WASHINGTON — Although their names were listed with event organizers and hosts, three Utahns say they had nothing to do with planning a controversial Capitol Hill dinner where the Rev. Sun Myung Moon proclaimed himself the Messiah and had a crown and royal robes placed on him and his wife.
Rep. Chris Cannon, R-Utah; State Sen. Howard Stephenson, R-Draper; and Franklin-Covey founder Stephen Covey were listed by Moon’s Interreligious and International Federation for World Peace as members of the “host committee” for the March 23 dinner it sponsored in the Dirksen Senate Office Building.
Spokesmen for Cannon and Covey say they did not attend that event, nor did they help plan it or give permission for their names to be used as hosts. Stephenson did attend but said he did not help organize it. He said he also walked out after Moon proclaimed himself the Messiah “because I didn’t want to imply my endorsement.”
Former Rep. Howard Nielson, R-Utah, also attended the dinner, where the organization gave him an award as an “ambassador for peace” after he earlier in the day gave a presentation for a seminar sponsored by such Moon organizations as the Washington Times Foundation about prospects for Middle East peace.
“What he (Moon) said was really over the top. And then they almost deified him” by placing the crown and robes on him, Nielson said. “I didn’t walk out like Howard (Stephenson) did, but I did not endorse what they were doing.”
Moon, head of the Unification Church and owner of the Washington Times, told the dinner audience that in the spirit world, Marx, Lenin, Hitler and Stalin found strength in his teachings and have been reborn. He said they and saints proclaim that “Sun Myung Moon is none other than humanity’s Savior, Messiah, Returning Lord and True Parent.”
As belated reports of the event wandered off Internet sites and into the mainstream press this week, many members of Congress listed as attendees have been busy saying they were misled about what the dinner would be — and say they do not believe Moon is the Messiah.
Meghan Riding, spokeswoman for Cannon, said he was invited to the event because Nielson, a constituent, was to receive an award. She said he may have once planned to attend but did not.
She said he did not give permission for his name to be listed as one of six “congressional hosts.” She said Cannon also did not endorse what occurred at the event. She said Cannon did attend a February event where the same organization had given an award to Stephenson.
Covey’s office also said he did not attend the March 23 event or have anything to do with its planning and did not know how or why he was listed among the host committee.
Stephenson said he has attended several seminars sponsored by Moon organizations — including one the same day as the dinner.
“They tend to be quality programs on issues important to legislators,” he said. “They are not religious events, just seminars that tend to attract some big names and experts.”
He said he merely attended the banquet because it was in conjunction with one of those seminars. But he figures prominently in videos of the event because he presented one award and sat up front near Moon.
Stephenson said he was asked to be a last-minute replacement to present an award about Native American peace and was moved from a back table to the front to make that easier. He said he doesn’t remember what he said, although Internet reports said he apologized for U.S. misdeeds against Native Americans that led to a trail of tears.
He said when Moon talked “and things took a turn into religion,” he became uncomfortable. He said he left after Moon’s speech — and missed his “coronation” — because he did not want to imply that he endorsed any of that.