40 Years in America

Perils Facing the Unification Community

Families enjoying a picnic at Belvedere

In February 1996, the Unification News ran three articles under the heading of "Perils Facing the Unification Community." In the first, Peter Ross, the Churchís Director of Public Relations, issued a stinging rebuke to the English Home Secretary who had denied Rev. Moon entry to Britain on the grounds that it would not be "conducive to the public good." In the second, Dr. Tyler Henricks, President of HSA-UWC in America, published the text of an "open letter" to the President of the Philippines in which he protested allegations that the Churchís Blessing ceremony was a front to export Filipino women to Korea where they would be "forced to become housemaids and prostitutes." He especially criticized the governmentís decision to assign several Filipino women as government spies to infiltrate the Blessing as participants. The third article, an excerpt of a press release from the President of the Church in France, responded to a bombing of the national headquarters building which destroyed its front structure.

None of these incidents occurred in the United States. Nevertheless, they were a reminder of the animosity that still lingered perilously close to the surface and which with even the most vacuous inflammatory statements, a dip in the publicís sense of well-being or a politicianís ambition could spark a panic and the targeting of the movement as a scapegoat. Peter Ross alluded to the persecution of Christians in Rome as an analogous situation and cited the ancient Christian author Tertullian who wrote,

If the River Tiber reaches the walls, if the River Nile does not rise to the fields, if the sky does not move or the earth does, if there is a famine, if there is a plague, the cry is at once: "The Christians to the lions!"

As Ross noted, "the lion still roars." These incidents occurred after Blessing í95, the first of the movementís large-scale International Wedding Ceremonies, and during or shortly after Rev. and Mrs. Moonís worldwide speaking tour that followed. This was ironic, since Rev. Moon proclaimed in his tour speech, "The True Family and I," that "The entire world did everything it could to put an end to me, yet I did not die, and today I am firmly standing on top of the world." During the worldwide speaking tour, Rev. Moon endured cancelled entry visas, hostile encounters with immigration authorities, and missed connecting flights, especially during the European portion of the tour. There were important breakthroughs and victories elsewhere, but Rev. Kwak noted, "Satan attacked this tour in many ways."

The Philippine allegations were dropped when it became obvious that Filipino women were not being waylaid as housekeepers or prostitutes through the Blessing. However, European opposition proved more intractable. Part of this was the result of a mid-1990s sect hysteria over deaths associated with the Solar Temple, Heavenís Gate and Aum Shinrikyo tragedies. Part was due to the organized lobbying of "anti-cult" activists and part was "rooted in old patterns of intolerance of things new, foreign or different." Regardless of the reasons, Rev. and Mrs. Moon were blacklisted under provisions of the Schengen Treaty and effectively banned from Austria, Belgium, France, Italy, Luxembourg, The Netherlands, Portugal and Spain. The Netherlands took action granting Rev. and Mrs. Moon permission to visit despite the ban, but the other countries had not reversed themselves by the end of the 1990s. As noted, England took action on its own, banning Rev. Moon (though not Mrs. Moon) as did Japan. Finally, in Russia and Eastern Europe, an alliance of former communists, nationalists and Orthodox authorities authored legislation making it difficult, if not impossible for new groups to spread their message.

The great exception to this trend, at least in the developed world, was the United States. While there still was suspicion and even negativity expressed toward Rev. Moon, attempts to restrict the movementís activities or to treat it in any way differently than other religious groups were met by broad-based public outcries. During the late 1990s, this was evident in highly publicized opposition to an attempt by the Maryland State Legislature to study the effects of "cults" on college campuses. There were no restrictions on Rev. or Mrs. Moonís speaking and, in some instances, media outlets and representatives apologized for use of the term "moonie." Anti-movement demonstrations at Blessings í97 and í98 were tepid, mobilizing less than a dozen or so lonely protesters at each, and former Cult Awareness Network (CAN) head Claudia Kisser acknowledged that the movement was "becoming entrenched, politically and socially." A Seattle Post-Intelligencer comment that the "1990s face" of the movement was one of "middle-class, middle-aged, multi-ethnic moderation" was fairly typical of public perceptions.

