The Reverend Sun Myung Moon (文鮮明), founder of the Korean new religious movement known as the Unification Church and less positively as the “Moonies” died today in Korea at age 92. Moon was a very controversial figure, both in Korea and in the USA.
Of course, some of the controversy centred around his religious claims. After all, Moon claimed to be the Messiah. He claimed to have had a vision of Jesus when he was a young man which Jesus invited him to complete his unfinished work. I do not claim to be an expert on Unificationist theology. There are other scholars more conversant with the history and teachings of the religion that I am, but if I am not mistaken, central to Moon’s teachings is his teaching on marriage.
The Unification Church is not a Christian religion. While they do esteem Jesus as a prophet, they do not believe he is God. Moon claimed that the unfished mission of Jesus was to raise up families untainted by original sin. Because he did not complete his mission, it was left to Reverend Moon to complete it. Thus, he married his wife, Han Hak-ja, and had many children. These children were supposedly born free of Original Sin. Moon and his wife are the True Parents to humanity. Their children are the True Family. However, if they were free of Original Sin, they certainly were not free of personal sin, as is evidenced by the life of the first son of the founder, Hyo-jin Moon.
Hyo-jin Moon had problems with drugs and alcohol. His ex-wife, Nansook Hong, wrote a disturbing memoir of life in the Moon family entitled In the Shadow of the Moons. She was born into a Unification Church family. She details the abuse she received at the hands of her ex-husband and his family. Somehow, she was able to escape and build a life outside “the shadow of the Moons”. She also makes allegations of infidelity on the part of Reverend Moon himself.
Moon was also a highly successful businessman. He owned food and pharmeceutical companies, newspapers, and much more. One of the local cola drinks in Korea, McCol, is made by Il Hwa Pharmeceuticals, one of Moon’s own businesses. (I am somewhat partial to the Chojung Mineral Water sold by Ilhwa, as I like carbonated mineral water, but balk at the prices for Perrier in Korea.)
The Unification Church is now to enter a new and difficult phase. All new religions face difficulties after the death of their founder. Some die out completely, others splinter into various sects, and some remain strong. Looking at the history of another religious group grabbing the headlines in the USA, I wonder what would have happened had not Brigham Young been leading the Quorum of the Twelve when Joseph Smith’s life was cut short. Granted, there were schisms. Some of the Mormons remained in the Midwest, where some followed James Jesse Strang, though many left him once they discovered he started practicing polygamy. Among them would be the man who lead to the founding of the second largest group of Latter Day Saints, Jason W. Briggs. Briggs convinced Joseph Smith’s son, Joseph Smith III to take up his father’s prophetic mantle and in 1860, the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints was born. Now known as the Community of Christ, it was for most of its history lead by Joseph Smith’s son, grandsons, and great-grandson. Following Wallace B. Smith’s retirement in 1998, the leadership has been given to people outside the Smith family and it has since moved away from many of its Latter Day Saint distinctives. (It is now a member of the National Council of Churches.) But by and large, most of the Mormons did follow Young into Utah and the Utah church is the largest of the Latter-day Saint churches in America. Most of the others are quite small.
Time will tell what happens to the Unification Church. You can read the New York Times story by clicking here. Will Hyung-jin Moon in effect be the Unification Church’s Brigham Young?
As for what happens to the various businesses, it seems that the leadership of the Tongil Group, which is the holding company for the businesses owned by the church, will pass to Moon’s fourth son, Kook-jin Moon. Moon’s youngest son, Hyung-jin Moon, will head the church itself. Hyung-jin Moon has a very interesting background, as he went to Harvard Divinity School and spent time training as a Buddhist monk in the Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism. You can read more about that in the Korea Times by clicking here. Moon’s biographer, Michael Breen, penned an editorial about Sun Myung Moon. He was a member of the Unification Church, though is no longer active. I am a big fan of Michael Breen’s writing. He was a journalist working in Korea during the tumultous Park and Chun years and still lives here today. He wrote perhaps one of the best introductions to the Korean people entitled The Koreans: Who They Are, What They Want, and Where Their Future Lies.