(NEW YORK) — The Rev. Sun Myung Moon, an extremely successful South Korean businessman turned religious leader who parlayed his Unification Church into a soapbox for the conservative movement in the U.S., died on Monday after battling pneumonia. He was 92.
Using elements of Christianity, Confucianism and Korean folk religions to create his church, Moon became best known in the U.S. during the 1970s for his mass weddings among people who were virtual strangers before they became husband and wife. His devotees became known as “Moonies” and Moon called himself “messiah.”
At the same time, Moon, a very successful businessman who used followers to build his empire, donated millions to conservative causes in the U.S. in hopes of becoming more powerful in this country.
Many questioned his aims, however, especially after statements like, “The whole world is in my hand, and I will conquer and subjugate the world.” During the mass weddings, which included 7,000 couples marrying in Seoul two years ago, Moon and his wife called themselves “True Parents of Mankind.”
Moon also angered the relatives of his Unification devotees, who accused him of brainwashing their loved ones to join a dangerous cult whose goal was simply to turn Moon into some sort of global emperor.
From his highs in the 1970s came lows in the 1980s when Moon was convicted of tax evasion and sentenced to 18 months in prison. Congress also accused Moon of exploiting the South Korean CIA to expand his religious cult.
Despite this, Moon kept prospering, not only becoming incredibly wealthy through his South Korean companies but even establishing businesses in North Korea, Japan and South America.
In fact, he owned $300 million in various enterprises in just Washington, D.C., alone, having also established The Washington Times 30 years ago to balance what he felt was the liberal bias of The Washington Post.
Moon is survived by his wife and 11 children.
Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio
Faith Karimi and Steve Almasy, CNN Newswire
Sophie Eastaugh, CNN Newswire