Wednesday, June 30, 2004

Religious leaders affiliated with the Unification Church yesterday defended the Rev. Sun Myung Moon against media criticism of a ceremony honoring him in a Senate office building meeting room three months ago.

More than a dozen Christian, Jewish and Muslim figures — including Rev. Moon’s North American representative, Chang Shik Yang — held a press conference at the National Press Club to dispute assertions of several legislators who attended the dinner and ceremony that they did not know Rev. Moon would be the main honoree.

Several of the religious figures further defended Rev. Moon’s use of the term “Messiah” to describe himself. They said he should be judged based on his efforts to promote peace.

“The term ‘Messiah’ is relative,” said the Rev. George A. Stallings, the archbishop of the Imani Temple African-American Catholic Congregation in the District. “It depends on your particular religious persuasion. Ultimately, we must judge Reverend Moon not by what he says but by what he does.”

The Rev. Michael Jenkins, co-chairman of the Interreligious and International Federation for World Peace, a Unification Church affiliate, was one of several speakers who compared Rev. Moon to Martin Luther King, Mohandas K. Gandhi and Jesus Christ. He said Rev. Moon has not claimed to be God.

The Washington Post and the New York Times, among other newspapers, reported last week that several legislators who attended the March 23 ceremony in the Dirksen Senate Office Building had attempted to distance themselves from the event, saying they were not told that Rev. Moon would be there or that he would be the main honoree. (The Washington Times identified the congressmen in an account of the dinner on March 24.)

About 300 people attended the dinner and ceremony, which recognized men and women from 50 states for their efforts to promote peace.

At that ceremony, Rep. Danny K. Davis, Illinois Democrat, carried a crown for Rev. Moon and his wife, Hak Ja Han Moon, as “King and Queen of Peace” to commemorate their efforts to promote interfaith cooperation and reconciliation. In his speech, Rev. Moon proclaimed himself to be “humanity’s Savior, Messiah, Returning Lord and True Parent.”

Archbishop Stallings offered his explanation of those remarks yesterday.

“He does not mean ‘Messiah’ in the context that a traditional Christian means Messiah,” he said. “He is not God. He is the Messiah, namely, the one who has been given the mission by Jesus to bring the world to restoration, to return it to God’s original ideals for men and women.”

Other legislators at the ceremony were Sens. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican, and Mark Dayton, Minnesota Democrat; Reps. Curt Weldon of Pennsylvania, Christopher B. Cannon of Utah and Roscoe G. Bartlett of Maryland, all Republicans, and Sanford D. Bishop Jr. of Georgia and Harold E. Ford Jr. of Tennessee, both Democrats.

Mr. Dayton’s spokeswoman told The Washington Post last week that the senator attended to honor one of his constituents who was receiving an award and that Mr. Dayton was “duped” into attending. The New York Times quoted Mr. Bartlett as saying: “I remember the king and queen thing. But we have a king and queen of the prom, the king and queen of 4-H, the Mardi Gras and all sorts of other things. I had no idea what he was king of.”

Archbishop Stallings said yesterday he did not know who sponsored the dinner. Any group seeking to hold an event in the Dirksen building must have a Senate sponsor; the Senate Rules and Administration Committee, which approves such requests, has not disclosed which senator sponsored the event.

“That is not our responsibility to respond to that question,” the archbishop said. “Read my lips: We do not know.”

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