To Bigotry, No Sanction, Reverend Sun Myung Moon and the Unification Church

by Dr. Mose Durst

9. Mistakes in Building the Kingdom

If the anti-religious movement and the criminal activities directed against the Unification Church have served some good, it has allowed us to think more honestly and clearly about the mistakes I and others have made in our zeal to build the Kingdom of God on earth. There have been many mistakes, but none of them malicious, devious, illegal, or intended to defraud, as our detractors charge. Rather, our mistakes are those made in youthful zeal and out of ignorance. Perhaps our mistakes are even understandable and forgivable, since no one has ever offered a course or written a book on how to found and establish a religion. Quite frankly, we had to learn about church-building through on-the-job training, by trial and error. I suspect that other religious pioneers have had the same experience.

Over the past dozen years we have experienced both internal and external difficulties in the building of the Unification Church, some due to our own mistakes and others due to the hostility of others. In 1972, the Unification Church in America was a tiny group of people, less than three hundred in three or four cities. Our numbers have multiplied some one hundred and fifty times in ten years. When I opened my house and three brothers moved in, the Unification Church of America was only a vision, not a reality. Within a year, my home was crowded. As I related earlier, we had to buy a house on Hearst Street, an old fraternity house near Berkeley, to deal with our expanded core membership. We needed buses, and we purchased those. We obtained land in the Boonville area of Northern California. We purchased another house on Regent Street, and then others. Suddenly, an institution, a church, was mushrooming around us.

At first, I simply chucked my teaching check into the pot, while others put in what they made from their jobs. Whenever anything was needed, a bus or a van, we bought it with money from the pot. But as we grew and our needs became larger, we saw the necessity of becoming businesslike and formal. We acquired lawyers and accountants by fits and starts. We had to learn through each new activity.

In fundraising, we had similar experiences. At first when we had a special project, we sold sandwiches out of baskets on the street and never thought about permits. After all, we were students and teachers and knew nothing of such things. Later, when we learned, we made every effort to obtain permits wherever legally needed. Sometimes cities refused us. We went to court and eventually won over a hundred cases to obtain permits. No one publicizes our court victories and the fact that such refusals to grant permits are unconstitutional. Some overzealous members have sometimes fundraised without permits, but we have always tried to correct and guard against such oversights. You cannot always make volunteers do things properly. It is very difficult directing volunteers, and everyone in our church is indeed a volunteer. Our innocence led us to feel that we were the first people ever to build a church. Indeed, we often felt we were the first people to discover God, for this was the first time that we ourselves had felt moved by God's spirit.

Our movement attracted many different kinds of people, some quite mature, some still maturing, and others immature. People with problems before joining the Unification Church retained those problems. People with difficulties with their parents retained those difficulties and often exacerbated them. Indeed, most Unification Church members who have had problems with their families were alienated from home before they joined us. More than this, when secular parents saw their children join a religious group, any religious group, they were incensed. For them, all religion was just a fraud, a waste of time. When Jewish young people joined and their parents heard that we taught something about Jesus, they sometimes went into panic.

In 1979 one prominent, wealthy, Jewish couple from Washington, DC, heard that their twenty- six-year-old son was attending a Unification seminar in San Francisco. In a rage, they flew out and appeared at the church where they created a mild hysteria, demanding that their son return with them immediately. So the man did indeed leave with them. For years his parents wrote articles for newspapers, magazines, and journals condemning the horrors of the Unification Church. I had met with the young man before he left with them. He told me the sad story of how little love he was able to receive from his parents, and explained the sham of their materialist, decadent lifestyle. In attacking the Unification Church his parents were able to assuage the guilt of a lifetime of failure with their son.

We surely made some mistakes dealing with families, but they were mistakes of omission; we were faced with uncompromising prejudice and misunderstandings. Since we were just beginning, we failed to immediately perceive the need for trained counselors to help our members deal with their complicated family relationships.

