The Words of the Rubenstein Family
When I think of the Reverend Sun Myung Moon, I realize that no other individual outside of my immediate family has had a greater impact on my adult life. It is surprising that this should be the case. We were born in different countries, the products of very different cultures.
When I was a student preparing for the rabbinate at the Jewish Theological Seminary in the late nineteen-forties and early fifties, it would have been beyond the farthest stretch of my imagination for me to have imagined that Reverend Moon could have had so profound an effect on me. Truth to tell, when it became apparent that he had influenced me so greatly, many of my academic and rabbinic colleagues ascribed it either to my alleged emotional instability or even to an alleged wickedness on my part.
The story of my relationship with Reverend Moon begins in Florence, Italy, in the fall of 1975. At the time, I was teaching at Florida State University’s Centro Studio in that city, and Dr. Betty Rogers Rubenstein was commuting daily to Bologna to do research for her doctoral dissertation. While in Florence, I received a letter inviting me to participate in the International Conference on the Unity of the Sciences (ICUS) in the United States in November 1975. I was impressed by the material describing ICUS that came with the letter, but I felt that I could not leave Florence. I wrote to the conference secretariat asking that I be kept on the list should there be another ICUS. I did not know that ICUS had become an annual affair. Nor had I yet read or heard anything about Reverend Moon, its founder.
The next fall I was a Fellow at the National Humanities Institute at Yale University and was living in New Haven instead of Florence.
Again, I received an invitation to participate in the ICUS that was to be held at the Washington Hilton in November. This time I was able to accept. However, a number of my faculty colleagues at Yale warned me not to attend. I had, however, become curious about Reverend Moon and the Unification movement. One very powerful Yale professor invited me to lunch one day to warn me about going. He warned me that my attendance would have a negative effect on my academic career. It was a direct threat. I asked him, “Why?” He replied with a question, “Haven’t you read the newspapers?”
I responded that, as a trained theologian and historian of religion, I was better prepared to evaluate a religious movement than a newspaper reporter. I resolved to attend ICUS and asked Dr. Betty Rubenstein to come with me. I can still remember taking the train from New Haven to Washington. We were curious but also somewhat apprehensive. By this time, we had read many unfavorable newspaper accounts about Reverend Moon and ICUS. Nor did it help matters that there were pickets in front of the Washington Hilton warning people not to attend ICUS.
Betty and I were enormously impressed with the quality of the conference. It was one of the best we had ever attended. At ICUS I took part in multi-disciplinary sessions with world-class scholars and scientists in every field. I conversed with several Nobel Laureates including Sir John Eccles and Eugene Wigner, both of whom I later got to know.
I was most curious about Reverend Moon. I did not have an opportunity for a direct conversation with him at that ICUS, but it was clear to me that he is a man of extraordinary spiritual charisma and that he is the commanding presence in any gathering at which he is present. On later occasions, I remember being his dinner guest with four or five Nobel Laureates among the guests. By virtue of his extraordinarily powerful personality, he was clearly the dominant personality. At ICUS I especially remember his singing several songs in Korean. Although I did not understand the words, the force of his personality came through. I also noted that he had a strong sense of humor that I took as a very positive sign.
In the spring of 1977, I was invited to offer prayer at the first graduation ceremony of the Unification Theological Seminary in Barrytown, NY. Immediately before the event, I was walking down a flight of stairs and noticed Reverend Moon on a landing looking out of a window in what seemed to be meditation. I did not want to disturb him. I did not think he knew who I was and so decided to continue walking. Watching me pass by him, he later told me that he thought to himself, “Rubenstein has guts!” Apparently, he took my failure to introduce myself -- it certainly was not a willful refusal as a token of a certain measure of independence and courage on my part.
The late seventies and the early eighties were a time when Americans were becoming aware of the extraordinary revival that was taking place along the Pacific Rim. Although I was a young adult during World War II, my education and my mind-set were Euro-centric. I met Reverend Moon and the Unification movement just at the time when I was beginning to realize the deficit in my education and training with regard to Asia. In addition to the Asian industrial miracle, I had a personal reason for making up that deficit. My youngest son was courting a Chinese lady from Hong Kong whom he married in 1980.
I was invited to address many international conferences in Asia sponsored by the movement beginning with the Ninth International Conference on World Peace sponsored by PWPA in Korea in 1979. This was my first trip to Asia. I saw a dynamism in the region that I took to be a synergistic parallel to the dynamism I saw in the Unification movement.
