Though I was very young during the cult scares of the 1970s, I did become aware of the Unification Church later on. As a teenager in Salt Lake City, I was once approached by a member of the Unification Church handing out tracts. I’m not sure if Salt Lake City still has a Unification Church parish, but another very controversial new religion, namely $cientology was not terribly far from my grandmother’s house.
The Unification Church, known in Korean as Tongilgyo, was founded in the 1950s by Sun Myung Moon. Moon was born in North Korea and trained in his native Korea and later in Japan as a electrical engineer. Followers of Sun Myung Moon believe him to be the Messiah. Moon claimed to have had a vision of Jesus as a young man wherein Jesus invited him to continue to his unfinished work. Central to Unification theology is the marriage blessing. This is one of the most notable aspects of Moon’s teaching. Moon taught that Eve had sexual relations with Satan in the garden and then had relations with her husband, Adam. This is how Unificationists view Original Sin. By undergoing the marriage blessing under Moon, a couple then can be freed of original sin and grafted onto the pure sinless lineage of the Messiah. Often, these marriages were arranged by Moon. The bride and groom may not have even laid eyes upon each other prior to the wedding. Moon and his wife, then, are seen as the True Parents to humanity and the first to raise up a sinless family, known as the True Family. Those who receive the marriage blessing will then be able to raise up sinless families of their own.
As to whether Moon and his family are sinless, there are many dissenting voices, not the least of which is his former daughter-in-law Nansook Hong. Hong was married to Moon’s eldest son, Hyo-jin. In her memoir Under the Shadow of the Moons, Hong gives an account of living in the mansion of Sun Myung Moon which is far from idyllic. Hyo-jin Moon, it seems, had problems with substance abuse. Contrary to church teachings, he also had many affairs. He was also physically abusive. Despite the great wealth of the Moon family, when she and Hyo-jin split up, the courts awarded custody of the children to her and even jailed Hyo-jin for not paying child support. One of his daughters, Un-jin, divorced the husband her father picked out for her and is estranged from her family. Other members of the Moon family have been in and out of the church. The current church president, Hyung-jin Moon, is a very interesting figure. He holds a master’s from the Harvard Divinity School and practiced Buddhist meditation for a time under the tutelage of monks of the Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism.
The Unification Church has been trying to build up its sagging fortunes. The sons of Moon’s are trying to revitalize the businesses owned by Moon and his church. I’m not sure if they still do this, but at one time, they were a major supplier of weapons to the army of South Korea. They own newspapers in several countries including The Washington Times and the once-famed news agency United Press International. Here in Korea, they own the Segye Ilbo, a Seoul daily, Il-shin Stone, Il Hwa Pharmeceuticals, and another company named Il Hwa which makes a cola drink from barley called McCol. Moon’s son, Kook-jin, has a major interest in Kahr Firearms in the USA. However, there are storm clouds brewing. Moon is now over 90 years old. When he dies, many wonder whether or not there will be a veritable free-for-all among different factions of the family. The Moons have had 13 children but they’ve lost three sons so far. One committed suicide in Reno, another was killed in a car accident, and his eldest son, Hyo-jin died of a heart attack not long ago.
I’ve noticed a few new buildings of theirs. There is a very impressive and brand new headquarters building in Yongsan-gu. Across the street from a restaurant I often frequent near Gangnam Station, this new church building sprung up. Like many Protestant churches in Korea, it shares its space with a number of other businesses. However, the ownership of the building is pretty clear, given that it is the Gangnam Tongil Building.