By Marc Fisher and Jeff Leen
Stymied in U.S., Moon's Church Sounds a Retreat
Washington Post Staff Writers
Monday, November 24, 1997; Page A01
Second of two articles
n the twilight of a life devoted to building a new faith, the Rev. Sun Myung Moon has declared that "the period of religion is passing away" and his Unification Church must be dissolved.
Moon's dramatic shift in strategy comes at a time of great uncertainty for Unificationism and its worldwide network of churches, businesses and nonprofit groups. The founder's advanced age, the lack of a clear succession, the failure of recruiting efforts in the United States, a series of scandals and tragedies surrounding Moon's children, and a sense of disillusionment among some long-term members have left the church reeling, according to former and current members.
In a series of sermons delivered this year, Moon, 77, has expressed deep disdain for American society and its failure to embrace his religion. He has directed his followers to "cut down" their church and to work instead through the New York-based Family Federation for World Peace and Unification, a social and spiritual nonprofit group that holds conferences and stages events designed to promote Moon's worldview. In Washington, the federation is sponsoring this week's World Culture and Sports Festival, which culminates in Saturday's mass blessing ceremony at RFK Stadium.
"Things are very much in flux," said W. Farley Jones, president of the Family Federation, which he described as "the successor organization" to the church. Jones said it was "a fair statement" to describe Unificationism as a struggling faith. He said Moon wants to "get beyond denominationalism," but he cautioned that "we can't just abolish the church because many of the properties the Unification Church holds are in its name."
This is the central conundrum facing Moon's followers in the United States today: In the face of a dramatic change in the status of the church, will enough spiritual content remain to make Unificationism something more than a business enterprise?
The church, said its U.S. president, Tyler Hendricks, has traditionally been a structure devoted to saving the individual. That mission is now being superseded by "a family-centered structure, I guess like an eggshell giving way to a chick. We ourselves are working out the implications of Reverend Moon's vision here."
A Decline in Numbers
Whatever form it finally takes, Unificationism, even as it wins new followers in South America and Africa, has had to face the fact that after three decades of Unification proselytizing, Americans have shown little interest in Moon's theology.
"Their time ran out in the United States," said Frederick Sontag, a professor of religion at Pomona College in California who has studied Unificationism since the 1970s and has occasionally worked for Moon-sponsored organizations. "Moon's is a religion based on power, and the fact is they're not going to dominate the world. In the '60s and '70s, kids in this country were looking for something different. Now they're not.
"There's no question their numbers are way down. The older members complain to me that they have a lot of captains but no foot soldiers."
Church leaders claim 50,000 members in this country, but current and former members say the actual figure is closer to 3,000 nationwide. The Washington church, which once claimed 3,000 followers, has perhaps 400 -- and many of those have grown less involved, said four people who recently left the church. A former church official estimated that only 10 percent of the members who joined during the recruiting high point of 1972-75 remain.
"You have a church that's a shell in this country," said a former executive at the Washington Times who drifted away from the church a few years ago. "The dissolution of the church in this country is not even that relevant because the businesses are more rooted than the church as an institution."
"They are in steep decline," said Marvin Borderlon, a former Catholic priest who runs a Rockville nonprofit that fights discrimination against new religions.
Sontag regularly interviews long-term Unificationists and has concluded that many have long since stopped believing in the Divine Principle, the core statement of Moon's theology, which says Moon has been sent from the East to be the Messiah and correct Jesus's mistakes.
Church members argue, however, that it is wrong to take Moon's every word literally and that, like many visionaries, he often speaks in symbolic terms. In addition, Moon at times has said that all human beings are capable of attaining the spiritual status of a messiah.
Jesus's greatest error, Moon has said, was his failure to marry, and marriage has always been at the core of Unificationism. In the early years of the church, Moon personally selected mates for his followers and performed their weddings, often in mass ceremonies in stadiums.
