o other individual outside of my immediate family has had a greater impact on my adult life than Rev. Sun Myung Moon. It is surprising that this should be the case. We were born in different countries, the products of very different cultures. When I was a student preparing for the rabbinate at the Jewish Theological Seminary, it would have been impossible to imagine that Rev. Moon could have had such a profound effect on me.
When I first met Rev. Moon, I already had an established reputation as a theologian and an historian of religion whose works had been translated into a number of foreign languages. My views on theology were and remain very different than his. Rev. Moon always treated me with sophisticated understanding and very great courtesy.
I was a Fellow at the National Humanities Institute at Yale University when I received an invitation to participate in the 1976 International Conference on the Unity of the Science (ICUS) in Washington, D.C. I had become curious about Rev. Moon and the Unification Movement. One very powerful Yale professor told me that my attendance would have a negative effect on my academic career. I do not take well to that sort of threat. I resolved to attend ICUS and asked Dr. Betty Rubenstein to come with me.
The conference was one of the best we had ever attended. I took part in multi-disciplinary sessions with world-class scholars and scientists in every field. I conversed with several Nobel Laureates, including Sir John Eccles and Eugene Wigner.
Naturally, I was most curious about Rev. Moon. It was clear to me that he is a man of extraordinary spiritual charisma and that, he is the commanding presence in any gathering at which he is present. I especially remember his singing several songs in Korean. Although I did not understand the words, the force of his personality came through. I also noted that he had a strong sense of humor.
I especially appreciated Rev. Moon’s commitment to the fight against Communism. From his own first-hand, personal experience and out of his religious convictions, he understood how tragic a political and social blight that movement had been. I had been in East and West Berlin the week the Berlin Wall was erected in August 1961 and had visited communist Poland in 1965. Unfortunately, many of my liberal academic colleagues did not understand the full nature of the threat as did Rev. Moon. I was impressed with the sophistication of Rev. Moon’s anti-communism. He understood communism’s evil, but he also stood ready to meet with communist leaders such as Mikhail Gorbachev and Kim Il Sung in the hope of changing or moderating their views.
In the spring of 1977, I was invited to offer prayer at the first graduation ceremony of the Unification Theological Seminary in Barrytown, New York. Immediately before the event, I was walking down a flight of stairs and noticed Rev. Moon looking out of a window in what seemed to be meditation. I did not want to disturb him. I did not think he knew who I was.
Watching me pass by him, he later told me that he thought to himself, "Rubenstein has guts!" Apparently, he took my failure to introduce myself—it certainly was not a willful refusal—as a token of a certain measure of independence and courage on my part. There have been many occasions since when he told me that he thought that I have "guts." I hope that I have proven worthy of that opinion.
After giving millions of dollars to support American religious, cultural and charitable institutions, Rev. Moon was found guilty of tax evasion and sentenced to a term at Danbury Federal Prison in Connecticut. I visited him there. He was neatly attired in a khaki shirt and slacks, relaxed, and radiated good cheer. As always, his charisma dominated our visit. All of us felt that we were his guests, whether we met him at his home, at a conference reception, or in Danbury.
He tended to single me out during his speeches, sometimes challenging me on a religious idea, sometimes asking my opinion. On one occasion, he asked me before 2,000 people, "Do you love God?" It was a hard question for me to answer. Simply to say, "Yes, of course, I love God!" would have been too easy. I am too mindful of the awesome Majesty of Divinity to give an easy answer.
When he asked me a question in the Church or in the presence of so many people, it was especially difficult for me to answer. I was his guest and did not want to express a contrary opinion. He knew me very well. Perhaps, it was his way of determining whether I still had "guts." I knew that he did not expect or want me ever to say anything simply to please him. He would have lost respect for me if I had. I, on the other hand, never wished to be in any way discourteous. My challenge was to express my own views truthfully and respectfully. I understood that his singling me out was a token of affection and respect. I understood the honor that he bestowed upon me in these encounters and I returned his affection and respect with much gratitude.
