Dissonance Reduction in the Early Years of the Unification Movement: A Critical Appraisal of Christian-Unification Relations as Illustrated in Exposition of the Divine Principle

Journal of Unification Studies Vol. 5, 2003 - Pages 43-50

Introductions to the history of the Unification Church are quick to mention that the founding of the Holy Spirit Association for the Unification of World Christianity (HSA-UWC) was in fact a circuitous means to the desired end. Rather, because “Christianity couldn’t fulfill her mission,”[1] the founder, the Rev. Sun Myung Moon, resorted to creating his own church through which he sought to unify the divided churches into one divinely inspired association.[2] While this interpretation of events may suffice within the Unification community, I argue that due to the dissonance that developed within the early membership of the church in view of Christianity’s rejection of Rev. Moon, an anti-Christian attitude has since then developed. This is well illustrated in the Exposition of the Divine Principle [Exposition].

While I do acknowledge that recent events, particularly in the United States, indicate efforts toward the development of Christian-Unification relations, I argue in this paper that Exposition contains remnants of this anti-Christian attitude. For fruitful dialogue between Unificationism and Christianity, however, and even more, for Unificationism to move further along the road of respectability, I believe there should take place a reconsideration of existing attitudes and perceptions of Christianity, particularly as depicted in Exposition.

In perhaps the most formative work on cognitive dissonance theory, Leon Festinger and his colleagues delineate three possible methods of reducing dissonance in face of a disconfirming fact. He writes:

Dissonance produces discomfort and, correspondingly, there will arise pressures to reduce or eliminate the dissonance. Attempts to reduce dissonance represent the observable manifestations that dissonance exists. Such attempts may take any or all of three forms. The person may try to change one or more of the beliefs, opinions, or behaviors involved in the dissonance; to acquire new information of beliefs that will increase the existing consonance and thus cause the total dissonance to be reduced; or to forget or reduce the importance of those cognitions that are in a dissonance relationship.[3]

In particular, for those whose “behavioral commitment to the belief system is so strong,” Festinger argues that it is more painful to discard the belief than to eliminate the dissonant perception.

In his studies of early Christianity, Bart D. Ehrman describes cognitive dissonance in more concrete terms:

Religious groups (sometimes called “sects”) that split off from larger communities often feel persecuted, many times with considerable justification, and build ideological walls around themselves for protection. A kind of fortress mentality develops, in which the small splinter group begins to think that it has been excluded because those of the larger society are willfully ignorant of the truth, or evil, or demonically possessed. There can arise a kind of “us versus them” mentality, in which only those on the inside are “in the know” and stand “in the light.”[4]

While I do not intend to delve too much into the topic, Christian-Jewish relations in the first and second centuries c.e. serve as a good illustration of such developments within new religious movements. W. H. C. Frend notes that though Christianity originally competed with Judaism for its converts,[5] as time passed and as Jewish Christians were cast out of the synagogues,[6] “‘the disbelieving Jew’ had become the enemy, the persecutor, and defamer of the faith.”[7]

In the case of Unificationism, from the start Rev. Moon was clear in ascertaining that his mission was to establish the foundation of unity with Protestantism in order to establish a worldwide foundation.[8] According to Rev. Moon,

At the time the Christians should have [united] with me, Korea was under [the] American military government. Through the Christians I could have united with the government. And through the government I could have united with the democratic world.[9]

Christianity, in Rev. Moon’s words, was represented by, among several others, Baek Moon Kim, the leader of a small Christian spiritualist group; it is believed that Rev. Moon’s mission was to have been advanced through the relationship between the two men. It is generally understood that Kim was “the providential key person in the position of John the Baptist.”[10] As Kazuhiro Tsusaka explains it in his thesis written at the Unification Theological Seminary, “God gave Baek Moon Kim the revelation that he had to prepare to receive the second coming of the Messiah.”[11] At the time the two met, Kim had succeeded in becoming a famous Korean mystic with connections to the first president of South Korea, Syngman Rhee. In order to become the successor to Kim’s foundation, Rev. Moon “took an unassuming role when he visited Kim’s group, and did menial tasks.”[12] The Unification account is that “[Moon] prayed hard for Mr. Kim to understand [Rev. Moon]’s role.”[13] Yet events did not follow as planned.

