The Family And The Unification Church Edited by Gene G. James



The essays in this book are grouped into four sections. The articles in the first section, "Conflict and Commitment," deal with: (1) the conflict that has arisen between members of the Unification Church and their parents, (2) factors which tend to generate commitment to the Church, (3) conflicts which arise for members in carrying out their commitments to the Church. The articles in the second section, "Contrasts and Comparisons," compare Unification thought and practice regarding marriage and family to that of the Hutterites, New Christian Right, American Muslim Mission, and the Marriage Encounter and Parenting for Peace and Justice movements. Unlike the articles in the other sections which were written by professional sociologists, psychologists, theologians and philosophers, those in the third section "Responses to Challenges" were written by members of the Unification Church. The conflicts and commitments discussed from an external point of view in the other sections are thus dealt with from within in this section. The articles in the last section, "Theological and Philosophical Assessments," describe and evaluate the theological and philosophical assumptions and consequences of Unification doctrines of marriage and the family. In the remainder of the Introduction I provide brief summaries of the articles, emphasizing common issues, and pointing out the respects in which the authors seem to agree or disagree with one another.


It is ironic that the Unification Church, which stresses the importance of the family more than perhaps any other religious group, has been widely attacked for destroying the family. What accounts for this? Why have parents been so opposed to their children joining the Unification Church? Why has it been singled out from the many new religious groups and considered the archetypal cult? David Bromley and Anson Shupe, authors of the classic studies of new religious groups, The New Vigilantes and Strange Gods, address themselves to these questions in the first article in Section I, "The Archetypal Cult: Conflict and Social Construction of Deviance." Their answer to the last question, framed in terms of social conflict and labeling theories, is that the reasons are to be found as much in the beliefs and attitudes of those who have attacked the Church as in its practices. They conclude that the stereotypical image of the Church held by those who have attacked it, in fact, bear "little resemblance to reality."

The primary thesis of Kenneth Ambrose's article "Function of the Family in the Process of Commitment Within the Unification Movement" is that there is a "progression of the seeking individual, from close personal ties with members of the Unification movement, to commitment to the group, to acceptance of the ideology of Divine Principle and matched marriage... by Rev. Moon." According to Ambrose, marriage then serves as an additional reinforcement of commitment to the group and Divine Principle. The fact that members of the Church have frequently abandoned "careers, education and in some cases, their families of orientation generates additional commitment. People remain committed to the Church, he concludes, because to leave it would be not only to renounce one's former beliefs, it would be to cut off oneself from one's friends and perhaps even one's immediate family.

Ambrose's thesis that personal attachments and commitments to the group precede acceptance of the teaching of the Divine Principle, contradicts the position maintained by Frederick Sontag in the 1981 article, "The God of Principle." Sontag writes:

Most who are outside the movement do not realize that the initial conversion of new followers takes place by continued study of the Principle through repeated lectures that go into greater and greater detail.... The primary confrontation takes place between the individual and the Principle.... Of course, the personal attraction of the members whom the novice meets, or the lecturer... has a great deal to do with conversion as is true in all religious movements, just as disappointing personal relationships have much to do with members leaving. Still, the Principle as the path to God forms the core of their religious experience.

So strong is the appeal of the Principle, says Sontag, that "more than one ex-member has left the church through forced deprogramming, or due to some practical disillusionment, but has still maintained that he or she 'believes the Principle.'"2

The disagreement between Ambrose and Sontag may reduce to nothing more than the difference in occupational biases of sociologists who stress non-cognitive, and philosophers who stress cognitive, reasons for action. However, if it is true that most of the people who join the Unification Church do so knowing that it may alienate them from their friends and families, they would not seem to be the kind of individuals who would remain in the Church because of personal relationships even though they are no longer convinced by its teaching.

Eileen Barker, in the third article of Section I, also seems to emphasize belief as the primary factor which brings about division between church members and their parents. She says:

While much of the press reporting on "The Church That Breaks Up Families" is sensationalizing rubbish, there is no doubt that many parents have suffered considerable anguish on learning that their (adult) child has become a Moonie. It is also true that many a Moonie has suffered considerable anguish from his parent's inability to understand his point of view....

