The Universal Peace Federation: Moon front or respected NGO? A white paper

Bitter Winter (07.02.2022) – – On September 12, 2021, an event called “Think Tank 2022 Rally of Hope” was organized in South Korea. Due to the COVID-19 situation, it was a virtual event, live-streamed throughout the world. Because of the different time zones, the morning of September 12 in South Korea corresponded to the late afternoon or evening of September 11 in different parts of the United States. One of the (virtual) speakers at the event, which focused on the situation of world peace and the possibility of a peaceful reunification of the Korean peninsula, was former American President Donald J. Trump.

The organizer of the event in South Korea was the Universal Peace Federation (UPF), an entity founded by Reverend Sun Myung Moon (1920–2012) and his wife Hak Ja Han Moon. Trump was criticized in the United States as he did not attend the official commemoration of the victims of the terrorist attack of September 11, 2001, as if he regarded the Korean event as more important. In fact, the Rally of Hope’s date was September 12, and the day had been picked up as the anniversary of the UPF foundation in 2005, although it was broadcasted in the U.S. on September 11. According to the UPF, Trump had recorded his speech in August, two weeks before the event.

Media criticism quickly became international. It escalated to a campaign putting together two groups not exactly popular with most media, Trump and his followers and “cults,” as the founders of the UPF were also the founders of the Unification Church, one of the main targets of the anti-cult movement.

Read the whole White Paper here


“Large UPF conferences gathered former (and sometimes current) presidents and prime ministers of different countries, as well as religious and cultural leaders. These gatherings included the Continental Africa Peace Summit 2018, inaugurated in Dakar, Senegal on January 18, 2018; the South-East Europe Peace Summit, opened in Tirana, Albania, on October 26, 2019; the Asia Pacific Summit, which started in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, on November 19, 2019; the Africa Continental Summit Niger 2019, whose opening ceremony was held in Niamey, Niger, on November 28, 2019; the World Summit 2019 in Seoul, South Korea, on February 7–9, 2019; the World Summit 2020, which also took place in Seoul on February 3–8, 2020. Regional meetings were also organized, including the recent Balkans Leadership Conference, organized in Tirana, Albania, on November 20–21, 2021, which led to the signature of a Memorandum of Cooperation between the UPF and the Podgorica Club, an organization established in 2019 by former presidents of Southeast European countries.


The UPF is active through a number of specialized organizations, each of which holds its own events:

  • The International Association of Parliamentarians for Peace (IAPP)
  • The International Summit Council for Peace (ISCP)
  • The International Association of First Ladies for Peace (IAFLP)
  • The Interreligious Association for Peace and Development (IAPD)
  • The International Media Association for Peace (IMAP)
  • The International Association of Academicians for Peace (IAAP)
  • The International Association for Peace and Economic Development (IAED)

The International Association of Parliamentarians for Peace (IAPP) was launched on February 15, 2016, at the National Assembly of the Republic of Korea. It gathers parliamentarians from all around the world, and organizes forums promoting peace and democracy, and fighting corruption. National meetings of IAPP members have been organized in such diverse locations as Manila, London, Rome and Asunción, and the association has emerged as one of the largest and most active branches of the UPF. In the United States, the inaugural meeting was hosted by then pro tempore President of the Senate, Orrin Hatch. (…)

Read the whole White Paper here

Conclusion: Why Do They Do It?

The UPF is a huge network, and the Ambassadors for Peace come from very different nations, cultures, and religions. Those who have studied such organizations know that it is difficult, if not impossible, to gather a large number of diverse people under the flag of a common ideology.

Yet, if there is no full-blown ideology, there are certainly values proposed by the UPF. A basic idea is that world peace comes through dialogue, cooperation, service to others, and actions guided by morality. Obviously, the UPF is aware of the fact that in our pluralistic society very different ideas of morality coexist. The UPF tries to promote the general principle that morality has a spiritual dimension, and we are all part of “one human family under God.” This may in fact displease atheists, although dialogue with humanists and atheists is not excluded from the scope of UPF activities.

