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

Letter to the Faculty, Perkins School of Theology -- Frederick Carney

Within the last nine months my wife and I have attended two major conferences of the Unification movement as guests of that movement. The first was the Ninth International Conference on the Unity of the Sciences (ICUS) sponsored by the International Cultural Foundation and held November 26-29, 1980, (Thanksgiving weekend) at Miami Beach. The second was a Conference on Unification Theology sponsored by the New Ecumenical Research Association (New ERA) and held August 1-9, 1981, in the Canary Islands. It occurs to me that you might find my observations and reflections on these two conferences of some use to you in forming your own judgment concerning the Unification Church and the larger movement it has spawned. Therefore I take this opportunity to report to you.

The first conference (the Ninth ICUS) was less revealing of the thought and practice of the Unification movement than the second, so I shall comment quite briefly on the first and devote most of this communication to the second. The first was typical of the various ICUS's in that it was attended by several hundred scientists and humanists from many countries, that it addressed various issues about the relation of values to the sciences under this year's general rubric of "Absolute Values and the Search for the Peace of Mankind," and that its sponsor did not appear to inject any particular message or point of view into the conference (except, of course, for the sponsor's generally-announced interest in working toward the unification of the sciences and in relating values to them). Rev. Sun Myung Moon addressed an opening plenary session on the topic of the conference, arguing (not very well, I thought) from general philosophical grounds rather than from Unification theology as such. And at the dosing banquet a Unification musical group performed. Otherwise one was not particularly aware of the sponsoring movement, and the addresses and discussions were conducted in a completely free and open spirit.

The sessions I personally attended were, for the most part, quite good, better than those of most professional meetings in which I have been involved. These included a philosophical address by a Vice-President and Dean of Graduate Studies at a major university in Texas on "Happiness and the Good Life," another by the holder of a Chair in Philosophy at a major university in Arizona on "Protecting a Way of Life," a session on "Military Technology and the Individual" at which a remarkably good address was delivered by a consultant in international relations, who was also the wife of a TV personality -- who was a conference participant as well, and a truly exciting session on "Wealth and Society" that centered around contributions by the Director of Canada's nuclear energy program (from its inception) and by the former Director of the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, now the director of the Institute for Energy Analysis,

Assuming that what I experienced at the Ninth ICUS at Miami Beach is generally representative of what may be experienced at any other ICUS, there seems to be nothing reprehensible about the internal operation of these conferences. Indeed, there is much about them that is highly commendable. However, a criticism sometimes made of them is that, even if they are commendable in themselves, they nevertheless bestow respectability on a movement whose character is such as not to deserve such respectability. Whether this is a valid criticism or not obviously depends on what the character of the overall Unification movement is. And for this we must look beyond the ICUS's. One important source of information is the Canary Island Conference on Unification Theology that my wife, who was independently invited as a full participant, and I attended. It had as its explicit purpose the examination of both the theology and the practices of the Unification Church. It is therefore to this second conference that I now turn.

Although I did not make a precise headcount of those attending the Canary Island Conference, my rough calculations indicate that the number was probably around one hundred and eighty. Of these, about forty (roughly 22%) were members of the Unification Church and approximately one hundred and forty (roughly 78%) were not, Among the "Moonie" contingent were Mose Durst (President of the Unification Church in America), Neil Salonen (former President of the Unification Church in America, and now President of the International Cultural Foundation -- the ICUS sponsor), David Kim (President of the Unification Theological Seminary in Barrytown, New York), and John Maniatis (Executive Director of New ERA -- the sponsor of this and other Unification theology conferences and seminars). Also representing the "Moonies," and constituting about half of their contingent, were twenty Ph.D. students from ten universities (Harvard 4, Yale 2, Columbia 2, Fordham 1, Drew 3, Catholic 1, Vanderbilt 3, Chicago 1, Claremont 2, and Cambridge, England 1), What about the much larger group of participants who were not members of the Unification Church? This group contained sizeable numbers of both Protestants and Catholics, a few Jews and Muslims, and some secularists. Most were academics, including a considerable number of persons of some distinction in their respective academic fields. Over half of the non "Moonie" participants were from the United States and Canada, but Western Europe and Africa were also well represented, Blacks from both North America and Africa were present in somewhat surprising numbers, and some of them played quite significant roles in the conference.

