The Rev. Sun Myung Moon, self-proclaimed messiah and founder of the Unification Church, died early Monday in South Korea due to complications of pneumonia. His son, Rev. Hyung Jin Moon, blames the death on his father’s overwork managing his church, though being 92 years-old surely played its role.
“Father, who is responsible to save the world, pushed himself way beyond his limits,” said his son. Indeed, the business of saving the world has proven to be perilous to many messiahs.
The Unification Church reached its apex in the 1970s and 1980s when hundreds of thousand joined his religious movement — called a cult of “Moonies” by critics. The church views Jesus as divine, but not God and regards Moon as the Messiah. As herelates, Jesus himself visited Moon at the age of 16 (the same age Joseph Smith claims also to have met Jesus), and was given his mission to carry on Jesus’ work. His distinctive role in world history, in his own eyes, would lead him to claim to be “the true father of humanity,” and his wife “the true mother.”
His mission focused on reconciling differences between nations, and this took physical manifestation in the mass weddings for which he and his group grew famous. Thousands of couples were simultaneosly married, though they had just met each other — the pairings were church chosen — and this was an attempt to make the nations more sympathetic to each other.
“International and intercultural marriages are the quickest way to bring about an ideal world of peace,” said Moon in his 2009 autobiography. “People should marry across national and cultural boundaries with people from countries they consider to be their enemies so that the world of peace can come that much more quickly.”
This take on the old maxim, “Love thy enemy,” brought the church notoriety, as did the “coronation ceremony” staged in Washington in 2004 in which over a dozen U.S. lawmakers came, though some said they were uninformed that Moon would be there. Moon used the occasion to declare himself the Messiah and to reveal that he had been communicating with the spirits of Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin, who had both converted to his church, adopted his teachings, and become reformed.
His church will hold a 13-day mourning period starting Monday. His funeral will be held on Sept. 15. when he will be buried near Cheonseong Mountain, a place his followers describe as “holy land.”