As a consequence, the perils facing the Unification community in the U.S. were mainly internal. These could be grouped under the categories of membership, money and moral authority. In terms of new membership, the movement in America had not experienced substantial growth since the 1970s. The downturn in the U.S. was balanced by growth spurts elsewhere and the movement as a whole possessed a favorable age and sex ratio. This essentially meant the movement could more than sustain itself through fertility alone, assuming it retained the loyalty of succeeding generations. However, it was a matter of some concern that conversions in the U.S. had declined so dramatically. During the 1990s, as noted, HSA-UWC recreated itself as the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification (FFWPU). Rev. Moon, in fact, directed that the Unification Church sign be taken down. The FFWPU was conceived as "a religious but non-sectarian membership organization for people of all faiths and good conscience" and it was hoped that non-Unificationist Blessing participants, Blessed Unificationists and even "entire churches and religious faiths" would be able to join. This had not occurred in a significant way by the end of the 1990s, and HSA-UWC still existed as a corporate entity. Some suggested that the FFWPU was simply the Unification Church under another name.

It would take more than a name change to address the underlying reasons for the downturn in new membership. Earlier, it was suggested that the general climate of negativity, the lack of a stable and consistently followed witnessing method, East-West tensions, difficulties in balancing family and mission, and issues of institutionalization accounted for a weakened desire to witness and the less-than-hoped-for results. In the 1990s, several of these factors were less significant. The climate of negativity, which in the 1970s included the picketing of church centers and deprogramming of members, had long since subsided. The balancing of families and mission still was an issue, but most members had stabilized their family lives and even had discretionary time and income. Therefore, this was less of a factor than previously. The movementís institutional patterns also had stabilized, and these also could not be counted among the most fundamental problems hindering recruitment. The lack of a stable and consistently followed witnessing method still was a key factor, and there still were providential tasks that took precedence over local development. Nevertheless, for those members who experienced acute tensions, problems in recruiting American members were primarily reducible to the East-West cultural gap.

If anything, Rev. Moonís criticism of American culture escalated during the 1990s. It also began to spill over into public accounts of movement activities. The New York Times International, in reporting on the movementís investments in South America, noted in late November 1999 that Rev. Moon had become "disenchanted" with the U.S. and cited him as saying, "The country that represents Satanís harvest is America, the kingdom of extreme individuality, of free sex." Some of this seemed to go beyond prophetic criticism. Rev. Moon stated that real faith was in Africa or Asia, that he valued Korea most, and that the trends of the West were passing away. At the very least, these sentiments were not calculated to ingratiate the movement with broad sectors of the American public.

Most members were prepared to accept criticism and even denunciations from Rev. Moon. They were less willing to absorb it from Korean leaders, many of whom had been placed in authority over the American movement. American HSA President James Baughman, who served during this period, attempted to initiate several outreach crusades but was entirely rebuffed and spent much of his tenure evangelizing in Russia. The effect of this was to produce in some members what could only be described as American "han." Han was a Korean term which connoted the resentment of the oppressed. God was understood to have experienced han in relation to fallen humanity. The Korean people were understood to have experienced han in relation to a series of oppressors. Now, American members whom most Asian adherents regarded as being proud and having a disturbingly carefree outlook on life would have their time of trial. The problem was that American han did not translate into witnessing results.

The Holy Day Offering Table

For members who believed that the movement lacked sufficient cultural continuity, tribalization was the chief internal peril facing the Unification community. Part of this was a consequence of what some viewed as the universalization of Korean cultural norms. Though committed to Korean primacy, the movementís leadership had made numerous concessions to the rest of the worldís cultures. Thus, despite assertions in the Korean editions of Divine Principle (deleted in the original English version) that Korean would be the future universal language, the movement arranged to have the text translated into numerous languages. It also relied heavily on Western members to interface with VIPs. Leadership of its major cultural affiliates was largely vested in Western intellectuals or professionals, and the language of choice in its international gatherings was English. However, these were strategic concessions which the movementís leadership was convinced they would not have to make once the center of global civilization had shifted to the Korean peninsula. During the 1990s, Rev. Moon became increasingly insistent that the membership learn Korean and correspondingly critical of English. A newly authorized re-translation of The Principle in 1996 retained the Korean textís concluding paragraph which stated that "the Korean language...will...become the mother tongue for all humanity" and "Eventually, all people should speak the True Parentsí language." Still, even among members, receptivity to these sentiments was mixed.

