The Rev. Sun Myung Moon is making strong inroads among influential African-American ministers in Harlem and elsewhere, prompting some clergy to protest his widening influence.
The Rev. Michael Jenkins, president of Moon's church in the United States, said yesterday that some 12,000 ministers and lay leaders, many of them African-American, were expected at a revival Moon will lead at Madison Square Garden on Sept. 22.
Among those present, he predicted, would be Archbishop Emmanuel Milingo, the Catholic churchman who renounced life with a South Korean woman Moon wed him to in New York in May. The Vatican yesterday released a copy of a handwritten letter Milingo sent to Pope John Paul II last Saturday, repudiating Moon.
"It is our prayer that he will reunite with us," said the event's co-chairman, Archbishop George A. Stallings of the Imani Temple in Washington, a one-time Catholic priest who formed a separate church.
Stallings, who was married to his wife in the same ceremony as the Zambian archbishop on May 27, said Moon would bless the participants' marriages "to prepare them for their role in becoming true parents."
Whether or not Moon succeeds in bringing Milingo back to his fold, he is likely to enjoy the support of at least some black clergymen.
"Once upon a time, many of us thought they were trying to impose their theological perspective on us," the Rev. Preston Washington, pastor of Memorial Baptist Church in Harlem, said yesterday. "Now they have become a lot more tempered. They really want to collaborate and work on things. I find them to be a wonderful group of people."
On May 8, Moon concluded a 52-city, 52-day speaking tour at Canaan Baptist Church in Harlem, where he was hosted by the Rev. Wyatt Tee Walker, a prominent clergyman. But not everyone in the packed church approved.
The Rev. Leighton Smith, pastor of Faith Evangelistic Ministries in Manhattan, said he has been assailing the Moon connection on his radio and cable television shows ever since he attended the gathering.
"We will stand together against the cults," said Smith, who has organized a group of ministers from the city and Long Island to protest outside the Madison Square Garden revival.
Smith said the ministers who support Moon should "repent. Some of them just went into it because of the money."
Jenkins said that the Unification Church donates money, but not in large amounts.
"We participate as churches participate with one another," he said. "We take part in banquets and we will buy a table. When it's the anniversary of the pastor, we come in with a donation that would be very much in line with what other churches would donate."
Washington said that the Unification Church supported African-American churches "financially and in terms of their presence." He said ministers have gone to meet Moon in his native South Korea, and that Moon gave them custom-made watches.
The alliance between Moon and African-American Christian clergy is surprising for several reasons. Moon's political views are far more conservative, and his theological teachings diverge from Christian orthodoxy.
"He's announced himself to be the messiah," said David Bromley, a sociology professor at Virginia Commonwealth University who has written extensively on the Unification Church, now known as the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification.
Bromley said Moon has found common ground with African-American ministers with his emphasis on family and initiatives against teen pregnancy.
"To some extent they share the history of persecution of men of color," he said, adding that he did not believe the clergy members "are being bought."
When Moon was convicted in Manhattan in 1982 of evading taxes on $162,000 in income, a number of church leaders rallied to his defense that the case was based on "religious innuendo." The conviction was upheld and he served 13 months in prison.
After being released he worked steadily to build interfaith relations. Last year, his church played a key role in sponsoring Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan's Million Family March in Washington. In his remarks at Canaan Baptist Church, Moon called on the Harlem clergy to join him in an ecumenical movement. "It is your decision whether to remain engulfed in trouble and confusion," he said, according to a transcript on the Unification Church Web site. "Today you decided to stand with me and your determination should not change."