Proceedings of the Virgin Islands' Seminar on Unification Theology -- Darrol Bryant, General Editor - April 1, 1980
I am a bit sunburnt, so I hope that you will bear with me. I want to do three things tonight. First of all, I want to talk about my background so that you know who I am; secondly, I want to tell you how I became involved in this notorious activity of doing consulting work with the Unification movement; and thirdly, I simply want to say what it is about the Unification movement that has made me interested in it. One of the problems those of us who have been doing the work with the Unification movement face is that it becomes hard not to become an apologist for the movement for various reasons. I don't really want to be an apologist for the movement tonight; I simply want to share my own experience. I don't want to lay any trips on anybody because everyone has different experiences and different impressions. I simply want to tell you how I feel about the movement, why I feel as I do, and leave it up to you to find out if I'm correct or incorrect.
I was born in Los Angeles in 1944. Being born in Los Angeles is very important because there are all kinds of religions in Southern California. If you want to start a new church or a new religion, it is a good place to do so. And so, from the time I was a kid, I knew all about all of these groups. My father was also born in Los Angeles. He was originally a "culture Presbyterian"; that is, he and his family went to church for business reasons; my mother was a lapsed Roman Catholic, and I was baptized the first time as a Presbyterian. Later my parents got "saved" -- you know what that means -- in a Baptist church. And I was baptized the second time by immersion. Later still my parents became Pentecostal and my mother got baptized a third time (she had been baptized a Roman Catholic and a Baptist, so now she did it the Pentecostal way because she wanted to make sure it really took effect). In the course of my childhood I was very active in my parents' church. I was president of this and that, and taught Sunday school. You name it, I did it. I also led a double life. I had a good time too while I was in this fundamentalist church trying to please all those "spiritual people."
But about my childhood religious experience I have to say, with so many people who grew up in my generation (I'm 34), I found an awful lot of hypocrisy in the church. I began to be dissatisfied. I went to UCLA as an undergraduate, became "enlightened" politically and religiously, and then I went to Harvard Divinity School. I never lost my evangelical roots; I never really threw out those convictions, or the other convictions in which I was nurtured, partly because when I went to seminary I discovered there the same limitations I had grown up with. But this time it was "fundamentalism of the left," not the right. I discovered that the issue wasn't whether you are conservative or liberal, because both groups had hypocrites; and it seemed to me that hypocrisy was an almost inevitable result of being in those groups.
I began on a pilgrimage after graduating from seminary. I went off to England to Oxford and did a doctorate with a dissertation on the charismatic movement because my parents had become Pentecostal while I was at seminary, and I had become interested in that. I also began to really look at the differences between conservative Christianity and the liberalism in which I had been educated. Finding them both inadequate, I decided that the way you really get the gospel is to put the "vertical" side of evangelicalism, the relationship to God, together with the "horizontal" side of liberalism, that cares about people. At the intersection you really have the gospel. In other words, I thought that the liberals basically had fifty percent of the gospel, the social side, and the evangelicals had fifty, the personal side. So I began on a quest to put these things together. In doing that, I became very ecumenical. I totally rejected my sectarian background, and in the course of putting together what I saw as the whole gospel, I really became converted. I had "gone forward" down the aisle in my parents' Baptist church when I was in the fourth grade, but I didn't feel that I needed to be saved from anything at that time; the only thing that I remember is that my counselor in the prayer room had very bad breath, and I still to this day remember nothing else about what happened there.
Finally I decided that either I would find what the gospel is and try to live it out, or I would cease to be a Christian. (Now I wanted to be an academic and study religion, but that would be no problem because you really don't have to be a believer to study religion). But I decided that I was going to be a Christian and that I was committed to Christ. This was my decision.