Apart from the universalization of Korean cultural patterns, heavy accretions of shamanistic ritual practices, numerology, and cosmic declarations were off-putting for some. Again, members accepted the premise that True Parents were re-creating the world, that all existing cultures, including that of Korea, were tainted by the human fall, and that there was the necessity for new unfallen traditions. Nevertheless, the pace of change and innovation increased abruptly and in a manner that was destabilizing for some during the 1990s.

It was as if Rev. Moon wanted to implement the movementís version of the Kingdom of Heaven on Earth, if only symbolically, before the year 2000. Prior to the Completed Testament Age, the movement celebrated four universal "Holy Days." These were Godís Day, celebrated on January 1st; Parentsí Day, celebrated during the late winter or early spring according to the lunar calendar; The Day of All Things, celebrated toward late spring or early summer; and Childrenís Day, celebrated during the fall. These holidays cohered well with the movementís theology, were well buttressed by layers of sermonic interpretation, and had been celebrated since the 1960s. There were some celebratory features such as offering tables piled high with fruits, cakes, nuts and assorted dishes. These imparted a certain "wholly other" spirituality to the heavenly banquets and, therefore, served as a tonic to faith. The movement also celebrated True Parentsí and True Childrenís birthdays and observed landmark days in its history. For example, May 1st was observed as the date on which the Holy Spirit Association for the Unification of World Christianity (HSA-UWC) was founded in Korea. In America, September 18th was observed as "Foundation Day." On that day in 1961, the movement filed its original corporation papers in California. The same day marked Rev. Moonís 1974 Madison Square Garden speech and the movementís 1976 rally at Washington Monument. Various Blessing anniversaries also were observed.

All of this provided a fairly stable framework for faith. It was true that Rev. Moon had conducted spiritual ceremonies and uttered proclamations of numerous kinds on an almost continual basis since the start of his ministry. However, these were muted within the tradition as a whole. In the U.S., they were overshadowed by the crusades of the 1970s and the demands of institutionalization during the 1980s. The 1990s were a different story. Rev. and Mrs. Moonís declaration of messiahship in 1992 and of the Completed Testament Age the following year ushered in an era of messianic fulfillment. The movementís spotlight rested squarely on the True Parents and their family. Movement publications such as the Unification News and especially Todayís World hung with great expectation on Rev. Moonís every word and deed. They were not disappointed.

Early in the Completed Testament Age, a longstanding staple of Unification ritual life, "My Pledge" which was recited at 5:00 a.m. on Sunday mornings, was replaced by an entirely rewritten "Family Pledge" that went through several English translations. Unfortunately, many Korean expressions came across as stilted and idiosyncratic in English. In this respect, one could easily be sympathetic with Rev. Moonís conviction that the membership needed to learn Korean. However, movement-wide changes during the 1990s transcended language. To summarize some of the highlights: Rev. and Mrs. Moon openly declared their messiahship; they inaugurated the Completed Testament Age which was understood to involve a fundamental shift in history; they opened the Blessing to anyone desiring it; they closed down, or at least gave direction to close down the Unification Church, intending to replace it with the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification; and they amended the movementís sacred canon. Despite authorizing a new translation of The Principle, Rev. Moon gave notice that a series of Hoon Dok Hae volumes, taken from his speeches, constituted the basic scripture for the Completed Testament Age.

