Lifestyle Conversations with Members of the Unification Church - Edited by Richard Quebedeaux


As a result of interest generated at the first introductory summer conference which presented and critiqued Unification theology (held in the Virgin Islands in 1979)1, two smaller, advanced seminars were convened early in 1980 in the Bahamas to address the concerns that emerged. One focused on Unification hermeneutics2, and the other on Unification lifestyle, namely, the concrete ways theological beliefs in the Unification movement impact the day-to-day lives and behavior of its members. This latter gathering of Unification seminarians, doctoral students, and church leaders with scholars of other religious traditions to discuss lifestyle issues per se was the first of its kind, and it spawned others in the years following.3

The seminar centered on informal presentations by especially articulate Unificationists on certain important (and sometimes novel) aspects of their lifestyle -- including their highly controversial methods of fundraising and membership recruitment (i.e., evangelism) -- and on group discussions following those presentations. It concluded with a more formal paper by a noted non-Unification comparative religionist on his assessment of the Unification movement, based on the results of an in-depth survey among the "Moonies" in the U.S. in 1976. Although the positions taken here do represent a variety of common feelings shared by numerous Unificationists, they should in no wise be taken as normative. Indeed, the dialogue itself demonstrates the presence of considerably more heterogeneity in lifestyle within the Unification movement than is generally supposed by the public.

The seminar begins with presentations on engagement, marriage, and children in the Unification movement by Hugh and Nora Spurgin, who were one of the 777 couples married by Rev. and Mrs. Moon in a single ceremony in Korea in 1970. They talk about the stringent spiritual disciplines Moonies undertake prior to marriage ("the Blessing"), the "matching" process itself (i.e., engagement) in which couples are often brought together for the first time by Rev. Moon, and the distinctive features of married life and families within the larger Unification community. Here the Blessing is viewed as the prime "sacrament" for believers, and children born of blessed parents are thought to be free of "original sin." The Spurgins stress that "our marriages are for the benefit of mankind, not merely for ourselves," and they go into a discussion describing the manner in which self-sacrifice is an integral part of life in the Unification movement, both before and after the Blessing. Arthur Eves, who had been married and divorced prior to joining the movement, then speaks about male-female relationships from the perspective of the unmarried Moonie. He focuses on the Unification practice of premarital celibacy in the midst of a permissive society, and how it serves as a discipline that helps persons to develop their love for others.

At this point, Patricia Zulkosky offers a presentation on Unification piety and spirituality -- the rituals, prayer, and worship of the movement. She talks about the workshops in which Divine Principle (Rev. Moon's "new revelation") is taught, the spiritual "conditions" set by members (sacrificial offerings to God like extended periods of fasting and prayer), and the spirituality of communal living (practiced by most Moonies in the U.S. at the present time). She also explains the meaning of the weekly "pledge service" at 5 am on Sunday and the distinctive church holidays celebrated by members. In Zulkosky's words, Unification spirituality as a whole is built on the "goal of relieving the suffering of God by fulfilling the ideal of creation -- namely the building of the Kingdom on earth."

From there, Kurt Johnson, a research biologist and the innovator of a number of "social action" projects for the Unification movement, presents his views on Divine Principle's perspective on social concern and politics. For him, the theology offered by the Principle is centered on "doing" (praxis) rather than on metaphysical speculation. He talks about the Unification doctrines of restoration and eschatology as they bear on politics, then compares the Marxist vision of a new economic and political order with the "counterproposal to Marxism" suggested in Divine Principle. In so doing, Johnson presents a picture of Unification political and economic ideals fat different from the stereotyped "reactionary anticommunism" Rev. Moon is sometimes accused of promoting.

The practices of witnessing and evangelism as an integral part of life in the Unification movement, and the new institution of "home church" as a specific method of evangelism and witnessing, are discussed by Jaime Sheeran and Diana Muxworthy, who had both been state directors for the movement. They elaborate on the difficulties of living "principled" (or what traditional Christianity has termed "sanctified") lives in a secular environment, and relate this issue to the development of the home church ideal. The presentations of these two women ate then followed by an unplanned, but very interesting, ad hoc discussion on the role of women as a whole in the Unification movement and on feminism more generally. This particular discussion was attended by members of the concurrent seminar on Unification hermeneutics as well as this seminar's participants.

From here, the agenda moves on to a lively (if not heated) discussion of the controversial and innovative methods of raising money for church activities within the Unification movement, and the spirituality and theology of material goods behind these practices. The presentations were made by Stephen Post, who had spent a year and a halt fundraising and was a "champion" in this task, and by Esteban Galvan, who came from a Chicano family of migrant workers and spent four years on the Unification movement's Mobile Fundraising Teams (MFT) in the U.S. Post concentrated on the theology of fundraising, while Galvan gave a passionate account of the day-to-day life of a typical MFT member and the spiritual and social benefits he or she derives from the experience.

The conversation then proceeds to a quite heated dialogue, this one concerning daily life in the movement's Northern California (Oakland) church -- the specific target of accusations by the mass media and distraught parents concerning allegedly deceptive methods of membership recruitment.

The presenter here is Dr. Mose Durst himself, then the director of the movement in Northern California and now president of the Unification Church in America. Durst emphasized the theology of self-sacrifice that lies behind the hard work and single-mindedness of the Northern California church, the centrality of fasting and prayer and aggressive evangelism in the daily lives of members, and the character of the "notorious" weekend teaching seminars at "Camp K" (where anti-cult proponents charge that potential recruits are methodically "brainwashed"). He was quick to admit mistakes made by the movement in its evangelistic efforts in the past, but stressed also the sincerity and good intentions of the recruitment process in Northern California as a whole.4

The final two presentations in the seminar are made by Neil Salonen and Stillson Judah. Salonen, then completing a long term as president of the Unification Church in America, gave a fascinating lecture on the history of the movement in the United States and its Korean origins. Here he focuses on the Unification notion of "providential history" and its working out in the present era. He talks about the first Korean missionaries to the U.S. who arrived in the early 1960s and how the various "strands" of a then tiny organization came together into one movement when Rev. Moon took up residence in New York in 1972. From there, Salonen discusses Moon's national speaking tours and large public rallies in the mid-70s, and the movement's growth and development since then. Stillson Judah, professor emeritus of the history of religions at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, concluded the formal part of the seminar with a presentation on the contemporary social significance of new religious movements and the Unification movement in particular in a time of rapid cultural change in America.

The group discussions after each presentation were simply not long enough to deal adequately with all the questions raised, but they were very stimulating, to say the least, and always integrally related to the issues at hand. If the text of this book is not the definitive statement on Unification lifestyle -- and it surely isn't -- it does represent a significant first attempt to bring something about the reality of what it means to be a Moonie today to the reading public.

Richard Quebedeaux
Berkeley, California


1 See Proceedings of the Virgin Islands' Seminar on Unification Theology, ed. Darrol Bryant (Barrytown, N.Y.: Unification Theological Seminary, distr. Rose of Sharon Press, 1980).

2 The proceedings of this conference have been published under the title Hermeneutics and Horizons: The Shape of the Future, ed. Frank K. Flinn (Barrytown, N.Y.: Unification Theological Seminary, distr. Rose of Sharon Press, 1982).

3 Another volume on Unification lifestyle is being prepared by Gene lames using material presented at subsequent conferences and other sources.

4 More testimony by Dr. Durst on this matter can be found in Hermeneutics and Unification Theology, ed. Darrol Bryant and Durwood Foster (Barrytown, N.Y.: Unification Theological Seminary, distr. Rose of Sharon Press, 1980). 

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