One of the notable features of the conference was the openness and non-defensiveness of the Unification members about their doctrines and practices, Although they wanted very much to inform us about their faith, they were also quite desirous of hearing our criticisms and unfailingly courteous in responding to them. This commendable manner was evident in the very structuring of the conference, For example, most of its plenary sessions juxtaposed (a) one or two lectures on major Unification doctrines by Unification members with (b) the reading of two critical papers (prepared and distributed to all participants in advance of the conference) on these same doctrines by two non-Unification participants. The giving of these advocacy lectures and the reading of these critical papers would then ordinarily be followed by extensive discussion from the floor (which characteristically included remarks quite critical of the Unification lecture(s) and the doctrines propounded therein), to which periodically brief opportunities to respond were provided the lecturer(s), the two paper readers, and one additional Unification member. During the week-long conference, there were eleven such lectures and fourteen such critical papers on the lecture topics. The eleven lecture topics were on: Creation (2), Fall (1), Jesus and Christology (2), Providential History (2), Eschatology and Second Coming (2), Critique of Marxism (1), and Unification thought generally (1), The critical papers, as well as many of the critical comments from the floor, were made possible by the reading of Divine Principle and other Unification writings on doctrinal matters provided to all participants months prior to the conference.

I gathered the impression throughout these plenary sessions that the Unification movement refrained from using its power (the bankroller and organizer of the conference) for the pursuit of any short-range advantage to itself and its theological beliefs, even to the point that it leaned over backwards in accepting for itself a special vulnerability by making provision in the very structuring of the conference for extensive criticism of its doctrines (and acceptance of vulnerability must have involved a very considerable act of trust on the part of the Unification movement). Furthermore, this vulnerability and trust must have been present even in the early stages of the development of the conference, for responsibility for organizing and conducting this conference was apparently turned over to a group of three persons, two of whom, though consultants to the New ERA, are not members of the Unification Church. Darrol Bryant is a mainline Protestant academic from Waterloo, Canada; Richard Quebedeaux is an Evangelical author from Berkeley, California; and John Maniatis is the New ERA Director. The plenary sessions, which were presided over either by Bryant or Quebedeaux, were exemplary in providing bountiful access to the discussion from the floor and in the consistent fairness and good grace with which this was done.

Far from exemplary, however, were most of the doctrinal lectures by various Unification Church members. Quite frankly, six of the eleven lectures were, in my judgment, of such poor quality as to be below the minimum level of acceptability for an academic audience, which this audience predominantly was, By contrast, the quality of the critical papers delivered by non-Unification participants was, for the most part, far superior to the lectures by Unification Church members. So were most of the contributions from the floor, Unfortunately, therefore, it was often the critical papers and sometimes the contributions from the floor, rather than the lectures themselves, that enabled the discussion of Unification doctrines to become focused and meaningful. What specifically was wrong with most of the lectures? Generally speaking, they succumbed to one or more of the following faults: they lacked clarity in the discussion of major concepts, made inadequate connections in the development of lines of thought, were naive about what is involved in making various kinds of theological claims, misused historical evidence, or were poorly delivered.

Eight of the eleven lectures were given by young people (Ph.D. students or staff members) largely lacking at this stage in their lives in the academic skills, experience, and insight appropriate to this audience, (The other three lectures -- among the better ones, I thought -- were given by Mose Durst (2) and Neil Salonen (1), each of whom, though not a trained theologian, has had many years of experience with Unification thought and practice.) Obviously, the organizers of this conference were placing a great amount of confidence in some of the youth of this movement. For they were willing to give young Ph.D. students and staff members most of the responsibility for presenting and defending the major doctrines of the Unification Church before a large, highly-trained, and critical audience. I consider this confidence in Unification youth was considerably overdone. It resulted in treating the non-Unification majority of the conference with considerable (though, I am sure, unintended) discourtesy. And it did not serve the best interests of the Unification Church to have its central affirmations so poorly represented in the lectures, Even among their Ph.D. students who were present it would have been possible to make better choices of lecturers, I came to know two Ph.D. students at the conference who, in my judgment, could probably have done considerably better jobs of lecturing than some of those selected to do so.

