Unification Sermons and Talks

by Reverends Schuckers

Ecumenism in the Unification Church

by Amy Cuhel-Schuckers

The Unification Church from its very inception has been concerned about developing relationships within the Christian community as well as creating harmony among all religions.

This ecumenical approach has elicited praise from scholars [an example is Frank K. Flinn, 1987, "An Ecumenical Faith: Reverend Moon and the Unification Church,"" pp. 47-51, in Andrew Wilson, ed., "The Future of the World Scholars View the Thought of Rev. Moon," New York, International Cultural Foundation and International Religious Foundation] and religionists [an example is Sebastian S. Matczak, 1982, "Unificationism," New York, Learned Publications, Inc., pp. 381-401] who have studied it.

Nevertheless, it has also been a source of consternation for those who have difficulty reconciling this ecumenical thrust with the active evangelism of church members.

This article outlines briefly the founding history of the Unification Church, the purpose of the larger Unification Movement, the vision that underlies both the ecumenical activities and the wider ecumenism (or interreligious work) of the church, as well as the substantial projects and activities that have resulted from such a vision. Additionally, a rationale is presented for the resolution of the apparent paradox of the seemingly competing trends of evangelism and ecumenism.

The Reverend Sun Myung Moon was born in 1920. His family converted to the Presbyterian Church when he was 10 years old. At that time, Korea was under a repressive foreign rule that outlawed the practice of Christianity. At the age of 16, while in fervent prayer on a Korean mountainside, he received a vision of Jesus, who told him he would have a crucial role to play in the restoration of mankind.

He spent the next nine years praying intensively and studying the Bible, seeking to understand God's heart and will for this time in history. The understanding he gained is reflected in the Unification Principle, or Divine Principle.

The Holy Spirit Association for the Unification of World Christianity (HSA-UWC), commonly known as the Unification Church, was founded on May 1, 1954 in Seoul, Korea. Missionaries were sent out as early as 1959, and the Unification Church has now expanded to more than 130 nations. From the very beginning, it facilitated the coming together of people from every race, religion and nationality.

Moon's vision goes beyond the boundaries of a traditional religious ministry and calls for "a profound transformation of human society in every area: education, science, business, media, politics, culture and the arts." [John Biermans, et al., eds., 1988, "New Vision for World Peace," New York, HSA-UWC, p. 11.] He has often said that he did not seek to create another denomination, but to begin a movement a movement back to God.

Foundational to Unification ecumenism and, indeed, all the work of the larger Unification Movement, is an understanding of God as the divine parent who suffers over the situation of his lost children and actively seeks to restore them to a full relationship of heart with him. God's suffering began with the human fall, which resulted in the separation of humankind from God and the division of humanity. The resolution of suffering is the goal of the Unification Church.

In the Unification Principle, our primary identity as God's children makes race, culture and doctrine secondary. Additionally, it is understood that each person reflects a unique expression of God's own nature. The appreciation of this uniqueness in ourselves and in others becomes the foundation of individual identity with God and offers an orientation for harmonious relationships with others.

Another strength of Unification theology in its ecumenical work is an emphasis on reciprocal relationships. "Give and take" between God and man, between individuals and throughout the wider circles of society, is fundamental to a harmonious world. With God as our parent, we are all brothers and sisters.

An expansion of this relationship allows churches to relate to one another as part of one family of God and as brothers and sisters in Christ. Each church reflects a certain aspect or unique characteristic of God's nature; each is related to God the parent, and all are related as brothers and sisters. In that way, we are primarily God's children and, secondarily, Lutherans, Methodists or Roman Catholics, etc.

Also important to Unificationists is the understanding that God's ideal, or the Kingdom of God, must first be built here on earth. Unificationists seek to find how ecumenism can be employed in facing the real problems of the world by transcending cultural, racial and religious barriers.

After all, most of the pressing problems of the world can be resolved only through the realization that we are one human family, that we have the same God, and that even though our faith may be expressed through our various cultures and traditions, we can work together for peace.

The common values and virtues of public life that all religious traditions share can be important benchmarks for collective activity. It is recognized increasingly that a society which strips itself of religious values in the public arena in order to be impartial or value-free does not remain either impartial or value-free for long. Instead, the resulting vacuum that is created allows a proliferation of valuelessness that serves to undermine society. Churches share the important role in society of promoting norms of behavior that have a basis in shared religious values.

There are literally hundreds of organizations spanning every area of human endeavor that have been created or inspired by the vision of the Rev. Moon. The focus here will be upon those projects which have a declared ecumenical or interreligious purpose or nature, although central to all of his activities is the profound sense that ultimately everything connects to God. Some examples follow.

The Unification Theological Seminary (UTS) was founded in 1975 in Barrytown, New York. UTS provides a broad-based education for the future leadership of the Unification Movement and offers a master's degree in religious education as well as a master's in divinity studies.

