Rev. Sun Myung Moon both credited America for saving his life during the Korean War, and maintained a belief that one of the reasons he was spared was to awaken America to its God-given destiny.
"We must fufill the important mission that God has given to America," he wrote in his autobiography, "As a Global Peace-Loving Citizen." "The situation [in America] cannot continue as it is now. There needs to be a new Reformation," he wrote.
“Rev. Moon loved America because it symbolized God's hope for the whole world … it was a glimpse of what could be possible when all peoples came together, recognizing they are one family under one God," Neil Salonen, president of University of Bridgeport and former president of the Unification Church of America, said Monday.
"Even though [America] was a work in progress, it had the power to inspire all other nations, he added.
Rev. Moon, who died Monday at age 92, became one of the most endearing — and polarizing figures — in America.
America’s unique birth and destiny under God was an enduring theme of his ministry.
In October 1973, speaking to an audience at Washington's Constitution Hall, Rev. Moon praised the character of the Pilgrims, who risked their lives to pursue religious freedom in the New World.
"It really inspires me to learn about the store of grain in the hold of the Mayflower which [the settlers] would not touch, even though they were starving to death," he said. "They preserved this grain for planting the next spring. This was truly a supreme example of sacrifice."
Years later, he wrote in his autobiography that while enduring similar starvation in prison, he forced himself to give away half of his meager rice ration to other inmates, thereby conquering the dispiriting effect of hunger.
After arriving in 1971 with his family, Rev. Moon spent his first five years barnstorming the country with a series of speeches — addressing seven major cities in 1972, followed by separate "Day of Hope" speaking tours in 21 cities in 1973 and 32 cities the following year.
His speeches carried such titles as "God's hope for America," and "America and God's will," and he urged listeners to rediscover the religious roots of the nation’s forebears. He introduced the ideology of "Godism" — a firm conviction in God’s providential guidance — to counteract the effects of atheism.
In 1976, the Korean evangelist said that the nation's bicentennial was meant to signal Americans that it was time to fulfill their nation’s divine mission. He held rallies at New York's Yankee Stadium in June, gathering 45,000, and at the Washington Monument in September, where he told 300,000 in attendance: "I not only respect America but truly love this nation. I respect and love her as a great nation, as a godly nation, and as the central nation in God’s Providence. She is now at the threshold of her third century. She must not disappoint God. Today let us pledge to God Almighty that we shall do His will. We shall never let Him down."
However, Rev. Moon’s warnings and exhortations frequently provoked American audiences — his movement of young people was publicly derided as a cult, his theology was denounced as heretical, and his efforts to combat atheistic communism irritated certain world powers and their allies.
Before long, U.S. critics called for government intervention, leading to investigations of the Unification Church by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Internal Revenue Service, and a 1978 congressional inquiry led by Rep. Donald Fraser, Minnesota Democrat.
In 1981, Rev. Moon and a church leader were indicted on 13 counts of tax fraud, including not paying $7,300 taxes on $160,000 of church funds kept in a bank account under the church founder’s name. This trial led to a guilty verdict, a federal prison sentence of 18 months, fine of $25,000 and frequent description as an "ex-felon."
But upon his release in August 1985, at age 65, he was welcomed by a rally and banquet with 1,700 supporters and clergy, including the Rev. Joseph Lowery and the Rev. Jerry Falwell.
Rev. Moon's life-changing encounter with U.S.-backed forces occurred in 1950, as the Korean War was nearing its conclusion.
A few weeks earlier, Gen. Douglas MacArthur led a risky landing of forces at the port of Inchon, aimed at dividing enemy forces. The successful manuever turned the tide of the war in favor of the 16-nation Allied coalition.
Soon, United Nations forces were bombing locations in North Korea, including industrial prison camps like the one where Rev. Moon was being incarcerated.
In October, as the bombings intensified, prison guards were ordered to march the prisoners into the nearby mountains and execute them. "The night before my scheduled execution," Rev. Moon wrote in his autobiography, "the bombs fell like rain in the monsoon season … The U.S. military attacked Heungnam with full force that night."
But as "the high walls around the prison began to fall" and the guards ran for their lives, "I walked calmly out of Heungnam Prison with dignity," he wrote.
During his decades in the U.S., Rev. Moon frequently reiterated his gratitude to U.S. forces for liberating him from prison in North Korea. He invested $50 million in the 1981 feature film "Inchon," which recounted Gen. MacArthur’s daring sea landing at the Korean coastal town.
Though the movie featured such top stars as Laurence Olivier, Ben Gazzara and Jacqueline Bisset, it fared poorly at the box office and was panned by critics. Still, Rev. Moon said it fulfilled its intended purpose of paying tribute to America's wartime sacrifices on behalf of Korea.
Rev. Moon also credited former Gen. Alexander M. Haig for ordering the bombing of Heungnam Prison in 1950, thus saving his life. When Haig, who later became U.S. secretary of state, died in 2010, Rev. Moon held special memorial services for him in New York and in Washington.
In addition to evangelism, Rev. Moon invested heavily in such diverse initiatives as peace promotion, media, education, the arts, real estate and the fishing industry. All were tied to a central theme of promoting a "God-centered" culture.
In 1975, Rev. Moon put up $5.6 million to purchase the New Yorker Hotel, a Manhattan landmark built in 1930 that had been a favorite of celebrities but had fallen into disrepair. The 43-story hotel served as the Unification Church’s World Mission Center for nearly two decades. With $100 million in upgrades, property is currently part of the Ramada franchise.
In 1982, the preacher started The Washington Times to promote "freedom, family values and faith" and provide an alternative voice to the liberal Washington Post in the nation’s capital.
During the newspaper’s 20th anniversary banquet, he told an audience, "I founded The Washington Times as an expression of my love for America and to fulfill the Will of God, who seeks to establish America in His Providence." He said he had poured more than $1 billion in the enterprise, which by then had expanded to include a national weekly edition and several magazines.
In 1992, the Professors World Peace Academy, an organization founded by Rev. Moon in 1973, invested $50.5 million in the University of Bridgeport, rescuing it from impending bankruptcy. With around 5,100 undergraduate and graduate students, the school is ranked by U.S. News & World Report as one of the most racially diverse universities in the country.
An avid fisherman, Rev. Moon initiated a ministry in 1980 focused on tapping into the ocean as a source for food to feed the world’s hungry, naming the initiative "Ocean Church." The enterprise has swelled to include commercial fishing businesses in Seattle and Kodiak, Alaska, fish sales and sushi restaurants across the country, and shipbuilding operations in Alabama and North Carolina.
Although Rev. Moon spent less time in America after 2004, in recent years he developed a fascination with Las Vegas, claiming the gambling capital should be transformed from "Sin City" to a "Shining City." He became a frequent visitor and held on ongoing series of conferences in various hotels on the Strip, and announced plans to start a university for oriental medicine.
In 2011, he held a peace assembly at the Aria Resort where he told an international gathering of diplomats, political figures and faith leaders that it was time to end differences over doctrine and create "one family under God."
In August, less than a year before his death, he opened a boatbuilding plant near McCarran International Airport, a first for this city in the desert. Trade Only Today, a marine industry publication, reported the facility would manufacture a 23-foot sport-fishing boat designed by the evangelist, featuring a helium-filled hull that purportedly renders the craft unsinkable.
Frank Perley is senior editor of The Washington Times opinion pages.
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