News / Asia

Unification Church Founder Sun Myung Moon Dies at 92

In this Saturday, June 25, 2005 photo, Unification Church leader Rev. Sun Myung Moon speaks during his "Now is God's Time" rally in New York.In this Saturday, June 25, 2005 photo, Unification Church leader Rev. Sun Myung Moon speaks during his "Now is God's Time" rally in New York.
In this Saturday, June 25, 2005 photo, Unification Church leader Rev. Sun Myung Moon speaks during his "Now is God's Time" rally in New York.
In this Saturday, June 25, 2005 photo, Unification Church leader Rev. Sun Myung Moon speaks during his "Now is God's Time" rally in New York.
SEOUL — One of the most prominent and controversial Koreans in the world has died.  The Unification Church says its founder, Sun Myung Moon, succumbed to complications from pneumonia (Monday 9/3/12) at the age of 92, in a church-run hospital east of Seoul.  
Sun Myung Moon leaves behind not only an apocalyptic religious movement, but a global empire possibly still worth billions of dollars.
Its businesses are involved in publishing, education, real estate, the hospitality industry, health care and even gun-manufacturing.  A church-controlled seafood conglomerate is believed to supply most of the fish for sushi eaten in America.
Moon was born in 1920 in what is now North Korea.  He started his church in 1954.  His followers became known as “Moonies” with the church gaining a reputation as a cult with deceptive tactics in recruiting followers and maintaining tight control over their lives.
The group gained notoriety for mass weddings where couples, who had never met, were married to other church followers selected by its founder, who presided over the ceremonies in a robe and with a crown atop his head.
Honorary research fellow in contemporary religion at Britain's University of Birmingham, George Chryssides, says Moon and his church were shunned by established Christian organizations.
“Within mainstream Christianity there is an absolute rejection that anyone should produce new scriptures or claim to be a new messiah.  It is certainly something that does not go down well in religious circles," he said. 
Professor Tark Ji-il, who teaches religion at Busan Presbyterian University, contends that in the Unification Church's theology the ultimate goal was to establish a heavenly kingdom on the Korean peninsula with Moon as king.
Tark said this did not deviate since the church was established and its vast business activities were focused on this goal.
Japan was once considered to be a primary source of the church's wealth, in part derived from persuasive door-to-door peddling of religious icons.  But there were more nebulous allegations there from late 1960's when numerous Japanese ultra-nationalists and gangsters joined the church.
Over the years Moon sought to influence politics in both South Korea and the United States. 
In the 1970's he was the target of U.S. government investigations.
In 1982, Moon was convicted of tax fraud and spent 13 months in a U.S. federal prison.  He denied allegations his attempts to influence lawmakers were done in collusion with South Korea's intelligence agency, an allegation raised during a subsequent congressional investigation.
Even though he once was an ardent anti-communist, Moon later put ideology aside to do business with Kim Il Sung, the founder of North Korea, where he had once been imprisoned in the late 1940's.
Chryssides, author of The Advent of Sun Myung Moon: The Origins, Beliefs and Practices of the Unification Church, predicts money, rather than theology, will be Moon's lasting legacy. “It is also something that will keep his organization going in whatever form the new leadership sees fit," he said. 
Leadership roles in the church's sprawling empire in recent years have been split among several of Moon's children.  Some of the businesses have struggled amid reports of infighting among the heirs.  It is unclear if the family-run empire will be able to remain intact without its charismatic founder who regarded himself as the Messiah.
Professor Tark, who is also editor-in-chief of South Korea's Contemporary Religion magazine is skeptical. Tark said the conflict among Moon's sons over financial assets is becoming serious. He notes media accounts of it referring to the in-fighting as “the rebellion of princes.”
Moon officially handed over the presidency of the church to his youngest son, Hyung-jin, also known as Sean.  But Chryssides says Moon's widow, Han Hak-ja, retains a critical position within the church.
“Theologically she is the Messiah, as well.  In Unification thoughts, there is not just one messiah there are the two - there's the male and the female. So what role she is going to have is not at all clear.  And I think anything could happen," he said. 
Professor Jo Eung-tae, in the unification theology department at the church's Sun Moon University in Asan (South Korea) expects the children to remain subordinate to their mother.
Jo says, overall, Han will now lead the entire church while her children will have their own roles with the youngest son responsible for religious activities.
Moon was quoted in his teachings predicting “a big commotion” after his death, but promised he would continue to lead his church from the spirit world.

Steve Herman

A veteran journalist, Steve Herman is VOA's Southeast Asia Bureau Chief and Correspondent, based in Bangkok.

