Korea’s Sun Myung Moon, Founder of Unification Church, Dead at 92

Posted September 3rd, 2012 at 8:45 am (UTC-5)
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Sun Myung Moon, founder of the Unification Church and one of the most prominent Koreans in the world, has died. He was 92 years old.

The Unification Church in South Korea said its founder succumbed to complications from pneumonia on Monday in a church-run hospital east of Seoul.

Reverend Moon's global business empire is worth billions of dollars. In the United States, the church controls the Washington Times newspaper and the New Yorker Hotel in Manhattan.

The church, established in 1954, has millions of followers worldwide. In recent decades the church staged a number of mass wedding ceremonies for hundreds of church members whom Moon had selected to marry each other. He usually wore an ornate robe while presiding at such ceremonies, with a crown atop his head.

Unification Church members also have been known for their extreme commitment to the organization – in some cases turning over all their earnings to the church. That church's alleged tactics – using deceptive tactics to recruit followers and keep tight control over their lives – prompted critics to denounce the group as a cult more than a religious sect.

Once a staunch anti-communist, Moon was imprisoned in his native North Korea in the late 1940s. However, he later set aside ideology to do business with North Korea's founder, the late Kim Il Sung. A church-affiliated firm, Pyeonghwa Motors, established a carmaking business in partnership with the North Korean state in 1999.

In recent years, several of Moon's children took on influential leadership roles in the church's sprawling empire, and there have been reports of in-fighting among his descendants, often due to disputes where religious and economic interests diverged.

In 1982, Moon was convicted of tax fraud in the United States and he spent 13 months in a U.S. federal prison.

Moon's followers, popularly known as “Moonies” in the U.S., believe that marriage is central to the Unification Church's mission of uniting the world's Christian denominations.