Moonstruck

updated 09/21/1998 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 09/21/1998 AT 01:00 AM EDT

As weddings go, it was a doozy: More than 7,000 couples squeezed into New York City's Madison Square Garden on June 13 to take their vows or rededicate them before Rev. Sun Myung Moon. By contrast, just three weeks later, a mere 100 or so people gathered for the nuptials of Un Jin Moon and Rodney Jenkins at the Keswick Club near Charlottesville, Va. Conspicuously absent from the ceremony was the father of the bride—the Reverend Moon.

This tale of two weddings sheds harsh light on the frenzied times and nasty feuds that are rending the family of Moon, 78, the founder and leader of the powerful Unification Church. While church members believe that Moon, his second wife, Hak Ja Han, 55, and their 12 surviving children—known to followers as the True Family—embody a theoretical ideal that should be emulated, evidence suggests that the Moons are hardly a model of domestic tranquility. "This is a dysfunctional family," says Madelene Pretorius, 36, a former church employee who left the group in 1995. "It's very difficult to reconcile Rev. Moon's principles with the reality I was experiencing."

First, consider Moon's messy estrangement from his daughter Un Jin, 30—who fled a mate chosen by her parents and is now battling for custody of their two young children. Oldest son Hyo Jin, 35, racked up enough woes to fill a Jerry Springer marathon: divorce, a DWI arrest and drug abuse, as well as allegations of spousal abuse. Another of Moon's daughters, Sun Jin, 22, fled the family's palatial Westchester County, N.Y., estate in 1995 after an arranged marriage, then lived in Greenwich Village before a diagnosis of Hodgkin's disease returned her to the fold. What's more, court papers and disillusioned associates alike are laying bare the secretive family's lavish lifestyle, which stands in contrast to Moon's austere public image. "There were BMWs and expensive Mercedeses everywhere for the Moon family's use," says Donna Collins, 28, a former church member. "Money was no object." At the same time, "there were church members working 12 hours a day who couldn't afford to buy their kids sneakers," says a former friend of the family. "The members did without for the True Family to have."

Quite a host of problems for the man many consider to be a messiah. The Korean-born Moon, who founded his Unification Church in Korea in 1954 before coming to the U.S. in 1971, had his heyday in the mid-70s, when his calls for peace and purity filled airports with panhandling "Moonies." (The church preaches that Jesus's failure to restore man to his original state of grace forced God to send the second Messiah—Moon.)

But ever since Moon's 1982 conviction on tax-evasion charges, which landed him in the Danbury, Conn., federal penitentiary for a year, the church's membership in the U.S. has been dwindling. One church official puts it at 30,000, down from 50,000. "There seems to be a falling away of his inner circle as well," says journalist Robert Parry, who has investigated the church. "Some people who have been with Rev. Moon for a long time have grown disenchanted. There are real problems inside the family, and what some of these folks in the inner circle are seeing is that the Moons are far from perfect."

The disillusioned seem to include many of his children, who were raised with a lack of parental supervision in an atmosphere of incredible luxury at two sprawling Westchester County estates, East Garden and Belvedere. The kids were treated to private hairdressers and fawning attendants and were brought up mainly by nannies while the Moons traveled. When Un Jin expressed an interest in horses, Moon built her a $10 million riding facility; Hyun Jin's fondness for guns led to construction of a huge shooting range. "The sons, especially, are very arrogant," says the former Moon friend. "They have egos that you couldn't fit into a banquet hall."

Tragedy struck the Moons in 1984: Their 17-year-old son Heung Jin was killed when he crashed his sports car into a truck. More trouble followed. Daughter Ye Jin, 37, moved to Boston in 1993 and cut off most family contact. Restive younger daughter Un Jin, who at age 18 was joined to church member Jun Heon Park in a union arranged by Moon, split from her family in 1996. On July 3, 1998, she married equestrian Rodney Jenkins, 54, whom she had met while training for the Olympics two years earlier. (According to her attorney, Un Jin never got a divorce from Park because their ceremony was not recognized as a marriage under the law.) "Spiritually, Un Jin has been declared dead to church members," says a friend. "Basically, she has fallen. She is not supported by the family; she doesn't get a dime." Un Jin is now suing for custody of her two daughters, ages 4 and 8, who are being raised at her parents' East Garden estate.

But Moon's biggest problem is oldest son Hyo Jin, the church's crown prince. Last December his 15-year arranged marriage to Nansook Hong fell apart amid her charges that he forced her to flee from East Garden with their five children in tow. "He punched me in the nose and blood came rushing out," Hong, whose tell-all book about the Moons will be published this month, says in an affidavit. "I was seven months pregnant and was afraid he would kill my baby."

In 1996, Hyo Jin spent three months in a Massachusetts jail for failing to pay lawyers' fees related to his divorce, and this February he was locked up for 20 days in Westchester County jail for violating an order of protection obtained by his wife. That followed his 1994 arrest for drunk driving and two 1995 stays at substance-abuse treatment centers, including the Betty Ford Center in California. Hong's affidavit claims that Hyo Jin—now working as a music producer at the church-affiliated Manhattan Center Studios in New York City—once brought home a box filled with $1 million in cash, then spent $400,000 "buying cocaine and alcohol, entertaining his friends every night and giving expensive gifts to other women." In September of 1996, during his ongoing divorce proceedings, Hyo Jin filed for bankruptcy (he later withdrew the filing). A deposition in the case quotes him as stating, "All I like was guns and music."

Hardly the kind of devotion that is likely to attract new followers to the cause. Even so, says attorney Herbert Rosedale, a prominent Moon critic, "the church's activities are still strong, and their recruitment is still very active." Indeed, the church still owns the influential conservative newspaper Washington Times, is developing vast tracts of land in South America and operates various foundations that promote Moon's family-values message.

Running it all is the still-vigorous Moon, though the family's troubles have thrown his succession into doubt. Hyo Jin had been the heir apparent, but "there is no way they are going to let him take over now," says a family friend. More likely, Moon's wife, Hak Ja Han, or another son, Hyun Jin, 29, who currently runs a church-affiliated business, will take the reins. Moon isn't talking, but the very public disintegration of his True Family portends a tempestuous transition. "When the reverend passes away, they'll all be killing each other for power," says the friend. "I don't think there will be anything left."

Alex Tresniowski
Tom Duffy in Westchester County and Vicky Moon (no relation) in Keswick

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