South Korea’s Unification Church is affiliated to a Nepali political party that has a minister in the cabinet
Universal Peace federation Nepal/facebook
Buddhism spread from Nepal to the Korean peninsula two millennia ago, but in the past 60 years Korea has been exporting two of its dominant ideologies to Nepal.
Nepal’s communists, notably the Workers Peasants Party with its stronghold in Bhaktapur, have been inspired by Kim Il Sung’s Juche Idea. And South Korea’s Unification Church of Sun Myung Moon has now got a sizeable presence in Nepal’s religious and political life.
Although it has been in Nepal since 1975, ‘Unificationism’ got a political foothold after Moon’s visit to Kathmandu and the establishment of the Universal Peace Federation (UPF) in 2005. It now has 12,500 members in 30 churches across Nepal.
“Ours is a national political party with a clear ideology, but I am a Hindu, associated with the Unification Movement,” said Ek Nath Dhakal of the UPF South Asia and leader of the Nepal Family Party who is in Prime Minister Oli’s cabinet as Minister of Peace and Reconstruction. (See Interview, below.)
The UPF’s motto here is ‘world peace through the ideal family’ and it tries to steer young Nepalis away from immoral activities through training sessions, and in ‘family education’ which can be interpreted as evangelical outreach. Worldwide, Moon’s Unificationism makes headlines whenever it stages mass weddings like the one at Dasrath Stadium in Kathmandu (pic, above) last year in which 70,000 couples got married simultaneously.
UPF’s ‘ambassadors for peace’ program recruits public figures in Nepal to promote reconciliation, conflict resolution and building peace. Even President Bidya Bhandari is listed among 8,500 UPF ambassadors for peace.
“Rev Sun Myung Moon’s peace philosophy is powerful message to us in Nepal because there are so many ethnic, religious, and political conflicts. He said we are all family, sisters and brothers under God,” explained Deepak Sapkota, who heads the Dhading chapter of Family Federation for World Peace and Unification (FFWPU, the official name of the Unification Church). “We want Nepal to be the centre of God’s kingdom of heaven in the world.”
Indeed, the FFWPU mentions Rev Sun Myung Moon’s special desire for Nepal to serve as a ‘model peace nation of God’. However, UPF functionaries deny that their movement is a ‘church’, preferring to call it a ‘peace movement’. Indeed, its head office in Bhagwati Bahal in Kathmandu doesn’t have a cross.
“It is a movement above all religions. It works for harmony among different religions to build world peace,” explained Binod Dangi, 40, the Secretary-general of UPF Nepal. Dangi started following Unificationism as a student in 1995, and says he is still a practicing Hindu and Moon’s philosophy doesn’t necessitate conversion.
During a meeting last week, Dangi wore a ‘Blessing Ring’ with the Unificationism symbol. He said: “The unification movement is to turn us into true Hindus, true Christians, true Buddhists or true Muslims by finding the best path to make one’s religion 100 per cent one.”
A religious group that mixes business and politics
Ek Nath Dhakal/facebook
Korea’s Sun Myung Moon and his philosophy of Unificationism has branches, owns companies and even runs newspapers all over the world, but Nepal is the only country where it is involved in politics.
Founded in January 2008, the Nepal Family Party crossed the election threshold with one seat in 2008 and two seats in the 2013 Constituent Assembly election. Ek Nath Dhakal, the current Minister of Peace and Reconstruction, is the first elected Moonie leader in the world. (‘Moonie’ is a slightly derogatory term for followers of Sun Myung Moon.)
In South Korea, a similar political party failed twice in the past decade to get a single seat in the legislature. The Unificationist party there had an electoral platform emphasising education and family values, and to prepare for Korean reunification.
Minister Dhakal admitted in an interview (see below) that his party is inspired by Rev Moon, adding: “The Nepal Family Party has a new ideology in Nepal’s traditional political arena, it is inclusive and forward-looking that focuses on peace and family values.”
Dhakal said Nepal needed a new party which can embrace diverse elements of society and bring different political parties together for nation building. “We keep very good relationship with all politicians,” said the 42-year-old. “Our size may be small but our ideas and influence are big.”
Minister Dhakal clearly has connections among Nepal’s political parties. On a recent trip to Korea to attend a Unification Movement program, Dhakal had a dozen Nepali MPs in tow. A senior UML leader told Nepali Times on condition of anonymity that the Family Party has most top political leaders "in its pockets".
When asked, Dhakal said: “I don’t want to mix politics and religion, and I was appointed as a Peace and Reconstruction Minister because of my contribution to the Prime Minister’s election.”
