Unification News for December 1999

IRFWP: A Vision for the World’s Religions

Frank Kaufmann
December, 1999

The mission to support and advance harmony and cooperation among religions and faith traditions is central to Reverend Moon’s self-understanding. It is not properly understood if perceived merely as a good activity that Reverend Moon decided to add to the many religious and humanitarian projects he has imagined and implemented over the years.

In numerous sermons and public talks Reverend Moon describes his calling and responsibility in relation to "The Three Great Headaches of God:" 1. Militant Atheism, 2. The Moral Decline of Youth, and 3. Strife and Disharmony among Believers. This latter-most pillar of his mission is expressed not only through the expansive and multi-form associations and interfaith organizations which he has founded and maintained throughout the decades of his ministry, but it can be recognized as an innermost facet of his own faith community and religious teaching. What was once called "The Unification Church," is in fact an abbreviation of the formal name: "The Holy Spirit Association for the Unification of World Christianity," none other than an association for Christian ecumenism!

As Reverend Moon’s arena of ministry expanded beyond his native land of Korea to a mission of global outreach, so too did the ecumenical quality of his work. Ecumenism within Christianity expanded to become the pursuit of harmony and cooperation among all believers in all traditions, and not merely those of a single family of faith (in this case Christianity).

Until 1972 Reverend Moon’s mission proceeded up to the national level. During this time the mission to dissolve the "third headache" was taken up in numerous and substantial ecumenical initiatives among Korean Christians. But in 1972 Reverend Moon, received God’s direction to begin work on a global level, and so traveled to the land of all peoples, the United States of America. There, the re-planting of all three pillars of his work became globalized, and the ecumenical labors were universalized.

In less than three years the foundation was laid, and history’s first ever multi-religious seminary was opened on the banks of the Hudson. The Unification Theological Seminary brought under one roof professors from differing, and even opposing religions. This intellectually and spiritually fertile environment proved to be a hothouse for the blossoming of interfaith activity. On these pages just the slightest surface of this work can be touched through a word here and a picture there. In order to realize the fullness of this work, one would need to pour through the libraries of interfaith reflection which have arisen through these projects, and the share the hearts of the thousands whose lives have been transformed through their participation.

In addition to the daily embodiment of interfaith which the seminary itself was, a number of independent interfaith initiatives arose and became institutionalized there. The first of these was New ERA (1979), the New Ecumenical Research Association, an interfaith community comprising essentially of scholars. These men and women are the ones whose imaginations and inspiration provided the impetus for many subsequent, interfaith initiatives and organizations.

One of the first projects generated by New ERA leaders was the YSWR (1982), the Youth Seminar on the World’s Religions. The Youth Seminar was an annual pilgrimage of youth. Each year over 150 youth leaders, representing every religion and denomination would travel the world together on a pilgrimage to the holy sites of each religion. At each site believers from the religion of that site would become the host of their friends from the other religions. By traveling together, and experiencing the many faces of the sacred and the eternal, these young people forged life-long bonds of love and affection across lines once marred by historical hatred.

New ERA continued its vigorous schedule of dialogue conferences, and publications, and in 1981 introduced a conference series of uncommon impact entitled, conferences on "God the Contemporary Discussion," or "the God Conferences." There was an air of excitement and challenge to the status quo there, as hundreds of scholars from around the world and from every tradition gathered on a regular basis to do what philosophy and theology had declared no longer possible, namely.... talk about God. The published "God Series" remains seminal to this day.

In 1984, a distinct point of orientation arose. Until that time, the leading force behind this interfaith was primarily scholarly leadership. At this point the Council for the World’s Religions (CWR) was founded with the express purpose to work with clerical leadership from all traditions. This new organization had the mission to engage religious leaders, while New ERA engaged religious scholars. Of course important cross-fertilization constantly occurred.

The CWR broke important new ground in the history of religious affairs through its series of "intra-religious" conferences, in which classical forms of "ecumenism" (traditionally thought of as a Christian enterprise) were introduced to every living faith on earth. Each religion thus began with steps towards internal harmonization of its own inner factions.

As the work expanded beyond New ERA to include other free standing interfaith organizations IRF, the International Religious Foundation, was incorporated to serve as an umbrella under which these many types of interfaith work could develop and flourish.

In 1985 IRF convened the largest international gathering of religious leaders on American soil (and perhaps the world) in human history. This was the AWR, the Assembly of the World’s Religions. By inviting members from the various IRF projects and beyond, the AWR gathered over 1,000 top religious leaders, scholars, and young people in McAffee, New Jersey, for over a week of interfaith encounter and activity of every sort, including experiential and theoretical aspects.

At this first Assembly, organizers announced the founding of a new project, the RYS or the Religious Youth Service. This program incorporated the best elements of the YSWR pilgrimages, but added to that the component of social action. In RYS projects, the young people, instead of touring to pilgrimage sites, spend their time together laboring in areas of need. During the work days inter-religious teams of young people would work in areas of poverty, natural disaster (both rural and urban) and so forth on such tasks as digging fresh water wells, building schools or medical treatment centers, re-forestation and so forth. This labor is paired with educational time in which the young people study the world’s religions and customs both from each other, and from invited faculty and experts.

Activity over the next years was massive. All projects proceeded vigorously. Interfaith conferences, work projects, pilgrimages, summits, marches, and all forms of investment abounded literally in hundreds of projects. Each year an Assembly was held for the hundreds of participants and activists who had been involved through out the year.

In 1991 the entirety of this massive and diffuse fountain of interfaith work came under the single namesake, The Inter-Religious Federation for World Peace (IRFWP). From 1991 until the present time, each of the initiatives and orientations described above persisted either under its original name (as was the case with the RYS), or within the newly defined brief of IRFWP itself.

In addition to maintaining the on-going work described above, the IRFWP has been instrumental in areas of emergency and conflict resolution. The IRFWP has been active among leaders and decision makers at the very highest levels on such occasions as the Gulf War, the Ayodya Mosque outbreak, the Bosnian War, Northern Ireland, and elsewhere.

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