Theological Witch-Hunt: The NCC Critique of the Unification Church

Journal of Unification Studies Vol. 1, 1997 - Pages 23-42

On June 21, 1977, the Commission on Faith and Order of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the U.S.A. (the NCC) released to the press and other interested persons a “Critique of the Theology of the Unification Church as Set Forth in Divine Principle.” The Critique describes itself as a “study document” prepared primarily for the purpose of “theological assessment,” not an official policy of the NCC, and cautions against using it for “arbitrary or punitive purposes.” The conclusion of the Critique is that the Unification Church is not a Christian Church, and that its claims to Christian identity cannot be recognized.

Before and after the preparation of their report, however, the Commission refused to meet with experts on Unification theology, and the Critique contains numerous errors and misrepresentations. As a scholarly or ecumenical effort in theological assessment, the Critique is a failure. Furthermore, despite its claim that the Critique is not official policy and should not be used for arbitrary or punitive purpose, the NCC has distributed the Critique through official channels for two decades and condoned its use in partisan attacks on the Unification Church. Thus the NCC Critique, though cloaked in theological language, looks suspiciously like a witch-hunt.

1. The Preparation and Distribution of the Critique

Approximately one year before the Commission on Faith and Order released its Critique, a preliminary report had been prepared for the Commission by Dr. William L. Hendricks, Professor of Theology at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Texas. At first, members of the Unification Church were unaware that the report was being prepared, and only learned of it because of widespread newspaper coverage.

Dr. Young Oon Kim, Professor of Theology at Unification Theological Seminary and author of Unification Theology and Christian Thought,[1] wrote to Dr. Hendricks to correct some serious misunderstandings in his report. Dr. Kim also wrote to the Commission requesting that a friendly discussion be initiated to prevent further misunderstandings. She followed this up with a telephone call and letter to Dr. Jorge Lara-Braud, Executive Director of the Commission, reiterating her request for dialogue. A similar request was then made by Dr. Herbert Richardson, a Presbyterian minister and Professor of Theology at the University of Toronto, who was serving as a theological consultant to the Unification Church. The Commission refused to meet with Dr. Kim or Dr. Richardson, or with any other representative of the Unification Church. Furthermore, although Dr. Hendricks acknowledged in his preliminary report that he was “not competent to judge English translations of Korean works,” the Commission never consulted anyone with such competency.

In addition to Drs. Hendricks and Lara-Braud, the Commission included Sister Agnes Cunningham, Professor of Patrology at Mundelein Seminary (Roman Catholic), and Dr. J. Robert Nelson, Professor of Theology at Boston University. During the year between Dr. Hendricks’s preliminary report and the issuance of the final Critique, large volumes of material (including Dr. Kim’s book) were submitted to the Commission. As the Critique explains in its Introductory Statement, the Commission “received solicited and unsolicited authoritative statements of self-clarification from the Unification Church and some of its sympathizers,” but “for the sake of keeping the discourse entirely within the realm of what is authoritative and in the public domain,” it chose to ignore these materials and to “confine itself to the official doctrinal text of the Unification Church, namely Divine Principle.”[2]

The Commission’s stated reason for ignoring the materials which were sent to it is transparently disingenuous, given its own acknowledgment that some of them were “authoritative” and the undeniable fact that some of them (including Dr. Kim's book) were already “in the public domain.” Its decision to ignore expert opinions, from Unificationists and others, casts serious doubt on its claim to have produced an objective “study document” for the purpose of “theological assessment.” Since the Commission persisted in its misrepresentations of Unification theology even after Dr. Kim had pointed them out, it seems to have been less interested in assessing Unificationism than in discrediting it.

In its Introductory Statement the Critique explains that, as a study document, it “does not become official policy” of the NCC “unless, through an appropriate process, the Council’s governing board approves it.” This process was never followed, and the Critique never became an official policy of the NCC. Several years after it was initially distributed, a representative of the Unification Church approached NCC officials Joan Campbell and Eileen Lindner and objected to the Critique’s misrepresentations of Unification theology. Campbell and Lindner replied that the Critique could not be retracted or revised because it was only a study document, not an official policy of the NCC.

Yet the Critique has been widely circulated by the NCC as though it were an official policy. It was initially distributed in June, 1977, with a cover letter on NCC stationery (Appendix A). Soon afterwards, it was published with NCC permission in the quarterly Occasional Bulletin of Missionary Research. In 1985 an official NCC cover letter accompanied the Critique when it was sent to American religion editors and reporters; and in 1987 the Critique was again distributed with an official NCC cover letter (Appendix B) together with a similar critique by the National Christian Council of Japan. As Secretary-General of the World Council of Churches, Emilio Castro regarded the NCC Critique as definitive, and announced publicly that there is nothing more to be said about the Unification Church. From 1991 to the present, the Critique has been officially circulated in Japan, Korea, Europe, and the Caribbean, as well as South America, where Roman Catholic bishops recently cited it in a letter condemning the Unification Church.

