Anchor Lisa Mullins speaks with Eileen Barker, Professor Emeritus of Sociology of Religion at the London School of Economics about the viability of the Unification Church following the death of its patriarch Sun Myung Moon earlier Monday.
Read the Transcript
The text below is a phonetic transcript of a radio story broadcast by PRI’s THE WORLD. It has been created on deadline by a contractor for PRI. The transcript is included here to facilitate internet searches for audio content. Please report any transcribing errors to email@example.com. This transcript may not be in its final form, and it may be updated. Please be aware that the authoritative record of material distributed by PRI’s THE WORLD is the program audio.
Lisa Mullins: Sun Myung Moon started his unification church in South Korea in the 1950’s. He eventually claimed millions of followers around the world, including here in the U.S. Ilene Barker is professor emeritus of sociology and religion at the London School of Economics. She says that despite America’s reputation as a country open to different religions, it look a personal visit by Reverend Moon in the early 1970’s for his church to gain traction here.
Dr. Ilene Barker: He went on a series of rallies in the early seventies, started organizing conferences to which he invited various notables. And lots of people started to join, particularly in California, where there was quite a lot of heavy influence. I wouldn’t use the term brainwashing because the majority of the people didn’t join. But,
Mullins:What was the appeal here, in the United States?
Barker: A number of things. One was that a lot of the young people who joined who were disproportionately young and disproportionately well-educated. They were idealistic, they wanted to make the world a better place. And another thing that was quite important was the theology. Unificationism has a very well worked out theology. It provided answers, where the kind of theology they’d been brought up in didn’t.
Mullins:What kind of answers? Or, answers to what questions?
Barker: Well, for example, why is there so much suffering and sin? Moon said that the fall in the Garden of Eden was due to Eve having a sexual relationship with the archangel Lucifer, so that the children were born of what they call Lucifer centered union rather than a God-centered union. And this meant that they had what they call a fallen nature. Sort of an original sin and the whole of history has been interpreted as trying to restore the situation that was in the Garden of Eden.
Mullins: Restore it by what?
Barker: For one thing, having a messiah. Jesus was meant to get married and set up the God-centered union family. But he was killed before that happened so we had to go through a whole lot of other things until eventually Moon came along, as the new messiah. And when he married his present wife, in 1960, he had at least one, possibly two wives before, that, it was believed, provided the foundation for the restoration.
Mullins: Professor Barker, you met Reverend Sun Myung Moon, maybe you can tell us what he was like. And I’m curious as to whether he was a messianic as the founding of the church would have him be. I mean he said that he was fulfilling the mandate of Jesus because Jesus died before he could reach his goals. What was he like?
Barker: I remember once when I went to a meeting, and I skipped out just before he was going to come and talk and when I came back I got stuck with a lot of the Unificationists, who had come to the door to see him and their faces were all alight and they were smiling, and saying “isn’t he wonderful?” And those of us who weren’t members just saw this man speaking in Korean, gesticulating and looking rather horrified. But there’s no doubt that for a lot of people he has a very strong charismatic authority. They did believe, and still many do believe, that he was someone special sent by God, in touch with God and with Jesus, and able to bring about radical changes in the world.
Mullins:Do you have a certain kind of admiration for this man?
Barker: Yes I do, in a way. I wouldn’t say that I liked him. I certainly didn’t accept his theology. But I could see the effect that he had on people and I admired the way in which he lived his life to the fullest.
Mullins:What do you think the future of the church is? The Unification church, both here in America and elsewhere?
Barker: I think the movement will continue. There are some problems and a whole lot of rumors circulating in America about the daughter who’s in charge which suggests that she hasn’t been living exactly the kind of life that she’s been preaching about the perfect family and I think as that emerges there could be quite a few eruptions in America because of this. But exactly what direction it will take, I don’t know.
Mullins: Dr. Ilene Barker of the London school of Economics speaking with us about the future of the Unification church following the death this weekend of its founder Sun Myung Moon. Thank you very much for speaking with us.
Barker: You’re welcome
Copyright ©2009 PRI’s THE WORLD. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to PRI’s THE WORLD. This transcript may not be reproduced, in whole or in part, without prior written permission. For further information, please email The World’s Permissions Coordinator at firstname.lastname@example.org.