The Words of the Sontag Family
The Unification Church: Theory vs. Practice/ideal vs. Reality
Journal of Unification Studies Volume III, 1999-2000
The advantage to living in a time when new religious movements spring up is that one can observe an emerging religion in its origin and development, even though one is always an outsider and never gains an insider's perspective. With established religions, we often forget their rough and disturbing beginnings. Read the life of George Fox, founder of the Quakers, and you will hear a tale of uproar and near violence due to his eruptive church appearances. This contrasts with the Quaker meeting in silence these days. Or, witness a Papal mass in Saint Peter's in Rome, and it will be difficult to visualize Jesus in controversy defending a persecuted minority group. Thus, to understand better the origins of one's own long-established religious tradition, now refined to domesticity, each of us would do well to become involved (at least as an observer) in some new religious group in order to gain an understanding of how a religion gets started.
The disadvantage of living in a time of new religious origins is that the intruder usually generates heated emotions which, ironically, makes it difficult to appraise the newcomer accurately. Calm, ritualistic, traditional religious paths allow calm appraisal (or sometimes no appraisal, since everything is dull). In trying to understand any religion better, then, we are caught between its now familiar procedures, which often arouse little passion (that life blood of all religion), and trying somehow to transport ourselves back in time to witness and to participate in its rude beginnings. Retouching origins can revitalize languishing spirits, but to be in the middle of a contemporary movement is often to be embroiled in the controversy, not in a quiet spiritual renewal.
In the late twentieth-century it would be hard to pick a new religion that generated more controversy than the Unification Church (actually, the Holy Spirit Association for the Unity of World Christianity). But if one is involved in one or another Christian traditions, and if one wants to gain a new perspective on one's own roots and perhaps even a renewal of spirit, the Unification movement (as it often calls itself) is a particularly good candidate for study. Why? Although it arose out of ordinary Western garden-variety Christianity, it incorporates Eastern, Oriental aspects that make it different. Such novelty provides for better contrast, since we tend to argue with and compare ourselves to those most like ourselves, e.g., in the Roman Catholic and Episcopal dialogue.
In order to be new, all emerging groups must be "heretical" until they establish themselves and attain acceptance. Mormonism (The Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints) does not offer orthodox Christianity; its founder was martyred for his radical preaching. Today we think of Mormons as paragons of domestic virtue. But we can better understand our religious history as Americans if we study Mormonism's origin in violence, or if we realize how "oddball" our Puritan forefathers were in their day in their native Europe. The United States was born out of religious controversy and out of offbeat religious groups, and we understand our religious origins better by looking at new religious groups rather than simply charting current church attendance. (As someone remarked: Every oddball religious sect that failed in Europe flourished in America.) Controversy can close minds, but sometimes it can open them too.
1. External vs. Internal Perceptions
Although Rev. Moon slipped into the U.S. quietly at first, the Unification Church burst upon the media in the early seventies. It is hard now to remember some of the circumstances of that time, so changed is our situation today. Then we faced a younger generation who were disaffected with much that made up American cultural ideals, including our triumphal Protestant celebration of America's success as being "God-given." In their rebellion, what was exotic and non-traditional appealed to many as an avenue of escape from oppressive orthodox "Americanism." In this cultural reaction, Indian and Oriental religions and life-styles developed a sudden attraction. To the rebellious youth, dancing with the Hari Krishna seemed natural. Many had become disillusioned with political activism, in spite of their success in igniting the protest against the war in Vietnam, and turned next to religious reform. That anti-war crusade had succeeded, but the notion that, as a consequence, they would change all of American culture did not follow.
In the midst of this furor Sun Myung Moon arrived in the U.S., preceded only by a few dedicated Korean followers. No one could have predicted the appeal of his message, as it is recorded in Exposition of the Divine Principle, their chief document. His commission from Jesus, he said, was to bring the kingdom of Heaven to earth, not at the end of the world but now. Many Americans were emotionally committed to South Korea as the Christian bulwark against Communism, in whose defense the US had fought. This caused even the religious establishment to greet Rev. Moon as a hero, as a representative of successful Western missionary effort. Indeed, his family had been converted to Presbyterianism, which had been established in Korea by American missionaries. But as his movement spread and attracted thousands of the young, the media soon discovered the unorthodox aspects contained in the preaching of his message, e.g., of the imminent coming of God's Kingdom on earth.
