Ronald L. Cammenga is pastor of the Protestant Reformed Church of Loveland, Colorado.

The 20th century will undoubtedly go down in the annals of church history as a unique era. Some of the peculiar religious characteristics that future generations will mention when referring to our times will be: the apostasy of the Reformed churches in our day, the ecumenical movement, Pentecostalism, the development of the social gospel, the spread of the gospel through modern means of communication to nearly every part of the world, and the women’s movement within the church.

But certainly one outstanding feature of 20th century church history is the rise of the cults. No other period of church history has witnessed the appearance of so many and such diverse cults as the period of the 20th century. At no other time in church history have so many religious groups separated themselves from mainstream Christianity and organized themselves in competition to the Christian religion.

One of these recent cults is the “Moonies.” Undoubtedly you have heard of the Moonies. Perhaps you have seen the Moonies selling flowers in the lobby of one of our nation’s airports, or candy in the parking lot of some supermarket. Or perhaps you have even been confronted by the Moonies and been the object of their proselytizing efforts. In this article and in the next we want to discuss the history, basic beliefs, and methods of this widespread and influential cult.

The Moonies are the followers of and derive their name from the founder of their organization, the Rev. Sun Myung Moon. Sun Myung Moon was born in a small town in North Korea in the year 1920. He was the son of Christian parents, baptized and brought up by them in the Presbyterian Church. Moon claims that on Easter Day in 1936, when he was 16 years old, he received the first of a series of direct revelations. Jesus Christ appeared to him on a Korean mountainside and informed him that God had called him, Moon, to accomplish a great work. That work was to be the restoration of mankind started by Jesus Himself nearly two thousand years earlier. Through Moon’s labors, the church was to be revived and brought to embrace people of all Christian denominations.

It was this experience, according to Moon, that led him to devote himself to long hours of Bible study and prayer. Subsequent to this initial revelation, Moon claims to have received numerous additional revelations. In these revelations he claims to have talked to several Bible characters, as Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Elijah, Peter, Paul, and John the Baptist, as well as important men in church history, and the founders of other world religions including Muhammad, Confucius, and Buddha.

It was in 1945 that Moon received revelations that convinced him that he had been chosen by God to be the absolute ruler of heaven and earth. It was then that he adopted his present name, which means “Shining sun and moon,” and founded the Broad Sea Church in Korea. Because of his radical departure from the Scriptures, the Presbyterian Church of Korea excommunicated Moon in 1948.

Meanwhile, in 1946 Moon was imprisoned by the communists. Moon claims that his arrest was due to his anti-communist position and was a religious persecution. In 1950 Moon was released from prison by advancing American forces. Five years later he was back in prison for a short time, accused of draft-dodging and immorality. He was released when the -prosecution could not prove its case.

1954 was a significant year for Moon. It was in this year that he founded the Holy Spirit Association for the Unification of World Christianity, now known commonly as the Unification Church or the Moonies. It was also at this time that Moon became a very successful businessman and began to become wealthy. Moon still carries on interests in the pharmaceutical industry, tuna fish, ginseng tea, and air rifles, alongside his religious activities. It was also in this year that Moon divorced his first wife. He explains that his first marriage broke up because his wife could neither understand him nor accept his religion. We don’t find that at all hard to believe.

In 1960 Moon married his present wife, Hak-Ja Han. Together they claim to be the True Parents whom Moonies are expected to call Father and Mother, who have produced eight children of their own, but who are believed to be the progenitors of a far greater family, the Divine Family, consisting of all those who embrace Moon’s teachings.

In 1972, in response to another of his many divine revelations, Moon moved his headquarters from Korea to the United States. He settled into a mansion in Irvington, New York from which he oversees the entire organization of the Unification Church. If you read the newspapers, you will know that Moon has recently served a prison term for tax evasion. This imprisonment too is regarded by him and his followers as religious persecution.

