Challenges to True Mother’s Leadership


Part II of a two-part article. Part I can be read here.

By Thomas Selover

2014-04-23 15.01.09 croppedMany factors can be identified as contributing causes to the direct challenges that True Mother’s leadership has faced. Here I will focus on two elements of East Asian culture, the concept of filial piety and the Korean royal tradition.

The Problem of Filial Piety

One of the issues concerns the strength as well as the limitations of the traditional concept of filial piety (효孝). The centrality of filial piety in East Asian culture is widely recognized. Moreover, there are many passages in True Father’s teachings that emphasize the father-son relationship, particularly toward God as Heavenly Father.

A specific Confucian requirement of filial duty relevant to understanding the present controversies in the Unification movement is that a filial son should not make changes to his father’s ways for three years after the father has passed on. According to Confucius, “If for three years he makes no change from the ways of his father, he may be called filial.” Therefore, according to this tradition, it is a son’s duty not to make changes for at least three years. Thus, from a son’s point of view, objections to changes that were made during the three-year mourning period for True Father would have the backing of centuries of Confucian moral sensibility.

Filial piety is indeed a strong cultural virtue in East Asia, especially in Korea, and is good as far as it goes. But, in contrast, the classical Confucian tradition offers very little content on the husband-wife relationship. At best, the ontology of East Asian philosophy supports a concept of reciprocity between husband and wife, based on the yin-yang model, but reciprocity by itself can be emotionally cold. The Buddhist tradition also, with its emphasis on celibacy as a path of spiritual discipline, is lacking in persuasive accounts of relational love and virtue between husband and wife. The way that True Parents teach about the relationship between husband and wife, emphasizing true conjugal love as the core, is a missing ingredient in East Asian tradition.

The lack of attention to the married couple relationship, along with a one-sided emphasis on filial piety toward the father (rather than toward both father and mother), produces the well-known patriarchal pattern in East Asian culture. The gospel of True Parents, with its emphasis on the fulfillment of true love in the oneness of husband and wife, is the needed corrective to restore true filial piety. Based on that gospel, when the husband-wife relationship is properly placed at the center, a new understanding of both filial and conjugal piety will be realized. It was actually True Mother, rather than any of the sons, who performed the graveside ceremonies at True Father’s Bonhyangwon, as well as other remembrance rituals, during the three-year mourning period.

The Problem of the Royal Model

Another powerful and relevant component of East Asian culture is the royal tradition. In the royal traditions of Korea, as elsewhere in the world, the kingship passes to the crown prince when the king passes on. The traditional royal paradigm of succession — from father king to crown prince — generally bypasses and sidelines the queen. The queen is primarily the mother of the heir; as mother-of-the-heir, she may have some status, but is not supposed to meddle in the affairs of governance. This is essentially the view held by some who have been opposed to True Mother’s leadership.

This royal tradition has been so firmly entrenched in the culture of Korea that its re-enactment in the Unification movement seems to some to be a matter of natural succession. If so, any resistance to that re-enactment would be seen as a crime of violating majesty. Thus, the fundamental point of the objections voiced by some to True Mother’s specific actions (changes to the Family Pledge, new scriptural compilation, etc.) is not to the actions themselves, but to the very fact that she is taking any actions at all. Emotional arguments over specific actions may tend to obscure this fundamental point.

The issue is the entrenchment of that traditional royal paradigm, which has been in existence for hundreds or even thousands of years. If the True Parents brought nothing new on the level of society, if they were simply refilling the old model by seeking to replace older royal families with a new one, that model of messiahship would be seriously flawed.  By contrast, once the providentially essential point of the unity of True Father and True Mother in absolute true love is recognized and upheld, we can see that True Mother’s leadership does not represent a succession at all. It is the continuation of True Parents’ fulfillment of one true kingship.

