Unification News for July 1999

International Scholars Meet to Discuss Minority Religions

by Chris Corcoran—NYC

An assembly of more than 100 scholars and members of new religious movements (NRMs) gathered in June for their 13th annual four-day conference to discuss the theme, "Religious and Spiritual Minorities in the 20th Century: Globalization and Localization."

Sponsored by the Italian-based academic forum called CESNUR, the conference's main purpose is promote the rational and scientific study of NRMs. Due to this scholarly approach, the emotional hysteria which often accompanies discussions about NRMs was largely absent, freeing the participants to have a thoughtful and provocative exchange of ideas.

As one who has tried over the years to keep abreast of what the academic community writes about the Unification Church, I was pleased to finally meet face to face some of the prominent scholars who helped defend our church from the vicious and illegal onslaught of the anti-cult crowd. I met and talked with the sociologists Eileen Barker (The Making of a Moonie) and David Bromley, professors James T. Richardson, J. Gordon Melton and George Chrysiddes (The Advent of Sun Myung Moon) and the forensic psychologist Dick Anthony, among many others.

Many of these scholars were instrumental in helping our church and other NRMs win key legal battles to do with the "brainwashing" theory. Dick Anthony is the leading scholar called as an expert witness in these types of cases and it was his scientific analysis which destroyed the pseudo-science of the anti-cultists such as Margaret Singer and Steve Hassan.

The conference was held at the beautiful Bryn Athyn College of the New Church, which is located in Pennsylvania and owned and operated by the Swedenborg church. Each day began with a plenary session, followed by a variety of smaller break-out sessions. Dr. Andrew Wilson of the Unification Theological Seminary presented a paper entitled, "The Globalization of Marriage Blessings in the Unification Church." He explained how the marriage blessing has changed from a members-only sacrament to a now readily available, mass phenomena.

James A. Beverley, a professor at Tyndale Seminary in Toronto who has made a lifelong study of the UC, delivered a insightful paper entitled, "Paper Wars: The (Washington) Post vs. The (Washington) Times on Sun Myung Moon." He completely discredited a 1997 three-part series The Post ran on the UC just prior to the RFK Blessing, listing ten reasons why the article was biased, inaccurate and malicious.

Other papers delved into a diverse spectrum of thought, from neo-pagan Wicca to how the Internet is affecting new religions.

I thought it was very wise of the conference to allow several anti-cult activists to have a forum. Although it seemed that ninety-nine percent of the conferees were against the policies and actions of the anti-cult movement, allowing them a forum was a starting point for further dialogue. Herb Rosedale, chairman of the anti-cult group the American Family Foundation, and Priscilla Coates, a founding member of the old Cult Awareness Network (now defunct), both gave presentations. While most of the participants were polite toward them, an air of restraint was present and one or two members of NRMs did lash out at them verbally.

It was clear from what was said at the conference that Europe is currently in the midst of religious liberty crisis. In France and Germany in particular, the state has sponsored studies and passed legislation restricting the civil rights of members of NRMs. Lacking the historical tradition of religious freedom which we enjoy in America, Europe appears to be on the threshold of turning back the religious freedom clock to the days of the 1930s, when the ideas of fascism swept across the continent.

Similarly, Russia and many of the former Soviet Union countries are experiencing a wave of religious intolerance as their economies continue to stagnate. While NRMs in America have made significant legal gains in the last decade, many nations seem to be going in the opposite direction.

(For more about CESNUR, see //www.censur.org)

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