The Critique's introductory statement claims that “nothing would be more contrary to the spirit of this critique than for it to be used for arbitrary or punitive purposes,” and that the NCC is “wholeheartedly committed” to religious liberty. Yet the official cover letter which accompanied the NCC’s 1987 mailing of the Critique (Appendix B) encourages people to obtain further information on the Unification Church by contacting “the office within the Southern Baptist Convention that deals with cults.” The letter even provides the address of the anti-cult office. Under the circumstances, the NCC’s professed commitment to religious liberty seems hollow, to say the least.

The actual uses to which the Critique has been put also belie the NCC’s claim to be concerned about religious liberty. In 1984, opponents of the Unification Church in England used the Critique to justify a lawsuit challenging the Church’s tax-exempt status, costing the Church almost half a million dollars in legal fees before the lawsuit was dropped in 1988. In the United States, members of the Unification Church continue to be denied membership in many campus ministry groups on the basis of the Critique’s conclusions. Some ministers of mainline Christian churches in America have even lost their jobs for attending conferences sponsored by the Unification Church, with the NCC Critique being used to justify their dismissal.[3]

Therefore, although the NCC Critique purports to be a scholarly exercise in theological assessment—a sincere effort to clarify one church’s claim to Christian identity—the closed-door manner in which it was prepared suggests that its authors set out not to understand Unification theology, but to discredit it. Not surprisingly, as we shall see below, the Critique seriously misrepresents Unification theology. And although the NCC warns that the Critique is not official policy and should not be used for arbitrary or punitive purposes, it continues to distribute it through official channels and condone its use as a weapon against Unificationists and their friends. Under the circumstances, the NCC’s pious caveats seem to be merely a disguise for a witch-hunt against the Unification Church.

2. The Contents of the Critique

According to the Critique’s Introductory Statement, its principal purpose is “to clarify the claim to Christian identity made by the Unification Church.” According to the Critique’s Conclusions, The NCC defines “continuity with the Christian faith” in the following affirmations:

1) Essential to Christian identity is the biblical affirmation that Jesus of Nazareth is the Christ, the eternal Word of God made flesh.

2) The life, death and resurrection of Jesus are the ground and means of the salvation of persons and of the whole creation.

3) The triune God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—has acted as Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier identifying with the suffering and need of the world and is effectively saving it from sin, death, and the powers of evil.

4) There is an essential relationship between faith in the saving work of the triune God and obedient response of the believing community.

One could legitimately question the adequacy of these criteria. For example, some Christian churches would prefer narrower (or at least clearer) criteria, though even if applied consistently in their present form they would exclude some current members of the NCC (such as the non-trinitarian Swedenborgians and Friends). Historically speaking, defining “Christian-ness” has always been a controversial enterprise, and only the seven ecumenical councils between 325 A.D. and 787 A.D. were able to claim anything approaching a general consensus.

For the sake of argument, however, let’s accept the NCC criteria as they stand. Applying them to the Unification Church, the Critique concludes:

A. The Unification Church is not a Christian Church.

1. Its doctrine of the nature of the triune God is erroneous.

2. Its Christology is incompatible with Christian teaching and belief.

3. Its teaching on salvation and the means of grace is inadequate and faulty.

B. The claims of the Unification Church to Christian identity cannot be recognized.

1. The role and authority of Scripture are compromised in the teachings of the Unification Church.

2. Revelations are invoked as divine and normative in Divine Principle which contradict basic elements of Christian faith.

3. A ‘new, ultimate, final truth’ is presented to complete and supplant all previously recognized religious teachings, including those of Christianity.

So the Critique judges the Unification Church to be non-Christian in four doctrinal areas: trinity, christology, salvation, and scripture. Let’s examine these in order.

(a) Trinity

According to the Critique, “the doctrine of the Triune God, as set forth in Divine Principle, is incompatible with Christian teaching.” This refers to the Divine Principle’s use of the word “trinity” to mean a true man and true woman centered on God: Adam and Eve should have formed a trinity “as True Parents centered on God,” but because of the fall they formed “a trinity centered on Satan;” when Jesus came as the second Adam he and the Holy Spirit formed the “spiritual Trinity;” and when Christ comes again he will establish the “substantial Trinity,” which will be both physical and spiritual. (pp. 216-218)[4] The Critique judges this to be “inconsistent with Christian understanding” of the doctrine of the Trinity. (III.B.6)

Actually, Unification theology has a doctrine of the Trinity which is thoroughly consistent with traditional Christian formulations, but the Critique missed it. Accord­ing to Divine Principle, God has dual characteristics of positivity and negativity, and internal character and external form. God’s heart is described as the internal subject of the dual characteristics of Logos and Universal Prime Energy; yet God is indivisibly One. The relevant passages in Divine Principle (pp. 20-39) are reminiscent of Augustine’s reflections on the mystery of God’s internal relations in de Trinitate, or of Karl Barth’s discussion of God’s “modes of being” in Church Dogmatics.

