Proceedings of the Virgin Islands' Seminar on Unification Theology -- Darrol Bryant, General Editor - April 1, 1980


In May, 1979, Mr. David Kim, president of the Unification Theological Seminary, Barrytown, New York, invited Dr. Richard Quebedeaux and myself to submit a proposal for a week-long summer conference that would center on the teachings of the Divine Principle. A proposal was submitted and accepted. The result was a week-long conference held in the Virgin Islands from July 22-29, 1979. It was attended by a wide-ranging group that included theologians, professional scholars of religion, philosophers, ministers, social scientists, and others. For a week we listened to lectures, heard critiques, and engaged in long hours of discussion, debate and conversation. The volume you hold in your hand is a partial record of our time together, of what was said in explication, attack, critique and defense of the teachings of the Divine Principle. A further volume containing the edited transcripts of the small group discussions will complete the record of that week.

Although the conference was, as the reader will see, an event of mixed quality, it was, I believe, an event of some significance. When viewed within the longer history of Christianity, it is quite remarkable that a group as young and as admittedly controversial as the Unification movement should invite informed criticism from other and more established quarters of the Christian tradition. Although the Unification movement understands itself as a further development within Christianity, this understanding has been rejected by many who would deny its claim. Nonetheless, the Unification movement has maintained its avowed commitments to Christianity in its establishment of a seminary which offers a conventional Christian curriculum and in its sustained efforts to initiate and continue dialogue with other branches of the Christian family. Moreover, it has opened itself to the wider Christian examination and on-going conversation concerning both the practice and belief of its adherents. This conference, then, stands in the developing tradition within the Unification movement to both articulate its teaching within the context of the larger Christian family and to hear the criticism -- as well as the commendation -- of others. It is a movement which is attempting to resist the sectarian tendencies that arise both from its own historical origins and path and from the often hostile and rejecting elements of established Christian traditions. In spite of these difficulties, the Unification movement has persisted in its attempts to speak to and to be spoken to by the larger Christian tradition. This conference was a further stage in those attempts.

Dr. Quebedeaux and I were approached to serve as the coconvenors of this conference because we had each convened a number of conferences sponsored by the Unification Seminary in the preceding year.1 Most of those conferences were held at the Barrytown Seminary and usually they lasted for three days. These conferences often served to simply overcome misgivings that people had concerning the Unification movement -- misgivings that related to whether or not this was a genuinely religious movement, whether or not there was anything within the Unification movement that bore further investigation, and so forth. At the same time, these conferences served to begin a theological conversation which, although the participants retained their differences, seemed worthy of pursuit. The week-long summer conference, then, would seek to bring together members of the Unification Church and, in the main, people who had attended an earlier conference at the seminary. In this setting, people would have an opportunity to hear, in a more or less orderly fashion, the teachings of the Divine Principle on a series of significant points and to engage that teaching in a critical way.

The reader can judge for himself how successful the conference was in attaining this end. It seemed clear to me from the outset that such a venture was fraught with difficulties. Given the highly controversial character of the Unification movement, could we ever get to the point at which we would be able to consider in a reasoned way the various claims of Unification theology? Given the highly diverse theological backgrounds of the participants in the conference and the current stage of theology in general, could we find agreed-upon courts of appeal for judging the theological claims made by the Unification movement? Would we be able to find a language sufficiently common to allow us to truly talk to one another? Would the charm of the setting dissipate altogether our critical capacities? Would we be able to achieve something that would be seen as more than a propaganda victory for the Moonies?

Regardless of the varying judgments that we may come to concerning these questions, it does seem to me that it is worth having this document as a record of the event itself. In my view, the success or failure of the conference is not a matter to be judged simply by reference to the conference itself. As one who has been a participant in perhaps twenty conferences sponsored by the Unification movement over the past three years, I am convinced that the kind of ecumenical exchange emerging in these settings may well prove to be of value to the future of theological reflection independent of the future of the Unification movement. I know that I personally have found the conversations to be consistently stimulating, of generally high quality, and generative of a desire for the conversation to continue in the future. Hence for me this document and the conference to which it attests is simply one moment in a growing conversation that seems worthy of continuation.

Of significance here is not the particular question of whether or not the Unificationists are right or wrong on particular points of theological interpretation, but that a genuinely theological conversation is occurring. In our time, such conversations are far too rare. And even if the Unification movement makes no other contribution to contemporary theological reconstruction, it will have played a valuable role by forcing those committed to theology to clarify their own theological thinking and challenging them to think creatively about the issues that currently confront the Christian community as well as humanity as a whole.

The editing of the transcripts has been a large, often nearly impossible task. The transcripts of the conference ran to more than nine hundred typed pages. However, discussion and debate as it occurs and is participated in is often something other than what appears in the stark reality of typed pages. Gestures, tone of voice, the twinkling of an eye, the little grimace, the unspoken but assumed elements that get built into a conversation, are all lost when the voices captured on a tape are transferred to the fixed shapes of a typewriter. Consequently, a discussion that one remembers as having been coherent and interesting often appears on the transcription as babble. In editing this material I have attempted to spare the reader as much of the babble as I could. At the same time, a considerable amount of rambling and seemingly out-of-place comments, interjections, and irrelevancies have been retained in order to give some taste of what we suffered as we sought to find our ways towards conversation. In other words, this document is, so far as is possible, a record rather than an edited precise of the conference.

Many people have assisted in this process. Jolanda Smalls and Barbara Mallory did the initial transcribing of the text. After I had made my way through the whole transcript editing in the minimal way I suggested above, they then retyped the whole transcript. Then Susan Hodges Bryant, an editor of proven abilities, turned her hand to the manuscript, attempting to put the whole into a form that would meet the standards of written English syntax and grammar. Parts of this I then read again, doing some further editing where I felt the babble had overwhelmed the intelligible. Theological responses to the lectures were edited initially by those who gave the responses though I have subsequently read them through, attempting to standardize notations, notes, and references. The sections involving discussion have been sent out to those whom we were able to identify, asking them to agree to stand by what the edited version said they said. Finally, then, the whole manuscript was given a further copy editing by Lynn Musgrave who with Sylvia Grahn, Shirley Stadelhofer, and Sarah Witt, proofread the manuscript. There is perhaps a year's worth of additional effort that could be spent on this document, but it is now, in my judgment, in a form sufficient for its purposes.

In editing the discussions an attempt was made to identify the speakers; where that was not possible we have simply used the designation "participant." Surprisingly, given the public controversy that surrounds the Unification movement, there was only one participant in the conference who requested anonymity.

The readers will find that the debate and discussion was far-ranging and unrestrained. In spite of the charges that have been leveled against the Unification movement concerning its distaste for and active discouragement of critical thinking, I have consistently found otherwise. I think that the reader will find in this volume evidence that critical thinking is both respected and encouraged. The participants from outside the movement did not, so far as I am aware, feel at all constrained in their comments and observations. Frankness has been a consistent feature of seminary-sponsored conferences. While that is to be expected, the more important indication of the Unification movement's openness to critical thinking is the participation of the members of the movement. They exhibit, it seems to me, the range of both ability and desire for engagement in critical exchange that one would expect in any group. What differentiates the Unification movement on this point is their willingness to underwrite the kinds of events that nourish both critical and constructive exchange. That, it seems to me, is a considerable recommendation. In particular, Mr. David Kim of the Barrytown Seminary and Rev. Chung Hwan Kwak of the World Mission Office of the Unification Church must be thanked for their support of this venture. Mr. John Maniatis must be applauded for his superb and consistently good-humored handling of the myriad details that come with organizing a conference like this.

Finally, I want to personally thank all the participants in the conference, both for their participation and for their subsequent cooperation in preparing this record of our meeting. Without their sustained participation throughout the week, without their concerted attempt to hear fairly and with discrimination what was being said, without their capacity to entertain for the moment points of view representing a wide range of theological, philosophical, moral and cultural perspectives, the conference would have failed altogether. As it is, it will be the ongoing results of our meetings with each other as they bear fruit in our own work and in our own attempts to bridge the considerable gulfs which keep us from becoming contemporaries with each other, the kinds of on-going respect for the integrity of each other's lives and beliefs, that will determine the success of what happened there under that warm sun, stroked by that constant wind, and refreshed by that warm sea.

I hope that this document will mark not an end but rather the beginning of an increasingly rich, multifaceted, international and inter-religious conversation that, to use a Unification phrase, will contribute to a "God-centered world."

April 1, 1980

M.D. Bryant
10 Willow Walk
Cambridge, England


1 The following volumes have emerged from these conferences: M. Darrol Bryant and Susan Hodges, eds., Exploring Unification Theology. New York, N.Y.: Distributed by the Rose of Sharon Press, Inc., 1978. Richard Quebedeaux and Rodney Sawatsky eds., Evangelical-Unification Dialogue, New York, NY: Distributed by the Rose of Sharon Press, Inc., 1979. Darrol Bryant and Durwood Foster, eds., Hermeneutics and Unification Theology, New York. NY: Distributed by the Rose of Sharon Press Inc. 1980. 

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