A recent Chicago Tribune article, Rev. Moon and the black clergy—an unlikely alliance, written by Delroy Alexander and Margaret Ramirez, was disappointing because of its tabloid style and political type belittling of the black pastor’s and their motives.1
In the article I was referred to as a voice of dissent but also agreement – suggesting a contradiction. This is unfortunate because I granted to Mr. Alexander an extended and in depth interview having to do with matters far more serious and profound than the trite quote about “trinkets.”
The article noted that I was a seminary professor and pastor. Indeed, I served for fifteen years as professor of Applied Theology at Garrett-Evangelical Seminary and over forty years as a pastor of prominent Chicago area churches. My interest in religious movements is long standing and related to my theological discipline. I have been invited to give theological lectures in many countries. I have lectured for the Parliament of World’s Religion. I was invited by the American Jewish Committee to be a participant in a conference between Jews and Palestinians in Israel, and I was invited by the African Hebrew Israelites to observe their community in Israel.
Let me first say, some of the most loving and wonderful people I have ever met are members of the Unification Church.2 I was introduced to the Unification movement by way of an invitation to lecture for the Federation for World Peace, a stellar organization founded by Rev. Sun Myung Moon.3 It brings together outstanding religious leaders from all over the world to consider creating a United Nations type organization of the great religions that presently are in mortal conflict.
The conferences are held in different cities and countries. They are highly significant and successful. Unfortunately these conferences are little known and open to the larger black community. And it is here that I have expressed dissent because I have observed that Unification leaders can be culturally insensitive and condescending to African Americans.
There are two levels of conferences reminiscent of the plantation house and field structure during slavery. One level is more prestigious and prolific in its content, and the other more paternal and pacifying with food and fellowship. Nevertheless, the black pastors have an uncanny sophistication for getting what they want.
If the Tribune article had reported the deeper dimensions of my interview with the young black reporter it could have given a more positive portrayal of the black pastors rather than to paint them as pacified pawns and puppets of Rev. Moon -- which is far from the truth. Such a portrayal offends not only the black Christian pastors but also the black Muslim participants and various black Chicago politicians who participate in Unification Church events. To correct some of the misconceptions of the Tribune article, I want to make the following critical observations.
First, the one black pastor who took down and burned the Cross does not in any way represent the beliefs and practices of the majority of black pastors. The publishing of his picture was calculated to create a stereotype. The symbol of the Cross has profound meaning for black Christians and they have no intentions of taking it down and burning it.
Second, it must be strongly stated that few if any non-Unification black pastors believe that Rev. Moon is the Messiah. Black pastors remain unwavering in their belief that Jesus Christ alone is Lord and their understanding of that claim is theologically sound and indisputable. Needless to say, the participants of the Nation of Islam, often represented by Minister Louis Farrakhan himself, have never conceded to the claim that Rev. Moon is the Messiah. Moreover, titles of Father and Mother Moon are not used by Muslims or most black pastors.
None of the above is required for participation in Unification Church events. The principle tenant of the Unification Church is respect for religious differences and diversity and the belief that God rather than religion is the transcendent and the ultimate unifying reality.
The problem arises when the claim of Rev. Moon being the Messiah becomes so imposing and demanding that the principle tenant is circumvented. To participate in Unification events is very often to participate in ceremonies and rituals such as coronations that involve affirming Rev. Moon as the second coming of Christ.
This is reinforced by Rev. Moon’s religious doctrines that are patented, published, promoted, and recited as divine principles at conferences. Black pastors have to avoid being drawn into Unification ceremonies and rituals that can have an indoctrinating effect.
One final observation has to do with the concept of the “ideal family” which is problematic for black pastors. The simple Adamic two parent family and the moral qualifiers for its legitimacy, illegitimates thousands of black families.
To infer legitimacy only for two parent families implies discrimination against the majority of African Americans families, which are headed by single mothers. Black men marrying women of other races and homosexuality is shrinking the pool of marriageable black men for black women. Then far too many of black men are incarcerated and absent from their families. Many more are dying prematurely from alcohol, diseases, drugs and murder. And, Aids is making millions of black children orphans in America and Africa.
Interracial marriage via the Unification blessing ceremonies is not a remedy; rather it can exacerbate the problem. African Americans also remember that the rape of black women in slavery is a primary cause of the destruction of the black family.
For this reason the idea that the black race will become lighter by interracial marriages can be perceived as racist because it is reversible by saying that due to slavery and the rape of black women the human race has become darker – a mere shift in logic. These are some of the considerations black pastors cannot expect Rev. Moon and the Unification church to understand or take seriously. Such considerations have to be forced upon their agenda and made a part of the intellectual discourse not only in Unification forums but every forum on the planet where human survival is being debated.
Therefore, these are not causes for non-participation; rather there must be enlightened participation. It is unrealistic to expect black pastors and their people not to graze in strange pastures. Indeed, they feel commissioned by Christ to go into all the world. I only wish that more black theologians and scholar pastors would participate. What it means is, if they are going to participate, they must master and maintain their core beliefs and hold their hosts accountable to the principle of respect for religious difference and diversity.
And may I say, I have seen secure and clear thinking black pastors change the course of a Unification event precisely by their uncompromising spiritual and doctrinal integrity. They are not nearly as gullible as the Tribune article made them appear to be.
I wrote a short manual for American Clergy Leadership Conference pastors, most of whom are Christians, entitled, The Rules for Spiritual Engagement. The manual was not just for engaging the Unification movement, but also the black Muslim movements, and all non-Christian religious movements. I used two scriptures as the bases for my instructions, namely, Mat. 7:15 “Beware of false prophets which come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly they are ravening wolves.” And, 1 John 4:1 “Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God because many false prophets are gone out into the world.”
These two scriptures sum up all of my instructions. They are important because the major problem many African Americans, pastors and people, have is questioning whether they have the right to challenge the authority of religious leaders. I believe that Rev. Moon, not black pastors, should convince African Americans of his principled and honorable intensions. They should not and cannot justify their association with him amid so much controversy and he should not leave them to the mercy of his enemies and the media.
In conclusion, it does not serve African Americans well to summarily dismiss personalities like Rev. Moon and his global influence. Independent of often prejudicial black or white opinions, he is a powerful and unprecedented phenomenon on the planet. All races are affected by him while they are sleeping. As the Tribune article clearly outlined, he has mastered the art of making money enough to effect every aspect of life.
He has purchased the United Press International and other news organs that determine what we think, and have made numerous other major real estate acquisitions. He studies cultures and is capable of replicating their artistic and intellectual genius – even African Americans -- and on and on. We must not shun people like him; rather we must study and learn from them.
Rev. Hycel B.Taylor was senior pastor of Second Baptist Church, a 2,000-member black congregation in Evanston, Illinois, and the former pastor of Chicago’s historic Pilgrim Baptist Church, which was destroyed by fire in January 2005. He also served as president of Operation PUSH.
1 See Chicago Tribune, November 5, 2006. Go to www.chicagotribune.com or read the article at Religion News Blog.com:
2 For more information on the Unification Church visit their website: http://www.unification.org/rev_mrs_moon.html
3 Read more on Rev. Sun Myung Moon on Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sun_Myung_Moon