WASHINGTON — Religious leaders aligned with Rev. Sun Myung Moon on Wednesday, defending Moon’s Capitol Hill coronation ceremony as a recognition of three decades pursuing peace, not the bizarre ritual portrayed by a media “witch hunt.”
The coronation ceremony, held in a Senate office building, saw Moon, the head of the Unification Church, presented with a tall golden crown and flowing red robes and proclaimed “King of Peace” as a rabbi blew a ram’s horn.
Moon then told an audience of members of Congress and religious and political leaders that his teachings had saved the souls of Josef Stalin and Adolf Hitler and he been hailed as a Messiah by the spirit world.
The March event went almost entirely unnoticed until a stinging piece was published in Salon.com. Since then, major publications have raised questions about the propriety of members of Congress attending an event in a government building during which Moon was praised as the Messiah.
U.S. Rep. Chris Cannon, R-Utah, and state Sen. Howard Stephenson, R-Draper — listed on the invitation as hosts of the March event — deny any such involvement and said they were misled about the nature of the event.
“As far as we knew, we had their full approval to go forward with this event,” said the Rev. Michael Jenkins, co-chairman of the Interreligious and International Federation for World Peace-USA, a Moon-backed group. “We also believe that the heat got too hot.”
Because of the backlash, the group refused to say which senator sponsored the event.
But far too much is being made of the event, said about 15 leaders of Jewish, Muslim and Christian faiths and an American Indian leader.
Archbishop George Augustus Stallings, who founded his own African-centered Catholic offshoot in Washington, said the ceremony for Moon and his wife was “not to crown them as lords of any temporal power, but to celebrate the spiritual role they play as religious leaders.”
Said Imam Ameer Salahud’din, a Muslim leader from New Jersey, “The Koran teaches us when you see someone working in a good cause, you should support it.”
Messiah has many meanings, he said. Moon did not use it in the typical Christian sense, but as someone sent by God to work for peace, and in that sense he is a Messiah, Salahud’din said.
Moon’s spokesman, Chang Shik Yang, said the church leader wished to express his gratitude to the leaders who stood with him and that “the Rev. Moon sees the need for harmony among all people of faith.”
Jenkins said Cannon and Stephenson had been co-sponsors of past events and he expects to have their support in the future because they are “men of God.”
Cannon’s spokeswoman, Meghan Riding, said the congressman attended a Feb. 4 event where Stephenson was honored with a good governance award, but never agreed to host the March 23 ceremony and did not attend.
Stephenson did attend, and presented an award to an American Indian leader.
Former Congressman and state Sen. Howard Nielson also received an award from the group.
But Stephenson said he left when the religious tone of Moon’s recognition made him uncomfortable.
“To have a seminar on Middle East peace and then segue into a religious ceremony was inappropriate and that’s why I left,” Stephenson said.