Former Executive Secretary for Interfaith
Relations, British Council of Churches;
esus said, "beware of false prophets … you recognize them by the fruits they bear … a good tree always yields good fruit." This passage has been applied by Christians to Muhammad (peace be upon him), to Joseph Smith (the Mormon prophet) and by some to Sun Myung Moon, founder of the Unification movement and of the Seminary that employs me.
Shortly after starting to work at the Unification Theological Seminary (UTS), I contacted an official of the American Baptist Churches to ask how, as an ordained Baptist, I might contribute to Baptist life in the area. The official wrote back saying that his heart sank when he realized that I was "with the Moonies," and that he would not help me "infiltrate our churches with this cult."
I was hurt by this response. Later, he wrote that he could not understand how, if I was a Christian, I could work for the Moonies and that he had had bad experiences of Moonies claiming endorsement for their views from well-respected Christians who had merely attended one of their meetings out of curiosity.
A number of issues require addressing. First, are the "Moonies" a cult? All sorts of religious groups have been regarded as cults (even we Baptists were called a sect when we began) and quite a few are now regarded as respectable, although not necessarily mainstream.
One example is the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (the Mormons), founded by Joseph Smith, who saw himself as having done more than Jesus to keep his Church together; yet there are now almost as many Saints in the world as Jews, including fifteen members of the U.S. Congress. They are renowned for their high moral standards, family values, community service and caring for each other. Doesn’t it say somewhere, "they will know we are Christians by our love"? (See John 13: 35)
Christians from the start saw Muhammad (peace be upon him) as a false prophet. They still accuse him of sexual misconduct, but almost one third of humanity reveres Muhammad as the Last Prophet. Muslims also believe, as does Moon, that Jesus did not complete his mission. Smith and Moon, too, like Muhammad, have been accused of sexual misconduct. Smith told his followers that he never claimed to be perfect, but there was "no error in the revelations which I have taught."
So, are the Moonies a cult? Although there is no generally accepted definition, a cult is thought to exercise total control over its members, to prevent them from leaving. They are said to have authoritarian leadership. But I know members who have left or who have been asked to leave. Incidentally, if the Unificationists have mastered the technique of brain-washing, every intelligence agency would be lining up to learn their secret!
The Moonies I know, and my contact with the movement goes back to 1986 are caring, compassionate, humane, family-centered people who do not abuse alcohol, smoke, or advocate free-sex but who believe in the unity of the human race and ending war and injustice. Rev. Moon’s goal is a unified world of peace, the hope of all ages.
I was raised believing that the Roman Catholic Church, with its top-down leadership and extra-Biblical doctrines, was a cult. J. Oswald Saunders’ Cults and Isms (Arrowsmith, 1980) describes the Catholic Church as "a cult alongside the Mormons, Christian Science, the Christadelphians!" I do not agree with every aspect of Roman Catholic doctrine, but I have worked with Catholics throughout my ministry. I do not agree with every aspect of what Rev. Moon believes, nor has anyone ever asked me to. I used to work for a metropolitan city council, but I did not support all the council’s policies. Were I to work for a Roman Catholic college, I would not be expected to accept all the doctrines of the Roman Catholic Church.
In the end, God will judge whether anyone who claims to have a message from God—such as Muhammad or Smith or Moon—is a true and faithful servant, or a charlatan. However, through the words of Jesus, God gives pragmatic advice–we can judge people by their fruits. Jesus also said, in Luke 6:46, "Why do you call me Lord, Lord and not do the things I say?"
Neither soundness of doctrine nor moral conduct redeems us; neither are any of us perfect. We are all sinners in the process of being redeemed. Paul said that the good he wanted to do, he didn’t do; but instead, he did the wrong he did not want to do (Romans 7:14). This is true of all of us, but God is able to work through us, despite our failings. Smith himself reasoned that the Book of Mormon was of God because "all things which are good cometh of Christ," and the devil "persuadeth no man to do good, no, not one; neither do his angels; neither do they who subject themselves unto him."
Rev. Moon says that he is the Messiah. This is a matter of deep concern for many Christians. Is this why I should not teach at the accredited Seminary he founded? Were I offered a job at a Muslim college, as a life-long scholar of Islam I would jump at the opportunity—yet Muslims do not believe that Jesus died on the Cross and rose again to redeem all humanity, even though they do call him Messiah. In fact, the majority of New Testament scholars are skeptical whether Jesus actually thought that he was the Messiah, seeing this as a title bestowed on him by the early church. The most commonly held view today among Jews is that the Messiah will liberate Jerusalem, rebuild the Temple, re-establish the Sanhedrin (Isaiah 1:26) and reign over the world with universal peace and justice. There is still war in the world, and injustice. Jesus has come but world peace still eludes us.
