When the Washington Times threw its 20th anniversary gala in 2002, conservative luminaries lined up to pay tribute, including Ronald Reagan, who addressed the packed ballroom via video. Afterward, the paper’s enigmatic founder, the Rev. Sun Myung Moon, took the podium. “Even before the term ‘family value’ became a popular phrase, every day of the week the Times was publishing articles highlighting the breakdown in values and what must be done to return to a good, moral society,” he said, through a translator. “Today, family values have become an essential piece of the social fabric in America, even becoming part of the political landscape. (Read more…) We can be proud of the Washington Times‘ contribution that promoted and elevated family values to an essential part of society in America and the world!”
Moon, the founder of the South Korea-based Unification Church, which had hundreds of thousands of adherents at its peak, claimed to be on a divine mission to salvage humanity by rebuilding the traditional family. Before his death last year at age 92, the self-proclaimed messiah—who was known for marrying off his followers in mass weddings—presided over a multibillion-dollar business empire. And he plowed huge sums of money into politics, launching a vast network of media outlets and front groups that promoted conservative family values and left a lasting mark on the modern-day GOP.
But this family values crusader harbored a secret. While he was promoting marriage as the solution to society’s woes and inveighing against “free sex,” his personal life was full of philandering—including at least one adulterous relationship that produced a son. To hide the boy’s identify from his followers, Moon instructed his right-hand man, who was also the founding president and publisher of the Washington Times, to raise the child. Moon’s illegitimate son, Sam Park, who is now 47 years old and lives in Arizona, also helped guard his father’s secret, by staying silent. Until now.
Park, who has shaggy salt-and-pepper hair and a mellow demeanor, resides in Phoenix with his 77-year-old mother, Annie Choi. Their story, which I touched on in a recent article about the unraveling of Moon’s empire in The New Republic, casts a spotlight on the hidden history of Moon’s church, a strange but influential institution that has maintained close ties to the Republican Party since the Reagan era.
Choi says the initiation rites for early female disciples involved having sex with Moon three times. She also alleges that Moon kept a stable of a half-dozen concubines, known as the Six Marys.
Choi joined Moon’s church along with her mother and sister in the early 1950s. At the time, the family lived in the southern Korean city of Pusan. Moon had fled there after escaping a communist labor camp in North Korea, where he was imprisoned, reportedly on bigamy charges. Initially, he had only a few dozen followers, who met in a two-room house on the outskirts of town and were expected to sacrifice everything for the church. For young female members, this included their virginity. Choi says the initiation rites for early female disciples involved having sex with Moon three times. She also alleges that Moon kept a stable of a half-dozen concubines, known as the Six Marys, and inducted her into the group when she was 17. Sometimes, she adds, he would assemble them all in a circle and take turns mounting them. Choi’s account is consistent with those of other early followers, who claim that Moon’s church began as an erotic cult, with Moon “purifying” female followers through sexual rites. (One former acolyte published a book on the topic in Japan.)
According to Choi, Moon persuaded her mother, whose husband owned one of Korea’s largest insurance companies, that their family played a special role in God’s plan: Just like Jacob, who married two women and had children by them and their handmaids, Moon would marry both of her daughters, and they would give birth to the world’s first sin-free children. Choi’s mother was so devoted to this vision that in 1954 she sold one of the family’s homes and gave the proceeds to Moon. Soon thereafter, he opened a church in Seoul and his movement began to flourish. By 1959, more than 30 churches had sprung up around Korea, and Moon’s teachings started to spread to other countries.
But that year Moon’s marriage plans hit a snag, when Choi’s older sister abandoned the church and broke off the engagement. Rather than marry Choi, in late 1959, Moon, who was then 40, began casting about for another bride. He quickly settled on his cook’s daughter, a shy 17-year-old girl named Hak Ja Han. After their wedding in early 1960, Moon—whose church was rapidly expanding into the United States—began teaching that marriage was the key to salvation. He and his new wife would create the “prototype of the perfect family” and give birth to sin-free children. Followers could join his sinless family by keeping themselves chaste until Moon married them off in one of his now-famous mass-wedding ceremonies and then building strong, faithful families of their own.
During this era, Moon preached that sex outside of marriage was the worst possible sin. But Choi and other insiders allege that Moon’s philandering continued long after his own marriage. Choi says she kept having sex with him regularly until 1964, when she moved to the United States to attend Georgetown University, in Washington, DC. Prior to her departure, Choi claims, she and Moon were married in a secret ceremony at his church. The following year, Moon made his first trip to the United States and stayed for several months with his deputy, Bo Hi Pak, near the nation’s capital. During the trip, he spent a good deal of time with Choi. (One photo from the era shows the two of them and Pak huddled in front of the Washington Monument.) Before long, Choi was carrying Moon’s child.