In an earlier study, I investigated this phenomenon and its controversial aspects and attempted to outline the essence of the doctrine and its appeal. 
Its theology can be rationally articulated and critiqued, perhaps more so than that of the Latter-Day Saints, with which the movement shares some similarities. The point of this essay, however, is not to offer a theological analysis but rather to contrast their religious ideal with the practice of the church at the moment -- in the hope of generating dialogue. As one who early on studied that phenomenon, over a period of time I came to know personally many members, both leaders and foot soldiers, perhaps more so than any other non-member. My published sympathy for their ideals has been criticized, but precisely because "some of my best friends are Moonies," I was also pained when I observed any disparity between their ideals and their practice.
It must quickly be added that the same discrepancy characterizes any organized religion that I know. Any enthusiastic religious follower experiences pain upon seeing the religious ideal less then perfectly embodied, whether in leaders or in one's fellow followers. After discovering this, each individual, whether Roman Catholic, Protestant, or Buddhist, must decide whether to face this fact and stay on to work for what improvement he or she can accomplish, or to "check out" and continue religious wandering. If they defect, the search continues for the elusive holy grail, that religious group which will perfectly embody its ideals in practice. Many Unificationists are certainly in that dilemma now, as projected dates for radical transformation pass and leaders sometimes seem either aloof from members' problems or appear self-interested.
Every new religious movement, if it is to recruit defectors from other religious groups, must offer an attractive picture of an attainable ideal life. Certainly this was the case with Rev. Moon. The "outside world" has used exaggerated notions (e.g. "brainwashing") to account for the movement's attractiveness. But most dedicated followers would say that it was the picture of an ideal, of a restored family life (a concept which is at the heart of their doctrine), which he or she found to be appealing. Converts discovered a group, as many said, "really living their ideals." The goal to bring God's kingdom to earth soon must be appealing to anyone with a Christian or Jewish background, although its attraction to Jews became a matter of even more intense pain to Judaism. Nevertheless, whatever the religious background, the new convert was ecstatically caught up in the vision to inaugurate an ideal existence, and to do it "now."
To work furiously to restore the earth to God's way must be attractive to those who are idealistically inclined. The average Unificationist had to be an idealist and believe that God wanted him or her to act as an instrument to restore the earth. However, the point of this dialogue piece is to ask: What happens when time passes, as it must, and the ideal life still seems held off at arm's length, or when one is embroiled in less than ideal actions with leaders or other members? The movement often announced specific timetables, and some of those dates have passed with little observable change. A number have defected, although a loyal core remains, and the movement is still growing overseas. Some accommodations have been made. The issue is: how many and by whom?
2. Disparities between Ideals and Practice
As with the early Christians who were sure of Jesus' imminent return during their lifetime, all eschatological movements face this Waterloo in their religious history. And so the Unificationist must pass through it too, or find some personal accommodation. Can the ideal be preserved, and perhaps even doggedly held on to, in the face of practical disappointment when one observes postponed dates and often less than spiritual behavior by those who should embody the religious ideal? Where power and money are involved, one is bound to see leaders interested in obtaining and preserving influence -- a fact true of any institutional religion I know anything about.
In the case of Unification practice, this issue is complicated by the fact that life within the church is not simply dictated by their major religious document, Exposition of the Divine Principle. Like trying to understand Roman Catholic life and practice from reading the Gospels alone, to know the Divine Principle will tell you something of their lifestyle and ideals, but it cannot tell you all. It does not tell you what it is like to live within the "Family," which is how the member thinks of his or her "family centered," and "God centered" life. For instance, the "Blessing" ceremony, their mass marriage, is not dictated by the Divine Principle. It grew up as a custom within church practice, and a very important one it is. It includes the Oriental tradition, foreign to Western Christianity, of the arranged matching of couples. This is done by Rev. and Mrs. Moon and the church hierarchy, often matching partners who were previously unknown to each other.
