It was a night of unusual alliances and unexpected juxtapositions.
Washington Times Editor in Chief Arnaud de Borchgrave shared the podium with Southern Christian Leadership Conference president Joseph Lowery. Both D.C. Del. Walter Fauntroy and Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah sent letters of support. And Unification Church leader Rev. Sun Myung Moon, the guest of honor, addressed a diverse audience that was at least half black, and he heard his heavily accented call for religious rebirth greeted with cries of "All right!" and "Amen!"
Hours after his release from a New York City halfway house, where he had been serving a term for tax evasion, Moon was received as a hero, a martyr and a symbol at last night's "God and Freedom Banquet" at the Omni Shoreham Hotel. About 1,700 religious leaders, Moon supporters and friends attended what was called "a welcome home party" where everyone honored Moon, decried his trial and imprisonment as examples of religious and racial persecution, and claimed a new wave of religious intolerance is influencing the government and the nation.
And if some went out of their way to distance themselves from the Unification Church and its supporters, Moon still received a standing ovation when he arrived and again when he left.
"If you are for religious freedom for anybody, you have to be for religious freedom for everybody," Lowery told the audience at the dinner, which was sponsored by a variety of groups, including many organizations connected with the Unification Church. Guests paid nothing at the door. Organizers said the dinner, which was expected to cost about $100,000, was paid for by contributions from 60 organizations and 2,500 individuals.
"I don't agree with Reverend Moon's Unification Church theology," Lowery said later. "That's irrelevant. I do uphold his right to worship and fund the affairs of the church without interference from the government. If they can do this to Rev. Moon! He supports Reagan. What about someone who's been critical of Reagan? . . . The black church would be particularly threatened by this."
Seated in front of a giant welcoming sign bordered by two large American flags, Moon received a large trophy, an Indian drum and a card of appreciation from admirers. He listened with a smile as Hatch, via a letter, described Moon's imprisonment as "a miscarriage of justice" and applauded the Unification Church for serving as a "religious alternative to communism," and later heard the exhortations of the Rev. Donald Sills, chaplain for the World Conference of Mayors and president of the Coalition for Religious Freedom, a group that includes Rev. Jerry Falwell. "The sleeping giant of God's people is awake and alert," Sills said to an applauding audience.
Overall, the tone would have pleased a conservative's conservative as the speakers condemned communist "disinformation" and "humanistic and false philosophies taught by some of those teachers" and proclaimed support for school prayer.
In his remarks, which more closely resembled a sermon than a speech, Moon said, "Unfortunately, this country continues to ignore the monumental will of God. America is withdrawing more and more from its global responsibilities, preferring to enjoy false comfort as if this nation were a world unto itself . . . Serious racial problems, deterioration of social, ethical and moral values, decline of religious life and Christian faith and the rise of materialism and communism will not disappear just by ignoring them.
"God called me to come to America because of these problems . . . A new religious reformation must take place. Christianity must transcend denominationalism and ascend to a higher dimension."
The audience, following the often fuzzily pronounced words in texts distributed to every table, called out its assent. One ballroom wasn't large enough to hold the crowd, so closed-circuit televisions broadcast the speeches to the diners who couldn't see them in person. When Moon finished, the crowds flooded into the halls, where there were piles of free copies of a book containing 39 Moon sermons. Judging from the gridlock at the stacks, no one was refusing.