OAKLAND, California - This month, the Reverend Sun Myung Moon went to
Washington to introduce As a Peace-Loving Global Citizen, his
autobiography that, according to the Moon-owned Washington Times, "recounts the
joys and challenges, the teachable moments and the monumental experiences of
his life - much of it spent as a spiritual leader".
The newspaper reported that Moon received "congratulatory greetings" from
Senator Joe Lieberman, former secretary of state Alexander Haig and former
president George H W Bush, "hand-delivered by his son Neil Bush".
The younger Bush, who has a long track record of working with Moon-sponsored
organizations, told the audience of 1,300 that
"Reverend Moon is presenting a very simple concept. We are all children of
In January, Moon will turn 90, and while he's alive and apparently well, he is
deeply involved in charting his group's future.
Last year, Moon named his Harvard-educated youngest son, the 30-year-old Hyung
Jin Moon, as the president of the World Unification Church. Another son, Hyun
Jin Moon, Moon's oldest, is also in the mix. Whenever he dies, Moon's death
will nevertheless usher in a major period of adjustment.
Moon founded the Unification Church in the 1950s, and it remains a
controversial, powerful and misunderstood enterprise to this day.
To many observers, Moon's activities - including accusations of cult-like
practices, his imprisonment for tax evasion, the prayer vigils for a
Watergate-afflicted president Richard Nixon, his support for right-wing death
squads in Central America, the strange spectacle of mass weddings, the church's
close ties to the Bush family and legions of stories about de-programs trying
to reclaim Moonified souls - may seem so 20th century.
The Unification Church has been a religious, business and political enterprise
and there are a number of routes it could take to the future: It could grow
like The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons), it could remain
controversial similar to the path of the Church of Scientology or it could try
to become just another church among many - in other words, more mainstream.
While the Moon organization has been prepping for transition to younger leaders
for quite some time, Frederick Clarkson, a journalist who has written widely
about the church, including in his 1997 book, Eternal Hostility: The Struggle
Between Theocracy and Democracy, told Inter Press Service (IPS) that
"even with the passing from the scene of the man many believe to be the
messiah, the more things change, the more they stay the same".
"Many of the Moon offspring and the children of other members of the inner
circle have been very well educated and have been given experience in running
the core operations," veteran journalist Robert Parry told IPS. "I think the
business aspects could be rather smoothly transferred. And with the money goes
the political influence."
"There also is an element of 'The Godfather' in this, as the second generation
may try to further sanitize the organization's history," said Parry. "That
could make the political influence-buying even safer, though it is hard to know
whether the second generation shares some of the right-wing politics of the
elder Moon, even as that repressive ideology is disguised under the
happy-sounding phrase 'world peace'."
In addition to the myriad Moon-sponsored conferences and events that always
seem to be taking place somewhere, it might surprise you to learn that the
Unification Church recently sponsored a major soccer tournament in Spain.
And while most of the matches didn't draw huge crowds, the media gave it
extensive and generally positive press coverage, a longtime Moon-watcher told
IPS. One of the major purposes of the tournament was to mainstream people's
acceptance of Moon and his organization as simply "one religion among many".
According to Hyung Jin Moon, garnering favorable press coverage is an important
part of the organization's mainstreaming strategy as it moves forward. He
recently proudly noted that there had been some 85 major articles on the
Unification Church in Korea last year and none were negative.
Hyung Jin Moon grew up in the US and as such, appears to be interested in
introducing some new practices into the organization's culture.
"His background means he has already been exposed to a wide range of religious
traditions and seems unafraid to introduce aspects of how other faiths worship
into Unification Church services," Christopher Landau pointed out in a recent
For example, a recent service attended by Landau started off with "contemporary
mainstream Christian songs written in the US", instead of "one of the
movement's own hymns".
Perhaps the most notable cultural and religious change being considered
revolves around the issue of marriage.
For years, Moon presided over mass wedding ceremonies - like the one held
earlier this month at the Sun Moon University campus in Seoul, South Korea -
involving hundreds of couples, most of whom had never met prior to their
wedding day and were chosen by Moon himself.
While the public was fascinated by these ceremonies, they were mostly a big
turnoff. Hyung Jin Moon told Landau that those practices were under review.
Founded as the Holy Spirit Association for the Unification of World
Christianity, in the 1990s it became the Family Federation for World Peace and
Unification. According to Landau, "The emphasis now seems to be shifting back
to conceiving of the movement as a church, and using that clearly defined
religious status as a way to campaign for the freedom of its followers."
Rethinking its policies regarding marriage and the introduction of popular
Christian music into church services appear to be aimed at making the church
less idiosyncratic and more acceptable to the public.
However, the piece of the puzzle left unexplored by Landau, and most other
mainstream journalists reporting on Moon's operations, is the recognition of
the organization's political power and influence both in the US and abroad.
At the heart of Moon's political project in the US is the Washington Times, a
newspaper that, according to some reports, has cost Moon more than US$3 billion
since its founding. However, the importance of the Times to the conservative
movement far outweighs its expensive price tag.
The newspaper recently announced that in collaboration with the powerful
Washington-based think-tank, the Heritage Foundation, and several other
organizations, it was launching TheConservatives.com, "a website with
technology that allows activists to talk up to ideological and party leaders
and interact in innovative ways".
"TheConservatives.com creates a cutting-edge new marriage between the social
publishing world of bloggers and the social networking world of Twitter,
YouTube and the like," said John Solomon, executive editor and vice president
for content of The Times.
"Most opinion sites today enable thought-leaders to talk down to the masses,
but TheConservatives.com empowers users to change the direction of that
dialogue, allowing the Joe the Plumbers of the world to speak up to major
thinkers, like Newt Gingrich," he said.
"Using the Washington Times as a propagandist for the Reagan-Bush crowd, Moon
sanitized himself as much as anyone could ever imagine," Parry pointed out. "By
investing smartly in the American conservative movement - and thus gaining
influential defenders of his own - he also intimidated much of the US news
media and US government investigators from discussing his real history or
looking too deeply at his curious funding methods."
Bill Berkowitz is a longtime observer of the conservative movement. His
column "Conservative Watch" documents the strategies, players, institutions,
victories and defeats of the US right.