Many religions feature some zany attributes and even approach cult status, but the World Peace and Unification Sanctuary really takes the cake. Started as an offshoot of the notorious Unification Church, its beliefs are even stranger. The Pennsylvania church also follows a strange interpretation of some parts of the Bible involving the AR-15 assault rifle. That’s right, the same one used in the recent Parkland school shooting.
Two brothers started the church as a breakaway from their father
Hyung Jin “Sean” Moon serves as pastor of the World Peace and Unification Sanctuary, located about 120 miles north of Philadelphia. His brother, Moon Kook-Jin, who goes by Justin, owns Kahr Arms, a firearms manufacturing company. According to The Philadelphia Inquirer, many attendees also purchased their arms there.
“We sell a few guns,” Moon said. “That’s no secret. That’s my profession. I’m a gun manufacturer, so I support the Second and First Amendment.”
Next: You might recognize their father’s name.
The Moons come from a line of church leaders
You may know Sean Moon, who leads the church, as the youngest son of the late Rev. Sun Myung Moon. The man proclaimed himself a “messiah” when he founded the Unification Church in South Korea in 1954. By 1974, the church had kicked off a worldwide movement that many call a cult, drawing crowds of 25,000 or more.
Moon’s organization reveres both the Christian Bible and Moon’s Divine Principle as sacred texts. Part of the teachings, according to Vox, say that true enlightenment can come through marriage to other church members. That subsequently led to mass weddings around the globe, often arranged between virtual strangers.
Next: The church maintains long ties to another organization.
The Unification Church and the GOP maintain relationships
Over the years, The Unification Church became closely involved with right-wing and GOP politics. As The New Republic reported in 2013, the late Moon exerted, “extraordinary political influence, building a vast network of powerful right-wing organizations and forging alliances with every Republican presidential administration since Ronald Reagan’s.” As late as 2004, Republican lawmakers attended ceremonies.
An elaborate ceremony even took place in which Republican Roscoe Bartlett bowed down before the couple. Democrat Danny Davis carried in one of two golden crowns, which they placed on the Moon and his wife’s heads. Moon informed the audience that “kings and presidents” declared him “humanity’s savior.” He assured them Jesus, Buddha, Hitler, and Stalin had become “reborn as new persons” through his teachings.
Next: Moon’s followers embedded themselves into American politics.
Church leaders cozied up to American political powers
According to The New Republic, Moon instructed female followers to get close to political leaders. Some of them obtained offices, including in former Speaker of the House Carl Albert’s. In 1983, Moon went to prison for tax-evasion charges, stemming from some seriously complicated financial dealings.
The church responded by launching a $30 million campaign to overturn his conviction, with his daughter In Jin leading the charge. Its campaign painted Moon as an innocent man prosecuted for his religious beliefs, which evangelicals ate right up. A coalition, including the American Civil Liberties Union, then–Senate Judiciary Chairman Orrin Hatch, and religious conservative leaders such as Jerry Falwell and Tim LaHaye, all rallied behind Moon.
Next: Moon’s influence did not stop there.
The former pariah became a martyr for religious freedom
By the summer of 1985, Moon got released from prison and began benefiting from the Reagan Revolution. His newspaper, The Washington Times, became the mouthpiece of conservatives, and Reagan himself even read it. Church influences got involved in the Contra Affair, and even helped stage a coup in Bolivia, helping funnel money into anti-Communist efforts in Latin America. Moon also launched the American Family Coalition. It quickly surpassed the Moral Majority as one of America’s leading religious conservative organizations, which remains influential today.
Next: You might recognize some of these names as Moon allies.
The Bush family stood alongside the Moon church
As Moon’s influence on American society began to wane in the 1990s, he turned his attention toward conservative black churches and Democrats. The church even launched the Women’s Federation for World Peace. That organization said his theology called for the “liberation of women.” Several times, former President George H.W. Bush and his wife Barbara, who raked in Moon family donations, appeared alongside Moon’s wife, who spearheaded the organization. Now-former Vice President Joe Biden, who considered a presidential run in 2008, even got involved in the Moon empire.
Next: The Biden family put their money in the Moons.
Even Biden sided with a faction of the Moon empire
According to sworn statements from people involved in the deal, Biden worried that his son Hunter’s lobbying career could hurt his campaign. He allegedly asked his brother James to find Hunter a new job. and Paradigm Global Partners, Moon’s son-in-law’s James Park’s hedge fund, came to the rescue. In the spring of 2006, James Park, Anthony Lolito, and James Biden signed an agreement that gave them a controlling stake in the company, in return for $21 million in cash. Hunter Biden became CEO, with a $1.2 million salary.
Soon though, the Bidens realized Paradigm’s books did not rest on solid ground. Financial backers fled, the economy crumbled, and in 2010, Paradigm filed for voluntary liquidation. “It was a thicket,” Hunter Biden told The New Republic. “Every time you thought you saw a way out, there would be another road block.” Pretty much everyone involved took a financial loss, and the family unity never really recovered.
Next: Today, Sean Moon’s church takes a terrifying new turn.
This gun-worshiping church represents a new faction
Moon died in 2012, and his children splintered, now operating independently. The AP notes that Sean Moon’s church retains no ties to the original Unification Church. “The younger Moon’s congregation is a breakaway faction of the Unification Church, which had distanced itself from Wednesday’s event,” it said in a statement. Part of the church’s new teachings believe the AR-15 represents a vital part of their doctrine.
Next: A recent service sparked concern in the community.
An elementary school closed for fear of the church’s service
On Feb. 28, the church held a Cosmic True Parents of Heaven, Earth and Humanity Cheon Il Guk Book of Life Registration Blessing ceremony. It came as part of the church’s week-long “Festival of Grace,” which included a “President Trump Thank You Dinner.” Attendees brought their AR-15’s, allegedly to receive blessings.
Concern over Wednesday’s gathering prompted a nearby elementary school to cancel classes for the day. It also sparked a small demonstration outside the church. One protester told The AP, “it’s scaring people in the community.”
Next: The members hold some scary beliefs.
Some members believe in bearing arms as a religious doctrine
During the service, Moon prayed for “a kingdom of peace police and peace militia, where the citizens, through the right given to them by almighty God to keep and bear arms, will be able to protect one another and protect human flourishing.” Many of the attendees wore crowns, some of them made of bullets. “We pray they would stand as kings and queens with their crown and rod of iron,” he continued.
Jonathan Franco told Scranton’s WNEP TV, “If you don’t have a rod of iron then, unfortunately, you can come into a situation where your life can come to an end. Who else is there to blame if you yourself didn’t take the responsibility to preserve your own life?”
Sreymom Ouk, who attended the ceremony with her husband, Sort Ouk, and an AR-15, told the AP that she needed the weapon to defend against “sickos and evil psychopaths. People have the right to bear arms, and in God’s kingdom, you have to protect that,” she said. “You have to protect against evil.”
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