Rev. Sun Myung Moon, the religious cult leader, jailed tax cheat, and owner of the conservative Washington Times who once declared himself “humanity’s savior” in front of astonished members of Congress at a Capitol Hill luncheon died on Monday.
“I came to America primarily to declare the New Age and new truth,” he is quoted as saying in the book “Sun Myung Moon and the Unification Church.”
Known as Moonies, his bizarre cult was notorious for trying to aggressively peddle products, such as flowers and trinkets, at airports. With their dead eyes and half-baked smile the members, who appeared brainwashed to many, could be quite tenacious with their begging for cash to support their cult.
Moon was an arch-conservative who worshiped America until he was convicted of a tax fraud scheme and sent away to the hoosegow. It was there he turned on this nation and blamed the government for cracking down on his illegal shenanigans. According to the New York Times:
An ardent anti-Communist who had been imprisoned by the Communist authorities in northern Korea in the 1940s, he saw the United States as the world’s salvation. But in the late 1990s, after financial losses, defections and stagnant growth in the church’s membership, he turned on America, branding it a repository of immorality — “Satan’s harvest” — and repositioned his movement as a crusade for moral values.
As his church grew more prominent in the 1970s and ’80s, it became embroiled in lawsuits over soliciting funds, acquiring property and recruiting followers. Defectors wrote damaging books. From 1973 to 1986 at least 400 of the church’s flock were abducted by their family members to undergo “deprogramming,” according to an estimate by David G. Bromley, a professor of sociology at Virginia Commonwealth University and an expert on Mr. Moon. The church denied that it had brainwashed its followers, saying members joined and stayed of their own free will.
Like most outspoken social conservatives, Moon’s family certainly did not practice the family values he preached:
Personal setbacks marked Mr. Moon’s later years. In 1984, a son, Heung Jin, died at 17 from injuries sustained in a car crash. Another son, Young Jin Moon, who was 21, committed suicide in 1999 by jumping from a 17th-story balcony at Harrah’s hotel in Reno, Nev. In 1995 Nansook Hong, the wife of his eldest son, Hyo Jin Moon, who at one time was Mr. Moon’s heir apparent, broke from the family and wrote a book characterizing her husband as a womanizing cocaine user who watched pornographic movies and beat her, once when she was seven months pregnant.
It appears that Moon grossly distorted his cult’s membership numbers to a degree only seen with Paul Ryan distorting his marathon times:
Mr. Moon founded the Unification Church in South Korea in 1954 and began organizing it on a large scale in the United States in the early 1970s. It eventually claimed up to three million members worldwide, but historians of religion dispute that number, estimating a membership of 50,000 at the church’s height in the late 1970s, with only a few thousand in the United States.
Similar to other cult leaders and false Messiahs, it appears Moon used the donations from his airport grovelers to live a lavish lifestyle:
In their book “Cults and New Religions” (2006), Mr. Bromley and Douglas E. Cowan wrote that according to church doctrine, a member “recognizes Moon’s messianic status, agrees to contribute to the payment of personal indemnity for human sinfulness, and looks forward to receiving the marital Blessing and building a restored world of sinless families.”
For a time Mr. Moon lived in an 18-acre compound in Irvington, N.Y., which Ms. Hong described as having a ballroom, two dining rooms (one with a pond and waterfall), a kitchen with six pizza ovens and a bowling alley upstairs. The church owned another estate, Belvedere, in nearby Tarrytown.
Like America’s strident family values activists, Moon had his requisite divorce and shady financial dealings:
Two years later he returned to Korea and married Sun Kil Choi, who bore him a son. Despite the centrality of marriage in his developing theology, Mr. Moon divorced Ms. Choi in 1952 (something that was glossed over in the official biography) and the following year moved to Seoul, where he founded the Unification Church in 1954.
Rumors of sexual relations with disciples, which the church denied, dogged the young evangelist, and he fathered a child in 1954. In 1960, Mr. Moon married the 17-year-old Hak Ja Han, who would bear him 13 children and be anointed “true parent.”
In October 1981, Mr. Moon was named in a 12-count federal indictment. He was accused of failing to report $150,000 in income from 1973 to 1975, a sum consisting of interest from $1.6 million that he had deposited in New York bank accounts in his own name, according to the indictment.
While thousands worshiped Moon, it seemed the cult leader bowed at the altar of Richard Nixon, even defending the disgraced president after Watergate:
He took an interest in politics, urging that President Richard M. Nixon be forgiven for his role in the Watergate crisis. Church leaders plotted a strategy to defend the president and held rallies in support of Nixon that drew thousands to Yankee Stadium, Madison Square Garden and the National Mall.
Of course, Moon was also anti-gay.
As his church’s fortunes declined in the United States, Mr. Moon revised his pro-American views. In a 1997 speech, he said America had “persecuted” him. He also attacked homosexuals and American women.
The church was best known for its mass weddings:
In one of the last such events, in 2009, 10,000 couples exchanged or renewed vows before Mr. Moon at Sun Moon University near Seoul.
Marriage was a key part of achieving salvation, and for a couple the marriage was as much a commitment to the church as it was to each other.
In a ceremony involving 2,075 couples at Madison Square Garden in 1982, for example, the men wore identical blue suits and the women lace and satin gowns. Mr. Moon was said to have made the matches, based on questionnaires, photographs and the recommendations of church officials.
Often the couples had met only weeks earlier or could speak to each other only through an interpreter. Many had to remain separated for several years, doing church work, before they were allowed to consummate the unions.
Richard Cohen, (pictured) the founder of the “ex-gay” International Healing Foundation and former president of Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays (PFOX) board, used to be a prominent member of the Unification Church. He met his Moonie wife there and took part in a mass Moonie marriage ceremony.
The most delicious part of the New York Times article was learning that one of the nation’s most influential conservative newspapers, Moon’s Washington Times, was hardly an example of successful capitalism. The only way that fish wrapper stayed afloat was by Moon funneling more than a billion dollars of cult money to keep the doors open.
The extent of his holdings was somewhat of a mystery, but one figure gives a clue: Mr. Moon acknowledged that in the two decades since the founding of The Washington Times in 1982, he pumped in more than $1 billion in subsidies to keep it going.
Now that the savior is gone, business should be booming at deprogramming centers across the world.