The Words of the Moffitt Family
Hyun-jin nim visited the pastors of some of the largest churches in America. How much do we have in common in areas that are essential -- everything!
Consider this: One man, Jesus Christ, spent a couple of years preaching a very simple message (the Beatitudes basically) that came from one God for all humankind. He was a Jew. He never intended to start another religion, and as far as we know, he never uttered the word "Christian" in his life.
His message was bare-bones and universal. And yet somehow, we have managed to warp it into more than a thousand different churches and sects with lots of intolerance toward one another, splitting and branching into countless veins and capillaries of the tiniest doctrinal separations.
However, a few Christian ministers seem to have been able to relocate the sweet spot of what Jesus taught, getting back to the original instructions that make Christianity more inclusive than exclusive. And they are finding their actions validated by phenomenal growth in church membership.
Bishop Willie Jordan, pastor of the eight-thousand-member St. Mark's Baptist Church Cathedral in Harvey, Illinois sat across the table from Hyun-jin nim in his church conference room, where he had graciously received our delegation. "God never intended to start religious institutions," Jordan said. Of course, God never intended man to fall.
In this suburban Chicago church, where Barack Obama chose to announce his candidacy for president, Bishop Jordon and his pastor son Jonathan commiserated on the direction Christianity is taking. Their conclusion is that it's headed back to basics if it knows what's good for it. Their conclusion, and Hyun-jin nim's, is that the body of Christ is humanity itself and cannot be contained in one church.
The universality of Christ's message is old news to the largest churches in America, the so-called "mega churches," many of which began and grew large by reaching out to the alienated unchurched, irrespective of denomination. Mega churches are defined as having in excess of two thousand active members. A great many of them are non-denominational Christians, often with the words "community church" or "family church" in their name.
Hyun-jin nim is currently visiting a number of pastors of some of the largest and best-known churches in the U.S., and he finds widespread agreement when he says the world doesn't need a new religion. "What we need," he says, "is for religious people to be in harmony with one another as one family under God."
"People call us a church," Hyun-jin nim said, "but that's not what my father wanted to create. Father founded an association for the unification of world Christianity. He didn't start a new religion. We are an interfaith movement. And Divine Principle is not a new 'theology.' It is a set of universal principles that every religious person already believes, although the expression may differ."
These were mutually respectful meetings in Los Angeles, Chicago, Atlanta, New Jersey and Washington, DC. Hyun-jin nim met with pastors, brother-to-brother, to share our visions with one another and see how much we have in common. Quite a bit, as it turns out.
Accompanying Hyun-jin nim were Regional President Dr. Yang Chang-shik, Rev. Michael Jenkins and "the twins" -- Archbishop George Stallings and Rev. Jesse Edwards.
In each city we were guided by our district leaders, local pastors and core members who have years-long relationships with Christian ministers. Behind, around and in front of our delegation were always ambassadors for peace helping to make the introductions.
From this latter group, a state senator from Georgia held the hand of her pastor, Rev. Dr. Kenneth L. Samuel, of Stone Mountain's enormous Victory for the World Church, while testifying simultaneously about his ministry, about the peace-building work of the Universal Peace Federation and about Father Moon's selfless commitment to resolving human conflict. One couldn't ask for a sweeter bridge between two men of God.
In Chicago, at the twenty-five-thousand-member House of Hope, pastored by Rev. James T. Meeks, we were given a tour of the stadium-like environs by the pastor's wife. Hyun-jin nim asked her, "How do you get so many people to come to your church?"
"We simplify the message. The message is Jesus Christ, and we try to make each visitor come to a point of commitment during their first visit." The most successful churches are good closers.
They also take seriously what people write on the "comments" cards, an attitude demonstrated by the numerous small ministries the churches engage in to address the broadest range of the members' concerns. Some churches have more than a hundred ministries-including parenting, youth and music, the elderly, cancer, canoeing, quilting, divorced parents hoping to remarry, pre-marital counseling, bird watching, cooking, and on and on. The idea that God wants to be a part of our whole lives is taken at face value and acted upon.
Some churches have enough activities and a large enough membership to support their own Starbucks franchise inside the church building.
Advertising professionals will tell you that the fewer words you need to explain yourself, the more powerful your message is. Hyun-jin nim's message, everywhere he goes, is "one family under God." Honest and straightforward, it explains in just four words the essence of what we are about. Every minister, every elder and deacon and member we met in the largest churches in America echoed back-"That's what we think too."
