Evangelist Reverend Moon drinks a toast with his family members during his birthday party in Gapyeong
Evangelist Reverend Moon drinks a toast with his family members during his birthday party in Gapyeong (Reuters)

The Rev. Dr. Sun Myung Moon's dream was to unite the world behind his self-proclaimed divine leadership and protect the world against the threat of communism.

A self-proclaimed Messiah -- at the age of 15 he said was asked by Jesus to continue his work -- Moon believed that he and his wife were the "true parents" of church members. He preferred to personally select their spouses.

Moon's core financial base was generated by donations and business in Japan after World War II when non-traditional religions flourished as government control of religion loosened its grip.

But it was in the United States where he focused his spiritual and political commitment.

He famously declared that "only the U.S. can protect the democratic world against the threat of communism". He condemned President Jimmy Carter's "naivete" about the communist threat. He prayed for an American president who would "stop the marching tide of communism," and ultimately maintained that "Heaven has chosen Ronald Reagan".

His strategy to fight communism was simple. "The only way to defeat communism is to clearly prove the existence of God," he said in his program called Victory Over Communism.

Followers of Moon became familiar on U.S. college campuses from the 1960s where they recruited members and collected donations, amid allegations that the church used mind-control recruitment methods.

In the 1970s, Moon organised evangelistic rallies across the country. America was in moral decline, he said.

Supporting Reagan, heaven-sent to fight communism

It was the Unification Church's strong ties to the U.S. conservative elite, especially the Reagan-Bush administration, which brought it worldwide success.

His empire in the United States included the Washington Times, the United Press International Wire Service, a nationwide cable-TV channel, a Connecticut university, a recording studio and travel agency in New York, a horse farm in Texas, a golf course in California, and a seafood business in Alaska.

Through Moon's funding of conservative causes and his $100 million-a-year subsidy of the right-wing Washington Times, hailed by Ronald Reagan as his "favourite" newspaper, the South Korean reverend established his influence on U.S. politics.

The Washington Times often mounted harsh attacks on the Bush family's enemies. In 1988, the newspaper published false rumors about the mental health of Democratic presidential candidate Michael Dukakis.

By then, Moon's star had begun to wane. His 13 months in jail on tax evasion charges in 1984 and 1984 and published claims by the former wife of one of his sons that her ex-husband had abused her and was addicted to cocaine tainted the image of the church in the U.S.

He faced growing criticism for presiding over mass "holy weddings" and for ultra-conservative political views.

Upon receiving an honorary degree from the University of Bridgeport in Connecticut - which he owned - he said. "The entire world did everything it could to put an end to me, yet I did not die, and today I am sitting on top of the world."

In recent years, Moon and his wife have highlighted family values with a series of conferences sponsored by such organisations as the Women's Federation for World Peace and the Family Federation for World Peace. Speakers have included George and Barbara Bush, Jack Kemp, Geraldine Ferraro, Jeane Kirkpatrick, William Bennett and Bill Cosby.

The speaking fees paid by Moon were said to be up to $100,000 per speech.

Engaging Communist enemies

Moon was born in what became North Korea during the period of Japanese occupation.

When he was 15, he was praying on a Korean mountaintop when Jesus Christ appeared to him and asked him to continue his work, Moon later reported. He refused twice, but the third time accepted his mission.

Five younger siblings died from starvation in one year when he was young. In the late 1940s, he was sent to a labour camp by North Korea's Communist leadership for being religious.

He became a staunch anti-Communist as soon as he moved to the South. But military leaders in Seoul became worried about his growing influence on public opinion and they jailed him.

Moon's financial instinct brought him to engage his former enemies, such as Communist China, in joint business ventures.

He set up the International Educational Foundation to spread his conservative message in China. The foundation preaches the importance of fidelity in marriage, abstinence as the only way to prevent AIDS and the immorality of sex before marriage.

The liaison between the Communist Chinese government and the Unification church is a strange creature, as China has always waged a harsh campaign against evangelical groups.

"I am a controversial person. The mere mention of my name causes trouble in the world," Moon wrote in his 2009 autobiography, "As a Peace-Loving Global Citizen."

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