The Words of the Gehring Family
From September 14-19, 1987, the state-built Croatia Hotel in the Adriatic coastal town of Cavtat in the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia hosted the Ninth Annual New ERA Conference on "Introduction to Unification Theology and Lifestyle The conference gathered together 42 professors, theologians, and ministers, largely from Western Europe, for the purpose of learning from Unification members aspects of their faith and lifestyle. The meeting, held just 30 miles south of the historic city of Dubrovnik, was a landmark event, and it marked the first time that the Principle was publicly taught in a communist country.
Those who study history will notice that great movements of history will often begin with seemingly insignificant events. The shooting of an Austro-Hungarian archduke in the Yugoslavian city of Sarajevo in the summer of 1914 set up a chain of events that was to lead to the collapse of empires and the deaths of millions in the bloody fighting of World War I. Seventy years later, a seemingly innocuous event has taken place near another Yugoslavian city. The public teaching of the Principle and the lifestyle of the Unification Church in this non-Soviet bloc communist country is hopefully the first step in a chain of events that will help lead to an ending of the ongoing worldwide struggle between hostile ideologies.
The bold hope that God's words would be taught throughout communist lands, unleashing the spirit of a new age, is a vision that Father has spoken about and worked for over the last four decades. Since Heung Jin Nim's Seunghwa in January 1984, Father has pointed out that the time for the realization of this dream has come. In his speech "The Necessity for the Victory of Love given on January 15, 1984, Father said:
Because Heung Jin Nim paved the way, we now have a wide door open to save the communist and the free worlds. He sacrificed himself on the national foundational level for the sake of the forthcoming unity between the democratic and communist worlds.
It was 44 months after this speech that this hallmark conference on our church's teachings was held in the country of Yugoslavia.
Attending the conference were highly educated religious scholars and ministers from a wide spectrum. Their religious backgrounds included Coptic Christian, Roman Catholic, Sikh, Hindu, Buddhist, and Protestant. Most are currently living in Western Europe. They had, at various levels, been exposed to the work of the Unification Church and its related projects. Many long-time friends of the International Religious Foundation (IRF) attended to gain insight into the thought that gave birth to such varied projects as the Religious Youth Service, the Assembly for the World's Religions, the Council for the World's Religions, and the conferences on "God: The Contemporary Discussion" Others who attended had only had limited contact with the church and its membership. Among the participants were a Finnish pastor and his wife who have two sons who have been in the Unification Church for more than a decade.
The conference took the same shape as that of many of the previous New ERA conferences, with lectures being given to the whole body and smaller discussion groups providing an opportunity for everyone to ask personal questions of the Unification representatives. Two of these groups were led by Dr. Joseph Fichter and Dr. Richard Quebedeaux, while the third, conducted in German, was moderated by Dr. Hans Schwarz.
The lectures began with an introduction to the work of IRF, presented by the IRF director, Dr. Jonathan Wells. After the initial presentation, the small groups served as a forum of personal introduction and inquiry into the lifestyle of members of the Unification Church. These questions helped foster an atmosphere of sharing and the beginnings of an intimacy that grew throughout the conference.
The teachings of the Unification Church were presented in six 50- minute lectures and were geared to present the basic essentials of the Principle in a format that could stimulate professors and ministers. A philosophic and scholarly approach to all aspects of the Principle was given by Ph.D. candidate Franz Feige, Dr. Andrew Wilson, John Gehring, and Dr. Thomas Walsh. Dr. Walsh also presented a "Critique on Marxism" with power and sensitivity, while Dr. Wilson concluded with the Unificationist understanding of eschatology (the Last Days).
The conference staff, composed of Mike and Wendy Stovall, helped to take care of those organizational details that make these conferences so professionally respected. Ulrich Tuente, Liselotte Perottet, and William Chasseaud served ably as group respondents along with the lecturers.
This conference was free of the theological hostilities that were often directed at Unificationists in earlier years. At the end, the four-hour song-filled closing banquet was characterized by a spirit of indelible warmth and friendship. Testimonies and songs were offered by the guests and the Unificationists, while local Yugoslavian folk dancers and musicians filled the air with highly spirited multi-cultural music.
It is often in the final moments of a conference that the goals of fostering deeper understanding of the church and its founder are accomplished. It is in those closing moments that hearts are often opened and words not yet formed find a way to be spoken. At such a time one of our friends shared: "The character of Rev. Moon is of the depth I've been searching for, a depth I could not find among the priests in the Catholicism of my childhood or in my fellow Buddhist monks. I must learn from him in order to deepen myself, filling something that is missing."