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Abe’s murder sheds light on the controversy surrounding the Unification Church in Japan

#Abes #murder #sheds #light #controversy #surrounding #Unification #Church #Japan

The assassination of former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe by a man resentful of the Unification Church has reignited years of controversy about the group.

Police say Tetsuya Yamagami targeted Abe because he believed the former prime minister supported a “certain group” to which the man’s mother had made large donations.

In a letter released by local media, Yamagami accused Abe of supporting the Unification Church and expressed his displeasure with the group, which has confirmed his mother’s membership.

Former followers, lawyers, and academics who study the church say reported details about Yamagami’s family fit a general pattern in Japan.

Yamagami’s mother reportedly joined the church after her husband died by suicide and was quickly consumed by her faith.

Yamagami’s uncle told local media that his nephew sometimes called him for help when his mother left her children alone and without food while she was attending church.

She donated 100 million yen (about $1 million at the time) to the church, he said, and later filed for bankruptcy.

Attorney Hiroshi Yamaguchi, who represents former church members, all sounds familiar.

“Members are under pressure to donate every day,” he told AFP.

“They tell you that karma comes with money and (donations) is the only way to save yourself. So you think you have to do it.”

Officially known as the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification (FFWPU), the church was founded by Sun Myung Moon in Korea in 1954 and its followers are colloquially known as the “Moonies”.

The Japan Chapter began in 1959, and membership grew during the country’s economic boom of the 1980s – “an era when people were unsure about how to live their lives,” said Kimiaki Nishida, a professor of social psychology at Rissho -University of Tokyo.

– ‘My whole life distorted’ –

Japan became a financial center for the Church, which taught Japanese believers to atone for their country’s wartime occupation of Korea.

“They intentionally assign different roles to each country,” said Hotaka Tsukada, associate professor of sociology of religion at Joetsu University of Education.

“They have (sales) manuals to exploit believers,” he told AFP.

The church offered “spiritual sales” of exorbitantly expensive goods, including a 43 million yen ($350,000) statuette that Japanese believers were told would acquit them or their ancestors.

Huge spending by members led to a backlash.

Japan’s National Network of Lawyers Against Spiritual Sales says it has filed lawsuits seeking 123.7 billion yen ($900 million) in damages for former followers since 1987.

A series of arrests in the 2000s and judgments against the church led to restrictions on “spiritual sales,” but attorney Yamaguchi says believers are still under pressure to meet monthly fundraising goals.

“It’s a goal that God ordains,” he says, the church tells members. “That’s a quota they have to meet.”

The church denies that members are pressured.

“In our view, all donations before Heaven must be voluntary,” FFWPU press contact Demian Dunkley told AFP.

“The FFWPU sometimes calls for donations, but FFWPU members decide if, when and how much to donate.”

In 2005, after his mother went bankrupt, Yamagami reportedly attempted suicide in hopes that his siblings would receive an insurance payment.

His older brother, a childhood cancer survivor, committed suicide a decade later.

In a letter to an anti-church blogger sent the day before Abe’s killing, Yamagami said his teenage years were marred by his mother’s “overspending, family breakdowns and bankruptcy.”

“The experience has distorted my whole life,” read the letter, released by local media.

– ‘One Family Under God’ –

Former church members have recounted similar family rifts, including a Japanese woman whose mother told her to stay with an abusive husband chosen by the church because divorce would “please Satan.”

“I cannot defend what (Yamagami) did,” she said at a news conference this month, speaking on condition of anonymity.

“But… that’s how much the church destroys lives.”

Yamagami’s letter accused Abe of being “one of the most influential supporters of the Unification Church,” based in part on a speech the politician gave to a church-related group in 2021.

The Church and groups associated with it have regularly recruited prominent figures, including former US President Donald Trump, to attend events.

Dunkley said the church “seeks to build relationships with all who care about peace.”

He said his “mission is to help create a peaceful, harmonious world of true love where humanity lives as ‘one family under God.'”

But the former church member said followers were shown images of Moon with prominent figures to encourage reverence.

“It made me feel like they have connections with politicians and Moon was a real messiah,” she said.

The assassination has forced a renewed scrutiny of the church’s relations with politicians in Japan, including Abe’s grandfather, former Prime Minister Nobusuke Kishi.

Abe’s brother, Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi, acknowledged this week that members of the church had served as campaign volunteers, something Dunkley said supporters only do “as private individuals.”

Opposition parties have now announced several task forces to scrutinize the church’s activities and its links with politicians.

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#Abes #murder #sheds #light #controversy #surrounding #Unification #Church #Japan

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