Encyclopedia of Religion
and Society

William H. Swatos, Jr. Editor

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New religious movement, known under a number of names including, in particular, officially, the Holy Spirit Association for the Unification of World Christianity and, in common parlance, the Moonies.


The movement has its roots in the Korea of the 1940s. The founder, Sun Myung Moon (1920–), was born in a rural part of what is now North Korea to parents who had converted to a Presbyterian version of Christianity when he was 10 years old. On Easter in 1936, it is claimed that Moon received a message from Jesus telling him that he had been chosen to fulfill the special mission of establishing God's Kingdom of Heaven on earth. During the next nine years, Moon is said to have received further revelations through prayer, study, and a number of conversations with important religious leaders such as Moses and Buddha and, indeed, with God. The teachings, which came to be known as the Divine Principle , were eventually written down by Moon's followers, the first version in Korean in 1957. They were later translated into English and other languages in a number of different editions (e.g., Kwak 1980).

Moon enrolled as an electrical engineering student in Japan in 1941. Two years later, he returned to Korea and found work as an electrician but was arrested by the Japanese police for alleged involvement in underground political activities in support of Korean independence. Later he was to be arrested more than once by the communists on a variety of counts, including "teaching heretical doctrines." There are several accounts of the torture to which he was subjected and about the time he spent in a labor camp during the Korean War. Released by the U.N. forces in 1950, Moon made his way to Pusan and then, with a small group of followers, moved to Seoul. His problems with the authorities continued, but the movement started to attract a growing membership and began sending missionaries to other parts of the world. In 1959, an erstwhile college professor, Dr. Young Oon Kim, took the teachings to the United States, and it was the small group that she set up on the West Coast that was the subject of John Lofland's Doomsday Cult , first published in 1966 (Irvington 1977).

Official Beliefs

The Divine Principle , which is based on Moon's interpretation of the Old and New Testaments, is one of the more comprehensive and systematic of the belief systems to be found among contemporary new religious movements. It teaches that God created Adam and Eve intending that they would marry and, with their children, establish a God-centered family. Moon's special interpretation of the Fall is that, before Adam and Eve had matured sufficiently to be blessed in marriage, the Archangel Lucifer, jealous of God's love for Adam, developed a relationship with Eve that culminated in an illicit (spiritual) sexual relationship. Eve then tempted Adam to have a (physical) sexual relationship with her. The consequences were that the family arising from this union, instead of being God-centered, was Lucifer-centered, and that "Fallen Nature" (a Unification concept with some similarities to that of original sin) has been passed down from generation to generation. Thus not merely disobedience but the misuse of love, the most powerful of all forces, was and has continued to be responsible for the evil to be found throughout the world.

According to the Divine Principle , the whole of history can be interpreted as God's attempts to work with key figures to restore the Kingdom of Heaven on earth. Ultimately this is possible only through a Messiah faithfully playing the role that Adam failed to perform—to establish a God-centered family. This was the mission of Jesus, but partly because John the Baptist did not encourage the people to follow him, Jesus was murdered before he had the opportunity to marry. A Unification reading of subsequent history reveals remarkable parallels between the time of Jesus and the past 2000 years. It encourages us, furthermore, to recognize that the Lord of the Second Advent was born in Korea between 1917 and 1930. Unificationists believe Moon is that Messiah and that he laid the foundation for the restoration of God's Kingdom when he married his present wife in 1960.

There is a further elaboration of Unification beliefs not contained in the Divine Principle but to be found in the speeches that Moon has delivered to his followers throughout the years. These beliefs center on the person of Moon and his family, and explain the important role that they have played and continue to play. Moon and many of his followers have always had a close association with spiritualist beliefs and mediumship, and after the death of one of Moon's sons, Heung Jin Nim, a number of people reported having received messages from him from the spirit world; then, for some months, a young member from Zimbabwe conducted what appeared to be a revivalist movement within the church and was widely accredited as being a "second self Heung Jin Nim." Eventually, however, the young man's authority and statements showed signs of conflicting with those of Moon, and the young man returned to Africa, where he set up a schismatic movement.

Life in the Movement

In the early 1970s, Moon moved to the United States. Within a few years, his had become a household name, and the "Moonies," as they became known, developed a highly visible profile, selling candles, literature, and other goods in public places and inviting thousands to attend public rallies and residential Unification seminars where potential converts could learn about the movement. New members in those days typically lived in a Unification center or with a mobile fund-raising team, working full time for the movement either fund-raising or "witnessing" to potential members.

After having been in the movement for some time, members may be "matched" to a partner chosen by Moon, whom they might never have met before—who might not even speak the same language. Although they can reject Moon's suggestion (and several have done so), the majority have gone on to what is probably the most important Unification ritual, the Holy Wine Ceremony, when the members believe their blood lineage is purified, followed by a mass wedding ceremony, known as the Blessing, with as many as several thousand other couples. It is believed that the children born into these families are without Fallen Nature.

Although Unificationism does not practice as many rituals as some of the other new religions, its members do perform a short "Pledge" ceremony at 5 a.m. on the movement's holy days and on the first day of each week and month. There are special ceremonies that a couple will go through when they consummate their marriage and when their children are born, and there are also a number of practices including the use of holy salt and the establishment of a number of holy places throughout the world.