Rev. Moon told me that he would have a very important task for me. I was puzzled by the remark. I had already served as President of the Professors World Peace Academy (PWPA) in the U.S. and as a member of the Editorial Advisory Board of The Washington Times. Several years later he entrusted me with the leadership of the University of Bridgeport. The leadership of the University of Bridgeport was the most important task that he gave to me.
I am enormously indebted to Rev. Moon for entrusting me with the leadership of the University of Bridgeport. Before Rev. Moon rescued the university from certain collapse and bankruptcy in 1992, the institution had experienced the longest and the bitterest faculty strike in the history of American higher education. Once it became known that the University and PWPA had entered into a partnership, both the press and an important segment of public opinion in Connecticut vehemently criticized the partnership agreement. All private colleges and universities in New England are publicly regulated. Had there been a violation of PWPA’s agreement to maintain the non-sectarian character of the University, the school would have quickly lost its accreditation. Unfortunately, some of the critics preferred to see the school close its doors rather than succeed in its partnership with PWPA.
Thanks to Rev. Moon’s commitment to the university, it did not fail. Enrollment and revenue have increased every year since 1995. When I became President in 1995 there were 1,900 students. I left office at the end of 1999 with 3,000 students enrolled and with a much modernized and improved campus plant. To date, Rev. Moon and his disciples have committed over $110 million to the university.
On August 24, 1992, I was given the honor of responding to the address that Rev. Moon delivered at the Little Angels School in Seoul, Korea before an assembly that included religious leaders, philosophers, scientists, political leaders, media leaders and government officials from all over the world. I did not have occasion to see the address until a day or two before the occasion. When I did see it, I realized that it was perhaps the most important public address Rev. Moon had ever given. In it he proclaimed his understanding of himself as Lord of the Second Advent. The occasion was too solemn for me to say anything simply to please him, nor did I think he wanted me to.
The nature of Rev. Moon’s calling is a matter of faith. I neither wanted to say anything that would mar the solemnity of the occasion, especially for his disciples, nor did I want to misrepresent my own religious commitments. In a way, Rev. Moon was once again testing me to see whether I had "guts." I would not have shown "guts" if I failed fully to appreciate the seriousness of the occasion in my response. I was, after all, his guest and he had honored me by inviting me to respond to this most important address rather than any of the other scholars and theologians who were at the Seoul meetings. My response is best summarized in the following words spoken on that occasion:
I must confess that as an historian of religion who received his scientific training at Harvard University, your explicit and unambiguous sharing with us of your understanding of who you are is one of the most extraordinary moments of my entire career. You have described the announcement of your calling as "astonishing and fearful."
For myself, and for many of my peers whose vocation is the scientific study of religion, awesome religious inspiration is something that happened, if at all, long ago. We are most comfortable studying derivative accounts of religious inspiration and revelation in books and manuscripts. Engaged in this labor, we are interested in our subject matter; we are calm; we are dispassionate and without inner disturbance.
The situation is radically transformed; indeed it is, as you say, truly "astonishing," when we are confronted by an inspired religious leader whose vocation is in the process of unfolding in our own times and even before our very eyes.
We are not accustomed to such a manifestation of spiritual power and charisma. Our scientific and professional training has not prepared us for the encounter. Hence, we guard ourselves against it by inventing psychological categories to neutralize its potency and our discomfort before it. Nevertheless, the spiritual power is there, and, whatever may be the religious tradition in which we are rooted, we feel it.
Of one thing concerning your messianic vision I am certain: all of your works, from which the world has already derived so much benefit, have sprung from your messianic vision. Without it, there would be no ICUS, no PWPA, no Washington Times, no Assembly of World Religions, no Little Angels School, no revivified University of Bridgeport; without your messianic vision, your original tiny church in Busan would never have become the worldwide religious force for human betterment you now lead.
That statement expresses much of what I feel about Rev. Moon and his mission. To repeat, no person in my adult life apart from my family has had a greater impact on my adult life.
In 1985, Rev. Sun Myung Moon sponsored an Assembly of the World’s Religions, the first of many conferences bringing leading representatives of the world’s religions together for the sake of mutual understanding, collaboration, and the quest for world peace. The following comments reflect the unique impact of these encounters: