Unification News for November 2000

"40 Years in America" -- an Honest Appraisal Of the Life of the Unificationism Movement

Dan Fefferman
Washington, DC
November, 2000

The recently released 40 Years in America: An Intimate History of the Unification Movement is an important book for several reasons. First, although size doesnít count in all things, this is a big, gorgeous book, comprising 602 pages and including an impressive array of photographs from the early days of the US movement to the present day. Second, it is indeed an "intimate history" that presents not only the grand actions of its messianic leader but also the trials, tribulations, victories, and reflections of its rank and file members. Third, and for me most important, it is also a self-reflective book with a refreshingly honest approach to the challenges that US Unification movement has faced so far and will face in the future.

Credit for this impressive project goes to editor Mike Inglis for conceiving and coordinating it, to church historian Mike Mickler for the painstakingly researched and thought-provoking history that meanders through its oversized pages, and to designer Jonathan Gullery for making what could be a dry historical treatise an absolute delight to the eyes and heart.

The first thing one notices in paging through this tome is the generous space given to allow the members to speak for themselves. Excerpts from early newsletters, MFT journals, poetry, witnessing testimonies, public reports, and stories solicited especially for this volume give a feeling of freshness and immediacy as the reader works his way through Micklerís analysis. Indeed 40 Years In America can serve as well as a coffee table book as a history book. What a treat to read Victoria Clevengerís Ocean Church testimony, Poppy Richieís tribute to Onni Durst, Gus Aldenís nostalgic MFT reminiscences, or Andrew Wilsonís deprogramming saga, to name only a few of hundreds of stories one can either read in bit-sized snatches, or feast on for hours.

But the heart of 40 Years In America, and perhaps its most lasting contribution, is Micklerís historical essay. As it leads the reader through the course of the American Unification movement from its beginning in 1959 through a its pre-millennial climax, an inspiring but sometimes troubling pattern emerges.

Mickler does not shrink from modern church historianís task of tackling the controversial as well as celebrating the sacred aspects of his religion. One beholds the glories of the Day of Hope crusades, exponential growth in the early 70s, the victory of Washington Monument, the building of the Washington Times media empire, the public proclamation of True Parents, hundreds of millions of earthly Blessings, tens of billions of spirit world Blessings, various federations for world peace, and the establishment of a permanent place of spiritual pilgrimage in Chung Pyung. But one also reads of stagnation in membership growth, an American movement of an increasingly oriental character, division and disillusionment over the Zimbabwean Heung Jin episode, the bombshell effect of Nansook Hongís book, and a movement facing demoralization even as its leaders proclaim victory after victory.

Micklerís analysis is too far reaching to deal with in depth here. Let me touch briefly on two aspects that I felt were particularly interesting. The first has to do with what went wrong with the movement in the 1970s. The second deals with where we stand as we look toward the future.

As most long-time members recognize, the American Unification movement experienced substantial and rapid growth in the early 1970s, virtually doubling in membership every year from 1970-1974. Mickler offers an intriguing thought as to the nature of the brick wall we hit after that. He sees the experimental Barrytown training project in 1975 as symptomatic of a departure from the American tradition that had previously brought such success. He cites four factors:

1) the sharpening of in-out distinctions between the movement and world
2) an extreme emphasis on fallen nature and obedience to central figures
3) a counterproductive shift away from center life and toward individual pioneering by young members and
4) the creation of an unattractive sense of desperation that failed to bring about the hoped for Pentecost.

But Barrytown was only one symptom of a larger problem. "To a large extent," says Mickler, "Barrytown was a Japanese importÖThe Japanese outlook and modes of operation became even more pervasive in the churchís mobile fundraising teams."

The result was a new church culture. College-aged Americans took on a soldier-like demeanor that had little appeal to their peers. They wore ties while witnessing, spoke urgently of the dangers of Communism, testified less frequently to the joys of their international community, stopped singing popular songs in favor or oriental Holy Songs, and sometimes even spoke in stilted English with a Japanese accent. The American movement may only now be fully recovering from that cultural shift. Even as we create new federations, hold successful meetings, develop high level contacts, build media empires, and establish internal institutions for spiritual renewal, the fact remains that American Unificationism seems incapable of recreating the magic that enables new members to join.

As he looks to the future, Mickler sees a movement potentially divided among four alternative approaches to its apparent failures:

1 those who critique the orientalization of American Unificationism and call for a stronger sense of continuity with American culture
2 those who see the problem in terms of lack of faith and seek spiritual renewal through programs such as Chung Pyung
3 those who call for a renewal of a communitarian approach in which center life and other community expressions of the Divine Principle ideal are emphasized and
4 those who see the solution in terms of a realization of "elder-sonship," agreeing that we need greater continuity with American culture but presenting this as a natural evolution rather than a criticism of the past.

Of course, these categories are not hard and fast, nor are they mutually exclusive. And this only part of the story, about 20 pages out of a 600 page book. Mickler concludes on a hopeful note, looking to the future and the emergence of Hyun Jin Moon as the heir apparent to True Father who can realize the principle of elder-sonship.

Mike Mickler is to be commended not only for a stimulating essay, but also for memorializing a tremendous amount of detailed history in what I found to be a highly readable narrative. Yet even if one never gets around to a thorough reading Micklerís history, 40 Years in America is guaranteed to give readers many hours of enjoyment, reveling in past victories, mourning fallen soldiers who have come and gone, and pondering what the future will hold for our children and grandchildren.

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