There have been literally hundreds of organizations associated, often through overlapping membership, with the Unification Church. Among the better known of these are the student arm of the movement CARP (Collegiate Association for Research into Principles), several political organizations (such as CAUSA and, in the early days, the Freedom Leadership Foundation), the International Religious Foundation, the International Cultural Foundation, and various projects connected with the arts such as the Korean Folk Ballet. Another project is the building of an international highway around the world, starting with a tunnel between Korea and Japan. On the academic side, there are the Little Angels school and a new university in Korea, the Unification Theological Seminary in upstate New York, ICUS (the International Conference on the Unity of the Sciences), the Professors World Peace Academy, and the Washington Institute.


As in Korea and Japan, a number of voices in the West have been raised against Moon and his followers. In the 1970s, disquiet was expressed about various political activities arising out of Moon's stridently anticommunist stance, these ranging from his support of Nixon's continuing presidency at the time of the Watergate affair to the movement's coming under the scrutiny of the Fraser Committee's Investigation of Korean-American Relations (1979). More recently, Moon had widely publicized meetings with Soviet president Gorbachev and with Kim Il Sung, the late president of North Korea. Questions also have been raised about the vast sums of money that the movement has seemed to have at its disposal and the number of properties that it has bought in the United States, South America, and elsewhere. Unification businesses, such as an extensive fishing industry and the Il Hwa Pharmaceutical Company, have seemed to be prospering, and the organization appeared to be extending its influence through extravagant dinners and conferences to which influential persons have been invited and such ventures as the Washington Times and the Paragon House Press.

In the early 1970s, incomprehension and fear were expressed about the numbers of disproportionately middle-class, well-educated youth who were giving up college and careers to work for as many as 18 hours a day on the streets collecting money for the movement. Several anxious and angry parents began to organize, and a number of "anti-cult" groups came into existence throughout the West. Accusations of deceptive and exploitative practices and the use of brainwashing and mind control techniques being used to recruit helpless victims became widely reported in the media, and the illegal, but frequently condoned, practice of deprogramming (forcibly kidnapping members from the movement) became a not uncommon occurrence.

The influence that the Unification Church has wielded over potential and actual members has not, however, ever been close to as effective as its opponents have claimed—or even as its members might have wanted. The overwhelming majority of those subjected to the so-called brainwashing techniques have not joined the movement, and most of those who have joined have not only been capable of leaving but have left it of their own free will within a couple of years (Barker 1984, Galanter 1980, Levine 1984). By the mid-1990s, the movement had no more than a few hundred full-time members in any Western society, and at most a few tens of thousands worldwide. There is, however, a greater number of persons (but probably no more than a hundred thousand) who feel some allegiance to the movement while leading "normal" lives, living in their own homes and working in non-Unification jobs.


The movement has undergone a number of changes throughout the past few decades. Demographically, it is no longer predominantly comprised of youthful idealists with few responsibilities, eager to travel around the world at a moment's notice and to work for long hours with little or no remuneration to bring about the imminent restoration of the Kingdom of Heaven on earth. By the late 1990s, a sizable proportion of the membership has been born into the movement, and the young converts of the 1970s and 1980s are middle-aged and frequently facing financial and other responsibilities. Many, having sacrificed educational qualifications and careers for the movement, are, at least according to socioeconomic criteria, in a considerably lower position than their parents.

As with any new religion moving into a phase of second- and even third-generation membership, initial enthusiasms have waned, expectations have been disappointed, and several long-term rank-and-file members have become disillusioned with the leadership and less certain about several aspects of the belief system. Years of negative publicity and a number of court cases—including Moon's conviction in 1982 by a U.S. federal court jury of conspiracy to evade taxes and his subsequent imprisonment—have had their toll on the movement in North America and Europe. Moreover, by the late 1990s, there have been several indications that many of the movement's business ventures have been facing substantial difficulties.

The Future

Inevitably questions are asked about what will happen to the movement in the future. Moon's wife and children have been playing an increasingly important role since the 1990s, but none of them has his charismatic authority, and the behavior of some has given rise to alarm among even committed Unificationists. In addition, there always have been potential factions among the Korean leadership. It is possible that there will be a number of schisms once the Unification Messiah is no longer here on earth to provide a unifying focus for the movement. It is, however, also likely that the Unification Church will continue, albeit in a somewhat different form, well into the twenty-first century.

See also Doomsday Cult, New Religious Movements

Eileen Barker


E. Barker, The Making of a Moonie (Oxford: Blackwell, 1984)

D. G. Bromley and A. Shupe, "Moonies" in America (Beverly Hills, Calif.: Sage, 1979)

D. G. Bromley and J. T. Richardson (eds.), The Brainwashing/Deprogramming Controversy (Lewiston, N.Y.: Mellen, 1983)

M. Galanter, "Psychological Induction into the Large Group," American Journal of Psychiatry 137(1980):1574-1579

C. H. Kwak, Outline of the Principle (New York: Holy Spirit Association for the Unification of World Christianity, 1980)

S. Levine, Radical Departures (San Diego: Harcourt, 1984)

M. L. Mickler, A History of the Unification Church in the Bay Area , Master's thesis, University of California, Berkeley, Graduate Theological Union, 1980

H. Richardson (ed.), The New Religions and Mental Health (New York: Mellen, 1980)

F. Sontag, Sun Myung Moon and the Unification Church (Nashville: Abingdon, 1977)

B. R. Wilson (ed.), The Social Impact of New Religious Movements (New York: Rose of Sharon, 1981).

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