The examination of Unification theology (and practices) was not, however, limited to these plenary sessions (with their Unification lectures, critical papers, and extensive floor discussion), Much of the business of the conference took place in scheduled discussion groups, in optional sessions on special topics, and in informal conversation during breaks and over meds. A word about the discussion groups may be in order. The entire conference was divided into discussion groups, each of which met on several occasions during the week. All such groups were introductory, except one advanced seminar for those who had previously attended a Unification conference. My own group was composed of seventeen persons, including two Unification Ph.D., students (one from Harvard and the other from Catholic University). Unfortunately it was seriously weakened as a vehicle for dialogue because of a language problem between Italian and English. Four of the five Italians in the group could not understand English well enough to grasp what was occurring in English, and all but one of the English-speaking participants could not understand Italian well enough to grasp what was occurring in Italian. And no translation services were provided. My wife's group did not have any problem of this nature, and she felt the discussion was excellent. I also heard very good reports about other groups.

Nevertheless there were still occasional good moments of dialogue in my discussion group. And I found the two Ph.D. students to be enormously interesting in the way they understood Unification theology (and practices), in the shaping it seemed to be giving to their lives, and in the dialectic between their own personal commitment and their openness to critical inquiry through which they quite helpfully contributed to the group discussion.

What about the theology itself of the Unification Church? I obviously cannot discuss this theology in detail here. But there are two comments of a general nature I wish to make, First, a hermeneutic comment. Divine Principle (the primary text of the Unification Church) seems to me to have much in common with seventeenth-century Reformed dogmatics. I am not speaking here about specific content, but rather the assumptions the author (presumably Rev. Moon) must be making about how his readers experience themselves and their worlds, and the consequent manner in which he sets forth his theological claims. In my judgment, he has never really encountered the eighteenth-century Enlightenment or the nineteenth-century Historicism, and thus has not yet struggled with plausible ways of making religious affirmations in the twentieth-century West. But considering Rev. Moon's background, this is not surprising. For his root religious experiences apparently occurred within the cultural context of a very conservative Korean Presbyterianism, a kind of Calvinism that, for the most part, bypassed both Enlightenment and Historicism. Nevertheless, it seems to me to be to Rev, Moon's credit that he has at least some recognition of this problem, and that at least some of the thirty-some Ph.D. students now being trained in the theological programs of major American universities understand that one of the long-term assignments from their Church is to contribute to the reformulation of the Unification message in such a manner as to maintain Rev. Moon's essential intentionality while availing themselves of the best of modem scholarship in so doing. But I need to be cautious in making this point. For I am not dear as to the extent that they actually have this assignment nor the extent to which they may in the future be at liberty in "faithfully revising" the founder's religious affirmations and/or his manners of expressing them. But that there is movement of some sort in this direction at the present time does seem dear to me, And this obviously involved placing a great deal of confidence in the young men and women the Unification Church in America has selected for doctoral studies. (This high expectation of their Ph.D., students may also have led the Unification Church to overestimate their present capacities and appropriateness of the very important conference lectures whose execution I criticized above.)

The second comment pertains to the relationship of Unification theology to Christian theology, Specifically, is the Unification Church a Christian Church? I think not. Furthermore I think dearly not, I grant that Unification theology employs much of the history and doctrine of the Christian Church. I further grant that some of its variations in interpreting this history and doctrine are neither greater than nor of a different order from the variations of some churches we generally consider to be within the Christian community. But the question is whether the Unification Church's relation to the overall Christian Church is to be conceived and logically on the model, for the example, of Lutheranism or of Islam. Both Lutheranism and Islam employ Christian materials quite heavily. But Lutheranism is and Islam is not part of the Christian Church, just as Hasidism is and Christianity is not part of Judaism, and the Sufis are and the Bahia are not part of Islam. The issue in each of these instances is whether the new movement affirms or denies the central constitutive affirmation (or affirmations) of the "mother community." The Unification Church's interpretation of Jesus as one in a series of Biblical persons God has sent to restore fallen human beings, as one who partially failed in this mission because of his premature death, and as one who shall be superseded in a Second Advent by another (Rev. Moon?) who will fulfill Jesus' mission -- this interpretation, I say -- is a denial of the central constitutive affirmation of the Christian Church, and thus moves the Unification Church outside and beyond the Christian Church in which it was nurtured. Christians should therefore regard "Moonies" not as fellow Christians, I think, but very much as we regard Jews and Muslims, We should value them as children of God sharing with us in the love of God, as fellow bearers of human rights whose welfare we are called upon to pray and work for, and as persons deserving our respect for their conscientious efforts to live according to Truth as they know it (even though we understand that Truth somewhat differently). Furthermore, I would hope that we would accept their invitations to enter into dialogue with them on theological and community matters (as we do Jews and Muslims), and join with them in welfare programs to feed the hungry and minister to the sick (in which they, like we, are already heavily involved through their World Relief Friendship Foundation).

