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Part 2 of three parts:
The Unification Church, founded by
Rev. Sun Myung Moon (1920-2012)

This topic continues from the previous essay

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The Church and the counter-cult/anti-cult movements:

The Church was widely criticized (largely by the counter-cult movement) because of its unorthodox beliefs. During the early 1970's, at a time when the membership of the Unification Church was growing rapidly, it was also attacked by the Anti-cult Movement. The latter criticized its alleged unethical recruitment and brainwashing methods. This was an era when many people were inspired by the movie The Manchurian Candidate (1962) and falsely believed that many small religious movements were turning recruits into robots, using physical and psychological manipulative techniques to destroy their free will.

A study examined 190 US newspaper articles about former members during the early years of the Unification Church, 1974 to 1977. 1 They counted 709 "atrocity tales". The most common was psychological violation of personal freedom and autonomy. Such articles were used by some to justify kidnapping Unification Church members and forcibly deprogramming them.

One focus of the anti-cult groups were the Unification residential seminars, where people were first invited to learn about the Church. These were viewed as entrapment meetings, which lured the unsuspecting visitor into a commitment to the organization. There were suggestions that once in the Church, it was difficult to get out. These criticisms do not hold up to scrutiny. Only about 10% of the visitors decided to investigate the church further. And many of these dropped out after a few weeks or months. Their methods differ little from many Evangelical / Fundamentalist groups which are also dedicated to recruitment. 2 The rapid turnover in church membership is a good indication that the vast majority of members are not trapped in the organization. Former members now vastly outnumber the current dedicated Unificationists.

However, there is a potential negative side to membership in the Unification Church. Their core, dedicated members accept strong discipline and can develop a deep commitment to the church. They must remain celibate before marriage, abstain from tobacco and alcohol, and work long hours. The group can become their whole life, the source of their religious, cultural, social, and other support systems. If they become disillusioned by some aspect of the church, this some unusually dedicated members can find it very difficult to leave the organization and abandon these support networks. When they do leave, they are often angry with themselves and the church, believing that they have wasted perhaps years of their life within the group. This problem is common to all high intensity/high demand denominations which require major commitment to the group. e.g. Jehovah's Witnesses, Mormons, and (for priests and nuns) the Roman Catholic Church.

There are no indications that the Unification Church is a destructive cult, similar to the religious groups that have resulted in mass murder-suicides (e.g. the People's Temple in Jonestown, Guyana, or the Solar Temple in Quebec and Switzerland). Such dangerous groups have existed and continue to exist. However, they remain a miniscule minority of new religious groups.

Many Unificationists had been kidnapped by anti-cult "deprogrammers", forcibly confined and manipulated to destroy their allegiance to the Unification Church. These illegal deprogramming attempts resulted in a loss of credibility of the anti-cult movement that eventually led to its downfall.

Attacks on the church are ongoing. One web site refers to what it describes as:

"... the Unification Church's years of  deceptive recruitment, destructive mind control practices, unethical fundraising practices, and manipulative religious abuse that has disrupted and destroyed many lives around the world." 3

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Rev. Moon's death:

Rev. Moon died at the age of 92, early in the morning of 2012-SEP-03. He died of complications following pneumonia. CNN reported:

"Rev. Moon died from overwork, from frequent trips aboard, including to the U.S., and from morning prayers which caused respiratory disease," Ahn Ho-yeol, a church spokesman said.

He will be buried on Mount Cheonseong in the northern South Korean province of Gyeonggi. In its statement, the church described the mountain as the "holy land" of the church.

The Washington Times, one of several publications that Moon founded, similarly reported Moon's death.

"Words cannot convey my heart at this time," Thomas P. McDevitt, the [Washington] Times' president, said in a story on the newspaper's website. "Rev. Sun Myung Moon has long loved America, and he believed in the need for a powerful free press to convey accurate information and moral values to people in a free world."

McDevitt added that the Times is a "tangible expression of those two loves." In 2010, the newspaper was sold to a group operating on Moon's behalf, according to a statement on the paper's website.

Doctors put Moon in intensive care in a Seoul hospital last month after he fell ill, said Ahn, the church spokesman, at the time. Physicians then gave him a 50% chance of survival. 4

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Many religious groups experience great difficulty following the death of their founder.

