The Unification Church of the United States is a religious movement in the United States of America. It began in the 1950s and 1960s when missionaries from Japan and South Korea were sent to the United States by the international Unification Church‘s founder and leader Sun Myung Moon. It expanded in the 1970s and then became involved in controversy due to its theology, its political activism, and the lifestyle of its members. Since then it has been involved in many areas of American society and has established businesses, news media, projects in education and the arts as well as taking part in political and social activism, and has itself gone through substantial changes.
In the late 1950s and early 1960s missionaries from the Holy Spirit Association for the Unification of World Christianity (HSA-UWC) of South Korea and Japan came to the United States. Among them were Young Oon Kim, Sang Ik-Choi, Bo Hi Pak, David S. C. Kim, and Yun Soo Lim. Missionary work took place in Washington D.C., New York, Oregon, and California. The Unification Church first came to public notice in the United States after sociology student John Lofland studied Young Oon Kim’s group and published his findings as a doctoral thesis entitled: The World Savers: A Field Study of Cult Processes, which was published in 1966 in book form by Prentice-Hall as Doomsday Cult: A Study of Conversion, Proselytization, and Maintenance of Faith. This book is considered to be one of the most important and widely cited studies of the process of religious conversion, and one of the first modern sociological studies of a new religious movement.
In 1965 Moon visited the United States and established what he called “holy grounds” in each of the 48 contiguous states. By 1971 the Unification Church of the United States had about 500 members. By the end of the 1970s it had expanded to about 5,000 members, with most of them being in their early 20s. In the 1980s and 1990s membership remained at about the same number. Scholars have attributed the Unification Church’s relative success in the United States, as compared to other Western nations, to its support of patriotism and capitalist values, and to its multi-racial membership. Some commentators have also noted that this period of Unification Church growth in the United States took place just as the “hippie” era of the late 1960s and early 1970s was ending, when many American young people were looking for a sense of higher purpose or community in their lives. Among the converts were many who had been active in leftist causes.
In 1971 Moon decided to move to the United States. He then asked church members to help him in a series of outreach campaigns in which he spoke to public audiences in all 50 states, ending with a 1976 rally in Washington, D.C., in which he spoke on the grounds of the Washington Monument to around 300,000 people. During this time many church members left school and careers to devote their full-time to church work. “Mobile fundraising teams” (often called MFT) were set up to raise money for church projects, sometimes giving candy or flowers in exchange for donations. Members considered fund raising to be a source of both spiritual and practical training for future activities.