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

Families Within a Family: Spiritual Values of Hutterites and Unificationists - Timothy Miller

Intentional community has been a persistent theme in human history for millennia. We know, for example, that separatist communal groups such as the Essenes were operating in ancient Israel before the time of Jesus, and similar movements existed in other ancient cultures as well. In Christian history the intentional community has played a prominent role in shaping basic ethical patterns of life; especially after Benedict (d. 543 C.E.) outlined a structure through which communities of men and women could foster the spiritual development of their members, community came to be seen in both Eastern and Western churches as the highest form of Christian living. Although the Protestant Reformation had the effect of deemphasizing communal life in favor of nuclear families, the communal urge has persisted there as well; the Episcopal and some of the Lutheran churches, to name only two traditions, continue to foster the communal ideal in traditional form to some degree. Meanwhile, in relatively recent times the old ideal has burst forth in renewed forms; particularly in the nineteenth century, America witnessed the founding of hundreds of Utopian communities in which the classic desire for belonging to a limited group was enshrined. And again with the rise of the hippies in the late 1960s we found that old desire cropping up in the formation of thousands of intentional communities, some of them surviving for only a period of weeks or months, but others surviving for over a decade and today looking very much as if they will be with us for some time.

The typical communal structure has been such that the community itself has been the "family" of the participants. In a relatively few cases, however, an unusual two-tiered system of families has emerged, a system in which the larger family, or community as a whole, remains the focus for communal identity, but in which the traditional biological family has also been retained as an important unit within the larger structure. As it happens, some of these communities which have developed what I am here calling the "families within a family" system have turned out to be among the most enduring and productive of all communities.

This paper will examine the dual family structure of two of these communal movements which survive today, the Hutterites and the Unificationists. Before I proceed to an analysis of these two groups and their family structures, however, I would like to note that several other important groups have adopted a similar system. One major example of that today is the Society of Brothers, or Bruderhof, which operates colonies in Ne w York, Pennsylvania, and Connecticut. In the definitive study of the Society of Brothers, Benjamin Zablocki writes:

The Bruderhof has been called a monastery of families, and in some ways this description is apt. The family is the most important unit in the community life. Unlike the kibbutzim, which have social policies aimed at weakening family structure, the Bruderhof, following the Hutterian model, does every thing possible to strengthen it. Each family lives together in its own apartment. Special times are set aside just for families to be together. Birth control is abhorred: large families are considered natural and wholesome; and each new baby is welcomed by the whole community with joy.1

But, Zablocki notes, the emphasis on nuclear families occurs strictly within the confines of the Bruderhof as a whole: "The Bruderhof marriage ceremony emphasizes the fact that eras must be subordinated to agape, that the sexual and emotional relationship of the couple must be based on the spiritual brotherhood of the entire group."2

Other more recent groups also recognize the role a traditional family can play in fostering the larger goals of an intentional community. The Farm, for example, which is often cited as the most successful of the "new age" communes which have arisen since the hippie era, has kept the basic family structure intact even though its rural homestead in Tennessee has grown into the thousands of members. As Stephen Gaskin, the spiritual leader of the Farm, has written,

On the Farm our marriages are till death do you part, for better or for worse, blood test, the county clerk, and the works. When we got to Tennessee, almost none of my students were married to each other because I hadn't been able to marry anybody and they didn't know anybody they wanted to marry them, so they were just being together. And when we got there and we said, "What does it take to be a preacher in Tennessee?" And they said it takes a preacher and a congregation and you're a church. So I didn't have to do anything as such, I'd just send a couple down to get a blood test and go to the county clerk's and get a marriage license, and they come back to the Farm, get married on Sunday morning, I sign it as a minister who marries them, and they go back in and they're legally married. And they're morally married too, because we get married after the meditation in the morning, when everybody's really stoned and everybody's in a truth-telling place, and you say those vows, you know, that you'll stay with somebody and that you really mean it, and there's four hundred folks digging it and paying attention and pretty stoned and pretty telepathic with you. It's a heavy ceremony -- we get stoned on weddings when we have them. Sometimes folks are so heavy at weddings -- people say their vows so heavy and so pure it just stones everybody.3

