Local pastors welcome Moon

Pro-family theme of rally obscures theological divide

TwinCities.com/March 9, 2001
By Stephen Scott

The Rev. Sun Myung Moon shared the pulpit with Baptist clergy Thursday night at a Minneapolis church rally for restoring the family. ``If you go to the spirit world, you won't be able to find your denomination, only one family under God,'' said Moon, founder of the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification, commonly known as the Unification Church. ``This split is causing the divisiveness of the human family.''

Moon spoke for two hours -- mostly in Korean with an English-language translator -- to a predominantly African-American and Asian crowd of about 600.

The scene at New Salem Missionary Baptist Church is being repeated every night throughout the country: Largely African-American religious communities are welcoming Moon as he visits 49 cities in 51 days.

``Really? Whoa!'' said Bruce Forbes, chairman of the religious studies department at Morningside College in Sioux City, Iowa, and a part-time Minneapolis resident.

``It doesn't surprise me that the Unification Church would do this. They want to mainstream themselves into respectability. It surprises me that you've got Baptist ministers sponsoring it.''

Many of the pastors who support and participate in Moon's tour say they're caught up not in the man, but his mission.

Yet for more than an hour preceding his prepared speech, Moon talked extensively about the nuances of his theology and frequently asked the audience for personal affirmation of his being ``right'' and a ``very good person.''

Moon, 81, appears less frequently in the news today than when his followers, derisively called Moonies, were selling flowers on street corners. Despite persistent accusations that he operates a cult, Moon oversees a vast religious, business and cultural empire, including the politically conservative Washington Times newspaper.

He and his wife, Hak Ja Han Moon, bless thousands of couples a year in mass weddings in which brides and grooms are hand-picked by the Rev. and Mrs. Moon.

Twin Cities pastors said they do not have to embrace Moon's theology in order to appreciate his message.

``At first, I was a little skeptical,'' said the Rev. Jesse Griffin of True Vine Missionary Baptist Church in North Minneapolis. ``But after getting involved with it, I saw he had some principles and values that I was concerned about, particularly as concerns the family.''

Moon calls his 46-state speaking tour his gift to America. Arriving in New York on Feb. 17, one week before the tour began, he said, ``If you plead to 10 million whites in America to save the world, they will not pay attention, but out of 10 million blacks, many will follow.''

The Rev. Hycel B. Taylor of Second Baptist Church in Evanston, Ill., was on the invitation committee for the tour, which reached Chicago on Feb. 28.

Taylor supports the Unification emphasis on world peace, religious unity and family values but acknowledges some teachings might be confusing.

``I've asked African-American leaders to be a great deal more critical of the movement,'' Taylor said. ``More and more African-Americans are being attracted to the movement, for good reasons. But I've told ministers to be prepared. This is not a movement without controversy. It is full of claims. We don't want African-Americans to be following anything blindly.''

Moon would appear to stand opposite a broad divide separating himself from traditional Christianity. Believing that Jesus appeared to him as he prayed in the mountains of his native Korea in 1935, Moon says he was asked to finish the task of restoring God's kingdom on Earth.

That kingdom had been impossible since the fall of Adam and Eve, who were supposed to have been the perfect couple and produce sinless children. Because that did not occur, Jesus came as a ``new Adam,'' to marry and start a new line of children free of sin, according to Moon.

But human beings didn't allow it. The crucifixion of Jesus wasn't part of God's plan. Sun Myung Moon was then sent to complete the work, as a ``third Adam.'' Followers consider Moon and his wife to be the ``True Parents.''

Accordingly, many of them consider him a messiah.

``If you ask a member of the Unification Church directly, they won't say that,'' said Forbes of Morningside College, ``They talk about prophecies. They don't say it's Moon. They go through all sorts of intricate analysis -- where he'll be born, when he'll be born -- that all fits Moon. So there's excitement in the Unification Church that Moon could be the one.''

The belief in the restored family is the foundation for the arranged marriages, typically between members of different races, ``almost like trying to start a new race,'' Forbes said.

Family values are advertised as the key message of the current tour.

``They're teaching the same thing I teach. Maybe some terminology is a little different, but we're trying to accomplish the same goals,'' said the Rev. Charles Ford of Berean Missionary Baptist Church in Minneapolis. ``We have a lot of people in our black churches but not the whole family. There may be a mother and her children, or some straggling lone men. I want to see families, not just individuals.''

African-Americans have identified with Moon since he served a 13-month federal prison sentence in Danbury, Conn., for tax evasion in the early 1980s.

``The support that he got while he was in prison really came from African-American clergy,'' said Bill Reed, a tour spokesman in Washington, D.C. ``There was a tremendous amount of controversy surrounding his imprisonment. Many thought he had been railroaded into prison because the U.S. government wanted to get him out of the country. African-American ministers saw his plight as being very similar to their plight.''

So several of them are standing, literally and figuratively, with Moon as he crosses America. Tonight, it's on to Seattle. Moon will conclude the tour April 16 in Washington, D.C.

``The Rev. Moon is seeking to connect with the spirituality that is indispensably a part of the African-American church,'' said the Rev. George Augustus Stallings of Washington, D.C.

To see more documents/articles regarding this group/organization/subject click here.