Michael Breen writes, “Several months after Moon joined the group, Kim placed his hand on Rev. Moon’s head in blessing and said the wisdom of Solomon was with him.”[14] From Rev. Moon’s perspective, “Kim’s recognition of Moon was the providential event, the precondition for the group to receive the Holy Spirit.”[15] In Tsusaka’s words, “Kim should have realized Rev. Moon’s identity, i.e., his messianic status.”[16] While Kim’s group claims that it was Rev. Moon who ultimately failed by splintering off from the group,[17] the Unification belief is that though Jesus had “appeared to [Kim] during his service… he could not understand his mission, and did not follow the Messiah.”[18] Kim’s group recalled that their leader asked Rev. Moon to leave[19] and even prevented his people from following Rev. Moon.[20] It can be assumed that in the eyes of Unificationists, Kim’s refusal to work with Rev. Moon was perceived as the symbolic rejection of Rev. Moon by all of Christianity. Tsusaka dramatically writes, “Kim’s failure caused the collapse of the last foundation which God had prepared in South Korea.”[21] According to Rev. Moon, soon after, “all the spiritual foundation of Christianity was lost in the providence.”[22] According to a Unificationist account, the mission of the Unification Church was to “indemnify the failures of Christianity to unite with God’s providence for the fulfillment of the Second Advent.”[23]

Early disciples recall the bitter persecution they received from the other churches. Sociologists David G. Bromley and Anson D. Shupe note, “Christian church leaders were instrumental in mobilizing social control against the Unification Church even before its formal establishment.”[24] In the face of the unwillingness of the Korean Christian groups to follow him, Rev. Moon began to gather his own followers. Bromley and Shupe note that the persecution the Unification Church faced at the hands of Christian churches in Korea was “severe enough to increase UM solidarity, provide confirmatory theological predictions, and supply raw material for apocryphal tales of the movement’s early triumphs over evil.”[25] They report that Rev. Moon was imprisoned when 64 Christian ministers sent letters of complaint to the authorities. Bromley and Shupe write, “Understandably, UM members later could look back and regard this period as one of martyrdom for Rev. Moon and one that aptly demonstrated the extremes of factionalism into which modern Christianity had fallen.”

Rev. Moon himself speaks of this situation: “Because of the failure of the Christian churches to accept me in my early ministry… they created all kinds of rumors during that period. If there had been acceptance by the churches to begin with, we would not have had those difficulties.”[26]

Thus was set up the situation detailed in Festinger’s cognitive dissonance theory, as well as Ehrman’s description of the development of the fortress mentality in new religious movements. In face of the refusal of Kim, representing Christianity, to acknowledge Rev. Moon’s divine mission, early Unification members “sought to reduce or eliminate the dissonance… [through] forget[ting] or reduc[ing] the importance of those cognitions that are in a dissonance relationship.”[27] In Ehrman’s terms, “the small splinter group begins to think that it has been excluded because those of the larger society are willfully ignorant of the truth, or evil, or demonically possessed.”[28] Through discrediting Kim, claiming that he was consumed by jealousy of Rev. Moon, Rev. Moon’s legitimacy was maintained.

Moreover, the actualization of dissonance reduction of Christianity is evident within the primary text of the Unification movement, Exposition. Rev. Moon’s speeches as well as the testimonies of his early disciples may also reveal common sentiments; but for the purpose of this paper I will focus on Exposition.

