Some black clergy members who traveled with the Rev. Sun Myung Moon on his recent U.S. tour have been dismissed from their churches or threatened with dismissal unless they denounce him.
In separate incidents, as many as 35 black ministers, most of them at churches in the South, have been voted out of office by church boards that object to any affiliation with Moon "because he calls himself the Messiah," said the Rev. Timothy Chambers, an Alabama evangelist who is pressing Moon's Unification Church to help the dismissed pastors.
Chambers blamed the Unification Church for the dismissals, saying that Moon's representatives promised the black preachers that they would establish an independent group called the American Clergy Leadership Conference so the preachers could control their appearances during Moon's tour. Then, Chambers said, Moon's representatives "just started taking things over and running things."
A spokesman for the ACLC, who is also a black minister, said his fellow clergy members knew what they were getting into.
"We are all grown people, and we are aware that there is some controversy surrounding Reverend Moon and that there might be consequences," said T.L. Barrett, pastor of the Life Center Church in Chicago. "No one forced me to go on that tour."
The firings reflect an increasingly close and recently uncomfortable relationship between Moon and prominent black clergy members. This relationship was most visible two years ago, when Moon teamed up with the Rev. Louis Farrakhan of the Nation of Islam to host the Million Family March.
Once, Moon preached the superiority of the Asian race. Then in 1982 he went to jail for tax evasion and found common cause with civil rights leaders who contended that he, like they, had been persecuted because of his minority status.
Now he preaches an interracial message, often marrying female Korean church members with black men. He has donated millions of dollars to black churches and cultivated a network of preachers loyal to him. His latest American tour began in a Bronx church in April and ended 50 days later at the Canaan Baptist Church in Harlem, with Moon surrounded by black preachers testifying to his good works.
The relationship drew little notice recently until black congregations and clergy members started becoming suspicious of Moon's influence.
At the Imani Temple, a black Catholic congregation in Northeast Washington, a group of members joined by Black Panthers began protesting outside on Sundays after the Rev. George A. Stallings married a Japanese woman who worked for Moon in one of Moon's famous mass weddings in New York.
Stallings has called any allegation that he or his church was being taken over by Moon a "baldfaced lie" and "the work of the devil."
He also said that the ACLC had not been able to confirm reports that some clergy members had been fired by their congregations but that it would meet today to investigate.
The group might start with the case of Harold Toliver, who had been with Alabama's oldest Baptist church for almost 15 years when he attended a rally Moon held in Mobile. Toliver said he did not believe everything Moon preached but went to ACLC meetings to interact with other black preachers.
In late May, the board of directors of the Mobile Stone Street Baptist Church fired him.
His involvement with Moon was "a big part of that decision," said Gabriel Peck, chairman of the church's board of trustees. "Moon says he is the Messiah, and that Jesus did not complete his mission here, and we don't believe that," Peck said.
A similar thing happened to J. Trotter, an assistant pastor at a Pentecostal church in MacIntosh, Ala. In an interview yesterday, she said she was told she could no longer attend the church after she participated in the 50-city tour.
Barrett said he was warned by Bishop G.E. Patterson, the head of the Pentecostal Church, that Moon was the "antichrist" and that Barrett would have to denounce him if he wanted to continue in his ministry.
In his writings, Moon teaches a free-lance interpretation of Jesus's life, implying that Jesus was a failed messiah because he never married. Moon says that he and his wife are free of sin -- a heretical claim for Christians -- and that he is the "New Messiah" sent by God to complete Jesus's work.
Stallings and others have defended him against the heresy charge, saying that Moon means only that he is "a" messiah, anointed of God like any preacher.
The ACLC is scheduled to hold a news conference today to respond to the allegations and to defend Archbishop Emmanuel Milingo, an African priest whom the Vatican threatened with excommunication for marrying a Korean woman in a Moon ceremony last month.