His Mass-Matched Bride Long Gone, Rick La Martina Finds Deliverance from the Moonies

updated 03/14/1983 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 03/14/1983 AT 01:00 AM EST

God decided when I should be born. He will decide when I am to die. Why is it so difficult to allow Him to choose the time of my marriage?

—from Rick La Martina's journal, three weeks before his wedding

Looking back on his ill-fated walk down the aisle last July, Rick La Martina, 30, now sees good cause for his cold feet. The aisle, after all, was in Madison Square Garden, and the gangling Wisconsinite would not meet his bride-to-be until two days before their wedding. What's more, neither La Martina nor his fiancée, the 24-year-old daughter of a Japanese pear farmer, spoke the other's language. As members of the Rev. Sun Myung Moon's Unification Church, however, both had come to New York last summer along with 4,148 other Moonies to be mated in one of the largest mass wedding ceremonies ever.

If La Martina harbored private qualms about the public spectacle, they went no further than his journal the Moonie world view, he explains now, "Doubts come from Satan. You should ridicule them, turn Satan off, stop thinking. That's what you're told." During the matching marathon in New York, Moon himself divined the perfect unions. "He grabbed me out of the crowd the first day," recounts La Martina, "and went looking for my eternal mate but couldn't find anyone." At the end of the second day Rick was finally paired with Cheiko Takima, one of 248 Japanese church members imported for the nuptials. Forty-eight hours later the couple marched into the sports arena with their fellow disciples, exchanged vows and promised to promote Moon's vision of "World Peace Through Ideal Families." As the newly-weds beamed, balloons dropped from the ceiling and Enzo Start began to sing Be My Love.

That, alas, was easier sung than done. Since Moon forbade the newly-weds from having sex for periods of up to three and a half years, the couple spent their wedding night at the movies—with a chaperon—watching E.T. "Once I patted Cheiko on the shoulder, and she became very upset," Rick recalls. "It took about 25 minutes with our dictionaries before I understood, 'No touch, no touch.' " Moreover, like many of the foreign brides, Cheiko had come to the U.S. on a short-lived tourist visa. One week later she was on her way back to Japan, and Rick was preparing for a trip of his own—to Sturtevant, Wis. (pop. 4,130) to "smooth over the wedding with the family."

For Rick, the homecoming sparked long-smoldering second thoughts about the church he had once been eager to join. A self-described "searcher" since childhood, he had considered entering a Franciscan monastery after high school and in 1975-76 spent a year in a yoga commune in California. Three years later, during a vacation from the University of Wisconsin-Parkside in Kenosha, he took a bus trip to San Francisco and there met a group of self-styled writers and musicians who sang the praises of a mysterious messiah. Rick readily joined the group—"I was very attracted to the idea of community, perfecting my character, overcoming my limitations"—before he realized it was Korean evangelist Sun Myung Moon's Unification Church.

Living as a Moonie meant a life of perpetual motion. "For three years, seven days a week, everything was done communally with no chance to do anything alone," he recalls. In California, La Martina and his fellow converts rose daily at 4:30 a.m. to recite the so-called "children's oath" to Moon and his wife, "a pledge to the true parents that you will live and die for them." Later, assigned to campus recruiting, he moved to Florida, North Carolina, Tennessee and then Georgia where he tried to lure curious students to Moonie dinners. "We'd make friends with that person, warm them up. Everybody would focus on them and be really interested in them," he remembers. "The push was to get the person to commit right there to a two-day seminar. Then you did everything you could to make sure they stayed two or three weeks." If the mealtime come-on failed, "you'd go right back to campus and try again that night."

As a Moonie proselytizer "I got about three hours of sleep a night," says Rick. "I had to stay on my feet moving around, handing out newspapers, talking to people to stay awake. They discouraged you from thinking. Moon says, 'Just don't think. Do.' You finally got in the habit of not asking questions because you couldn't concentrate."

Back home in Wisconsin after his wedding, however, La Martina found the time for reflection. Long troubled by what he says are Moon's inflated claims ("I knew the church had only some 5,000 members in the U.S., but they say they have 30,000") and by the cult's aggressive fund raising, he began confiding in his six brothers and sisters. Finally his mother, Marion, 60, a retired music teacher (his father died in 1981), invited three former members of other cults over for a family discussion. "That's when it began to hit me," Rick admits. "They'd had exactly the same experiences I'd had. I was in a group that was going to save the world. I was following the true messiah—but they were too." Recalls Marion: "He went out for a walk, and we all looked at each other and wondered if he'd ever come back. When he returned he looked so hurt. But he was no longer trying to rationalize, and we all felt like a huge rock had been lifted off our chests."

Determined to escape his matrimonial burdens, Rick quickly agreed to seek a divorce. Like many of his fellow newlyweds, however, he had married without benefit of blood tests or a license ("We didn't bother with things like that, or the IRS"), and the new groom was stunned to learn that his particular wedding, at least, had been strictly ceremonial. "It took me a while to realize I wasn't ever really married," he sighs. "I did get a letter from Cheiko before I told the church I was leaving. I'm sorry to have put her through this. But Moon has probably found her another 'ideal' match."

Perhaps so; last October Moon broke his Madison Square Garden record by steering 11,674 followers to the altar at a mass wedding in Seoul, South Korea. While his former fellow Moonies were preparing for their big day, La Martina was spending a two-week stint at Unbound Inc., a nonprofit mental health facility in Iowa designed to help former cult members readjust to society. Now a free-lance photographer and occasional deprogrammer, he has joined his mother in counseling Wisconsin families who have lost children to cults. "These parents don't ask anything but that their children have free choice," he marvels. "When the kid gets out and the whole family is united again, then you see the ideal family that Moon talks about."

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