And the Farm also is serious about child-raising, which is done both by the biological parents and by the Farm family as a whole:

We believe in staying in contact with our kids... You stay in contact with them, and they're part of your family and they be with you. They don't grow up and run away and grow their hair long when they get sixteen or something, or in our case cut it. They'll stay home and grow their hair long, and help you out with the thing. We tell our kids where it's at. I think the idea of letting kids go crazy until they're six years old and then putting them in public schools where they have to snap right now, you know, is a funny way to treat a kid. You ought to try to keep them sane and together... It ain't just a question of how you do it, it's a question of understanding what you're trying to do. What you're trying to do is to don't teach a kid to be a rip-off.4

There are several other groups which could also be cited as examples of the families-within-a-family model. In this paper, however, we will focus on two groups which have used the concept to great communal advantage; we will attempt to understand how the concept has advanced the spiritual and social values of the Hutterites and Unificationists.

The Hutterites are, of course, by far the older of the two groups. Their roots, now somewhat obscured by the passage of time, are in the Anabaptist movement which was influential in parts of Europe prior to the Protestant Reformation. The Hutterites are the most militantly communal of all of the surviving Anabaptist groups; whereas other surviving Anabaptists tend to emphasize community through a system in which families enjoy the fellowship, support, and help of other families (as in the classic case of a Mennonite barn-raising), the Hutterites have given up private property altogether. All land and buildings and equipment are owned by the community as a whole; one's personal possessions are limited to the most intimate and necessary things, such as clothing and toilet items. Families live in apartments which belong to the colony; they work together at the collective farming effort under community guidance; and they share equally in the production of the enterprise. Something must be working in the Hutterite system, because the movement is today, after existing for hundreds of years, stronger than ever before. Indeed, the territorial expansion of the Hutterites (new colonies are started frequently to handle the increase in Hutterite population) has become a volatile social and political issue in several of the states and provinces in which they live.

Marriage and family are as basic as any values in the Hutterite system. A demographic 'study covering the period from 1874 to 1950 showed that only 1.9% of the men and 5.4% of the women over the age of 30 had never married. Since 1875 there had been only one divorce among Hutterites, and the average completed family had 10.4 children.5

Marriage is very much a part of the faith for Hutterites. Marriage usually occurs shortly after baptism, typically when the participants are in their early twenties. For much of Hutterite history, until about 150 years ago, before their migration to the United States and Canada, marriage partners were matched by colony leaders. But, as Victor Peters notes, "This practice was not popular, especially among the young people. When a young girl appealed to [Johann] Cornies, a Mennonite administrator in charge of the supervision of 'foreign' colonies, the latter advised the Hutterians to discontinue the practice. It was dropped and has not been revived."6 John Hostetler tells how it used to be:

Those wishing to marry informed the servant of the word and at the appointed time in spring and fall were called to one of the principal Bruderhofs. Here the matching followed the religious service. Many of the prospective couples had never met each other. Men and women lined up on opposite sides of the room. A man would choose one of three women. The woman could refuse, but if she did she could not marry until the next matching.7

Today individual Hutterites choose their own spouses, but the choice is still heavily influenced by parents and peer groups, and most marry their own kinfolk. Boys and girls usually meet on intercolony visits, when a group from one colony journeys to another colony to help with a work project. Courtship, which can last for several years, is carried out entirely within a group context; parental consent remains a standard requirement for matrimony. When a couple decide to marry, the prospective groom journeys to the colony of his intended bride and seeks the permission of her parents and colony. When the parents have agreed to the marriage, colony members are summoned to the church building and a short engagement ceremony is held. There are community festivities for two days, then the groom takes the bride, her family, and her personal belongings to his own colony where, after further festivity, a marriage ceremony is performed following the Sunday worship service. Then there are further social celebrations before the newlyweds take up residence in their new apartment on the groom's colony. Weddings are a major highlight of Hutterite life, and usually take place when farm work is at a low ebb -- that is, not during planting or harvest seasons. Because of the time and expense involved in weddings, multiple weddings are encouraged, with as many as five couples being united at the same time.