Marriage unions are to serve a higher purpose, not simply individual attraction. Given Western divorce rates, their system cannot be judged a failure, but it does cause agony for some, particularly Western, couples. Most Westerners are used to the notions of romantic love and individual choice. Suddenly to find oneself with a partner one has not known before, and perhaps from another race and culture, can involve immense problems of adjustment -- although that system is perfectly logical given the religion's goal to unify all religions and cultures.
As in any religion, Unification practice reflects its cultural origins; for example, the rigid hierarchical structure of church life reflects its Confucian background. Of course, Roman Catholics face the same dilemma, that is, if they espouse democratic individualism within a church with a long tradition of authoritarian rule. This conflict may be even more difficult for Western members of the Unification Church, since the church's theological origins are Protestant. Koreans stand at the center of many church enterprises, and designedly so. What some Western members once touted as "the Americanization of the church" intentionally became the Koreanization of the church.
Since everyone must reconcile himself of herself to a less than ideal marriage, perhaps the most desperate struggle of ideal vs. reality within the church comes over basic lifestyle. Does one live communally in church centers, working on church enterprises, or disperse and enter ordinary professions, thus living apart? Once the crusade and rally eras ended by Rev. Moon's intentional proclamation, each member had to decide what to do with his or her life, now that they were no longer fund-raising on the streets and vigorously campaigning for converts. The ideal of establishing the restored, God-centered family conflicts with 24-hour duty on projects and roaming about the world on missions. Once members are married and with children -- after securing permission to start a family and being certified as spiritually prepared for the task -- how shall they earn a living and give their families the lifestyle needed to create the ideal family? That is no small task, made even more difficult by pressure from the "Japanese tradition" within the church to sacrifice and to live communally. This is perhaps one reason why their religious movement is growing most in Africa and South America now and is less vigorous in the West.
Tension develops between the picture of the ideal family, which was so attractive to the convert, versus the practical facts of an arranged marriage and the necessity to decide between an independent, secular job versus often lower paying church work. This is the main dilemma many members face today. Some have defected, which is not to say that many did not stay and profess their loyalty to Rev. and Mrs. Moon, the exemplary ideal family and their "True Parents." Of course, in time all of our marriages face the same dilemma, except that the Unification member has had the idealized, heavenly family held up as being realizable and within reach. This makes the pain of discovering a distance between ideal and reality more intense than it is for a pragmatically based secular marriage.
"Sacrifice" is a traditional religious demand, for celibate monk and Unificationist alike, and this fact must be taken into account. Thus, the dissatisfied member is often met, not so much with sympathy for his of her plight, as with a demand for continued individual sacrifice as a means to achieve the ideal. The problem with this spiritual request is that the average member has already sacrificed much during his or her years as a fundraiser and street evangelist. Now married, after a lapse of time, they look for some evidence that the sacrificial effort is indeed bringing the ideal nearer realization, that the kingdom of God on Earth is closer to establishment. Unfortunately, the secular city seems largely unchanged, or too often in regress today. Rev. Moon did adopt a strong Western ideal of a belief in cultural "Progress."
This same conflict faces the isolated monk or nun in the monastery. The days of trial have been endured. Now he or she asks: Is the ideal spiritual life really at hand? The cloistered nun or monk, however, or even the ardent Protestant in the Crystal Cathedral pew, face a trifling in their trial of faith and fidelity compared to that which confronts the Unification Church follower, who has sacrificed for the predicted total cultural, political, and economic transformation. To achieve an inner spiritual change of individuals is not enough, nor is it what first attracted converts. To propose to transform the whole world order by creating restored, ideal families is an immense undertaking. Thus, it is all the more subject to disillusionment if the final goal eludes them. The ideal of irreversible 'progress' comes under challenge.