But experts on new religions say Moon's failure to win enough new recruits, along with his theological attachment to numerology, has prompted him to change the "blessing," the wedding ceremony at the core of the faith. Church officials say 3.6 million couples will gather at RFK Stadium and other facilities around the world Saturday to be blessed by Moon, but only a few thousand of that number will actually marry. The rest will reaffirm previous vows made in their own religions. (Moon's blessing has no legal standing; church members generally obtain civil marriage licenses after Moon blesses them.)
Unification theologians say the central meaning of Moon's blessing remains unchanged, but some members and many outsiders see the opening of the marriage rite to people of other faiths as an admission that Unificationism as a religion is at a dead end.
"When I joined, you had to be in the church for seven years even to be considered for marriage," said Ron Paquette, who was president of Manhattan Center Studios, a church-owned recording business in New York, until he quit the church in 1994. "It was a really sacred event. It would make your children sinless. It was what you were sacrificing for, it was why you would spend 3 1/2 years fund-raising on the streets and 3 1/2 years witnessing [recruiting new members]. Now they walk up to people in the Caldor parking lot and sign them up to be blessed."
But the immediate reason Paquette and other long-term members quit the church was what they viewed as betrayals of the faith by its founding family. Moon's eldest son, Hyo Jin, who many in the church had assumed would succeed the founder, has been plagued by legal troubles.
Hyo Jin Moon, 34, is embroiled in a contentious divorce in which his former wife, Nansook, has accused him of beating her and "secreting himself in the master bedroom, sometimes for hours, sometimes for days, drinking alcohol, using cocaine and watching pornographic films," according to a 1995 affidavit she filed in Massachusetts. She also said, in another affidavit, that his father gave him a box filled with $1 million in cash.
"Those allegations are denied," said James E. O'Connell Jr., Hyo Jin's attorney. He declined to comment further.
In a deposition in Hyo Jin's bankruptcy proceedings, the son admitted attending the Betty Ford Center and the Hanley Hazelden Center in Florida for addiction treatment. He said in the deposition that he was "kicked out" of the Florida facility after three weeks there "because I wasn't cooperating."
At least two of Moon's daughters have expressed public doubts about their father and his faith. One, Sunjin, left her husband and changed her name only a few weeks after receiving Moon's blessing, according to recent British press reports. Moon's youngest daughter, Unjin, a 29-year-old who lives in Orange, Va., has had a falling-out with her father and his faith, said Herbert Rosedale, a New York lawyer who represents several former Unificationists. Rosedale also represents Hyo Jin Moon's former wife, who he said is now in hiding and writing a book on her unhappy experience in the church's founding family.
The airing of such turbulent family matters has undercut Moon's authority and moral stature, according to the former members. Moon's own image within the church has been tarnished in recent years by allegations that he has been married at least three times, had affairs and children outside his marriages, and defended sleeping with many women in the 1950s by saying he needed to "purify them." Those accusations, against a man claiming to be the "True Parent" of his theology, are contained in books published in France, Japan and Korea over the past decade.
The assertions have been vociferously denied in church publications, which say the books are part of a media campaign to discredit Moon. Church officials have said that the author of one of the books has recanted his account. Moon's only public comment about the controversies was a 1994 reference to "unresolved relationships in my family."
Some Unificationists worry that the church is ill prepared for Moon's death. None of Moon's children has his charisma or stature within the church, former and current members agree. In recent years, Moon has raised the position of his wife, 53-year-old Hak Ja Han Moon, in church theology, declaring in 1992 that "True Mother was elevated to True Father's level horizontally." But some members question whether she can maintain the church and its businesses.
Could Moon's empire disintegrate when he dies? Sontag said he put the question directly to Moon, who responded, "I will continue to lead the church from the spirit world."
Land of the Lost?
If some leading U.S. church members have grown skeptical of the leader they call Father, Moon's attitude toward this country has also soured. When Moon moved to New York from Korea in the early 1970s, he preached that the United States was the key to uniting the world's religions into one faith and one government, led by Moon. "This nation," Moon told a congressional committee in 1984, "will decide the destiny of the world." Church leaders asserted in those days that the Unification Church, despite its Korean roots, was being Americanized.