There is speculation that Unificationism is a front for Christian evangelism, and the politics of patronage. Moon’s famous and controversial remark about theocracy 1973 feeds such assumptions: ‘The separation between religion and politics is what Satan likes most’.
Moonies were also involved in the 1976 Korea Gate scandal in which the South Korean National Intelligence Service was found to have worked with the Unification Church to gain political influence in the United States.
Back in Nepal the movement tries to keep its spiritual (Unification Church), social (UPF) and the political (Nepal Family Party) activities separate. However, officials from the three groups are often seen together at public functions like one last week in the Dhanusa Nepal Family Party district election.
Santosh Kumar Paudel, president of the church branch in Nepal, Minister Dhakal of Nepal Family Party and Binod Dangi, secretary-general of UPF Nepal were seen together again at the ribbon-cutting of the Nepal Family Party headquarter in Baneswor on 30 March (left to right in picture above).
UPF Secretary General Dangi took pains to clarify: “Please do not mix up the UPF or Unification Movement with the Family Party in your story. They are different groups with different goals.”
Moon around the Earth
Universal Peace Federation International Website
Sun Myung Moon founded the Unification Church in Busan, Korea in 1954, calling it ‘The Holy Spiritual Association for the Unification of World Christianity’. Although derived from Christianity, it has its own interpretation of the Bible and the main theological textbook Exposition of the Divine Principle that Moon wrote in 1952 during the Korean War, says human beings are bearing the consequences of adultery between Eve and a snake as the ‘original sin’.
The book points out contradictions in Christianity leading even enlightened spiritual leaders to fall prey to physical pleasures. Unificationism believes that Jesus should have married and monogamy is the strict rule of the Moonies, hence the emphasis on family to build ‘Cheon-Il-Guk’, God’s kingdom of heaven.
Unificationism teaches that God is the creator and heavenly parent, whose dual nature combines both masculinity and femininity like husband and wife. Having married, he and his wife would have become ‘True Parents’, created a ‘True Family’, and would have saved humanity and perfected the world.
In Unificationism (‘Tong-Il-Gyo’ in Korean) Moon is the messiah claimant whom the God sent after Jesus as the Second Coming. Moon died in 2012, and he and his wife, Hak Ja Han, are regarded as the universal father and mother.
Moon founded Tongil Group in 1959 to support the growth and development of the Unification Church. The South Korean conglomerate (See map, above.) is involved in the chemical, ship building industry and media, hotel business internationally, as well as automobile production in North Korea.
“I am a Hindu associated with the Unification Movement”
Minister of Peace and Reconstruction of Nepal
Ek Nath Dhakal is also Chairman of Universal Peace Federation (UPF) South Asia and leader of the Nepal Family Party. He spoke to Nepali Times this week about his faith, politics and views on transitional justice in Nepal
Nepali Times: What is the link between the Unification Church and the Nepal Family Party?
Ek Nath Dhakal: The party has links to all faiths, as it has with the unification movement. The Nepal Family Party is a kind of conservative party with a manifesto that promotes family values, interfaith dialogue and harmony. Our core view is to honour the institution of marriage.
Are you in the cabinet because of your contribution to Prime Minister Oli’s election campaign?
No. I’m in the cabinet because I have contributed to society, the country and people of Nepal. There are 11 political parties supporting Prime Minister Oli. Nepal Family Party is just one of them. The Prime Minister gave me this portfolio maybe because of our party’s clear agenda on family values. It is also not out of his kindness that he has given me this ministry, this is our right because we have supported this government in a parliamentary system.
This is your second tenure as Minister, what are the main challenges in Nepal’s post conflict process?
The challenge is how to implement a new constitution and how to address the people’s need for development and employment. My ministry focuses on how to maintain peace and order in society so that politics is not violent. We want to reconstruct all infrastructure damaged during the Maoist war.
What do you think is the key to deliver transitional justice and accountability in Nepal?
The key is the support and cooperation from parties involved in the conflict. This government is fully committed to provide justice to the victims, and we will bring the perpetrators to justice. The international community has certain reservation about the commissions, but the government will amend laws that contradict the principles of transitional justice. Peace is not the absence of war it is unity, harmony within individual, family, society and the nation where people are employed and able to exercise the democracy fully.
Is there any truth to allegations that your party is involved in evangelical proselytising in Nepal?
Not true at all. Yes, I am associated with the Unification Movement. I’m Hindu and proud of guru Rev Mrs Moon. This is an open fact. But ours is a national political party with a clear ideology. All these false allegations have been spread by some radical communists and radical fundamental Hindus. Because my party is small and new, people do not understand. When there is something new, there is always controversy.