In 1978, Catholic philosopher and theologian Sebastian Matczak saw “a point-for-point parallel between Unification philosophy and Christian theology” in their “understanding of the internal character of God.” Matczak described the Unification view of God as follows: “The Father is Heart and Love, the eternally begotten Son is the Logos, and the Holy Spirit… is the creative energy and activity of God. This conceptualization of the Trinity—that doctrine so central to Christianity—is closer to my understanding of the truth than are many of the other diverse explanations of the Trinity taught in the various churches.”[5]

Perhaps because Divine Principle uses unfamiliar language, the NCC Critique misinterpreted its discussion of God’s dual characteristics as evidence of a “cosmic dualism which conflicts with Christian biblically based teaching.” (III.B.1) The Critique goes on to claim that in Divine Principle “the eternal unity of the one God is jeopardized by the assertion that upon such dual essentialities… depends the very being of God.” (III.B.1.a) This is oddly inconsistent with the Critique’s earlier assessment that “the God portrayed in Divine Principle is a monotheistic God.” (II.D.2) It is also incorrect: God’s unity is no more jeopardized by “dual essentialities” than by the “three persons” of traditional trinitarian formulations. If the Faith and Order Commission had not refused to meet with scholars of Unification theology, it would have realized that “dual essentialities” refers to inner relations in God, not to two gods.

Then what about the Unification use of the term “trinity” to describe relations between God, man, and woman? Since this terminology refers to relations between God and human beings, in traditional theological categories it would actually be considered part of the doctrine of Christology. In fact, the section on “Trinity” in Divine Principle is in the chapter entitled “Christology.” Such terminological confusion is not surprising when one considers that Divine Principle was written by and for Koreans who were not theologically trained. We will consider this christological use of “trinity” below.

So the NCC’s Commission on Faith and Order, ignoring the views of Unificationists and other scholars, misread a christological statement as a trinitarian one. Then, contradicting its own assessment of Divine Principle as “monotheistic,” it misinterpreted Unification theology’s doctrine of God’s internal relations as a form of cosmic dualism. On this point, the Critique is dead wrong. In fact, the Unification doctrine of God is thoroughly consistent with the traditional Christian doctrine of the Trinity.

(b) Christology

According to the NCC, two necessary elements of “continuity with the Christian faith” are the affirmations that (i) “Jesus of Nazareth is the Christ, the eternal Word of God made flesh,” and (ii) “the life, death and resurrection of Jesus are the ground and means of the salvation of persons and of the whole creation.” The first of these concerns the person of Christ, and the second the work of Christ.

(i) The Person of Christ

The Critique acknowledges that Divine Principle describes Jesus as “the incarnation of the Word.” (II.D.3) In fact, Divine Principle also affirms that “Jesus is the Word made flesh” and that “Jesus is God in the flesh.” (pp. 211, 292) These passages are unquestionably consistent with the NCC’s first criterion for continuity with the Christian faith.

The Critique maintains, however, that other passages in Divine Principle are inconsistent with its affirmation that Jesus is the Word made flesh. For example, Divine Principle explains that Jesus is “one body with God,” but “the body can by no means be the mind itself.” Therefore (as the Critique points out in II.D.3), Jesus “can by no means be God Himself.” (p. 211) On the same page, Divine Principle explains that since Jesus is “the incarnation of the Word,” and “all things were made through the Word,” it is appropriate to call Jesus “the Creator.” Yet “Jesus, on earth, was a man no different from us except for the fact that he was without original sin.” (p. 212)

This last phrase is virtually identical to one formulated by the Ecumenical Council at Chalcedon in 451 A.D. The Definition of Chalcedon attempted to balance Christ’s divinity and humanity without confusing the two. Divine Principle also attempts to affirm both without confusing them. Whether Unification Christology is consistent with Chalcedon has been debated by theologians for almost two decades,[6] with critics arguing that Divine Principle leans too far in the direction of Christ’s humanity. To be fair, however, one must realize that Divine Principle was written in the context of a Korean fundamentalism for which “Jesus is God” was all that needed to be said about Christology. In that context, many of Divine Principle’s statements were necessary correctives to the devaluation of Christ’s humanity.

