A History Of The Unification Church In America, 195974 - Emergence of a National Movement

By Michael L. Mickler


This study recounts the earliest beginnings of the Unification Church in America. Although now recognized as a strongly centralized movement, during the 1960s the church consisted of three separately-incorporated missionary groupings each with disparate methods of proselytization, differing interpretations of doctrine, and distinctive organizational styles. Two of these groups directed fluctuating networks of 'centers' throughout the country. All of them maintained a presence in the San Francisco Bay Area which became a focal point for their potential unification. What, in fact, emerged was a complicated set of missionary jurisdictions, strategic alliances, and general grievances, nowhere more focused than in the Bay Area.

Besides describing these groups and their unsuccessful efforts to forge unity during the 1960s, the study details factors which led to the emergence of a national movement during the early 1970s. The most significant of these was the presence in America of Rev. Moon. By 1974, each of the earlier missionary groupings was non-existent. However, certain of their emphases survived within the "Oakland Family" which during the mid and late 1970s emerged alongside the national structure as an alternative tradition.

As the first published history of the Unification Church in America, this work is intended neither as a sociological or theological analysis nor as an apology or critique of the church. Rather, it is intended as a historical account of the church's origins and development in America during a fifteen-year period from the first arrival of Korean missionaries in 1959 to the establishment of a viable national movement in 1974. After 1974, the movement's rapid growth, perceived ambitions and alleged deviance provoked negative reactions. These included media attacks, kidnappings of members, deprogrammings, government investigations, court cases, and ultimately the incarceration of Rev. Moon. However, as these events unfolded outside the chronological framework of this account, they will be addressed in a forthcoming volume. Again, the intent of this work is not to justify, criticize or defend. The sole attempt is to document, as closely as possible, the rise and early development of the Unification Church in America.

Although I have attempted to be comprehensive in highlighting the dominant personalities, organizations and circumstances which facilitated the emergence of a national movement, this work does not cover everything. Most notably, it does not deal with numerous regional or local initiatives which did not directly figure into the emergent national structure. To this extent, the account intentionally focuses on the movement's mainstream development. Another study, with altered emphases, might well reconstruct a decidedly different story.

A couple of notes on sources. Because a historical account of the movement has not been compiled, this study makes use of sources not previously utilized, some of which are not published. The bulk of these are church materials: periodicals, books, memoirs, brochures, prospectuses, letters, diaries and the like. Many of these materials are not easily accessible although repositories include Unification Theological Seminary, Barrytown, New York; Unification Church of America National Headquarters, New York City; the New Religious Movement Collection at the Graduate Theological Union Library, Berkeley, California; and the files of the Institute for the Study of American Religion (ISAR) now housed at the University of California at Santa Barbara.

Where possible, I have attempted to corroborate movement accounts with outside sources although the church was not widely known prior to the early 1970s. The only substantial study of the movement during the 1960s is John Lofland's Doomsday Cult (Prentice-Hall, 1966) which analyses the earliest church community in the San Francisco Bay Area. Although Lofland employed pseudonyms and professed greater interest in sociological questions than in the movement, his treatment is an important source of data and is cited extensively in this work's initial two chapters. Subsequent chapters contain additional references, mainly to newspaper accounts. Apart from print sources, I conducted a number of interviews some of which are noted in the text's citations.

This study could not have been undertaken or completed without the assistance of a number of persons. Since it began as a thesis, I'd first like to thank my academic advisors: Dr. J. Stillson Judah, Dr. Lewis Rambo, and especially Dr. Elden Ernst whose historical expertise is responsible for any wider appeal this work may have. I also wish to thank Dr. A. Durwood Foster and Dr. Richard Quebedeaux. Special thanks are due to the many Unification Church members who loaned me materials, granted personal interviews and lived with me during the research and writing of this history. I am especially grateful to the late Dr. Young Oon Kim who granted me several interviews and access to her as yet unpublished memoirs; Mr. Sang Ik Choi who opened his home to me on several occasions for extended interviews; and Dr. David S.C. Kim and his family for their support. I'd also like to thank Dr. and Mrs. Mose Durst for their cooperation, Mrs. Joy Pople who typed the original manuscript, and Mr. Michael Balcomb for his very able editorial and technical assistance in preparing this work for publication.

Michael L. Mickler
Barrytown, New York
November 1993  

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