Ten years of unpredictable changes in the Unification Church
Adecade ago after years of study of the Unification Church, I was sure the religion started by Sun Myung Moon in 1954 was stable and united, and I expected to see little change in the foreseeable future.
My expectations were based on facts. The Unification Church had experienced no serious division since inception. Moon and his wife Hak Ja Han ("True Parents") allowed no dissent, especially against them and their "True Children." The movement had survived a lot of persecution and negativity (including Moon going to jail in 1982 for tax evasion). Four of Moon’s children were leader types who had been groomed to help True Parents in case of illness or death.
Good thing I made no predictions ten years ago. I would have been so wrong.
From 2008 on a division, at times very bitter, developed between followers of oldest son Hyun Jin "Preston" Moon (b. 1969) against True Parents and Hyung Jin "Sean" Moon (b. 1979), the youngest son.
Preston accused his mother and brother of manipulating Rev. Moon, while they in turn accused Preston of heresy and betrayal. After Rev. Moon died (in Sept. 2012) I reported on the schism in this column.
If you had asked me then about the future of the movement, I would have predicted confidently – Mrs. Moon will stick with Sean, given his popularity (he energized the Unification Church all over the world) and his zeal for True Parents (he once did 21,000 bows to a gold statue of them).
Good thing I made no predictions six years ago. I would have been wrong again!
Within seven months of Rev. Moon’s passing, Mrs. Moon kicked Sean out of the main Unification Church. Her followers accuse him of disobeying her orders. Sean accuses her of changing Unification doctrine and tampering with True Father’s scriptures. Believe it or not, in public sermons and written documents Sean even calls his mother "the whore of Babylon."
We are now left with three claimants to Rev. Moon’s vision.
(1) The Family Federation for World Peace and Unification (formerly the Holy Spirit Association for the Unification of World Christianity) is led by True Mother and based in South Korea. Popularly called the Unification Church, Mrs. Moon has disciples all over the world, with the largest numbers in South Korea, Japan and the United States. There are only three churches in Canada (Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver). Mrs. Moon ("the only-begotten Daughter of God") is aided by her daughter Sun Jin (Salina) Moon (b. 1978), who is international president of the Family Federation.
(2) Preston founded the Global Peace Foundation in 2009. Based in Seattle, he claims his father never intended to start a church and that his foundation is fulfilling what Rev. Moon ultimately wanted – "One Family under God." The foundation works in 20 countries. Preston’s chief ally is Rev. Chun Hwan Kwak, his father-in-law and formerly a major disciple to Rev. and Mrs. Moon. Preston’s group is locked in a major civil suit with Mrs. Moon’s federation.
(3) Sean Moon moved to Newfoundland, Pennsylvania (northwest of NYC), and started the World Peace and Unification Sanctuary. Sean claims he and his wife Yeon Ah Lee Moon are the king and queen of the Kingdom of God ("Cheon Il Guk" in Korean) on earth. Sean’s older brother Kook Jin "Justin" (owner of Khar Firearms Group) works as a second-in-command. The brothers and the Sanctuary Church receive a lot of media coverage for their love of AR-15 rifles and Donald Trump. Yes, members did wear a crown of bullets to one worship service and did have their rifles blessed.
The divisions and battles of the last decade have created enormous angst and loss in the Unification worlds. That is now the context for Christian dialogue, witness and interaction with Rev. Moon’s current followers in all three groups and the many who have abandoned the Korean messiah.
What is the Unification Church? Is it Christian?
The church, founded in 1954, became famous in the 1970s for Rev. Moon’s mass weddings, support of Richard Nixon and allegations his followers were brainwashed and needed deprogramming. Protestants, Catholics and Orthodox believers regard Moon as heretical because of his denial of the virgin birth (Zachariah is supposedly the father of Jesus) and doctrine of the Trinity, teaching that Jesus failed in His mission, and belief that Moon is the promised Second Coming.
James A. Beverley wrote his PhD thesis on the Unification Church and has published and lectured widely on Sun Myung Moon. Find more of these columns at www.FaithToday.ca/ReligionWatch.