Now I want to say something about two practice areas of the Unification Church: (a) family life and (b) fund raising. Prior to attending the Canary Island Conference my wife and I had read a number of criticisms of Unificationists that pertained to young "Moonies" being separated from their families and "programmed" to an alien way of life in which they were no longer free to make their own decisions. Therefore, we took considerable pains at the conference to inquire of young members of the Unification Church about their personal experience and insight regarding family matters, as well as their knowledge of the experiences of Unification friends and acquaintances. Our response was very affirmative to what we heard, and I have no reason to doubt the honesty of the several young "Moonies" with whom we talked. But rather than repeating the conversations to you I think it is better to quote at some length a person who has studied this matter extensively and has represented the gist of the problem far better than I can. This is Joseph Fichter, the Jesuit sociologist. The following quotations are taken from his essay "Marriage, Family and Sun Myung Moon" in America (October 27, 1979).

One of the more inflammatory charges against the Unification community is that membership is disruptive of family life. The new convert leaves home and family, brothers and sisters, to dedicate himself entirely to the religious calling. Parents sometimes charge that their children have been "brainwashed," Similar charges have been made about Catholic religious orders that lured a daughter to the convent or a son to the seminary. God's call must be obeyed even if parents are in opposition, Some Catholic parents have forbidden their teen-age children to attend charismatic prayer meetings lest they be drawn too frequently out of the family circle. The fact is that the great majority of Moonies continue to maintain cordial relations with their parents and family.

The marriage chances for a Moonie are limited in one direction and expanded in another. The member is not permitted to marry outside the family, that is, the spouse must be a fellow member of the movement. This is the same strict rule that governs the marriage of Salvation Army officers and the mate selection of Israeli Jews. It was the same rule against mixed marriages which has gradually lost its effectiveness in the Catholic Church. Any member who wants to marry outside the Unification community has obviously misunderstood the central significance of sharing religious values in life-long fidelity.

On the other hand, there is a broadening of marriage opportunities in the Unification approval of "mixed" marriages across ethnic and racial lines. The conventional American pattern of marrying someone of your nationality, and especially of your own race, is widely disregarded in this movement. At the most recent engagement ceremony, about one-third of the couples were interracial The large Oriental membership, especially of Japanese and Koreans, makes available to Caucasians a prospect of marriage partners that they would not ordinarily have. Sharing the same religious convictions and practices provides a value that transcends racial preferences.

The Unification Church does not allow teen-age marriages among its members and thus avoids what seems to be one of the main stumbling blocks to marriage stability. Members must wait until they are 25 years old to marry, and the preference is that they delay even longer. The stages of formation and growth precede the stage of perfection. It is dear that Moonies do not rush into marriage, but then there is no need to hurry. The female members do not have to be anxious and nervous if they are not engaged before they are 30. Their religious calling is marriage, and Mr. Moon will find a spouse for them and preserve them from living out their lives as old maids.

Marriage is a serious and holy sacrament for which lengthy preparation is required, and one of the notable aspects is the willingness of the members to have Mr. Moon pick their life partners for them. The concept of "arranged" marriages is alien to young Americans although it has been an accepted pattern for most of humanity during most of history. This is not a compulsory arrangement. Members are urged to express their preferences, but they do have a deep trust in Mr. Moon as the voice of God for them. One recently engaged man remarked:

"You try to have confidence in your prayer life that God knows what is best for you, that He will work through Reverend Moon to suggest the proper match for you."

