In one of his first moves as president, George W. Bush signed a proclamation designating the day after the inauguration as a National Day of Prayer and Thanksgiving. Hold onto your prayer shawls my friends, because out of the pomp and pomposity of the inauguration comes the rising of the Rev. Sun Myung Moon.
The Jan. 19, pre-inaugural prayer luncheon was attended by some 1,700 religious, civic and political leaders. The guest list included a host of Religious Right luminaries: the ubiquitous Rev. Jerry Falwell, former National Evangelical Association President Don Argue, Trinity Broadcasting Network's Paul Crouch and a host of leaders from the Southern Baptist Convention.
According to a front-page story in the Moon-owned Washington Times, Sen. John Ashcroft, who had not yet been confirmed as President Bush's attorney general, dropped by and "brought down the house with a tale of amazing grace." One of the featured speakers at the luncheon was Dr. Tony Evans, head of the Texas-based group, The Urban Alternative. Dr. Evans, an African-American, is an entertaining and unrestrained speaker with a penchant for saying outrageous things. He is frequently a featured speaker at assorted Promise Keepers events around the country. He is also a close friend and confidant to President Bush.
Despite being a rhetorically charged and lively interdenominational event, some leaders from the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) backpedaled quickly after learning that the Inaugural Prayer Luncheon for Unity and Renewal was sponsored by the Rev. Moon-run Washington Times Foundation.
In a Jan. 23 report from Baptist Press, some SBC officials claimed they knew nothing about Moon's imprint on the event.
"We knew that it was going to be an interdenominational event, but we had no idea that the luncheon was hosted by the Moonies," said Merritt, pastor of an Atlanta-area church. This despite the fact that for years Moon has been lending a helping hand to several financially challenged Religious Right organizations; not long ago, he gave a large donation to help shore up the Rev. Jerry Falwell's financially troubled Liberty University.
Moon, the owner of a large group of media outlets, which include the Times, delivered an address at the prayer luncheon, and then handed out complimentary copies of one of his books and other Unification Church materials.
Full Moon rising
One of the Unification Church's desired outcomes from sponsoring a prayer gathering of this magnitude was to indicate that the Rev. Moon could still bring together a diverse group of religious and civic leaders.
Rev. Moon's Unification Church, which enjoys 501(c)(3) nonprofit tax status, is once again finding fertile ground for its political mission.
For a period of time during the past few years, things weren't looking so good for the Reverend and his family. In 1998, Moon's former daughter-in-law, Nansook Hong, wrote an explosive book, In the Shadow of the Moons, detailing her stormy relationship with Moon's eldest son, Hyo Jin Moon, including alcoholism, drug abuse, wife beating and his cavorting with prostitutes. In October 1999, another of Moon's sons, Phillip Youngiin Moon, committed suicide by jumping from a 17th-story balcony at Harrah's hotel in Reno.
According to Don Lattin, religion writer for the San Francisco Chronicle, revelations in Nansook Hong's book, coupled with the death of Moon's son were important because they strike at the heart of Moon's teachings "that he and his wife are the True Parents of a new spiritual lineage born without original sin."
The much-publicized dysfunctionality of Rev. Moon's family was in part responsible for keeping him out of the public spotlight recently. However, in recent months the Rev. Moon has re-emerged, participating in a series of high-profile events aimed at what the church calls unification -- meaning the "melt[ing] down [of] all denominational barriers to form one body of Christ," according to the Rev. Michael Jenkins, a top Moon official.
In mid-October, Moon's Unification Church provided critical financial and organizational support to Nation of Islam Minister Louis Farrakhan's Million Family March in Washington D.C. Hundreds of Unification Church followers were mobilized to help organize, finance and attend the Washington, D.C. gathering.
Moon's minions were also intimately involved in the vote counting fiasco in Florida. On Dec. 1, according to the magazine Church & State, "Moon's American Clergy Leadership Conference (ACLC) sponsored a press conference in front of the Supreme Court to coincide with legal arguments before the justices over the Florida election results." This event was another interfaith call to "unite upon the common ground of America's tradition of faith in God to prevent the continued partisan struggle over the election results in Florida from further polarizing the nation."
Show me the money
Rev. Moon's Unification Church non-profit front groups might become beneficiaries of President Bush's recently launched faith-based initiative that allows religious organizations to compete with secular groups for government funding for social service programs.
According to The New York Times, the Unification Church is already planning to stake its claim on these funds. "You will see us involved in any area where we can partner in practical projects with government," said the Rev. Phillip D. Schanker, the Unification Church's vice president for public affairs.
Over the years, the Bush family has developed a close relationship with the Rev. Moon. According to veteran reporter Robert Parry, "Moon-affiliated organizations paid for speeches by former President Bush in the United States, Asia and South America. The price tag for the speeches has been estimated at from hundreds of thousands of dollars to $10 million." During the 2000 presidential campaign, the Washington Times threw their whole-hearted support behind George W. Bush.
As we move into the new millennium, the Rev. Moon has begun to repackage himself and his Unification Church. His intention remains true -- to unite all Christians under the authority of the "True Parents," which, of course, are the Rev. Moon and his wife Hak Ja Han.
Bill Berkowitz is an Oakland, Calif.-based freelance writer covering the Religious Right and related conservative movements. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.