Barker does not think the fact that Church members and their parents feel alienated from one another should surprise sociologists or historians of religious movements. "It is almost a sociological law that those who hold strongly to a belief system which radically challenges a generally accepted status quo will have to isolate themselves from those with whom they disagree, at least in the early stages of a movement's development, and this will frequently lead to familial estrangement." This claim, it should be noted, is consistent with Bromley's and Shupe's thesis that the major reasons parents think their children have been brainwashed and are being held against their will is their inability to find common areas of belief and the communal lifestyle of Church members.

The primary concern in Barker's paper is with the conflicts which arise within church members' commitments. Since Unificationism is a missionary religion, members who have families may find themselves torn between furthering the work of the Church and fulfilling their obligations to their families. There is thus a tension between their commitment to bring salvation to all people and their commitment to their family. This tension could, of course, be avoided if they were a separatist group such as the Hutterites who live apart from the larger society seeking primarily their own salvation. But this would mean abandoning the Unification belief that salvation can only be obtained through international social action.

Barker also thinks the fact that Unificationists strive to make their marriages "God-centered" can create tensions between marriage partners. Although this practice encourages one to look for those features in one's partner that God loves, it can also "lead to a denial, or a lack of facing up to... very real problems... regarding which negotiation may be necessary..." However, in her concluding remarks, Barker makes clear that in pointing out problems in Unification marriages, she does not intend to imply that they are "any less successful than those in the wider society. On the contrary what evidence there is suggests that by several criteria (such as the divorce rate) they could if anything be more successful."


Timothy Miller's article compares the family organization of the Unification Church with that of the Hutterites. He finds that even though Hutterites differ from Unificationists in pursuing primarily agrarian lives apart from mainstream society, both they and Unificationists employ a social pattern which he calls "families within families." This is a pattern in which biological families are looked upon as units within a larger family, the community of believers. This kind of organization structure, he maintains, has been a very durable one that has conferred great stability on communities which have utilized it. The Hutterites, who developed out of the Anabaptist movement which antedated the Reformation, have survived to the present with relatively few changes in their lifestyle. This is, of course, not as likely to be true of Unificationists who are much more involved in the larger society. However, Miller believes that the sense of family within the Unification Church may be one of the most important factors accounting for the "internal unity... in the movement, especially... when confronted with external threats such as deprogramming or government harassment."

Miller also argues that parents who feel they have lost their children to the Unification movement "fail to realize that what is happening is actually an affirmation of family values, not a rejection of them." This suggests that if there were more of an effort by parents to understand the values of their adult children who join the Unification Church, there might not be the radical alienation which exists between some parents and their children. This sometimes happens and in those cases, Miller points out, "old family ties remain intact."

Donald Heinz maintains in his article that many people today see political institutions as excessively remote, impersonal and bureaucratic. As a result they are turning elsewhere to find meaning and identity. In particular they are turning to what Peter Berger and Richard Neuhaus call "mediating structures," i.e., institutions which stand between the individual's private life and large public institutions. These are such groups as the neighborhood, family and church. Liberalism, Heinz believes, has been blind to the importance of mediating structures. One consequence is that "rights of the individual are defended against mediating structures, e.g., the child against the family, sexual license against neighborhood values." Heinz agrees with Berger and Neuhaus that mediating structures are essential for a vital democracy and sees the New Christian Right and the Unification Church as trying to strengthen them. Both, he thinks, are trying to restore what they believe is the divine order of things. Moreover, both see the family as playing an essential role in this order.

The most significant difference between the New Christian Right and the Unification Church, in Heinz's opinion, is that because the latter originated in Korea and contains some non-Christian elements, it does not have as great an access to the shared symbolism and political institutions of our society. It follows, he believes, that "at no time in the foreseeable future will the Unification movement be in a position, as the Ne w Christian Right may be, to engage in attempts at coercive reform." Unificationists must content themselves with "expressive social action." However, he questions whether this would be true under different circumstances. Thus, he asks in closing: "If the Unification movement had sufficient political power and access to the American tradition and symbol system, would it attempt to mobilize its theological idealism into social reality through political action rather than ethical modeling?"

