Mormon Lessons for the Unification Church


By Takayoshi Sugawara

TakaSugawaraThe rise of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS or Mormon Church) is an incredible story of a persecuted Christian offshoot that has grown to become the most successful, new global religion in the 14 centuries since Islam. It boasts 4.5 million active members worldwide (15 million recorded), and the church itself is estimated to be worth $40 billion. Its membership has included a 2012 U.S. presidential candidate.

All this membership, wealth, and a permanent footing in mainstream consciousness was achieved within a 185 years of its founding. This is a monumental achievement. Rodney Stark, a highly regarded sociologist of religion, declared this ascent to be “one of the great events in the history of religion.”

In contrast, the Holy Spirit Association for the Unification of World Christianity (Unification Church) is a new faith experiencing difficulties in all these areas. Currently, the church finds itself in much turmoil in areas such as finances, leadership and growth. If the Unification Church is to survive and grow, changes need to be implemented.

It is fortunate for the Unification Church that the Latter-day Saints have proved it possible for a new religion to find success globally, bucking declining trends experienced by other Christian sects. Many studies of the Church of the Latter-day Saints have attempted to explain its enviable growth. Let’s consider ways the Unification Church might attempt to replicate its success.

To begin with, the development of the two faiths are strikingly similar. A charismatic leader raised in the Christian faith started a new religion upon experiencing a supernatural vision. After initial growth and success, both their fledgling churches experienced severe persecution from their communities, and the founders were jailed several times during their ministries. And now, the factionalism that Unification Church is experiencing soon after the death of its founder is eerily similar to the “Succession Crisis” experienced by the Mormons following the assassination of its founder.

In addition to parallels of historical background, the two traditions have organizational similarities as they exist today. Both have centers of power politically and geographically. Dr. Hak Ja Han Moon oversees the worldwide movement from South Korea; President Thomas Monson presides over the spiritual and administrative direction of the Latter-day Saints (LDS) from Salt Lake City, Utah. They both direct a sprawling hierarchy of leadership and act in a prophet-like capacity, rendering decisions based on revelation and inspired interpretations.

Evangelism is central to both faiths. LDS promotes “the mission” as a major faith practice with young men and women typically spending a year and a half to two years devoted to evangelizing ten hours a day. The Unification Church has also promoted youth mission, the difference being that fundraising and service-learning are major complements to the evangelism. Additionally, both churches have had strong histories of overseas missionary work with robust international networks.

In terms of sacred texts, both faiths draw heavily on the Bible, as expected, but each has primary sacred texts revealed to the founders which expand on biblical understanding, outline a compelling narrative, and posit a new theology.

The most compelling similarity between the two religions is their shared veneration of the family. Both consider the family to be the core of salvation. Although Mormonism promoted polygamy at an early stage, mainline Mormons abandoned that practice more than a century ago, and are at the forefront of promoting family values in the public sphere, as is the Unification Movement.

For all these affinities, there are differences between the two. The most obvious are the cultural traits inherited from their respective countries of origin. Mormonism is indigenous to America, with features that resonate to it, i.e., patriotism, entrepreneurship, capitalism. These contribute to the fact that roughly 75% of Mormons in the world live in the Western hemisphere.

On the other hand, the Unification Church is couched in Korean tradition. Its group life is steeped in Confucian models of social interaction and some of its religious practices derive from indigenous Korean shamanism. Confucian influences on Unificationism allow for easier adoption in East Asian countries, but it may be too rigidly hierarchical for Westerners. Shamanistic attributes and ancestral devotion are likewise off-putting for much of mainstream Christianity.

Another major difference is the Latter-day Saints’ success in business in comparison to the financially-strapped and politically fraught corporations supporting the Unification Church. A 2012 Bloomberg Business article reported that the LDS Church is “likely worth $40 billion today and collects up to $8 billion in tithing each year.” The multitude of successful Mormon-owned corporations such as Bain Capital, JetBlue, and Marriott International speak to superior leadership and business capabilities of its general membership.

In contrast, the Unification Church is in want of good leadership and success in business. Many outside observers view the Unification Church, like the LDS, as a church in “the business of business,” with abundant land, capital and assets. In truth, many Unification Church holdings are depreciated, divested, or in debt. Recent public data is sparse, but in 2004 the movement’s major business conglomerate, Tongil Group, was $3.6 billion in debt. Scandals and factions within leadership, have incurred financial hardship and litigation.

A last contrasting point are the respective sacred texts. The Book of Mormon is composed of books, much like the New and Old Testaments, and written in narrative form. Stark notes, “there is nothing obscure or unclear in its doctrine… The revelation of the Book of Mormon is not a glimpse of higher and incomprehensible truths but reveals God’s words to men with a democratic comprehensibility.”

