Sun Myung Moon, a self-professed messiah who claimed millions of religious followers in his Unification Church and sought to become a powerful voice in the American conservative movement through business interests that included the Washington Times, has died. He was 92.
The Washington Times reported that Moon died in South Korea early this morning. Unification Church spokesman Ahn Ho-yeul told the Associated Press that Moon died at a church-owned hospital near his home in Gapyeong, northeast of Seoul. He had been under treatment for pneumonia.
Moon, the son of Korean farmers, created a sprawling empire at the intersection of religion and business and became one of the world’s most enigmatic and polarizing public figures.
His stated ambition was to rule the world and replace Christianity with his own faith, which blended elements of Christianity, Confucianism and Korean folk religions. He attracted a great deal of attention and ridicule for holding mass weddings for Unificationist couples whom he had paired, often without the prospective partners ever having met.
But his success in business and involvement in American politics demanded that people who could care less about his peculiar doctrinal views pay attention to him, said James Beverley, a professor at Tyndale University College and Seminary in Toronto, who has studied Moon’s church since the late 1970s.
In 1982, Moon was convicted of tax evasion and later sentenced to 18 months in federal prison in Danbury, Conn. By the mid-1980s, Moon’s recruitment efforts in America had begun to flag. The National Council of Churches had rejected Unificationism, calling it incompatible with Christian teaching and belief. Congress had investigated Moon’s connections with the South Korean CIA and issued a report damning his businesses as a global network designed to further the growth of a religious cult.
Despite those setbacks, Moon remained at the helm of a dizzying web of hundreds of businesses and non-profit organizations.
Moon’s groups owned a university in Bridgeport, Conn., a recording studio and travel agency in Manhattan, a horse farm in Texas and a golf course in California.
According to a 2006 Chicago Tribune investigation, Moon’s True World Foods provided most of the raw fish consumed at sushi restaurants in the United States.