Anyway, through the course of my doctoral studies I started writing. When I came back from England after two years there, I got in touch with a man who had graduated from my college in Oxford, John C. Bennett, who used to be the president of Union Seminary in New York. I was told by the principal of my college in Oxford that I should see him in California when I got back, just to say hello, which I did. I had read about a big evangelical conference sponsored by Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship, called Urbana 1970, in which the traditional right wing kind of conservatism usually present in evangelicalism was gone. There was a black evangelist there named Tom Skinner telling the people that evangelical churches were racist. I thought this was very interesting, and so I told Bennett how I thought the evangelicals finally seemed to be getting a kind of social conscience, which had always been a problem with evangelical Christianity in this century. He invited me to write an article about it for Christianity and Crisis, and I wrote that article, and, lo and behold, my present publisher, Harper and Row, was looking for somebody to write a book on that topic. They read my article, and eventually I was given a contract to do my first book, The Young Evangelicals. Well, that book came out in 1974. It was simply my attempt to relate my spiritual autobiography in a way in which I could map out what I saw true Christianity to be -- the integration of the personal with the social dimension of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Well, when the book came out a lot of people identified with what I had said and I got an awful lot of publicity that year. All of a sudden the phrase "young evangelicals" became an identification of a new movement of people who barely existed when I wrote the book. I wanted to build them up, because I liked what they were doing, and it worked. It is amazing what you can do with the help of the media.
Anyway, these young evangelicals, for want of a better name here, developed, and over the course of the last few years you have heard of Sojourners magazine and The Other Side and Daughters of Sarah and the Berkeley Christian Coalition and many other evangelical activist groups that have emerged from the young evangelicals movement. In the process of that happening, however, I began to see that being socially concerned in principle and having Jesus in your heart isn't necessarily enough. The young evangelicals soon became the "worldly evangelicals," at least some of them did in the course of just a few years. That is, when they got the visibility and the acceptance of the wider society, they just became like everybody else. "We have a good magazine now; we have invitations to lecture, my schedule is full and you have to see my secretary." I became rather disillusioned in seeing all these young hopefuls who were really going to change the world fall prey to the same problems that the liberal social activists fell into in the 1960s. Somehow a lot of the vitality disappeared, cultural accommodation became more important than prophecy.
Now I am still positive about the evangelical posture, and I am an evangelical. But I guess I am realizing that the gospel is more than just getting evangelism and social action together. As a result of my first book I got into "bridge building" work. I spent a year at the University of California at Santa Barbara simply bringing together the evangelical campus ministries with the Protestant liberal campus ministries. Then, after that I became for one year a staff member of the Southern California conference of the United Church of Christ to help them do the same thing, particularly to help them get to know Fuller Seminary, which was right next door to their headquarters. The United Church of Christ is a very ecumenical denomination and here is the leading evangelical seminary in the country with a lot of UCC students there and they had never even met. Why? Because they thought that Fuller was a sort of Bob Jones University, a Bible-thumping institution, and that they had nothing in common. Well, it was my job to get them together, and some amazing things happened after that. Thereafter I became a consultant to the United Church Board for Homeland Ministries, to help the UCC as a denomination meet evangelicals. Believe it or not, the UCC has a large evangelical minority in the denomination, but they are sort of outside the mainstream; so I helped the UCC liberals get to know the UCC conservatives first, and then I had some evangelical leaders speak to United Church ministers at conferences all around the country much like this.
I moved to Berkeley in 1975. I noticed then that there were some other people around, the Moonies, and they were everywhere. It seemed quite impossible in Berkeley to avoid the Moonies. If it wasn't the Moonies out front, it was the "Creative Community Project," which is something of a front organization of the Unification Church (that's a whole story unto itself)- Anyway, I remember walking across University of California campus daily and seeing those Moonies over on the side. I was not really anti-Unification. I thought, this is just another false messiah, you know, big deal. So I simply made it a point not to look at them, because I knew what would happen if I looked. With eye contact, all of a sudden they are walking with you across the campus. I didn't want that to happen, so I simply ignored them for about a year. And it was pretty hard, because all my friends were constantly arguing with them. "Come on, let's go argue with the Moonies," but I said no, I don't want to do that. (Laughter)
Then they had this big bus they called "the coffee break," and they parked it next to the campus and were having people come in from the street for a cup of coffee to recruit them. I thought they would just drive them up to the Boonville training center, and that would be the last you would see of them. (Laughter) But then, on Christmas Day, in 1976 I think, I was going to visit some friends across the campus, and it was pouring rain. I walked across campus and nobody who had anybody was outside on Christmas Day when it was raining, except the few street people and "crazies" as they are called, the people who have real mental problems in Berkeley and who hang on, who live on the street and have nowhere to go. Well, there was this group of people singing Christmas carols under an umbrella, and it was a pretty heavy storm, and I walked by and I thought there is only one group who'd do this. And of course I was right: the Moonies. They were out there every day, rain or shine. I said they've really got to be crazy. But then I started thinking about the fact that this was Christmas Day and here were these people who were just hanging out and living on the streets, people who have nothing. For all of Berkeley's social activism, the down-and-outers in Berkeley are not loved any more than they are loved anywhere else, and I thought: Where is my church today? Is anybody doing anything to minister to these people? Well, here were the Moonies singing Christmas carols. That really affected me.