Moses Maimonides thought that the coming of the Messiah would bring justice to the Jews but would not otherwise impact on the order of the world. Many Reform or progressive Jews do not believe in the Messiah as a person but in the Messianic age that is to come, and towards which we are called to work. The Reform rabbis gathering in Ohio in 1937 wrote: "We regard it as our historic task to co-operate with all men in the establishment of the Kingdom of God, of universal brotherhood, justice, truth and peace on earth. This," they said, "is our messianic goal."
When Rev. Moon speaks of himself as Messiah, it is not as a boast but within the context of a huge task that all humanity needs must shoulder. "Your mission and that of heaven," he tells his followers, "is to join hands with us in building a peaceful Kingdom of Heaven on this earth." Rev. Moon teaches that, "The will of Heaven resides in human peace grounded in true families, not in the progress of any particular church or religion" but in pure love between all peoples. We should all live for the sake of others, he says.
This may be ambitious, but if good people stand by and do nothing, evil will surely triumph (as Edmund Burke put it). Sometimes, thinking big is just what God wants of us. David brought down Goliath. A man in a loin-cloth asked Britain to leave India, and Britain did. In South Africa, a prisoner became a president. Do we or do we not believe that peace will defeat war, good evil, generosity greed, selflessness selfishness?
Did Jesus claim to have completed his work? Yes, in that there is in him all that is needed for salvation, his words on the cross, "it is finished," signify the completeness of his work (John 19:30). Faith in him is all that is needed (sola fides), and that is God’s free gift. Justification is by faith alone: "And that I may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith." (Philippians 3:9)
As Archbishop of Canterbury Dr. Rowan Williams, paraphrasing the French philosopher Blaise Pascal, has put it, "Jesus will be in agony until the end of the world," since the kingdom of heaven started with Jesus; but it has not yet been consummated or perfected." Jesus is not dead but alive and continues to work through his church and the Holy Spirit, and that Spirit is not confined to the institutional church but has the freedom of the wind to blow where it wills (John 3:8). Jesus did not teach us all that he could when he was alive, rather the Spirit will guide us–in the future–"into all the truth" (John 16:13). We, the body of Christ, through the Spirit, will turn out to be "the finished" and so continue Christ’s mission. It has been said: "It is finished, but it is not over." Thus, we are called to "work out our salvation" (Philippians 2:12).
Nor do I believe that God remained silent after Jesus, which is why I am open to the possibility that He also speaks to us through the Qur’an that Muhammad received, and through Mahatma Gandhi, who was not a Christian—although he acknowledged the influence of the Sermon on the Mount and had a reverence for Jesus. It was, he said, Christians who put him off Christianity! In John 14:12, Jesus said that his followers would do even greater things than he had. Perhaps Rev. Moon is a true follower of Jesus.
Meanwhile, as a Christian committed to carrying out the mandate announced at Jesus’ baptism, "to proclaim good news to the poor, release for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind" (Luke 4:18f) I look for friends and allies in the task.
I do not agree with everything that a Muslim believes, or with everything that a Roman Catholic believes, or with everything that a Moonie believes, but I judge them by their fruits. If they break down walls of skin color or creed that separate person from person, then they are with me. If they stand up for oppression against the oppressors, they are with me. If they work for that day when swords will be beaten into ploughshares, then they are with me. If they believe in the equality and dignity and rights of all people, regardless of gender or color or race or creed, then they are with me. If they struggle to establish the values of the kingdom of God in society and in the world, then they are not against my Lord (Matthew 12:30).
As a Baptist, I am proud of a long history of support for religious liberty, which in my view must be indivisible. Religious liberty cannot be just for me because my doctrines are right, but not for him, because he is in error. It must be religious liberty for all.
I do not know if Rev. Moon is the Messiah, but I do know that he is totally committed to world peace and bringing people together across cultural and racial divides. He is totally committed to reconciling enemies, as Jesus commanded, "love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you." He has nothing but love for those who have imprisoned him. I do not know if he is perfect or sinless, though I know full well that I am not, yet I sincerely believe that I am God’s servant, called to ministry. I have met some of Rev. Moon’s family, and they are beautiful people. I have attended conferences at which some of the most accomplished scholars of religion talk about how we can collaborate in dialogue to end injustice and oppression. When no Jew was talking to a World Council of Churches consultation concerned with Jewish-Christian relations, dozens of distinguished Jewish leaders were talking to organizations founded by Rev. Moon.
As a life-long participant in Christian-Muslim dialogue, I have met through Rev. Moon’s movement some of the most influential Muslim thinkers in the world. This is because Rev. Moon has funded interreligious dialogue when most church bodies concerned with interreligious relations remain strapped for cash. Who is on the Lord’s side? We shall indeed know them by their fruits.
I apologize, if I must, for teaching at the Unification Theological Seminary, and I will defend the orthodoxy of my Christian belief to anyone. Yet I am a Baptist because we do not demand doctrinal conformity, as the Judson Declaration on Baptist Principles (2004) says, "We, therefore, reject all attempts to impose a creed or creed-like structure to be used as a litmus test for orthodoxy."
Therefore, I will allow no man to condemn me because of what I believe. I will be judged by the Lord in whom I believe.