Ten Theologians Respond to the Unification Church - Edited by Herbert Richardson 1981

Introduction -- Herbert Richardson

The essays in this volume were prepared in conjunction with conferences of the New Ecumenical Research Association (New ERA), this association promotes the development of theology which can unite Christian churches and other religions within the one family of God. Because this is the goal of the New ERA conferences, the essays were originally presented in a dialogue and discussion setting, they are intended to generate response from other theological and religious positions. Since this original setting cannot be included within this volume, the reader is urged to offer his own thoughtful response. Until a response is given, his reading will not be complete.

The New ERA purpose is similar to that of the Unification Church: to unify Christianity as a basis and example for establishing unity among the religions of the world. The image of this unity, we propose, is that of one family of religions. Within this family, the differences among religions are not destroyed. Rather, within this family, religions learn to respect and cooperate with one another in a natural way. Like Lessing, Sun Myung Moon considers Judaism, Christianity, and Islam to be brother and sister religions. Moon has also described the Unification Church as a "younger brother" to Christianity. The use of the word "brother" allows us to think of the Unification Church as different from other Christian churches, but still part of the same family.

The Unification Church, on this view of the matter, is our young Asian brother. Its leader, and many of his followers, have yellow skins. Their religion presupposes Asian conceptions of reality, Asian family patterns, and Asian political concerns, Christian churches have learned how to accept the Germanic Christmas tree as not inconsistent with the Christ child; the question today is whether a Korean notion such as "God's Birthday" or the "arranged marriage" can also be recognized as legitimate cultural concomitants to true Christian faith1.

Generally speaking, all of the essayists in this volume approach the Unification Church in a friendly way. That is, they are willing to respect its own claims to be a "younger brother" to the Christian churches. But what that might mean for the Christian family -- a new child arriving on the scene just as the older siblings (Protestant, Catholic and Orthodox) were learning to get along with each other -- remains to be seen. It is one of the more ironic aspects of New ERA conferences that Catholic, Protestant and other theologians who previously would never have cooperated theologically now sit amicably side by side discussing the legitimacy of their young Moonie brothers. But it is not surprising that theologians who have been deeply affected by the recent Catholic-Protestant rapprochement would also be inclined to consider, patiently and charitably, Unification claims to be Christian, too.

In this volume, three of the essayists are Roman Catholic and one is a Jew (Clark, Flinn, McGowan and Rubenstein), the other essayists are Protestants from both sides of the schism; liberal and evangelical. They all are interested in the origins, implications and identity of the Unification Church. In some cases, they ask whether that new younger brother is truly legitimate; but in no case is there willingness to throw him out of the household. Rather, their goal is -- respecting the Parenthood of God over all peoples, no matter how strange -- to try to understand the new arrival.

Here he comes now -- our new Unification brother -- with Bible in hand and proclaiming a new interpretation; the "Divine Principle." Actually it was an Australian Pentecostalist who suggested to the first Korean followers of Moon that the best English translation for his teaching should be "Divine." Moon's teaching is called in Korea, "the Principle," an expression which resonates with the ancient Confucian teaching that a just man is ruled by a right knowledge called the Yi (principle). There is no insinuation of "Divine-ness" implied in the Korean word; only the conviction that a human being must live according to what is best and highest if he is to be just.

Where does Moon find this "Principle" which guides human life toward maturity? In the Bible! Confucius proclaimed "the Principle," but Moo n believes "the Principle" is embodied in the biblical story which finds its concrete perfection in Jesus Christ. This very Korean way of thinking about the Bible raises questions. If the Biblical revelation is thought of as the "Principle," if man is primarily a family being, if the power of the resurrection is the restoration of perfection to human life (all Asian presuppositions), then are we still dealing with "Christianity"? Tertullian asked "What has Athens to do with Jerusalem?" Today the question is "What has Jerusalem to do with Pyongyang?"

