Ever since he arrived in this country 10 years ago, the Rev. Sun Myung Moon has been a nettle in the national consciousness. An elusive vaguely sinister figure, he has taken refuge in the penumbra of the First Amendment, operating his highly profitable religion from a heavily guarded estate outside New York City. But if the impassive Moon, 62, is singularly remote, his smiling, fresh-faced minions are everywhere, spreading his word and soliciting dollars with the earnest intensity of men and women possessed.
Until this year, however, Moon was, if not beyond reproach, at least beyond prosecution. Then, in May, he was convicted of tax evasion and filing false returns. Subsequently he was sentenced to 18 months in jail and fined $25,000. It won’t put much of a dent in his treasury; the church’s real estate holdings alone, including the old New Yorker Hotel in Manhattan, a 580-acre estate in Boonville, Calif. and the late Cardinal Cushing’s villa in Gloucester, Mass., were once estimated at $200 million. Moon is now free on appeal and has won a court ruling that he cannot be deported to his native Korea for his indiscretions vis-à-vis the IRS.
Meanwhile Moon has been keeping his hand in at the messiah business. In July he performed a wedding at Madison Square Garden for 2,075 Moonie couples. Most were matches he had ordained himself. Three months later, in Seoul, he married 11,674 more believers, including 148 American couples, sprinkling holy water (scented with Chanel No. 5) on all within range. Proving his own dedication to marriage and family, Moon became a father again in 1982, siring child No. 13 by wife No. 2.
Moon was busy as well on the media front. In September the $48 million movie Inchon, backed largely by members of the Unification Church, opened to near-unanimous pans. Not even the new Moonie-owned newspaper the Washington Times could bring itself to run a favorable review. Moon stays aloof from the paper, which is probably as it should be for a man who once testified he had conversations with Moses, Buddha and Jesus. While it poses no threat to the Washington Post, the advertising-poor Times has passed 100,000 in circulation and is so strongly conservative that it is a favorite at the White House. Of 185 editorial staffers, only about 30 are Moonies, and most seem unconcerned about their supreme being. Shrugged Executive Editor Smith Hempstone, “I’ve worked for a lot of papers where the publisher thought he was God.”