Articles From the May 1994 Unification News


A Milestone in the Unification Church's Self-Understanding

by Dan Fefferman (UTS `86)

Michael L. Mickler. A History of the Unification Church in America: Emergence of a National Movement, 1959-74. New York: Garland, 1993. 226 pp. $56.00

Dr. Michael Mickler has performed yeoman's work in providing the first published account of the history of American Unficationism in his A History of the Unification Church in America, 1959-1974: the Emergence of a National Movement. Originally developed as a master's thesis, the revised work was published last year as part of Dr. Gordon Melton's series on Cults and Nonconventional Religious Groups by the Garland Publishing Company.

As Mickler's subtitle suggests, the book focuses on the development of a cohesive national movement from the disparate missionary traditions which had established themselves in the United States during the 1960's. Special attention is paid to activities in the San Francisco Bay area, where Mickler sees the three separate groups of Young Oon Kim, Sang Ik Choi and David Kim interacting in a caldron of "missionary jurisdictions, strategic alliances and general grievances" which provide important insights into the U.S. church's early life.


Beginning with Young Oon Kim's mission to Oregon in 1959, Mickler uses missionary diaries, newsletters and published accounts such as John Lofland's sociological study The Doomsday Cult to trace the group's development from a tiny collection of unpromising converts to a highly motivated if poorly organized network of centers with a "national headquarters" in Washington D.C. Mickler pictures Miss Kim's group as growing in fits and starts, frustrated in various attempts at evangelization and never quite able to bridge the communication gap with its audience until the late 1960s when droves of young searchers finally began to join. Miss Kim's group was at some times ecumenical in its approach, at others apocalyptic, and possessed an underlying, occasionally destabilizing, spiritualistic bent. Trouble seemed to follow it whether in the form of offended spouses, worrisome building inspectors, immigration authorities, apocalyptic prophesies, internal schisms or upstart independent missionary groupings wherever it went.

In contrast, Sang Ik Choi's group arrived from Japan in the Bay Area in 1965 with a core of welltrained young Japanese witnessers as front line troops. Mr. Choi had founded and led the Japanese church from 1958-64. His group's youth, tradition and discipline allowed it to succeed more rapidly than Miss Kim's in attracting and training new members. Moreover, Mr. Choi produced a more easily appropriable, socially oriented interpretation of the Principle which stressed communal activities and "conscientious common sense" over theological concerns. "My way is more a character educational way, and Miss Kim's is more of a church theological way," Mr. Choi explained of his Principles of Education vis a vis Miss Kim's The Divine Principles. Mr. Choi's utopianism (versus Miss Kim's ecumenism /apocalypticism) also yielded tangible manifestations such as the International Ideal City project in Boonville and the International Pioneer Academy in San Francisco.

While Miss Kim's Unified Family experienced moderate but scattered growth nationwide and Mrs. Choi's ReEducation Foundation scored spectacular though shortlived successes in the Bay Area, two other missionaries were also active on the American scene. These were Mr. David S.C. Kim of the "Northwest Family" and Col. Bo Hi Pak in Washington, D.C. Both groups were headed by men who held full time jobs in addition to their missionary callings. Though less fertile than Miss Kim's or Mr. Choi's groups, they produced their own incorporated organizations, published separate versions of the teachings of Rev. Moon, and brought their own converts and strong willed personalities to the mix.

Neither Rev. Moon's first visit to the U.S. in 1965 nor his return in 1969 resulted in uniting the groups. Mickler provides a fascinating sketch of several failed attempts at unification, both with Rev. Moon's guidance and without it, from 1965 through 1971.

It is from 1971-1974 that Mickler sees "the emergence of a national movement" in the U.S., through Rev. Moon's direct intervention and on thesc ene leadership. Beginning with a plan to mobilize and intermix members from all three groups through bus teams and a national evangelical crusade, Rev. Moon brought members to New York for training in 1972 and organized ticketselling teams for his first public speeches. This and later campaigns brought significant successes, both in terms of creating a unified tradition under Rev. Moon's leadership and in membership growth. Two important aspects of this growth were the establishment of Unification Church centers in every state with headquarters first in Washington and later New York; and the creation of the One World Crusade, consisting of missionary bus teams under the direction of Mr. David Kim. From a few hundred members in 1971, the movement grew to nearly 3,000 in 1974 and had numerous triumphs to its credit: a nationwide speaking tour culminating in the filling of Madison Square Garden, meetings with national figures, the purchase of significant properties as administrative and training centers, and the establishment of a lucrative source of income through Mobile Fundraising Teams.

Until 1974, however, the movement was still nearly unknown on the national scene. This changed quickly, in part due to the success of Madison Square Garden and subsequent speeches, but even more because of the notoriety gained by Rev. Moon's efforts in support of President Nixon during the Watergate Crisis. This in conjunction with the drama of deprogrammings, leftwing protests, and accusations of brainwashing resulted in a media bonanza and the seemingly permanent label of "cult."

Nevertheless, the end of 1974 left the movement with an exuberant sense of success and invincible optimism. The Church was united under its Father's leadership and was on a tremendous roll. As Church President Neil Salonen stated in December, 1974:

Three years ago...we had only a handful of members less than 300. Since that time...our membership has multiplied ten times.... We have been catapulted from relative obscurity to national prominence... Now, at last we can think in realistic terms of expanding to an international level.

Mickler leaves his work at this point, after a brief word on the "time bomb" of pending persecution and the rise of the "Oakland Family" as a harbingers of things to come.


Mickler's work, presented as an unapologetic historical account of the American Unification Church's early years, is a milestone in the Unification Church's self understanding. In eschewing both sociological and theological approaches, Mickler provides the reader with a straightforward, accessible account which will fascinate both UC members and students of new religious movements. He also provides a factual foundation that is likely to serve as the heuristic core for studies in U.S. Unification Church history for decades to come. While it may be a little premature to dub him the Eusebius of American Unification Church History, it may not be an exaggeration.

On the critical side, Professor Mickler has left me wanting more. I may be biased in this sense, since I happened to live through many of the events Mickler deals with and am therefore aware that there is often more to the story. Perhaps a longer work would have been in order. Given his space limitations (226 pages), the work is fairly comprehensive and evenhanded. Some followers of Miss Kim, of which I am one, may object that their spiritual foremother's shortcomings are exposed while Mr. Choi's weaknesses receive scant attention. In my opinion this impression is due more to the fact that Mickler must deal with the troublesome period of 1959-65 for Miss Kim, while he rightfully begins with 1965 for Mr. Choi. The fact that Miss Kim's group achieved approximately equal growth rates to Mr. Choi's during the crucial period of 1967-1971, however, gets lost in the shuffle.

On methodology, Mickler's use of sources such as diaries and newsletters could have been supplemented by personal interviews with the principals, most of whom are still living. His historical (versus theological) approach, though appropriate, left this reader wishing he had told me more about what the actors in his drama thought and felt, in addition to what they did.

Mickler is like Eusebius in another way. He finds himself stuck between the rock of an historian's quest for truth and the hard place of his patron's interests. His work, after all, was produced when he was being supported by a scholarhip administered by an institution headed by one of the principal actors in his study. I believe he has done a creditable balancing job in this respect. If he has skirted some thorny issues such as the sex scandals which decimated Miss Kim's group during the mid 1960s he has tackled others such as the struggles among the Korean missionaries for and against a centralized organization with laudable frankness.

If Mickler's promised second volume, dealing with 1975 to the present, deals as honestly with those years as his first volume dealt with its time period, it is sure to be both revealing and exciting.


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