The strongest opponents of the Unification Church today are the continuing Tertullianists. Those who still oppose the ancient Hellenization of Christianity are, quite consistently, the most vocal opponents of its contemporary Asianization, Those who deny that Jesus is the logos also will deny that Jesus is the yi. Those Tertullianists believe that the uniqueness of Christianity is what sets it in stark contrast to other religions rather than what gives it the power to unite them all in itself.

Early theologians saw in Christianity not merely another religion, but another religion of another type. It was a "meta-religion," one which could include other religions in itself by raising them to a higher level, For example, Athanasius interpreted the Trinity as a way of affirming the truth of both Greek polytheism and Hebrew monotheism, while uniting both on a higher level. Standing in this same tradition, the Unification Church sees Christianity as a religion to unite all religions2, the very Asian elements in Unification evidence, its proponents argue, that it is a version of Christianity which is effectively accomplishing Christianity's highest task: restoring the unity of religions as the basis for restoring the unity of the human race.

For those who are already convinced "Hellenists," the Unification understanding is a happy development. To unite Pyongyang, the "Jerusalem of Asia," with the Jerusalem of the West is to initiate a great stage in Christian missions. But what does this undertaking mean for Christian theology? What does it mean for specific theological topics? Several of the essays in this volume address the doctrinal questions specifically (Sontag on God, Richardson on man, Clark on sin, Foster on Christ, McGowan on the Christian life). These essays are here published not as definitive statements but as opening gambits in a discussion on doctrinal development that, we are convinced, will continue for many decades. The discussion between Christianity and Asia, and between Asian Christianity and Western Christianity, has just begun.

Every western theologian who visits Asia is sure to be impressed by the lack of indigenous originality among Asian theologians. Students in Tokyo or Seoul or Taipei study Barth, Tillich, Temple, and Niebuhr. In fact, when the late Carl Michadson wrote his Japanese Contributions to Modern Theology he had to ignore (and thereby insult) the entire Japanese theological establishment. The theological establishment in Asia, noted Michadson, has made no original contribution to Christian theology. It has only reiterated what the original missionaries taught.

But as generations pass, reiterative mentality gives way to originative mentality can anyone be surprised that, in second and third generations, Asian Christians abandon Kantian and Aristotelian expressions of Christianity and begin to rethink the Bible in terms of their own philosophical and cultural traditions? Can anyone be surprised that this project is now most fully advanced in Korea -- which is the only Asian country in which the nineteenth-century mission movement managed to succeed? Any visitor to Korea sees, in the churches, everywhere the evidence that this is a Christian country -- the only Christian country in Asia (except for the Philippines). From this small Asian Christian country comes the first Asian Christian church which establishes a strong missionary movement to the West! This is why in my judgment, the Unification Church is so worthy of study -- and is such an encouragement for Christian hope.

I myself, for these and many other reasons, have learned much from Divine Principle. My own essay in this volume expresses a clarified conception of sin and freedom which I have developed in close conversation with this text. I do not, however, wish to drape the other contributors in this volume with the same "Moonie Supporter" sash I myself parade. The other contributors, though all amiably and generously ecumenical, wear their own several sashes: "Moonie Admonisher," "Moonie Explainer," "Moonies -- Separated Brother," "Moonie Psychoanalyzer," "Moonie Comparer," and "Ex Oriente Lux." The sole thing we several authors have in common is to have dined with Moonies, as their guests, and enjoyed the after-dinner conversation. What follows, in this volume, is a very small selection from among our memories of those happy times.

The preparation of a multi-author volume such as this always involves many more contributors than those whose names appear on the cover. There are several theologians whose essays, for reasons of space and time, must be postponed to a later volume, Copyediting and proofreading were done by Sylvia Grahn, Jack Kiburz, Jaime Sheeran, John Sonneborn, and Sarah Witt. Lynn Musgrave supervised production. I thank them all for their part in this production.


1 In this volume the essays by Richard Rubenstein and T James Kodera directly address the issue of Asian Christianity and the problems of cultural accommodation.

2 Lonnie Kliever, in this volume, also argues that the Unification Church takes a "Metainstitutional" form. 

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