WASHINGTON, June 23 – As a shining symbol of democracy, the United States capital is not ordinarily a place where coronations occur. So news that the Rev. Sun Myung Moon, the eccentric and exceedingly wealthy Korean-born businessman, donned a crown in a Senate office building and declared himself the Messiah while members of Congress watched is causing a bit of a stir.
One congressman, Representative Danny K. Davis, Democrat of Illinois, wore white gloves and carried a pillow holding one of two ornate gold crowns that were placed on the heads of Mr. Moon and his wife, Dr. Hak Ja Han Moon, at the ceremony, which took place March 23 and capped a reception billed as a peace awards banquet.
Mr. Davis says he held the wife’s crown and was “a bit surprised” by Mr. Moon’s Messiah remarks, which were delivered in Korean but accompanied by a written translation. In them, he said emperors, kings and presidents had “declared to all heaven and earth that Reverend Sun Myung Moon is none other than humanity’s Savior, Messiah, Returning Lord and True Parent.”
By Wednesday, after news of the event had been reported in the online magazine Salon and various newspapers, Capitol Hill was in full-blown backpedaling mode, as lawmakers who attended but missed the coronation – or saw it and did not think much of it – struggled to explain themselves.
“I remember the king and queen thing,” said Representative Roscoe G. Bartlett, Republican of Maryland, “But we have the king and queen of the prom, the king and queen of 4-H, the Mardi Gras and all sorts of other things. I had no idea what he was king of.”
Others, like Senator Mark Dayton, Democrat of Minnesota, insisted they were duped and had no idea that the organization holding the reception was connected to Mr. Moon. Mr. Dayton said he attended because a constituent was being honored. He left before the crowning.
“I never saw Reverend Moon present during the time I was there,” Mr. Dayton said. “I did not stay for any formal program.”
At 84, Mr. Moon cuts a curious figure in Washington, where he mingles with the city’s power elite by dint of his dual roles as religious leader and media mogul. He owns The Washington Times, which bills itself as a conservative alternative to The Washington Post, as well as United Press International, the wire service. He calls himself “Father” and has drawn notoriety for officiating at mass weddings. Mr. Moon’s Unification Church has many tentacles, including the Interreligious and International Federation for World Peace, which held what it called an Ambassadors for Peace awards banquet in the Dirksen Office Building on March 23. An initial invitation, sent to all members of Congress, stated that Mr. Moon and his wife would also be present and honored for their work. But follow-up letters, including one provided by Mr. Dayton, mentioned only the peace foundation and simply told lawmakers who from their states was being honored.
Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United, an organization devoted to preserving the separation of church and state, said Mr. Moon often drew lawmakers into his fold in this way. Mr. Lynn said it seemed Mr. Moon was courting black lawmakers, including Mr. Davis of Illinois and Representative Elijah E. Cummings of Maryland, who attended but said he did not stay for the crowning ceremony.
“Reverend Moon has been very intentional about promoting his activities within the African-American church community,” Mr. Lynn said. But he said he was disturbed by lawmakers’ “flimsy excuses,” adding, “You had what effectively amounted to a religious coronation in a government building of a man who claims literally to be the savior.”
Mr. Cummings, however, said the invitation was similar to countless requests he receives to honor local constituents, in this case a black bishop in his district. Mr. Bartlett said he attended to support The Washington Times. “I’m a conservative,” he said. “I’m delighted that we have a middle-of-the-road paper in Washington.”
The event itself attracted little notice, though Mr. Lynn’s organization wrote about it in a newsletter in May. The uproar did not occur until this week, when John Gorenfeld, a freelance writer, published an account of the event in Salon. Mr. Gorenfeld, who wrote that at least a dozen members of Congress attended, said he had been scouting the Internet, researching Mr. Moon, when he stumbled on a video of the ceremony.
“Nobody sent it to me,” he said. “I discovered it and I thought, ‘Oh, my God.’ ”
But Archbishop George A. Stallings, pastor of the Imani Temple, an independent African-American Catholic church in Washington, who helped coordinate the reception, does not see what all the fuss is about. “From his spiritual perspective,” he said, referring to Mr. Moon, “that is how he sees his role, as ordained by God.”
He added: “This is not the first time the man has been on Capitol Hill.”
As to whether it will be the last, that is an open question. To hold the event in the Dirksen building, the organization was required to find a senator to act as a sponsor. But the identity of the sponsor remained a secret on Wednesday; the Senate Rules and Administration Committee, which approved the request, would not release the name.
Susan Irby, a spokeswoman for Senator Trent Lott of Mississippi, the committee chairman, said staff members were examining the application, filed in the name of The Washington Times Foundation, to see if there were any violations of Senate rules.
Mr. Davis said he had attended meetings of the peace foundation, knowing of Mr. Moon’s involvement.
Of the crowning ceremony, Mr. Davis said: “It’s my understanding that what they were doing was recognizing Mr. and Mrs. Moon as parents. They call it true parents, as parents who provide parental guidance or parental direction. That’s what it meant to me. It meant nothing more and nothing less.”