Today, Moon's sermons are filled with derisive, angry references to America. "God hates the American atmosphere," Moon declared last fall. "Satan created this kind of Hell on the Earth. . . . I don't like fallen America. It is heading for destruction in the very near future."
"America is the kingdom of extreme individualism, the kingdom of free sex," Moon said in a May 1 speech at his mansion in suburban New York. "The country that represents Satan's harvest is America. . . . America doesn't have anywhere to go now."
American women, Moon said in a speech last fall, "have inherited the line of prostitutes. . . . American women are even worse because they practice free sex just because they enjoy it."
In the May sermon, Moon returned to the theme of America as a lost nation, a place that tolerates homosexuals, whom he compared to "dirty dung-eating dogs." "Especially American people," Moon said, "if they truly love such dogs, they also become like dung-eating dogs and produce that quality of life."
"Moon is down on America and American membership," said John Stacey, 23, who left the church earlier this year. "He's always saying Americans are stupid and lazy, they're evil."
Moon spends much of his time now at his compound in Uruguay, and he has devoted extensive energy and $10 million in start-up costs to last year's launch of Tiempos del Mundo, a newspaper based in Buenos Aires. "In a way, Father is abandoning North America in order to concentrate on South America," Moon said in a 1996 speech in New York.
But Moon, who has persevered despite two jail sentences in Korea for disturbing the peace and one in the United States for tax evasion, does not give up easily. Despite budget cuts and anemic circulation, the Washington Times -- as well as Unification's other large projects in this country -- continues to draw large subsidies.
Church leaders past and current say Unificationism in the United States is undergoing a Koreanization process that is the mirror image of the Americanization of the 1970s. According to Unification News, the church's monthly newspaper, "the new custom" at church ceremonies in the United States is that speeches are no longer automatically translated from Korean to English.
Asians, Moon explains in sermons, are being brought to America to repair a satanic culture. "In the Last Days, it is natural that Western women will long for Oriental men and Western men will long for Oriental women," Moon said last year. "Orientals," he added, "are here to save your nation of America."
Most of the faith's new members in the past decade have been Koreans and other Asians who come to the United States. Many first arrive as students at the University of Bridgeport, the Connecticut school the Unification movement took over in 1992 by assuming its debt and promising scholarship money in a loan of more than $60 million. Many of the students are church members, according to a member of the student government.
"If you own a college and want to get somebody into the country, all you have to do is call them a student," said Bill Finch, a Bridgeport City Council member and former UB alumni director who now heads the anti-Moon Coalition of Concerned Citizens. "And if you want to bring money into the country, all you have to do is call it tuition."
University Vice President Donna Marino said Friday, "No one owns the university or has control of any aspect of it." Marino said the Professors World Peace Academy has authority to nominate 60 percent of the school's trustees. The World Peace Academy is a Unification nonprofit foundation, according to church publications.
Moon appears to have given up for now on converting large numbers of Americans to his faith. In recent sermons he has returned to a concept called "home church," a term he has used occasionally since the 1970s. The idea was that Moon's followers would leave the Unification Church and return to the faiths in which they grew up, paving the way for greater social acceptance of Moon and his message of "marital fidelity, sexual purity and community welfare," as church President Hendricks described it.
Unification loyalists say "home church" is a benign effort to recognize that people of other faiths can nonetheless learn and accept Moon's teachings on family values and sexual purity.
"They are telling people to go home to your own place, relate to any church and win people over, mend relations with other denominations," said Sontag.
But others see "home church" as an infiltration program, an effort to lure other Christians into Moon's organizations by means less overt than traditional proselytizing.
"The question is, is this an end run?" Borderlon asked. "Is this heavenly deception? They go to Catholics and Protestants and ask them to sign up for world peace. Who's against world peace?"
The History of Rev. Moon
Jan. 6, 1920: Sun Myung Moon is born in Northwestern Korea.
Easter Sunday, 1935: While deep in prayer on a mountainside in what is now North Korea, the 15-year-old Moon claims that Jesus appears to him and asks him to complete Jesus's mission of creating a Kingdom of God on earth.
