A June 23 article about a congressional ceremony honoring the Rev. Sun Myung Moon paraphrased an aide to Sen. Mark Dayton (D-Minn.) saying the St. Paul Pioneer Press was persuaded to write about the event after the senator asked the newspaper to do so. The Pioneer Press says its article was prompted by reports of the ceremony carried on Web sites, not by calls from Dayton or his staff. The June 23 article also incorrectly reported the Rev. Walter Fauntroy's tenure as the District's congressional delegate. He served 20 years. (Published 6/24/04)
More than a dozen lawmakers attended a congressional reception this year honoring the Rev. Sun Myung Moon in which Moon declared himself the Messiah and said his teachings have helped Hitler and Stalin be "reborn as new persons."
At the March 23 ceremony in the Dirksen Senate Office Building, Rep. Danny K. Davis (D-Ill.) wore white gloves and carried a pillow holding an ornate crown that was placed on Moon's head. The Korean-born businessman and religious leader then delivered a long speech saying he was "sent to Earth . . . to save the world's six billion people. . . . Emperors, kings and presidents . . . have declared to all Heaven and Earth that Reverend Sun Myung Moon is none other than humanity's Savior, Messiah, Returning Lord and True Parent."
Details of the ceremony -- first reported by Salon.com writer John Gorenfeld -- have prompted several lawmakers to say they were misled or duped by organizers. Their complaints prompted a Moon-affiliated Web site to remove a video of the "Crown of Peace" ceremony two days ago, but other Web sites have preserved details and photos.
Moon, 85, has been controversial for years. Renowned for officiating at mass weddings, he received an 18-month prison sentence in 1982 for tax fraud and conspiracy to obstruct justice. In a 1997 sermon, he likened homosexuals to "dirty dung-eating dogs."
Among the more than 300 people who attended all or part of the March ceremony was Sen. Mark Dayton (D-Minn.), who now says he simply was honoring a constituent receiving a peace award and did not know Moon would be there. "We fell victim to it; we were duped," Dayton spokeswoman Chris Lisi said yesterday.
Other lawmakers who attended or were listed as hosts felt the same, she said. "Everyone I talked to was furious," she said. With Minnesotans demanding to know whether Dayton is a follower of Moon, Lisi said, the senator persuaded the St. Paul Pioneer Press to write an article allowing him to reply.
The event's organizers flew in nearly 100 honorees from all 50 states to receive state and national peace awards. The only "international crown of peace awards" went to Moon and his wife.
Some Republicans who attended the event, including Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett (Md.), said they did so mainly to salute the Washington Times, a conservative-leaning newspaper owned by Moon's organization. "I had no idea what would happen" regarding Moon's coronation and speech, Bartlett said yesterday.
But a key organizer -- Archbishop George A. Stallings Jr., pastor of the Imani Temple, an independent African American Catholic congregation in Northeast Washington -- said Moon's prominent role should have surprised no one. He said a March 8 invitation faxed to all lawmakers stated that the "primary program sponsor" would be the "Interreligious and International Federation for World Peace (IIFWP), founded by Rev. Dr. and Mrs. Sun Myung Moon, who will also be recognized that evening for their lifelong work to promote interfaith cooperation and reconciliation." The invitation was signed by Davis and the Rev. Michael Jenkins, as co-chairmen of the IIFWP (USA).
The event's co-sponsors were the Washington Times Foundation, the United Press International Foundation, the American Family Coalition, the American Clergy Leadership Conference and the Women's Federation for World Peace, according to the invitation. Stallings, a former Roman Catholic priest who was married in Moon's church, said Moon's association with those organizations is well known.
"You'd have to be deaf, dumb and blind to not know that any event that is sponsored by the Washington Times . . . could involve the influence, or the potential presence, of the Reverend Moon," he said.
Use of the Dirksen building requires a senator's approval. Dayton said he gave no such permission, and Stallings said the question of who did so is "shrouded in mystery."
Moon has claimed to have spoken in "the spirit world" with all deceased U.S. presidents, Jesus, Moses, Mohammed and others. At the March 23 event, he said: "The founders of five great religions and many other leaders in the spirit world, including even Communist leaders such as Marx and Lenin . . . and dictators such as Hitler and Stalin, have found strength in my teachings, mended their ways and been reborn as new persons."
Several Web sites quoted Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.) as praising Moon at the event for "always standing up for what is right." In an interview yesterday, Cummings said, "I don't recall saying that. That may have been confused with what I was saying" about Bishop Joseph Showell, a constituent being honored.
The Rev. Walter Fauntroy, a Democrat who was the District's congressional delegate for 10 years, was the event's master of ceremonies and recipient of a "National Crown of Peace" award. Also speaking at the event was Rep. Curt Weldon (R-Pa.).
Davis said in an interview that he is a lifelong Methodist who does not agree with many of Moon's religious teachings. But he praised Moon's efforts to promote world peace. Davis said that some Moon associates have donated money to his congressional campaigns, but that that has nothing to do with his support for Moon's organization.
The prominent role played by Davis, Fauntroy and Stallings, among others, reflects Moon's efforts to reach out to the black community. Jenkins said many African American clergy members "have become strong allies" of Moon because they sympathize with the "mistreatment and labeling" he has faced.