The Unification Church was founded in 1954 by Sun Myung Moon, a Korean minister who escaped from North Korea during the Korean War. Its official name is the Holy Spirit Association for the Unification of World Christianity.
The church teaches that
- God appointed Jesus to establish the Kingdom of Heaven on earth, preferably in his lifetime. Due to the failure of the Jewish people to accept "him whom He had sent" (John 6:29), Jesus had to go the alternate course of dying on the cross. (See Elijah.)
- With the mission of establishing God's kingdom unfulfilled, He will appoint another Messiah to accomplish His purpose. "I have purposed, and I will do it. I have spoken, and I will bring it to pass." (Isaiah 46:11).
Members of the Unification Church generally consider Rev. Moon to be the new Messiah. This view is hotly contested by non-Unificationists, many of whom call the church 'non-Christian' for its theological views.
Church members take its teachings, the Unification Principle or Divine Principle, seriously. During the church's period of early growth (1970-1985 in America), most church members lived in intentional communities, dubbed "co-ed monasteries" by Frederick Sontag.
Members of the Unification Church are expected to remain celibate until marriage. During the 20th Century, they might marry only another member of the church. With few exceptions, marriage with a non-member was not recognized as valid by the church, and all members' marriages were arranged by Rev. Moon personally. In 2001, the church relaxed this rule somewhat, allowing parents to arrange (or approve) their children's choice of spouses.
Many members considered it the ultimate test of their faith to accept a match so arranged, and the church's increasing large marriage Blessings attracted much notice.
Some members consider the church poorly understood by outsiders, who have found it hard to imagine how people could marry to strangers under the arrangement of the church leader. The passionate and sudden dedication of thousands of American young people to this new religious movement led to virulent accusations, government investigations and a negative press image.
Rev. Moon responded by apparently courting more controversy. He took a full-page ad in major newspapers defending Nixon at the height of the Watergate Controversy. His message of "Forgive, Love, Unite" was predictably not well received, and Rev. Moon sent out missionaries to 120 countries to act in part as "lightning rods" to receive persecution.
A little-known church teaching is that by willingly enduring mistreatment (principle of Indemnity), one can receive God's blessing. The principle apparently bore fruit in the 1980's, after Rev. Moon served 11 months of an 18-month sentence for what the church considers trumped-up charges of tax evasion. Christian ministers, particularly from the black community, rallied around Rev. Moon.