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In the annals of abused wives, it’s a familiar scenario: A woman awakes at 5 a.m., roused by a beeper call from a conspirator. The plan is to gather her children and escape to a safe house before her cruel husband awakes—which he probably won’t, since he’s in a cocaine-induced stupor. But Nansook Hong’s story has one distinctive twist: The coke-addled brute is the son of God.

No, not that God. Hyo Jin Moon is the eldest son of the Rev. Sun Myung Moon, self-appointed messiah and head of an international cartel, the Unification Church, whose finances are as arcane as its theology. Moon chose Hong to marry his 19-year-old son when she was but 15, and she began bearing the second generation of “perfect children” while still in high school. In the Shadow of the Moons: My Life in the Reverend Sun Myung Moon’s Family is her perversely fascinating account of 14 years spent with a divine brood whose antics make Elmer Gantry look like a primer for Zen Buddhists.

A mix of American Protestantism and Korean folk religion, Unificationism is nominally a form of Christianity. It has more than a few disqualifying quirks, however, beginning with Moon’s insistence that he has been sent to fulfill the task that Jesus Christ, that bungler, failed to accomplish. Marriage and procreation are central to Moon’s theology, and by his reckoning Jesus blew it by not marrying and producing children. Since he didn’t, the Christian messiah wasn’t even qualified to enter Heaven—a predicament that Moon rectified by marrying Jesus, somewhat after the fact, to an elderly Korean woman.

As a barely pubescent daughter-in-law, Hong was not privy to all the expressions of Moon’s wild megalomania. When not having babies—five in all—she was little more than a slave to her mother-in-law, Hak Ja Han Moon, whom everyone generally called Mother. Still, Hong’s position within the family gave her many opportunities to observe Moon, his wife, and their “flawless” children.

To anyone familiar with Moon’s curious pronouncements, it’s hard to imagine joining his church. (In the U.S., at least, few people have enlisted since the Moonies’ brief ’70s boom.) Hong became a follower of “True Father,” however, the way billions of people have accepted Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, and the other major world religions: She was born into it. Hong is the daughter of one of Moon’s earliest followers, who became the president of Il Hwa, a Korean corporation that is one of Unificationism’s cash cows. Having never known any god but Moon, she was thrilled (if a little bewildered) to be selected to marry into the messiah’s brood.

But life with the Messiah’s hard-partying son, it turns out, was a 14-year-long instance of date rape. And she quickly learned that the elder Moon, who insists that his disciples maintain an ascetic lifestyle, allowed his children to drink, smoke, gamble, and whore. As a 15-year-old freshly arrived in the U.S. from Korea, Hong was excited to be taken to Disney World on her honeymoon. After 10 minutes, however, Hyo Jin announced he was bored and insisted on going to Las Vegas. There the newlyweds found the Rev. Moon, who prohibits his followers from gambling, at a blackjack table.

Hong was to face many more disillusioning epiphanies. Upon first arriving at the Moons’ Tarrytown, N.Y., estate, she was astonished to realize that the messiah’s younger children didn’t speak Korean, even though their father taught that Korean is the language of the Kingdom of Heaven. Later, the elder Moon did nothing as would-be rock-star Hyo Jin turned a church-owned New York recording studio into his own playpen, complete with drugs, booze, and extramarital lovers. Hak Ja Han Moon confirmed to Hong that her “perfect” husband had also screwed around—this knowledge was the source of Mrs. Moon’s power over the Korean messiah, the author suspects—and Hong came to believe one of the long-denied rumors about Unificationism: that in its early days, Moon had required each female convert to engage in a “purification ritual” (that is, sex) with him.

Because not all potential readers can be expected to know anything about Moon and his church, Hong includes a chapter of background information. Her outline of Unificationism doesn’t substantially expand on the accounts written (often by ex-Moonies) in the late ’70s and early ’80s, when the cult had its highest U.S. profile. Still, she adds a few amusing details—in 1985, Moon privately crowned himself “Emperor of the Universe”—and corroborates some piquant tales, notably the one about the African who claimed to be the physical embodiment of the spirit of Heung Jin, Moon’s second son, who had died in auto accident.

As reported in the Washington Post a decade ago by Michael Isikoff, the “black Heung Jin” was accepted by Moon, even though the man offered no evidence that he knew anything about Heung Jin’s life. (He had forgotten such earthly matters when he entered Heaven, he explained.) Moon authorized him to travel the world, beating those Moonies who confessed to transgressions against church law. After he savagely battered Bo Hi Pak, Moon’s Washington-based right-hand man, the African was finally banished.

Hong lived with the Moons during the period when the Rev. Moon was sentenced to jail for tax evasion. Now disabused of the notion that Moon is any sort of messiah, she expresses the appropriate contempt for the prominent Americans—civil libertarians and religious leaders as well as right-wing Republicans—who denounced the case as religious persecution. While these dupes—”useful idiots,” in the old Communist parlance—were insisting that Moon had done nothing wrong, Hong saw Hak Ja Han Moon dispense vast amounts of never-reported cash from the wall safe in her closet. Like most Moonies who traveled between the U.S. and Korea and Japan, the author herself was enlisted to smuggle currency into the country.

Although that rabid-right money sink the Washington Times continues to publish, Moon’s influence has waned in the U.S. As Hong notes, however, the alliance between Moon and leading Republicans remained solid even as most of Moon’s other goals went unmet. Fewer Republicans speak out for the Rev. Moon these days, but they still take his smuggled cash. In 1996, while the alcoholic, wife-beating Hyo Jin sat in a Massachusetts prison because Moon refused a court order to pay Hong’s legal fees in her divorce case, George Bush, Gerald Ford, and Jack Kemp took Moon’s money to deplore the decline in family values at a conference at the National Building Museum. In 1995, Hong reminds us, George and Barbara Bush were paid more than a million dollars to appear at Moonie rallies in Japan; the following year, the ex-president-for-hire hailed Moon as a “visionary” at a Buenos Aires launch party for a new Moon-owned Latin American newspaper.

In reading In the Shadow of the Moons at this time, it’s natural to connect Moon to the parade of prominent Republican adulterers denouncing Bill Clinton for adultery. Moon initially announced himself in American politics as a supporter of the soon-to-resign Richard Nixon, and ever since the Korean messiah has been an apt ethical counsel for a party that insists on strict standards of public morality while demonstrating an utter lack of personal principle. If Henry Hyde, Helen Chenoweth, and Bob Livingston were to seek a new parish priest, they couldn’t find a more fitting one than the Rev. Moon. As Hong’s account makes clear, Moon may not be the messiah, but he is one of the great hypocrites of modern history.CP