Prior to 1954, Rev. Moon taught his followers verbally, frequently referring to the Bible. He finished his first written manuscript of his teachings on May 10, 1954. The Preface to Exposition explains, “the earliest manuscript of the Divine Principle was lost in North Korea during the Korean War.”[29] Although Rev. Moon himself wrote another version, it was a later text written by Hyo Won Eu, namely Exposition, that became the “text of Reverend Rev. Moon’s basic teaching.”[30] Though Rev. Moon did not write Exposition, it is clearly stated that Rev. Moon “meticulously”[31] checked the text. As such, that which is conveyed in the text, directly as well as indirectly, is taken at face value.

An examination of Exposition reveals the existence of contempt toward Christianity. Passages describing Christianity, scattered throughout the text, describe a declining religion. The very first mention of Christianity is made on the fourth page of the Introduction. Though Christian history is praised, the statement is prefaced with a cynical beginning: “Professing the salvation of humankind.”[32] Similar treatment is given in the next sentence. The Christian spirit is described as having “cast flames of life so brilliant”;[33] yet like the preceding sentence it is prefaced by “Yet what has become…”[34] In this manner, even praise for Christianity is weighed down by negative initial remarks. Such doubtful praise of Christianity is quickly rebuffed in the next paragraph by a bold statement: “Christianity, though it professed the love of God, had degenerated into a dead body of clergy trailing empty slogans.”[35] Over and over, Christianity is portrayed as a powerless and hypocritical religion. “Christianity today has fallen victim to confusion and division.”[36]

Through its attempts to discredit Christianity, Unificationism is in essence legitimating itself. Thus Exposition serves as an illustration of Festinger’s phenomenon of reducing cognitive dissonance. If Christianity is fully viewed as disintegrating in character, it is not that Rev. Moon failed to succeed, but that Christianity failed to understand Rev. Moon due to its increasing spiritual decadence. Based on such a characterization, mutual respect and thus dialogue cannot be expected to develop easily.

Admittedly, Exposition does not cast Christianity as intentionally malicious or evil, yet Christianity may be perceived, through Exposition, as an ignorant religion necessitating its supercession. The second chapter of Exposition describes Christians as holding a “vague belief”[37] in the explanation of the origin of evil. A similar characterization of a wide range of Christian beliefs regarding the Human Fall follows, adding to the illustration of Christianity as an ignorant and wandering religion.

Particularly important to Unificationism is the appropriate acceptance of the Lord of the Second Advent.[38] Thus in the last chapter of Exposition, titled “Second Advent,” especial attention is turned to warn Christians:

Many Christian clergy take pride in their knowledge of the Bible and their ability to interpret it. They take pleasure in the reverence they receive from their followers; they are content to carry on the imposing duties of their offices; yet, to God’s grief, they are entirely ignorant of God’s providence in the Last Days.[39]

Almost as if directly speaking from experience, Exposition describes what it perceives to be the common trend among Christian leadership. Regardless of the validity of this claim, it is clear that Exposition does not foster constructive dialogue.

A critical examination of Exposition reveals the “us versus them” mentality that agrees with Ehrman’s description of the inclination of new religions that split off from larger communities, as mentioned above. It is clear that in Exposition, Unificationism does not consider itself to be a part of the deteriorating Christian religion. For this reason it deliberately laments in reference to the Christian inability to fight communism, “What a pity this is!”[40] The Unification role in relation to Christianity is finally introduced on page 7: “It may be displeasing to religious believers, especially to Christians, to learn that a new expression of truth must appear.”[41] The Unification view is that the Divine Principle is this new truth. Yet to distinguish Unification Principle as a truth existing outside of Christianity implies that Unificationism lies wholly outside of Christianity. The “us and them”[42] mentality is evident.

If Korean Christianity had accepted Sun Myung Moon in earlier years, perhaps Exposition of the Divine Principle would have been phrased differently. Yet as Roth and Rubenstein write, “to that ‘if only,’ others are commonly added.”[43] As with all new religions, Unificationism has faced the hardships thrust upon it by the older, more established religions. This is evident in the attitude of Unificationists as well as in the primary text of Unification theology.