According to the theology of Divine Principle, the revealed scripture of the Unification Church, God intended Adam and Eve to marry and have perfect children who would populate His physical kingdom. This intention was frustrated when Eve was sexually seduced by the archangel Lucifer, committing the original sin of adultery and causing the spiritual fall of mankind. Her impurity was passed on in premature and illicit intercourse with Adam, causing the physical fall of man. Later, God sent Jesus to redeem mankind from sin, He accomplished His spiritual mission, but He was killed before He could marry and father a new race of perfect children, Our first parents threw away God's love; Jesus was prevented from completing the redemptive mission on which His heavenly Father had sent Him.

The time has now come for the members of the Unification Church to establish perfect families in love and justice and unity, which in turn will unify all races, all nations, all religions. The divine scheme of love and family is laid out in the "four-position foundation," which appears to be cumbersome theological and relational formula. The four positions are: God, husband, wife and child. The pure and perfect relationship with God helps to establish the perfect relationship between husband and wife, and then between parents and children. The spiritual and physical kingdom of God, the total salvation that God intended in sending the Messiah, will be achieved by the ever expanding network of such God-centered families.

Conventional Christian theologians find these teachings rampant with heresy, but a pragmatic sociologist is likely to say that the Moonies have come upon a family program that works. While marriage counselors and parish priests are wringing their hands over the breakdown of family life, the Unification Church is doing something about it. The God-centered family is not merely a nice slogan or a spiritual ideal suggested by the church leaders. It is the essential core of community among the faithful of the church. It is also a deeply motivated system for restoring fidelity and family stability to modem society.

Whatever else one may say in criticism of the Unification Church as a social and religious movement, one has to recognize its systematic program for the restoration of "old-fashioned" morality, its emphasis on chastity before marriage, prayerful preparation for marriage, a readiness to accept guidance in the choice of a partner, marital love reflective of love of God, transmission of spiritual perfection to children. There has been much comment and criticism of the theological, political and economic aspects of the Unification Church, but very little has been said about the positive value implications in regard to marriage and family.

Obviously such a God-centered family practice requires an enormously high level of personal commitment, Furthermore, it contains some elements (e.g., arranged marriages) that are so different from contemporary fashion in the West as to be occasion for anxiety (even fear and animosity) on the part of some parents of newly-converted "Moonies." On the other hand, the Unification members with who m my wife and I talked at the Canary Island Conference seemed to us to be both free and happy in their commitment to this very demanding way of life, to its sexual, marital, and familial implications, and to the theological understanding upon which it rests. Nevertheless, two of them did observe that they felt the Unification Church in America had not earlier seen the importance of encouraging their new converts to be effectively related (at least so far as possible) to their parents, and that this was a mistake that, for the most part, has since been corrected. In any event, I find little, if anything, morally reprehensible in the Unification practice of sex and family life, and certainly nothing to justify the kidnapping and coercive deprogramming of new converts who are of age to make life decisions for themselves. To the contrary, I think their sex and family ethic is admirable (including its religious seriousness and racial inclusiveness), and I deplore the ominous violations of basic rights to which new converts have sometimes been put by bigoted deprogrammers and misguided parents,

Regarding this matter, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that a number of Black civil rights leaders were present at this conference (for example, Osborne Scott of New York, C. T. Vivian of Atlanta, and David Eaton of Washington, D.C.). They not only participated in the theology discussions, but also devoted a considerable amount of their "free time" to organizing political, religious, and media initiatives to combat flagrant misrepresentations of the Unification Church (and other new religious groups) by mass media and legislative interference with their religious and social liberties. The major coordinating vehicle employed in these efforts is the Committee Against Racial and Religious Intolerance, whose chairman is Dr. Osborne Scott. I was much encouraged to discover these Black civil rights leaders who had fought for the rights of their own people in the fifties and sixties now taking a leading role in support of the civil rights of other groups, As one of them told me, "The Unification Church is experiencing some of the same kind of media misrepresentation and oppressive legislation that we Blacks have long encountered."