The political activity of Rev. Moon's followers has puzzled and angered many. Why did they for so long support anti-communists almost indiscriminately, not to mention backing President Nixon in his darkest hours? Was it mere flexibility that their stance changed so radically after the fall of communism? The rationale for the church's early anti-communism is partially explained by the experience of Rev. Moon in Korean communist prisons, but that is almost beside the point. Religions support all kinds of political causes, and each believer is sure that his religious beliefs make her political views justified. The issue is the same with the Roman Catholic hierarchy in South America or with liberal Protestants in America. When political events do not follow the desired scenario, the spiritual life of the follower can be plunged into crisis. Will he or she still believe in the goal and make the sacrifice needed to achieve it, in spite of practical reversals in the program?
The church's interest in the economic sphere may complicate life for loyal Unificationists even more. Not only the culture, but also the commercial life of the world must be "restored," they believe. Most Christians would accept this as an admirable, if difficult goal, but it does not mean that one tries to persuade the President of the General Motors (perhaps better, Toyota) to forgo profits and forsake commercial success for a life of contemplation. No, the church itself must plunge into the economic whirl to show the way to a spiritually based economic success. And despite numerous failures, the Unification Church was at least for some time amazingly successful economically. Although this poses spiritual obstacles, as I will argue, their economic success also funded the institution and in that way assured its survival. Thus, even when they are not religiously or politically or culturally fully successful, economically they can be sustained. Japan is no longer for them an economic mainstay, but the Korean economy has risen, and they have diversified their enterprises.
Yet, if their spiritual goal, to create God-centered families and to restore God's world to a Garden of Eden, is attractive to the religious novice, money is universally attractive. Those outside may be attracted by the doctrine outlined in the Exposition of the Divine Principle; but those within the church may also eventually remain in it due to the economic spin off even after their religious ardor has cooled. The highly placed leader who becomes spiritually cynical must decide if economically and socially he or she can do just as well outside the Church's folds as within. Those who may cluck in disapproval over outsiders who are attracted to the church's conferences or to their enterprises due to the economic benefit offered (e.g. complementary travel and fine hotels, which follow from the Oriental custom of generous hosting), often fail to understand that the Unification outlook sees not a thing wrong in buying a little influence. That is the way life moves. Not to recognize it is moral hypocrisy. Nothing about their use of monetary generosity, they might say, is covert. One courts well placed persons with favors. How else is one to become influential in the world and to build God's kingdom?
Secular influence is central to the Unification Church's religious aims. Few understand this, and some pious moralists will not even consider it as an acceptable religious path. However, one must ask what established religion today would be where it is had it not eventually succeeded culturally and economically. Certainly Roman Catholicism would not be a worldwide body but for the assimilation of Roman power, nor would Baptists have the influence they do in our American life if they had not become established in U.S. social, political, and economic circles. Still, insiders in the Unification Church take note of the occasional cynical climber-of-the-ladder within their movement, and so they must fight the corruption that money and power always breed. Unification doctrine teaches that they can wield influence and not fall into sin as Adam did. But here again we ask painfully: Has the reality in practice fully vindicated the ideal of remaining pure, or does practice often embroil the ideal in ironies? Has no one in the church gained power and used it selfishly? Unlikely.
As Lord Acton said, "Power (and money) corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely." The Divine Principle teaches a way out of this perennially perplexing evil, and so its enthusiastic followers can celebrate the impending release of the secular world from corruption. But do we see as much change as we should within the Unification family? One who observes closely will see many fine individuals. As with other religions, good families can be found within their group. Individuals who have been rescued and changed for the better offer testimony to the transforming power of life according to the Divine Principle. Even the movement's zealous opponents would be blind not to recognize the conversion power that the doctrine has exercised on many, whatever one may like or dislike about other aspects of the church's activities. How else, short of magic, could one explain the church's attractive power to thousands of decent, idealistic, intelligent people?
