Every night last fall, students at the Unification Theological Seminary would gather for the latest revelations from the land of the dead. A senior named Charles was hearing voices--"channeling,” it was called--and relaying startling messages: Heung Jin Nim Moon, the late son of the Rev. Sun Myung Moon, was speaking from the “spirit world,” watching and judging them.
Then last November, the sprawling 230-acre campus in upstate New York was abuzz. The moment had arrived, seminary officials proclaimed: “Lord” Heung Jin Nim, killed in a 1984 car crash at age 17, had come back, reincarnated in the body of a visiting church member from Zimbabwe.
“About mid-November, I was told there was a black brother from Africa who had been prepared by Jesus . . . and that Heung Jin Nim had assumed his body,” said Dick Richard, a former seminary student who recently left the church. “It obviously scared a lot of people there . . . but they went along with the whole thing because it came from Rev. Moon, the messiah.”
In the months since, the Unification Church has experienced what some members believe is the most momentous spiritual event in its 34-year history. The appearance of the young Zimbabwean has sparked a theological uproar among Moon’s followers, generating new debate over the direction of his controversial movement.
Church leaders said the Rev. Moon has taken no stand publicly over whether the Zimbabwean is being influenced by the spirit of Moon’s son. John Biermans, a church spokesman, said individual church members are free to decide for themselves whether to believe that the Rev. Moon’s son has returned.
Among those most troubled by the turn of events are political groups and journalists who have aligned themselves with--or gone to work for--some of Moon’s secular enterprises. Some senior officials of the Washington Times, which was founded by Moon, have been anguished over the affair, according to sources there.
While publicly dismissing reports about the new Heung Jin Nim as “wild” rumor, Editor in Chief Arnaud de Borchgrave previously worried that the Zimbabwean might be a North Korean plant designed to discredit Moon because of his staunch anti-communism, according to two of De Borchgrave’s associates.
“From the bottom of my navel, I don’t want to know about this,” said Ron Godwin, the Washington Times’ senior vice president for business and a former executive of the Rev. Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority, when asked about the new Heung Jin Nim. “I know that such a person exists and that he’s been preaching in the church. But I will walk a mile not to get involved. . . . It’s church business.”
At least one issue has worried many of the paper’s executives: Details are skimpy, but Bo Hi Pak, the Washington Times president, was admitted to Georgetown Hospital for tests last year from Dec. 9 to Dec. 17, saying he had recently fallen down a flight of stairs, hospital sources said. No injuries were found. Later, Pak underwent surgery in South Korea to repair a blood vessel in his head, according to Washington Times executives.
Many at the newspaper and in the church, although they have no firsthand knowledge, believe the Zimbabwean is responsible for Pak’s injuries. Kate Tsubata, a church member, said she attended a lecture in January by a church elder who referred to Pak’s having been beaten by the reincarnated Heung Jin Nim.
Pak is out of the country and unavailable for comment, according to his office. “It’s a sensitive matter,” said Pak’s son, Jonathan. “It would be totally inappropriate for me to comment one way or another.”
De Borchgrave said he met with Pak in South Korea shortly after Pak’s surgery and never brought the matter up. He also met with Moon. “The conversation was entirely about the future of the world, about glasnost and perestroika, " De Borchgrave said.
Another element to the story has created, if not anguish, no small degree of curiosity. Four years ago, Moon married off a dancer in the Washington Ballet named Hoon Sook Pak to the spirit of his recently deceased son. The union was critical because Unification theology teaches that one must be married to ascend to heaven, church members say. The teen-age Heung Jin Nim was single when he died.
Hoon Sook Pak, who has since taken the name of Julia Moon, is the daughter of Pak, the Times president. The arrival of the Zimbabwean last fall set off speculation within the church. Would Julia Moon live as the wife of the new Heung Jin Nim?
But the new Heung Jin Nim soon addressed the ticklish issue directly. Since the Zimbabwean’s body was merely the instrument of Heung Jin Nim’s spirit, there was no need for him to cohabit with Julia Moon. “I’m not for her,” the Zimbabwean explained at a San Francisco ceremony, according to John Raineri, a photographer and a church member for 12 years.
Much more about the new Heung Jin Nim is mysterious. Even his original name, what passport he carries and his whereabouts remain official church secrets. When Raineri tried to take pictures of the Zimbabwean in Washington in November, he said, church security officials seized his camera, saying they feared an assassination attempt.
It is not even clear whether the Zimbabwean’s exalted position is permanent. “He carries the spirit of Heung Jin Nim, but no one knows how long it will stay,” said one senior official in Moon’s organization.
Nevertheless, interviews with more than a dozen church members, former church members and officials of organizations financed by Moon’s businesses have established this much:
The Zimbabwean, described as a baby-faced black man of medium build in his early 20s, was a Unification Church member for three years when he began making claims last year to hearing the voice of Heung Jin Nim. After word of these revelations spread during the summer, Chung Hwan Kwak, director of the church’s World Missions Center in New York, flew to Zimbabwe to investigate, according to Gordon Anderson, Kwak’s deputy and the secretary-general of the Moon-financed Professors World Peace Academy.
Kwak apparently determined that the Zimbabwean was the genuine article. “It was the way this brother had profound insights into (Moon’s) Divine Principles, which is our main teaching,” Anderson said. “There were insights Rev. Kwak had never heard before . . . insights as profound as Rev. Moon’s.”
Other church accounts are more specific. “Rev. Moon gave him (Kwak) five questions, which only his son could have known about, and he (the Zimbabwean) answered every one,” said Kate Tsubata, quoting church literature and accounts from church leaders. “When the guy came to America, Mother and Father flung their arms around him and hugged him. . . . Rev. Moon has absolutely accepted him as his son.”
While causing great excitement within the church, the “reincarnation” has taken some further strange twists. In some of the ceremonies, the new Heung Jin Nim has reportedly gotten rough, slapping or hitting some church members, according to present and former church sources.
Dick Richard said he saw one student with a black eye shortly after seeing the Zimbabwean. Tsubata tells of a friend who recounted being slapped repeatedly, 10 or 12 times. “He described them as stinging slaps to the face, causing him to see stars,” she said. “But afterward, he felt good.”