Affiliates of Sun Myung Moon, controversial leader of the Unification Church, have a history of supporting and courting conservative evangelicals.
Now, according to published reports, financial support has been filtered to Liberty University from Moon-related enterprises. But Liberty founder Jerry Fallwell told CHRISTIANITY TODAY that the source of the funds does not influence his ministry.
"If the American Atheists Society or Saddam Hussein himself ever sent an unrestricted gift to any of my ministries," Falwell says, "be assured I will operate on Billy Sunday's philosophy: The Devil's had it long enough, and quickly cash the check."
While Moon may not be the Devil, Christians contest Moon's claim that he is destined by God to complete an unfulfilled mission of Jesus. Moon claims Jesus failed as the Messiah because he did not wed and have children.
The divorced 78year-old Moon says he and his current wife, Hak Ja Han Moon, 53, are the "true parents of all humanity."
$3.5 MILLION GIFT: In November, the Los Angeles Times reported that the Women's Federation for World Peace (WFWP), which is headed by Moon's wife, contributed $3.5 million to Christian Heritage Foundation (CHF) of Virginia for "educational purposes" in 1995.
WFWP chair Susan Fefferman says Falwell spoke monthly to a group of professional women forging Japanese-American friendships. Fefferman says that in return WFWP provided scholarships for "many, many students" through the CHF. She told CT that Falwell "made it clear" that he represented CHF and the $3.5 million could be sent there on behalf of Liberty.
CHF cofounder Daniel Reber says CHF solicited funds from WFWP in 1995 to help finance missions projects, not to service the school's indebtedness. "Not one penny of the Women's Federation grant was ever used to assist Liberty in its reduction of debt," Reber told CT.
Reber and Jimmy Thomas purchased and forgave $5 million worth of debt to help Falwell's financially troubled school in Lynchburg. CHF also gave $500,000 to complete construction of the dining hall, which had been halted because of nonpayment of contractors.
Reber had worked as a fundraiser for Falwell's Old Time Gospel Hour and started CHF in 1987 with Thomas, who had been chief financial officer of Falwell's Moral Majority. Both Thomas and Reber had been on Liberty's board of directors until last year.
CHF is a private, independent charitable foundation that distributes Bibles and Christian literature to Communist and Third World nations.
Meanwhile, according to a Washington Post report, another Moon-related organization, News World Communications, provided an unsecured $400,000 loan to Liberty in 1996 at 6 percent interest, significantly below market loan rates.
Falwell spokesperson Mark DeMoss says Liberty did not know of the Moon connection because the loan came via a broker. DeMoss says the Moon connection is unimportant because the loan was a "business transaction."
In a related development, Liberty last month disclosed that A. L. Williams is the unnamed benefactor who provided $15 million to settle Liberty debts (CT, Dec. 8, 1997, p. 61).
The announcement came in part to counter rumors that Moon had been the anonymous supporter. Williams earned millions selling term life insurance and earlier had provided most of the funds to build the school's football stadium, basketball arena, and athletic center.
NOTHING `SINISTER': Due to ongoing financial problems (CT, Feb. 3, 1997, p. 74), Liberty had been placed on probation by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools in December 1996. SACS lifted the probation in December 1997 following the school's reduction of debt.
Falwell says there is nothing "sinister or clandestine" about CHF's contribution to the school. "Liberty does not have firsthand knowledge of how CHF is funded, or, for that matter, the source of any Liberty donor's funds," Falwell says.
"The donor's source of income is generally irrelevant to Liberty." But Paul D. Nelson, president of the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability, says ministry and academic boards must exercise prudence when receiving large contributions.
"Donors come from all walks of life, and it can get very fuzzy as to how the money was earned," Nelson says. In the worst-case scenario, typified by the Foundation for New Era Philanthropy scandal that involved 180 evangelical groups and schools (CT, Oct. 27, 1997, p.86), recipients must return illegally obtained funds even if the money has already been spent.
Falwell, 64, says that he addressed several groups where Moon has been in attendance, including a Uruguay meeting in 1995. Falwell says he does not compromise truth when speaking at such meetings.
"I preach for the Moonies, for the Mormons, for the Catholics, for the Jews, for the Buddhists," Falwell told CT. "I'll preach in hell if they promise to get me out."
CONSERVATIVES ATTRACTED: Moon's attempts to build influence with conservative Christians has been ongoing for years (CT, Feb. 5, 1988, p. 46). At a 1996 conference, for example, Ralph Reed, Beverly LaHaye, Gary Bauer, and Robert H. Schuller all spoke at a Moon-sponsored Family Federation for World Peace event.
"Conservatives find Moon attractive because they share many of his moral and political values," says James Beverley, theology and ethics professor at Ontario Theological Seminary. "Those similarities are significant enough that questions of theological differences are put on hold."
Beverley, who has studied Moon for two decades, also notes that speakers at such events often have their trips to exotic locales fully financed in addition to receiving generous honorariums.
SOULS LED ASTRAY? Frederick H. Miller, who operates True Light Educational Ministry in Shirley, New York, has documented Falwell's contacts with Moon, which he says began in 1984.
Miller, a 1989 graduate of Falwell's Liberty Home Bible Institute, says lie tried to meet with Falwell for four years to urge him to dissociate himself from Moon's ventures.
"Anyone attending and speaking at a Moonie function should be considered an endorser of the movement," Miller says. "How many poor souls has Reverend Falwell led astray by endorsing and being constantly pictured and quoted in Unification Church publications?"
Beverley agrees that speakers need to clearly distance themselves from Moon's theology when attending events his organizations sponsor. "The involvement is used by Moon and other Unification Church leaders as an endorsement that Moon is the Messiah and the returned Jesus Christ," Beverley says.
In December, Miller finally met with Falwell, showing him evidence that he had been featured numerous times in Unification Church promotional materials. Now, Miller believes, Falwell has had a change of heart. "He had no idea he was being used for recruiting purposes," Miller told CT. "He's agreed not to speak at another Moonie function."
However, Falwell says that while he does not endorse the Unification Church's beliefs, he will keep speaking to groups that receive Moon funds, such as the Washington Times Foundation. Falwell says his speaking philosophy remains unchanged. "I'm a minister to the heathen," Falwell told CT, citing recent appearances with Hustler publisher Larry Flynt. "I go a lot of places other preachers won't go as long as I don't have to restrict my message.