The Divine Principle, on the other hand, is written as an exposition of the Bible and Christian faith. Many of the ideas within are explanations of abstract theological concepts in philosophical, historical and political terms. There is a strong attempt to intellectualize, systematize, and rationalize faith in the Unificationist tradition, possibly an influence of the modernist mode at the time of its writing.

Having reviewed comparable elements, it is possible to recommend some strategies derived from the LDS Church that may benefit the Unification Church. This is not meant to be a comprehensive, prescriptive assessment, but a proposed list of distilled suggestions that may lend themselves to success for the church.

The first would be a commitment to leadership training, especially of youth. Strong leadership allowed Mormonism to thrive following the assassination of its founder and splintering of the movement into various sects. A culture of promoting leadership skills allows members to be entrepreneurial, wealthy, and influential in their communities. Mormons actively promote this through their Mission program and their inculcation of a business culture.

The Unification Church has its own youth leadership programs as mentioned before, but the Mormon Mission is much more developed and systematized, and goes hand-in-hand with evangelical efforts due to a primary focus on proselytizing. The Unification Church must continue its tradition of comparable programs and keep investing in them.

The pro-business attitude of the Mormons also translates into better leaders. The Economist cites the Marriott School at Brigham Young University as offering the best value for business schools in the country if you are Mormon — only $10,000 a year. Young, disciplined, entrepreneurial men and women are obviously a great asset to any organization. This permeates the Mormon culture and influences its membership to be efficient and effective. The Unification Church certainly has its hands in many businesses. It’s about time members translate those business sensibilities into local churches and personal leadership potential.

Secondly, it is high time for the Unification Church to revisit its theology and scripture. The Mormon text and theology has a distinct advantage of being based on narrative, which is timeless and open to interpretation by each new generation, applied pragmatically. Its plainness of language makes it quite approachable for lay people; in fact, local LDS communities are led by unpaid volunteers seldom with any formal theological training.

Women missionaries

Young Mormon women with their assigned mission countries.

In contrast, the primary text of the Unification Church, the Divine Principle, reads for some like a 1950s manual with a mixture of outdated scientific “proofs,” numerological “proofs,” fringe Christian beliefs, and anti-communist polemics. It feels dated. The theological components are so wrought with philosophical, historical, and scientific attempts at validation that it may intimidate or put off those who perceive it to be elitist or overly intellectual. The Unification Church ought to make its beliefs clearer and be committed to further development in response to the times. Otherwise, it will continue along a path on which even members, especially the youth, will find it difficult to put faith or reason in its core beliefs.

The final suggestion is to bolster the message of family values. The concepts of “One Family Under God”; of God as a parent; of some form of household salvation (as opposed to individual salvation); the error of celibacy; of eternal marriage; of having large, healthy families (“be fruitful and multiply”); these are concepts that will attract people.

Having a pro-family stance also makes very clear what members’ stances ought to be on key public issues such as abortion and same-sex marriage. The Unification Church has been doing generally well on this front, but more ought to be done. Stephen Covey, the Mormon author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People and Principle-Centered Leadership, makes very clear his high estimation of family and marriage, and devotes entire chapters to them in his books. Promoting values in such a way, publicly and in practice, helps bolster the positive perception of Mormon family values, and this is something Unificationists ought to do as well.

The Unification Church can take away from the Mormon experience the necessity of leadership development, the continuation and bolstering of its pro-family message, and the critical evaluation and systematization of its theology based on the times. These suggestions, if implemented, could aid the future development of the Unification Church.

This, however, begs the question of whether Unificationism is meant to exist as a church. If Unificationists decide that they want to become a religion, and the tradition is nearing a point where the survival of the church is at risk, the Mormon model is surely the best to emulate and learn by.♦

Takayoshi Sugawara is an aspiring graphic designer and a former youth pastor from Worcester, Massachusetts. He is a 2015 graduate of Barrytown College of UTS. This article is adapted from a paper written for BUS 2101, “Principles of Leadership.”

Photo at top: Mormon missionaries in Washington, DC.

13 thoughts on “Mormon Lessons for the Unification Church

Add yours

  1. This is a very good article, based on good research. The fact is that Unificationism can learn and pick up something not only from Mormonism, but almost from all religions and churches, including the Reformed Church where I myself grew up in, and all of these groups in turn can learn a thing or two from the UC as well. The process during which this has to take place requires much patience and tolerance, I think. Mormonism, however, is predominantly Western and Christian, but the new culture that we want to build has to embrace all religions and faiths. In many ways, Korean society works well, people generally work well in teams and find themselves rather comfortable in groups that want to accomplish something. We ought to research Korean culture more thoroughly while taking out the aspects which are not so constructive, replacing them with those of other cultures, like Mormonism, that really work for all.

