The United Methodist Church has passed along a plea from its bishops in South Korea that American clergy forgo international conferences sponsored by the Rev. Sun Young Moon's Unification Church.
Korean church leaders suffer "dismay and embarrassment" from the visits of United Methodist clergy to their country, Bishop Ki Chun Chang, president of the Korean Methodist Council of Bishops, wrote to his American counterparts. Copies of the letter were to be sent to all 45 U.S. bishops and to the church's district superintendents.
"Having gone through (a) painful struggle to preserve the Christian faith against the worst kind of blasphemy," Chang said, "it pains us to witness the willingness of United Methodist pastors to grant credibility to the Unification Church by accepting offers of subsidized travel" to Japan and Korea.
Names Used in Ads
"Names and denominational relationship (of the touring clergy) appear in expensive advertisements in Korean newspapers glorifying the Unification Church founder and god, Sun Myung Moon," Chang said.
Unification Church official Jim Stephens, contacted by telephone at his New York office, denied that members believe that Moon is a god. "And we haven't taken out big ads since about two years ago," Stephens added.
Stephens acknowledged, however, that some U.S. church leaders and bishops of various denominations have warned their pastors against accepting the trips.
Early this year, David M. Hart, the pastor of a Congregational Church in Clear Lake, Iowa, was fired by his congregation for having gone on such a trip. Hart, a Yale Divinity School graduate, reportedly described adherents of Moon's church as "deeply guided by Christian principles."
Some Expenses Paid
Clergy are asked to pay their own air fare although local Unification Church branches sometimes handle those costs, Stephens said. Otherwise, the Unification Church pays room, meal and incidental travel costs on the weeklong seminars, he said.
The Unification Church's newspaper recently reported that more than 4,800 American ministers have traveled to its International Conference for Clergy seminars since the project's founding in 1982. The newspaper said participants included 300 Methodists.
Methodists were outnumbered by 1,100 Baptist, 600 Pentecostal and 490 "nondenominational" ministers. The paper also said that 400 Mormons have made the trip although that church does not have a professional clergy. In addition, participants have included 250 Church of God in Christ, 150 Seventh-day Adventist, 120 Apostolic and 115 Assemblies of God ministers, according to Unification News.
'Deepen Their Understanding'
The purpose, according to editor Richard L. Lewis, is "to deepen their understanding of the explosion of Christian faith occuring in Korea, its deep spiritual traditions and the relationship of both to the Unification Movement."
Since its arrival on the American religious scene nearly two decades ago, the Unification Church has sought recognition from established churches. But the Unification belief that Jesus Christ failed in his mission as savior of humankind is seen by virtually all denominations as incompatible with Christian belief. Moon is believed by some of his followers to be the true redeemer.
The church's goal is to have 7,000 ministers accept the seminar trips, according to the Unification News. Unification Church official Stephens was quoted as saying that Moon had decided on the figure when he was in prison. In 1984 and 1985, Moon served 13 months of an 18-month sentence for failing to report $162,000 in income on his federal tax forms. The church has maintained that Moon was innocent--that the money was the church's, not his personal funds.
Alludes to Bible
Speaking to prospective trip-taking ministers and "alumni" participants in Boston, Stephens drew an analogy between 7,000 persons in Israel who would not worship a pagan god (1 Kings 19:18) during the prophet Elijah's time and 7,000 "righteous people who will not bow down" in America today.
"So Rev. Moon, just like Elijah, was inspired to gather 7,000 people in America," Stephens was quoted as saying. "You are making a foundation for God's kingdom to come on this earth. We want you to be part of the 7,000."
The Unification Church newspaper said that the traveling seminar includes lectures about Unification Church doctrine and "the truth behind the many stories circulated about Rev. Moon's ministry."