On last night's program ...I used the term 'Moonies'. This is a label which members of the Reverend Sun Myung Moon's Unification Church find demeaning and offensive, and I'd like to apologize for its use."[45]

In its entry on "Unification Church", the 2002 edition of The New York Times Manual of Style and Usage advised: "Unification Church is appropriate in all references to the Holy Spirit Association for the Unification of World Christianity, which was founded by the Rev. Sun Myung Moon. Do not use the disparaging Moonie(s)".[7] Reuters, in its handbook for journalists, says: "'Moonie' is a pejorative term for members of the Unification Church. We should not use it in copy and avoid it when possible in direct quotations."[8]

In a 1996 article for The Independent about a talk former Prime Minister Edward Heath gave at a Unification movement-sponsored conference, Andrew Brown commented: "The term 'Moonie' has entered the language as meaning a brainwashed, bright-eyed zombie." Brown also quoted William Shaw, a broadcaster who was presenting the Cult Fiction series on BBC Radio Five Live: "Most Moonies embrace a morality which would make them acceptable in the most genteel Anglican social circle."[46] In 2010, National Public Radio, in a story on "second generation" members, reported that they "bristle at the term 'Moonie'",[47] while USA Today reported on "the folks who follow Rev. Sun Myung Moon (also known, to their dislike, as the Moonies)."[48]

Research and commentary[edit]

A 1992 study by Jeffrey E. Pfeifer of the University of Virginia on "The Psychological Framing of Cults" found that 75.51% (74 of 98) of participating individuals were familiar with the word "Moonies". Dr. Pfeifer sums up his findings by saying:[49]

Subjects were asked to read a description of a young man who joins a group and is exposed to its indoctrination process. Depending on the condition, subjects were led to believe that the group was either the Moonies, the Marines, or the Catholic Church. Except for the group label, in all three conditions the description of the indoctrination process was identical. Subjects were then asked to evaluate both the group's indoctrination techniques and the individual who joined the group, and to complete a questionnaire regarding their general knowledge of cults. Results indicate that subject ratings are significantly affected by the group label and that general knowledge regarding cults is based primarily on indirect sources.

In the 1995 book America's Alternative Religions, published by the State University of New York Press, Baker wrote: "Although they prefer to be called Unificationists, they are referred to in the media and popularly known as 'Moonies'."[1] In the same book, sociologists Anson Shupe and David Bromley, both noted for their studies of new religious movements, also use the word "Moonies" to refer to members of the Unification Church.[1] In his 1998 book Religion, Mobilization, and Social Action, Shupe notes that Barker, Bromley, and he himself had used the term in other publications, "and meant no offense".[4]

