Succession: An Open Letter to My Dear Unificationist Friends

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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!

Warren LewisThe 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:

  1. 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.
  2. Reflection on the difference between “the Original Sin” and original sin.
  3. A look ahead to desirable Unificationist possibilities in the post-Sun Myung Moon era.

Second Founding

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.

[This is an excerpt. To read the full article on UTS’s Journal of Unification Studies site, click here]

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).

7 thoughts on “Succession: An Open Letter to My Dear Unificationist Friends

  1. I want to thank Dr. Lewis for his continued concern for his former students and for encouraging us to think about lessons learned by the experience of the Christian Church in its history. Succession seems to be a messy thing, not only in Christianity, but in other world religions. Is it core teachings, a family dynasty, or an institutional structure that will guide Unification culture? Each of these three reinforce and compete with one another. Will it expand and flourish or die away?

    We see members still going to the same churches they attended while True Father was alive, but will their children continue to do so? We see True Mother giving direction and assuming a central position, but at the last workshop for grandchildren, only Hyo Jin Nim’s children attended. We see lots of member discussion groups on the Internet with a spectrum of theological positions and behaviors towards one another. But no one way can be forced through assertion of power or authority.

    We are in a voluntary age, people are inspired by success, and, if the Mormons are any indication, new members will join when they see successful and happy families living lives they would like to have. From this observation, I would think the future belongs to those who succeed in leading people to the three blessings, to which people are innately drawn. This success may come from True Mother, it may come from a model church rising up, and it may come from individual families applying the Divine Principle in their daily lives and becoming “tribal messiahs.” In that respect, the future is open, and is based on the responsibility of the members.

    We need to learn from the lessons of history, and not reinvent the wheel. We stand on the foundation of 4,000 years of Jewish and Christian history and are meant to advance the providence from there, not start over. Keep watching us, Dr. Lewis, and reminding us when we try things historical figures already learned, that our learning curve as a new culture might be accelerated and our suffering from mistakes limited.

  2. Dr. Anderson, thank you for your insight. I found this “Open Letter” very helpful in formulating a course of action in my own community building activities.

    As one who was deeply moved by the spirit of Jesus in my youth I found this paragraph most up lifting:

    I invite the True Children individually to become genuine Christians. You cannot grasp the purposes of the Lord of the Second Advent if you are not friends with the Lord of the First Advent. Change your minds about your own original and personal sinfulness. Be immersed in the death and life of Christ Jesus. Be filled with the Holy Spirit. The charismas of leadership that you need and seek will pour down upon you from the spirit world in immeasurable abundance. Fear nothing! Brave every good thing!

  3. As a former seminarian who left the UC in ’85, I am only vaguely familiar with the convolutions of the UC in the past 30 years. However, in 2009, in the process of reinventing myself, I returned to UTS/NY to complete my masters in religious education. I was apprehensive but was welcomed and although I left over marriage, I was never rejectionist. I valued what I learned and experienced from the UC. The instruction at the seminary, as always, was of the highest quality. I will always owe a debt for my seminary education. That period of exploration remains sacred in my memory. Unfortunately, much of my experience in the UC did not meet those ideals and neither did my own behavior.

    I’m happy to see Warren Lewis’s article. It is amazing to watch the transformation of religious organizations through their evolution. I am deeply involved in my local Unitarian Church and at the Star Island UU/Congregationalist retreat center, and have brought what I’ve learned from the UC to those communities. Without the messianic connotations, it is easier to accept human failings, but I feel that I have maintained fidelity with what drew me into the UC. The biggest challenge ideologically, which to me finally seemed to be simply a different perspective, was to teach and embrace the Unitarian OWL (Our Whole Lives) program, which teaches sexuality to adolescents (and also elementary kids and adults).

