Succession: An Open Letter to My Dear Unificationist Friends
by Warren Lewis, Professor of Church History (1975-81), UTS
(This is an excerpt from the full article published in the Journal of Unification Studies, Vol. 14, 2013, pp. 51-70)
True Father, Live Forever in the Spirit World!
The writing of these lines began on the day following the passing into the spirit world of a splendid human being whom I counted as a friend: Sun Myung Moon. It was a sad day (“Jesus wept.”) for all who loved and appreciated the man, but a day of victorious celebration for all who understand that his mission to, and importance for, the world can now transcend his individual mortal life (“Where, O Death, is thy victory? Where, O Grave, thy sting?”)
This message is an “open letter” to all my dear Unificationists, former students of “Church History Survey” at the Unification Theological Seminary, Barrytown, New York, from 1975 to 1981, and beyond them to a sub-set of special Unificationists whom I knew then, barely, as young children. The time has now come, my friends, for you to take up your responsibilities as Church leaders in ways that you have not previously known or imagined.
Up to this moment, we, your non-Unificationist teachers, offered you our intense efforts and our truest knowledge, hoping to help you become “the best Unificationists” you could be. Whatever of value came to you through following the True Parents, through the Divine Principle, through your spiritual experiences, through our Seminary education, through your further higher education, and through your existential commitment to “the House of Jacob for ten thousand years,” you must now gather up all your strength to respond with passion and joy to the best challenge I ever heard Rev. Moon issue to his followers: “What better world can you imagine?”
In these few paragraphs, my intention was to accomplish three purposes:
- Juxtaposition of aspects of the history of the early Christian Church with aspects of the Unification Church as it moves from its first generation to its second.
- Reflection on the difference between “the Original Sin” and original sin.
- A look ahead to desirable Unificationist possibilities in the post-Sun Myung Moon era.
According to “Lewis’s Laws of Church History,” every new religious movement must experience a “second founding” if it is to survive. As Loisy insightfully quipped, “Jesus preached the Kingdom of Heaven, and Paul delivered the church.” No one is clear exactly as to what Jesus had in mind when he spoke of the “Kingdom of God” (or “of Heaven”), but one specific item he mentioned had something to do with his Twelve Disciples seated on the thrones of eschatological Judaism, ruling the Twelve Tribes of Israel (Luke 22:3) and the whole world in the power of the Almighty. Maybe that will happen some day (Rev. 21:12); meanwhile, we give James and Paul and Peter and John and some (not all) of the other notables high marks for their devotion to the messianic mission as they understood it. Second-best is better than nothing at all.
On the other hand, in other messianic cases, Mother Ann Lee (1736-1784) made no provision for succession to the “Second Coming of Christ according to the Female Line.” Where are the Shakers today? In an opposite direction, Peter John Olivi (c. 1248-1298) somewhat over-enthusiastically proclaimed St. Francis of Assisi (1182-1226) to have been the “Second Advent of Christ in spirit.” More than one person, you see, has applied for the job of “Lord of the Second Advent.” What does one do after the messiah has come again and then gone?
Sun Myung Moon, or “True Father” as devoted Unificationists call him, by contrast, made abundant provision before his death for the succession of leadership in the Unification Movement. The challenge now is which of many possible ways might that leadership go? Whichever way the Unification Church goes, it will want to fulfill the mission that True Father defined, adapt his methods, and follow through with whole hearts, clear minds, and sacrificial bodies. The Unificationists are at the crossroads: Quo vadis, Domine?
The history of Christianity offers a range of parallel situations and several paradigms of succession and second founding, each of these corresponding to some element of potential future direction within the daunting array of Unificationist Divinely Principled action that is the legacy of Sun Myung Moon. Which way, O Lord?
The Holy Spirit?
Theologically speaking according to the Gospel of John, chapters 14-16, the True Successor of the Risen Lord Jesus was the Holy Spirit. The book of Acts of the Apostles ought to be called the Acts of the Holy Spirit because it was She (“My Mother, the Holy Spirit”—as Jesus called Her in one non-canonical version of the Gospels) who directed the mission work of the earliest disciples, inspired change and development, and fostered what unity there was among the quarrelsome disciples of Jesus. According to the Divine Principle, Hak-Ja Han (Mrs. Moon) or “True Mother,” the consort of the Lord of the Second Advent, is the latter-day embodiment of the Holy Spirit. Mother Moon, the resident Holy Spirit of Unificationism, ought, therefore, to guide every aspect of the Holy Spirit Association for the Unification of Christianity (and All the World’s Religions). The Movement is, after all, named for her!
Hak-Ja Han, the human being, now 70 years old and vital, clearly seems to be inclined to this kind of public role: She has proclaimed herself the “center of unity” in “the Family” (the entire extended “family” of all Unificationists) and the heir of “True Father’s victorious foundation,” ready to “stand in the forefront to lead the providence on earth.” She has solidified her position in the homeland of the Movement and declared that “everything that is carried out in Korea from this day onward will be centered on True Mother.”
The gracious First Lady of East Garden, at whose home in Tarrytown, New York, I visited and at whose table I dined, was an elegant and radiant woman, the loving and dutiful wife of a “great man,” and the sturdy mother of an apostolic number of heirs apparent. I can personally testify that she makes the best chapchae in the universe. Now, if Korean culture is as alive and well in her as I suspect it to be, she has graduated to the position of a dowager empress, Korean Mother-in-Law status, than which no greater human power can be conceived on earth. Applying the biblical text in a Principled way, the spirit of Jesus prophesied of her as follows: “When She is come, whom Heavenly Father will send in my name, She will teach you all things and remind you of everything that I taught. True Father has gone away, but True Mother will come to reprove the world of sin and of righteousness and of judgment. She shall not speak of herself but of me. And you shall do greater works than I have done.” (Read John 14-16 for the original.)
The early church, filled and empowered with the Holy Spirit, was, nevertheless, not unified. Ideological, moral, managerial, and behavioral failures troubled the first-century Christian movement much in the way that similar challenges now beset the Unification Movement. Mrs. Holy Spirit Moon with her covey of apostolic children—all elbows and knees—has an authentically “first-century” set of problems on her hands. She will be busy with the reproof of sin, righteousness, and judgment, and at the same time she must also manifest other gifts of the Spirit: As she reproves, she must also heal. As she judges, she must also inspire and unify her own children. As she upholds righteousness and spirituality at home in Korea, she must project divine energies that resonate globally throughout the international network of national Unification Churches.→
Dr. Warren Lewis was the first professor of Church History at Unification Theological Seminary (1975-81). Recently, he was a Visiting Scholar at Harvard Divinity School (his alma mater), where he is finishing a major work of Medieval studies: a critical edition and English translation of Peter John Olivi’s Lectura super Apocalypsim (1297).