In his 2000 book Mystics and Messiahs, Philip Jenkins likens the term to "smear words such as Shaker, Methodist, Mormon". Jenkins mentions use of the word in book titles including Life among the Moonies and Escape from the Moonies, and comments: "These titles further illustrate how the derogatory term 'Moonie' became a standard for members of this denomination, in a way that would have been inconceivable for any of the insulting epithets that could be applied to, say, Catholics or Jews."[9]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d Miller, Timothy (1995). America's Alternative Religions. State University of New York Press. pp. 223, 414. ISBN 0-7914-2398-0.
  2. ^ a b PacNews staff (February 17, 2006). "Church leaders unite against Moonies". PacNews. Pacific Island News Agency Service.
  3. ^ a b Enroth, Ronald M. (2005). A Guide To New Religious Movements. InterVarsity Press. pp. 69, 72. ISBN 0-8308-2381-6.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h Shupe, Anson D.; Bronislaw Misztal (1998). Religion, Mobilization, and Social Action. Praeger. pp. 197, 213, 215. ISBN 978-0-275-95625-7.
  5. ^ Ofcom (February 20, 2006). "Complaint by Mr Robin Marsh on behalf of The Family Federation for World Peace and Unification – UK (formerly known as the Unification Church)". Broadcast Bulletin. (54). Archived from the original on March 30, 2010. Retrieved 2009-09-28.
  6. ^ a b Taylor, John G. (September 1, 1990). "Unification Church will keep eye on media". The Fresno Bee. p. A10.
  7. ^ a b Siegal, Allan M.; William G. Connolly (2002). The New York Times Manual of Style and Usage. Three Rivers Press. p. 344. ISBN 978-0-8129-6389-2.
  8. ^ a b Handbook of Journalism, Reuters, accessed September 28, 2011
  9. ^ a b Jenkins, Philip (2000). Mystics and Messiahs: Cults and New Religions in American History. Oxford University Press. pp. 28, 200. ISBN 0-19-512744-7.
  10. ^ World Book Encyclopedia (2002). The World Book Dictionary: L-Z. World Book, Inc. p. 1348. ISBN 0-7166-0299-7.
  11. ^ Editors of Webster's II Dictionaries (1999). Webster's II New College Dictionary. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. p. 711. ISBN 0-395-96214-5.CS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link)
  12. ^ Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2009 (2009). "moonie". Retrieved 2009-09-28.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  13. ^ Compact Oxford English Dictionary (2009). "Moonie". AskOxford. Retrieved 2009-09-28.
  14. ^ Stockwin, J. (2003). Dictionary of the Modern Politics of Japan. Routledge. p. 233. ISBN 0-415-15170-8.
  15. ^ Partridge, Eric; Tom Dalzell; Terry Victor (2005). The New Partridge Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English: J-Z. TF-ROUTL. p. 1319. ISBN 978-0-415-25938-5.
  16. ^ Dalzell, Tom; Terry Victor (2007). The Concise New Partridge Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English. Routledge. p. 439. ISBN 0-415-21259-6.
  17. ^ Dalzell, Tom (2008). The Routledge Dictionary of Modern American Slang and Unconventional English. Routledge. p. 671. ISBN 0-415-37182-1.
  18. ^ Moonie: Culture and History, Sydney Morning Herald
  19. ^ "How did Moonie get his nickname? He told us it had something to do with him being born during a full moon." Hayden Nicholas, Ezekiel's Choice, WestBow Press, 2013, page 100
  20. ^ "Michael "Moonie" Miller was feeling pretty good about things. The day was beautiful. A little breeze, nice and warm, was blowing in from the desert as if often does this time of year in the Los Angeles basin. Two days before Halloween and it's 81 degrees, mid-afternoon. It can't get much better than this, he thought. "Moonie" acquired his nichname years ago but it was hardly relevant anymore." Bob Ruchhoft, Phil Smith, Good Cop, Dead Cop, AuthorHouse, 2010
  21. ^ He was nicknamed Moonie, because he was such a daydreamer in school." Bitter Embrace: White Society's Assault on the Woodland Cree, Maggie Siggins, McClelland & Stewart, 2005
  22. ^ Bergan, G. and Lambert, J., 2011, Geektionary: From Anime to Zettabyte, an A to Z Guide to All Things Geek, Adams Media, P 92