The NCC Critique overlooks the fact that balancing the divinity and humanity of Christ has always been a difficult issue for Christian theology, and judges the Unification view as though this issue did not exist. Even worse, the Critique misrepresents Unification Christology to make it sound less orthodox than it is. According to the Critique, Divine Principle claims that “‘Jesus Christ came as the Messiah,’ but only in the sense of the ‘Messianic expectation of the Israelites’ (p. 139).” (II.D.3) Significantly, the word “only” does not occur in this passage from Divine Principle, but was inserted by the authors of the Critique. Divine Principle, like the Bible, attributes many different titles and roles to Jesus; these include “Messiah,” “the second Adam,” “our savior,” “perfected man,” “the Tree of Life,” and “the incarnation of the Word,” to name just a few. The Critique’s claim that Divine Principle limits Jesus role to fulfilling the Messianic expectation of the Israelites is blatantly false.

Could this misrepresentation be a result of mere carelessness? Perhaps. But in judging the Unification view of Jesus without even acknowledging the long-standing difficulty of balancing Christ’s divinity and humanity, the Critique betrays an eagerness to condemn Unification theology which suggests that “carelessness” is too kind.

(ii) The Work of Christ

According to the Critique, Divine Principle “cannot be regarded as Christian” because it asserts “the failure of Jesus to fulfill ‘the salvation of both spirit and body’ (p. 147)” and “the failure of Jesus to achieve his mission (p. 196).” (III.B.7) But the Critique thereby misrepresents Divine Principle.

On pages 147-148, Divine Principle states that Jesus “should have fulfilled the salvation of both spirit and body,” and that “if they had become one with him in both spirit and body by believing in him, fallen men could have been saved both spiritually and physically,” and “he would have established the Kingdom of Heaven on earth” without delay and without the need for a second coming. Unfortunately, “due to the disbelief of and persecution by the people, he was crucified.” After the loss of his physical body, Jesus was able to “establish the basis for spiritual salvation by forming a triumphant foundation for resurrection through the redemption by the blood of the cross,” but fallen people “cannot fulfill physical salvation” until the second coming. This explains why, in the followers of Jesus, “original sin remains in the flesh and is transmitted continuously from generation to generation,” and thus why St. Paul lamented that “I of myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin. (Romans 7:22-25)”

It is important to note that this passage does not attribute failure to Jesus, but to the people who disbelieved him. Similarly, Divine Principle explains on page 196 that “when God's will to fulfill the purpose of creation centering on Adam failed, He sent Jesus… [but] this will was again a failure, due to the disbelief of the people.” In other words, it was Adam (not God) who failed the first time, and it was the people (not Jesus) who failed the second time. The Critique misrepresents Divine Principle by claiming that it labels Jesus a failure.

One of the NCC’s criteria for “continuity with the Christian faith” (discussed below) is the affirmation that “there is an essential relationship between faith in the saving work of the triune God and obedient response of the believing community.” (IV.4) Consistent with this criterion, Unification theology maintains that Jesus’ saving work could not be completely effective without an obedient human response, but the Critique obscures this point when it incorrectly attributes failure to Jesus.

The question remains whether Unification theology is consistent with the view that (in the NCC’s words) “the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus are the ground and means of the salvation of persons and of the whole creation.” Divine Principle maintains that God “handed Jesus over to Satan” to be crucified, “in order to save the whole of mankind.” Jesus then “established the spiritual foundation of faith through the 40-day resurrection period to separate Satan, after giving up his physical body to the cross as a sacrifice. By doing this, he pioneered the way for the redemption of the sins of all men.” (pp. 360-361)

In other words, although the crucifixion was not God’s initial plan, and became necessary only because of the disbelief of the people, it nevertheless laid a foundation for future salvation. Divine Principle states that “we can never deny the magnitude of the grace of redemption by the cross.” (p. 142) According to Protestant theologian Durwood Foster, “insofar as the passage just quoted is given weight—and there is a more than negligible line of thought supporting it in Divine Principle—how can it be said that Jesus failed?”[7]

If the NCC’s view of the work of Christ is interpreted to mean that Jesus’ life, death and resurrection are necessary for salvation, there is arguably no conflict between it and Unification theology. On the other hand, Unification theology would be incompatible with the view that Jesus’ life, death and resurrection are sufficient for complete salvation (though Divine Principle maintains that it would have been sufficient if people had believed in him.) Even many Christians, however, regard salvation as (in some sense) incomplete until the eschaton;[8] the question then turns on the Unification doctrine of eschatology.

The Critique claims that Unification eschatology “is incompatible in critical and essential ways with that which is acknowledged, recognized and taught in Christian churches throughout the world.” (III.B.7) The truth is, however, that eschatology is the least clearly defined of all Christian doctrines. According to Protestant theologian Darrol Bryant, “the doctrine of eschatology within the Christian traditions has yet to achieve either a creedal or dogmatic definition that would justify outright dismissal of the eschatology put forth by the Unification movement.”[9] In any case, eschatology plays no part in either the Critique’s criteria for Christian identity or its formal conclusions, so the matter remains unsettled.