In 1982 I was invited to become a founding member of the Editorial Advisory Board of The Washington Times. Again, many friends warned me against accepting. I was told that the paper would only be a house organ of the Unification movement and would never be taken seriously in Washington. I told these friends that they did not know Reverend Moon and that the project would be a success. I also told them that The Washington Times would be an influential newspaper that filled a void in Washington. I was, of course, right in that judgment. Reverend Moon had the courage, imagination and daring to realize that the capital of the Free World needed a responsible conservative voice at a crucial juncture of the Cold War. The paper is widely respected and has given Reverend Moon a heightened measure of influence with world leaders. I have no doubt that, when the full story is told, Reverend Moon will be understood to have played a constructive role in bringing the Cold War to an end as well as in the establishment of contacts between the United States and North Korea.
Reverend Moon’s disciples are to be found in every country. Some risked their lives in communist countries to bring hope and a vision of a better future to the people there. With this extraordinary network of disciples, Reverend Moon was one of the world’s best-informed nongovernmental leaders.
In 1985 the Professors World Peace Association (PWPA) held an international conference on "The Fall of the Soviet Empire" in Geneva, Switzerland. When I heard of the theme of the conference, I urged caution, suggesting that a more tentative title would be more appropriate. A number of PWPA leaders went to Reverend Moon and suggested alternative titles. It was too extreme, they thought, to predict the collapse of the Soviet Empire and to make it the conference theme. Nevertheless, Reverend Moon insisted on the title and with the wisdom of hindsight we knew that he was correct! He understood the world situation far better than the foreign policy experts!
I also recall the persecution inflicted upon him by the United States government. After giving millions to support American religious, cultural and charitable institutions, he was found guilty of tax evasion and sentenced to a term at Danbury Federal Prison in Connecticut. I spoke my mind on the injustice of the verdict at a rally in Constitution Hall in Washington, D.C. At the time I was a resident of Florida, a state that was awash in illegal drug money. I told the audience that if the government were truly serious about tax evasion, it would do well to concentrate its efforts on my home state of Florida instead of on a religious leader who had openly and publicly deposited money in New York’s Chase Manhattan Bank. It was sheer persecution.
Together with several other PWPA leaders, I visited Reverend Moon in the Federal Prison in Danbury, Connecticut. He was neatly attired in a khaki shirt and slacks, relaxed, and radiated good cheer. We felt that it was an enormous privilege that he permitted us to call upon him. We reported to him on the work we were doing for PWPA and other projects of the movement. As always, his charisma dominated our visit. All of us felt that we were his guests whether we met him at his home, at a conference reception, or in Danbury. It was apparent that his morale was excellent, that he worked hard, prayed long hours, and had a powerful influence on his fellow prisoners. The visit was unforgettable.
Often, when invited to large gatherings at which he spoke, I entered with feelings of both pleasure and dread. He tended to single me out during his speeches, sometimes challenging me on a religious idea, sometimes asking my opinion. I remember especially several occasions at the Manhattan Center in New York and at the Unification Church in Washington. On one occasion, he asked me before 2,000 people, “Do you love God?” It was a hard question for me to answer. Simply to say, “Yes, of course, I love God!” would have been too easy. I am too mindful of the awesome Majesty of Divinity to give an easy answer.
When he asked me a question in the Church or in the presence of so many people, it was especially difficult for me to answer. I was his guest and did not want to express a contrary opinion. He knew me very well. Perhaps, it was his way of determining whether I still had “guts.” I knew that he did not expect or want me ever to say anything simply to please him. He would have lost respect for me if I had. I, on the other hand, never wished to be in any way discourteous to him. My challenge was to express my own views truthfully and respectfully. I understood that his singling me out was a token of affection and respect. I understood the honor that he bestowed upon me in these encounters and I returned his affection and respect with much gratitude.
I especially remember one occasion when I was spending the summer in Japan. I was informed that Reverend Moon was in Gloucester, Massachusetts, and wanted to see me. I flew from Tokyo to New York and from thence to Gloucester, where I was joined by Dr. Nicholas Kittrie and Dr. Morton Kaplan. In Gloucester he told me that he would have a very important task for me. I was puzzled by the remark. I had already served as President of PWPA-USA and was then serving as President of the Washington Institute for Values in Public Policy, an offshoot of PWPA, and as a member of the Editorial Advisory Board of The Washington Times. I had no idea of what he had in mind. Several years later he entrusted me with the leadership of the University of Bridgeport. Perhaps he himself did not yet have a clear idea of what my “major task” was to be. PWPA’s partnership with the university was not yet on the horizon at the time. However, leadership of the University of Bridgeport was the most important task that he gave to me.
I served as president of the university for five years. It was an enormously difficult and complex responsibility, and I am grateful to Reverend Moon for entrusting me with the leadership of the institution. Before Reverend Moon rescued the university from certain collapse and bankruptcy in 1992, the institution had experienced the longest and the bitterest faculty strike in the history of American higher education. The Professors World Peace Academy entered into a fruitful partnership with the university in 1992. Nevertheless, just as an ocean liner cannot suddenly change directions, the university’s path to recovery was not without setbacks. Once it became known that the university and PWPA had entered into a partnership, both the press and an important segment of public opinion in Connecticut vehemently criticized the partnership agreement. In spite of the fact that PWPA had pledged that it would respect and maintain the university’s charter as a non-sectarian institution, there was widespread suspicion and distrust of Reverend Moon’s motives. Unfortunately, none of the critics offered any constructive suggestions concerning how the university might be restored to health without Reverend Moon’s support.