  2. I agree with the gist of the article. I am not sure if the Divine Principle presentation is outdated…perhaps it needs editing and a new presentation of Divine Principle could be issued with clearer explanations & better references for modern people. The essence of Divine Principle will stay the same. True Mother spoke recently about Christian history within Europe and was referring to the last 400 years preparation for the second coming of True Parents. This is contained in Divine Principle. We can admire a lot about how the Mormon church goes about its business, particularly, and seek to emulate them in many areas. I would only add that the Mormon holy scriptures are very orthodox and are not as challenging and radical as Divine Principle. Therefore, Unificationists need a new level of faith and commitment to spread these ideals and show the substance of our ideals in reality.

  3. A good article. There’s a lot to be said for a tradition rooted in American ideals as opposed to one rooted in Confucianism.

    I think we need to move forward and redefine the whole concept of church and religion around the core tenets of Principle. We are a human family, created by a loving, parental God. Our need is for a social community in which we can gather and inspire and encourage one another in real, true love. In other words, our institution should be familial, not statist. The American Protestant model is worth a study for one main reason: its open architecture allows for God to work through successive people over time without their coming into violent conflict with orthodoxy. Father told us, after all, that he’s only revealed a smidgeon of God’s Principle. That means more to come that will inevitably take people by surprise. So, too, worth studying might be the old Judaic model of synagogue, though I haven’t studied that yet.

    The ultimate need is for a communal, familial environment of siblings united in their core connection to God’s heart, True Parents’ original victory, and their human family experience. If Adam/Eve hadn’t fallen, they’d have simply been the first parents, not worshipped, not infallible, but loved and regarded by all the parents who followed them. Each and every one of us would be as deeply connected to God’s heart as the original couple. That’s the essential model I’m looking for, as I think that’s what’s inherently proposed thru DP.

    The insatiable need for authority, structure, hierarchy, orthodoxy and consequences for violating any of it is fallen, and has proved very bad for the human race. And I don’t think that’s what Father taught us about God.

    1. I understand what you’re saying, but America remains the “elder son” nation. This means that the son needs to follow the “parents” culture. In my understanding, then, American culture needs to gradually embrace many aspects of Korean culture, which appears to be closest to the Heavenly one. In that sense we still have a ways to go, as, even in the way of addressing each other, which is the most basic of culture, many tend to follow the Western easy way.

  4. Is “Unificationism” meant to exist as a church? An age-old, good question, I suppose. But then so many other questions follow and perhaps none of them matter, too much anyway, as we witness a certain (gradual) consolidation, etc., within the schisms and dysfunctions.

    The Messiah is declared and re-declared with new emphasis and focus on those particular origins mentioned within the context of this excellent comparative thesis.

    Answering the question somewhat, wistfully, I see global political, technological, cultural and economic concerns continuing to rise, beyond anything currently labeled or considered religious; ultimately usurping or replacing all else but the bare bones of the totally universal construct of (any) “Unificationist” appeal toward inner/outer beauty, harmony and even United Nations/world familyism.

  5. Sugawara-san, an A+ article! I wish I could have enjoyed your company in my Church History course at Barrytown, back in the day!

    Each of your main points is worthy of heartfelt and well-considered response. I make here only a few comments:

    The Early Church took until ca. A.D. 150 to establish its written scriptures. The UC is still young and has a way to go before it will be able to canonize its authoritative writings. The recently edited and published but enormous volume of SMM’s speeches is far too voluminous to take on the functional role that the NT had (has) in the Christian Church. Someone(s) need(s) to write a “Gospel” of SMM (a project I’ve had on my back burner ever since I left Barrytown in 1981. My “Gospel according to True Father” is truly a work I should complete! — but not only I. The Early Christians produced dozens of Gospels, Acts, Epistles, all in reflection of the Jesus Christ-event. Go thou and do likewise!)

    As the UC goes through the process of scripture-writing, Rev. Moon’s insights and revelations will naturally suffer a winnowing and re-translation effect. That is unfortunate in some ways, but it also provides for the updating for which you call.

    The Early Church went through times of severe testing by the opposed political powers from without and from within by the spin-off of numerous heresies. The UC has not yet suffered enough: “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.” If you want the UC to do as well as the Mormons, then a vital burst of missionary effort is required, and for that we need Barrytown to rise from the dead. UTS needs to become a “missionary college” that prepares UC ambassadors to go to the hardest places: The UC needs to send 144,000 missionaries into China (Christianity in China is currently the fastest growing church in the world — the Chinese crave the Gospel, and the “Oriental Gospel”, with all its Confucianism, Shamanism, etc., of SMM would appeal to them enormously). Similarly, the UC needs to send 144,000 missionaries to the Middle East, some to Israel, more to Muslim countries. Some of these ambassadors may well become martyrs.