Although Hutterites do value the nuclear family, the welfare of the colony as a whole is always paramount. Each couple is given an apartment in one of the communal dwellings, buildings which have been built according to the same design since the sixteenth century. There is little privacy; it is a Hutterite tradition, for example, that visitors do not knock before entering an apartment. An apartment is just a place to sleep and store things; one's meals, baths, and most other parts of life are taken elsewhere.

Children are valued highly, and in the absence of birth control tend to come fairly rapidly. Children are understood to belong to the whole colony, not only to the parents. Their religious training begins when they first take solid food, at the age of about one month; the mother folds the baby's hands into hers as she offers thanks for the food. Discipline also starts early, since socialization is crucial to the communal enterprise. As John Hostetler and Gertrude Huntington have observed, "A child is believed to be completely innocent until he is observed to hit back or to pick up a comb and try to comb his hair. When he hits back, or knows what a comb is for, his level of comprehension is believed to be sufficiently high that he can be disciplined. He shows both self-will and understanding."8 The basic rationale for strict discipline is contained in a 1652 Hutterite book, Bin Sendbrief:

Just as iron tends to rust and as the soil will nourish weeds, unless it is kept clean by continuous care, so have children of men a strong inclination towards injustices, desires, and lusts; especially when children are together with the children of the world and daily hear and see their bad examples. In consequence they desire nothing but dancing, playing and all sorts of frivolities, till they have such longing for it, that you cannot stop them any more from growing up in it.... Now it has been revealed that many parents are by nature too soft with their children and have not the strength to keep them away from evil. So we have a thousand good reasons why we should live separated from the world in a Christian community. How much misery is prevented in this way. For do we not hear it often said: How honest and respectable are these people,: but look what godless children they have brought up.... Sometimes father and mother have died long ago and nothing is left of their earthly remains, but their bad reputation still lives among the people who complain that they once neglected to discipline their children and brought them up disgracefully.9

By the time they reach school age, children have a very low status in the colony. During their school years they are taught unquestioning obedience to authority. But the families are filled with love, and most Hutterite children grow up to become faithful members of the community. Their status grows as they grow older, because age is regarded as an indication of wisdom.

In short, the nuclear family is important; family ties are strong until the child reaches full adulthood, indicated, usually, by baptism and marriage, and the ties persist after that (for example, there is a continuing interest in the welfare of relatives now living at other colonies). Attachments remain even when a family member commits the overpowering sin of leaving the colony for the secular world. A woman's mother comes to help her when she has a new baby, and relatives elsewhere are visited whenever possible. At the same time, however, the principal "family" is the colony itself. As Hostetler has concluded, "The Hutterite colony functions in many ways like an extended family. Because Hutterite society has institutionalized a continuing relationship between parents and children, the family is emotionally less demanding and less exclusive than is the rule with middle-class Americans."10

There are many pronounced differences between Hutterites and Unificationists. The Unification Church is not from the Anabaptist tradition; its members do not live in permanent colonies and do not, for the most part, till the soil. But the concept of families within a larger family is very much alive there.

It would appear that Unificationists are predisposed to affirm the importance of family life when they enter the movement. Eileen Barker, in her study of British Moonies, found that

By almost any criteria, the majority of Moonies came from what they, and others, would consider to be "good homes."... Mothers were unlikely to have worked while their children were at school, and were very unlikely to have done so before they went to school....Over four-fifths of British Moonies saw themselves as having enjoyed average or (for nearly a half of them) above average material well-being (with respect to housing, food, and other material comforts); and roughly three-quarters said their spiritual well-being was about (one third), or above, average.11

Thus it might be reasonable to conjecture that the Unification emphasis on family might be appealing to prospective members who understand the importance of that social institution. That emphasis is pervasive -- I have seen it repeatedly in Divine Principle, in Unificationist theological writings, and in conversations with Unification Church members.