Na'im Akbar, a psychologist who has been greatly influenced by the ideas of the American Muslim Mission, compares their conception of the family with that of the Unification Church in the third article in Section II. Both groups, in his opinion, rightly think of the family as a natural organization ordained by God. The family, he argues, should not be conceived of as merely an organization to nurture children or provide companionship, although it does both of these. It is also the chief agency through which we are socialized and, if functioning properly, provides us with lifelong emotional support. Since he thinks the last of these one of the most important functions of the family, he attacks both Freudians who see aggression as a natural part of family life and Behaviorists who recommend manipulative techniques of child-rearing. The primary differences which Akbar finds between the American Muslim Mission and the Unification Church are: (1) Muslims in America no longer practice arranged marriage, a distinctive feature of the Unification Church, (2) unlike Unificationists who advocate interracial and intercultural marriage as a means of bringing about world unity, Muslims encourage marriage within the black community to help restore the black racial pride which has been eroded by slavery and oppression. However, like Unificationists, Muslims believe that the family is the primary place people learn brotherhood which is necessary for world peace. Akbar therefore concludes that Muslims and Unificationists differ more with regard to means than goals.

Jane Flinn's article "Three Models of Family: Marriage Encounter, Parenting for Peace and justice, Blessed Family" is an examination of three contemporary movements to strengthen the family. She says that unlike the Moral Majority which offers only a "mishmash of platitudes rather than a coherent model for family life," these are organized attempts to provide daily guidance and group support to people trying to cope with the problems of family life. Although she praises Worldwide Marriage Encounter, she believes that its stress on sharing "tends to ignore the complementary need for privacy, autonomy, the dignity of being allowed to cope with one's own problems." Since the Parenting for Peace and Justice movement teaches democratic methods of conflict resolution, nonviolent techniques, and ways of overcoming sexism, it is as oriented toward society as the family. This is also true of the Blessed Family approach of the Unification Church. The Parenting for Peace and Justice movement, Flinn believes, has been rather successful in eliminating sexism from members' marriages. Unification theory, she states, also "suggests the possibility of equal and flexible roles for men and women." However, it has been less successful than Marriage Encounter in eliminating sexism. The Blessed Family still "tends to have rather traditional sex roles, a reflection perhaps of male-dominated Biblical and oriental societies." On the other hand, the Blessed Family has made genuine progress in overcoming cultural biases and racism.


The article by Hugh and Nora Spurgin describes how they became members of the Church, provides an exposition of the Unification doctrine of marriage and the family by practitioners of the doctrine, and explains the role their beliefs play in their marriage and the rearing of their children. Both, it should be noted, indicate that they joined the Church because of their study of the Divine Principle. Since Nora is a former Director of the Church's Family Life Office and Editor of the Blessing Quarterly, which publishes articles to help members meet the challenges and responsibilities of marriage, her contribution to the discussion draws upon her wide experience in this area. The Spurgins do not attempt to hide the fact that conflicts of the type described by Barker occur in Unification marriages. To the contrary, they point out that Unificationists are likely to face more problems than most other married couples, e.g., different cultural and racial backgrounds. They also have the same practical problems other couples have such as "personality conflicts, financial problems, child-rearing problems, etc." Finally, the Spurgins candidly admit that although "our common faith is a great source of strength... we also go through crises and tests of faith..."

Tom Walsh draws on the work of the philosopher Alasdair Maclntyre to provide a framework for explaining the Unification practice of celibacy before marriage. Celibacy may be said to be a virtue for members of the Unification Church because it is a voluntary action in compliance with a standard intended to further a community ideal. Its function is to enable the individual to perfect his or her character as a prerequisite to marriage and the practice of "true family." The goal of celibacy in the Unification Church is thus not to denigrate the body or eliminate the passions. Its goal is the sublimation of desire so that one can give undivided love to God and service to mankind. Understood this way, Walsh maintains the practice of celibacy is a form of self-realization. However, since it involves service to others and preparation for establishing an ideal family, it also has a social dimension. Unificationists, Walsh states, live in what Stanley Hauer was calls a "story-formed community." They view all their actions in terms of man's fall and God's plans for restoration. They therefore see celibacy as an "indemnity condition" for restoring the sexual purity which existed before the fall. Sex, marriage and the rearing of a family are not for them purely private matters, as they are for modern Liberals. Indeed, in Walsh's opinion, the development of a family-centered ethics such as that found in Unification thought, allows one to avoid the extremes of both Liberal individualism and Marxist statism. He concludes by saying that in seeking to reinstate community into modern urban life, the Unification Church may be considered a postmodern development.