The formula “one human family under God” is part of Reverend Moon’s legacy, as is an emphasis on the family as the school where love and peace can be learned. However, the formula can be interpreted differently by Unificationists and non-Unificationists. Members of the Unification Church conceive the “one family” as a community acknowledging Reverend and Mrs. Moon as the True Parents, with a messianic role for our era. On the other hand, acknowledging the messianic role of the Moons is not necessary to believe that we are all part of one human family and should behave as such. This is an ideal that may appeal to women and men of all faiths.

One should not confuse the motivations of those promoting certain charitable and peace activities with the nature and effects of those activities. To use again an example we mentioned previously, the Vatican executives and Catholic priests who launched and lead Caritas Internationalis were and are motivated by a Christian idea of responsibility toward the poor, whom they consider as daughters and sons of God who have been redeemed by Jesus Christ. We may also speculate that those Catholic bishops and priests who work today for Caritas hope that their good deeds would benefit the image of the Catholic Church, which has received its good share of negative publicity on other issues. On the other hand, the rules of Caritas Internationalis strictly stipulate that the delivery of humanitarian aid should not be used as a proselytization tool for converting non-Catholics to Catholicism, many who are not Catholics work with Caritas, and its activities are generally praised as highly effective.

Similarly, those Unificationists who lead UPF, work for UPF, and donate to UPF (for which contributions by private donors, both members and non-members of the Unification Movement are important) are certainly motivated by Reverend and Mrs. Moon’s spiritual ideas. They do not hide it, as our analysis of the 2020 event demonstrated. They are also aware that the UPF events benefit the image of Mrs. Moon as a leader with valuable ideas about international issues, which can be appreciated also by many who do not share her theology. On the other hand, it is also true that most of the UPF volunteers and Ambassadors for Peace are not members of the Unification Church, and that the UPF is not intended nor used by its Unificationist members as a tool for proselytism.

Nor is UPF used to promote partisan political ideologies or parties. The expression “reductio ad Hitlerum” is widely used to indicate that to discredit certain movements or politicians their opponents try to associate them, rightly or wrongly, with Nazism. Today it may appear sometimes that there is also a “reductio ad Trump.” The former American President is so unpopular among many mainline media that it seems that to disqualify an organization it is enough to associate it with Trump. This is what happened to UPF after the 2021 Rally of Hope. Attacks based on Trump’s video participation in the event were either misinformed or malicious. Politicians of all political persuasions participated in this and other UPF events. And, whatever the opinion one may have of Trump, in a conference discussing the relationships between other countries and North Korea, inviting a former American President who had been very much involved in Korean issues should not have been surprising.

In the end, we are left with two irreconcilable narratives about UPF. One is that it is an NGO and think tank whose events are attended by prestigious leaders such as Ban Ki-moon and José Manuel Barroso, and which offers interesting position papers, lectures, and documents on international peace and development issues, including on the relations between North and South Korea. As many other similar organizations, it has been promoted and is led by religionists who do not hide their religious motivations. However, it includes many who do not share their religious beliefs, and is not used as as a tool for proselytization. For purposes of converting others to Unificationist theology, the UPF would be a very ineffective tool. Those invited to the UPF activities are mostly political, religious and civil society leaders with well-established ideas and worldviews. They are as far away as possible from the ideal type of the “seeker” looking for a new religion.

This narrative is shared by two organizations unlikely to be engaged in the promotion of “fronts” for “cults”: the United Nations and the Vatican. Many new religious movements created charitable and peace-promoting organizations. If they are active enough, and no member state of the United Nations decides to oppose them, they can achieve a Special Consultative Status at the ECOSOC (Economic and Social Council) of the U.N. As of January 7, 2022, there were 5,003 organizations with special consultative status at the ECOSOC. However, there were only 140 NGOs with general consultative status (ECOSOC 2022).

