Should Unificationists Follow the Mormon and Jehovah’s Witnesses Model?

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Mormon missionaries

By Tyler Hendricks, Ecclesiastical Endorser, Unification Church of America

dr_tyler_hendricksMost growing churches possess an evangelical mission and congregational polity (self-governance). Churches that are not growing tend to be those with hierarchical structures. For this and other reasons, our churches today should adopt an evangelical mission and congregational polity. But, it behooves me to note exceptions: churches that are growing with centralized structure, specifically the Latter Day Saints (Mormons) and Jehovah’s Witnesses. Why should our churches not adopt a vertical model like theirs?

Let me briefly describe their model. They strongly promote evangelism. They have an assimilation system and excellent evangelical and educational material provided by the central office. Their worship services are standardized. Almost all their leadership is unpaid. They are family-friendly and teach a high standard of morality. Advancement in the hierarchy is by appointment.

What’s good about this model is the culture of evangelism, clear membership standards, excellent evangelical material, lay ownership, ministry by volunteers, family friendliness and high moral expectations.

There are two obvious discontinuities with our Unification Church system: we have seminaries and paid clergy; they do not. But those points are not essential. What is essentially wrong with their model is that it is sectarian. They have embedded their message and sacrament into their organization, and admit of no salvation outside their organization. The Unification Church could easily follow this path, but that would be a betrayal of Rev. Moon’s vision. For that reason, I would reject their model.

The salvation of the Second Advent, the Holy Marriage Blessing, transcends our sect. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t welcome people to join the Unification Church. May it grow and prosper! But one need not join the Unification Church in order to receive the salvation of the Second Advent, although you need to be part of some faith community. The salvation we offer is an in-breaking of God comparable to that of Jesus Christ, for which every faith tradition is a preparation and which every faith community can house.

What allows the Unificationist message to accomplish this? Let me draw a parallel with the Gospel of Christ transcending Judaic law. Christ’s message fit every culture equally, in that every culture served, or could serve, as a foundation for a person to accept Christ. The message was, “through Jesus you will come to God, no matter your religion.” This is True Parents’ message, no matter your religion.

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Jehovah’s Witnesses

The Messiah redefines the playing field. “I came not to abolish the law, but to fulfill it,” Jesus said. By establishing his teachings as those of “parents,” nay, True Parents, Rev. Moon redefined the playing field.

Now, most religions agree that parenting is good, and some religions may claim that they fulfill true parenting. We would say, yes, we applaud that, but at least be honest enough to admit that it was Rev. and Mrs. Moon who shined a light on parenting, provided the definition of it, and claimed to substantiate it — which you now unearth in your teachings and which no one in your tradition ever claimed to substantiate. So too, the Pharisees pointed out that most of Jesus’ positive teaching was already in their Scriptures, but no Pharisee ever stood up and proclaimed to have the Father dwelling in him.

Was Jesus the incarnation of the Word, as an individual male? Are Rev. and Mrs. Moon the incarnation of the Word as husband, wife, and parents? In neither case was, or is, the answer undisputed. Was the context of Adam and Eve’s emergence in the Garden of Eden completely ideal? As the Divine Principle teaches, the answer lies in the human portion of responsibility.

The Unification Church can choose to transcend sect-status. I’m being visionary and talking out of the logic of our teachings. Were the Jehovah’s Witnesses and Latter Day Saints to decentralize and dismantle their vertical structure, their communities would merge with Christianity. I believe if the Unification Church decentralizes—maintaining the evangelical mission and congregational polity, it would be able to equip and empower clergy of all faiths to carry forward the Blessing ministry. This would bring out in stark relief the work of God through the Second Advent, something that, despite the mass weddings, remains hidden. Once we get the authentic Blessing out of the Unificationist ghetto, it will transform the world. Rev. Moon’s goal was never to create a new religion, but to bring God to the earth through the family.

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The band at a Hillsong Church in Copenhagen

Would this be to dissolve our church? First of all, for it to happen, our church needs to become a whole lot stronger, in order to provide the model of the blessing community and to establish universal standards that would qualify clergy of diverse faiths to minister the blessing. Long-term, I would look for a culture of peace in which all traditions blossom as communities of vital families celebrating the Blessing. Rev. and Mrs. Moon will be honored, and so will the saints and sages of all traditions whom Rev. and Mrs. Moon themselves honored. But most of all, all parents and grandparents will be honored. God will be honored.