Some within the church have become disillusioned over the gap between the power of its converting ideals and the actual life lived by many, and most of those have left. Enthusiasm wanes, ordinary ways of life return. Ecstasy becomes a memory. But the same is true for the disillusioned in any religious group, since any church I know of preaches an ideal which inevitably has its fallen practitioners. Percentages differ in different groups, and statistics are hard to come by in the Unification Church. Since "perfection now" is the absorbing goal, this makes record keeping unimportant in the midst of a perpetual campaign atmosphere. However, even a slight spot of internal corruption is doubly difficult for a religion that believes it knows a "Principled way" by which Adam's fall can be prevented from occurring again. Economic success, not poverty, is the goal, so some are bound to use funds selfishly. Outsiders may not be aware of such internal faults, since Oriental "face saving" makes it difficult for the ardent leader to give less than an ecstatic public account of success. It would amount to apostasy to suggest that the projected goals were not being met, yet all the while members with a Western mentality are more realistically and pragmatically assessing the results.
In public it is theory that gets recited, seldom actual practice. The ideal is always reasserted; real conduct is not mentioned, at least not to outsiders. This can plunge the realistic Western convert into a crisis of faith. The Oriental mind may notice no contradiction, or else considers this normal and not to be mentioned openly. Public politeness is an Eastern way of life; Western directness is not. Korean leaders may argue fiercely among themselves in private, but publicly all is sweetness and light and progress. The Eastern mind takes discrepancies between private and public for granted. This may explain why Rev. Moon has been more successful in the Orient, in Latin countries, and in Africa, and why the new religion was most successful in Western countries during the time of youth rebellion against their own traditions.
The Western mind thinks every issue should be discussed openly and every discrepancy publicly proclaimed. The Oriental mind is appalled by the notion of an open airing of internal problems and so more easily accepts the discrepancy of ideal vs. reality. Private failure may be a fact, but why should it be discussed? There was for some time an underground publication, The Round Table, edited by ardent Western Unificationists who wanted to air church lifestyle problems in print. Such a notion appalled most Korean leaders. The paper spoke about authoritarian leadership or the agony, in some cases, of living in arranged marriages.
The official line is that although there may be issues, publicly you should submit to authority and then discuss privately. Such a response frustrates the Westerner. How shall practice ever be brought in line with ideal theory, the Westerner asks, unless issues are openly faced? The Oriental attitude responds (often silently): How are ideals ever to be realized if issues are displayed in front of non-family members? Ideals must not be tainted by such concerns, which are of course there. But to admit them publicly is to damage the cause you believe in. The Round Table has ceased publication, but such discussions continue on the Internet.
3. Cultural Adaptation, or the Lack of It
Zen Buddhism is commonly identified with Japanese culture. However, Zen is Indian in origin by its Buddhist beginnings and Chinese in its actual formation. Indian mystical lore was not translatable into the pragmatic Chinese outlook. So Zen emerged as a radical practical transformation of an otherwise unadaptable Indian religious fantasy. All this is an immensely complicated matter, but the point is that Zen might not have emerged as an integral part of East Asian culture had it not transformed itself from its Indian origins into a mode of Buddhism that could be culturally acceptable. Similarly, the Roman Catholic Church became a world religion by showing an amazing ability to adapt itself to the cultures into which it penetrated. Zen claims to preserve the core of Buddhism, and Catholics also claim to hold to a common core, in spite of diverse cultural adaptations.
To my mind, if anything can hold the Unification Church back from its intended world-wide spread, it will be its stubborn insistence on preserving some of its Korean folk-ways and asking all members to follow suit culturally. The church is genuinely international in its message, and it aims at worldwide cultural unity. Nonetheless, it is often provincial in continuing to operate in a Korean style. Rev. Moon would never have served a term in prison for income tax evasion had his associates understood the need to accept the maxim, "When in America do as Americans do." Their conviction on alleged violations of tax laws were unnecessary and occurred only because they could not see the need to do otherwise than they would have done in Korea. The perjury of Rev. Moon's close associate (for which he was convicted) is a perfect example of loyalty to and sacrifice for the leader, a virtuous act by Oriental standards but largely unacceptable in the West.
