By Kate Conger
By Brian Rinker
By Rachel Swan
By Anna Pulley
By Erin Sherbert
By Chris Roberts
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By Rachel Swan
In 2001, Brown suggested to mourners assembled at the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium a week after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks that the U.S. government was partly to blame for the attacks due to its failure to pursue peace in the Middle East. The remarks, delivered at a memorial service for 9/11 victims, prompted both U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein and then-Gov. Gray Davis, who were sharing the stage with Brown, to get up and leave.
But the speech was significant for another reason. As Brown acknowledges, his "call to peace" that day drew the attention of Moon's followers. Moon's organization presented him with an Ambassador for Peace Award and invited him to speak at its gatherings in the Bay Area. (The Unification Church's formal name, since the mid-1990s, is the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification.)
When Brown assumed the ACLC co-chairmanship, along with a member of the Unification Church, it provided the group with a marquee name that resonated among black ministers. He sits on the ACLC's executive committee for the Bay Area and is a fixture at its frequent "faith breakfasts" and other receptions at which traditional clergy, many of them African-American, are routinely among the invited guests. "Dr. Brown is doing exceptional work [with the ACLC], and I'm pleased to be part of it," says the Rev. Victor Madearis, senior pastor of Double Rock Baptist Church.
Since assuming the role, Brown, who says he isn't paid for his ACLC-related work, has attended Moon-sponsored events throughout the country, including a controversial 2004 ceremony on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., at which Moon was crowned as the world's Peace King. Brown says he has met with Moon "two or three times" and has gone on Moon-sponsored pilgrimages to South Korea, the Middle East, and elsewhere.
The former supervisor, appointed by then-Mayor Willie Brown in 1996 and defeated in the 2000 election by Gerardo Sandoval, says Moon's "message of peace and his helping the poor" meshes well with Third Baptist's own charitable endeavors. The church has for years helped resettle immigrants from war-torn Sudan and has helped bring dozens of African children with special medical needs to the United States for treatment. However, Brown says, Third Baptist receives no financial assistance from Moon. "He [Moon] is doing a lot of things to help poor people around the world, and I've made it clear [to Moon's representatives] that I would like to see them extend their interest to Africa or they probably wouldn't see a lot of me," Brown says.
Although preferring not to discuss Moon's theology, Brown is quick to disavow what he calls Moon's "homophobic" statements toward gays and lesbians, whom Moon once castigated in a 1997 speech as "dung-eating dogs." And despite his prominent place within the Moon clergy outreach group, he insists that "there's no effort on my part to make converts for Rev. Moon."
Yet, at other times, Brown has sounded a different tone.
In the videotaped interview produced by the Unification Church, Brown can be heard expressing his commitment to "Father Moon's mission" and comparing Moon to Jesus and the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. "We must think for ourselves and get to know Father Moon and not view him as that 'cult leader,'" Brown says. In the interview, conducted in August of last year at the Unification Church's offices in Washington, D.C., Brown calls Moon "a balanced leader" and "a prophet who speaks truth to power on the issue of world peace. ... We must see this good thing that he represents. The only way you can see that good thing is to take the time to get to know the person and really study the movement."
Reporting on an ACLC event in San Leandro last year, a Unification Church newsletter quoted Brown as saying, "I have no problem with Rev. Moon being the messiah. He's living it! We're all supposed to be messiahs." (Brown tells SF Weekly that his remarks weren't meant to infer that he regards Moon on an equal basis with "Jesus as the Messiah," even if some of Moon's followers may not have appreciated the distinction.)
Meanwhile, the Moon camp clearly considers Brown's involvement a coup. In a report about an ACLC-sponsored event attended by Brown after he joined the group, the Rev. Kevin Thompson of the Bay Area Family Church, Moon's worship center in the East Bay, compared Brown's coming aboard, metaphorically, to the group's having landed a large sea bass. Wrote Thompson, "Everyone felt that we caught a big fish so we could catch a 'big fish,' Rev. Amos Brown."
If Moon's American Clergy Leadership Conference sounds phonetically similar to the Southern Christian Leadership Conference -- the iconic civil rights group organized by Martin Luther King Jr. -- it's no coincidence. Neither is it unusual that Moon should try to make inroads among African-American clergy. In the early '80s, when Moon was convicted and jailed for income tax fraud, black ministers and civil rights leaders associated with the SCLC, including the Rev. Walter Fauntroy and the late Dr. Ralph Abernathy, were among the first to decry the charges against him as being racially motivated.