40 Years in America

Elder Sonship

As was previously noted, Rev. Moon elevated the United States to the status of "elder son" nation to the "parent" nations of Korea and Japan in 1998. This was done with little fanfare probably because he and much of the movementís senior Korean and Japanese leadership were still ambivalent about American culture. On the one hand, they acknowledged U.S. political, economic, military and cultural ascendancy as the worldís only superpower.

Movement leaders, unlike many in American society, also affirmed the United Statesí identity as a "Christian" nation. They also admired the U.S. as a cultural melting pot. On the other hand, they were uncomfortable with core American cultural norms. Coming out of a traditional, neo-Confucian context, which to a large extent was identified as being closer to "heavenly" culture, the movementís East Asian leadership had a particularly difficult time fathoming the American concept of equality. For them, it was perfectly obvious that there was no equality. Rather, everyone knew their position in a secure familial-based social order resembling what in the medieval West was known as "the great chain of being." This clearly was an oversimplification as East Asia, no less than other world cultures, grappled with the competing forces of tradition and modernity. Nevertheless, within the movement, members tended to relate across cultural divides on the basis of broad-ranging cultural stereotypes.

Even more disturbing than conflicting cultural norms was what the movementís East Asian leadership experienced as an abrasive and imperial cultural style. In general, these leaders were used to more understated, deferential modes of relating than many Americans were inclined to render. Frank styles of interaction, including the expression of disagreement with scant acknowledgement of a given leaderís need to save face, created distance as did its opposite: the assumption of more familiarity than oneís central figure was willing to concede.

However, these were minor irritants. What really disturbed Rev. Moon and the movementís top Asian leadership was the American air of cultural superiority: that the U.S. was always on the side of righteousness, or at least was the leading force for goodness in the world; that there was something wrong with anyone who couldnít speak English; and that leadership was an American entitlement. This may have induced Rev. Moon to emphasize U.S. faults, the necessity to learn Korean, and the primacy of Oriental leadership more than otherwise might have been the case. He also did very little to conceal his distaste for the "ladies-first" tradition in American culture. This, in turn, pushed him into positions he might not otherwise have taken regarding womenís access to careers or even checking accounts. In fact, it was something of a badge of honor among the movementís top Asian leadership not to have become Americanized.

To Rev. Moonís credit, he overcame these cultural predispositions in designating the U.S. the elder son nation. However, it wasnít clear that this designation had any immediate practical effect other than being a signal to U.S. budget holders that they should not expect the funding they once received. Perhaps, the clearest indication that the American movement had been well trained was in the lack of any serious expectation among members that they were about to assume any significant leadership of the movementís worldwide activities. Rev. Moon remarked that Americans should "[r]eceive a servantís certificate from Japan -- get their blessing and offer it to me." He stated, "The elder son inherits the motherís spirit and attends his father through the motherís education." In this respect, the designation of the U.S. as elder son nation did not appear to be a dramatic departure from what was already in effect. A November 20-28, 1999 workshop convened by Rev. and Mrs. Moon in Kodiak, Alaska for some fifty Japanese, thirty Korean and four American leaders who stayed for the full session was fairly typical of such gatherings during the late 1990s. One of the participants commented,

As an American, I had no clear reason why Father wanted us to be there. He only addressed us directly very briefly on the first evening. I have one sentence of him speaking in English: "Please live by the tradition and way of True Parents." We were fortunate that one Korean sister who lives in America stayed for the entire workshop and helped translate. Father did say at one point that the children (America) were witnessing or participating in the relationship between the mother and father nations, Japan and Korea. Father, I believe, needed some American representation there to experience the Mother and Father nations becoming one.

If given a choice, many Americans may have preferred being knee-deep in the Pantanal without insect repellant to sitting through all-day Hoon Dok Hae readings and lectures with scanty or non-existent translations.

There were some efforts to define the identity and mission of elder sonship more proactively. Significantly, none of those who did so, at least in print, were American leaders or members. Rev. Joong Hyun Pak was Continental Director of the Unification Church in North America at the time Rev. Moon designated the U.S. elder son nation. In an article, "Elder Son Nation and Blessing í98," he took a conservative line, indebted to neo-Confucian presuppositions, in speaking of the position and duties of the elder son designation. The elder son was "always expected to be the role model for the others to follow" even "to spank the younger siblings when they needed discipline." It was "also the duty of the elder son to take care of the parents." As applied to an Elder Son nation,

This nation is responsible ... to bear the burdens of the other nations ... representing brothers and sisters throughout the world. Never complaining; just accepting the responsibility. Always working hard, setting the best example.

On the positive side, "Parents invest everything into the elder son," and as Rev. Pak noted, "True Parents always brought help from other nations to America, raising and nurturing America." However, now that "the training period is over, America must be ready to take care of other nations in the same way it has been helped." Rev. Pak did not limit his remarks entirely to an exposition of duties and position. "While fulfilling this role," he suggested, "America will naturally start to become the Kingdom of Heaven on Earth, expanding out to the world."

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