There are interesting and varied facets to the doctrine of Exposition of the Divine Principle, although that document may also need to be purged of the provincial cultural accretions that stem from its Korean origin. Rev. Moon set down its basic teaching, but it was enlarged on by others, making the printed work eclectic. Many educated members would like to sophisticate the doctrine, although as in all religions there is no exact agreement about what is essential, what can change, and what constitutes heresy. Still, the process of reform could (and does) go on, just as Peter and Paul freed early Christianity from its seeming destiny to remain a minor, deviant sect of Judaism. Can Rev. Moon's followers free their doctrine from its restrictive Korean setting and adapt it to world-wide culture, making it unnecessary to force Korean ways on every follower? For instance, can the policy of arranged marriages between strangers be modified? It is not absolutely required by an orthodox reading of the Divine Principle, and it does seem recently to have been relaxed.
I believe every new religious movement needs to be liberated from its provincial origins, as Christianity was from Mosaic Law, and Lutheranism from Luther's provincial political views. Unless this takes place, no religious movement can spread far beyond the cultural setting of its origin. Like primitive Christianity, from the beginning Rev. Moon intended to be international in scope and in aim. But ironically, the Korean cultural practices linked to the doctrine may limit its growth -- as it has at least in the West -- and in fact force many ardent idealists to live outside "the family" because they cannot accept some of its lifestyle practices. The ideal is there and has appealed to many. Many are caught up for shorter or longer periods, but only a small percentage remain. Do so few stay very long because culturally restrictive practices in fact thwart the development of the ideal life they seek? (The same problems, of course, are present in any religious movement I know anything about.) What then is the problem here?
Certainly American and Western cultural ways are no less provincial and can equally restrict new religious growth. In fact, part of the Unification message and its appeal is its pronouncement on the decadence of Western ways, particularly martial infidelity. Simply to abandon Oriental practices for Western liberalism would be no particular advantage. Certainly it would not serve a religious message brought to the West out of the East, as Rev. Moon now asserts that God called him to do. (His home in New York is called "East Garden," that is, the Garden of Eden now returning, coming from the East.) But the nagging issue of the discrepancy between ideal and practice in Unification Church life today should force the dedicated member to ask: What cultural inheritances are accidental and in fact restrictive to religious growth and so should be critically appraised and either modified or abandoned, in order to let the church member's life come closer to the proclaimed ideals?
Is there more than one way to live out the "Principled life," or must all of Rev. Moon's followers argue to eternity, as Christians have, trying to hold each other to only one form of belief and practice? Although Westerners sometimes think that they originated pluralism and pragmatism, these are good Oriental traditions too. Westerners often thwart themselves by lack of flexibility in practice. But surely to hold the Unification church tradition, its practice and its lifestyle, to any one cultural form separates its theoretical universalism from its practice. It forces the ideal further away from the reality of the member's actual life and also thwarts the goal of becoming truly international.
4. Ideal Family vs. Secular Influence
By way of illustration, let me comment on one doctrine that is central to the practice of the Unification movement, indicate the reasons why it should be rethought, and point out how its implementation drives members to activities little understood by outsiders and which possibly are detrimental to their own religious goal.
Key to the Divine Principle's understanding of why Jesus did not succeed in bringing the kingdom of Heaven to earth in his lifetime, and thus central to the Unification attempt to realize God's kingdom on earth now, is the belief that Jesus went to the poor and to the outcast of his time only because the leaders of Judean society failed to support his cause. Jesus should have gone to the powerful of the day and then on to Rome. In this regard, Unificationists believe that the only way to usher in God's kingdom is through influence, power, and public presence. And this demands funds sufficient to attract important people.
This theory explains how and why Jesus' mission "failed" practically -- although he did establish a spiritual kingdom, as Unificationists readily agree. It guides members as they go about seeking to institute God's kingdom today. It also explains why many of the activities of the Unification movement baffle outsiders, the purpose and nature of which few understand. International conferences abound, staged in luxury hotels, with furious if subtle pressure to bring "top names" to attend. Literally millions of dollars are expended, although the costs of these conferences are surely no higher than any such gatherings. The common assumption by outsiders is that Rev. Moon is trying to "buy respectability." In a sense that is true, as it is of almost any new enterprise, whether business, cultural, religious or political. But the issue is "why"? Why would a religious group go to such effort to stage vast international assemblies? Moreover, they operate business enterprises, newspapers, magazines, publishing houses, and political lobbying efforts.
