Unification News for

January 1998


Founders and Shapers of the World’s Religions - Fourth IRFWP Congress at WCSF III

by Frank Kaufmann-NYC

1997 was a challenging year for Unificationists, but a rich one for those who held tough and saw it through. The fact that the World Culture and Sports Festival III (WCSF III) was held in Washington D.C. and Blessing ‘97 in RFK Stadium created even greater challenges to American based Unificationists.

One reason the venue for these core providential events created a unique burden on seasoned American members was due to the confluence of labor that hitherto had been equitably divided. Past WCSF’s took place in Asia, allowing the Korean family to concentrate on the awesome demands of orchestrating city-wide logistics involving stadiums, housing, travel, and hosting a vast international community, while leaving the "departments," (all based in America) namely those small administrative pockets of brothers and sisters to the job of creating quality conferences.

This year was different. With WCSF III in Washington D.C., the manhunt for skilled and experienced personnel turned quickly to those places where one finds brothers and sisters who do such things "for a living." Such was the case, for example, with the IRFWP. By God’s Day 1997, the IRFWP had been reduced to a conference staff of zero; a mild version of "wilderness." From this nadir arose an event much Blessed by God, and one which from all reports seems to have provided some solace and brightness for the WCSF founders, Reverend and Mrs. Moon. Under such circumstances one sees God frequently, and when the job at hand is of the sort that pristine organization is an absolute must, then one sees God most often through the brothers and sisters whom he provides, and through whom He works. A quiet bow. You know who you are.

The Fourth IRFWP Congress took place November 25 - 28, 1997 as part of WCSF III. All Congress participants were invited as guests of honor to "Blessing ‘97" in RFK on November 29, 1997 and all but very few enthusiastically attended. The Congress was host to 117 full participants, with a total of 183 guests counting observers and spouses. This fourth Congress convened leaders and scholars under the concept of "Founders and Shapers of the World’s Religions."

It was essentially an academic affair with deliberations transpiring in seven committees around five sub-themes. A powerful spiritual anchor was present throughout in the form of committee seven, called the "Religious Leaders Forum." These small groups took most of the conference time. They were in ways the more "immediate family" for the participants, which allowed more intimate engagement, and alleviated the anonymity which might otherwise characterize participation at a large conference.

The four themes into which the six academic committees were organized were: 1. Founders and Shapers of the World’s Religions (just the same as the Congress title itself), 2. Ethics and Social Visions of the Founders and Shapers, 3. Women Founders and Shapers, and 4. Founders and Shapers: Soteriological Significance and Millennial Expectations.

A scholarly word or two (forgive me all who need it not). The primary interest for this Congress was founders, The Buddha, Confucius, Jesus, and so forth. The concept of shapers however was included for a number of reasons. Many believers identify strongly with a shaper within a major tradition. For example, a Lutheran may be so fond of Luther that is possible for her or him to be actually hostile to non-Lutheran followers of Jesus Christ. Paul, for example, might be considered nearly as influential in forming the nature of Christianity as Jesus himself. Also, as religions persist through millennia, often times the modern manifestations we see today can be traced to reformers and other figures who exert vast influence on given major traditions.

Concerning committee four (above), the term soteriological refers to questions concerning "salvation," and millennial alludes to matters involving the return (e.g., second coming) of founders.

In these committees all participants presented scholarly papers. A total of 87 papers were created for this conference which will yield a number of publications including journal articles and books. (Committees 1 and 2 were divided into two sections so that the discussion groups would not be too crowded.) The seventh group consisted of 26 top religious leaders who operated under a slightly different format than the scholars.

Scholars look to their colleagues to critique their research and theories and in this way advance more rigorously the study of religion. Critique and criticism are actually welcome. Scholars look to the intelligence and acuity of their colleagues to improve their work. Leaders, however, have somewhat of a different demeanor in their exchange. Leaders are sensitive to matters of protocol. Because each holds a high position, and represents a religion, his or her colleagues do not freely criticize as scholars do. Instead the leaders adopt an atmosphere of shared interest and mutual support, each offering to the group whatever they know, and whatever they have achieved in areas of religious leadership. Leaders report: "concerning the problems of youth, we do things this way," or "our seminary and training of the priesthood is like this," and so forth. For these leaders whose lives are lonely and isolated under the great burden of spiritual responsibility, forums like this in which they can exchange and learn from their peers in other traditions is cherished. It is virtually nowhere else to be found on such a grand scale.

In the four days of deliberations the religious leaders discussed a total of 18 issues facing their respective ministries. A small sampling of the matters under consideration are: "The matter of extreme poverty and the role and responsibility of religious leaders," "the role of religious leaders with relation to international, geo-political developments," "the challenge of consumeristic materialism and its spread through communications technology," and so forth.

The Congress program also included a vital spiritual element. Each morning a variety of worship and ritual experiences were made available to all participants. The format for this is that the ceremonies and services must be authentic, not a teaching or display version of the worship in any given tradition. Each service was conducted simply as it would if a group of Buddhists gathered for their morning devotions, or a group of Catholics etc. The only difference was that the services were open to all participants from every tradition. This provided a rare opportunity for participants to experience directly the worship traditions of their brothers and sisters in other religions. Morning worship services were offered in Catholic, Native American, Buddhist, Zoroastrian, and Sikh traditions.

In addition to the small group sessions which constituted the significant majority of working time, plenary sessions were held each day. Plenaries included the opening Plenary in which Reverend Moon was the keynote speaker and presented an address entitled "View of the Principle of the Providential History of Salvation." Also in that session, prior to Reverend Moon’s address, Professor Durwood Foster presented a history of the interfaith activity initiated and sustained by Reverend Moon throughout the decades.

On the second day the afternoon plenary included Mr. Taj Hamad speaking on "The United Nations Declaration of Religious Rights," and Mr. Abdurrahman Wahid speaking on "Religion in Indonesia and Southeast Asia." That evening Minister Louis Farakhan spoke on the conference theme "Founders and Shapers of the World’s Religions." On the final working day of the conference plenary speakers included Sri Swami Satchidananda presenting the talk "Truth is One, Paths are Many," and Kamba Lama Joijilav Dambajav speaking on "Religion in Mongolia."

The final point to note concerns the key role played by IRFWP guests at the Blessing event itself. For the first time ever, the Blessing ceremony began with invocations and prayers of blessing from six major religious leaders representing as many traditions. The prayers were heartfelt and profound. Great love poured out from these exceptional men of faith and religious leadership, as they beseeched God’s love and blessing to preserve and ennoble the young couples before them and the millions around the world sharing in the ceremony. These prayers and spiritual messages of warmth and encouragement came from Swami Satchidananda (Hindu) Archbishop John (Russian Orthodox), Venerable Duk Soo Jeon (Buddhist), Minister Louis Farakhan (Muslim, Father Francis D’Sa (Catholic), and Professor Bhai Kirpal Singh (Sikh). These gentlemen joined Reverend and Mrs. Moon together with other dignitaries for the remainder of the festivities and celebration throughout the day, and later that evening.

While much more should be told, hopefully this report provides some sense of this IRFWP Congress.

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