Arrests, Brainwashing Charges : Controversy Dogs Moon as Power, Converts Grow

The Rev. Sun Myung Moon engenders almost as many controversies as he does devoted followers.

Born in northwestern Korea in 1920, Moon says Jesus Christ appeared to him on a mountainside in 1936 and told him he had “an important mission to accomplish in the fulfillment of God’s providence.”

He developed a theology (embodied in his “Divine Principle”) that seems to blend bits of Eastern religions and Christianity with mysticism, anti-communism and his own exalted sense of himself as the Messiah.


Moon became fully involved in religious activities after World War II and was subsequently arrested three times. North Korean authorities arrested him the first two times, in 1946 and 1948, for evangelical and anti-communist activities, according to Unification Church literature. He was arrested again, in 1955, on what church members call a trumped-up charge of draft evasion.

Allegations in Books

But a 1986 book by French journalist Jean-Francois Boyer says one of these arrests was for “adultery and debauchery” after an accusation of bigamy. Another book, published in this country last year, says that “former Korean government officials say the charges were in response to the church’s reported orgiastic practices.”

That same book, “Inside the League,” says:

“When he was arrested again in 1955, this time on a morals charge for staying the night in ‘a love hotel’ with a follower, Moon’s military contacts managed to get the charge changed to violation of military conscription law and it was eventually dropped.”

Moon did not respond to a written request for an interview for this story, but Bo Hi Pak, his top aide, said in a telephone interview from Seoul on Friday that Moon was never arrested on morals charges; such stories, he said emphatically, are “absolutely untrue . . . spread by our enemies.”

Foundation for Empire

Moon founded the Unification Church (officially the Holy Spirit for the Unification of World Christianity) in 1954 and sent his first missionary to the United States five years later.

By the time Moon himself followed in late 1971 (“God called me to come to America,” he said), the foundation for both his spiritual and his temporal empire was in place.

Beginning in the early 1960s with tours by a Korean singing group known as the Little Angels, Pak began to make friends for the Unification Church in high places in this country. Both former Presidents Dwight D. Eisenhower and Harry S. Truman permitted the Angels’ sponsor, the Korean Cultural and Freedom Foundation--Pak’s brainchild--to list them as honorary presidents, and Moon and Pak knew how to capitalize on such contacts.

“Moon made it clear that the Little Angels . . . and other seemingly philanthropic projects were in reality geared toward his ambitious and carefully thought out plans for winning control and influence over political and other secular institutions,” said a congressional subcommittee that investigated the Korean influence-buying scandal of the mid-1970s.

Powerful Force

Soon, the church’s cultural activities, its business activities and what the congressional subcommittee called its “mutually beneficial ties with a number of Korean (government) officials” made it a powerful force in many arenas.

The church itself, meanwhile, grew through the 1970s and, perhaps, the early 1980s amid press accounts of mass Moonie weddings; 2,075 couples were married at one time in New York’s Madison Square Garden, and 5,800 couples were married at once in Seoul. Even more controversial were the reports that the Moonies were brainwashing young recruits into leaving their families to join Moon.

Moon, whose followers are encouraged to call him “Father,” has said that his directives to them should be heeded “no matter what” and that “following (Father) unconditionally is the smartest way to go.” In 1981, a British jury rejected a libel suit filed by the church against the London Daily Mail after a Daily Mail story said the church “breaks up families and practices brainwashing.”

Brainwashing Denied

But Pak and other church officials deny the brainwashing charges, and Eileen Barker of the London School of Economics, who studied the Moonies for several years, says in her 1984 book, “The Making of a Moonie,” that “evidence would seem to suggest that the answer (to why people become Moonies) lies considerably nearer the rational-choice pole of the continuum than it does to the irresistible brainwashing pole.”

And what of charges that the Unification Church is anti-Semitic?

Church leaders deny that charge, but in his writings and speeches, Moon has repeatedly said the Jews have suffered through 4,000 years of tribulation (including, by implication, the Holocaust) as “punishment . . . for murdering” Christ.

In 1976, Rabbi James Rudin of the American Jewish Committee accused the Unification Church of “seeking to reinfect the spiritual bloodstream of mankind with a cancerous version of contempt for Jews and Judaism.”

Christian groups have also criticized Moon; in 1977, the National Council of Churches said Moon’s theology was “incompatible with Christian teaching and belief.”

Support in Tax Case

Many new religions arouse skepticism and hostility, however, and when Moon was subsequently accused (and, in 1984, imprisoned) on charges of tax evasion, many religious (and civil liberties) groups rallied to his side and said his imprisonment had been a violation of his religious freedom.

Moon first entered the public political dialogue in this country when he became an outspoken supporter of President Richard M. Nixon during the Watergate scandal. (Moon said in a speech early this year that he gave Nixon “a most incredible recommendation” to resolve the Watergate crisis and that Nixon was driven from office because he “did not heed that advice.”)

About the same time, Moon entered the media arena as well. He founded his first newspaper in Tokyo in 1974 and started his first American newspaper--the News of the World (now called the New York City Tribune)--the next year.

Zaccaro Story

The Tribune scored a journalistic coup during the 1984 presidential campaign when it published the first story purporting to link John A. Zaccaro, husband of Democratic vice presidential nominee Geraldine A. Ferraro, with organized-crime figures.

But, because the Tribune is openly a Unification Church paper, most journalists paid little attention to the story.

That experience may have helped persuade Moon that, when he started the Washington Times, he had to let it operate at arm’s length from the church if he wanted it to gain the credibility necessary to carry out his mission.

“They started a newspaper in New York; they staffed it with Moonies; it was a total flop,” says John Podhoretz, managing editor/news for the Washington Times’ weekly newsmagazine, Insight. “When they started doing this one, somebody figured out they couldn’t do it that way.”