Unificationists believe they must achieve cultural, economic, political and, above all, intellectual prominence in order to succeed in their religious goal. Only by exerting influence at society's top levels can God's kingdom and the God-centered family be spread internationally, once it has been restored in member's lives. However, this theory, little as it is understood by those outside the church and central as it is to the Divine Principle's notion of how God's plan is to be instituted on earth, is a prime example of how practice of an ideal leads to a reality in fact different from it. Their furious attempt to gain influence in the world for perfectly good purposes (according to their doctrine) often leads to practices that may harm members and cause confusion. (Not that such challenge is unwelcome; Rev. Moon actually favors baptism by fire for all novice members.)
Why may it be harmful? Unificationists' aim is to create a nucleus of God-centered families, first blessed by the marriage ceremonies, next working together to restore mankind from original sin by practicing "Principled" living. To accomplish this, one needs close families, a supportive environment and available spiritual guidance. But the struggle to gain money and prestige and influence in society, although grounded in doctrine, in fact leads to most of the actions that the public questions or finds negative i.e., quick conversions, street fundraising, pressure on "top names" to attend meetings, vast sums spent on conventions and travel, and literally frantic global activity.
In such a situation, justified as it is by doctrine, how can God-centered families be formed or human sin be eradicated? We ask again, "Doesn't power corrupt and absolute power corrupt absolutely?" But members who follow the Divine Principle believe they can set themselves free from this human flaw. They believe they can use money and influence virtuously. But in fact, their access to affluence often attracts to them those who have little interest in anything but new prominence and/or a free ride. It also encourages some church leaders to conform, at least outwardly, in order to gain power and privilege in the hierarchy. Certainly this is not true of every member, every leader, or every non-Church person who attends a luxury meeting, who helps lead conferences, or who accepts an airplane ticket. But it is true that any self-centered struggle for prominence and control can infect the ranks and deflect the energy needed to develop their spiritual life.
Any organization is subject to subversion by opportunists, but the Unification movement is plagued by: (1) going for money and influence purposefully, rather than following Saint Francis's life of poverty; and (2) by thinking that they have found a way to live free from the corruption that affluence and influence engenders. More importantly, the lives of members too often languish for individual spiritual attention because emphasis is, quite purposefully, on public appearance. Good members willingly sacrifice to put on the grand conference, to make the business profitable, to get political attention. They understand the high religious purpose behind these efforts. But by living under this pressure, do their lives often crumble and their spirits languish rather than blossom into God's kingdom on earth?
Does Rev. Moon realize all this? Why do leaders not work more intently to secure the God-centered family life that they espouse? All those leaders who are in attendance "at court" have it in their best interest to present the most positive picture to their "central figure," even if the facts are that membership declines and that the influence gained is often less than is proclaimed. Ironically, the "big show" goes on and businesses flourish all to provide the financial support for these (as Rev. Moon sees them) genuine religious purposes. But the means used to accomplish the religious goal (God's kingdom on earth, soon) may be thwarting that achievement, may actually be driving practice further away from theory and reality further away from the ideal. Like the horizon and Marx's classless society, the goal may seem further away the closer they get to it.
5. Concluding Reflection
If one understands Unificationists' doctrine and their religious aim, and perhaps has sympathy with their goal to bring God's kingdom on earth soon, what might be recommended? Several points occur in summary, some already mentioned:
(1) Keep the goal to create God-centered families central in every way possible, attempting by that to eradicate the sins of the Fall.
(2) Concentrate leaders' attention on spiritual counseling to members. Let them help members to attain that goal, not necessarily by urging them to a comfortable life but by bending every means to underwrite the new families.
(3) Consider the adoption of means, in every culture and country, which meet that indigenous intellectual mode of understanding, recognizing diversity in cultural approach (as actually fits Unification theory).
