The succession plan for the Unification movement has been spelled out for several years, with leadership moving to the Rev. Sun Myung Moon’s 69-year-old widow and his youngest son, church leaders said Monday.
In January 2009, Rev. Moon and wife Hak Ja Han Moon indicated that their youngest son, Hyung Jin, would be “the international leader of our church and all our related organizations,” the Rev. Michael Jenkins, chairman of the American Clergy Leadership Conference (ACLC), said in an open letter posted Monday.
“Father Moon will guide us in spirit, Mother Moon will lead us on earth, and centering on Rev. Hyung Jin Moon, we will organize to bring about God’s kingdom,” wrote Mr. Jenkins, a longtime Unification Church official in America.
Unification Church leaders have yet to announce what changes might be made concerning church activities and its hundreds of church-related nonprofits and businesses.
Rev. Moon died of complications due to pneumonia on Sept. 2.
In recent speeches in the United States during her father’s illness, Rev. In Jin Moon, head of the Unification Church in North America and founder of the Lovin’ Life Ministries, told members that having her mother, Hak Ja Han Moon, at the helm of a religious movement will be a big change in style.
During the early years of the Unification Church, “We had the dynamic, masculine leadership of our True Father,” she said, according to a transcript of her Aug. 29 Chicago speech. “Very masculine, very charismatic, very powerful. He was the generalissimo of our movement,” she said.
But now it’s time for “the era of settlement,” where the work is “of building ideal family, of building ideal relationships, of building a wonderful community and a society, nation and world.” That will require a slightly different kind of leadership, one that is “more nourishing” and “more feminine,” said Mrs. Moon, adding that her mother is well-prepared for the task, given the dynamics of her large family and 50 years of accompanying Rev. Moon in his mission.
Supporters of an elder son, Hyun Jin Moon, have disputed these arrangements.
In Korean social culture, the eldest son inherits, and with the death of his two older brothers, Hyun Jin Moon, who has an MBA from Harvard Business School and was once appointed to high positions in the church by his parents, became the eldest. His supporters believe he is being disenfranchised, and have gone to court in several countries over the future of several properties. One dispute involved The Washington Times; a settlement was reached in 2010, in which church entities bought the newspaper back from Hyun Jin Moon’s business interests.
Hyung Jin Moon, who is 10 years younger than brother Hyun Jin, has degrees from Harvard College and Harvard Divinity School, and has studied Asian religions as well. He and his wife, Yeon-Ah Moon, have been leading the Korean-based church for several years.
Mrs. Moon “will now stand strong to lead us on with her youngest son, Rev. Hyung Jin Moon,” Archbishop George Augustus Stallings Jr., founder of the African American Catholic Congregation and co-president of the ACLC, said Monday. “We are confident that the Unification Movement will flourish,” he added.
Succession in religious leadership has long attracted interest.
The legendary ministry of Billy Graham, for instance, was passed to his son, William Franklin Graham III, in 2000.
For years, it was not clear that the hard-living son would want to take the helm of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. The younger Graham spent considerable amounts of his life smoking, drinking and carousing. But he turned his life around, and told his story in his 1995 autobiography, “Rebel With a Cause.” He now stands “for nothing but this,” he told USA Today in 2006, holding his Bible. “That’s just how I’m wired.”
Mr. Graham, 93, recovered in August from bronchitis.