The head of the Moonies, one of the world’s most controversial religious movements, has had a long-standing ban on entering Britain lifted by Charles Clarke, the Home Secretary.
The Rev Sun Myung Moon, the 86-year-old founder of Unification Church, who was barred almost 10 years ago amid accusations that his church used dubious methods to gain recruits, will fly into London today.
The Korean-born businessman, who portrays himself as a messiah, was accused of breaking up thousands of families. He was also involved in one of the country’s longest running libel cases in the 1980s after the Daily Mail accused him of “brainwashing” young people.
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In 1995, the then Home Secretary, Michael Howard, said that he was excluding Mr Moon from Britain on the grounds that his presence would not be “conducive to the common good for reasons of public order”.
The Home Office reiterated the position in a letter to Mr Moon, who has also been barred from a number of other countries, in a letter in May 2003. But he was granted a 24-hour visa 10 days ago and will be delivering a lecture in London tomorrow as part of a world tour.
Mr Clarke said last night: “I considered excluding him but I decided that at his age there was not a good enough reason.” His decision was criticised last night by several organisations.
Ian Haworth, the general secretary of the Cult Information Centre, said that he was “saddened” by the news. “Mr Moon hasn’t changed, nor has his organisation. It makes no sense.”
He added: “In my opinion the Home Office is being naive. We will be left to continue to help any families whose loved ones become enmeshed in this organisation.”
Dr Anne Richards, a member of the Church of England’s Board of Mission and the Home Office-funded organisation Inform, which monitors fringe religions, said she was “surprised” he had been admitted.
Mr Moon is flying into London in his private Lear jet with his wife, Hak Ja Han Moon, for what is likely to be his last international trip.
A 1,000-strong audience, including a number of theologians and academics, is expected to hear his lecture on the topic of world peace, which will be peppered with references to Adam and Eve and Satan.
When Sun Myung Moon was a 16-year-old in Korea, he claims to have met Jesus on a hillside.
Jesus told him that he had not been able to complete his mission on bringing peace on earth, and asked Moon to take on his mantle.
His teachings, based on revelations he received from God, are known as the Divine Principle and at the heart of his teaching is a belief in establishing True Families.
He often says he is on Earth to complete the mission of Jesus. At one point, he was thought to have more than 500,000 followers but today those numbers have dwindled.
He owns the Right-wing Washington Times and among those who have spoken at Moonie rallies are the late Sir Edward Heath, Mikail Gorbachev and Gen Alexander Haig, the former US secretary of state.
In 1982, he was jailed for 18 months in New York for failing to pay tax on a private bank account worth nearly ?1 million.
He claims to have two wives and is in Guinness World Records for presiding over the world’s biggest mass wedding.
Robin Marsh, a senior figure in the Unification movement in Britain, said that Mr Moon now concentrated on inter-faith issues rather than recuiting new members.
He added that an immigration appeal tribunal had concluded in March that there were no good grounds for continuing to exclude him.
The tribunal said that the risk that his visit would result in his church returning to its “undesirable methods of recruitment and retention were very thin indeed”.
Sidebar: Moon rise
1936 Sun Myung Moon, a 16-year-old farmer’s son, claims he met Jesus on a hillside in North Korea who told him to him to take on his mantle.
1945 Moon publishes his book Divine Principles, a mix of Christianity, Confucianism and Shamanism.
1954 Moon forms The Holy Spirit Association for the Unification of World Christianity, later renamed the Unification Church.
1971 Moon moves Unification Church to US.
1981 The Daily Mail accuses the Moonies of brainwashing young people.
1998 Former wife of Moon’s eldest son publishes autobiography which reveals his adultery.