The tour so far has been marked by a number of incidents that have shown us that heaven is working hard to prepare the way for our meetings.
One example that reaffirmed to us that "one family under God" is an idea whose time has come came in a meeting with Dr. Michael Beckwith, the charismatic dread-locked spiritual leader of Los Angeles nine-thousand-strong Agape Temple in Culver City, California. Hyun-jin nim characterized our visitation tour as "an ambassadorial effort" saying, "We are asking religious people to go back to the values and principles of their founders. These are universal core values such as living for others and uniting with one another based on God being the common parent of all people."
Dr. Beckwith listened carefully and then replied, "I could have sat where you're sitting and could have said the exact same thing you just said."
Hyun-jin nim said, "I feel like I'm talking to my long lost brother."
"I've been waiting for you," Dr. Beckwith replied.
One of the things that got Dr. Beckwith's attention about us was the letter from Archbishop Stallings, requesting an appointment on behalf of the American Clergy Leadership Conference. "When I got Bishop Stallings' letter I had to read it a second time. I realized these people are serious," Beckwith said.
Bishop Donald E. Battle, pastor of Divine Faith International Church in the Atlanta suburb of Duluth heard Hyun-jin nim's message and said, "It is an answer to my prayer that God would unite the body of Christ. I am grateful that God orchestrated your coming."
Rev. Dr. Louis Shockley, senior pastor of Washington, DC's historic Asbury United Methodist Church has invested his life's work in ecumenism with the Conference of Christians and Jews. "God's name is identified with many cultures. It is our right to call God by the names we use, and to encourage our better selves to rise. It is imperative that I align and affiliate with people who can understand God's people as being in the likeness of one another."
Dr. Shockley has spent time studying Unificationism. Looking around the table at our rainbow-hued delegation, he observed, "This group of you is international and you are building that one family you spoke of. I have hosted members of your community. I brought your people into my congregation and let them make origami to demonstrate how art is created by the human spirit. They invited me down the street on a Thursday night. I was surprised to see there were many guests."
Rev. Dr. Grainger Browning, senior pastor of Ebenezer AME In Fort Washington, Maryland, met with us and gave us a tour of his church one rainy morning. Looking out over the church's three-thousand-seat sanctuary, where people are packed in for two services on Sunday and more during the week, it's hard to believe it all grew from only seventeen very determined families who lined themselves up with God's will.
Alignment with God is a major theme in Hyun-jin nim's talks, and he spoke about it with Dr. Browning, saying, "If you're aligned with God and you're going where God wants to go, then anything is possible. When you have that alignment, if you determine it, you can accomplish it." He added, "Since the very beginning, God has wanted to bring His family together as one. It says in Isaiah 56, 'My house shall be called a house of prayer for all people."'
During the tour, one of Dr. Browning's deacons led us to the Church's spacious entry hall. He guided Hyun-jin nim's gaze upward, where printed over the door as you enter is written Hyun-jin nim's oft-quoted verse from Isaiah 56.
Rev. Dr. William D. Watley, pastor of St. James AME in Newark, asked us about the relationship between Unificationism and Rev. David Cho's church in Korea. Rev. Cho is the founder and senior pastor of the Yoido Full Gospel Church, the world's largest congregation with a membership of 830,000.
Hyun-jin nim said, "The Christian church in Korea is in crisis right now. One of Cho's assistants came to one of our conferences and he said, I'm a devout Christian, and I can see by what you are creating that you will go up."
"Interestingly, my father is bringing a revival of Christian values in Korea. What's happening now is that many Christians are beginning to rethink their earlier skepticism of my father's work. For the first time, Koreans are beginning to look differently upon us. It's amazing how we have entered the mainstream."
Efficient practices and marketing savvy have rewarded those churches that have done it right. But that alone is not enough. The mega churches became mega because they resonate with the legions of seekers who are uncomfortable with the confines of structure dominating content of spirit. Churches grow large because they go where the souls are.
The growth of the mega churches is testimony to the fact that people want to cut to the chase. They are more concerned about aligning themselves with heaven than about denomination. They want to be part of a community that treats outsiders as insiders, that will embrace them as they are, whether the service is held in a big glass church, a park outdoors, or "tel-evangelized" to 20 million living rooms, to people sitting in their bathrobes and slippers, pouring their hearts out to God.