Tonight's prayer dinner designed to bring religious faiths together has upset some Christians because the controversial Rev. Sun Myung Moon is the keynote speaker. The Arizona Ecumenical Council, which represents 700 Protestant churches in Arizona, would not have been a sponsor for "America Come Together" if its leaders had known the Unification Church founder was a speaker and the main sponsor, said the Rev. Paul Eppinger, executive director of the council.
Eppinger said he is uncomfortable about the ties to Moon but will attend anyway.
Rep. Mark Anderson, R-Mesa, said the $25-a-plate dinner tonight at the Phoenix Airport Marriott stems from President Bush's creation of a White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives.
"There are controversies on both sides of the aisle," said Anderson, a Unification Church member who was married during a mass wedding ceremony in New York's Madison Square Garden.
"There are people who are worried that churches are going to overtake the government. And churches out there are worried that government is going to take over churches," he said. "The concept of the dinner is to attract people from all different faiths and religions.
"It's been very clear from the beginning that Reverend Moon would be one of the speakers," Anderson said. "The invitations state that. There's been no attempt to conceal that fact at all."
Moon, 81, formed the Unification Church in 1954. In 1992, he and his wife declared themselves "the Messiah and True Parents of all Humanity." Local speakers at tonight's event include Arizona House Speaker Jim Weiers and Doug Wead, who lost his bid for an Arizona congressional seat and is an unofficial adviser to Bush.
Former Congressman Matt Salmon was asked to be on the invitational committee for the event. Considered one of the GOP's top contenders for the 2002 governor's race, Salmon said he believes in the spirit of the event. "I believe in religious freedom," said Salmon, a Mesa resident who can't make the dinner because of a business trip. "I've been supportive of the Buddhists, the Muslims and all kinds of religions."
Larry Miller, executive director of Arizona Call to Renewal, attended a similar event in Washington, D.C., in January and said no one tried to convert him. Some members of his group, which aims to fight poverty, were concerned with involvement with the Unification Church, but others were pleased that so many groups were meeting, said Miller, a Sun City resident.