Gloucester is a good American town, the kind of town that hates anything too far out of its ken. Gloucester glared an American Gothic chagrin at 19th century religious mutants who sought to reform their church under the stern eye of local bigots and skeptics. These sectarians later became known as Unitarian Universalists and Christian Scientists, and the Gloucester people still chuckle at this historic yarn and shake their heads.
And in the modern world of cults and movements, Gloucester resembles its town monument: cast-iron fisherman poised on his pedestal, standing between the ocean and tourist shops, lost at sea.
For the past two years, Rev. Sun Myung Moon's Unification Church has stirred more controversy in the maritime town than anyone there can recall. "You'll have to strap marks on your ass before I give you a permit...you're not welcome here," Mayor Leo Alper told two church representatives when they applied for a harbor development permit in 1978. And since they opened shop in Gloucester four years ago, the world has started to watch. Members of Moon's church have gradually established a profitable fish processing plant there in addition to their even more lucrative operations in Kodiak, Alaska; Bayou LaBatre, Ala.; Mobile, Ala.; Norfolk, Va.; San Leandro, Calif.; and New York.
"Father Moon hopes to feed the world from the sea somday," Neil Salonen, president of the Unification Church in the U.S., once explained. Church members still entertain vague hopes of building a maritime academy in Gloucester, Aidan Barry, Boston director of the Unification Church, says. And Stephen Baker, a church advertising official, said in 1976 that Moon will make "fish into America's next Frank Perdue chicken.
No one paid much attention to Moon's smiling supporters when they were grossing more than $10 million a year peddling candy, flowers and ginseng tea on the sidewalk. But now that the Korean evangelist has sent his faithful into legitimate big business, both ordinary and powerful people are becoming concerned--not only with the validity of the Unification Church as a theological institution and its aims at world theocracy, but also with the legitimacy of its business practices. Indeed, the whole issue raises significant questions about the First Amendment, which guarantees freedom of religion.
By entering Gloucester's fishing industry--that city's staple business--the church's members have offended not only the conventional religious mentality which binds the community, but also the sea, the sacrosanct element which, for centuries, has sustained Gloucester's economy and heritage. The "Moonies" are underselling the locally established fisheries, buying fish from trawlers at higher prices than anyone else can possibly afford. They have purchased waterfront property in the Cape Ann area at exorbitant prices--prices which were raised so high in the first place to keep them away. They are scaring Rotarians, small businessmen, local politicians, and federal agencies with their hypnotically aggressive nature, while gaining a foothold in a growing business.
"Gloucester's lucrative as hell," Alper says. "It's untapped Fishing is the business of the future. Moon's looking at Gloucester because he wants to utilize fish. The fish business is doing really well. That's the problem. He's not running a church, he's running a business."
And all the while, the Internal Revenue Service, the State District Attorney and Alper have been scratching their heads, checking their books and conducting audits and investigations, trying to figure out where International Seafoods, Inc.--the official name of the church's non-profit Gloucester fishery--gets its investments, how it bails itself out of trouble, and who buys property on Cape Ann at outrageous prices.
International Seafoods, Inc., is owned by members of the Unification Church and is a tax-paying business. And its local competitors and detractors claim that it has an unfair advantage in the market--it has the financial backing of a wealthy tax-exempt organization and "free labor." Alper says that either International Seafood's employees--all of whom are members of the church--are not paid, or they donate their wages back to the church.
Mike Runyan, a church member and a New York lawyer, defends the church's backing of fishing industries.
"The church has put up cash for them--they are taxable businesses--and so what if the church invests in them? The Mormons invested money in many taxable businesses, so has the Catholic Church.
"The name of the game is capital, more power to it. That's the way it goes in capitalism. A tax-exempt entity can invest. The Jesuits started the Bank of America," Runyan says.
He adds that the church-linked businesses do, in fact, pay their workers well above the minimum wage. But he--like everyone else--does not deny the money is flowing back to the church. In all towns where the Unification Church's fisheries opeate, the church workers live in communal houses--often mansions--purchased by Moon for the use of the work force.
"What does Alper know?" Runyan says. "We pay our laborers well."
Tim Sullivan, editor of National Fisherman magazine, who has covered the operations of International Seafoods since 1975, calls the backing a question of "fair business.'
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