(iii) Divine Principle’s Use of the Word “Trinity”

The concluding section of Divine Principle’s chapter on Christology is devoted to “trinity.” The word is used to refer to a variety of relationships: that between Adam and Eve centered on God before the fall, that between Adam and Eve centered on Satan after the fall, that between Jesus and the Holy Spirit centered on God after the crucifixion, that between the True Parents and God at the time of the Second Coming, and that of all married couples centered on God in the Kingdom of Heaven on earth. (pp. 217-28)

In every case, “trinity” in Divine Principle includes relationships between created beings. Even in the case of Jesus, Divine Principle seems to be referring to Christ’s human nature. (The nature of the Holy Spirit is not clear from the text, but Unificationists have tended to regard it as the feminine aspect of God.) In traditional Christian theology, “Trinity” refers only to relationships among God’s internal “persons” or “modes of being.” Divine Principle’s untraditional use of “trinity” in this context must be distinguished from the Unification doctrine of God’s Heart, Logos, and Energy, discussed above, which more nearly resembles the traditional Trinity.

Once the terminological confusion is set aside, a deeper and more interesting issue emerges. According to Divine Principle’s untraditional use of “trinity,” if Adam and Eve they had not fallen they would have formed a union with God just as substantial and inseparable as the subsequent union of Jesus with God. Divine Principle maintains that Jesus, as the second Adam, would have taken a bride if he had not been prevented from doing so by the crucifixion, since God’s image is both masculine and feminine: “male and female He created them.” (Genesis 1:27) But Jesus incarnated only God’s masculinity, so at the time of the second coming a couple known as the True Parents will form the substantial trinity with God that Adam and Eve should have formed in the beginning. In the ensuing kingdom of heaven on earth all married couples will eventually form such unions. (pp. 41-46)

Although the idea that Adam and Eve might have formed a union with God comparable to that of Jesus may sound strange to some modern Christians, early Christian fathers such as Irenaeus[10] taught that if Adam had not fallen he would have become like Jesus, and that God became man in order that man might become God. According to the ecumenical councils of Nicea and Chalcedon, the Logos is the only-begotten Son of God, but the human nature of Jesus to which it was united was like us in all respects except for sin. Jesus even had his own will, distinct from God’s will. So the idea that a human nature other than Jesus’ could be similarly united with God was not alien to the early church. In fact, as Thomas Aquinas pointed out, God is infinite and human nature is finite, so the Logos could conceivably be united to more than one human nature.[11]

Therefore, orthodox Christian theology cannot exclude the possibility that God will become incarnate again in a human nature other than Jesus’. What traditional Christianity sees as merely possible, however, Unification theology sees as necessary to fulfill God’s original ideal of a world populated by sinless, perfected families centered on Him. Though untraditional, the Unification view has scriptural support. According to Rev. 3:12, “He who conquers, I will make him a pillar in the temple of my God; never shall he go out of it, and I will write on him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem which comes down from my God out of heaven, and my own new name.”

Unification theology clearly goes beyond traditional christology in its expectation of further unions between the divine and human natures. But does it thereby contradict the Christian tradition, or merely extend it? An analogous question might be: Did Christianity contradict the basic elements of Jewish faith, or merely build on them? These are fascinating and important theological questions, but they are not addressed by the superficial and distorted reading of Divine Principle which forms the basis of the NCC Critique.

(c) Salvation

According to the NCC, continuity with the Christian faith requires the affirmations that “the life, death and resurrection of Jesus are the ground and means of the salvation of persons and of the whole creation,” and that “there is an essential relationship between faith in the saving work of the triune God and obedient response of the believing community.” The Critique considers Unification theology un-Christian because it “is based, in part on the failure of Jesus to achieve his mission (p. 196),” and because it lacks “any clear indication of the existence of the Christian community as Church and the role of grace and divine intervention by God in human history.” (III.B.7)

As we have seen, the allegation that Divine Principle labels Jesus a failure is false. Furthermore, Divine Principle clearly affirms that the “life, death, and resurrection of Jesus” form the necessary foundation for subsequent salvation. The question is whether this foundation is sufficient. As the Critique points out, Divine Principle maintains that because Jesus had to sacrifice his physical body on the cross, the salvation he brought was only spiritual. Physical salvation awaits the second coming—a thoroughly traditional notion. Where Unification theology goes beyond the tradition is its understanding of the role of True Parents in completing the process of salvation, not in its claim that the process remains uncompleted until the second coming.