In time, I became closely related to the Graduate Theological Union as sort of a free-lance scholar of evangelicalism and charismatic renewal. I got involved in a seminar that was being led by Jacob Needleman who is the director of a new program for the study of new religious movements at the GTU. Eric Evans, who is here, was one of the initiators of this program, and he dragged me along to seminar meetings. Lo and behold, one of the students who was in the seminar, a new GTU student, was a Moonie. I always referred to this guy as the Moonie (what a novelty) but Eric said no, his name is Mike. (Laughter) And you know, here am I -- an evangelical, open to all this stuff and ecumenical too. Well, in the course of about two months in this seminar I got to know Mike quite well, and when he discovered who I was and that I had a book coming out, he said, why don't you come to our seminary and give a lecture on The Worldly Evangelicals. And I said, do you mean the Moonies would be interested in hearing about evangelicals? He said sure. So he set it up. I was writing a book on Bill Bright at the time and I had to meet him in Washington. Campus Crusade wasn't paying my way, so I thought I'd have Unification pay my way to interview Bill Bright. Thus I went to lecture on the evangelicals at the seminary, and really expected to be bored out of my mind because I had also agreed to go to a theologians conference that Darrol Bryant was organizing. Darrol and I had been at Harvard Divinity School together. So I lectured at the seminary, and I guess I was a little bit afraid at first. I was picked up by a nice Moonie at the Albany airport, and he looked quite normal, but the closer we got to Barrytown, the more I started wondering whether something was going to happen to me there. But deep inside I knew that couldn't be true, because I knew Stillson Judah. Stillson Judah was researching a book on the Unification Church. Some of his colleagues would say, "Oh, he is just a right-winger anyway, and very naive." Stillson was always talking about the Moonies, and most people, I think, thought he was nuts or had been brainwashed. Nevertheless, I respected him.
Anyway, I lectured on the worldly evangelicals and there were quite a few people who showed up. It was a purely voluntary thing, and they were very interested in what I was saying, and there were some people there who claimed to be evangelicals and who were reading Sojourners. I thought this was strange. Then I met some people who had been with Campus Crusade for Christ and Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship and other evangelical organizations, and I said to them, well, my God, why are you Moonies now? Out of the theologians conference came an invitation to me -- and I'm still not exactly sure how it happened -- to put together a formal dialogue with about ten evangelicals and ten Unification students. I was very high on my experience at Barrytown. In fact, I was so high that when I left to stay at another famous seminary in New York City, I got culture shock on the train. In due course, I got on the phone and I finally got the people to come but I didn't know what was going to happen. This conference happened in June of last year, and everybody enjoyed it so much that they insisted on having a part two which took place in October, and this will be published as a book. Then I realized the first two conferences were attended almost entirely by Calvinists, and so I said, why don't we have a Wesleyan-Arminian evangelical conference with some other kinds of evangelicals? And we did, and that had very, very different results. Then we had a charismatic-pentecostal evangelical conference, and that also was very different. Soon my reputation in the evangelical community was such that they thought I had been converted to Unification and was subverting the whole evangelical community. To that I said, well, fine, I have always been controversial. The most recent conference I put together was one that was really remarkable, and I would like to say a few words about that in conclusion.