Moreover, the critics did not understand or did not want to understand that all private colleges and universities in New England are publicly regulated. Had there been a violation of PWPA’s agreement to maintain the non-sectarian character of the university, the school would have quickly lost its accreditation. Unfortunately, some of the critics preferred to see the school close its doors rather than succeed in its partnership with PWPA. At least those critics were motivated by the mistaken belief that the partnership would ultimately prove harmful to the community. There were others motivated by greed.
The university occupies eighty-six acres of prime real estate property on Long Island Sound. Were the university to fail, these people hoped to purchase prime real estate property for very little money.
Thanks to Reverend Moon’s commitment to the university, it did not fail. Enrollment and revenue have increased every year since 1995.
When I became President in 1995 there were 1,900 students. I left office at the end of 1999 with 3,000 students enrolled and with a much modernized and improved campus plant, thanks largely to the generosity of the Women's Federation for World Peace. PWPA’s original commitment to the university was $50.5 million. However, in the information age universities are capital-intensive enterprises.
Hence, it is not surprising that more funds were required. At the beginning of the millennium, Reverend Moon and his disciples committed over $110 million to the university. During the Asian financial crisis, finding the necessary funds was very difficult for PWPA, the Women's Federation for World Peace, and other organizations founded by Reverend Moon. Nevertheless, PWPA met every commitment to the university. Without Reverend Moon’s dedication and commitment, the university could easily have seen its funding disappear in the general financial meltdown that took place in Asia.
I should like to conclude this brief tribute by recalling one of the most challenging tasks Reverend Moon ever entrusted to me. On August 24, 1992, I was given the honor of responding to the address that Reverend Moon delivered at the Little Angels School in Seoul, Korea, before an assembly that included religious leaders, philosophers, scientists, political leaders, media leaders and government officials from all over the world. I did not have occasion to see the address until a day or two before the occasion. When I did see it, I realized that it was perhaps the most important public address Reverend Moon had ever given. In it he proclaimed his self-understanding as Lord of the Second Advent.
The occasion was too solemn for me to say anything simply to please him, nor did I think he wanted me to. The nature of Reverend Moon’s calling is a matter of faith. I neither wanted to say anything that would mar the solemnity of the occasion, especially for his disciples, nor did I want to misrepresent my own religious commitments. In a way, Reverend Moon was once again testing me to see whether I had “guts.” I would not have shown “guts” if I failed fully to appreciate the seriousness of the occasion in my response. I was, after all, his guest and he had honored me by inviting me to respond to this most important address rather than any of the other scholars and theologians who were at the Seoul meetings. My response is best summarized in the following words spoken on that occasion:
I must confess that as a historian of religion who received his scientific training at Harvard University, your explicit and unambiguous sharing with us of your understanding of who you are is one of the most extraordinary moments of my entire career. Indeed, you yourself have described the announcement of your calling as “astonishing and fearful.” For myself and for many of my peers whose vocation is the scientific study of religion, awesome religious inspiration is something that happened, if at all, long ago. We are most comfortable studying derivative accounts of religious inspiration and revelation in books and manuscripts. Engaged in this labor, we are interested in our subject matter; we are calm; we are dispassionate and without inner disturbance. The situation is radically transformed, indeed it is, as you say, truly “astonishing,” when we are confronted by an inspired religious leader whose vocation is in the process of unfolding in our own times and even before our very eyes. We are not accustomed to such a manifestation of spiritual power and charisma. Our scientific and professional training has not prepared us for the encounter.
Hence, we guard ourselves against it by inventing psychological categories to neutralize its potency as well as our discomfort before it. Nevertheless, the spiritual power is there, and, whatever may be the religious tradition in which we are rooted, we feel it. Of one thing concerning your messianic vision I am certain: all of your works, from which the world has already derived so much benefit, have sprung from your messianic vision. Without it, there would be no ICUS, no PWPA, no Washington Times, no Assembly of the World's Religions, no Little Angels School, no revivified University of Bridgeport; without your messianic vision, your original tiny church in Pusan would never have become the worldwide religious force for human betterment you now lead.
That statement expresses much of what I continue to feel about Reverend Moon and his mission. To repeat, no person in my adult life apart from my family has had a greater impact on my adult life.
Reverend Sun Myung Moon is a world religious leader who has banned the word impossible from his vocabulary. He always listens to experts who tell him what cannot be done and why it can’t be done. And then he goes ahead and does it.