Unification News for June 1997

In Memoriam - Dean M. Kelley

by John Biermans

I was saddened by the recent passing of Rev. Dean Kelley who served for many years as the National Council of Churches executive for religious liberty. It was through this position that I came to know Dean Kelley and grow to admire his absolute commitment to the rights of all people to religious liberty. In fact, as I think of religious liberty in America (or the world, for that matter), I consider the name of Dean Kelley as synonymous with religious liberty.

During the many years I worked at HSA Headquarters, Dean was always the man we would turn to when persecution struck. He was someone we could always count on to lend his considerable voice to defend us, not on theological grounds, but on constitutional and humane grounds.

I can recall many times during the 1980s when we would be confronted with some major crisis. On those occasions, the first game plan was usually "John, can you call Dean Kelley?" I would react with outrage and determination to take action. Often, Dean would make some dry comment which made me laugh and gave me that warm comforting feeling showing Heavenly Father was really looking out for us. This was part of Dean's wonderful sense of humor which made the many trials we endured somehow bearable.

I first met Dean Kelley in July 1982 when the HSA Legal Department was preparing to appeal the tax conviction of Rev. Moon. This was a very dark period for our movement and despair was in the air. Prof. Laurence Tribe of Harvard was our lead attorney and he met with Rev. Kelley to explain the many violations of Rev. Moon's constitutional rights during his trial earlier that year. Following that meeting, Rev. Kelley persuaded the National Council of Churches (and subsequently many other religious and civil liberties organizations) to support our appeal.

Dean Kelley's efforts were the turning point in this battle and within a year, the consensus across the nation was that Rev. Moon was not a tax felon but had been the victim of religious persecution on a grand scale.

My most personal experience with Dean Kelley occurred when I decided to write my book, "The Odyssey of New Religions Today," in 1986. After I had completed the original manuscript, I sent it to a number of professors and experts on new religious movements, including Dean Kelley. To my amazement, Dean took the time to go through the entire manuscript line by line with copious comments and corrections throughout.

After he had done this, he told me to come to his office and we sat down and went over every one of his comments. I can still see all of the red lines and scribbling on all those pages! I was utterly astonished and almost giddy with excitement that he, the Dean M. Kelley of the National Council of Churches, would take so much time to help me with my humble little book!! So then, I began to feel some confidence in what I had written and eventually gathered up the courage to ask him if he would consider writing a Foreword for my book. Ultimately he agreed and, with much anticipation, I made another sojourn to his office to receive it.

I feel deeply honored and indebted to Dean Kelley for writing this statement of his commitment to religious liberty. I believe that, in many ways, this Foreword summarizes the principles and values that Dean Kelley stood for throughout his life. We will all miss Dean very much and, with all my heart, I wish him godspeed to the place in Heavenly Paradise for the righteous ones.

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