You May Like

Multimedia Brussels Schools, Metro Reopen Under Heavy Guard

City remains under the highest threat alert level due to what authorities have described as a 'serious and imminent' threat of attack

Video Debt-ridden Refugees Await Onslaught of Lebanese Winter

Aid agencies are attempting to reduce potentially devastating consequences of freezing conditions and snowstorms that killed eight last year, including three Syrian refugees

UN Warns Air Pollution in Asia Pacific Has Rising Cost

Globally some seven million people a year die prematurely due to indoor and outdoor pollution with about 70 per cent of those deaths in region

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
by: Brian Birmingham from: Boston, MA
September 07, 2012 8:35 PM
"During the time of the "Koreagate" scandal in 1976-1977, the Fraser Committee found that the National Intelligence Service of South Korea (KCIA), had, among other things, been using the Unification Church as a political tool in its various
anti-communist activities. The KCIA's general goal was to influence the domestic and foreign politics and policies of the United States. Eighty-one pages of the 447-page Fraser Report (pages 311-392) deals specifically with the Moon organization. The term "KCIA" occurs sixty-eight times within those eighty-one pages." Source:

Please also see:

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
After Paris Attacks, France Steps Up Fight Against ISi
November 24, 2015 3:04 AM
The November 13 Paris attacks have drawn increased attention to Syria, where many of the suspected perpetrators are said to have received training. French President Francois Hollande is working to build a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video After Paris Attacks, France Steps Up Fight Against IS

The November 13 Paris attacks have drawn increased attention to Syria, where many of the suspected perpetrators are said to have received training. French President Francois Hollande is working to build a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video US, Cambodian Navies Pair Up in Gulf of Thailand

The U.S. Navy has deployed one of its newest and most advanced ships to Cambodia to conduct joint training drills in the Gulf of Thailand. Riding hull-to-hull with Cambodian ships, the seamen of the USS Fort Worth are executing joint-training drills that will help build relations in Southeast Asia. David Boyle reports for VOA from Preah Sihanouk province.

Video Americans Sharpen Focus on Terrorism

Washington will be quieter than usual this week due to the Thanksgiving holiday, even as Americans across the nation register heightened concerns over possible terrorist threats. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports new polling data from ABC News and the Washington Post newspaper show an electorate increasingly focused on security issues after the deadly Islamic State attacks in Paris.

Video World Leaders Head to Paris for Climate Deal

Heads of state from nearly 80 countries are heading to Paris (November 30-December 11) to craft a global climate change agreement. The new accord will replace the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change that expired in 2012.

Video Uncertain Future for Syrian Refugee Resettlement in Illinois

For the trickle of Syrian refugees finding new homes in the Midwest city of Chicago, the call to end resettlement in many U.S. states is adding another dimension to their long journey fleeing war. Organizations working to help them integrate say the backlash since the Paris attacks is both harming and helping their efforts to provide refugees sanctuary. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

Video Creating Physical Virtual Reality With Tiny Drones

As many computer gamers know, virtual reality is a three-dimensional picture, projected inside special googles. It can fool your brain into thinking the computer world is the real world. But If you try to touch it, it’s not there. Now Canadian researchers say it may be possible to create a physical virtual reality using tiny drones. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video New American Indian Village Takes Visitors Back in Time

There is precious little opportunity to experience what life was like in the United States before its colonization by European settlers. Now, an American Indian village built in a park outside Washington is taking visitors back in time to experience the way of life of America's indigenous people. Carol Pearson narrates this report from VOA's June Soh.

Video Even With Hometown Liberated, Yazidi Refugees Fear Return

While the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar has been liberated from Islamic State forces, it's not clear whether Yazidi residents who fled the militants will now return home. VOA’s Mahmut Bozarslan talked with Yazidis, a religious and ethnic minority, at a Turkish refugee camp in Diyarbakır. Robert Raffaele narrates his report.

Video Nairobi Tailors Make Pope Francis’ Vestments

To ensure the pope is properly attired during his visit, the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops asked the Dolly Craft Sewing Project in the Nairobi slum of Kangemi to make the pope's vestments, the garments he will wear during the various ceremonies. Jill Craig reports.

Video Cross-Border Terrorism Puts Europe’s Passport-Free Travel in Doubt

The fallout from the Islamic State terror attacks in Paris has put the future of Europe’s passport-free travel area, known as the "Schengen Zone," in doubt. Several of the perpetrators were known to intelligence agencies, but were not intercepted. Henry Ridgwell reports from London European ministers are to hold an emergency meeting Friday in Brussels to look at ways of improving security.

Video El Niño Brings Unexpected Fish From Mexico to California

Fish in an unexpected spectrum of sizes, shapes and colors are moving north, through El Niño's warm currents from Mexican waters to the Pacific Ocean off California’s coast. El Nino is the periodic warming of the eastern and central Pacific Ocean. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, this phenomenon thrills scientists and gives anglers the chance of a once-in-a-lifetime big catch. Faith Lapidus narrates.

Video Terrorism in Many Forms Continues to Plague Africa

While the world's attention is on Paris in the wake of Friday night's deadly attacks, terrorism from various sides remains a looming threat in many African countries. Nigerian cities have been targeted this week by attacks many believe were staged by the violent Islamist group Boko Haram. In addition, residents in many regions are forced to flee their homes as they are terrorized by armed militias. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Study: Underage Marriage Rate Higher for Females in Pakistan

While attitudes about the societal role of females in Pakistan are evolving, research by child advocacy group Plan International suggests that underage marriage of girls remains a particularly big issue in the country. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports how such marriages leads to further social problems.

VOA Blogs