    From within, the UC is struggling with its heretics. The naughty children fighting like dogs over the scraps of the paternal empire will destroy the church if something is not done to stop them. The Early Church nearly destroyed itself on account of the in-fighting of the Christian Jews with the Christian gentiles. That fight came to an end only when Divine Providence destroyed organized Judaism of the Temple and the City. Christianity thereafter could no longer be identified as a Jewish sect. I don’t know what the equivalent disaster for the UC might be, but something similar is not unthinkable.

    All of this is in the hands of the Almighty. If God wills it, the UC will survive and do well, just as the LDS (Mormons) have done. On the other hand, during the same period in American history when the LDS arose, 150 other communitarian religions and quasi-religions also arose, but most of those are now of interest only to historians of the 19th century.

    What then can today’s faithful Children of the TP do to enact the will of God to unify the world’s religions on the foundation of Christianity and in power of the Holy Spirit? Many things!

    1. Study and proclaim Divine Principle, pulling no punches, suppressing nothing because it seems too exotic or foreign. (The Mormons hide very little, and when pressed, they will acknowledge their strangest doctrines. Trace elements of True Father and the soil of Korea are in the Holy Wine of the Blessing: Never deny it! Your doctrine is that his physical body — and hers — are the incarnation of physical salvation.)

    2. Re-found UTS as a missionary college to prepare thousands of ambassadors of the Principle to all the most difficult parts of the world.

    3. Fight heresy (including pride and greed) to the last ditch. Rise up, all ye members of faithfulness and fortitude, and require filial loyalty of every leader!

  6. Successful business enterprises and successful churches will often share the same key principles for success. Pastor Rick Warren was a pioneer in articulating a planning system in his book, The Purpose Driven Church, to grow a megachurch. I am not trying to compare Saddleback Ministries, Rick Warren’s church, with the Church of the Latter Day Saints; rather I am drawing attention to Warren’s use of SWOT analysis (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) and the four Ps marketing principles (product, price, place, promotions, services) to managing and growing a church enterprise. Christian evangelicals and the Mormons are well-versed in business strategy and financial planning. They have had time to master it.

    However, when we look objectively, the phenomenal growth of the Unification Church, globally, is evidence that its founder, Rev. Sun Myung Moon, had a full grasp of how to build a megachurch and a global business empire. Rev. Moon’s success speaks for itself; and, it speaks volumes. However, if you look closely, you can and will find the good, the bad and the ugly — some of which is documented in this article. I will leave it at that.

    Like other business enterprises, the fortunes of a particular church can wane. Business firms and churches struggle and suffer setbacks for similar reasons. This articles highlights one major reason for waning growth or a decline in market share; it was the death of its founder, along with the problems associated with the succession of leadership. At the heart of the struggle following the death of the founder, is the surety of the strategic vision, leadership and organizational mission. In these crucial areas the prime stakeholders of the Unification enterprise fell into dissent and disillusionment. The article does not ignore the fact that damage was done.

    Out of the darkness of the ascension of True Father (Rev. Moon), his partner in life, True Mother (Hak Ja Han Moon) emerged as the true leader of the Unification movement. She has cut through the obscurity and incomprehensibility with absolute conviction and a clear sense of purpose and vision.

    Needless, to say the challenges are complex, including work to be done to build political relationships, shore up an economic foundation and reassert our core values. The strategic steps True Mother has taken would parallel the kinds of competitive priorities that can be found in the Mormon (LDS) Church, to focus on and guarantee the development and training of a next generation of leaders. Our focus is on the future peacefulness and security of the Pacific Rim region. The mission, to bolster a pro-family/marriage blessing agenda, has not changed. Her wish is to leave no doubt with surety that the movement comprised of the disciples, blessed families and inheritors of the Lord of the Second Advent (True Parents) are here to carry on the mission (Vision 2020).

  7. There’s an irrefutable gap between Mormonism and Unificationism:

    1) Rev. Moon is the Lord of the Second Coming, the Savior. Mormons are still waiting for the Lord to return.

    2) Unificationism asserts that men and women (husband and wife) have to recreate God’s image in their relationship. So it is about recreating human beings but not enhancing them as Mormons emphasize. Maybe we might need later on their mindset, but their systematization and entrepreneurial skills are not the first thing for us to do.

