I've written more than 100 Unification News columns over the past dozen-plus years. Without really planning to, I've established a minor reputation as a layman apologist. Not being an official church leader, I don't have to 'toe the line' about difficult issues, thus I'm often rather candid.
The issue of leadership succession is well-known to Unificationists, plus scholarly observers and self-declared opponents, yet this sort of practical comparison remains unusual. -Paul Carlson
United We Stand
This article first appeared in 1998, with my friends Dale Milne and the Rev. Joel Bjorling contributing information. An update appeared in 2003, and this online version has again been revised. Thanks to God, and some excellent physicians, this remains a work of speculation. (A dramatic Sikorsky helicopter accident in July 2008 served as a reminder of everyone's mortality, and the miraculous grace of God.)
[And then, in September of 2012 the inevitable happened. What do you know, this article has remained all too relevant. So far, Unificationists have avoided the worst historical outcomes! I haven't changed the text to reflect Rev. Moon's ascension, as yet.]
This month we're going to discuss a momentous subject. Recent concerns about Rev. Moon's health have prompted me to offer this article.
Success is not guaranteed to new religions. God inspires every authentic faith, but ordinary human beings have to administer them. No matter how pure and wise the founder, others must eventually take the reins. Jesus lamented about this several times, and the Buddha wondered if even one of his disciples really 'got it.'
Over the millennia prophets have founded countless religions, whether offshoots or entirely new faiths. Each of these religions changed with time, for good or ill. In historical terms, only a fraction of them lasted very long.
Muslim and Christian histories show how difficult it is for a growing religion to remain united. Within a few generations the Muslim faith split into Sunni and Shia factions, led by religious elders and the descendants of the Prophet, respectively.
Christianity divided within the lifetime of Jesus' apostles. The Copts of Egypt, Roman Catholics, and Greek Orthodox Church all have ancient traditions, and separate lines of apostolic succession. Each has weathered schisms, false leaders, and other difficulties.
Many churches arose from the American tradition of enthusiastic revival. During the 1830s an evangelist named William Miller started a movement that gave birth to the Jehovah's Witnesses, Seventh Day Adventists, and others. Miller created a huge ruckus with his End of the World predictions, and then, soon enough, with revised millennial warnings. (Religious historians call this the Great Disappointment.)
The Jehovah's Witnesses make bold claims of unity. A friend of mine was born and raised a Witness; she even belonged to their elite 144,000 chosen ones. When she converted to Unificationism they "laid a heavy guilt trip" on her. Elders told her that not one of this chosen band had ever broken with the faith. I leave it to the reader to weigh the veracity of that claim.
Mormon history illustrates the dangers inherent in recognizing a living prophet. I have a list of more than 100 Mormon groups, and every one of them claims to be headed by "the legitimate prophet," true heir to founder Joseph Smith Jr.
Many of those groups are small; some no more than extended families. About nine groups, each with a charismatic leader, broke off from the Mormons even before Smith was martyred. [Note: in regards to not even waiting for the Founder to pass on, during the summer of 2010, Unificationism's parallel to Mormon history has deepened.]
After Smith died, the Mormon leadership split irrevocably. Many elders, headed by the formidable Brigham Young, brought almost all of the faithful to a new home in the deserts of Utah. These elders founded, and their twelve successors still lead, the Latter Day Saints church.
The decision to move was far from unanimous. Smith had proclaimed Independence, Missouri as the 'chosen place,' and some elders wished to settle there despite ongoing persecution. They convinced Smith's oldest son, Joseph Smith III, to become their new prophet. Together they founded the Reorganized church.
The RLDS church is the second-largest Mormon group, and for more than a century it was lead by a member of the Smith family. Long ago they were dubbed Josephites, and today are known as the Community of Christ. (They have long been sending missionaries to Utah!)
Another Mormon offshoot, while small, is noteworthy. The Temple Lot church owns the plot of land (in Independence) upon which Joseph Smith Jr. planned to build his 'ultimate' temple. The place to which Jesus himself is expected return and live, and rule the Earth therefrom. No Mormon group can build on it without Temple Lot's permission. Trouble is, they're too poor to build it themselves -- and too stubborn to cooperate.
One new religion that has rivaled Unificationism in notoriety is the Hare Krishnas. Years ago they built a large, ornate 'American temple' in West Virginia. Later the Krishna movement divided, and that temple was occupied by an independent leader with a style and theology all his own. (Apparently, in recent years, they've reunited.)
We Unificationists have seen several groups (perhaps three or four per continent) break off. They're oddballs, tiny and not particularly appealing. Most, if not all, suffer from acute 'Chapter Two' (i.e., sexual) problems. To be specific, often the leader is impregnating numerous female followers, or something similar if male converts are involved. (Your author has verified such things through direct conversation with some of those leaders, and trustworthy eyewitness accounts by others.)
The Baha'i Faith proclaims a record of unbroken unity, but the reality is a bit messier. During the 1800s, founder Baha'u'llah endured severe persecution, organizing a new religion within a Muslim society. His great-grandson Shoghi Effendi was their last individual leader, or Guardian. (In detail, Baha'u'llah placed one of his sons in charge; and that man, Abdu'l-Baha, passed along sole leadership to his own grandson.)