Recently Governor Hugh Carey vetoed one such bill that passed the New York legislature, It would have provided for the involuntary removal from a group of a person who had undergone substantial behavioral change in response to "deceptive persuasion" by that group, and for the appointment of a temporary guardian over that person. More ominous, however, is an anti "Moonie" bill Representative Ottinger of New York is circulating prior to introducing it in the U.S. House of Representatives. These Black leaders are working through the Committee Against Racial and Religious Intolerance and other organizations to oppose it. Regarding the Ottinger bill, the New York Civil Liberties Union states:

This bill would create a federal felony punishable by up to five years imprisonment and a five thousand dollar fine. It would be violated by anyone who "with intent to persuade... any individual to become affiliated with...any organization, knowingly... concern(s) any material fact... in promoting affiliation by such individual with such organization and.,. attempt(s) to coercively prevent such individual from... contacting any individual not affiliated with such organization... by means of any communication in interstate commerce...." Other individuals and actions are swept into the bill also, but the extracted language is the Core.

The bill would criminalize evangelical and recruitment conduct not only by religious but by other membership organizations. Its thrust and structure are such that it is an invitation to selective enforcement against unpopular and minority groups.

If the bill is designed to regulate criminally coercive conduct in interstate commerce, it is redundant. If it is designed to ensnare the unwary evangelist, it is unconstitutional. It would inevitably lead to entanglement with religious matters in attempting to isolate and define "material facts" about the theology and organization of churches and other groups.

It is a bill which can serve no legitimate purpose and is subject to substantial abuse.

I turn now, and much more briefly, to the other practice area of the Unification Church I mentioned earlier, fund raising. One of the decisive features of the Unification Church, I was told at the Canary Island Conference, is that all regular members have two continuing responsibilities: evangelism and fund raising, The fund raising takes many forms, ranging from soliciting contributions to participating in one of the Unification business enterprises (fishing and boat building were the two most frequently mentioned at the conference). The "Moonies" have received considerable criticism for deception in soliciting monies. I gather that at least some of this criticism was justified. I was told that there were times and places in the past that monies were solicited for one purpose and used for another. I was also told that the Unification Church in America now knows of these incidents, and is determined that they shall not be repeated. I personally have no empirical evidence either of earlier deceptions or of present forthrightness in solicitation. Nor do I have any reason to doubt the accuracy of what was told me.

The Unification business enterprises are a subject of considerable controversy in the communities in which they are conducted and in the mass media. They do, of course, constitute competition for companies that have been established for a longer period of time. The charge sometimes made is that the Unification movement engages in unfair competition. The Unification leadership denies that there is anything unfair in what they are doing, that they receive no special tax advantages on these enterprises, and that they pay competitive (if not superior) wages to non-"Moonie" employees. Here again, I have no empirical evidence to present, but simply pass on to you the gist of the statements made to us at the conference.

Those of you who wish to pursue further these and other matters pertaining to the Unification movement might want to read either or both of two books that seem to me to be quite insightful, competent, and fair-minded. The first is a Sage Library of Social Research publication by two social scientists: David G. Bromley and Anson D. Shupe, Jr., "Moonies" in America: Cult, Church, and Crusade (Beverly Hills and London: Sage Publications, 0979), 256 pp. (Bromley and Shupe also have a later Sage book entitled The Vigilantes: Deprogrammers, Anti-Cultists, and the New Religions.) The second book is by a well-known philosopher-theologian: Frederick Sontag, Sun Myung Moon and the Unification Church (Nashville: Abingdon, 1977).

In conclusion, I want to say that I am very pleased to have been able to experience the Unification movement at first-hand through these two conferences in Miami Beach and the Canary Islands. I feel something like being "present at the creation" (to borrow a book title from Dean Acheson) of an exciting new religious movement. And I came away from these conferences with a very red respect for the Unification movement, and a willingness to join in cooperative endeavors with this movement in the future. But I am in no sense tempted to join the Unification Church. I think the Christian faith as presented by such interpreters as St. Pad, Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, John Calvin, and Reinhold Niebuhr presents a far more profound understanding of human existence than does Unification theology. 

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