Yet as Unificationism has a self-ordained mission to unify the Christian denominations, special scrutiny should be made of its treatment of Christianity. Specifically seeking the support of established Christianity, the Unification movement should be aware of the stratification common between new religions and their mother religion. The element of condescension and even resentment apparent in Unification texts should be regarded with a wary eye. In order to effectively unite the different denominations, and eventually “establishing one global nation under God,”[44] as described in the final sentence of Exposition, it is necessary for Unificationism to discern its true feelings toward Christianity.

While efforts toward a deeper understanding of Christianity can be illustrated in light of recent events, such as the growth of the American Clergy Leadership Conference, I argue that rectification of Unificationism’s relationship with Christianity will require a clear and objective recognition of possible hidden resentments and bitterness glimpsed in Exposition. Following this, through developing a theology devoid of condescending and loaded language, I believe Unificationism can mature as a religion. For successful dialogue between Christians and Unificationists, mutual respect must be achieved prior to its initiation. In its current state of portraying Christianity, Exposition does not provide the opportunity for that respect to take root. 



[1] Ken Sudo, “Father’s Life,” unpublished, p. 11.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Leon Festinger, Henry W. Riecken and Stanley Schachter, When Prophecy Fails: A Social and Psychological Study of a Modern Group that Predicted the Destruction of the World (New York: Harper Torchbooks, 1956), p. 27.

[4] Bart Ehrman, The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997), p. 151.

[5] W. H. C. Frend, The Rise of Christianity (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1984), p. 125.

[6] See John 9:22 and John 12:42.

[7] Frend, p. 126.

[8] Sun Myung Moon, God’s Will and the World (New York: Accord, 1985), p. 49.

[9] Michael Breen, Sun Myung Moon: the Early Years, 1920-53 (West Sussex: Refuge Books, 1997).

[10] Kazuhiro Tsusaka, Understanding “The Basic Principles of Christianity” by Peak Moon Kim: From a Unification Perspective, thesis presented to the Faculty of the Unification Theological Seminary, 1999, p. 5.

[11] Kazuhiro Tsusaka, p. 5.

[12] Breen, p. 68.

[13] Tsusaka, p. 6.

[14] Breen, p. 69.

[15] Breen, p. 69.

[16] Tsukasa, p. 6.

[17] Ehrman, p. 69.

[18] Tatsuo Sasaki, Rev. Sung Myung Moon: His Life (1993), unpublished, p. 20.

[19] Breen, p. 70.

[20] Tsusaka, p. 6.

[21] Tsusaka, p. 6.

[22] Moon, p. 455.

[23] Sasaki, p. 34.

[24] David G. Bromley and Anson D. Shupe, Jr., “Moonies” in America (Beverly Hills: Sage Publications, 1979), p. 48.

[25] Bromley and Shupe, p. 48.

[26] Sudo, p. 30.

[27] Festinger, p. 26.

[28] Ehrman, p. 151.

[29] Exposition of the Divine Principle (New York: HSA-UWC, 1996), p. xxi.

[30] loc. cit.

[31] loc. cit.

[32] Exposition, p. 4.

[33] loc. cit.

[34] loc. cit.

[35] Exposition, p. 5.

[36] loc. cit.

[37] Exposition, p. 53.

[38] Frederick Sontag, Sun Myung Moon and the Unification Church (Nashville: Parthenon Press, 1977), p. 112.

[39] Exposition, p. 405.

[40] Exposition, p. 5.

[41] Exposition, p. 7.

[42] Ehrman, p. 151.

[43] Richard Rubenstein and John K. Roth, Approaches to Auschwitz: the Holocaust and Its Legacy (Atlanta: John Knox, 1987), p. 201.

[44] Exposition, p. 411.