Sun Myung Moon and the Unification Church

Reverend Sun Myung Moon, the religious and political figure who founded the Unification Church, died early Monday in South Korea at the age of 92. His funeral will be held on September 15 after two weeks of mourning.

Unification Church Introduction and History

Commonly known as the Unification Church, the Holy Spirit Association for the Unification of World Christianity (HSA-UWC) was founded by Reverend Sun Myung Moon in South Korea in 1954. Moon was born January 5, 1920, in the small village of Kwangju Sangsa Ri in what is now North Korea. He was raised in the Presbyterian Church after his parents converted to it from Confucianism in 1930.

On Easter morning, at the age of 16, Moon claimed that Jesus visited him and asked him to complete the mission that Jesus had left unfinished on earth because of his untimely crucifixion, namely, establishing God’s kingdom on earth and bringing peace for all humanity. According to Moon, Jesus was unable to fulfill his mission of bringing salvation to the earth, and therefore a new Messiah had to come. Moon accepted this mission from Jesus and began developing his own doctrinal ideas based on Christianity and other religions.

In 1948 the Korean Presbyterian Church excommunicated Moon after deciding that his views were incompatible with orthodox Christianity. In 1954 he officially founded the Unification Church and began seeking converts, one of whom was Young Oon Kim. She became the first HSA-UWC missionary to the United States in 1959 and spent much of her time translating Moon’s major religious work, Divine Principle, into English. Missionary efforts in the United States, however, were rather unsuccessful, and the HSA-UWC had only several thousand members by the early 1970s.

According to Moon, Jesus failed in his mission to accomplish spiritual and physical salvation, he did not come to die on the cross, and his crucifixion was against the will of God.

In the mid-1970s, the HSA-UWC headquarters was moved to New York. Moon had built a multi-million-dollar empire in Korea and Japan through capitalistic efforts and gained notoriety for his support of President Richard Nixon during the Watergate scandal. The Unification Church was denied tax-exempt status in the United States in 1981 because the court said its purposes were political rather than religious. Shortly thereafter, in 1982, Moon was convicted of tax evasion and sentenced to 18 months in U.S. prison.

In 1992, during a time of peace for the HSA-UWC, Moon officially claimed that he was the second coming of Jesus prophesied in the Bible. Moon said about himself, “I am the foremost one in the whole world. Out of all the saints sent by God, I think I am the most successful one. I have talked with many, many Masters, including Jesus, on questions of life and the universe…They have subjected themselves to me in terms of wisdom. After winning the victory, they surrendered.”

According to a recent statement by Unification Church spokesman Ahn Ho-yeul, the Unification Church has 3 million members, 100,000 of them in the United States. Some critics and ex-members, however, think that these numbers are highly inflated.

Unification Church Beliefs and Practices

The beliefs of the Unification Church are based upon Sun Myung Moon’s writings and speeches, which the Church views as divinely inspired and authoritative. The Church says that Moon’s work Divine Principle “is the result of divine inspiration, prayer, and the study of religious scriptures and of life itself.”

Because of Moon’s background in Christianity, many of the themes of the Divine Principle are also present in the Christian faith. For example, the Divine Principle is divided into three parts: God and creation, sin and evil, and redemption.

For the Unification Church, everything in the world, including God, is based upon a dualism: good and evil, male and female, cause and result, physical and spiritual. God’s purpose for creation was for Adam and Eve to achieve the “Three Blessings,” which included becoming perfect (spiritual), having an ideal and sexually pure marriage producing sinless children (spiritual and physical), and exercising dominion over creation (physical). All of these ideals could be achieved through rightly-ordered relationships with God, humans, and nature, and these perfected relationships would result in God’s kingdom coming to earth. However, Adam and Eve failed to achieve these ideals; Satan seduced Eve sexually, which led to the spiritual fall. Because Adam and Eve were ashamed, they had sexual relations to consummate their marriage. But because they participated in these relations before achieving perfection, the physical fall resulted.

Because God is a duality of cause and result, the fall caused God to suffer deeply. Humanity is responsible for fulfilling the three-step process by which the kingdom of God is established on earth. But before the process can be completed, there must be a restoration of the foundations broken by the fall of Adam and Eve. While many of the Old Testament saints (and John the Baptist) restored the spiritual faith that Adam and Eve had lost, they could not renew the obliterated physical role of humanity in God’s purposes. Jesus, through his death and resurrection, restored the spiritual foundation lost by Adam and Eve; however, because he did not marry, he was unable to complete the three-step process and failed to bring about physical salvation. His redemption was incomplete.

Reverend Moon believed that he was the second Messiah who came to bring physical salvation to the earth, thereby completing what Christ had begun.

Reverend Moon’s view of Jesus is very different from that of Christianity. Moon denied Jesus’ virgin birth, the doctrine of the Trinity, and the deity of Jesus, writing “We must understand that John 8:58 does not signify that Jesus was God himself. Jesus, on earth, was a man no different from us except for the fact that he was without original sin.”