One of the students last year suggested to me that we ought to put together a conference of evangelical writers who have written against the movement, and for a period of eight months we were in negotiation with five people including James Bjornstad, who wrote The Moon is not the Son, Jerry Yamamoto, who wrote The Puppet Master, Ron Enroth who wrote Youth, Extremist Cults and Brainwashing, Brooks Alexander of the Spiritual Counterfeits Project in Berkeley, who lectured against the cults in Parliament in Britain last summer, a more positive person who had been to Unification conferences before, Irving Hexham of Regent College, Vancouver, B.C., and a news editor from Christianity Today (in the current issue of Christianity Today there is a three-page report on this conference). What was interesting about the conference is that I don't know of any other instance in modern times of a religious body literally inviting its enemies (or its perceived enemies) to come at its own expense and talk about the issues in a dialogical, no holds barred, no strings attached situation. And it was very baffling to these writers too. They thought that I was doing something in a conspiracy to get them there. You know, why in the world would this happen unless it could be used by the Unification Church to its advantage. We were still negotiating with these people after they arrived at the Ramada Inn in Kingston, New York, at 12:30 in the morning the day the conference was to begin.
But once the writers actually got to the conference, there was no more problem. We had the first day of the conference at the seminary and then had the rest of the conference at the New Yorker Hotel. I was just very impressed that this had happened, as it was a very explosive thing and nobody knew what was going to happen. But by the second day of the conference, the hostility that we organizers had discerned in some of the writers who had come was gone, and a trust relationship was built up to the point that we were even laughing at each other and ourselves by Saturday afternoon, although none of the guests, I would say, changed their minds about the theology of the Unification Church. I think we came to a point of being able to respect each other and appreciate each other. And it was very interesting that at the end of the dialogue, when the visitors were summing up their responses, they all said, "We think the dialogue idea is a very good one, that it should be continued, and we have friends who would like to come in the future."
In my experience of trying to bring people of evangelical persuasion to the seminary, even people who are very antagonistic to Unification and sometimes even see Antichrist in the figure of Rev. Moon, what is interesting is what happens to the guests in terms of what the Moonies would call a "heart" relationship. In my own experience of Christianity, evangelical and liberal, I have really never been in a group of people who exhibited the heart of God so well and wanted to see things from God's point of view. Somehow I had never even thought of that. And what I saw in Unification at its best (though the Moonies have their problems too, believe you me) was a real willingness to concretize love in ways that any person can understand. In other words, you love certain people differently than you love other people. And I think that one of the reasons that so many intellectuals and even theologians in a growing number are impressed with Unification is that they are respected by the Moonies as people with something to teach them. In evangelical circles, when a person comes out with a bold statement, he gets put down and called a heretic; but in Unification I am really impressed at the willingness to take people where they are. Personally, I do not believe in the Divine Principle although I must say I don't know exactly what the "divine principle" is. So maybe, when I find out, I might change my mind. Nevertheless I have found this opportunity of doing consulting work for Unification extremely rewarding in my own personal life.
I heard Peter Berger lecture in Oxford ten years ago, talking about the unfortunate demise of the concept of honor in Western society. Biblically speaking, we Christians should honor one another. I think that Unification finds it easier to love people because they honor people first for what they have accomplished, for what they have done. It was very moving to me to see at the science conference an anti-communist movement invite Marxists, pay their way, and let them speak. I have never seen that done by any other anti-communist movement. All my life I have been looking for people who flesh out the ethics and behavior mandated in the gospel as I understand it; and if Unification isn't Christian, it has to be the biggest judgment of God on Christianity that I have ever seen. I have found that the Moonies, at their best, are really living the gospel as I had always wanted to see it lived. Furthermore, I am impressed by the commitment of the people. One reason Unification can get things done and raise money is because of the absolute unflinching commitment and energy of the people involved. Many of our religious organizations would have no problems if we would be willing to do their kind of fundraising. It's as simple as that.