If there had been no period of True Mother’s reign, that is to say, actual leadership of the providence, then Unificationists could very well have misunderstood this aspect of the significance of the True Parents. In most kingdoms within the fallen world’s history, only the King really counts, and the reign passes from father to son to grandson under the best of circumstances or otherwise to another male heir. That fallen system is already well-represented in the kingdoms of this world. Instead, the true model for true kingship is the one found in the original ideal of the Principle of Creation:

Adam and Eve would then be elevated to the heavenly palace and heavenly throne where God would dwell in their hearts as the King and Queen [wang gua wang hu, 왕 과 왕후] to rule over [tongchi, 통치 (統治)] the earthly and incorporeal worlds. In other words, God’s kingdom is established. This kingdom is the kingdom of love. (CSG, p. 58)

This model is clearly expressed in True Parents’ teaching, but its realization seems to be a process of understanding and overcoming many challenges.

Some Consequences

There are many reasons for describing True Mother’s leadership at this time as providentially necessary. The argument here is not that women should be in leadership as a matter of “fairness” or “equality,” but rather is based on True Mother’s personal preparation and providential capability. True Father predicted (or proclaimed) the age of women’s leadership, including but not limited to the Women’s Federation for World Peace. The following is an example from True Father’s words:

We live in a time when women can move the world for God’s providence of restoration … Eve is the embodiment of the Holy Spirit and the representative of all women on earth. She must become a true wife and a true mother; then she must become a true queen. Therefore, she will be equipped with the qualities to become such a person. Her character will be such that she can take responsibility for all three of these roles, and more. God has sought for such a woman, who can become a true mother, a true wife, a true queen, and more. (Cham Bu Mo Gyeong, p. 45)

Even through True Father spoke of it many times, apparently some Unificationists did not expect women’s leadership in fact to happen, and were not expecting a woman to lead the movement.


If we did not have this period of True Mother’s actual leadership, then the nature and strengths of her leadership would not ever be known. As a corollary, the long-established pattern in both religious and political spheres of the domination of women by men and the assumption that women are not capable or deserving to be leaders, would not have been broken through and transcended. Unificationists would have been stuck with something like the ancient Hindu Laws of Manu, wherein a woman is controlled by her father, then her husband, and then her son.

True Father said many times that one of his major providential accomplishments was to raise and establish True Mother. Does it make sense now to try to undo that accomplishment, to set us back into the New Testament age, or even the Old Testament age? The point of today’s providence is to establish a different platform, one which is not based on the consequences of the Fall.

In this respect, the Unification movement is better off now under True Mother’s leadership than it would be under any of her sons’ leadership, as capable as they are. It has to be so, for otherwise an essential dimension of the teaching and example of True Parents would be missing. Just as in a nuclear family so in the universal family encompassing heaven and earth (천주대가족, 天宙大家族), with the passing of one parent, the other parent picks up the responsibility, solely and fully. We should all be very grateful that True Mother is still with us, healthy and strong.

It is time for the Unification membership to develop “personal” relationships with True Mother, just as we have with True Father. Many of those personal relationships with True Father were not built on direct physical contact, but rather on spiritual or heartistic contact through study and prayer, which also led to dreams and other manifestations of spiritual connection. Our personal relationships with True Mother may be of a different quality than our relationships with True Father, because their personal styles are very different. However, the point is to experience aspects of divine love in and through both True Parents. The more fully we are able to do this as a spiritual community, the more smoothly we will pass through the current turbulent period in our history.

Oceanic Leadership

True Mother’s leadership, as she explains, fundamentally consists in embracing everything:

My life has been like an ocean. The ocean can generously embrace and unite with the sky and resemble its color. It is in the lowest place, where it accepts all the water of the world. The ocean embraces everything and conceives all life. In the ocean all varieties of living things are born and raised in abundance. Its tides ebb and flow in response to the pull of the moon and the changing seasons. It responds to the rays of the sun, creates water vapor and influences the weather. A calm ocean is peaceful on the surface, but deep inside enormous currents that move the ocean are constantly surging. When waves of a tsunami rage, they can swallow everything.

