My friend introduced me as “Moonie” at a breakfast meeting near Kemah that included five local pastors, then explained that I had been a member of Rev. Moon’s Unification Church. My friend enjoys a good conversation starter. One pastor immediately blurted out, “Why?” His is a very good question. But like trying to answer why so many who grow up strong in the Christian faith are baptized and confirmed but later walk away, the answer is complex. And so, I sat down to answer that very question: “Why?” The result is a 183-page book just released by WestBow Press, A Division of Thomas Nelson & Zondervan.
I joined the “Moonies” right out of college in 1974. As a young acolyte, I traveled extensively, including nine months in England. As I rose in the ranks, I was sent to a two-year seminary in upstate New York where I met leading Christian and Jewish theologians as well as psychologists. I organized conferences on world religions and was later placed in charge of the state of Wisconsin. I was matched by Moon himself to marry a French girl. Matching, in the old fashion sense of the word, was and still is the practice of Moon’s church. However, I left the church six months before the mass wedding of 2,075 couples in Madison Square Garden on July 2, 1982. That was to have been my wedding day, pictured above.
The religious climate in 1974, when I joined, was electric with all sorts of new and interesting possibilities. Some, like the Branch Dividians or Jim Jones’s People’s Temple, ended tragically. Others like the Moonies have continued to exist alongside mainline religious groups. But increasingly, many people are opting for a belief without affiliation to any religious organization whatsoever. Jesus’ words are still true, “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself” (John 12:32). There are significant reasons why the Church is struggling to keep its membership. Those reasons are why I walked away from the church for so many years. I would say that Moon’s church was distinguished by its emphasis on conservative social values as well as cultivating exchange with scientists and religious leaders. This is part of the reason that their main recruitment has always been from college campuses.
It was at Unification Theological Seminary that I met theologian Harvey Cox, whose book Secular City suggested that the Church would soon vanish, replaced by a Spirit-driven activism for justice and well-being. I also met Richard Rubenstein, a Jewish theologian, whose book After Auschwitz suggested that any thought of God’s providence guiding history must be set aside following the Holocaust. Both men have been connected with the “death of God” movement. The provocative title of the movement does not suggest that God has ceased to be, but that society in general has ceased to recognize God at work in their lives or in the world at large.
Despite those dire predictions, the Church is not disappearing. It is in fact growing quickly in many places, which Cox himself has had to concede in subsequent books. Unfortunately, secularization has taken a strong foothold in modern society. The Unification Church appears to be shrinking, particularly following the death of their charismatic leader, but it appears to still have a significant presence in some places. I would have to say that they were doing many things right. The one thing they did not have was the Holy Spirit, despite their official name as The Holy Spirit Association for the Unification of World Christianity (it has since been changed).
Like the Pharisees of Biblical times, believing in God, praying to God, and following a godly lifestyle does not mean that you are able to recognize God when He enters the room. Certainly, a theology that downplays Jesus in favor of another man, be he as charismatic as Haili Selaasie, David Koresh or Sun Myung Moon, is a recipe for disaster.
A Cult Challenge to the Church; Why Are People Looking for a Relationship with God in All the Wrong Places by Wm. W. Wells is available directly from WestBow Press, or through Amazon. (PB USD13.95 | EB USD3.99).