(4) Appraise every new scheme, whether business or intellectual conference, as to its value vs. the how time and funds might be spent creating a greater spiritual base.
(5) Such recommendations need not mean for the movement to become self-centered. That would contradict their goal of service to others, but it would mean to evaluate each scheme according to the spiritual needs of the membership, both present and potential.
(6) Consider the portion of funds spent on conferences and restrict their size, lavishness, and frequency to allow greater diversion of funds to the relief of physical needs, both those inside and outside the movement.
(7) Ask whether more alternatives can be found to the arranged marriage system, just as all Catholics need not become priests or nuns in order to live out their religious life. Choice of one's spouse could become an option for those who want it. And as a matter of fact, the Blessing of existing marriage seems to be becoming a more common practice.
(8) Refine the doctrine, the Divine Principle, its practice and all customs, asking what must be held to as essential and what can vary by time, place, and local custom. For example, a recent color-coded version of Exposition of the Divine Principle puts essential points in red.
(9) Re-evaluate the timetable for the coming of the kingdom. This is not hard to do since their doctrine is one that accepts a contingency of operation on God's part, not the necessity of divine foreordination as most Old World views had it. Has God changed His approach since Rev. Moon's original vision of Jesus and his commission to him to work to bring in the Kingdom? On their theory, such change in divine operations is quite possible.
(10) Scrutinize the Oriental tolerance of spoils and luxury for the leader as against a standard of sacrifice and spiritual growth. The rise of a younger generation of leaders could change some of this. (Require a reading of Saint Francis by every leader and a lecture on the purity of poverty and the corruption of Rome?)
(11) Open a forum and an avenue of expression for member's needs and devote more top attention to such concerns. Balance the constant push to secular growth with a concern for spiritual advance.
(12) Ask whether the constant, almost impulsive, movement from project to ever-new projects, from place to place, often without much advance study, can be wasteful of lives and resources? Move from a crusade mode to careful advance. Do this without losing the zeal for inaugurating a new world and for creating new lives, which first made the movement attractive to many. This might be the most difficult project God has yet given to the Unification movement.
Every comment above could apply to most religions in their early years. The Unification Movement simply offers us a good example, since we observe it in its growth and expansion phase.
6. Postscript: Peter's Vision of Christianity
All Christianity goes back to the experience of Jesus, but all authentic Christianity should also be measured by Peter's vision (Acts 10), without which we might not have a "Christianity" distinct from Judaism. Jesus' Jewish followers would have remained Jews, and then all who wanted to join in remembering Jesus would have simply kept the Mosaic Law. But Peter's vision opened Christianity to all people and made it a universal religion, detaching it from all national, cultural observances. While many since that time have tried to re-provincialize their rituals, at its truest Christianity retains Peter's universal vision of openness to all without regard to cultural background.
Thus, in so far as all Unification Church members are held to Korean or Eastern customs, they restrict the scope of their outreach. True, Mormon rituals today still evidence the situation of their 19th century American origin, as Christian Science also does. But the issue is to overcome the specifics of origin in order to reach out to all, just as Roman Catholicism may one day have to outgrow the male-centered notions contained in its Jewish heritage.
So, should Rev. Moon seek to universalize the doctrine and practices resulting from his vision? Jesus appeared to him, he reports, just as he appeared to others, including Saint Paul. However, the mission should not be to Koreanize Christianity, but to use the vitality inherent in that new setting, the East, to revitalize Christian ecclesiastical forms to recognize again Peter's universal vision, which frees every follower from cultural provincialism:
The truth I have come to realize… is that God does not have favorites, but that anybody of any nationality who fears God and does what is right is acceptable to Him. (Acts 10:34-35)
Frederick Sontag is Robert C. Denison Professor of Philosophy, Pomona College, Claremont, California. He is the author of over twenty major books on philosophy, religion, and existentialism. He has been a long-time observer of the Unification Church and wrote the classic study, Sun Myung Moon and the Unification Church (1977).
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