These changes were dizzying in themselves. However, they occurred within the context of peak mobilization for a series of World Culture and Sport Festivals and International Wedding Ceremonies in 1992, 1995, 1997, 1998, 1999 and 2000. Beyond that, they were accompanied by dozens of lesser changes and providential announcements. Members and guests learned, for example, that Buddha, Confucius, Socrates and Muhammad were matched to four elder Korean ladies and were taking part in Blessing í98. The following spring, Lucifer made his formal surrender to God, True Parents and all humanity. Finally, in the autumn of 1999, Rev. Moon taught blessed members to pray in their own names as couples who had inherited the realm of True Parentsí victory through the Blessing. Factoring in breakthrough encounters with Mikhail Gorbachev in 1990 and Kim Il Sung in 1991 as well as controversies resulting from the divorce of Rev. and Mrs. Moonís eldest son and Korean business ruptures, it would take the movement some time to fully digest the decade.

The recruitment of new, full-time members took a back seat to these developments during the 1990s, at least within the U.S. The American movement had what it took to be a full plate and a substantial portion of the members were in a coping mode, attempting to make sense of what was happening. Some were alienated and distant. In the short term, there was a further downturn in recruitment and probably as many members were alienated by what had transpired as were empowered. However, this was not the case for other sectors of the worldwide movement. The Japanese, in particular, was more directly driven by the Completed Testament Age motto of "absolute faith, absolute love, and absolute obedience." The ultimate concession that American members were incapable, at least for the present, of gaining substantial numbers of new converts was the decision to bring in hundreds of Japanese sisters, many of whom did not even speak English, in late 1999 to undertake recruitment for them.

The issue of membership was integrally connected to that of finances. Starkly put, a downturn in membership was equivalent to a shortfall of money. Or, put in a more directly relevant way, a lesser absolute number of members meant a proportionately greater burden on those who contributed. It did not have to be this way. Theoretically, as members moved off mobile fundraising teams and into businesses, church-related or otherwise, the movement could have developed a higher level of efficiency, a better quality of management, and a broader donor base. However, this did not occur. There were three main reasons for this. First, as the movementís lines of authority were based on the charismatic leadership of Rev. Moon, its initiatives were subject to inspiration having little to do with strategic planning or even monetary interest. Second, members faced a "glass ceiling" and institutional culture in which seniority, nationality and family connections counted as much or more than ability in many cases. Third, and most importantly, the movement had a religious bias against crass materialism and preferred to operate on the basis of religiously motivated donations. This was the same whether one donated money through tithes and special offerings or time through working in a movement-related organization.

Hence, the major indicator of the movementís economic health was not so much the vitality of its businesses as it was the vitality of its donor base. However, the two were interconnected as some poorly operated enterprises required subsidies and bail-outs, thereby draining movement resources and eventually affecting morale. This, in fact, is what happened during the 1990s. Because this did not deter Rev. Moon from continually expanding the movementís horizons, the necessity for support exerted an extreme financial strain on members. A fundraising letter sent by HSA-UWC Headquarters in February 1999 summarized the current appeals. Dr. Tyler Hendricks, who authored the letter, reminded members that "God never gives to us a cross we cannot bear" and advised that couples work in small groups for spiritual revival, church growth and financial empowerment.

Financial necessities forced the movement to be ever more creative in tapping the motivational sources of giving. Some of the appeals were poorly contextualized in the American setting. However, in general, the movementís per capita giving compared favorably with comparable organizations. The problem was that the movement had so many fewer donors. During the 1970s and early 1980s, aggressive street fundraising expanded the movementís donor base. The passing of that phase meant that movement-related businesses and members were left to make up the shortfall. Had the movementís recruitment been stronger or its management better, this would have spread the financial responsibility more evenly. As it was, the burden of support fell continuously upon the same givers. At the end of the period an increasingly bright light emanated from the Hotel New Yorker and the Manhattan Center. These two buildings which had been purchased by the church in the mid-seventies finally came into their own as a 1,100 room mid-priced hotel and a significant entertainment venue.

The moral authority issue was a final internal peril afflicting the Unification community during the 1990s. In many ways, this was not a new problem. The wider public had accused Rev. Moon and later the movement of a variety of moral offenses from the beginning of his public ministry. The communist regime in North Korea jailed him in 1948 for, among other things, "bringing disorder to society." The South Korean government jailed him for "draft evasion" in 1955 and rumors of church sex orgies swirled in Korean society.

