Controversy, Theology Keep Some From Unification Church Leader's D.C. Appearance More than 2,000 people, including about 300 African American pastors, filled a Washington hotel ballroom this week to hear the Rev. Sun Myung Moon deliver a call for an interfaith movement to strengthen American families.
Moon's appearance was one of his last stops on a three-month, 52-city tour billed as an effort to promote family values and break down barriers between races and denominations.
The Korean-born founder of the Unification Church has been a controversial figure because of his followers' belief that he is the messiah, and also because of his financial activities and his church's recruitment techniques. He was convicted and imprisoned for tax evasion in 1984.
Some Washington area black pastors declined invitations to Monday night's event at the Omni Shoreham Hotel, citing disagreements with Moon's religious teachings. But many others participated, saying they were willing to overlook such differences because they agreed with the broad themes of Moon's "We Will Stand" tour.
Among the ministers attending were the Rev. Walter Fauntroy, the former D.C. delegate to Congress; the Rev. William Bennett, pastor of First Baptist Church of Deanwood; the Rev. George Augustus Stallings, archbishop of Imani Temple African-American Catholic Congregation; the Rev. Cleveland Sparrow, of Sparrow World Temple; and the Rev. Donald Robinson, the D.C. mayor's special assistant for religious affairs, who presented Moon with a proclamation from Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D).
"Many of the goals of the 'We Will Stand' tour are consistent with the goals the mayor espouses for the city," Robinson said. "I don't see a conflict. I just see this as an opportunity for the city to align itself with like-minded people.
We want the renewal and restoration of families, the renewal and revival of community. We want a sense of racial harmony." In recent years, Moon, 81, has sought to reach out to black pastors and veteran civil rights activists, as well as to members of the Nation of Islam. Last October, his Family Federation for World Peace and Unification co-sponsored the Million Family March that featured Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan.
The audience at the Omni Shoreham, which filled an overflow room as well as the ballroom, appeared to be about two-thirds Asian and one-third African American. Several in the crowd chanted, "Long live our true parents!" when Moon and his wife arrived in the ballroom.
"It is time for America to awaken once again," Moon said through a translator in his two-hour speech. "It is time for the country as a whole to create a new movement to build true parents, true families, a true country and true world centered on God."
Moon said that as part of the movement to restore family ties and moral values, married women have a duty to bear children. "I encourage all of you -- please have more children. That is the contribution and service you can do to the world and God," Moon said.
"If you stay away from having children, you cannot enter the kingdom of God. You are bound to go to somewhere else; you can call it Hell."
He also attacked homosexuality. "All those homosexuals, lesbians . . . those who go after free sex -- if they practice that type of principle, they are less than animals," he said.
Moon has said that he received his calling to preach in 1935 on Easter Sunday, when he met Jesus on a mountainside in Korea. Such claims have drawn criticism from Christian clergy.
The Rev. A. Michael Black, pastor of Bethesda Baptist Church in Northeast Washington, cited that issue in explaining his decision not to participate in Monday's event. "How can pastors accept Reverend Moon as the messiah one day after they preach Jesus being raised from the dead on Easter?" said Black, who is also president of the region's Missionary Baptist Ministers Conference.
Also turning down an invitation was the Rev. D. Mitchell Ford, pastor of Renaissance Baptist Church in Southeast Washington. "I am wary of the Unification Church and Moon's dealings," Ford said.
After his speech, Moon called more than 100 pastors to the stage, and each was presented with a gold Christian Bernard watch. "The gold watches are a personal expression from Reverend Moon, and the gold represents his unchanging love," the Rev. Phillip Schanker, a Moon spokesman, said in an interview. Schanker said the watches were provided by a Moon-owned business and cost several thousand dollars a piece.
Bennett, who was the mayor's special assistant for religious affairs during the Barry administration, said some ministers in the city harbor prejudices and misconceptions about Moon and the Unification Church.
"I am able to get past the theological differences because their ministry is so important," Bennett said. "They stand up for family. They believe in abstinence for our young people."