    3) The Unification Church problem is implementing the teaching Rev. Moon has bequeathed to humankind, but not changing what he revealed.

  8. The bigger problem is the failure of the organizational structure to manifest the teachings. In a movement that purports to unite conflicting theologies, there has come a frightening willingness to divide and hate. Also, there has been a wholesale loss of focus on purity, fidelity and no divorce. This was once the moral core of the teaching, part of the vows of the Blessing sacrament. Now, it’s barely mentioned.

    Also, the truly pioneering approach to ending historical hostility by marrying across barrier lines has been downplayed or just forgotten. The result is an organization where materialism and power games dominate operations. This has become so rampant that people have tried to “sell” spirituality, to offer spiritual real estate, forgiveness or other attainments for hard currency. Without living the truth, the spirit withers. It’s not a matter of external unpopularity, or poor business skills. You can’t manufacture God’s spirit; it is a natural extension of living in the truth, love and service that have been neglected. Seeking to gain one’s life ends up in loss of life. The only way to bring success is to go the way of sacrifice, love, truth, purity, and service.

    1. Well said, Kate!

      Thanks for reminding us of the basics, and the most fundamental one is service, service out of love. With such an intent, success will follow.

      This is also true on an individual level when we try to get our own business, whatever it may be, off the ground. Of course, there are many business strategies but the best advice I ever got is from Joyce Meyer, who shared that each morning after she got up, she turned to God and said: “Please use me (to make someone’s life better today).” Once we report for duty, assignments will be given. Making ourselves available is a prerequisite for God and spirit world to work with us. “Ask and it shall be given.”

      All we have to do is ask. It is that simple.

      In the midst of the confusion and upheaval going on around us, we always have the power to ask and, in our own way, make a difference. Big or small, it does not matter. Every bit counts. This is what I am focusing on now. Make each day count.

  9. To speak about similarities between the Unification Church and the Mormon Church is problematic from my point of view.

    For instance, from the very beginning one has to recognize the strong interference of Satan, already in the childhood of True Parents.

    This had two reasons: For one, the truth had been uncovered and second, the key to the salvation of all mankind was in the hands of one human being.

    Joseph Smith was growing up in an environment where newly-gained religious freedom, free from the shackles of European persecution led to the emergence of new denominations within Christianity.

    Joseph Smith, who grew up in such an exciting and perhaps a bit confusing environment, set out to build an American-based religion in this regard similar to L. Ron Hubbard. For a religion to emerge it does not take a lot of truth to be successful, especially when it calls for patriotism.

    We always respected the Mormons for their sense of morals and ethics, as we respect Muslims for their daily devotion of 5 times prayer a day and fasting, even though they believe Jesus did not die on the cross and by this negating the foundation of Christian salvation and fundamentals to which the UC refers too.

    The original name of our church in line with the unchanging mission is focused on unifying the world under one God. Sometimes even membership is seen as secondary to receiving the Blessing, the highest sacrament of salvation.

    I am not at all jealous at their financial success. When you look at our achievements in Korea, especially Cheongpyeong, where by the effort of members and great helpers of True Parents we could achieve such a monumental treasure that will last for a very long time, it is truly something to be proud of.

    Many of our members are financially successful or at least independent like me who made my fortune on a rock in the North Atlantic, thanks to God’s Blessing. Many of our leaders have to work outside to feed their families and still build our church.

    In a short time mistakes have been done and in a way we are fortunate that they happened during the lifetime of True Parents, so that these errors can be corrected now.

  10. I think the reason why church members may look to the LDS as an example is because they don’t understand their own course. There is a very definite course to develop and there are no really clear achievers yet to reference. The focus is on internal infighting rather than external mission. In other words we should leave others to deal with the affairs of their own tribe while we create and develop our own. That’s also the way through the current conflict. The way through the conflict is to stand apart from it and not get drawn into it and lose focus on our reality.

  11. I should mention the value and effect of culture over religious tradition. For example, the Christian culture has an effect on society whether or not people within that society are Christians or attend church. The same is true for Unificationists. The culture they share in their associations will persist beyond whatever group they associate with and it also serves as a unifying point with Christians. The culture already is there to a great degree — why create barriers and roadblocks through doctrine and dogma, and distinct religious groups. Culture is a powerful thing and can move people in your Home Church area, or Hometown, or in your activities as a tribal messiah more than trying to get them to your church, or convince them you have the next messiah. There is a culture to the True Parents. People need to live that way and others will see them living that way. I think that the constitution of the heavenly nation is not a document — but the culture.

Use the box below to submit a new comment (To reply, click "Reply" within a specific comment above)

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

A Website.

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: