40 Years in America

Signposts To The Future

Reverend and Mrs. Moon at Belvedere in the 1970s

As the century drew to a close, the Unification movementís place in American life was still subject to debate. Rev. Moon hoped to establish a "new Pilgrim movement" to "rekindle Americaís spirit." Beyond that, he wanted to help create "a new society, a new spiritual nation where God can dwell." As he put it, "America must go beyond America." Although he described himself as "one voice crying in the wilderness of the 20th century," the idea that America had a pivotal role in Godís providence resonated with longstanding themes of the United States as a redeemer nation. Yet, even after forty years of investment, the movement was able to find only a handful of Americans willing to wholeheartedly embrace its program of world salvation.

During the 1960s, pioneer missionaries planted important seeds but the movement went almost entirely unnoticed. During the 1970s, the Unification Church catapulted from obscurity into national prominence but provoked fierce resistance. This blunted its forward surge and halted its "march on Moscow" for more than a decade. During the 1980s, the movement spent millions to develop an institutional infrastructure and establish an impressive array of high-level contacts in the Americas. Nevertheless, Rev. Moonís indictment, trial, conviction and imprisonment on tax evasion charges overshadowed these gains in the publicís consciousness. During the 1990s, the movement recreated itself as the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification and attempted to broaden its grassroots base through the international Blessings. However, there was little evidence that FFWPU exerted an appeal or elicited commitments that extended much beyond the confines of the existing movement.

The growth curve of religious traditions, especially those with world-transforming orientations, is such that it probably was unrealistic to expect immediate public acceptance or even widespread public receptivity within the movementís first generation. Nevertheless, the American movement labored under the burden that its efforts had not brought sufficient results, particularly in the United States. In fact, it may have been reaching what American sociologist of religion Rodney Stark termed "the crisis of confidence that awaits most new religious movements as members of the founding generation reach the end of their lives." According to Stark, "the record of new faiths suggests that unless the movement reaches a persuasive appearance of major success within the first generation, the founders will lose hope and turn the movement inward -- adopt a new rhetoric that de-emphasizes growth and conversion." Stark defined success "as a continuous variable based on the degree to which a religious movement is able to dominate one or more societies."

The Unification Movement could boast of accomplishments in America between 1959-99 worthy of groups many times its size. However, it would be a stretch to assert that it had attained any degree of dominance. There was evidence that the movement had influenced, or at least nudged U.S. policy, particularly during the Reagan years. Still, it was light years from being a dominant majority. Earlier than that, the "Moonies" were almost universally vilified and considered to be a threat to the American way of life. Rev. Moon maintained that public animosity was better than anonymity or disinterest and that this could easily turn to favor once the truth were known. In reality, the movementís negative public image had not turned by the end of the century. The Unification Church had gained acceptance as a bona fide religion, various of its organizational components operated as legal entities, and it was able to extend constitutional protections to its members. The movement also made a growing number of friends. Still, Rev. Moon and the Unification Movement were often considered suspect. Far from being a dominant majority, the experience of many members was that they had only recently risen to the status of being an accepted minority.

Under these circumstances, the movement did not back away from its program of world peace and unification but began to articulate alternative means of achieving its ends. Some members argued that the movement needed to develop a stronger sense of continuity with conventional American religious culture. Many of them concluded that the movement was too deviant, too Korean or too Japanese. Alien standards, in their estimation, had contributed to a loss or stagnancy in membership, financial problems and an erosion of moral authority. Others turned inward. They argued, with the Apostle Paul, that the movementís real struggle was "not against flesh and blood" but "against the spiritual forces of evil in heavenly places." This group did not adopt a rhetoric that deemphasized growth and conversion. In fact, the removal of angry and resentful spirits, thousands of whom were understood to have attached themselves to Blessed couples, was considered to be a precondition for witnessing success. However, for them, the real key to achieving world peace and unification lay in obtaining Luciferís unconditional surrender.

A third alternative approach was to re-create not only a new heaven but also a new earth. Communitarianism had always been an important element within Unificationism. Church center life, international couples, and the movementís ideal of a one-world family and culture all bore an unmistakable communal stamp. During the late 1960s and 1970s, the movementís San Francisco Bay Area branch reaped a bumper crop of converts through its International Ideal City Project. In the 1990s, the movement concentrated resources and energies in the isolated Mato Grosso do Sul and Pantanal regions of Brazil. There, amid pristine but almost entirely undeveloped nature, it purchased vast tracts of land and began to establish a dominating presence. Whether or not this would become a Unification homeland was as yet unclear. However, many members felt the necessity of setting up a working model of the ideal society.

A fourth alternative means of achieving its goals had affinities with the position of those who argued that the movement needed to develop a stronger sense of continuity with American religious culture. However, rather than mainly criticizing previous movement efforts as alien, those holding this perspective, including Rev. Moon, made the case for cementing stronger bonds of heart. In 1998, Rev. Moon designated the United States as "elder son" nation to the "parent" nations of Korea and Japan. On one level, this may have represented a neo-Confucian ordering of internal movement polity. On another level, it signified the designation of a successor nation. If Korea was the first stage rocket booster that got the movement off the ground and Japan was the second stage that powered the movement into orbit, the U.S. was the third stage vehicle that would deliver the movement to its destination. It was up to the American movement to consolidate the Unification tradition, to develop a form of movement governance that could empower members worldwide, to build on its favorable age and sex composition, and to effectively socialize those born into the faith. All of these were crucial to achieving the movementís goals.

Again, it would be a mistake to conclude that all members of the movement divided neatly into these groupings. There was considerable overlap and necessarily so, as no single approach was sufficient to bring success. There needed to be a creative synergy among different approaches to propel the movement forward. At the same time, how the movement managed its increasingly complex inner workings would be a key factor in its long-term accomplishments.

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