During the 1960s, the Japanese media referred to the Principle Movement as "the religion that makes parents weep." During the 1970s, in America, the movement was widely regarded as a brainwashing cult that exploited members and taught a doctrine of "heavenly deception" or as a subversive group attempting to abridge the separation of church and state and influence U.S. policy on behalf of the KCIA. During the 1980s, the U.S. government jailed Rev. Moon on tax evasion charges, and during the 1990s, the media concentrated an attack on Rev. Moon and his family.

During the long course of what the movement regarded as misinformation or disinformation campaigns, many members accepted the publicís view of reality and fell away. Some, as apostates, actively promoted and helped shape societyís perceptions. However, for those who maintained their faith, there was a strong conviction that the charges were untrue. On occasion, the movement was willing to concede mistakes at lower levels due to immaturity or excessive zeal. Subordinates may have acted out of selfish motivations and even misled Rev. Moon. Things also may have been less than perfect within the community. But there was never any sense of moral culpability or anything other than the highest motivation and standard associated with Rev. and Mrs. Moon. In this sense, True Parents were the movementís ultimate bulwark against societyís accusations. They were the foundation for the high and impregnable dividing wall between outside views and the truth.

If there was a change in the 1990s, it was that the wall developed a few chinks. There were no serious breaches and the foundation was still secure, but the wall had taken some hits. Early in the decade, Pak Chong-hwa, an early follower whom Rev. Moon had helped escape from communist North Korea but who since followed a checkered path inside and outside the movement, published an especially scurrilous account in Japan entitled the Six Marias which alleged Rev. Moonís participation in ritual sex on a massive scale. Pakís account circulated in unpublished English translations but there was no solid evidence for his charges, and he later confessed in a subsequent work and on a speech tour sponsored by the Japanese movement that the stories were entirely fabricated.

This was also an occasion for the movementís defenders to note that allegations of this nature had been thoroughly discredited in Korea and that Protestant clergy proponents of the charges had been successfully prosecuted for criminal libel. Nan Sook Hongís charges of spousal abuse and that Rev. Moon had engaged in "providential affairs" resurfaced issues of moral authority at the end of the decade. As has already been discussed, this precipitated a crisis of faith and even a leave-taking for some. Others wrestled with ambiguities and in the process discovered deeper, or at least more existential wellsprings of faith. In learned internet forums, members discussed passages in Kierkegaardís Fear and Trembling which posited the "teleological suspension of the ethical." However, the vast majority of members were not given over to this level of theological sophistication or speculation. For them, Rev. and Mrs. Moon were the embodiment of their faith and the highest exemplification of "theocentric, self-sacrificial love." There was no wrongdoing or anything for which they had to be ashamed. There was no hard evidence. There was no smoking gun. To assert otherwise was to give in to rumors and base innuendoes of those whose motivations were highly suspect.

Rev. and Mrs. Moon praying before a church holiday service at Belvedere.

It needs to be emphasized that many members did not have a sense of impending peril and certainly not a sense of doom. They may have acknowledged problems, but from their point of view, the providence was proceeding according to schedule. Communism, which the movement regarded as the chief obstacle to the attainment of the Kingdom of Heaven on earth, had crumbled; the movement had extended its reach worldwide and the Blessing had been globalized. There were skirmishes to be fought, to be sure, but the major war was won. What essentially remained was the task of inheriting and securing True Parentsí victory. Hence, these members looked at circumstances of the 1990s and found incredible grounds for optimism.

This perspective needed to be taken seriously as there always was the risk of exaggerating crises in the present. An impartial observer, writing from the standpoint of the mid-1980s when Rev. Moon was in Danbury penitentiary or the mid-1970s when members were under near universal attack, may have been justified in regarding the movement as being far more imperiled in those times than it was during the late 1990s. In fact, the movement had resurrected from a number of literal and spiritual near-death experiences virtually every decade since the 1940s. Rev. Moon compared the movement to a rubber ball which the harder it was flung to the ground, the higher it bounced back. This raised an exceedingly important point. What was crucial, more so than the crises or perils the movement faced, were the resources it possessed for change and forward development. In this respect, the 1990s were no different than the 1970s or 1980s. Perils and crises unlocked capacities for renewal.

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