Unification News for July 2004
Interfaith Leaders Address "Crown" Controversy
by Rev. Mike Leone
Some 20 Jewish, Christian, Muslim and Native American religious leaders joined in a statement of support for Reverend and Mrs. Sun Myung Moon’s global work for peace, speaking out in a June 30, 2004 Press Conference at the National Press Club in Washington, DC. The group praised the "Crown of Peace" Awards Ceremony held on March 23, 2004 at the Dirksen Senate Office Building, in which the 84 year-old religious leader and his wife were honored as the "King and Queen of Peace," for their lifetime efforts for interreligious reconciliation. Some media reports have criticized the Capitol Hill event, because ceremonial robes and crowns were awarded to Rev. and Mrs. Moon. A video of the event, shown on the internet, led some critics to dub the event a "coronation" of Reverend and Mrs. Moon.
Among those who disagreed with that assessment, and spoke out at the Wednesday Press Conference were Archbishop George Augustus Stallings, an event organizer, Rabbi Mordechai Waldmann from Detroit, Michigan, who blew the "shofar" or ram’s horn at the awards ceremony, and Imam Pasha Salahuddin, an American Muslim leader from Patterson, NJ who also attended the Capitol Hill ceremony. Joining the Christian, Jewish and Muslim clerics at the event was Native American leader Gayokla Nichi Ayala from Los Angeles.
Testifying to the genuine character of Reverend Moon’s interfaith and reconciliation work in the Middle East were 2 representatives from the Holy Land: Father Abous Hatoum, an Orthodox Christian Priest from Nazareth, and Dr. Joshua Ben-Ami from Jerusalem.
Intense media and public interest were generated when freelance journalist John Gorenfeld, who maintains an internet blog focusing on Reverend Moon’s activities, displayed a video of the March 23rd event on the internet, claiming that the award had in fact political significance, and that it violated the principle of separation of church and state. The film, assembled and edited in Korea, begins and ends with scenes of the Rev. and Mrs. Moon receiving the ceremonial robes and crowns, giving the impression to some that the entire banquet and awards ceremony was focused on that award. It also depicted a number of US senators and congressional leaders present at various moments during the program.
Gorenfeld, author of reports criticizing the event that were published in Salon.com, The Gadflyer, and elsewhere, mobilized a host of blogwriters and web-based advocacy groups, who confronted each lawmaker who attended, or their staffs, portraying the event in a sinister light and questioning the participation of the congressman. Some explained they attended only briefly in between congressional debates to honor their constituents (a common practice when congress is in session) among the nearly 100 state and national "Crown of Peace" awardees that evening. Others claimed they had no knowledge of Reverend Moon’s participation in the event. Virtually all distanced themselves from any religious affiliation with the Reverend Moon.
In their crusade to "expose" the event as an inappropriate expression of religion in a government setting, some critics, such as Ron Gunzburger’s "Politics1" website, even contacted the political opponents of congressmen who attended, encouraging them to use their opponents’ participation as a campaign issue. Some organizers of the "Crown of Peace" awards assert that the motives of Gorenfeld and others are pure politics, taking aim at Reverend Moon’s pro-family, conservative positions.
Gorenfeld claims that Reverend Moon seeks the "extermination" of homosexuals, the "conversion" of Jews whom he blames for the holocaust, and seeks to take over America and the world. Participants in the June 30th Press Conference, nearly all of whom attended the March 23rd interfaith event, and said that nothing could be further from the truth. They pointed out that Gorenfeld had never even tried to get their side of the story.
"I experienced a miracle on March 23rd," said Rabbi Waldmann. "I have never experienced Jews, Christians, and Muslims united in such a strong commitment to unity and peace. These people are simply coming together as brothers and sisters, breaking down the hatred and separation that is causing so much bloodshed. Rev. Moon is teaching about the one true God, the God of our common father Abraham, and causing his children to come together," said Rabbi Waldmann.
Those who came from Israel agreed: "Interfaith work is common in the US," said Dr. Ben-Ami, director of the Emil Frank Institute. "But Rev. Moon has brought thousands of Jews, Muslims and Christians to the Holy Land as Ambassadors for Peace. These delegations have been to Gaza many times, and are the only interreligious group allowed to enter the Al Aqsa Mosque in these difficult days." Father Hatoum added, "Rev. Moon has given us strength, hope and support for peace in the Holy Land. They have moved the hearts of so many. This kind of work changes the spirit, the atmosphere. We need it badly. We have centuries of bitterness and pain to overcome."
One-by-one, speakers denied the various claims made by critics of the event. The original invitation letters were provided, clearly indicating the presence and awarding of Reverend Moon at the Capitol Hill event. "No one was "duped" into attending," said IIFWP spokesperson Mike Leone. "But let’s be fair. Some congressmen simply came because they heard that a constituent was being awarded on the Hill. Others were invited to speak as experts on international relations. We never claimed that they had any religious affiliation with Rev. Moon." Jewish leaders present were adamant that the movement fosters no anti-semitism, and asks no one to convert.
As to Reverend Moon’s claim to have a messianic mission, each seemed to understand it in their own way. "Judaism teaches that the Meshiach (Messiah) will only come when we have created the right conditions of righteousness, healing and preparing the world," said Rabbi David Ben-Ami of Harrisburg, Pa., director of the American Forum for Jewish-Christian-Muslim cooperation. "Rev. Moon is gathering religious leaders to reconciliation. Judaism calls this "Tikkun Olam," repairing the world. When we do this, we hasten the Messiah’s coming."’ Added Rev. Carl Rawls of Alabama, ‘Messiah means "anointed one." Rev. Moon is not Jesus, nor does he claim to be. But he is anointed by Jesus, and is calling us all to be "messiahs."’ Leone pointed out that every one of the 100 awards given that night were emblazoned with a crown. "It wasn’t only Rev. and Mrs. Moon," he said. "Everyone received a crown of peace."
Dr. Chang Shik Yang, representative of Reverend and Mrs. Moon in North America, read a brief statement from the founder, expressing gratitude and love for America and its people. Rev. Moon thanked the religious leaders who are standing with him, and expressed confidence that their solidarity would allow God to work to heal the nation and realize peace. Rev. Michael Jenkins, Co-Chairman of IIFWP- USA addressed the church-state issue, noting that America was founded upon the "self-evident" truth that its rights are "endowed by the Creator." "From the abolitionists of the 19th century to Dr. King and the civil rights movement, religious leaders have often served as the conscience of the nation," Jenkins expressed, "calling us to return to those self-evident truths. That is why Rev. Moon comes to Capitol Hill. To call the nation to its founding principles."
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