Unification Church Founder Dies, But Political And Religious Empire Rolls On

The Rev. Sun Myung Moon, self-proclaimed messiah, founder of the Unification Church and funder of various Religious Right political causes, died Sept. 3 at age 92.

Moon first came to the attention of many Americans in the 1970s when his Unification Church began to win adherents in the United States. The church was known for hosting mass weddings and compelling members to sell flowers on the streets. Some detractors branded it a “cult.”

Although the church never gained a widespread following in America, Moon did manage to ingratiate himself with the Religious Right. Relying on an array of front groups, the Korean evangelist poured millions into far-right political units. Over the years, Moon money subsidized people such as Tim LaHaye, Jerry Falwell, Ralph Reed, Gary Bauer and others.

Moon also founded a daily newspaper, The Washington Times, that became an important voice for D.C.’s right-wing establishment. At its height, the paper had a circulation of about 100,000. It was dwarfed by the much-larger Washington Post but still managed to become an important voice in the nation’s capital. President Ronald W. Reagan once called The Washington Times his favorite newspaper.

But Moon experienced problems as well. In 1982, he was found guilty of tax evasion and sentenced to 18 months in a federal prison. He served 13 months and was released to a halfway house for good behavior.

During Moon’s imprisonment, his associates solicited religious leaders to protest and assert that Moon was being persecuted. Among those who did so was Falwell.

Moon later repaid the favor. In 1998, The Washington Post reported that a Moon front group called the Christian Heritage Foundation bought $3.5 million of Liberty University’s debt. A separate Moon group lent the school $400,000.

Moon’s millions propped up the flagging Falwell empire during a time when it might otherwise have collapsed.

Moon money was also used to win favor with a number of political leaders. Over the years, Jack Kemp, Jeanne Kirkpatrick, William Bennett, U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and even former presidents Gerald Ford and George H.W. Bush have accepted Moon money to speak at conferences.

Despite his largesse, Moon was controversial, and some conservatives kept him at arm’s length. He was known for making grandiose pronouncements. In March of 2004, Moon was crowned “King of America” at a bizarre ceremony that took place in the Dirksen Senate Office Building in Washington, D.C.

A number of D.C. luminaries attended the event. Among them were several leaders who were then members of the Senate and House, including U.S. Sen. Mark Dayton (D-Minn.) and Reps. Roscoe G. Bartlett (R-Md.), Christopher B. Cannon (R-Utah), Curt Weldon (R-Pa.), Danny K. Davis (D-Ill.), Harold E. Ford (D-Tenn.) and Sanford D. Bishop Jr. (D-Ga.).