The press loved to exploit parental panic and prejudice in the following way: Unification seminars are usually held on weekends at a country retreat. Several hundred participants attend these seminars, which are structured into three one-hour lectures daily, with small group discussions following the larger lecture. Let us say that a parent of a participant suddenly appears at the entrance to the seminar facility and demands to see his son or daughter. (Remember, the average age of a participant would be in the mid-to-late-twenties.)

Because the person receiving the parent was often young and inexperienced, and because we were naive and unprepared for the incidents, errors were made. If these disturbed people had been allowed in, they would have disrupted the seminar. If a message were sent for a son or daughter to come out, and that person refused, TV reporters duly reported that this "concentration camp" locked up people against their will. Dozens of such incidents occurred and seriously and unjustifiably blackened our reputation. We experienced a combination of prejudice and malice against us, exploited by unethical sensationalists, compounded by the sometimes less than perfect actions of our inexperienced members.

Our relations with the Jewish community have been the most painful to me personally. I say this with a heavy heart, since I was raised in the Jewish faith and am proud of my heritage. Perhaps much of this regrettable situation grows out of the great fear of the Jewish community that it will lose its young people. The great place Jesus has in our theology also raises Jewish animosity. But I have made my own mistakes, which, however well-meaning, contributed to this painful problem.

In the early days of our movement in California, I and a dozen others who were raised in the Jewish faith decided to organize a volunteer group to support Jewish organizations. This motivation is not unlike the one that has created the numerous ecumenical activities our church now sponsors, and for which we have gained wide recognition. We didn't stop to ask the Jewish community what they thought of our intentions; we just moved forward. That was our typical and unsophisticated style. We wrote up articles of incorporation for our new group, Judaism in Service to the World, drove to Sacramento, incorporated, and celebrated with a dinner.

Our first event was to raise money for the Jewish Welfare Federation by holding a banquet and hiring the Tel Aviv String Quartet to play. We had a friendly relationship with Ben Swig, a Jewish philanthropist and owner of the Fairmont Hotel. Things looked good until the night of the concert, when pickets appeared at the hotel. "Moonies are trying to undermine the Jewish Community," the picket carriers charged. We had made a big mistake -- and all the time we had been trying to do good. We raised about $1,000 and attempted to give it to the Jewish Welfare Federation, but they refused it. Later, we donated it anonymously. I still have the canceled check. This whole affair was a result of naivete. We should first have talked to Jewish community leaders.

We have made mistakes, yet every one to my knowledge was innocent, done out of ignorance and the zeal to do good. This is especially true for our response to the abuse by the media. A typical example involves the episode of the celebrated Boonville fence. Since our Boonville retreat center is a converted sheep ranch there was never a fence to close off the property from the main highway. After NBC did its TV special on the "Moonies" at Boonville in 1975, we experienced an invasion of local curiosity seekers, so we put up a makeshift fence only on the automobile entrance to the property, and placed on it a sign that said "No Trespassing."

Within a week that ominous-looking sign appeared on the front page of the San Francisco Chronicle. Our group was obviously trying to hide something, wrote the author of the article. We were foolish. We should have put up a colorful sign saying "Please Ring The Bell And We Will Welcome You." Today there is no fence and no sign in Boonville, and we are not usually accused of being a secretive group. We pride ourselves on working to establish good relations with our neighbors and with the media. Our progress, however, has come at the expense of much misunderstanding.

Above all, we didn't know how to deal with the media. We had no comprehensive policy. We tried to ignore the papers when they carried only negative stories, but that wasn't the correct thing to do! We didn't realize we needed a public relations person at each church center. Instead, whoever picked up the phone (usually the cook) found himself dealing with journalists. We didn't even have a receptionist at most churches. Disaster! That caused a lot of bad relationships with the public.

Looking back now, we can see the depth and significance of the mistakes we made in ignorance, brashness, and zeal. Parents and reporters who found no responsible person at the Boonville gate, or who got young Charlie in the kitchen on the telephone rather than a receptionist, assumed that the Unification Church was a secret group that hides its members lest they get away. That, of course, is false, and it is only because we did not learn soon enough how eager the press and the anti-religious movement are to distort and deceive that the false image of the church was created.