People cannot see the whirlpool beneath the surface. Heaven’s providence has surged like a typhoon, and my life has unfolded in the midst of it. There are so many circumstances that cannot be spoken of, which only I understand from the center of the providence. Crossing over that whirlpool, not allowing it to pull me down, I joined Father in the work to complete the providential history of restoration. (Cham Bu Mo Gyeong, 1577-78)

True Mother’s description in this passage can be likened to a Taoist understanding of leadership, which explicitly recommends leaders being like the ocean, excelling by taking the lower position and receiving the waters from all rivers and valleys.

True Mother has urged us to become more loving families and communities. In this way, she expresses her most basic and enduring leadership role, as True Mother of Heaven, Earth and Humankind. The opportunity provided by the current challenges to True Mother’s leadership can stimulate the Unification community as a whole to proclaim True Parents all the more vigorously. Through all this, True Mother’s position and her providentially necessary, legitimate, appropriate, and beneficial leadership shall be clarified, elevated and declared.♦

Dr. Thomas Selover (UTS Class of 1977) is a professor at Cheongshim Graduate School of Theology in Korea. He received his doctorate from Harvard University Divinity School in comparative religion and Confucian thought and has taught at universities and colleges in the U.S., Canada, China, and Korea.

13 thoughts on “Challenges to True Mother’s Leadership

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  1. In British tradition, a model might be seen with William and Mary, co-regents. They were King and Queen, not King and consort, nor Queen and consort. This seems to be the issue.

    Is the ruling authority, the monarchy, one of True Father, King and consort? In that case after the King’s death the succession would pass to the designated successor (normally the eldest son).

    Or is it King and Queen? In which case the “throne” would continue to be held by the surviving spouse until that person passes, or abdicates.

    In the current British monarchy, it is Queen Elizabeth II and her consort, Prince Phillip. When Elizabeth passes then the throne will not be passed to her consort (assuming he outlasts her). It will pass to their son, Charles, and his consort.

    So is True Mother the consort, or the Queen, co-regent? Dr. Selover makes the case for Queen, the co-regent. That, from the perspective of monarchical history, is not unprecedented.

    Caveat: the British tend to be comfortable with feminine rulers. God Save the Queen.

  2. In the ancient Korean system of kingship, the heir or successor of the king was always the eldest son, who was the direct descendant of the royal lineage. The wife of the king was considered as coming from another lineage and was therefore not fit to be the royal heir. It was the queen’s courtly responsibility to produce a successor to the throne. If you have seen the film Marie Antoinette, this point is driven home as the entire court of the French “Sun King,” Louis XIV, is on edge until the wife of the Dauphine of France bears children. Can you imagine the Kingdom of Heaven on Earth without a king at its helm?

  3. This is a tremendously valuable explanation of the usually unspoken assumptions underlying a lot of the controversies around the succession of Father. It helps to make explicit what is implicit and allows us to examine whether these assumptions are valid. Otherwise, we have this vague sense that “something does not feel right about this,” when in fact, we are dealing with something new that cannot feel comfortable or familiar. As Thomas says, it needs to be new or we are repeating a tired fallen history.

  4. The Lord of the Second Coming didn’t come to uphold traditions installed by fallen man. He didn’t search history to find out what worked and didn’t work and then choose the best. The True Son of God started the new history grounded in God’s Original heart and Principles.

    I am so grateful to True Mother for her standing up ‘on’ and ‘in’ her position. In her process of doing so I will not hold her lacks and mistakes – if any – against her. I have enough to deal with my own calling of becoming the Tribal Messiah this world so badly needs: the internal and vertical as well as the external and horizontal Tribal Messiah Heaven has called me to be.

    I would like to share here a text that could have been written for us, Tribal Messiahs:

    Why Would I Share My Message with the World? By Lisabeth Phelps ~ 2008 ~ (Unedited)

    You are more than someone serving customers.
    More than someone who drives kids to school or takes care of
    your parents.
    More than someone who is scrimping and saving every dollar.
    More than the leader of your group or your organization no
    matter how large of small.
    It may not feel that way in this moment.
    But the truth is, you have come here, at this point in history.
    And it is not an accident.
    Right now, foundations we all have counted on are cracking.
    Trusted institutions are collapsing.
    Hopes are dying.
    Sleepwalkers are being forced awake. And they are afraid.
    The world is crying.
    And you are being called.
    It is your time.
    You can answer.
    The question is, Will you?