And finally, I have come to the conclusion that what the world really is looking for is simply love and affection and appreciation. We live in such a technological, anonymous society, that we don't even get those things in our own families. I think that when any movement really begins en masse to practice New Testament agape, unconditional selfless love, and once they begin to make it a style of life that affirms people and affirms culture in everything they do, such a movement will ultimately be irresistible. Unification has, quite frankly, for the first time in my life given me a glimpse of what the new humanity will be like. In the preface to Fred Sontag's book* he says that the Moonies are the nicest people he has ever met. At first I thought the guy had really been bought off; but now I too am where he is. I'm happy about it, and I know God is too. (Applause)
My perspective is a little different than that of Richard Quebedeaux. For about a quarter of a century I have been interested in the problem of God on a metaphysical, systematic, and philosophical level. At the time that I first agreed to do the book on Unification Church1 it seemed to have no connection to my professional interests; but ultimately I think it did. For instance, a former member, then a deprogrammer in Tucson said to me: "I have to confess that my most vivid experiences of God came while I was a member of the church. "I replied: "I have only one comment. I hope you can guarantee that, for every person you deprogram, his or her experiences of God will remain just as vivid outside the church as they were within." My own interest is in the perception of God most people in the movement have. It is usually rather vivid, and I think that is largely unknown outside the church. I think most of us stumble into things unknowingly and only later find out what we have gotten into. None of the things I learned in writing the book I had in mind in advance. I know our generation has a great problem about the sense of the reality of God. I find this particularly true among my fellow theologians and philosophers. Thus to find in the Unification Church a very vivid sense of the presence of God fascinated me in a time when this is not usually the case.
I wanted to say a few things about my experiences and the comments I have received since doing the book. The book tells its own story, so I don't want to go back to that. I am often asked: Would you change anything if you wrote it today? My answer is that I don't believe my book tried to reach judgmental conclusions. I don't think philosophers do that, or ought to do that if they operate properly. Secondly, one of my conclusions was that I am content to let the future work itself out. Therefore, it was not up to me to decide.
What are my impressions today? My perception is that the growth of the movement has slowed, but that it has not and probably will not die out. I think that times have changed in recent years. Most of the people I talked to came into the movement at the high point, and the mood of the students at that time was very different. As everyone who now is on campus knows, it is a different era today. I think Unification doctrine simply doesn't appeal in quite the same way it did. However, I am not predicting this as the end of the movement in America. The church may regroup and have another period of growth. I am impressed with the adaptability of the movement.
One of the things I never thought of in writing the book is that it would be read by church members. Mr. Neil Salonen told me that it was being read within the movement, and since then I have been around and have discovered that it is true. It was never in my mind in setting out to write the book that this would happen. I couldn't see what possible interest it would have within the movement, but now I understand that there is an avid interest in self-perception and internal critical evaluation, and I am pleased that the book has had some of this effect. I think there now is a definite effort to counter public criticism. In fact, there may be a question as to whether there is too great a public relations consciousness in the movement now. I mentioned in the book that if those who are in public relations rise to the top in Unification circles, there may be some problems sustaining spiritual vigor. The vans have slowed down a bit. Rev. Moon announced, I believe about a year ago last January that this was to be the year of the family. Now there is the home church movement. There are definite changes taking place. Mr. Salonen told me that this was also to be the year of consolidation of the American church. There is an effort to get the people off the street and into industry.
By way of conclusion, I want to comment on two things. One I didn't put in the book because I tried not to appear prejudiced one way or another. However, Harvey Cox said that I leaned too far over backwards to be objective, so you can't please everybody. I believe that with the possible exception of one of the two ladies of the church who knew Rev. Moon's early disciples, I have talked to almost everyone involved with the movement for any length of time. I found this an enormously instructive experience. I confess I really had thought that probably the closer I got to Rev. Moon the more I would begin to find nervousness, and people would appear who were alter egos of Rev. Moon. The interesting fact which I still reflect upon is that the closer I got to Rev. Moon, among the circles of those most closely related to him, the more I encountered strong independent personalities each with a quite distinctive quality. Take for example David Kim. Nobody owns him; and he is a very independent person in spite of his loyalty to Rev. Moon and the movement. And you see a quite remarkable diversity among the people in top leadership positions. This I did not expect. Some are very saintly; some very quiet; some contemplative; and some very mystical people. Then there is Col. Pak, whom the television picks up from time to time, who is constantly in action. So while they are all dedicated and loyal, they are also independent personalities. This seemed to me relatively impressive because often there are people who are too close to the leader. I admit that I thought that if you got too close, you would see too many weaknesses. Some of my impressions of the interview with Rev. Moon are recorded in the book, and so I won't say much more.
