In a matter of seconds 27 years ago in a crowded New York City hotel ballroom, David Moffitt’s parents went from total strangers to an engaged couple after being divinely matched by Unification Church founder the Rev. Sun Myung Moon.
It was the 1980s, when thousands of young people like them ditched their educations, careers and families to live out of vans, sell flowers at airports and follow a Korean who calls himself a messiah.
Flash-forward to a Bowie living room on a recent weeknight, when Moffitt and a few dozen other “blessed children” of Moon-arranged mass weddings were discussing something perhaps as revolutionary: going mainstream.
“Our parents’ generation were much more all-out. . . . You could say they were fighting a war,” said Moffitt, a 24-year-old University of Maryland junior who works part time as a personal trainer. “Our generation is more focused on happiness and prosperity, going to college, getting jobs. It’s important to be part of the culture. If you’re above the culture, you can’t change the world.”
Their quest for a less-radical version of their faith comes during great uncertainty and change within the Unification Church. With Moon turning 90 in February, how the movement will survive beyond him is unclear. Moon’s children are at odds over how to run the church’s business empire, including the money-losing Washington Times, which laid off 40 percent of its staff this past week.
For church members, figuring out how to stabilize the movement has a feeling of urgency, particularly for Moffitt and others his age. Church officials estimate there are 21,000 active Unificationists in this country, including 7,500 blessed children, who members believe were born free of original sin and have a special spiritual status. A significant number of blessed children live in the Washington area, long a hub for Moon businesses and church lobbyists.
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The church’s future lies with this second generation, who were born into a religion some view as a bizarre cult. Their own beliefs run the gamut from those eager to follow in their parents’ footsteps to those who haven’t attended a Unification worship service for years.
Amanda van Eck, a sociologist who studies the second generation of new religious movements, said the changes the church is making will help Unificationism survive.
“It’s more feasible to be a long-lasting movement if you adapt,” she said. Many of the church’s oldest blessed children — those born in the early 1970s — fell away, she said, because the movement was too isolated and had no activities or groups for the young.
Even so, not all young Unificationists support the less-rigid approach to marriage. They debate on private Web sites (including one called “Something in the Unification Church Needs to Change”) whether it’s theologically acceptable for an outsider or newcomer to marry a blessed child and what that means for the pure lineage Moon had preached early on was mandatory for erasing sin.
Unificationists concerned about church’s future, Photo Gallery
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Cult expert Steven Hassan is a former follower of Sun Myung Moon