    © 2008 Lizabeth Phelps

  5. Our expectations of the Messiah have been challenged and shattered time and again. It is good to articulate what the expectations are, so we can see our reactions better. It may take us a long time to see True Parents for who they really are. For myself, I can say this: it used to bother me when True Parents started wearing crowns, but when I saw True Mother on Foundation Day, it hit me. Countless ancestors of mine bowed down to kings and queens, but no one has ever earned that right the way that True Mother and True Father have. If ever there was a woman who deserved to be queen, it is she. And if any man ever deserved to be king, it is he. I could literally feel my ancestors’ desire to bow down to a true king and queen. So when I bow to them, I know I don’t bow alone.

    From my view, after the trials they have been through, the victories they have won, the foundation they have laid, if they make mistakes, if they want to go a little crazy, they have earned that right. I don’t want to stand around with a checklist to see if they still meet my concepts. They have brought the heart of the Living God to earth. I may never fully understand that, but I want to embody it the best I can.

    1. Those of us who have witnessed True Mother’s course over the years know very well her faith, her patience, her long-suffering nature, and her incredible ability to feel God’s joy in the midst of it. That she stands up now to assert her leadership role is so inspirational to me even if it sometimes rubs me the wrong way (well, True Father was not here to win popularity contests either)! However, what impresses me the most is that she knows herself as a historical person: her mission, her role, her identity. As a woman who has struggled with these most basic definitions, I can only applaud her. Thank you, Dr. Selover for such a well-researched and thoughtful article. You are lighting the path for all of us.

  6. Thomas,

    I feel your two-part article really is new theology in order to figure out a way to defend Mother from critics by rationalizing monarchy, and thereby misses the most essential element of Father’s ministry, which is unconditional, sacrificial love for others. What we call “true love,” what others call “real love,” what Father once called “absolute love.” What God just calls “love.”

    Why? Consider that monarchy is a fallen construct. It’s not a heavenly construct, is it? Where in Divine Principle or Father’s words do we hear that God’s original purpose for human society was monarchical? We don’t. What we do hear is that the original world was destined to be one of absolute freedom rooted in True Love, and that democracy’s purpose in the Last Days was to tear down monarchism so that a world of true equality and common cause could grow. “According to God’s ideal of creation, God confers upon each individual the same original value. Just as parents love all their children equally, God desires to provide pleasant environments and living conditions equally to all His children.” [Parallels 7.2.6]

    Monarchy came about after the Fall because the Fall was an effort to exert power and control as a means to obtain love. That’s been the story of human civilization ever since: power and control. Does Divine Principle tell us that Adam and Eve were destined by God to be the king and queen of the human race, and their descendants their subjects? No, it does not. What DP actually tells us is in relation to all human beings: we are the True Love interface between God and Creation as individual truth bodies with equal value before God, who himself stands as object partner to True Love. Everything with God is embodied in relationships. As Father said, “When you think of individual perfection, do not think of it in a selfish way…without relationships with the universe and God, do not even think about perfection.” [2.27.1977] Principle tells us that the ideal world operates in the same way as a perfected individual, with all elements in organic harmony…and harmony is rooted in unconditional, sacrificial love. Yet members see in that analogy only the brain sending commands to the body — the mind the monarch and the body the kingdom — and hence reverse God’s ideal into monarchy, a fallen, wholly alien idea to God.

    This tendency is just a continuation of our getting the subject/object relationship wrong, which Father tried incessantly to set straight with us. Instead, our movement has continually conflated subject/object with Abel/Cain. And it’s from here that monarchism grew in our movement. But that’s not what subject/object is all about. For Father, it’s all about Abel sacrificing everything to love Cain even more than God. Why is that? Why is the Cain/Abel dynamic even a part of restoration? Why is it the methodology necessary to separate from Satan? It’s because Cain/Abel represents the original subject/object relationship, which was corrupted through the Fall. The subject/object dynamic is encapsulated by the Four Position Foundation, the center and binding element of which is True Love. And True Love is always familial because God Himself is familial.