Shoghi Effendi left no will. Upon his death, an American scholar named Charles Remey hoped to take over as Guardian. The situation was in flux, and some of the founder's descendants had been branded as 'covenant breakers.'
The Baha'i leadership, dominated by ethnic Persians, dissolved the Guardianship in favor of a newly organized council. Remey departed, taking many followers with him.
There are now two offshoots, with slightly different beliefs, both known as Orthodox Baha'is. All three groups like to pretend the others don't even exist. (In fairness, some Bahai web sites discuss the situation frankly.) [Note: as of 2009, these Bahai groups were in court, battling over their heritage.]
As with the Mormons, we see the leadership 'baton' juggled between direct descendants, eminent leaders, and assembled councils.
Unfortunately, not all new religions were inspired by God. There have been "prophets" who openly flaunted their licentiousness.
For example, in Europe during the 1100s, a man named Tanchelm proclaimed himself the new messiah and gathered a devoted following. He began humbly, but soon amassed a treasure horde and lived like a debauched Roman Emperor. Five years later he was assassinated. His movement did not outlive him.
During the 1500s, the German city of Muntzer was seized twice by fanatical messianic leaders. The second of these, Jan Matthys, was besieged by the very residents he'd expelled. Within a year, he and all his followers were dead.
The Divine Principle explains how prophets can receive 'mixed messages' from the good and evil spiritual realms, often at the same time. Even so, God-guided religions will survive and grow. The Gospels say, if it's of God it cannot be overthrown.
The story of the Jews, from earliest times until today, is deeply inspiring. (Read The Gifts of the Jews by Thomas Cahill.) The Parsees of India have also survived millennia of adversity.
The Roman Catholics have the most successful church -- and perhaps, human organization of any kind -- in all history. They've outlasted invasions, heretics, Darwinism, and more.
Catholic standards and institutions endure, yet change when necessary. They may finally dump their burdensome administrative policy (it's not a formal theological doctrine) of priestly celibacy, though Pope Benedict XVI is strongly opposed to this.
We Unificationists have been through many phases. The physical Kingdom did not arrive (as widely rumored, but not officially proclaimed) in 1981, much less at various earlier dates. In any case, the heavenly providence, and success of our movement and its outreach programs, have succeeded far beyond the expectations of virtually all our members.
At the Cheongpyeong workshops, three 'internal' Unificationist revivals are described. The Washington Post detailed the second of these, with the 'Black Heung Jin,' if in their usual stilted fashion.
Some doctrines are, so far as I know, exclusive to Unificationism. For instance, the Divine Principle describes 'returning resurrection,' and names only one example: Elijah and John the Baptist.
In the mid-1980s this unusual teaching gained immediate meaning. A period of New Age-ish channeling (among the members) ushered in the ministry of the 'Black HJN,' with its wave of repentance and purification.
That ministry paved the way for the installation of Daemonim/Hyo Nam Kim at Cheongpyeong, in the forested mountains east of Seoul. It would take many of these columns to describe her achievements. Daemonim enjoys universal recognition from Unificationists, most importantly from True Father (Rev. Moon) himself.
When Rev. Moon eventually passes on, the way stands open for a possible new wave of returning resurrection. It is, please note, widely assumed that True Father himself will manifest in such a fashion.
There is great promise in this, but also inherent danger. Any number of mediums could make such a claim, and win the support of (one or more) Unificationist leaders. Each claimant might have a strong national or ethnic backing. (The 'Black HJN' came from Zimbabwe, far outside the established circles of influence.)
How would our members, and the movement as a whole, determine whether (any of) these mediums are (and remain) genuine? A formal process may be called for.
It might not be a simple true/false judgment, because spirits aren't bound by the usual conventions. We've already welcomed messages from (and thus, the unseen participation of) hundreds of saints and historical figures.
Author Elizabeth Moon (an Irish name, by the way), in her five excellent Paksennarion/Gird fantasy novels, traces the founding of a new religion. In that storied time, only a handful of scribes were literate. After Gird dies, those few struggle with how best to relate his life story.
No doubt similar things have happened in real life. In contrast, our Founder's life has been exhaustively recorded. [Note: in practice, this alone is not definitive. As of June 2010, even detailed video tapes can and do get debated, as to their significance and meaning.]
New religions always reflect their founder's character and deeds, not to mention the accuracy of his (or her) teachings. (No other major new religion has ever been developed by a husband-wife team.) Each founder's fruits are shown in the history of their movements.
We can be thankful to have many of the best leaders of any religion in history. The Unification Church is one of very few with a married couple standing as harmonious co-leaders. We've survived much persecution and misunderstanding, not to mention attacks by deprogrammers/faithbreakers and national governments. (Then turned many of them into allies.)
In recent years, several of Rev. Moon's children have assumed national and global leadership positions. Also, four of his older grandchildren have participated in marriage blessing ceremonies. With full awareness of what each new religion has faced before us, we're on course for a wonderful future.
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