General consultative status is reserved, according to the ECOSOC, to “fairly large, established international NGOs with a broad geographical reach,” which have offered “substantive and sustained contributions” to the aims of the United Nations in “several fields.” In 2018, the UPF was granted general consultative status at the ECOSOC, a position that certainly is not allowed lightly and without a long and accurate observation and evaluation.

Leaders of NGOs and even of new religious movements routinely ask to be received in the Vatican, and have a photo opportunity with the Pope. If they have sponsors the Vatican wants to accommodate, they are normally invited to participate in the general audiences, where the Pope meets collectively hundreds of people (and may take pictures with some of them).

Private audiences are an entirely different matter, and go through a very complicated process of screening. The Vatican is aware that some organizations may use meetings and pictures for publicity purposes. When a meeting is approved by the Vatican’s Secretariat of State, and by the Pope himself, that it happened is publicized through the daily bulletin of the Holy See. The Holy See bulletin for July 1, 2019, duly reported that Pope Francis had met in a private audience “Dr. Thomas G. Walsh, President of the Universal Peace Federation” (Ufficio Stampa della Santa Sede 2019).

Both at the United Nations and in the Vatican, the UPF passed the highest level of screening tests. It would be unconceivable that the skilled U.N. and Vatican diplomats involved were not aware of the connection of the UPF with Reverend and Mrs. Moon. Yet, they concluded, in our opinion correctly, that the UPF was not a proselytizing or publicity arm of the Unification Church but a respected NGO that had proved its usefulness and quality throughout the years.

The second narrative, of which Paris Match offered an example, is that the UPF is not what it claims to be but is just a “front” for the “Moon cult” (secte Moon), which hides proselytizing and advertising aims under a façade of care for international issues and humanitarian aid.

This White Paper should have persuaded our readers that the second narrative is both unfair and factually false. It is unfair because similar peace and cultural activities by mainline religions do not receive the same criticism. It is taken for granted that their activities on behalf of peace, dialogue, and social welfare are promoted in good faith, out of a sincere desire for a better world, rather than for self-promotion or proselytization purposes. Only the activities of new religious movements are accused of dissimulating hidden motivations.

Thus, a vicious circle is created. If new religious movements only spend their time in missionary and religious activities, it is objected that this is typical of “cults,” while “real” religions care for larger issues and help fellow human beings. If they engage in charitable, social, or cultural activities, it is argued that these are only “fronts” for proselytization and publicity.

The theory that the UPF organizes its activities for proselytization purposes on behalf of the Unification Church is also factually false, and open to empirical disconfirmation. To the best of our knowledge none of the presidents, prime ministers, Nobel Prize laureates, religious leaders, and other participants in the UPF activities converted to the Unification Church. Not only is this theoretically unlikely. It simply did not happen in practice. It would also be difficult to argue that, because of the UPF activities, those who accuse the Unification Church of being “a cult” became less aggressive, and indeed the contrary may well be true.

The conclusion seems to us unescapable. The UPF is an organization that has been founded by Reverend and Mrs. Moon and maintains members of the Unification Church among its leaders, but is supported by the volunteer work of tens of thousands who in their majority are not Unificationists. Its purpose is not to convert others to the Unification Church, nor to support any partisan political perspective, but to promote high-level discussions about issues connected with world peace, and support in different ways charitable and humanitarian initiatives.

The quality of its work has been recognized, inter alia by the United Nations and the Vatican. To regard the world leaders who participate in its conferences and the more than 100,000 Ambassadors for Peace as “puppets” of a “cult” is more than offensive. It is a ridiculous theory, the fruit of the very bigotry and prejudices international organizations and friends of peace and dialogue should work tirelessly to eliminate.

Read the whole White Paper here


Photo : Invitation to “Think Tank 2022 Rally of Hope”, on September 12, 2021. Donald Trump was just an online keynote speaker, with José Manuel Barroso, Former President of the European Commission and several others: 

Former President of Trinidad and Tobago, Former President of the Philippines, Former President of Serbia, Former Vice-President of India, Prime Minister of Cambodia,…


Further reading about FORB in the World on HRWF website