Moon Founds the Unification Church

Based on his personal vision for the rejuvenation and reunification of Christianity, the Reverend Sun Myung Moon founded the Unification Church and Unificationism, which blends Confucianism and Christianity. Moon’s move to the United States in 1974 was followed by controversy about the church’s political and business involvements.

Summary of Event

In 1920, Sun Myung Moon was born as the fifth of eight children in Cheong-Ju, a village situated in what is now North Korea. When Moon was sixteen years old (he was known as Yong Myung Moon until he was twenty-five years old), he claimed that Christ appeared to him in a vision. At age eighteen, the young Moon left his native village to attend universities in Seoul and then in Tokyo. With the end of Japanese rule of Korea, Moon returned to his homeland. He was promptly imprisoned and tortured for preaching religion in a communist country. His prison camp was liberated by United Nations and U.S. forces in 1950 on the morning he was scheduled for execution. Unification Church
[kw]Moon Founds the Unification Church (May 1, 1954)
[kw]Unification Church, Moon Founds the (May 1, 1954)
[kw]Church, Moon Founds the Unification (May 1, 1954)
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[g]South Korea;May 1, 1954: Moon Founds the Unification Church[04450]
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[c]Cultural and intellectual history;May 1, 1954: Moon Founds the Unification Church[04450]
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Moon, Sun Myung
Moon, Hak Ja Han

In 1952, Moon published his major religious work, Divine Principle, Divine Principle (Moon) and founded the Holy Spirit Association for the Unification of World Christianity, better known as the Unification Church, in Seoul on May 1, 1954. In 1960, he married Hak Ja Han. By 1959, Moon’s Unification Church found followers in the United States. In 1971 he started a world tour that lasted three years, and then decided to live in the United States. Between 1971 and 1974, through what the church called mobile fund-raising teams, his followers collected enough money to purchase a residence and nearby property in Tarrytown, New York; it was used by the Unification Church as a theological seminary.

The Unification Church (whose adherents are known as Unificationists and popularly called Moonies), part of the so-called New Religious Movement New Religious Movement , or NRM, is a messianic faith seeking to restore the kingdom of heaven on Earth. With an absolutist ideology based on Confucianism Confucianism , Unificationists approach the biblical story of the Fall in a way that differs from other religions. Unificationists regard Original Sin as the misuse of love, in which Eve had a sexual relationship with Satan instead of Adam. As the Messiah, Jesus had the chance to repair Eve’s wrongdoing, but while offering spiritual salvation, his murder prevented him from leading humankind to physical salvation. According to Moon, physical salvation is attainable only through marriage and family. Being the husband of Hak Ja Han Moon and the father of thirteen children, Moon sets an example for his believers on the question of material and physical restoration to the prelapsarian state. Moon’s family life provides churchgoers a model and inseparably ties the doctrine of Unificationism to Moon and his family. Furthermore, Unificationism’s dogma is distinctly different from mainstream religions.

The Unification Church’s political involvement has distinguished it from mainstream religions. In 1982, Moon founded the Washington Times
Washington Times (periodical) as an anticommunist alternative to the larger, mainstream newspaper The Washington Post. In 2001, he acquired the conservative news wire service United Press International United Press International (UPI), a counterpart to the Associated Press and other such services. Critics have claimed that the Washington Times and UPI are merely mouthpieces for the Unification Church. In addition, during the presidency of George H. W. Bush, Moon sent a $3 million birthday present to North Korean president Kim Jong Il, who reportedly needed hard currency to support North Korea’s development of nuclear weapons and long-range missiles. This attempt to buy influence was labeled “Koreagate,” because as a resident alien, Moon had been prohibited from aiding those who were deemed a threat to U.S. national security. In 2000, Moon was alleged to have paid Bush a sum of $10 million for speeches and other services rendered in Asia, South America, and the United States in return for Bush’s support of the Unification Church.

Also controversial is the Unification Church’s history of collecting money from and funding several hundred businesses and a variety of artistic groups such as the Little Angels Ballet. The artistic groups and businesses were regarded by opponents as front organizations for the church. Moon systematically countered all charges concerning mingling politics with religion by saying that whereas religious donations were used solely for church activities, the money used for media, cultural, or political events came from the church’s business ventures and its investments.

During the early and mid-1990’s, the church shifted the emphasis of its programs from the United States to Latin America. By 1994, Moon reorganized the Unification Church because he said that it had completed its doctrinal phase and was to concentrate on social programs, especially those dealing with the family. He renamed the church and created the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification. Beginning with the reelection of George W. Bush in 2004, the renamed church donated money to the White House Office of Faith-Based Initiatives to help fund literacy, sexual abstinence, and substance-abuse prevention programs.

The increased emphasis on the family led the church to further develop the mass public marriages that were always a feature of its missionary work. In 1992 the Unificationist marriage ceremony celebrated the union of thirty thousand couples, twenty thousand in Seoul and ten thousand in other countries. Seventy percent of the couples had already been married in another religious faith and were reconsecrating their marriage. Such weddings (called “blessings”) culminated in a 1998 ceremony in Madison Square Garden in New York City in which 120 million couples were joined worldwide.


The Unification Church was the only new church to have made its founder and family the centerpiece of its theology. Despite, or because of, its uniqueness, the church remains one of the most successful of the New Religious Movement organizations, having lasted more than fifty years; it has branches in Korea, the United States, Asia, the Middle East, and Latin America. It is also a religion that demands much dedication from its members. The degree to which Unificationists participate is unique in a secular, “anticultist” society.

The church’s participation in business ventures and politics remains controversial, and the church has long sought to clarify the relationship between its religious and political activities. The 1994 inauguration of the Family Federation of World Peace and Unification and the church’s foregrounding of “family values” might be confusing even more the issue of the church’s place in a democratic society. Consequently, unanswered questions about the meshing of religion and politics might well be the most lasting legacy of the Unification Church. Unification Church

Further Reading

  • Chryssides, George D. The Advent of Sun Myung Moon. London: Macmillan, 1991. Approaches the Unification Church as one religious body among many in the New Religious Movement. Includes photographs, a map of Korea, and a glossary of Unification terms.
  • Daschke, Dereck, and W. Michael Ashcraft, eds. New Religious Movements: A Documentary Reader. New York: New York University Press, 2005. An excellent resource of primary source documents that serves as a history of religious bodies, including the Unification Church, within the New Religious Movement.
  • Edwards, Christopher. Crazy for God. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice Hall, 1979. A firsthand account by a former member of the Unification Church.
  • Lewis, James R., and Jesper Aagaard Petersen, eds. Controversial New Religions. New York: Oxford University Press, 2005. Places the Unification Church in the context of other new religions, some considered cults, that are deemed controversial. Includes the chapter “Spirit Revelation and the Unification Church.”

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