ASAN, South Korea — Nearly a half-century after the Rev. Sun Myung Moon performed his first mass wedding, the 89-year-old leader of the Unification Church is getting ready to marry off tens of thousands of people in spectacles from the United States to South Korea.
The church says Moon will wed or reaffirm the marriages of more than 40,000 people. More than 20,000 will participate Wednesday at Sun Moon University in Asan, south of Seoul, in a ceremony that will be broadcast live at similar events worldwide.
The mass weddings — the church’s largest in a decade — come as Moon is moving to hand day-to-day leadership over to three of his 11 children.
Moon, a self-proclaimed Messiah who says he was 15 when Jesus Christ called upon him to carry out his unfinished work, has courted controversy and criticism since founding the Unification Church in Seoul in 1954.
Critics who accuse the church of engaging in cultlike practices say the mass weddings prove it brainwashes its followers. In the past, followers let Moon pick their spouses on the belief that he has divine insight. Many met their mates for the first time at the mass weddings.
These days, prospective partners meet days or weeks before their wedding, church officials say, and couples are matched after careful scrutiny of their photographs, biographies and other personal data.
Participants can also reject Moon’s choice of their spouses — but few do, church officials said.
The beliefs and teachings of Sun Myung Moon and his cult are, in our view, evidence of religious insanity.
The Unification Church in July 2006 placed ads in various U.S. newspapers claiming that there had been a Christmas Day meeting “in the spirit world” attended by Jesus, Muhammad, Confucius, Buddha, Martin Luther and John Harvard:
According to the ad, which was presented to newspapers around the country this month, these men and hundreds of others in attendance proclaimed their allegiance to the Rev. Sun Myung Moon, the leader of the Unification Church. At the spirit meeting, the ad said, Jesus hailed Mr. Moon as the Messiah, proclaiming, “You are the Second Coming who inaugurated the Completed Testament Age.” Muhammad then led everyone in three cheers of victory.
God didn’t attend, but sent a letter Dec. 28 seconding Jesus’s remarks. Lenin and other leading communists also sent messages. Lenin said that he was in “unimaginable suffering and agony” for his earthly mistakes, and Stalin added, “We live in the bottom of Hell here.”
At least eight newspapers published the ad, including The Daily News of New York, The Boston Herald, The Philadelphia Inquirer and The Los Angeles Times. At least two, The New York Times and The Portland Oregonian, did not.
The New York Times rejected the ad because many readers would find it offensive, said Catherine J. Mathis, a spokeswoman for newspaper.
The Portland Oregonian rejected it because it could be not proved. “If the Rev. Moon had claimed he was the Messiah, I would have run the ad,” said Fred A. Stieckel, the publisher of The Oregonian. “But when he started quoting that Jesus Christ had said that he was the Messiah, I couldn’t check the veracity of it.”