Sun Myung Moon, the late 20th century Korean evangelist whose Unification Church once claimed over three million members worldwide, was a figure dogged by controversy throughout his life. Born in occupied North Korea in 1920, Moon developed strong anti-Communist views as an adult and founded the Unification Church in Seoul, South Korea. The church’s name reflected its mission to unify all the Christians in the world by practicing a newer, purer form of the religion.
Moon moved to the United States in 1972 and established the American headquarters of the Unification Church in New York City. During the 1970s and 1980s, Moon’s increasingly messianic claims and encouragement of highly publicized mass weddings — consisting of thousands of brides and grooms taking vows at once — led many people to accuse his church of cult-like behavior. Moon also attracted criticism for his many secretive commercial ventures and investments outside of his church, which frequently used shell companies and multiple bank accounts that were difficult to track.
It was Moon’s business practices that finally landed him in trouble with the law: In October 1981, Moon was charged with 12 counts of federal tax evasion after failing to report over $150,000 of income in one of his many bank accounts. After the charges were announced, Moon publicly accused the federal government of fabricating a conspiracy to force him out of the country. “I would not be standing here today,” he declared, “if my skin were white and my religion were Presbyterian. I am here today only because my skin is yellow and my religion is Unification Church.” Nevertheless, after being convicted of tax fraud and conspiracy to obstruct justice, Sun Myung Moon surrendered to federal authorities in Danbury, Connecticut on July 20, 1984. There, he served 13 months of his 18-month prison sentence. After his release, Moon remained in the United States until the last decades of his life. Up to his death, he continued to invest in real estate, communications companies, and other businesses — including bailing out the privately owned and financially struggling University of Bridgeport in the 1990s. He passed away in South Korea in 2012.
Daniel J. Wakin, “Rev. Sun Myung Moon, Self-Proclaimed Messiah Who Built Religious Movement,” New York Times