The only other thing which has happened, as far as my own experience since writing the book, is that we traveled on a Fulbright which took us to ten countries; we traveled extensively internally in them all. As Rev. Kwak knows, I took along a list of the addresses of the missionary leaders in each country. I visited Copenhagen, London and Paris, which of course are not mission centers, we had been there before. Then we were in Israel, Iran, India, Hong Kong, Taiwan, the Philippines, Australia, New Zealand and Tonga. In each of those places we visited the Unification Church missionaries, and this was an instructive venture. I would have to say that almost uniformly these are all small, struggling groups. They have met incredible odds, as you know. Many of them came to their assignment having never met each other. Many of them did not speak a common language, or even the language of the country in some cases. Sometimes they faced absolute hostility. We arrived in Iran to be met by a missionary leader outfitted in dark glasses and a bandana. She had sneaked back into the country after having been thrown out. Their struggles form an amazing story. Yet in some way I believe they may become indigenous in at least certain of these countries. Each one had attracted native members, and who knows what will happen with even one such convert. They are struggling; they are small; but they are there.
There is a marvelous newspaper in New Zealand whose title I love. It is called "Truth." Before I arrived the paper came out with an article carrying the headline, "Professor on Moon trip." This upset the American Embassy and the New Zealand American Educational Foundation because they thought I was traveling for them. So when I arrived they arranged an interview with the editor of "Truth." We had a long two and a half hour conversation. This young man had followed the movement and was the paper's local expert. In the course of our conversation we seemed to come to considerable agreement about many things. When I rose to leave, I asked if he had ever met Grant Bracefield, who is the leader in New Zealand. The reporter said no and looked quite nervous. But I said, he is right here in your town and you write articles on him. Why don't you visit him? He said that he was afraid to. Here you have the ironic fact which puts such difficulties in the path of understanding your movement. Then as I was about to depart saying nothing more, he looked at me and said, "Professor, it has been very instructive talking with you, and you have been very helpful. But I have to say to you I can't tell you what kind of an article I will write." I said, "What do mean by that?" And he replied, "Well, this is 'Truth' newspaper," by which he meant, I have got to find some sensational angle or there is no use doing this story. Later the New Zealand American Educational Foundation sent me the clipping on the interview and it said, "Professor visiting Moon centers on all-expenses-paid trip by U.S. State Department." This was in a sense accurate, but was not the center of our discussion.
I should mention that my own fear is that the movement may go too "establishment." If it centers attention on itself and takes criticism too seriously, it might lose its drive and its mission. I for one would hate to see that happen. It happens all too often in religious movements. I think the balance lies in between and is extremely difficult to strike. But you have a timetable, and the timetable causes a certain amount of nervousness for quick success. It will be interesting to see how the church accommodates. Will it not lose its drive and mission?
One leader said to me that the real revolutionary in the church is Rev. Moon. And I have no reason to doubt that. I think as long as Rev. Moon lives, the movement will not stop innovating. Every road leads there. He's the person with the revolutionary ideas; he is the person who moves people around; he is the person who does not allow people to settle, because he himself is the main driving force and drives himself as much as others. About the doctrine, I think they are very busy developing it. You have students at most of the major theological centers. The same thing will happen here as has happened to many other religions: the doctrine will get modified; it will get explained in a variety of ways. Diversity will enter in. The church is really not that strict about doctrine. My guess is that you will probably change in many ways, but keep the "principle."
1 Frederick Sontag, Sun Myung Moon and the Unification Church. Nashville: Abingdon, 1977.