Theology Thursdays: A Response To The Article "Rev. Moon And The Black Clergy" by Dr. Rev. Hycel B. Taylor
The Chicago Tribune article, "Rev. Moon and the Black Clergy: An Unlikely Alliance" (Nov. 5) written by Delroy Alexander and Margaret Ramirez, was disappointing in its tabloid style and belittling of Black pastors and their motives. The article portrays me as both a voice of dissent and, at the same time, one of agreement implying that I was contradicting myself. This is unfortunate because I granted to Mr. Alexander an extended and in-depth interview having to do with matters far more serious and sacred than a single trite quote about "trinkets."
The article noted correctly that I was a seminary professor and pastor: Indeed, I served for 15 years as professor of Applied Theology at Garrett-Evangelical Seminary and over 40 years as a pastor of prominent Chicago-area churches. My interest in religious movements is longstanding and related to my research and writings.
I have been invited to give theological lectures in many countries. I have lectured for the World Parliament of Religions; I was invited by the American Jewish Committee to participate in a conference between Jews and Palestinians in Israel; and most recently I was invited by the African Hebrew Israelites to observe their community in Israel.
In my many years in the community of religions, some of the most loving and wonderful people I have ever met are members of the Unification Church. I was introduced to the Unification movement through an invitation to lecture for the Federation for World Peace, a stellar organization founded by Reverend Sun Myung Moon. It brings together outstanding religious leaders from all over the world to pursue the creation of an organization, modeled on the United Nations, to serve the great religions that presently are in conflict. Its conferences are held in different cities and countries and have proven to be highly significant and successful.
Unfortunately, though these conferences are open to all and certainly to the Black community, they are little known. And it is here that I have expressed dissent, because I have observed that Unification leaders can be culturally insensitive and condescending to African Americans. There are two levels of conferences, reminiscent of the slave-era duality of plantation house and field: the former more prestigious and intellectual in its content, the latter paternal and pacifying with food and fellowship. Nevertheless, Black pastors have an uncanny sophistication for getting what they want.
If the article had reported the deeper dimensions of my interview, it could have given a more accurate and, therefore, positive portrayal of the Black pastors, rather than to paint them as pacified pawns and puppets of Rev. Moon. This is far from the truth and offensive, not only to the Black Christian pastors, but also the Black Muslim participants and various Black Chicago politicians who participate in Unification Church events.
To correct some of the misconceptions of the Tribune article, I want to make the following critical observations. First, the single Black pastor who took down and buried the Cross does not in any way represent the beliefs and practices of the majority of Black pastors. The publishing of his picture was calculated to create a stereotype. The symbol of the Cross has a profound meaning for Black Christians, who have no intention of taking it down and burying it.
Second, it must be strongly stated that few, if any, non-Unification Black pastors believe that Rev. Moon is the Messiah. Black pastors remain unwavering in their belief that Jesus Christ alone is Lord, and their understanding of that claim is theologically sound and indisputable. It goes without saying that members of the Nation of Islam, often represented by Minister Louis Farrakhan himself, have never acceded to the claim that Rev. Moon is the Messiah. Moreover, titles of "Father" and "Mother" Moon are not used by Muslims or most Black pastors.
None of the above is essential to participation in Unification Church events. The principal tenet of the Unification Church is respect for religious differences and diversity under the overarching belief that God, rather than religion, is the transcendent and ultimate unifying reality. The problem arises when the claim of Rev. Moon being the Messiah becomes so imposing and demanding that the above belief is compromised.
To participate in Unification Church events is very often to participate in ceremonies and rituals, such as coronations affirming Rev. Moon as the second coming of Christ. This is reinforced by Rev. Moon's religious doctrines that are patented, published, promoted and recited as divine principles at conferences. Black pastors should avoid being drawn into Unification ceremonies and rituals that can have an indoctrinating effect.