The Critique asserts that Unification theology lacks “any clear indication of the existence of the Christian community as Church.” According to Divine Principle, however, Jesus gathered his disciples after the resurrection to establish Christianity “as the Second Israel for the erection of the Kingdom of Heaven.” Thus Christians are “the chosen people… who are to establish the foundation for the Messiah of the Second Advent.” (pp. 362, 370, 519)

The Critique charges that Divine Principle lacks “any clear indication of the existence of the… role of grace and divine intervention by God in human history,”and even “posits a gulf between the Creator and creation which prevents God from crossing for the purpose of historical intervention (pp. 105, 148).” (III.B.1.b; III.B.7) Divine Principle clearly affirms, however, that “God is behind human history, leading it toward one absolute purpose.” (p. 340) Some specific examples of God’s intervention in human history are: “God had the second son Abel offer symbolic sacrifices”; “He exercised the providence of the flood judgment”; “God commanded Abraham to offer sacrifices”; “God had Moses smite the Egyptians”; and “God finally handed Jesus over to Satan” to be crucified. (pp. 248, 253, 264, 302, 360) In fact, God's active involvement in human history is such a pronounced feature of Divine Principle that it seems no one on the Commission read the book all the way through.

The NCC’s criterion that Christians affirm an “essential relationship between faith in the saving work of the triune God and obedient response of the believing community” appears not to have been a factor in the Critique’s conclusions. Indeed, it is difficult to see how the Commission could have faulted Unification theology on this point. Together with its emphasis on God’s providential work, Divine Principle emphasizes the necessity of human response. Thus from the very beginning “the perfection or non-perfection of man depended not only on God’s power of creation but also upon man’s response.” Humans thus have a “portion of responsibility,” the fall was “the result of man’s own error,” and fallen people must participate in setting up the “foundation to receive the Messiah.” (pp. 55, 104, 240) As discussed above, there was even an essential relationship between the completion of Jesus’ salvific work and the people’s obedient response. The Critique’s conclusion that the Unification “teaching on salvation and the means of grace is inadequate and faulty” ignores these points, and is thus unfounded and arbitrary.

(d) Scripture

The Critique notes that “for Christians, the biblical witness remains the normative authority,” and maintains that “this is not the case in Divine Principle, which acknowledges the higher authority of Sun Myung Moon.” (III.B.5) The Critique concludes that “the role and authority of scripture are compromised in the teachings of the Unification Church,” and “revelations are invoked as divine and normative in Divine Principle which contradict basic elements of Christian faith.” (IV.A.1,2)

Divine Principle does, in fact, refer to “new truth” brought by Sun Myung Moon in the form of “a revelation from God Himself,” and it cautions against fundamentalism by explaining that the “Biblical words are a means of expressing the truth and not the truth itself.” (pp. 16, 131) But from start to finish, the attitude of Divine Principle is that new revelation cannot contradict the Bible, though it may re-interpret it or go beyond it. Divine Principle disputes some interpretations of the Bible which are common among Christians, but it consistently regards the Bible itself as normative and authoritative. Reformed biblical scholar Thomas Boslooper wrote in 1984 that “there is no denying the importance of the Hebrew-Christian scriptures to Unificationism.” Boslooper noted that “in Unificationism there is the highest regard for scriptures of all religions of the world. At the same time the authority and normative value of the Old and New Testaments are held in the greatest esteem.”[12]

The Critique purports to find contradictions between Divine Principle and basic Christian doctrines, and dismisses it pejoratively as a “secret, esoteric truth” which, “similar to occult schemes of various character, cannot be admitted into Christian thought without distorting it.” (III.B.2) But it is the Critique itself which is guilty of distortion here, since (as shown above) it misrepresents the Unification doctrines of God, Christ and salvation.

The Critique claims that Divine Principle presents itself as the “new ultimate, final truth” which will “complete and supplant all previously recognized religious teachings, including those of Christianity.” (IV.B.3) Once again, the Critique is guilty of distortion. The quoted passage actually states that the “new, ultimate, final truth, however, cannot come either from any man’s synthetic research in the scriptures and in literature, or from any human brain,” but “must appear as a revelation from God Himself.” Divine Principle, however, does not claim to be the complete expression of this, but “only part of the new truth.” (pp. 15-16) And it does not intend to supplant Christianity, but to promote its fulfillment: Divine Principle regards Christianity as “the central religion that will accomplish the purpose of God’s providence of restoration” by restoring “the one great world family which God had intended at the creation.” (p. 123)

The Critique acknowledges that “within the diverse communions and traditions of Christianity there are many ways of understanding scriptural authority and interpretation,” and even admits that Divine Principle uses biblical texts “in the manner of many Christian literalists.” (II.B.5) In theological terms, the use of biblical texts is the subject of “hermeneutics.” In 1978, Protestant theologian Frank Flinn wrote that “the relation between the literal and spiritual senses of the Scriptures has always been the central problem of Christian hermeneutics,” and “the conflict between the hermeneutics of established Christianity and that of the Unification Church is a continuation of the very same debate which has always been present in Christianity.”[13] In other words, Unification hermeneutics is continuous with at least some elements of the Christian tradition.