With Moon’s move to our country, the Moonies have spread across the United States. The Unification Church is represented in most major cities across the nation. The members of the cult actively recruit new members, and can be seen confronting passers-by on busy downtown streets or knocking on doors. Good targets for the Moonies are young, inexperienced Christians who have not received solid Biblical training. An important part of the life of the Moonies is their fundraising efforts. Each individual Moonie, and each local organization of Moonies is expected to bring up a certain amount of money each month for the parent group. Great pressure is put on the local organization and upon the individual Moonie to meet his quota. This is the reason why the Moonies can often be found selling flowers or candy, or asking for donations.

Some of the peculiar views of the Moonies are the following.

First, the Unification Church teaches that Moon is the Messiah of God come down to earth in order to create a perfect race. This perfection is supposed to be accomplished by the mass marriages that Moon conducts, as well as through a principle called “indemnity.” Indemnity is a means of paying God back for sins committed by oneself or one’s ancestors. It is important to notice that a fundamental element of Moon’s theology is his teaching that the original sin was a sexual sin. The first sin consisted of Eve’s being seduced by Lucifer. When God created Adam and Eve and placed them in the Garden of Eden, according to Moon, it was His intention that they should marry, have sexual relations, and become the True Parents of the perfect family. This divine plan was frustrated, however, by Eve who allowed herself to be tempted into sin by Satan. That sin was not the eating of a piece of forbidden fruit. That’s symbolic and mythical. That sin was actually that she had sexual intercourse with Satan, a fallen angelic being. Thus

Moon and his followers account for the presence of evil in the world. Moon and his followers go on to teach that God sent Jesus Christ to be the second Adam, to accomplish what the first Adam had failed to do. His calling was to raise up a perfect humanity through marriage and procreation. As the second Adam He was expected to marry a second Eve and with her produce a race of sinless children. If this had happened, according to Moon, Jesus and His wife would have become the True Parents. But this did not happen. Once again, God’s plan was frustrated, for before Jesus could marry He was crucified. What Jesus therefore was prevented from doing he, Moon, has now come to do. Moon refers to himself as “the Lord of the Second Advent.” Moon and his wife are the True Parents, the progenitors of the perfect human race.

Secondly, what distinguishes the Moonies is their appeal to a book called The Divine Principle. The Divine Principle is a 536-page book composed by one of Moon’s Korean followers sometime in the early 1950’s. It is based on the revelation of Jesus Christ that Moon claims to have had on Easter Day, 1936. The Divine Principle claims to be the “new, ultimate, final truth.” Moonies, while they don’t deny a place to the Bible, appeal to The Divine Principle as the final authority for what they believe. Moon himself criticizes the Bible as being vague and ambiguous, filled with symbolic teachings that cannot be understood in themselves. The Bible could never stand alone as setting forth the way of salvation but is itself in need of an authoritative interpretation, which of course The Divine Principle is.

Thirdly, the Unification Church distinguishes itself by its peculiar doctrine of God. The main theme of the Unification Church concerns Gods will to establish one perfect earthly family. God Himself is believed to be the perfect Father. But a family also needs a Mother. In Moon’s teaching this position is filled by the Holy Spirit, Who is said to be a female spirit. There is no place in the teaching of the Unification Church for the orthodox Christian doctrine of the Trinity. God is single, unipersonal, not triune. Moon’s theology is basically deistic.

Next time we hope to examine these teachings of the Moonies, as well as our calling with respect to an organization like the Moonies.

In the meantime, here are some books that you might want to consult for a more detailed treatment of the Moonies.

Burrell, Marice C. The Challenge Of The Cults. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1981.

Elkins, Chris. What Do You Say To A Moonie? Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, 1981.

Enroth, Ronald. Youth, Brainwashing, and the Extremist Cults. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1977.

Kemperman, Steve. Lord Of The Second Advent. Ventura: Regal Books, 1982.

Levitt, Zola. The Spirit Of Sun Myung Moon. Irvine: Harvest House Publishers, 1976.