'Messiah' Moon leaves a vast business - and a tainted image
To its critics the Unification Church is a dangerous cult
THE REV Sun Myung Moon, the controversial founder of the Unification Church who died yesterday aged 92, leaves behind a vast business empire and a reputation tainted by accusations of brainwashing.
The self-proclaimed messiah who claimed to have met Jesus three times, and whose mass weddings involved thousands of couples, died at a hospital owned by the church in Gapyeong County, northeast of Seoul, two weeks after being hospitalised with pneumonia. His 10 surviving sons and daughters were by his bedside.
To its critics, the church is a dangerous cult and its followers are lampooned as “Moonies”, but it is nevertheless staunchly worshipped by its many adherents. The church says there are three million of them, but ex-members say there are only tens of thousands left.
The wedding ceremonies, which Moon began in the early 1960s, paired up strangers from different parts of the world. One of the most well-known ceremonies was in Madison Square Garden in New York – the first held outside Korea.
“International and intercultural marriages are the quickest way to bring about an ideal world of peace,” he wrote in a 2009 autobiography.
Despite his pronouncements on world peace, much of his life was characterised by antagonism, and critics say the organisation too readily emptied the pockets of its members.
The Unification Church certainly amassed quite a haul of business ventures over the years. In South Korea, the church owned a ski resort, a fistful of football teams, various schools and hospitals and other businesses. It is run like the chaebol conglomerates that dominate other areas of life in Korea, such as Samsung and Hyundai.
Much of Moon’s career became wrapped up in the murky relationship between North and South Korea, which have been bitter enemies since the Korean War ended with no truce in 1953. Intelligence gathering on both sides has been intense in the intervening six decades.
Moon spent time in prison in North Korea, and was an avowed anti-communist, but he later repaired his links with the Kim dynasty in the North and the Unification Church became a player in North-South links, setting up a “peace” institute and operating one of the few big hotels in the North, the Potonggang, in the capital, Pyongyang.
The Unification Church owned the Washington Times newspaper, the swish New Yorker Hotel in midtown Manhattan, and a vast seafood distribution firm.
Probably the sharpest criticism was retained for the Unification Church’s recruitment methods, which many former members said were akin to brainwashing. Ex-devotees claimed they were lied to – the practice was known by members as “heavenly deception” – as well as tortured and beaten.