    I encourage thoughtful Unificationists to look at this program and consider its theological appropriateness. I accept a lust-based, power-based critique of sexuality which could be defined as original sin (putting your own desires ahead of others). Most Unificationists might disagree, but that was how I interpreted it. The OWL program addresses many of these issues. Although its original premises will shock many Unificationists, I think if you analyze both the process and the results you will find it actually appropriate. To find out more about it you should contact the Unitarians, not me. My wife and I taught it for many years, starting when our daughter was around 10 (in preparation). It has been one of the most important activities in our lives because it provided our children with an educated view of sexuality that commingled science and personal values. It provided context to the emotions and sensuality that illuminates experience and gives children (and adults) the wisdom (perhaps) to make the right decisions. Anecdotal evidence has always been good (often from kids who had been considering suicide).

    This post from me is weird and apparently antithetical to UC theology, but it has never been so based on my interpretation of DP. Love is messed up. It can hurt you badly. There is a right way to love, and many wrong ways. The right way means you need to respect others, seek joy, avoid pregnancy and disease, and look for spiritual (and other) compatible partners. That seems nebulous but it’s true. I’m not so sure about original sin except that if your relationships are not based on equal values they will not survive.

    The OWL approach has served many young people well in the past two decades. I suggest you look into it and get over your initial shock about sexual openness. Openness and honesty about the issues involved in love (and sex) help the inexperienced make better decisions. Not always the right decisions, but there will be an avenue for discussion about mistakes.

    I am teaching climate science now and trying to save us from yet another Armageddon, also caused by humans. I guess I got hooked early on global salvation of some sort or another.

    Regards, and thanks for all your efforts (we humans need all the help we can get).

  4. Dear Warren the Wise,

    I want to add my thanks for this extremely insightful and timely contribution. I am reminded often of what you taught us about how the “holy mother Church” developed historically in the West by reincorporating both ideas and people who had become separated. Your advice about being Christian and connecting with Jesus is also on the mark, I believe. One good effect would be to recognize that just as there are many ways to be Christian, Christians can recognize something importantly good about the Christianity of others with whom they/we may disagree. Blessings!

  5. The light of the candle always flickers when being handed from one person to another. It’s a tricky thing, passing a candle. Grab it too fast and it flickers out. Grab it too slow and the melted wax burns your fingers. You just might drop it. Our movement is in the “passing the candle period.” All our eyes were fixed on True Father, and now that he’s not here physically for our eyes to see, to guide us, then our faith flickers. It seems logical to sit in that comfort zone and wait to see how the candle moves, how the drama unfolds, to jump back onto the scene when everything has played out, or abandon ship in case the worst comes knocking, right? Wrong.

    We have the Word. We have the Divine Principle. And more importantly, we have each other. Articles like this one give us the chance to come together and guide each other. Websites like this enable us to share our thoughts and come together based on the love we have for each other and the teachings we are so fortunate to have. Don’t stay in the comfort zone. This is the time to be even more active than you have ever been. Let us pray more, talk more, do more conditions. And live the way of life that the Principle has taught us. Live for the sake of others.

  6. Hi, there, Arthur and Tom! You were among my best and brightest, and I love you dearly. Junhyun, I wish I had had the privilege of your company — I could have learned a lot.

    I’m almost persuaded to canonize a new Lewis’s Law of Church History: “The best members of a church are the ones who leave it.” What would it be like if all those who have left were, in some way or other, to come home? I’m told that Barrytown needs our help these days. How can we come home to Barrytown? It would be a shame to lose that rich investment of a major part of our lives. Blessings on you!

  7. Hi Warren! Mind if I steal that? Lewis’s Law? The best members of a church are those who leave. Well, really I think it should be those who leave of their own free will. They see all that goes wrong and feel like they cannot continue in the church because of those reasons. They are the best members because they point these issues out, giving the leaders a chance to fix it. I think being a Unificationist is not an issue of being part of the church. I think that’s just an added bonus. I think it’s all about being a part of the movement, the belief in world peace through practicing love and tolerance. The belief in the blessing, the ideal family, and ideal world. You may not be part of the church, but be part of the movement.

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