My final observation has to do with the concept of the "ideal family," which is problematic for Black pastors. The simple Adamic two-parent family and the moral qualifiers for its legitimacy effectively de-legitimize thousands of Black families. To reserve "legitimacy" for two-parent families stigmatizes the majority of African Americans families, which are headed by single mothers. Two practices°™that of Black men marrying women of other races and that of homosexuality are shrinking the pool of marriageable Black men for Black women. In addition, far too many Black men are incarcerated and absent from their families. Many more die prematurely from alcohol, diseases, drugs and murder, while HIV/AIDS orphans millions of Black children in America and Africa.
Interracial marriage via the Unification Church blessing ceremonies is not a remedy for any of these problems. Rather, it can exacerbate them. African Americans also remember that the rape of Black women in slavery is a primary cause of the destruction of the Black family. For all these reasons, any idea that the Black race will become lighter (and by implication better) through interracial marriages can hardly be perceived as anything but anti-Black and racist.
These are some of the considerations Black pastors cannot expect Rev. Moon and the Unification Church to understand or take seriously. Such considerations must be forced upon their agenda and made a part of the intellectual discourse, not only in Unification forums, but every forum on the planet where human survival is under discussion.
These are causes, not for shunning the Unification church, but rather for enlightened engagement. It is unrealistic to expect Black pastors and their people not to graze in strange pastures. Indeed, they feel commissioned by Christ to go out to all the world. I only wish that more Black theologians and°°scholar pastors would risk their reputations to participate. Wherever sheep are grazing an enlightened shepherd should be there. We must never forget the 900 impressionable Black people who committed suicide following the religious psychopath Jim Jones. Had some shepherd of courage been there, the kettle of Kool Aid could at least been kicked over.
What African Americans must do is, not withdraw participation, but master and maintain their core beliefs, and hold their hosts accountable to the principle of respect for religious difference and diversity. I have seen secure and clear thinking Black pastors change the course of a Unification Church event precisely through their uncompromising spiritual and doctrinal integrity. They are not nearly as gullible as the Tribune article made them appear to be.
I wrote a short manual for the ACLC pastors, most of whom are Christians, entitled "The Rules for Spiritual Engagement." The manual was not just for engaging the Unification movement, but also the Black Muslim movements and all non-Christian religious movements. I used two Scriptures as the bases for my instructions: Matthew 7:15 "Beware of false prophets which come to you in sheep's clothing but inwardly they are ravening wolves" and 1 John 4:1 "Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God because many false prophets are gone out into the world." These two scriptures sum up all of my instructions. They speak directly to a major problem many African Americans, pastors and laity alike, encounter in considering whether they have the right to challenge the authority of religious leaders.
I believe that Rev. Moon, not Black pastors, should convince African Americans of his principled and honorable intensions. Until he does, many Black pastors cannot and should not justify or risk association with him amid so much controversy. The price is much too high I know. And he should not leave them to the mercy of his enemies and the media.
In conclusion, it does not serve African Americans well to summarily dismiss personalities like Rev. Moon and his global influence. Entirely apart from often prejudicial Black or White opinions, he is a powerful and unprecedented phenomenon on the planet. All races are affected by him while they are sleeping. As the Tribune article clearly outlined, he has mastered the art of making money sufficiently to affect every aspect of life. He has purchased United Press International, The Washington Times and other news organs that determine what we know and, therefore, what we think. He has made numerous other major real estate acquisitions. He studies cultures and is capable of understanding and appealing to their artistic and intellectual traditions.
We must not shun people like him. Rather, we must study and learn from them.
Dr. Rev. Hycel B. Taylor is founder and senior pastor of the Christian Life Fellowship in Skokie, Illinois; former pastor of Pilgrim Baptist Church; and former president of Operation PUSH. This article appears in The Final Call.
© Copyright 2006 FCN Publishing, FinalCall.com
Dr. Rev. Hycel B. Taylor
Thursday, December 7, 2006