To Bigotry, No Sanction, Reverend Sun Myung Moon and the Unification Church

by Dr. Mose Durst

2. And Restless Are Our Hearts: Conversion to the Spiritual Community

just as St. Augustine in middle age could look back over his life and see how God had sought him, as his restless quest for truth drove him from Manicheanism to Neo-Platonism, so I can now look back and see how the Hound of Heaven pursued me in school, teaching, and marriage. With Plato, I recognize that learning to love earthly things, coming to recognize the value of one beautiful person, is a stage on the way to loving God. One Unification theme, "tears for each other," became real for me when I met Onni, the hardworking, fully dedicated missionary who later became my wife.

The story of my conversion may be unremarkable, although it moved me deeply and still does. I reluctantly record how the Spirit dealt with me, only because my experience demonstrates conclusively the deep spirituality of the Unification movement. There is no place for the misunderstanding and prejudice of "brainwashing" charges, of declarations that "Moonies" hold people against their will or exploit them, when we see the process by which individuals identify with the movement.

I came to Oakland, a disappointed but by no means broken man. The work with poor youth was demanding but satisfied my deep desire to serve others. I helped establish, among other projects, the interdisciplinary program at Laney College. I began reading spiritual classics of East and West, analyzing, on this American frontier closest to the Orient, the contributions of the East to human spiritual development.

Later I was to learn that a basic Unification ideal is the incorporation of the sacred in the secular world: a move to make concrete the holy, the loving, and the good in the midst of parking lots, classrooms, and streets of the real, selfish world. I can see now that this basic religious ideal was what attracted me when I first became aware that someone was different from all the other people I had previously met.

One needs to remember that there was no Unification Church, as such, in the United States in 1971 when I first became aware of a new teaching in Oakland. There was a Unification Church corporation, a formal entity, but only a handful of members in the San Francisco Bay area, in Los Angeles, in Washington, and in New York. Someone familiar with my interdisciplinary studies course told me of a Korean woman who lived on Dana Street, in Oakland, who might have some interesting ideas to share. Fresh from an improvisational dance class -- I was involved in many consciousness raising activities -- I went to 6502 Dana Street and rang the bell. A lovely Korean woman invited me in.

The apartment was small but immaculately clean. Bright California sunlight streamed through the orange and white curtains onto the blue felt sofa where she invited me to sit. I was later to find, to my amusement and surprise, that to save money several dresses and ties worn by members of the church were made of exactly the same material as the curtains. Onni sat on the couch and wore a long, modest woolen dress. I do not believe I ever saw her legs until about a year later, when she arrived at the San Francisco airport wearing a dress Mrs. Moon had given her.

What immediately struck me about her was her smile. She seemed so normal and happy, quite at ease with herself, yet open and responsive to the stranger who sat down in her living room. She had dark brown hair, brown eyes, and was a soft presence in a warm room. We spoke briefly, but she was quick to ask me what I did and how I liked my work. Her directness was disarming, especially in contrast to her warmth. She did not speak much during our first meeting, but I was aware that she was very much the "center" of this small spiritual community.

I visited her regularly in this little apartment and she willingly talked. I was intrigued by her teaching, delighted over the charts she showed me which detailed the relationship of man to God, and fascinated by her personality. I was not familiar with Reverend Moon, whom she called her teacher, and it was hard for me to imagine what he could be like. She offered me a copy of the Divine Principle, Reverend Moon's central book of doctrine, which I had never seen or heard of before.

I later learned that Onni had joined the Unification Church in Japan in 1960. She was working at the Korean embassy in Tokyo at the time when she first met Mr. Sang Ik Choi, the first missionary sent by Reverend Moon to Japan from Korea in 1958. Onni was one of the first ten members of the Japanese Unification Church, and very soon after joining she became a pioneer missionary to the city of Shimonoseki. She had left her job at the embassy, and set out with great hope to communicate the central message of the Unification Church: that God suffers and longs for the love of His lost children, the human race. Shortly after I met Onni in Oakland I asked her why she came to America. "To end God's suffering," she replied, "and to end the suffering of human history."

In 1965, when the Japanese church had grown significantly, Reverend Moon sent Mr. Choi and two successful missionaries from Japan to the United States. Onni was chosen along with Mr. Kenji (Daikon) Ohnuki. They thus joined the earliest missionaries from Korea in the United States: Dr. Young Oon Kim, who came in 1959; Col. Bo Hi Pak, who came in 1961, and Mr. David S. C. Kim, who also arrived in 1959.