Examples are:
  • Within Christianity: It fractured into three main groups after the death of Jesus. His followers organized a Jewish Christian movement under the leadership of James at a Jerusalem synagogue. Paul actively promoted a Christian group that later became the Roman Catholic Church. A Christian Gnostic movement was formed; it was almost exterminated but survived to the present day and is now rapidly growing.

  • Within Islam, where a major conflict followed the death of Muhammad. There was disagreement between those who felt that a relative of Muhammad should lead Islam and those who felt that the most competent individual from among his companions should lead. This led to a major split in Islam between the Sunni's and Shi'ites which continues today and sometimes triggers incidents of mass murder.

  • The Church of Christ had a problem after the assassination of their founder, Joseph Smith. This led to the formation of the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints -- a.k.a. the "RLDS Church" -- in 1860, and the departure of part of the church to Salt Lake City under the leadership of Brigham Young. The latter became the dominant Mormon group and is now called The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The RLDS is now called the Community of Christ.

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Mark Hay, writing for Modern Notion during 2015-NOV, said of the Unification Church:

"His acolytes continued to exercise considerable political power in South Korea, and to proclaim the imminent dawn of Moon’s new kingdom of heaven. But the family members who stepped up to take his crown proved far less charismatic and far more interested in modernizing the church, making it cool, than in spreading the messages to which followers had grown accustomed. Within about a year, another wave of scandals about Moon’s own infidelity, the clear failure of the Reverend’s visions, and timelines for earth’s spiritual renewal, and the wishy-washy direction of his predecessors had torpedoed membership down to perhaps 15,000 to 25,000 adherents. 5

During 2015, the web site said:

"Today, the church has a presence in more than 100 countries, though exact membership figures are difficult to estimate. The Unification Church says it has 3 million members, but others sources say it is far less, estimating membership at anywhere from 250,000 to just over 1 million." 6

The Unification Church has continued to operate under the leadership of Rev. Moon's wife, Ms. Hak Ja Han Moon. However:

  • Rev. Moon's eldest surviving son, Hyun Jin (Preston), split from the Church and formed the Global Peace Movement in 2009. 7

  • His youngest son, Hyung Jin (Sean) split from the Church and organized the World Peace and Unification Sanctuary, a.k.a. the Sanctuary Church in Newfoundland, PA. The Church regards:

    "... Rev. Hyung Jin Moon, and his wife Rev. Yeon Ah Lee Moon, ... [to be] the appointed heir/successor couple carrying on the providential work of his father, the Rev. Sun Myung Moon." 8

Dan Fefferman of the International Coalition for Religious Freedom delivered a talk titled "Schism in the Unification Church" to the 2016 CESNUR Conference during 2016-JUL covering events following the death of Rev. Moon. 9

This topic continues in the next essay

References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. D.G. Bromley, A.D. Shupe, Jr., & J.C. Ventimiglia, J.C., "Atrocity tales: the Unification Church and the Social Construction of Evil, Journal of Communication, Vol. 29(3) 1979-Summer Pages 42-53.
  2. E. Barker, "Free to Choose? Some Thoughts on the Unification Church and other Religious Movements, Part 1", Clergy Review, 1980-OCT, P. 365-368
  3. "The Unification Church," at: 
  4. "Rev. Moon, religious and political figure, dies in South Korea at 92," CNN, 2012-SEP-02, at:
  5. Mark Hay, "A Cult A Day: The Unification Church," Modern Notion, 2015-NOV-27, at:
  6. "Unification Church," Religion Facts, 2015-MAR-17, at:
  7. Song Hong-gŭn "Dr. Moon tells Shindonga News, 'Grassroots Movement for Unification will Generate a Huge Wave'," Hyun Jin Moon, 2015, at:
  8. Home page, Sanctuary Church, World Peace and Unification Sanctuary, 2016, at:
  9. Dan Fefferman, "Schism in the Unification Church," 2015-JUL, at: This is a PDF file.

Copyright 1996 to 2012, by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2016-OCT-05
Author: B.A. Robinson

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