  23. ^ Manchester City's Blue Moonies have their faith rewarded, The Daily Telegraph, August 15, 2009. "From boardroom to terrace via the dug-out, such an evangelical zeal suffuses Manchester City's new mission that they should really be renamed the Blue Moonies."
  24. ^ Leibovich, Mark (March 6, 2010). "Message Maven Finds Fingers Pointing at Him". The New York Times.
  25. ^ [1]
  26. ^ a b c Gorenfeld, John (2008). Bad Moon Rising. PoliPointPress. p. 96. ISBN 0-9794822-3-2.
  27. ^ Ayoob, Massad (November–December 2001). "The Rise of the House of Kahr". American Handgunner: 58–67.
  28. ^ BBC News staff (July 19, 2008). "'Moonies' founder hurt in crash". BBC News. Retrieved 2009-09-28.
  29. ^ Reid, P. Nelson; Paul D. Starr (November 1982). "The Social Impact of Unification Church Investments in Bayou La Batre, Alabama; A Socio-Ecologic Study Prepared for the Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant Consortium" (PDF). Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant Consortium. p. 21, Footnote: 16. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2008-11-16. Retrieved 2009-09-28.
  30. ^ Koff, Stephen (August 1983). "Religion: Getting Mooned, Legitimately". Cincinnati Magazine. 16 (11): 14.
  31. ^ Lichtman, Allan J. (2008). White Protestant Nation. Atlantic Monthly Press. p. 304. ISBN 0-87113-984-7.
  32. ^ a b c Nix, Shann (August 10, 1989). "Church seeks new image". San Francisco Chronicle. p. B3.
  33. ^ Sherwood, Carlton (1991). Inquisition: The Persecution and Prosecution of the Reverend Sun Myung Moon. Regnery Gateway. p. 558. ISBN 978-0-89526-532-6.
  34. ^ Berry, John F. (March 23, 1982). "Court Impanels 200 in Effort to Find Impartial Jury to Try the Rev. Moon". The Washington Post. The Washington Post Company. p. A5.
  35. ^ Lubasch, Arnold H. (March 23, 1982). "Selection of jurors is begun for Moon's tax-fraud trial". The New York Times. The New York Times Company. p. B2.
  36. ^ Rhodes, Ron (2001). The Challenge of the Cults and New Religions. Zondervan. pp. 192, 335. ISBN 0-310-23217-1.
  37. ^ Zagoria, Sam (September 19, 1984). "Journalism's Three Sins". The Washington Post. The Washington Post Company. p. A26.
  38. ^ Goldman, Ari L. (July 28, 1985). "Moon's jailing may have eased things for his flock". The New York Times. The New York Times Company. Section 4; Page 7, Column 4.
  39. ^ a b Leigh, Andrew (October 15, 1989). "Inside Moon's Washington - The private side of public relations improving the image, looking for clout". The Washington Post. The Washington Post Company. p. B1.
  40. ^ Knight-Ridder Newspapers (December 20, 1987). "Unification Church funnels millions to U.S. conservatives". The Dallas Morning News. The Dallas Morning News Company. p. 4A.
  41. ^ Helvarg, David (2004). The War Against the Greens. Johnson Books. p. 211. ISBN 1-55566-328-1.
  42. ^ a b Hatch, Walter (February 13, 1989). "Big names lend luster to group's causes - Church leader gains legitimacy among U.S. conservatives". The Seattle Times. Seattle Times Company. p. A1.
  43. ^ Satyanarayana, Megha (February 13, 2007). "Shark poachers to pay for new habitat". The Oakland Tribune.
  44. ^ Stormont, Diane (Reuters) (October 4, 1992). "Moon followers vow to deman respect: Movement wants world to accept its members as normal human beings". Rocky Mountain News. p. 42.
  45. ^ Koppel, Ted (October 6, 1994). "Transcript # 3489". Nightline. ABC News.
  46. ^ Brown, Andrew (August 12, 1996). "Edward Heath sees bright side of the Moonies". The Independent. London: Newspaper Publishing PLC. p. 13. Retrieved 2009-09-28.
  47. ^ Hagerty, Barbara Bradley (February 17, 2010). "Unification Church Woos A Second Generation". National Public Radio. Retrieved 2010-02-23.
  48. ^ Grossman, Kathy Lynn (February 21, 2010). "Love, kids, spiritual drift: Rev. Moon's mass wedding couples". USA Today. Retrieved 2010-02-23.
  49. ^ Pfeifer, Jeffrey E. (University of Virginia) (April 1992). "The Psychological Framing of Cults: Schematic Representations and Cult Evaluations". Journal of Applied Social Psychology. 22 (7): 531–544. doi:10.1111/j.1559-1816.1992.tb00988.x.

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