Dr. Michael Mickler’s new book packed with historical details
Cambridge University Press has published The Unification Church Movement, a scholarly 64-page analysis penned by Dr. Michael L. Mickler, professor of Church History at the Unification Theological Seminary, New York. Mickler’s new book is part of the “Elements of New Religious Movements” series, an attempt to go beyond stereotypes and prejudice and introduce new religious movements (NRMs) and related topics in a non-biased, scholarly fashion.
Mickler explains that the book
“is neither a sociological nor a theological analysis, but a historical account of the UCM’s origins and development. As such, it makes use of sources not previously utilized, some of which are not published.” (Mickler, p. 4)
The publication is, at the very least, an excellent reference source, packed with historical details of how the movement evolved, its progress and its setbacks. Mickler seems to master the role of a neutral, academic observer quite well.
The focus is on origins in Korea, the movement’s spread to Japan and the USA before it became a global movement. The author takes us back to Sun Myung Moon‘s eventful life-process before what became known as the Unification Church was founded in 1954.
The first half gives a detailed and well-researched account of beginnings and developments in the 40 years before the church was transformed into the peace movement known as the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification in the mid-90’s. The focus was on creating “a religious but non-sectarian membership organization for people of all faiths and good conscience.” (Mickler, p. 33-34)
My main gripe with this piece would be the excessive space given to tiny splinter groups that have broken away from the mainstream movement over the years. Mickler’s new book implies that such groups are part of what he calls “The Unification Church Movement”. The majority of believers would probably object to such a view. Some of the small breakaway groups have teachings and practices that differ substantially from the movement currently led by Mother Moon.
A big plus is that it follows the development of the Unification Movement right up until today. It gives detailed insight into Father Moon’s vision, how he would like his goals to be realised in the future. Mickler’s new book paints a detailed picture of Mother Moon’s leadership and focus in the years following her husband’s passing in 2012.
The author dwells briefly on the origin of the current wave of persecution in Japan,
“A second phase [of persecution] erupted in 1978 when the Japanese Communist Party (JCP) declared war on the UCM. Agitated by “Victory over Communism” lectures and demonstrations on college campuses, JCP Chairman Miyamoto Kenji declared, “Stamping [out] VOC is a Historical War for Justice.” Articles on the UC in Akahata (Red Flag, the JCP’s newspaper) escalated from 13 in 1975. 21 in 1976, 71 in 1977, to 1,716 in 1978. The JCP fanned the flames of Japanese-Korean antagonism by claiming the UCM was founded by the Korean Central Intelligence Agency, thereby raising the specter of foreign interference.” (Mickler, p. 24)
The final conclusions that the author draws, are similar to those of
Fredrick Sontag (1924-2009), philosopher and author of several books, including “Sun Myung Moon and the Unification Church” in 1977. Mickler quotes Sontag,
“I did come to two firm conclusions: (1) The origins of the movement are genuinely humble, religious, and spiritual (which many doubt); and (2) the adaptability and solidarity of the movement are such that we are dealing with a movement that is here to stay.” (Sontag, p. 12, Mickler, p. 62)
Text: Knut Holdhus, 3rd March 2023.