1945: Moon, now 25, presents his views to Christian groups in Korea, who rebuff him.
1946: Charged with disturbing the social order, Moon is imprisoned by North Korean Communist authorities.
1948: Moon is again arrested and sentenced to five years hard labor.
1950: Moon is freed when UN and American forces liberate Seoul in a counteroffensive following the North Korean invasion of the South.
May 1, 1954: Moon founds the Holy Spirit Association for the Unification of World Christianity, known as the Unification Church, in South Korea. Stories in Seoul newspapers accuse Moon and his church of having sex orgies and ties to North Korean intelli-gence; Moon denies them. He is briefly jailed again.
1957: Moon divorces his first wife. His churches are established in 30 Korean cities and towns.
1958: Moon emissaries travel to Japan and establish a broad following.
1959: Using the labor of church members, Moon begins building the businesses that will eventually grow into the Tong Il group, his giant Korean conglomerate. Moon's emissaries arrive in the United States.
March 16, 1960: Moon marries Hak Ja Han, who eventually becomes known as the `True Mother` to his `True Father.` They ultimately have 13 children in what is known inside the church as `the perfect family.`
1971: Moon moves to the United States, which he views as the world's key spiritual battlefield.
1974: Moon presides over a mass wedding of 1,800 couples in Seoul.
1975: Moon starts first newspaper, Sekai Nippo, in Japan.
June 1, 1976: The Unification Church rents Yankee Stadium for its Bicentennial God Bless America Festival; Moon proclaims that America has been invaded by Satan and God has dispatched Moon to save the nation's soul.
First church-related U.S. newspaper, The News World, established in New York.
1977: Unification Church International, the main holding company for Moon's U.S. businesses, incorporated in Washington, D.C.
The Securities and Exchange Commission sues UCI for illegally acquiring a controlling interest in Diplomat National Bank. Suit is dropped after UCI signs a consent decree agreeing not to engage in such activities.
National Council of Churches says Moon's theology is `incompatible with Christian teaching and belief.`
1978: In the wake of revelations of Korean influence-buying in Congress, a congressional committee reports evidence of Korean intelligence ties to Moon and concludes that Moon's organization `systematically violated U.S. tax, immigration, banking, currency and Foreign Agents Registration Act laws.' The committee recommends that the White House have Moon investigated.
A church-affliated film company produces `Inchon,' a $42 million Korean War epic that bombs at the box office.
May 17, 1982: Church launches the Washington Times. Losses soon reach $35 million a year.
1982: Moon blesses 2,075 couples paired by church elders at a mass wedding in Madison Square Garden.
Moon is convicted of tax evasion and sentenced to 18 months in Danbury Federal Penitentiary. Appeals delay his incarceration for two years.
1984: Moon's 17-year-old son, Heung Jin, is killed in a car crash.
1985: Insight, a glossy national magazine, is launched by the Times' parent company. Losses soon reach $30 million a year.
Aug. 20, 1985: Moon is released from prison after serving 13 months.
1988: American Freedom Coalition, a Moon-supported political group, distributes 30 million pieces of conservative literature during the presidential campaign.
1989: Church affliate acquires 440,000 square-foot Media Tech Plaza, valued at $90 million, in downtown Washington. Building gives Moon access to the biggest and most modern television production facilities in the nation's capital.
Moon founds Segye Ilbo daily newspaper in Seoul. Losses soon reach $50 million a year.
1990: Moon businesses in Korea show $40 million loss.
1991: Moon travels to North Korea and meets then-President Kim Il Sung.
1992: Church group assumes control of the University of Bridgeport with $60 million loan that erases school's debts.
1994: Church-affiliated companies acquire control of the Nostalgia Network, a national cable channel. Losses soon reach $11 million a year
August 1995: Moon presides over mass wedding blessing of 360,000 couples.
Nov. 23, 1996: Church hosts gala opening for Tiempos Del Mundo, daily newspaper in Buenos Aires.
Source: Unification Church publications and news reports.
© Copyright 1997 The Washington Post Company
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