In contrast to Kenneth Ambrose who stresses the disruption of careers and education which frequently occurs when individuals join the Unification Church, Michael Mickler emphasizes the opportunities Unification lifestyle offers unmarried people. He contrasts what he calls "vocational" and "non-vocational" models of being single. A life of vocational singleness is one dedicated to religious service and love of God. Its values have traditionally been affirmed in vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. Although rich in rewards it may be said to be a life of self-sacrifice. The goal of a life of non-vocational singleness, on the other hand, is self-fulfillment. Its primary values are freedom, self-awareness and self-expression. Just as a religious life of self-sacrifice may center on either service to mankind or love of God, a life devoted to self-fulfillment may concentrate on either such goals as travel and adventure or success in one's career. However, Mickler thinks that people who pursue these goals often feel a sense of meaninglessness in their lives. This is not true, he says, of unmarried members of the Unification Church. He claims that "one of the distinctive features of the Unification Church is the manner in which it has incorporated the single life within a symbol-system that integrates 'non-vocational' and 'vocational' singleness." He goes on to show in detail how he thinks the Unification Church has combined the lives of self-sacrifice and self-fulfillment to produce one superior to either alone.

Although Mickler asserts that Unification lifestyle offers the single individual many rewards, he does not advocate singleness, as an end in itself. Singleness is considered by Unificationists a time of preparation for marriage. But the satisfactions and rewards of single life, according to Mickler, are retained in Unification marriages. This is true because, just as singleness is looked upon as preparation for marriage, family life is viewed as "an extension of the single state." One can see this, he says, in the frequent separation of marriage partners to pursue Church work. Since Mickler writes as an unmarried member of the Church looking forward to family life, it is understandable that he tends to emphasize anticipated satisfaction rather than problems. However, a balanced assessment of family life as an extension of the single state would obviously have to take into consideration the kinds of problems discussed by Barker and the Spurgins.

Patricia Zulkosky in her paper "Women, Guilt, Spirituality and Family," argues that a pervasive feature of the experience of most women in our society is a sense of guilt. The primary source of this guilt, in her opinion, is Christianity' which glorifies self-sacrifice. Women are expected to live for others, especially their husbands and children. They are required to subordinate and hide their own abilities. To take pride in one's talents and to wish to develop them is to be unfeminine and sinful. Women, therefore, feel guilty when they attempt to develop into an independent person. The true sin, however, is not the desire to realize one's self, but the attempt to smother it. Since Christianity is the primary source of this sin, it is doubtful that it can be reformed to deal with it.

One problem in ridding Christianity of its biases against women is that God has usually been conceived in masculine terms in the Christian tradition. Since God is conceived of as androgynous in Unification theology, it would seem to have greater potential for overcoming sexism than traditional Christianity. But Zulkosky points out, although the Unification concept of God is androgynous the language and imagery of the Divine Principle and other Unification writings are almost exclusively masculine. She therefore asks: "What is the value of a view that holds God is both masculine and feminine, if it is not embodied in the theology, liturgy and devotional practices of the church?" The problem, she says, is not that Unification texts "make blatantly negative remarks about women;" it is that they do not "develop or even mention the role of women in providential history." Woman has a prominent role in the Unification account of the fall, but very little in its doctrine of redemption. This has great influence on Church practice. For example, very few women hold leadership positions.

Could the Unification Church develop a truly non-sexist theology and social praxis? Zulkosky thinks it has the potential but that a number of changes would have to be made. Some of the alternatives she suggests are: eliminating sexist language, describing more thoroughly the role of women in providential history, developing more role models for women by giving them positions of greater authority, and establishing family patterns which will enable women to overcome guilt and develop their potential as human beings.

Since Unificationists hope to transform the world by establishing ideal families in which children free of original sin can be reared, as more and more Church members marry, questions regarding child-rearing will undoubtedly play an increasing role in their thought. Diana Muxworthy Feige's article "Relations-In-Process: Paradigm for Education and the Family" is a first step in this direction. She believes that to understand and direct the development of children we must see their behavior within the context of their social environment. Learning involves social interaction between children and those who mold them. The way a child deals with a disability, for example, depends on both how the child and other people react to it. The most crucial factor in children's development is how adults view their potential. Especially important is what L. S. Vygotsky calls the "zone of proximal development," the difference between actual development and potential development under the guidance of adults and peers. Feige's primary thesis is that not only educational institutions but the family should be viewed as an agency of proximal development. In fact, because the family is the central institution through which God will restore man, it should be seen as the most important agency of proximal development. The goal of education in Unification families, therefore, should be to both develop individual talents and awaken children to their religious duties.


