Cult leader Sun Myung Moon, who founded the Unification Church and also presided over a vast business empire, has died. He was 92 years old.
It is not yet known who will succeed him in leading the church, which is estimated to have between five to seven million members. But in a Washington Post article published in 1997, Moon was quoted as saying this when asked what will happen to his empire after he dies: “I will continue to lead the church from the spirit world.”
Moon claimed that when he was 15, Jesus asked him to take on the work of building God’s kingdom on Earth. He founded the Unification Church in 1954.
In a 1974 speech titled “Human Life,” Moon said, “I must go beyond the failure of Adam, the failure of Abraham, the failure of Moses, the failures of Jacob, Moses, and John the Baptist, and Jesus.” Moon believed that Jesus failed to restore human beings to their intended position as God’s “perfect children” because he was crucified before he could marry and have children.
Moon faced widespread criticism for his aggressive recruitment practices. Former Unification Church members said they were lied to — a church-approved practice known as heavenly deception — deprived of sleep and beaten by church followers. Many turned over their savings to Moon’s organization.
In 1982, Moon was convicted in the US of tax evasion; he spent 13 months in federal prison. NPR quotes James Beverley, a professor at Tyndale Seminary in Toronto and an expert on Moon:
“He claimed he was innocent, and he regarded his time in prison as an equivalent to the death of Jesus,” Beverley says.
Beverley says after his release, which Moon compared to the Resurrection, Moon publicly declared himself the Messiah.
Aside from declaring himself to be the Messiah, Moon also believed he was sinless and that he was the true father of mankind.
“He believed he was the true representative of God on Earth, and that he has liberated the universe,” Beverley says. “He taught in one of his sermons that the ‘Hallelujah’ chorus is really about him, and people will eventually in heaven sing praises to Rev. Moon.”
In July 2002 the Unification Church 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.”
Church membership waned in the 1990s as more young people turned to evangelical Christianity, Sontag said. Moon played down the name Unification Church, opting to use the Universal Peace Federation as the flagship for his global empire. In 1996 he officially changed the name of the church to the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification.
Lately the church has been emphasizing the name Lovin’ Life Ministries, a contemporary ministry apparently designed to give the Unification Church a wider appeal.
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Unification Church head Sun Myung Moon dies at 92, Reuters: Critics have for years vilified the church as a heretical and dangerous cult and questioned its murky finances and how it indoctrinates followers, described in derogatory terms as “Moonies.” (Actually, the church itself introduced the term only to later object to it).
Rev Sun Myung Moon, leader of the Moonies, dies at 92, AFP: Moon had 14 children with his second wife, Hak Ja Han. Hyung Jin Moon, the youngest of his seven sons, succeeded his father as the church’s most senior leader in 2008 at the age of 28.
Sun Myung Moon, Church Head Who Ran Business Empire, Dies, Bloomberg: “I don’t think there will be any individual who will take his place,” said Frederick Sontag, a former professor of religion at Pomona College in California who studied Moon’s organization, in a 2007 interview. “He is too powerful a figure.”
Unification Church Founder Rev. Moon Dies, Wall Street Journal: Mr. Moon tried for decades to work with Christian leaders to create a unification of denominations, but he was largely shunned because he claimed to be the second coming of the Messiah promised in the Bible. The claim even divided some in his church and, in later years, he played it down. He often told people when they asked if he was the Messiah, “Yes I am, but so are you.”
Rev. Sun Myung Moon, Self-Proclaimed Messiah Who Built Religious Movement, Dies at 92, New York Times: Mr. Moon said he was the victim of religious oppression and ethnic bias because of his Korean heritage. Established churches were angered, he said, because they felt threatened by his movement. “I don’t blame those people who call us heretics,” he was quoted as saying in “Sun Myung Moon and the Unification Church” (1977), a sympathetic account by Frederick Sontag. “We are indeed heretics in their eyes because the concept of our way of life is revolutionary: We are going to liberate God.”
Moonies founder the Rev Sun Myung Moon dies in South Korea at 92, Guardian: His youngest son told Associated Press in a February 2010 that Moon’s offspring do not see themselves as his successors. “Our role is not inheriting that messianic role,” he said. “Our role is more of the apostles, where we become the bridge between understanding what kind of lives [our] parents have lived.”