In summary, the Unification Church should not adopt a Latter Day Saints or Jehovah’s Witness-style polity because it makes of us a sect. We need to infuse the wine of all religions, knowing that the eschaton features the disappearance of all religions, including our own. As World Scripture, one of our eight textbooks, shows, the great majority of the world’s religious teachings express the Principle. The critical bridge is the contextualization of the Blessing in other faith communities. Our vertical structure suppresses this because it embeds the sacrament into our ecclesiology. We need a big-tent ecclesiology based on what is implicit in the Blessing itself: a community of Blessed families with leadership equipped and empowered to minister the Blessing authentically.♦

Dr. Tyler Hendricks was President of UTS from 2000-10, and President of HSA-UWC in the United States from 1995-2000. He adapted this commentary from an article in the 2013 issue of the Journal of Unification Studies.

 

9 thoughts on “Should Unificationists Follow the Mormon and Jehovah’s Witnesses Model?

  1. Dr. Hendricks has framed the challenge faced by the Unification Movement in the post-Founder’s era. Are we a movement or a sect? These two fundamentally different views of the legacy of Sun Myung Moon are more central to the current division than a squabble over assets. I believe that both sides can find justification in the voluminous words of the Founder to support their own view. In the end, the view that actually bears the most results will be recognized by history as the true legacy of the Founder.

  2. An important discussion put forth, but ultimately a fruitless one. If the UC doesn’t adopt the Mormon or Jehovah’s Witnesses model, what should it do, considering that at the moment it is thoroughly moribund? We can’t just say what we’re NOT going to do, nor that we need a “big tent” ecclesiology. We actually need to find a methodology that will bring the growth and development to our teaching movement that those two Christian groups use to fund their closed sects.

    The UC is already a sect, and has been for umpteen years. Only briefly, when Father blessed “home” members, “outside” members, and such, did our church transcend itself. One no longer had to become a live-in Moonie to get Blessed and share in that Providence. But that was short-lived, because our hierarchy never saw those people as members of our movement, but as outside allies of True Parents, to be utilized by “true” members to advance God’s providence. Have any of those “outside” Blessed people become leaders of our movement, based on their Christian accomplishments and their faith in True Parents? Not that I’ve heard. Have any of our dedicated members been encouraged or ordered to make their new church home at one of the churches led by one of these “outside” Blessed people? Again, not that I’ve heard.

    The fact is, we have not transcended our movement. Instead, we have solidified our “movement” around our ankles like mobster cement…and, frankly, will get the same result. We don’t call ourselves a “movement” or “the family” anymore. We call ourselves a “church.” Our leaders, who were once simply Mr. This or Ms. or Mrs. That are now “pastor,” “reverend,” “bishop,” and so on. We have adopted all the trappings of organized Christianity…with our own vertically centralized elite, replete with pope and Vatican, in Korea. So, we are just another of thousands of Christian messianic sects trying to get people to forsake their current sects and join ours. Promoting the Blessing to such people is really nothing more than proselytizing, however we delude ourselves. If we want to succeed in True Father’s mission, to be a global teaching movement, transcending failed religions, failed nations, failed movements, we need to think outside of those boxes, to create and move into a much larger realm. To do that, our movement needs to be more open-minded.

    AA groups all have one thing in common. It is the mantra: Take what you need and leave the rest. If we’re looking for a better model for our movement that will better fulfill our mandate to successfully share Divine Principle with the world’s population, then we’re going to have to think outside the box on that issue as much as DP itself is outside the box. Why not simply use from Mormonism and Jehovah-ism what works best for the needs we have? Our movement, like Father, has one real mandate: Teach Divine Principle. That’s it. The culmination of learning Principle and accepting Father’s Jesus-succeeding mission is the Blessing. The Blessing without Principle is, in my opinion, pointless and fruitless. It’s like trying to create fruit without growing the tree. So to fruitfully teach DP so as to convey the Blessing, our movement needs to adopt a better teaching methodology. The most successful seem to be that employed by Mormons and Witnesses. Instead of throwing out the baby with the bathwater, I suggest our movement look there and not worry about the purpose to which they put their methodology.

  3. The Unification movement has been successful based on Father’s insight into the truth. We can’t rely on the truth as it stood almost a century ago, but we have to be able to discover truth as it needs to be expressed today, to answer questions that are current and to give insight into how to move the world into a better place.