The family becomes an important topic early in Divine Principle. Barely a dozen pages into the work the four position foundation, which is the theological underpinning of the family structure, is introduced. The standing of the four position foundation in Divine Principle is lofty indeed: "The four position foundation is the base for the fulfillment of God's goodness and is the ultimate goal of His creation. This is the base through which God's power is channeled to flow into all of His creation in order for the creation to exist. Therefore, the formation of the four position foundation is ultimately God's eternal purpose of creation."12 Somewhat later, Divine Principle talks at length of various foundations designed to receive the Messiah -- and all are embodied in families.13

Young Oon Kim, the premier Unification theologian, explains the importance of the family in Unificationism at greater length in her book Unification Theology. She writes,

In the twentieth century, Protestant doctrines of man have stressed human relatedness and responsibility. An individual becomes a mature person through his connections with others. No one can really exist by himself or for himself. Men are social creatures. They are born into a society and are molded by their group. Process theology and liberation theology stress this social dimension of man. Both oppose a purely individualistic interpretation of human nature. Who we are and what we do depend upon our involvement in group life and activities.

Unification theology takes into account man's relatedness and responsibility by using the family as a model. For Divine Principle the God-centered family represents the best example of how God works in history. God creates men and women to seek togetherness. Their union leads to biological regeneration, personal fulfillment and social progress. As a base of four positions, to use the Unification theology term, the family ties which bind together God, husband, wife and children prove the fundamental pattern for all worthwhile forms of human relations. An ideal society can be erected once a truly God-centered family comes into being.

God originates the family structure, making it an instrument for the realization of His parental love and authority. But nearly as important are the responses we make to our fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters and children. Only if these kinship relationships are positive and creative is it possible to manifest the full give and take of love with God and our fellowmen.

The family is also the chief place for learning our social responsibilities. We come to accept our duty to God in most cases as a result of our respect for our parents and obedience to their commands. We also learn how to relate to society by our experience in relating to every member of our family circle. Except in rare cases, men's natural sense of responsibility develops and flowers or is stunted by their family environment in the first half dozen years of life. For this reason, the God-centered family provides the most important base of four positions for personal regeneration and social reconstruction.14

Kim further explains the importance of the nuclear family in other writings, especially Unification Theology and Christian Thought.15 Clearly in her understanding of Unificationism, the family does, as she says, "serve as the foothold for God's sovereignty in the physical world and a fountainhead of love for each member of the family."16 Other Unification theological works, such as the anonymously authored Unification Thought, similarly support family centrality.17 Non-Unificationists writing about the movement have also described the family as central to the teachings.18

So far we have been discussing the nuclear family, but for Unificationists as for the Hutterites it is not the only family. The family model in fact extends to the movement as a whole. Unificationists frequently portray themselves as members of a worldwide happy family, and "the family" is their familiar appellation for the movement.

Little, if anything, seems to have been written on the theological importance of this larger "family," but its functional importance in the movement seems clear enough. For example, I once asked a Unificationist in m y town just how it was that attractive young men and women could live in close communal settings without just occasionally lapsing into sexual encounters. His answer was that you could do it just as you could live with your sister (or brother, as the case might be) without being strongly led to commit incest. Apparently this sense of brotherhood-sisterhood operates as a sexual brake; it is a strong motif in daily life right up to the point at which one receives the second blessing and marries one of one's brothers or sisters.

This larger sense of family may also contribute to such internal unity as exists in the movement, especially when it is confronted with outside threats, such as deprogramming or government harassment. In contemporary America many of our social institutions are fragile and undependable, and even though the family in its typical form is hardly immune to deterioration, it stands symbolically, at least, as a haven. When one is criticized by hostile members of the public, it is reassuring to be able to retreat to the sate womb of a loving family, and it is this sort of womb that Unificationism seems to provide for its members. Thus family terminology pervades Unificationism; members are brothers and sisters, and Mr. and Mrs. Moo n are father and mother, the true parents.