    The nature of True Parents is not monarchical. It is familial. When Father uses monarchical imagery in order to convey an idea to limited-thinking fallen people, all that such people can see is kings and queens and royal families. But that’s not where Father is, as evidenced from his many discussions on the topic of human value, true love, God, and so forth. Invoking monarchical imagery ensconces ourselves in the fallen world, not the ideal world. Father told us the constitution for Cheon Il Guk is his Cheon Seong Gyeong and the Peace Messages. Those are just large collections of his teachings on true love, aren’t they? He said that because those words contain all the understanding we need to build the ideal world actually envisioned by God. A constitution is a structure rooted in law, not love.

    In fact, to follow this monarchical trend we actually have to ignore significant swaths of Divine Principle and Father’s words, especially the ones where he talks about human equality, co-creatorship with God, that we can and must become not just like God, but better and more loving than God. If I become better and more loving than God at some distant point in the future, how am I then a subject of a human monarch?

    Members spend an inordinate amount of time defending monarchy because perhaps they think that therein lies Mother’s ultimate defense. But it never seems to occur to them that the effort itself is in vain. Monarchy is not what God or Father or the Ideal World are about. They are about familial True Love. Everything Father said can be easily understood in its proper context when we let go of the fallen construct of monarchism. When we understand True Parents in the familial context, everything is clear and simple. When we think of our relationship with God and True Parents now and into the future in the familial context, we can understand what things like “absolute love,” “absolute obedience,” and “absolute loyalty” mean from the Divine Principle point of view, rather than the monarchical point of view.

    What amazes me is that none of the scholars in the Unification movement seem to have the ability to defend Mother from the standpoint of familial True Love. I’ve not seen any article in which anyone’s even tried. Instead, they run to monarchy exclaiming, “She’s Queen! She’s Queen!” And other members holler, “He was crowned 3 times! He was crowned 3 times!” All of them can think only in terms of power, position, and authority, unlike Father, who thought only in terms of familial True Love.

    1. Christopher,

      Thank you for your extended comment. In response, I have both agreements and disagreements for consideration. First some agreements:

      1. Your opening point about true love that is unconditional and sacrificial is certainly right. True love is the essence of Father and Mother’s ministry and teaching, and the key to the providence of restoration and healing.

      2. I also agree that “power and control” as we know it in history and the present is deeply fallen, a product of the Fall. So I am not trying to promote monarchism as a power structure. (As Tolkien wrote, the ring of power cannot be wielded; it has to be destroyed.)

      3. As you put it, “True Love is always familial because God Himself is familial.” Well said.

      Now a couple of disagreements:

      1. I’ve cited just a few passages where Father uses the language of kingship and queenship, but there are many (see, for examples, the Fifth Peace Message). Those passages, and the ritual actions that often went along with them, invite our careful and prayerful understanding. It won’t do to simply overlook them or dismiss them by saying that Father didn’t have any better words to use. That’s a “slippery slope” that can easily lead us astray. As you said, we need to understand what Father meant.

      When Father taught us hour after hour in East Garden (true parental love in action), sometimes Mother would send in one of the grandchildren with the message, “Wang Oppa, it’s time for lunch…” There was a family feeling of love throughout. “Wang Oppa” (King Daddy) is a familial term.

      2. I disagree with what seems to be the assumption behind your last sentence. Along with you, I affirm that everything Father did was a manifestation of thinking in terms of familial True Love, and I apply the same to Mother. My disagreement is in the first part of your sentence, that there are some in our community who “can only think in terms of power, position, and authority,” and my main objection is to the word “only.” Yes, there are difficult issues in our community, but it doesn’t help to imagine that those with whom one disagrees are completely disconnected from Father’s way of thinking. Rather, we are all here because of that connection. Respecting each other (each and all) on that point will help bring us to the true love realm of heart.

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