The ecumenical character of UTS is represented in a faculty drawn from a number of Christian traditions and through a variety of visiting theologians, religious scholars and professors. Dialogue among students, faculty and guests has inspired hundreds of ecumenical and interfaith conferences which are now conducted under the auspices of the International Religious Foundation (IRF).

The IRF is dedicated to fostering world peace through religious dialogue and harmony. It sponsors conferences and publications for scholars and religious leaders throughout the world. Participants of every religious tradition come together to discuss their views freely.

The New Ecumenical Research Association (New ERA) first emerged out of the discussions among Christian scholars, held at UTS. It later expanded to include theologians and scholars of all nations, religions, cultures and disciplines. New ERA hosts an annual conference on "God The Contemporary Discussion," and also sponsors specialized conferences on topics such as Christian-Marxist Dialogue, Religion and Politics, Sociology of Religion, and Unification Theology and Lifestyle.

The Interdenominational Conferences for Clergy (ICC) are dedicated to promoting Christian unity and understanding among all Christians. Its educational conferences provide a forum for interdenominational and interracial dialogue and interfaith action. Since its inception, ICC has hosted 7,000 American ministers to study Unification theology in its original context in Korea.

The Unification Campus Ministry Association (UCMA) was founded in 1989 to guide activities with a seminary-trained ministry on the university campus. Unification campus ministers work with students involved with the student group, CARP (the Collegiate Association for the Research of the Principle). They also are involved with campus interfaith organizations to provide much needed spiritual resources for students, faculty and staff of the university.

The Second Assembly of World Religions (AWR) convened in San Francisco, California in August 1990. An impressive gathering of over 500 religious leaders, scholars and ecumenists from over 70 nations reflected on the theme "Transmitting Our Heritage to Youth and Society." The first such assembly was held in 1985 in McAfee, New Jersey. These gatherings "aim to uncover, from within the world's spiritual traditions, much needed resources and inspiration that might help resolve the many crises of our time."

The Council of the World's Religions (CWR) seeks to bring together religious leaders to foster harmony and mutual respect among the world's religions. The activities of the council focus on intrareligious reconciliation within a particular tradition, interreligious harmony and understanding between religions, and the fostering of cooperation among existing interfaith organizations.

Although dialogue is an important aspect of Unification-style ecumenism, the goal of such dialogue is to get to the level of heart and not simply to discuss doctrine. To this end, many projects such as the International Relief Friendship Foundation, Inc. (IRFF), International Christians for Unity and Social Action (ICUSA), the Youth Seminar on World Religions (YSWR), the Religious Youth Service (RYS) and the World Student Service Corps (WSSC) have been initiated to allow individuals to go beyond the tradition and culture they represent. In this way, true friends can be made across religious boundaries and the best of each tradition can be brought out for all to see.

The sharing of one's faith and the surmounting of obstacles to interfaith harmony are important elements of Christian life. Yet during the past 100 years, much of the Christian community has been polarized between an exclusive fundamentalism focusing on witnessing alone and an ecumenism which has often sapped the vigor of participating churches. Such a polarization has served to deprive society of important spiritual resources at a time when an infusion of spirit is sorely needed.

Additionally, this sense of the mutually exclusive nature of evangelism and ecumenism has caused some people to doubt the sincerity of the ecumenical efforts of the Unification Church. It is therefore timely to offer a perspective about whether witnessing and interfaith activities are mutually exclusive, or if there is a solution to this apparent paradox.

Within Unification theology, a possible resolution of this quandary can be found in the notion of our uniqueness as God's children and our consequent relatedness as brothers and sisters in Christ. The former relates to our inner or vertical relationship with God which strengthens the individual and provides the wherewithal to engage others harmoniously, while the latter concerns our earthly or horizontal relations with one another and with the world. [Andrea Higashibaba, 1986, unpublished thesis, Barrytown, NY, Unification Theological Seminary.]

Witnessing and nurture of the spirit, therefore, need not exclude the development of relationships among divergent faiths. In fact, such nurture could be said to be a necessary prerequisite for the development of individuals who have a strong, living relationship with God.

The mature confidence resulting from such a relationship with God would not create an attitude of triumphalism which is exclusive, but would allow one to embrace others of whatever persuasion in loving service. Jesus himself demonstrated such a standard of heart and, in our own century, we find examples in the figures of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Mother Teresa.

At the First Assembly of the World's Religions in 1985 in McAfee, New Jersey, before over 600 people representing a wide diversity of religions, races and cultures of our planet, the Rev. Moon offered this observation: "As far as I know, God is not sectarian. He is not obsessed with minor details of doctrine. We should quickly liberate ourselves from theological conflict which results from blind attachment to doctrines and rituals, and instead focus on living communication with God." [M. Darrol Bryant, John Maniatis, Tyler Hendricks, eds., 1986. "The Assembly of the World's Religions," 1985. New York, International Religious Foundation, Inc., p. 98.]

"This article was originally published in the May 1991 issue of" Entree." Amy Cuhel-Schuckers is the national coordinator of the Unification Campus Ministry Association."

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