Before concluding I need to allude to one charge against Unificationism frequently made by opponents of the movement. This is the allegation that, as Joseph Fichter has summarized it, "membership is disruptive of family life. The new convert leaves home and family, brothers and sisters, to dedicate himself entirely to the religious calling."19

Certainly there is much truth in that allegation. When one leaves one's old family for the new one, there is often a good dose of bitterness from those who feel rejected. However, Unificationism itself is only incidental to the situation. The unfortunate fact is that many persons today experience, upon reaching young adulthood, alienation from their biological families, and that alienation can be intensified when the person opts to participate in a group which seems deviant to his or her parents or siblings. Thus some parents react with horror when a new allegiance on the part of their son or daughter becomes apparent, just as they often do when a son or daughter announces that he or she plans to marry someone the parents consider unfit. Many parents, of course, do not exhibit such a reaction, and in those cases the old family ties remain intact; but when that hostility does occur, the parents often fail to realize that what is happening is actually an affirmation of family values, not a rejection of them. The real problem lies in the overall deterioration of traditional family structures, not in the workings of a group with a strong family identity.

But we digress from our central point. Several hundred years ago the Hutterites proclaimed a dual family loyalty, one which affirmed the standard biological family within a context of a larger, loving community. In our own century another new religious movement has said essentially the same thing, that life should be centered in families within a family. The more some things change, the more they remain the same. Let us conclude with these words of Young Oon Kim:

He who does not love and cannot love is dead. Such individuals are really the most selfish and most miserable. Where can they learn how to love except in the family which is the most natural nursery? As a child we receive affection and care from our parents. This love is largely passive or receptive. As one grows and enters in marriage he or she understands the importance of mutual love. When one becomes a parent, love is expressed unconditionally without expecting to be rewarded.

... Thus a good family, particularly a God-centered family, provides an ideal environment for one to learn the three basic forms of love in a natural way. Hence Divine Principle highlights the centrality of the family: namely, the restoration of love which would fulfill God's purpose of creation. Such teaching appears to be rather novel these days.20


1 Benjamin Zablocki, The Joyful Community (Baltimore: Penguin, 1971), pp. 116-17. 2 Ibid., p. 118.

3 Stephen Gaskin, "Householder Yogis, "in Hey Beatnik! This Is the Farm Book (Summenown, Tenn.: The Book Publishing Co., 1974), unpaginated.

4 Ibid., section on "Kids."

5 Joseph W. Eaton and Albert J. Mayer, Man's Capacity to Reproduce: The Demography of a Unique Population (Glencoe, 111.: Free Press, 1954), pp. 16, 18, 20; cited in John A. Hostetler, Hutterite Society (Baltimore: John Hopkins Univ. Press, 1974), p. 203.

6 Victor Peters, Alt Things Common: The Hutterian Way of Life (New York: Harper and Row, 1965), pp. 92-93.

7 Hostetler, Hutterite Society, p. 237.

8 John A. Hostetler and Gertrude Enders Huntington, The Hutterites in North America (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1967), pp. 60-61.

9 Peters, p. 98.

10 Hostetler, Hutterite Society, p. 204.

11 Eileen Barker, "Who'd Be a Moonie? A Comparative Study Of Those Who Join the Unification Church in Britain," in The Social Impact of New Religious Movements, ed. Bryan Wilson (Barrytown, N.Y.: Unif. Theol. Seminary, distr. Rose of Sharon Press, 1981), p. 67.

12 Divine Principle (New York: Holy Spirit Assn. for the Unif. of World Christianity, 1973). p. 32.

13 Ibid., pp. 239ff.

14 Young Oon Kim, Unification Theology (New York: Holy Spirit Assn. for the Unif. of World Christianity, 1980), p. 32.

15 See Young Oon Kim, Unification Theology and Christian Thought (New York: Golden Gate, 1975), pp. 13-14, 21, 185ff.

16 Ibid., p. 21.

17 Unification Thought (New York: Unification Thought Institute, 1973), pp. 228ff.

18 See, for example, Frederick Sontag, Sun Myung Moon and the Unification Church (Nashville: Abingdon, 1977), pp. 108ff.

19 Joseph H. Fichter, "Marriage, Family and Sun Myung Moon," America (27 October 1979).

20 Kim, Unification Theology, p. 80. 

Table of Contents

Tparents Home

Moon Family Page

Unification Library