The Words of the d'Silva Family

Rev. Moon To Visit Las Vegas To Discuss Recent Gang Deaths - Interview With Godwin D'Silva

April 9, 2001
By Stacy J. Willis
Las Vegas Sun

He's been called a cult leader and a prophet, a convicted felon and a business tycoon. Now the Rev. Sun Myung Moon is being called upon to bring peace to violence-plagued neighborhoods in the Las Vegas Valley.

Moon, leader of a multimillion-dollar religious organization known as the Family Federation for World Peace, the Unification Church or "the Moonies," will be speaking in West Las Vegas Wednesday night.

"Rev. Moon has indicated in the last few months that he wants to invest in the black community," the Rev. Godwin D'Silva, regional director of the Family Federation, a Bible-based faith, said. "The violence in Las Vegas has taken a turn for the worse, and Rev. Moon has some very effective programs for addressing that."

There have been eight homicides in West Las Vegas and North Las Vegas in the last two months -- drive-by shootings and gang-related deaths -- and clergy from all faiths have been outspoken about the need for unity and healing.

D'Silva came to Las Vegas from Los Angeles six weeks ago to meet with local church, and business and civic leaders to discuss the possibility of Moon funding new anti-violence community programs and establishing his religious and business presence in Las Vegas.

But many an eyebrow was raised when the Rev. Marion Bennett at Zion United Methodist Church decided to host the controversial religious leader.

"Generally, Rev. Moon's group is classified as a cult, and in that respect, it's a little surprising it's happening in Zion," said the Rev. Dan Worley, a Methodist minister at Desert Springs Church.

"United Methodists don't have any cooperative in any way with that group," Worley said. "I am cautious about them. I am cautious about the way they do their funding, and I'm not clear where their money goes."

Moon, 81, has been accused of bribery, bank fraud, espionage, illegal kickbacks and illegal sales of arms in the United States. He was convicted of tax evasion in 1982, and served 18 months in a U.S. federal prison. Upon his release, several prominent religious leaders from other faiths called unsuccessfully for his pardon, including the Rev. Jerry Falwell.

Moon and his church own hundreds of companies around the world, from restaurants and carpet cleaners to automobile manufacturing plants and the Washington Times. D'Silva said he is uncertain whether Moon's planned contributions to community programs will lead to further business ventures in Las Vegas.

Moon is renowned for conducting mass marriages in which strangers are matched up with one another by church leaders.

Critics say that the marriages are a method in which vulnerable young adults are swept into the religion and pressured to stay, and that the church's proselytizing is too strident. Last year UNLV temporarily banned the group from recruiting on campus after some students alleged the group was using intimidating tactics. The group was restored to campus after alleging the college was violating its First Amendment rights. Although the church's original compound is in Seoul, South Korea, it began setting up in the United States in the 1960s, and now has a large center in Napa County, Calif. Moon's former daughter-in-law Nansook Hong went public in 1998 alleging that Moon's compound was rife with drugs, gambling and sexual abuse. The church claims more than 10,000 "core members" in the United States and more than 500,000 followers worldwide. About 25 families belong to the Family Federation for World Peace in Las Vegas. The religion, called demanding and conservative, is one in which members believe Moon was visited by Jesus on a Korean hillside in the 1950s, and is this generation's Messiah. Members are forbidden from drinking, smoking or having premarital sex.

Moon's stop in Las Vegas, although meant to address recent violence, will be the 46th stop on a 50-state speaking tour.

Bennett, a longtime West Las Vegas leader, has been following Moon for 20 years despite the difference in denominations.

"I like him because he's interested in uniting the whole community," Bennett said. "Some denominations spend money in the community trying to build their own church, but he just wants to unite all people with similar values -- Hindu or Buddhist or Christian or Muslim. Our community needs that. "

Not everyone in his congregation was delighted to hear the church would be hosting Moon.

"I had one woman recently write me a nasty letter and say he's a cult leader and that I'm bringing a cult into the church. And I had a minister at another church call me and say I shouldn't be hosting him. But in this day and age, the world is getting smaller and you need to widen your perspective.

"When you're a risk taker for the kingdom, you expect to have some resistance," Bennett said.

In addition to Bennett, D'Silva said he has met with other clergy including Duke Muhammad, a local Nation of Islam leader, and the Rev. Emanuel Wasson of Holy Trinity African Methodist Episcopal Church and president of Shepherd Hills Development Corp., a low-income housing development in West Las Vegas.

"Rev. Moon puts his money where his mouth is. We are exploring the possibility of investing in some programs here, but we are not sure what the needs are yet. Maybe educational centers or job programs," D'Silva said.

D'Silva said he expects more than 700 people to attend the 5:30 p.m. dinner and speech at Zion Methodist Church on Wednesday. Moon will speak for one hour.

"His message will be called 'Humanity in the New Millennium,' " D'Silva said. "He will speak about the importance of family in our communities, and particularly in this community."

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