Despite the diversity of Christian views on scripture, and the similarity between the views of Unificationists and some Christians, the Critique concludes on the basis of various distortions of Divine Principle that Unification theology’s use of the Bible is un-Christian. This is not what one would expect from a sincere effort at theological assessment, but from a deliberate attempt to discredit the Unification Church.

(e) Additional Misrepresentations

Not content to distort Unification theology in areas related to the NCC’s criteria for Christian identity, the Critique is littered with additional (and apparently gratuitous) misrepresentations. Among these are miscellaneous charges that Unification theology is too spiritual (or too materialistic), or that it regards Satan as a second God, or that it advocates questionable practices in sex and marriage, or that it is anti-semitic.

For example, the Critique charges that “Divine Principle posits a dualism in human nature between ‘spirit man’ and ‘physical man’… which minimizes the goodness of the body and militates against the Christian doctrine of the resurrection.” (III.B.1.d) The Critique does not explain how the distinction between spiritual and physical “minimizes the goodness of the body,” nor does it explain why this view is any less Christian than St. Paul’s: “It is sown a physical body, it is raised a spiritual body.” (I Cor. 15:44) And in a following section, the Critique apparently reverses itself, claiming that the Unification doctrine of salvation is un-Christian because it “elevates what is material at the expense of the spiritual.” (III.B.3) The Critique does not reconcile these conflicting accusations, nor does it explain how either of them relate to the NCC’s criteria for Christian identity.

The Critique also claims that “Divine Principle so elevates the power of Satan as to teach what inevitably appears to be a second, rival god.” (III.B.1.c) But Divine Principle explicitly rejects this sort of dualism: “all things were created by one God,” and God is good, so Satan must be “a being originally created for the purpose of goodness who later fell and was degraded.” (p. 70) It was only because of the fall that “man established the world of Satan's sovereignty instead of the world of God’s sovereignty. Thus we call Satan the ‘ruler of this world’ (John 12:31) or the ‘god of this world.’ (II Cor. 4:4)” (p. 103) In this regard, Unification theology is thoroughly Christian, and the closest it comes to calling Satan “a second, rival God” is to quote St. Paul.

Along the same lines, the Critique asserts that Unification theology explains the fall of man “in a way which is incompatible with the Bible and Christian theology,” because it characterizes Lucifer as “the external source of evil and sin, which he transmits by sexual union to Eve, who passes it on to Adam by the same mode.” This allegedly leads to “questionable teachings and practices of sex and marriage.” (III.B.1.e) In the Unification doctrine of the fall, however, Lucifer was not an “external source of evil and sin” but fell with Adam and Eve only when those two disobeyed God’s commandment. Furthermore, as Catholic theologian Francis Clark has pointed out, “the interpretation of the Fall of the Angel, as being an act of fornication, has many echoes in ancient religious literature,” and “the Apologists of the second century found no difficulty in accepting the notion of carnal commerce between angelic spirits and women.”[14] In other words, the Critique distorts both Unification and traditional theology on the fall; but since the fall is not even mentioned in the NCC’s criteria for Christian identity, this section appears to be irrelevant to the Critique’s conclusions.

The Commission never explains what Unificationist teachings and practices of sex and marriage it considers “questionable.” In fact, the major practical consequence of the Unification doctrine of the fall is a strict prohibition on extramarital sex, a prohibition which is thoroughly at home in the Christian tradition. By labeling unnamed practices “questionable,” the Critique glibly defames members of the Unification Church. This is not “theological assessment,” but a smear tactic.

Finally, the Critique charges Unification theology with having a “consistently and unrelievedly negative” attitude toward the Jewish people, leading to “an inevitable antisemitism.” (III.B.4) Yet the Critique recognizes that “Christians have, at times, written and spoken in a manner that was antisemitic,” and fails to acknowledge that many of the passages in Divine Principle which it alleges to be antisemitic are actually references to passages in the New Testament. Furthermore, the Unification Church had already responded publicly to allegations of antisemitism a year before the Critique was prepared, condemning the persecution of Jews as “the most hideous, abject and cruel form of hatred,” and gratefully acknowledging the indebtedness of the Unification movement to “the true and righteous prophets” of the Jewish tradition “who prepared the foundations on which we stand.”[15] Therefore, the Critique’s charge of anti-semitism, like its insinuation that Unificationists engage in questionable practices of sex and marriage, is false and defamatory.


3. Conclusions

The NCC Critique of the Unification Church distorts Divine Principle by quoting it incorrectly, quoting it out of context, and interpreting it in ways which Unificationists and other scholars reject. It also judges Unification theology unfairly, by applying standards which some traditional Christians and some of the NCC’s own members do not meet.

