Moon turns church over to sons
The Rev Sun Myung Moon, now approaching 90 and still one of the world’s most controversial religious figures, is handing over day-to-day control of his Unification Church to his sons.
There are some changes afoot in fundraising and boosting membership, the three sons say. But Moon – who will preside over another series of his trademark mass weddings on Wednesday – remains in charge as the church’s self-proclaimed “Messiah.”
Still, the sons are quietly assuming more responsibility in managing a church that has steadily expanded its business and charitable activities while trying to avoid the criticism that dogged it during the 1970s and 80s.
The youngest, 30-year-old Rev Moon Hyung-jin, was tapped last year to take over as the church’s religious leader. Moon Kook-jin, 39, is in charge of business ventures in South Korea, while 40-year-old Moon Hyun-jin oversees international operations
Since founding the church in Seoul in 1954, the elder Moon has built a business empire with hundreds of ventures in more than a half-dozen countries, from hospitals and universities to newspapers and even a professional soccer team and ballet troupe.
Though the church claims millions of members worldwide, experts say the figure is far lower – no more than 100,000. In South Korea, Unification Church members are far outnumbered by Catholics, Presbyterians and Buddhists.
Critics maintain the Rev Moon is little more than a charismatic cult leader who brainwashes followers.
“What Rev Moon says is the law,” said Lee Young-sun, a follower who left the church in 2001 after 31 years. Her family so revered Moon, she said, they hung his portrait on the wall and thanked him in their mealtime prayers. “The church’s brainwashing is exactly what North Korea does,” she said.
Still, some analysts say that by anointing a new generation, Moon may ensure the church endures after his death.
“Some people say the Unification Church may perish after Moon’s death but I don’t think so,” said Tark Ji-il, a religion professor at Busan Presbyterian University. “It’s more accurate to view them now as a corporate organistion uniting people with similar religious beliefs.”