Pioneering in Japan and the United States, I was to learn, was filled with much walking, little food, and constant praying. I can never look at Onni's feet without thinking of the hundreds of miles she walked in seeking to communicate the message of God's suffering heart to an indifferent world. Even when she pioneered Oakland, California, she would walk around Lake Merritt several hours a day until she met someone with whom she could share God's heart and her own desire to love another human being. Her English was poor when she first came here, so she had to rely on prayer, perseverance, and a joyful smile to spread her message.

Kristina Morrison Seher joined Onni, becoming the second member of the Oakland Unification Church. They lived together in a small, one-bedroom apartment on Telegraph Avenue near Berkeley. Kristina was pursuing her doctoral studies in psychology at the University of California, Berkeley, while working as an educational consultant. Onni, holding down two jobs as a waitress, worked a total of sixteen hours a day when she first arrived in San Francisco. She would then "witness" share the ideas of the church -- for three to four hours with anyone who would listen. With Kristina working, Onni then had the opportunity to witness many hours a day.

Onni would rise at 4:30 a.m., awaken Kristina, and then prepare for prayer at five. Then both women would study the Bible, the Divine Principle, or other sacred texts. They would set their goals for the day, eat breakfast, and set out for the day's activities. In the evening Onni would usually bring home for dinner one or two guests with whom she would share the ideals of the Unification movement.

Both Kristina and Onni are devout and powerfully motivated women. Even in our church, and certainly outside, they are held somewhat in awe because of their commitment, their dedication, and their love of God. Many times both women have fasted seven days so that America would be blessed by God, their sacrifice offered as a condition of purity so God would have mercy on the many profane actions of our nation. They have fasted for President Nixon and they have fasted so often for a brother or sister who was suffering.

The fasting, praying, and sacrificing took their toll on Onni's health. She contracted tuberculosis and was confined to her room for almost a year. I once asked her why she didn't lose faith during this period, since she had done so much for God and He seemed to do so little for her. "What do you mean little?" she replied sharply (and there certainly is a sharp as well as a soft side to Onni). "I have life, I have love, and I have my ideals. I am an earthly-down person. I can pray for my brothers and sisters, I can sing holy songs, and I can now study. I have even been given a copy of a book by Swedenborg from Dr. Young Oon Kim. No problem. No worry."

Onni loved Kristina deeply, and both women eventually brought several thousand dedicated members to the Unification Church. The secret of their success was simple: deep faith, constant prayer, sincere sacrifice for others, and joyful love of God. As I look at those people who received spiritual life from Onni, I see physicians like Dr. William Bergman, professors like Dr. Tyler Hendricks, businessmen like Jeremiah Schnee, and a myriad of others, including myself.

When I first met Onni, I was already prepared for a spiritual charge, through my practice of meditation, my wide reading in spiritual subjects, and my interdisciplinary course. Nevertheless, my conversion was not to come suddenly. I was familiar with the theories of psychologists like Abraham Maslow and Erik Erikson, and their concepts of gradual, evolving change until there is a growth of the personality and spirit. Now that spiritual evolution was to take place in me.

The self-sacrifice, humility, and basic goodness of Onni deeply impressed me. I valued modesty and selflessness, but had been disappointed repeatedly by people I admired such as professors and teaching colleagues, who behind their facade of knowledge and service, had hidden agendas for seeking power or sex. I prized personal purity. There were of course many opportunities for promiscuous sex in California, and everywhere, in the 1960s and '70s, but I did not take advantage of them. I was repelled by such casual approaches to something as meaningful, and to me sacred, as human sexuality. The purity of Onni and the genuine absence of lust and self-seeking in the few people drawn to this new teaching made the greatest impression on me. Here were people who were real, who meant what they said. They were, precisely, not deceptive, not out for profit or the satisfaction of their own desires. I was moved. Onni once said to me, when I marveled at her poise and giving: "We must be value-makers and happy-makers." The Unification people I met were exactly that: searchers for absolute values who tried to live those values. I found that I wanted to become like them, to give value and happiness, to make service the core of my life.

