Sun Myung Moon (born 1920) was the founder of the Unification Church, a movement combining Christian and Oriental religious traditions which focused on "God-centered marriages" as a way of saving the world. Enormous controversy surrounding the group erupted in America in the 1970s, leading to many kidnappings, deprogrammings, and much inflamed rhetoric.
Sun Myung Moon was born on January 6, 1920, in Jeong-ju in what is now North Korea, then under Japanese occupation. His family converted to Presbyterianism when Moon was ten years old. He entered college at age 19 in Seoul, studying electrical engineering, and graduated in that field from Waseda University in Japan in 1943. He then returned to Korea to pursue his engineering career. However, his work soon became more religious than secular.
On Easter Sunday, 1936, Moon had a vision of Jesus, he reported, in which he was told that he had been assigned to the mission of completing Jesus' unfinished task of saving the human race. For some years afterwards he formulated his religious and theological ideas, which he began teaching seriously at the end of World War II. In 1946 he went to North Korea, but stories soon spread that Moon was preaching heresy and spying for South Korea, and he landed in prison. He was freed, rearrested, and finally freed during the Korean War in 1950. The beginning of the Unification Church as a distinct organization is usually dated at 1951, by which time Moon was back in South Korea at Pusan. He began to attract followers and to put his ideas into written form. Those writings have since become scripture to the movement; in book form they are called Divine Principle.
Moon moved from Pusan to Seoul in 1954 and there established his movement under the name of The Holy Spirit Association for the Unification of World Christianity. By 1958 a mission to Japan was established, and in 1959 a disciple, Young Oon Kim, left for the United States, where she established the first American outpost of Unificationism at Eugene, Oregon. The movement at the time had only a modest success in the United States, but it was growing rapidly in Korea and Japan. Within a few years Japan had outstripped Korea as the country with the largest number of Unification Church members. Meanwhile, in 1960, after at least one earlier marriage, Moon married Hak Ja Han, an event viewed by the movement as extremely important, since marriage and family were seen as essential to the plan of salvation. The first of their many children was born at the end of that year.
In 1972 Moon moved to the United States. In that year and the following three years he undertook extensive speaking tours, and the movement grew, most of the new converts being college-age youth. They actively recruited people in public parks, shopping malls, libraries, city streets, bus and train stations, and centers of countercultural activity, such as college campuses. But opposition also grew. Although Moon's political conservatism and militant anti-Communism appealed to some persons, others began to cast him as a sinister abuser of his largely youthful followers. Tales of sleep deprivation, inadequate diet, and the exercise of sophisticated forms of mind control at the Unification camps and communal living units began to emerge with some frequency. Some opposition also arose to the group's fund-raising, done through begging or sales of merchandise on the streets and at airports.
Meanwhile, a Methodist layman named Ted Patrick had, in 1971, developed a strategy called "deprogramming" for use against members of some religious movements seen as extreme. In this process members of such movements were kidnapped and subjected to intensive and prolonged sessions of psychological bombardment in order to persuade them to abandon their new faith. By the mid-1970s Patrick and other deprogrammers had expanded their efforts to oppose a wide range of new religions, among them the Unification Church. The Unificationists resisted the attack, and charges and counter charges flew. By the early 1980s, however, deprogramming seemed to be abating, partly because of legal problems the deprogrammers had experienced (some targets of the deprogrammers had filed civil and criminal suits against their captors) and partly because Unificationism seemed to be drawing fewer new members.
Moon's doctrine, as summarized in Divine Principle, states that the human race fell from grace when Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden of Eden, and the history of the human race since then has involved many attempts to return to godliness. The most important such attempt was that of Jesus, but it, like others, failed, because Jesus was executed before he had a chance to complete his work. Moon believed he had the opportunity to complete the work of Jesus. Salvation, he taught, will be accomplished through the creation of God-centered families: husband, wife, and children, with the whole family devoted to the will of God. Moon even required each member of the church to remain celibate for a minimum of three years and often longer after joining the movement. Members openly spoke of problems coping with sexual desires and quenching them through a combination of frequent prayers and cold showers. Thus marriage became the most important part of Unification life; Moon personally selected mates for his followers (many of the matchings were interracial) and united them in marriage at mass ceremonies with thousands of participants. One mass wedding was held in New York in Madison Square Garden.
When enough God-centered families have been created, Moon taught, the world will be ready for the emergence of the Lord of the Second Advent, the equivalent of Christ in the Second Coming. That Lord must come from Korea; although the movement officially teaches that he hasn't been identified, the consensus is that it will be Moon himself.
Since the world must be prepared for the coming of the Lord of the Second Advent, Unificationists strive to make the world a better place. To that end they worked on antipoverty and relief programs, sponsored conferences for scholars and ministers, and undertook an enormous publishing enterprise, including the founding of several daily newspapers, the most prominent of which was the Washington Times. The funding for these enterprises came mainly from the movement's prosperous Japanese branch.
In 1981 Moon was accused of criminal tax evasion and eventually served several months in prison for the offense following a spirited defense which included supportive statements from a wide array of religious groups. Following his release in 1985 he returned to active leadership of the movement in New York, where he continues to write papers and deliver speeches on behalf of the Unification Church.
Further Reading on Sun Myung Moon
The definitive version of Moon's teaching is Divine Principle (several editions; the most important one, 1973). Moon's other works in book form are typically collections of his talks, such as New Hope (1973). Much more numerous are works by Moon's followers. One important one is Young Oon Kim, Unification Theology (1980). A sympathetic historical and philosophical study of the movement, published by Unificationism's own press, is Sebastian Matczak, Unificationism (1982). The most important secondary work on Moon and Unificationism is David G. Bromley and Anson D. Shupe, Jr., "Moonies" in America: Cult, Church, and Crusade (1979). Another fairly comprehensive work is Frederick Sontag, Sun Myung Moon and the Unification Church (1977). The earliest major study was John Lofland, Doomsday Cult (1966).