Exploring Unification Theology Edited by M. Darrol Bryant and Susan Hodges


This volume grows out of a series of conversations at the Unification Theological Seminary in Barrytown, New York, during February and April of 1977. The participants in the conversations were students from the seminary and teachers of religious studies from colleges and universities in Canada and the United States. As should be obvious from the edited versions of our conversations, there was no design or agenda for these conversations other than that which arose from curiosity about the beliefs and practices of a group which has achieved a certain notoriety but little understanding over the last few years.

What is the Holy Spirit Association for the Unification of World Christianity? Who is Reverend Sun Myung Moon? What is this movement's relationship to the Christian tradition? What is the Divine Principle? How is the life of the movement organized? What do these people believe? These questions, large and unfocused, were all we brought with us. None of us, excepting Professor Herbert W. Richardson, had any prior familiarity with the Unification movement other than that available in the public media. Given that background, one perhaps shared by the reader, our interest was to hear the members of the Unification movement speak for themselves.

The result of these inauspicious beginnings is the present volume. Its aim is twofold. First, we want to share with other students of religion and interested members of the general public these conversations. It is our conviction that the primary obligation of the student of religion is to listen; these conversations allow us to hear members of the Unification movement articulate their beliefs. Once this primary obligation has been fulfilled we can then enter into critical conversation. This is the second aim of the volume: to initiate theological dialogue with the Unification movement. The structure of this volume reflects this twofold purpose.

Part I of the volume contains edited versions of conversations that ranged over the whole of Unification belief and practice. These five conversations have been edited from approximately six hundred pages of typescript. They have been edited in line with a single editorial principle: intelligibility. A tighter thematic arrangement of the material was considered, but it was decided to reproduce the conversations as they occurred, since they do follow certain topical lines. Although this procedure results in repetition, it also preserves the spontaneity of the original conversations. Moreover, much of the repetition is necessary since similar questions, for example, questions concerning the normative role of the Divine Principle, affect different aspects of Unification belief and practice in different ways.

The conversations are here reproduced under the headings of (I) Creation and Fall, (II) The Unification Movement and Christian Traditions, (III) The Millennial Landscape: Politics of the Kingdom, (IV) Practice, Style and Authority in the Unification Movement, and (V) the Divine Principle: Text and Principle. These headings are only a rough approximation of the material in each section. More than delimiting the precise content of each conversation, they tell the reader where to find the material of greatest interest to him. Taken together, these conversations constitute an introduction to the leading beliefs and concerns of the Unification movement. At the same time, the conversations disclose the considerable range of interpretation that exists within the movement itself.

To provide evidence of the wide range of interpretation one finds within the Unification movement on various points of doctrine and practice constitutes a chief merit of this document. Moreover, these conversations allow us to glimpse a movement in the process of theological articulation and development. These conversations then reveal a movement in the process of self-articulation, a process in which there is obviously room for a variety of readings. In part, this variety is a response to the variety of questions posed by those of us who came to these conversations from outside the Unification movement; but it is also clear that there is room within the Unification movement for significant differences.

Part II of the volume contains the papers written by Professors Vander Goot, Clark, Sawatsky and Bryant in response to our first meeting with members of the Unification Church and our initial readings of the Divine Principle. Those papers appear here as they were initially written, with the exception of the paper by Dr. Elizabeth Clark which she has substantially rewritten. These papers are followed by an edited version of the discussion that surrounded each paper.

The paper by Dr. Henry Vander Goot focuses on the doctrine of creation; the paper by Dr. Elizabeth Clark deals with women in Unification theology; Dr. Rodney Sawatsky's paper is directed toward sociological aspects of the Unification movement; and the paper by Dr. M. Darrol Bryant discusses Unification eschatology. The four papers included here do cover a significant range of theological questions. More importantly, the discussions that surround each paper are indicative of the Unification members' openness to hear and respond to substantive criticism.

A major editorial difficulty that arose from the transcripts of the meetings concerned the phrase "divine principle" and the shorthand expression "the principle." Sometimes this phrase was used to refer to the primary text of the movement, while at other times it was used to refer to the central principle or idea of the Unification movement. Moreover, there is disagreement within the Unification movement as to the meaning of the phrase "divine principle": whether or not that principle is primarily the "principle of creation" or the "principle of restoration" or both. Consequently, it was sometimes difficult to be sure of the referent or the meaning intended. Usually, however, the context was sufficiently clear to settle the issue. The editorial convention we have employed here is as follows. When the Divine Principle is capitalized and italicized, it refers to the primary text of the movement. (All of the references to this text are from the second edition of the Divine Principle published in New York by the Holy Spirit Association for the Unification of World Christianity in 1973. Throughout the conversations this text is often referred to as the "Black Book." This is in order to distinguish this edition from a 1950's edition known as the "Red Book." There is also a widespread expectation that there will be another edition of the Divine Principle in the future.) When the lower case is used (divine principle), it refers to the central idea or doctrine of the movement, a principle which is understood to underlie the whole cosmic process. When the form "the Principle" is used, it is short-hand for the "divine principle," although, as indicated, there is disagreement within the movement on this point. Except when the context indicates otherwise, the Principle can be understood to mean the principle of creation, that principle which underlies the cosmic process, or simply what the Unification members believe. Obviously, this is an issue which will require careful differentiation and clarification by the members of the Unification movement. Since that is a matter for the Unification movement itself to deal with, we have contented ourselves with the editorial device indicated above in order to minimize confusion.

The task of editing these materials has been difficult and instructive. The major difficulty is, of course, that of transposing the spoken word into intelligible written prose. This would have been an impossible task but for the cooperation of the participants. The students who participated in the meetings have read the edited versions of the conversations and have assented to what we have said they said. Similarly, the conversations have been circulated among the major participants from outside the Seminary and they too have graciously assented to the edited version of their words. We would like to thank Sarah Witt from the Seminary for undertaking the difficult task of transcribing our conversations, and Dean Stewart for arrangements that made our stay so pleasant.

It is hoped that the result of these efforts will be found useful and informative to a wider audience. Although we are aware of the controversy that surrounds the Unification movement, we have sought to avoid partisanship. It is clear, however, to those of us who had the opportunity to participate in these conversations that the Unification movement deserves a more sympathetic ear than it has generally received. We hope that this document will serve to place the whole discussion of the Unification movement on a different level, a level characterized by a willingness to allow the members of the movement to speak for themselves. Moreover, this document allows us to see a religious movement in the first stages of theological articulation in North America. Those of us who participated in these conversations found the emergent theologians of the Unification movement to be able young men and women who bring to the wider theological conversation the requisite virtues of passion, intelligence and commitment to the common enterprise of seeking the truth. This last reason alone warrants our placing this volume in the hands of a wider public. 

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