Whether Unification theology is Christian or not is an interesting and important question. Answering it would require a clear and consistently applied definition of “Christian,” and an accurate and fair-minded understanding of Divine Principle as well as other authoritative Unificationist texts. The NCC Commission on Faith and Order has not met either of these requirements.

As a study document—that is, as a scholarly analysis of Unification theology—the Critique is a failure. If a college undergraduate were to write a paper on Augustine’s City of God which misrepresented that book as badly as the NCC Critique misrepresents Divine Principle, the paper would deserve a failing grade. As an exercise in ecumenical understanding, the Critique is also a failure. No self-respecting ecumenical organization would presume to tell people what their religious beliefs are, while ignoring protests that they were being misrepresented. Even if we dismiss its scholarly and ecumenical pretensions and evaluate it as a heresy indictment, the Critique is a failure. By refusing to let Unificationists represent themselves, the Commission’s conduct was a travesty of justice, resembling a medieval Star Chamber (in which the prosecutor is also judge and jury) rather than a modern court of law.

It is not uncommon for people to misunderstand the beliefs of others. The Critique’s errors, however, cannot be excused as innocent misunderstandings. The Commission was informed before finishing the Critique that its analysis was full of errors, yet it refused to acknowledge them. After the Critique was published and distributed, Unificationists again objected that the Critique misinterpreted Unification theology. Officials of the NCC acknowledged the objections, but claimed that as a mere “study document” the Critique was immune from rebuttal, revision or retraction. Under the circumstances, the NCC’s continuing distribution of the Critique suggests that its motive is deliberate misrepresentation, and that the “unofficial” label is merely the NCC’s way of ducking responsibility for that misrepresentation.

The NCC insists that it is “wholeheartedly committed” to the religious liberty of the Unification Church. Yet the NCC has distributed the Critique through official channels for two decades, encouraging people to contact an anti-cult group for further information. During those two decades, the NCC was aware of at least some of the damage that the Critique inflicted on Church members and their friends. Under the circumstances, it seems that the NCC‘s professions of concern for the religious liberty of the Unification Church are hypocritical.

So the Critique misrepresents Unification theology, and the NCC continues to distribute it in the knowledge that it is damaging to members of the Unification Church and their friends. Thus the NCC is engaged in the deliberate and malicious propagation of falsehoods. Though cloaked in theological language, the Critique is not a “study document” or a “theological assessment,” but a weapon in a witch-hunt.



[1] Young Oon Kim, Unification Theology and Christian Thought (New York: Golden Gate, 1975).

[2] Divine Principle (Washington, D.C.: HSA-UWC, 1973).

[3] See, for example, The New York Times, March 25, 1988.

[4] For the remainder of this essay, page numbers refer to passages in Divine Principle (1973). Roman numerals followed by Arabic numerals, separated by periods, refer to sections of the Critique.

[5] Sebastian Matczak, “God in Unification Philosophy,” in A Time for Consideration: A Scholarly Appraisal of the Unification Church (New York: Edwin Mellen Press, 1978), pp. 220-257.

[6] See, for example, Durwood Foster, “Unification and Traditional Christology: An Unresolved Relationship,” in Ten Theologians Respond to the Unification Church, edited by Herbert Richardson (New York: Rose of Sharon Press, 1981), pp. 181-199; also Jonathan Wells, “Unification Christology,” in Unity in Diversity: Essays in Religion by Members of the Faculty of the Unification Theological Seminary, edited by Henry O. Thompson (New York: Rose of Sharon Press, 1984), pp. 135-147.

[7] Durwood Foster, “Unification and Traditional Christology: An Unresolved Relationship,” p. 191.

[8] Incomplete in the sense that the resurrection, the final judgment and the establishment of the Kingdom of Heaven will come in the future; and many Christians see the last of these as requiring a transformation of the social order.

[9] M. Darrol Bryant, “Unification Eschatology and American Millennial Traditions: Continuities and Discontinuities,” in A Time for Consideration, pp. 261-274.

[10] Irenaeus, Against Heresies, books 3-5.

[11] Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae III.3.7. See also Jonathan Wells, “Unification Christology,” p. 144.

[12] Thomas Boslooper, “Unificationism and Biblical Studies,” in Unity in Diversity, pp. 297-323.

[13] Frank K. Flinn, “Christian Hermeneutics and Unification Theology,” in A Time for Consideration, pp. 141-166.

[14] Francis Clark, “The Fall of Man in Divine Principle,” in Ten Theologians, pp. 143-165.

[15] The New York Times, December 19, 1976. See also Henry O. Thompson, “A Study in Anti-Semitism: Israels in Divine Principle,” in Unity in Diversity, pp. 73-133.