I remember coming over one evening to Dana Street after a long day of teaching. I walked in the front door of the house, which was situated next to the playground of a Catholic church in a lower-middle class neighborhood. I walked into the foyer, took my shoes off (I never knew whether this was for the sake of cleanliness or spirituality, although the action did make me feel cleaner and more spiritual), and sat on the couch. I was in an introspective mood when I chanced to look at the couch on the other side of the room. An old, crippled man was being served coffee by Jennifer Morrison while her brother Matthew was engaged with him in an animated conversation. (Kristina was able to bring to the movement her two sisters, brother, and parents.) Watching the genuine care of Jennifer and Matthew for the old man prodded me out of my moodiness.

I am often asked what people find in the Unification movement that they are unable to find in other religious communities. Well, certainly the quality of serious and genuine commitment to spiritual ideals is a central part of what moved me. Further, to experience a community of people who seek together to realize these ideals is extraordinary, uplifting, and totally nourishing. A caring creative community was what I encountered at 6502 Dana Street, and it is what I continually try to recreate whenever and wherever I am with church members.

To this day, I find one pervasive misunderstanding about Unificationists. Though we ourselves take the religious impulse to be the central impulse of life, society for the most part disbelieves that this can truly be our primary motivation. Religion may be important to many people, but it is seldom the core of their daily existence. For us, the ground upon which we stand is holy.

Professor James Fowler, in his classic study Stages of Faith, describes the mature human being as one who has reached the culmination of psychological and spiritual maturity:

... [such a person] becomes a disciplined activist incarnate on making real and tangible -- of the imperatives of absolute love and justice .... The self [at this stage] ... engages in spending and being spent for the transformation actuality. Persons best described by [this stage] ... engage in spending and being spent for the transformation of present reality in the direction of a transcendent actuality. Persons best described by [this stage] ... typically exhibit qualities that shake our usual criteria of normalcy. The heedlessness to self preservation and the vividness of their taste and feel for transcendent moral and religious actuality give their actions and words an extraordinary and often unpredictable quality. In their devotion to universalizing compassion they may offend our parochial perceptions of justice. In their penetration through the obsession with survival, security, and significance they threaten our measured standards of righteousness and goodness and prudence. Their enlarged visions of universal community disclose the partialness of our tribes and pseudo-species ... 1

This was the kind of happy normality I saw shining forth from Onni's face. If she ever had what might be described as "glazed eyes," it was usually after a prayer in which she had been crying for God's ancient grief and for the suffering of the world. I have come to believe that if we do not on some occasions have such glazed eyes, we have truly lost our souls.

I returned to Dana Street over and over again. I began to discuss, to ask questions, to take part. I came to see that ideals and values were meant to be made real each moment in even the smallest actions. I realized, too, the incompleteness of the classroom experience. Ideas could elicit a certain passion, and I could pour myself out for ideas I believed to be true, but there was no obligation to live those ideas. In fact, there is almost an unwritten contract in the classroom that no idea will affect anyone's immediate life too much. My conversations with Onni, however, brought me to the realization that each individual is an embodiment of God's nature, and that each person has the potential and responsibility for expressing God's love powerfully and deeply. "Our lives are to reflect the divine nature," Onni said, and I saw the divine reflected in her.

Onni's humor and down-to-earth practicality also moved me. Her laughter struck me as being singularly beautiful. Much later, I was to meet Reverend Moon and hear his laughter, too. The way of God, I realized, is joy. As I came to have a concrete and sweet vision of what my life could be like, I identified with Onni and her fledgling movement. I threw open my home for church activities. It became, in effect, a Unification Church. I moved out of my bedroom and began sleeping on the floor with other "brothers" who used my house. I gave over direction of the household to a man younger than myself, who became our elder, or leader. I was moving towards complete identification with the few dozen members of the Unification Church in California -- for that was our size in 1972. 1 was never happier. I saw these people as good and pure, bright and normal. They were living out the spiritual ideas I had previously only talked about in my classes.

As my home became a church center, I could recognize why most religious movements began with a small group of people trying to live the ideals of a religious founder. The foundation of a religious movement depends not only on the greatness of the visionary or the vision, but on the ability of a religious community to practice the ideals and traditions of that vision. For the last ten years in the United States a broad and deep foundation for our movement has been established by dedicated, self- sacrificing people.

The church center was and is a place for the caring, loving community to actualize its ideals, not in isolation from the world, but in service to the world. There is a tremendous value to people praying, studying, and working together. Throughout history religious communities have known this. The goal of our church centers, however, has always been to wither away, so that the family and home will become the center of nourishment and support where God dwells.

