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Sun Myung Moon

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Reverend Moon's followers around the world are called

Reverend Sun Myung Moon speaking in 2001; he founded the Unification Church, and claimed to be a messiah.

Alex Wong / Getty Images News

The child who would become Sun Myung Moon was born on February 25, 1920 in Sangsa-ri, a village in what is now North Korea. At the time, the unified Korean Peninsula was under the control of Japan. The baby's birth name was Mun Yong-Myeong.

During his childhood, Reverand Moon's family were Buddhist and Confucianist, but around 1930 they converted to the Presbyterian branch of Protestant Christianity. Moon married his first wife, Sun Kil Choi, in November of 1943.

As a young man, Moon preached Christianity and taught Sunday school in officially-atheist North Korea; he began to write a book of teachings in 1946, which would form the basis of his later work, the Divine Principle. That same year, the communist government arrested him and charged him with espionage because of his beliefs. After serving 34 months in the Hungnam prison labor-camp, Moon was liberated by United Nations troops in 1950. He then moved to Pusan, South Korea.

Founding the Unification Church:

Sun Myung Moon survived the horrors of the Korean War, but the experience left a deep mark on him. He and Sun Kil Choi divorced. In 1954, Moon moved to Seoul and founded a new religious movement that mixed his conviction that he was a messiah, and the successor to Jesus Christ, with traditional Confucian values and anti-communist teachings. This new religion is called the Unification Church - full name, "The Holy Spirit Association for the Unification of World Christianity."

In 1957, Reverend Moon published his religious text, Wolli Hesol or "Explanation of the Divine Principle." He preached that Satan had seduced Eve, who then gave birth to impure offspring. Jesus could have rectified this sin, but he was crucified before he could have children. Thus it fell to Sun Myung Moon act as the "True Father," and to sire pure and guiltless children.

To further this aim, on April 11, 1960 the 40-year-old Moon married his second wife, a disciple named Han Hak-ja, who was just 17 at the time. She would bear him fourteen children, who are known as the "True Children" within the Unification Church.

Principles of the Unification Church included a belief in marrying people from other cultures, in order to encourage unification of the world behind the new messiah. In his autobiography, he urged that "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."

The reverend conducted huge mass weddings for his followers, who were often paired with complete strangers; one of the largest mass weddings (in 2009) had 45,000 participants. Moon also advocated the construction of a highway around the entire globe.

Moonies in America:

In 1971, Moon and Han Hak-ja moved to the United States, where they converted larger numbers of followers. American critics dubbed followers of the movement "Moonies," and many family members of converts charged that Moon had brainwashed their relatives.

Moon took donations from his followers and invested them in a large number of corporations, becoming a multi-millionaire. These included a university, a seafood distribution company, a ballet company, a hospital, and the Washington Times newspaper. By the 1980s, Moon and his family lived in a 35-room mansion in New York state.

In 1984, the American government accused Moon of tax evasion. He was convicted and served 13 months in prison - presumably under much better circumstances than his first round of imprisonment in North Korea.

At its height in the 1980s, missionaries of the Unification Church were active in more than 100 countries world-wide, and the church boasted 5-7 million members. During the 1990s, Reverend Moon conducted mass wedding ceremonies for tens of thousands of couples, but gradually handed over control of the church's business concerns and day-to-day operations to his children. Today, the Unification Church likely includes only around 100,000 members, although its official literature still claims that the church has millions of followers.

Final Illness and Death:

On August 14, 2012, Sun Myung Moon was admitted to a hospital in Seoul suffering complications of pneumonia. After several weeks in intensive care, he died on September 3, 2012. The Reverend Moon was 92 years old.

In April of 2008, Sun Myung Moon's youngest son, Reverend Hyung-jin Moon, became the Unification Church's religious director, ensuring continuity for followers. However, Moon once vowed in an interview: "I will continue to lead the church from the spirit world." It remains to be seen whether he meddles in church dealings from beyond the grave.

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