We are not a secret, underhanded group, and yet this perception is still widespread. Part of the reason is that our core members are so mobile. Mail comes for them at one address while they are living at another. Parents may get the idea that mail is intercepted or that their child does not want to answer. It is mobility, not stonewalling, that is involved. When there is hostility, however -- and a widespread belief in conspiracy theories abounds -- no one thinks of the simple and commonsense explanation.

In actuality, communication in a church like ours, one that is growing very rapidly, is extremely difficult. Our work, like college work, is highly intense. just as university students often stop writing home because of the pressure of studies and social life, so our members, caught up in newly found responsibilities, projects, and God-consciousness, might often neglect to write home for long periods. This causes problems; however, we always encourage our members to build and improve their family relationships.

The breakdown of communications also arises from one of the more appealing features of our movement: any young person can take on responsibility almost immediately if he or she wishes. As an additional problem, though, this means that we have functioned this past dozen years with often immature leadership. The very exuberance, charisma, and drive of our young leaders has caused many mistakes and brought so many negative reactions to our work. For example, very early after the founding of Project Volunteer we went to Napa County to help migrant workers. One of the other, older social service agencies became upset that "Moonies" were moving into their sphere and involving themselves in aid to the poor. The needs of the migrants were enormous, but the social service agency felt threatened because the Unification Church entered their turf. Perhaps if we were older and wiser we would have sat down and carefully explained what we hoped to do, worked out a plan to eliminate fear and friction, and thus avoided any problems.

That feeling of threat may explain why some in the religious community feel so harshly about the Unification Church. The fact that some Jewish young people became "Moonies" has caused people like Rabbi Maurice Davis to feel that we are stealing the next generation, the Jewish future. We have never had such intentions, of course. And this mistaken notion that we were -- and are -- a threat to other churches is spread far beyond the synagogue. There are rabbis, priests, pastors, and laity in all churches who feel we are a "satanic lure" to steal their young away. How terrible a misjudgment! Nonetheless, once one gets a bad name, it is difficult to live it down-no matter how unjust that name is.

I offer this account as a sort of confession of my own and my church's shortcomings. Let me deal then with some of the charges made against the Unification Church by the press, the anti-religious movement, and the deprogrammers.

The biggest charge, I feel, is that we practice deception. "Heavenly deception" is a phrase applied to us over and over. Opponents charge that we deceive, by not telling potential recruits -- or those from whom we solicit funds -- who we are. Many deprogrammed ex-members report that they were members for weeks before they were told about Reverend Moon. The hostile movies about our church all stress this supposed deception. Let me say that insofar as some of our zealous evangelists may have downplayed Reverend Moon in our earliest contacts in the past, such is now clearly and expressly against our policy and our instructions to members of the church. In fact, after our introductory supper and lecture at evening programs across the country, the members who invite people to come up "to the land" for a seminar say "We will study the teachings of Reverend Moon." Actually, anyone who joins the church signs a membership form that clearly states "Unification Church." There was and is no desire on our part to deceive. We only want to give others the love of God and the principles needed to understand human life.

The same holds true for charges that our fundraisers deceive by saying they are raising money for drug rehabilitation, Christian youth groups, or other such projects, without identifying the church. It is always wrong for anyone to misrepresent the church, and we try to prevent such occurrences. In the rare instances when they do happen, we correct such practices when they come to our attention. Though misrepresentations may have taken place, these are human and individual shortcomings and not policies of the church, which diligently acts to prevent them. Generally, charges of deception are old ones, going back at least five years. No doubt unfortunate things have happened, but our church is striving to correct them. This has been particularly the case with the abuse of the public's sentimentality by fundraisers going to shopping centers in wheelchairs. There is a kernel of truth in the exaggerated charges made by our opponents. I have handled two such cases since becoming president of the church. I was shocked and took immediate steps to stop such activities.

Actually, two such cases, I refer to in Ohio and Texas, turned out to entail more over-zealousness than deception. Fundraisers are usually on their feet for ten or twelve hours and sometimes develop leg or back problems. Several of our young people were told by a doctor to stay off their feet and rest. However, they wanted to fundraise, so they combined rest for the legs with fundraising by using wheelchairs. I insisted they stop this practice because the public misinterpreted it as deception.

