Beliefnet
Mose Durst sat in the living room of a spectacular church-owned home in one of Berkeley's swankiest neighborhoods, just below the Claremont Hotel. It has an Asian flair, panoramic views of San Francisco Bay and the Rev. Sun Myung Moon looking down from a picture above the hearth.

Since the 1970s, Durst has been at the right hand of Moon, the Korean-born evangelist, conservative political activist, and self-proclaimed messiah.

Durst has served as the Northern California leader, and the national president, of the Unification Church. Now he's back in the Bay Area, thinking about his legacy, and the future of his church.

On this afternoon, Durst is feeling contrite. He admits that the Moonies made mistakes in the 1970s, when they sent out an overzealous army of tireless recruiters. But it's time, he says, to give his church another chance.

"People perceive us as a bad religious movement, and they isolate us more," he said. "If you think we're evil, let's sit down and talk. Let's find common ground. Otherwise, you force us into a cul-de-sac, like at Jonestown or Waco."

For years, the Moonies have struggled to make the leap from "cult" to "religion," to win credibility among political and religious leaders in the United States and around the world.

Through such publications as the Washington Times, a church-affiliated, conservative daily newspaper in the nation's capital, and through alliances with priests and pastors across the theological spectrum, Moon and company have spent a fortune courting the opinion-makers of church and state.

Now the church is looking closer to home, at the next generation of Western converts.

Durst confesses that, in the early years of Moon's American mission, church leaders erred in assuming God would provide for the children of devotees. The first kids born into the movement, he concedes, did not always get the parental attention they deserved.

"We were trying to build the church up locally--we were hot to build the kingdom," he said. "There were times in the early years when the hardest thing was building a church while being responsible for your family. You wanted to be part of a spiritual community. People would put their kids in a nursery. When it was not done well, there were all kinds of shortcomings.

"We made mistakes," he said. "We did dumb things."

Durst says there are about 10,000 members of the Unification Church in the United States. He concedes that the number is much lower than figures the church reported in earlier years.

"That's right," he said with a smile. "I no longer lie."

Worldwide, the Moonies claim 3 million members, with most of them living in Korea and Japan. Some scholars, however, say the actual number of committed adherents may be closer to 250,000.

Nevertheless, Moon has built one of the wealthiest religious movements in the world, with extensive business interests and land holdings in Asia, South America and the United States.

Today, the movement has reorganized into more familiar religious congregations. It has embraced the nuclear family and refocused its efforts on passing its teachings on to the next generation.

The new focus can be seen at the largest Unification Church congregation in Northern California, the Bay Area Family Church, housed in a nondescript building in San Leandro.

At a recent Sunday service, a band with guitar and drums played upbeat music while about 150 worshipers, a mix of Asians and Caucasians, found seats on rows of red padded pews.

There were a lot of children running around the complex, which contains a K-8 school, the Principled Academy, for 125 children.

The communal days are over. Most Moonies live in their own homes, with their own children, and work outside jobs.

"We still proselytize," said the Rev. Bento Leal, associate minister at the San Leandro church, "but it's different when you have a house full of kids and a full-time job."

Many of the families in this congregation were brought together in a mass marriage ceremony in New York's Madison Square Garden in 1982, when Moon presided over the weddings of 2,075 couples.

Not only does Moon preside over these ceremonies, he picks the spouses for his devotees and advises them as to what sexual positions to assume when they consummate their marriages.

Although these prescribed marriage rites sound strange to the uninitiated, they are a key part of Unification Church theology. Moon teaches that he and his wife are the "True Parents" of a new spiritual lineage born without original sin. This spiritual status is purportedly passed on to "blessed children" born from Moonie marriages.

According to a church survey released last year, 82% of the couples brought together in Madison Square Garden are still married, and still consider themselves members of the Unification Church. They have had an average of 2.5 children per couple.

Join the Discussion
comments powered by Disqus