    Father gave us a spiritual foundation, and we have to start there, not think that we can achieve a whole lot by relying on his accomplishments alone.

    We need to integrate truth in many dimensions — scientific, informational, socio-political, etc. — before we really have much to offer, because pre-Foundation Day necessity was very different from post-Foundation Day needs.

  4. I know some very good JWs. Our leaders can get some very good advice from them on “taking care of members.” Door-to-door witnessing? As long as you can get someone to do it. Ideas? 1. Honesty 2. Islam – Fastest growing faith in the world – my fiance is Muslim! He can talk with you on the beauty of Islam 3. 2nd Gens – My 4 kids are “not interested”- many 2nd gens are just like this. Why? Honesty and activities needed.

    Mimi

  5. The name “Holy Spirit Association for the Unification of World Christianity” was chosen to signify we belonged to no denomination. Father said that “we” had no plan to create a new one.

    “World Christianity” refers to Christianity worldwide and both past and present. “Unification” reveals our purpose of oneness, and “Holy Spirit” is used to denote harmony between the spiritual and physical worlds built on the love of the father-son relationship at the center. Our name means to say, “the spiritual world, centering on God, is with us.”

    In particular, “Unification” represents True Father’s purpose to bring about God’s ideal world. Unification is not union. Union is when two things come together. Unification is when two things become one. “Unification Church” became our commonly-known name because it was given to us by others. In the beginning, university students referred to us as the “Seoul Church.”

    True Father said that he did not like to use the word “church” — or kyo-hoi (in Korean) — in its common usage to mean church. But he liked its meaning from the original Chinese characters. “Kyo” means “to teach” and “hoi” means “gathering.” The Korean word means literally “gathering for teaching.” The word for “religion” (jong-kyo) is composed of two characters meaning “central” and “teaching,” respectively. True Father did not want to place ourselves in this separatist type of category.

    True Father said it was necessary to display a church sign, but in his heart he was ready to take it down at any time. As soon as a person hangs a sign that says “church,” he is making a distinction between “church” and “not church.” Taking something that is one and dividing it into two is not right. This was not True Father’s dream or the path he chose to travel. If he needed to take that sign down to save the nation or world, True Father was ready to do so at any time. See True Father’s autobiography, As a Peace-Loving Global Citizen, the section of Chapter Three titled, “A Church with No Denomination.”

  6. Dr. Hendricks,

    I remember you mentioning something about the Unification Church eventually creating a system of “courtship” that should allow specific ministers to grant the Blessing of Marriage after True Parents pass away. I remember exactly where I stood when you told me that over the phone, and it seems you have the same fire and sincerity you expressed then in this new article.

    Question: Can you explain how the Unification Church structure is a vertical one? And, what does it mean to be “centralized” or “decentralized?”

  7. The sooner we quit trying to be another church, the better off we shall all be. It really is that simple. The LSA did not come to leave behind a legacy of another religious institution, but rather to show the path beyond religion, politics and current fallen cultures. As long as we are framing ourselves in the context of some church/organization/system, we are not even in the correct frame of perspective. It is ultimately about lineage and families that value and express the lineage that directly connects them to the living God. Everything else is merely a step on the way there.

  8. Tyler, thanks for your thought-provoking article. But why identify the Holy Marriage Blessing as the “Salvation of the Lord of the Second Advent”? Stripped of all theological obfuscations, I thought the mission of the LSA is simply to reveal the truth we need to realize the original Three Blessings — although ceremonies have some commemorative value, it’s clear they cannot fulfill even the First Blessing for us. Honestly speaking, our “salvation” is nothing more than learning and practicing to become truly loving selfless people as originally envisioned by our Creator.

    One good plan of action for accomplishing our 2020 goals would be to use the “Parallels in Recorded Human History” to suggest to reasonable people that True Parents are indeed the messianic couple long awaited by Jews, Christians, and all humankind. The next step would then be to publicly recognize that the “messiah” is capable of making well-intentioned strategic and tactical errors. Based on that understanding, we should be able to get sincere Americans to reconsider True Parents’ teachings and to learn from both the good examples and the honest mistakes… learn to become people whose hearts are like TP, people whose every feeling, thought, word, and deed is for the sake of others even at their own personal expense.

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