According to Moon, Jesus failed in his mission to accomplish spiritual and physical salvation, he did not come to die on the cross, and his crucifixion was against the will of God. Moon says that Jesus was an imperfect image of God, who with the Holy Spirit brought about spiritual but not physical salvation. When Jesus knew that he would not accomplish his mission, he began to preach about his second coming. Moon says that Jesus’ resurrection was spiritual, not bodily.

Reverend Moon believed that he was the second Messiah who came to bring physical salvation to the earth, thereby completing what Christ had begun. Such salvation could be achieved by following the example of his ideal marriage. Because of this, the Unification Church became well-known for its mass-marriages, in which Moon would bless large gatherings of couples. The followers subsequently believed that their children would be free from original sin and be capable of bringing God’s kingdom to earth.

Because Moon taught that his followers can reach a level of sinless perfection through him, they have no need of turning to Jesus. Forgiveness of sins is not necessary for salvation. In fact, Moon claimed to be greater than Jesus: “The whole world is in my hand, and I will conquer and subjugate the world….Up until now, Jesus has appeared in the spirit world to his followers. From now on, I will appear.”

Moreover, Moon acknowledged that the Unification Church is a different religion from orthodox Christianity. Moon claimed, “Our group is of higher dimension than the established churches and naturally there must come vast difference between what we are and what the Christian people are…The Christianity which God has been fostering for 6,000 years is doomed. Up to the present God has been with Christianity. But in Christianity things are stalemated. God is now throwing Christianity away and is now establishing a new religion, and this new religion is Unification Church.”

A Christian Response to the Unification Church

Clearly, the Unification Church teachings on central doctrines are heretical. Christians believe in the Trinity, affirming the divinity and mission of all three persons of the Triune God.

Christians also believe Jesus is the God-man, who is fully God and fully human, and came to die and rise again for our salvation: The Nicene creed states about Jesus:

I believe in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds; God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God; begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made. Who, for us and for our salvation, came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary, and was made man; and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate; He suffered and was buried; and the third day He rose again, according to the Scriptures; and ascended into heaven, and sits on the right hand of the Father; and He shall come again, with glory, to judge the quick and the dead; whose kingdom shall have no end. 

There are a few elements of Unification Church doctrinal emphasis that can be affirmed by orthodox Christians. For instance their doctrines of sin and salvation embrace both the spiritual and the physical aspects of creation. When Adam and Even fell from grace, it was not just their relationship with God that was tarnished; rather, their sin had drastic effects on the physical creation as well, which now groans in expectation awaiting the ultimate restoration to be brought about by the consummation of Christ’s kingdom (Rom. 8:22).

Jesus himself claimed that his work on the cross was a finished one (John 19:30); his dying breath was not a sigh of defeat, but an exclamation of victory. He perfectly achieved the mission for which he was sent.

While much of the Unification Church’s teaching uses the language of Christianity, those familiar with biblical doctrine will see that Moon’s teaching sounds out of tune. First, it fails adequately to account for the redemptive significance of Jesus’ incarnation, life, death, resurrection, and ascension. Though the Unification Church is right to assert that Jesus brought about perfect spiritual salvation through his victory over Satan and in his perfect relationship with God, they fail to recognize that Jesus’ work was a once-for-all sacrifice that achieved physical salvation alongside of spiritual salvation.

Jesus proclaimed good news for the poor and release for the captives (Luke 4:16-21); he built the new temple of God in his own resurrected body, in which believers now worship in Spirit and truth (John 4:21-26). Jesus himself claimed that his work on the cross was a finished one (John 19:30); his dying breath was not a sigh of defeat, but an exclamation of victory. He perfectly achieved the mission for which he was sent.

Second, the Unification Church’s doctrine of humanity is out of sync with the teaching of Scripture. According to their teaching, perfectly sinless children are the product of ideal and sexually pure marriages, but Scripture teaches that all humans have fallen short of God’s glory by participating in Adam’s sin and by continually sinning themselves (Rom. 3:23). Indeed, just as in Adam all have died, in Christ all will be made alive (1 Cor. 15:22). There are no perfectly righteous people; all human beings after Adam inherit his fallen human nature and are guilty of his sin—children included.

In addition, the Unification Church teaches that sinless children are the only ones who are able to help bring about the physical realm of the kingdom of God. But according to Scripture, the kingdom of God definitively dawned at the long-awaited coming of Jesus Christ. In Mark 1:15, Jesus declares that the kingdom of God is at hand. Through his signs, wonders, miracles, and healings, Jesus showed that God’s kingdom had come upon the earth. Yet, at the same time, the kingdom of God is still a coming reality—it is “already but not yet.” Jesus, who came in humility and weakness in his first coming, will return in power and glory finally to establish God’s reign. The kingdom of God is not a product of human action or achievement, but completely the result of God’s initiative and power.

The orthodox Christian faith does justice to the physical and the spiritual, the already and the not-yet, not by looking for a Messiah to come make it possible for us to finish the job, but by looking to the one true Messiah who finished what we could not finish: the one and only Son of God, Jesus Christ.