Frederick Sontag's article draws a number of parallels between Unificationism and Marxism. For example, both see history as culminating in the establishment of an ideal society with technology and the efforts of a group of dedicated followers playing key roles in bringing it about. The family, Sontag points out, is conceived of in Unification theology in a manner analogous to the way the party is thought of in Marxism. There are, of course, significant differences between Unificationism and Marxism -- the primary one being that the former is spiritualistic and theistic, while the latter is materialistic and atheistic.

Sontag defends the Church against the charge that it recruits followers through insincere demonstrations of caring about individuals. "The affection showered on novices," he writes, "is not pure surreptitious 'PR.' It is an attempt to demonstrate the loving bond which should exist between all members of an ideal family." He believes that the very fact that the Unification movement has grown the way it has "indicates that many have found something satisfying in it which is missing in established religions." The major obstacle in bringing about the ideal society they desire, in his opinion, is that it would require universal acceptance of Unification doctrine. This will not occur because "the history of religions, or of any theory-based enterprise, tells us that it is unlikely that all groups will ever agree on one theory, other than by violent revolution." He concludes, however, that if the Church succeeds in building a truly non-racist, international organization, that would itself be an achievement of great religious significance.

Frank Flinn maintains that Christian theology is a much more essential component of Unificationism than oriental thought. Indeed," he describes Unificationism as primarily a "Korean indigenization of a specific type of North American Presbyterianism known as federal theology." The distinctive feature of both federal theology and Unificationism is their stress on the communal nature of the fall and restoration. However, Unificationists differ from federalists and most other Christians in viewing the family as the fundamental means by which salvation is to be obtained.

Because Unificationists think marriage was decreed by God, they reject the liberal conception of marriage as a purely private contractual agreement. Flinn believes that in doing this they are restoring marriage to its rightful place from which Liberalism dethroned it. Liberalism, he says, denied man's natural sociability, conceiving of institutions as based on compacts between self-interested individuals. "This contractual understanding of all social arrangements was never far from commercialism.... The modern concept of right itself is seen as an agreement between adults on the basis of a perceived 'fair bargain.' " It, therefore, should not be surprising, he thinks, that children, women and minorities who have not had positions of power from which to bargain, have not enjoyed the same rights as white males. The primary defects of a conception of marriage based on Liberal presuppositions, in his opinion, are that it: (1) "gives weight to individuals and their 'rights' as against social beings and their 'obligations'," and (2) destroys the sacramental character of marriage through which we are linked to God.

According to Flinn, Liberals conceive of rights as the result of contracts between self-interested individuals. He thus contrasts rights with obligations. The conception of rights in my article, the final one in the volume, on the other hand, is that talk 'about rights is merely a way of calling people's attention to their obligations. To claim that one person has a right is to say that some other person (or persons) has a duty. Since one may incur obligations by entering into contracts, some rights are the results of agreements. Other rights, however, are more general and are grounded in respect for persons. I think this is what Locke meant in speaking of certain rights as natural rather than conventional. The primary thesis argued for in my paper is that the kind of obligations we have in a democratic society are different from those owed to family members. This does not mean that in being a member of a family one gives up one's other rights. Since child abuse, for example, is an unfortunate fact of life, it is sometimes necessary to defend the rights of a child against his or her family. This does not imply, as Heinz seems to conclude, that Liberals necessarily think the state more important than the family. Both are equally important. Nor does it prevent one from also thinking of the family in sacramental terms.

Heinz asks at the conclusion of his paper whether the Unification Church, if it had the power, might not attempt to impose its ideals on American society. Both he and Bromley and Shupe in their article imply that the Unification conception of the best form of government is theocracy. However, Divine Principle affirms the value of both human rights and democratic government. One way of interpreting the Unification ideal, then, is that Unificationists hope to overcome alienation among the people of the world by bringing about a sense of family and community, while at the same time preserving respect for democracy. I agree with Sontag that even a partial realization of this ideal would be an event of great significance for mankind.


1 See Ten Theologians Respond to the Unification Church, ed. Herbert Richardson (Barrytown, N.Y.: Unif. Theo. Seminary, distr. Rose of Sharon Press, 1981), pp. 122-23.

2 Ibid., p. 122. 

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