The fulfillment of our church work is to reach out to entire families within a community, then to build a network of 360 families in service to God. Every member of our church is asked to minister to 360 homes within a particular community. This is true of all our churches, now in over 127 countries. It is called "Home Church. " Without mature, dedicated members (called priests, ministers, or rabbis in other traditions) there can be no model for "Home Church" members. The service and ministry we offered to those in the neighborhood of my house was simple. We would pray for people, offer to do small tasks from gardening to house cleaning, and invite our neighbors to our home to share in fellowship, love, and study of our movement's teachings.

The public and media simply fail to understand that this is the way a religious movement evolves. In the United States during 1972-1983, the Unification movement grew very rapidly, members exhibiting an extraordinary degree of commitment. This intensity was seen as fanaticism rather than the necessary activity for the establishment of a religious movement. The religious impulse is all too often suspect, for it challenges us to look critically at how we are living our lives.

My growing attachment to the religious community was not just emotional. I knew, and had felt, religious emotion before, for the prayers at synagogue had stirred mixed emotions in me. I knew that emotion alone was not enough. My reason had to be challenged, too. Onni, with her lectures and charts, discussed with me the problem of evil. We talked at length about arrogance, pride, and selfishness. We analyzed the fundamental problem of the misdirection of love in the world and in our lives. People adored things they ought not to worship and did not love what they should. We looked at how this problem had existed from the beginning of history as we surveyed the historical concept of "idolatry," or "false love," in Judaism and Christianity.

Onni frequently visited the small community we established in my home. Sometimes she visited my college classes. Each morning I got up early, prayed, helped clean the house, then took my briefcase and went out to teach literature. I was moving closer to God, but He had not yet captured me. Then, in His own time, He did.

My conversion was not startling; no outward miracle took place. just as God finally reached Augustine while he was reading the Epistles of Paul, He reached me while I was praying with my new brothers and sisters. In my own home, in the midst of a simple prayer service similar to many others in which I had engaged, I was powerfully shaken to the foundations of my being.

Onni always stressed the basic nature of sincere prayer. She tried to teach me to pray from the heart, to follow Paul's teaching that we should pray without ceasing. I was praying often and benefiting from it, but on this day there was a change from quantity to spiritual quality. Even now my whole body lights up and tingles as I think of that unforgettable, life-changing moment.

I was praying as powerfully as I could, surrounded by my friends, when I felt a sloughing off of the past, an unburdening of guilt and sadness. That prayer cleaned me out; it was catharsis in the most primal way. It was as if thousands of years of accumulated spiritual deadweight was falling away from me. I felt clean, whole, purified, down to the center of my being. I remember thinking, this is what life is meant to be; this is how I want to spend the rest of my life; no, the rest of eternity! I knew, consciously, what my unconscious was feeling: that I had discovered the deepest part of myself and had discovered, and been claimed by God.

I could not keep this to myself. I shared it with my brothers and sisters who rejoiced with me. I shared with Onni, and from that moment on I knew that I would be part of this movement for the rest of my life, forever. I shared my joy even more. I telephoned my mother in New York, declaring "Mom, I have discovered God. Now I know the meaning of my existence." It was wonderful to give her such hope, for I knew that she had been searching for God her entire life. Later my parents became associate members of the church.

But this was not only an ethereal experience. Like all else Onni taught me, it was practical, pragmatic, "earthly-down." I saw how I could be master of my own destiny. I knew now what I wanted out of life: I wanted deep, pure, serving, and loving relationships. I now recognized the pure from the impure. I saw who was pure and serving and who was not. I found my true spiritual guide, my Beatrice and Virgil, the earthly and the heavenly conductor, all in one. My spiritual guide, my soul mate, was Onni. The veil was lifted from my eyes.

I saw, too, that I was no pushover. I was tough and strong inside. Nothing could stop me. I had been waiting all my life to be used for some high purpose, and now I had found that purpose. Although Onni was not present at that prayer service, I saw that she was the sacramental means, the earthly instrument, who had made it possible. So I went to her to learn the source of her strength, her love, and her faith. She became my spiritual parent.


1. From an adaptation of Life Maps: Conversations on the Journey of Faith by Jim Fowler and Sam Keen, edited by Jerome Berryman, copyright 1978 by Word Inc. as used in Stages of Faith by Jim Fowler Harper & Row, 1981); use by permission of Word Books, Publisher, Waco, Texas 76796.

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