Another charge is that we new religious leaders are rolling in mega-bucks while the membership starves. This is ludicrous. My lifestyle is open to the world. I live in a church-owned house in Berkeley, and it is used as a church meeting place. When in New York, which is 98 percent of the time, my wife and I live in a small one-bedroom apartment in the church's headquarters building. Reverend Moon lives in a large church owned parsonage in Tarrytown, New York, but is never alone there with his family, for, as I explained, there may be fifty people from all over the world there at any time. Rather than living a life of indolent luxury, both he and I work very hard-extremely hard. Indeed, we work seven days a week until late at night. I don't live in luxury; I draw no salary, and I know Reverend Moon's situation is similar to my own.

Let us, however, use fair standards in evaluating the lifestyle of any leader of a worldwide religious movement. The Pope, the Archbishop of Canterbury, and Billy Graham are all leaders of religious movements. They represent not themselves alone, but millions of followers. Reverend Moon is a public person like each of the other religious leaders, and his lifestyle serves the purpose of his public ministry.

As to members starving, that is absurd. People who say we use protein deprivation on recruits should check the menu at any other church or Boy Scout camp. We never use food weapons on people! Sometimes the very zeal of our leaders can produce a situation upon which opponents try to build a case. A young leader in a burst of religious enthusiasm may propose: "Let's fast for three days and go out and fundraise!" Someone who hears it, or of it, goes to the media claiming the Moonies are starving people. This is simply not true.

Essentially, our faults concern not evil actions but the mistakes made in trying to accomplish so much so fast. Our visions and dreams have largely become reality. We have moved from a small sect to an institutional church-and we are still growing and evolving. Now, with the many marriage blessings and the children being born, we need to go on to plan for health programs, schools, even a college. We are doing those things. Perhaps some of the bad press and the hostility from clergymen is out of envy. The intensity of our efforts, however, and the utter self-sacrifice of our members, are amazing.

Other criticisms of our church are not really the result of any mistakes on our part. These criticisms arise from the great difference between contemporary American culture and the customs followed in the Unification Church. For example, while the larger culture tends to ignore the significance of age, we show a special respect for elders.

Sometimes we are accused of worshipping Reverend Moon as if he were God. This is patent nonsense. We respect all elders, not just Reverend Moon. He is, however, the founder of our church and, we believe, the example of God's love that we respect most in our world. Criticism of Reverend Moon, I believe, reflects conscious or unconscious racial prejudice. As he said when he was indicted in New York for tax evasion, "I'm on trial because I'm a yellow man and my religion is Unification Church." We are not responsible for these negative and morally wrong feelings.

Finally, perhaps the biggest mistake the Unification Church has made in these past dozen years was to not realize how bitter the opposition to our ministry would become. We never foresaw how the government would attempt to discredit our leader. In our ignorance, we failed to see how public opinion sways judges, legislatures, and even government agencies.

When funds were put into a Chase Manhattan Bank account in Reverend Moon's name, it was done for the benefit of the church. After all, the Catholic bishop of a diocese often holds the title to all church accounts and church property. It is part of the function of being a religious leader to hold in trust the funds given by the faithful to spread the Good News. After public hostility arose against him, the IRS brought charges that Reverend Moon held these funds for himself. Nothing could be further from the truth. All of the money, whether brought here or raised by fundraisers from abroad, was used for church purposes. This account goes back to the earliest days when Reverend Moon first came to America, in 1972-1973. At that time members raised money and simply gave it to him for church purposes. It went into the account under his name, but in trust for the whole church. Indeed, the fact that large amounts of money raised in untraceable cash by street fundraisers and from church members from abroad were deposited in this account, and thus put on virtual public display, shows that Reverend Moon never had any intention of defrauding the government.

But we forgive those who persecute us. We offer them love, too. If we have sinned against love or against God's purpose or, for that matter, against any law or honest principle, we are ready and committed to correct our sins. Are they who have sinned against us ready to do the same?

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