One former member of the Unification Church is hoping that TLC's new reality special "Mass Moon Wedding" will shed light on the dangers of cults, especially the Unification Church, which dates back to the 1970s.
The new TLC special, which aired on Sunday, follows three couples as they join 2,000 other brides in travel to South Korea, where the leader of the Unification Church, the Rev. Sun Myung Moon, blesses them in their nuptials.
According to Radar Online, Moon, who is seen as a messiah in the sect, believes that by blessing the newlyweds, he is creating a race of sinless children.
"I feel bad for the couples on the show, I wish I could sit down and talk with them and let them know I was one of Father's chosen leaders and that the teachings of the group needs to be examined before they even think of having children as this is not a healthy organization," Steven Hassan, a licensed mental health counselor and former member of the Unification Church, told Radar Online.
"Young people who have been burned by the dating scene may think this could be a really cool way to meet someone who doesn't use drugs and who cares about the world," Hassan said. "I think a lot of people would love the idea of someone who they believe has higher awareness to choose their perfect mate. That's what I believed. Instead they would get an indoctrinated member of a ruthless cult."
Hassan, who is the author of Combating Cult Mind Control, told Radar Online that he was recruited into the Unification Church in the 1970s and only left the church after his family staged an intervention in 1976.
In the special's premiere on Sunday, Elisa, a 22-year-old psychology major from Kent, England, talked about the strict nature of the Unification Church as she prepared to be wed at Moon's mass wedding.
"Of course, we believe [Rev. Moon] is the Messiah, so to be blessed by him in his lifetime is… not everyone would get that chance in history. I feel privileged and very excited," she explained to Radar Online.
"This church has really strict rules – no sex before marriage, no smoking, no drugs. I am still a virgin and it certainly was tough at school, I think for a long time a lot of my friends assumed I was a lesbian because I didn't have a boyfriend when they did," she added.
The Unification Church, which dates back to its 1954 origins in South Korea but now has an international following, has often been criticized as being a cult guilty of using brainwashing methods.
The mass weddings, in particular, have sparked public concern as often the couples undergo an arranged marriage, orchestrated by their parents.
Members of the Unification Church have been referred to as "Moonies" due to their allegiance to the Rev. Moon. Additionally, according to the tenets of their faith, one must be married to in the Unification Church to enter heaven.
The Unification Church uses Christian terminology in defining its doctrines, but their meanings are distinctly different.
A prmotional clip of TLC's "Mass Moon Wedding" was made available online.