Moonstruck

The Rev. Moon has opened an unexpected front in his struggle to win a broader audience for his messianic pretensions: African-American churches and their preachers

As a result, there has long been an affinity between Moon and the black civil rights establishment, stretching back to the days when the so-called Moonies were mostly flower-selling young seekers fleeing the conformity of middle-class life. (Fauntroy, who formerly served as the District of Columbia's representative to Congress, is active in the ACLC on the East Coast.)

Even as his Messianic message failed to gain traction in mainstream society, Moon never dropped his efforts to woo African-Americans, whose struggle for acceptance he equates with his own, says David Bromley, a sociology professor at Virginia Commonwealth University and co-author of Moonies in America. "He has very patiently reached out to African-Americans through the religious community, and if some [ministers] respond to his Messianic message, I'm sure that's all to the better," Bromley says.

But evidence suggests the effort has been slow.

Although the ACLC claims 20,000 members nationwide, that figure includes anyone who has ever attended one of the group's events, acknowledges Levy Daugherty, the only top-level African-American in the Unification Church. The ACLC's dues-paying membership is closer to 2,000, says Daugherty, a one-time Pentecostal preacher who also holds title as the ACLC's general secretary.

In the Bay Area, where hundreds of people are said to have attended the group's events, only a handful of African-American clergy are actively involved, despite the efforts of Brown to drum up enthusiasm. "A lot of them [fellow ministers] don't want to have anything to do with it," Brown acknowledges. "People tend to be afraid of what they don't know."

Yet here, as elsewhere, the ACLC's failure to flourish isn't for lack of Moon's exceptional generosity, or, as some might suggest, largess.

Ministers who've become involved with the ACLC, including those who express only casual interest, have routinely been invited to travel on all-expenses-paid "peace pilgrimages" -- courtesy of True Father -- to Moon's native Korea, Europe, Israel, and the South Pacific. "There's nothing about these trips that isn't first class," says Bishop Lamar Gibson, 70, a retired pastor of the Church of the Living God in Oakland. Gibson has been on Moon-sponsored junkets to New York, Washington, D.C., South Korea, England, and the Middle East. On a trip to Israel, which he fondly refers to as his "vacation of a lifetime," he and the other ministers traveled on a deluxe tour bus to such biblical sites as the Sea of Galilee, the Dead Sea, and the Old City of Jerusalem, all on Moon's tab.

"They don't expect anything from you except maybe to attend a session where they explain what Rev. Moon stands for," he says, adding, "but I've never met [another minister] who became convinced that Moon was the Messiah because of it."

So why go on the pilgrimages?

"Well, if someone is offering you a trip like that, it's hard to turn it down."

Daugherty, the Unification Church official, says that the trips are an integral part of Moon's outreach to ministers of other religions, and that while "a certain amount of freeloading takes place," Moon has a long perspective. "You know the outstanding thing about the Rev. Moon? He isn't upset about [the freeloading]. His view is that it's not for him to judge. What's important is that these ministers allow themselves to be exposed to what he is teaching. He realizes that not everyone will accept it immediately."

Something similar might be said of the ACLC's perhaps most controversial theological initiative: its attempt to persuade ministers to remove the cross from their churches and replace it with the crown. Despite the cross' symbolic importance for many Christians, who consider it to be the instrument upon which Jesus was crucified, Moon teaches that it is illogical to venerate a murder weapon. Some clergy, such as Dr. Bennet Hayes, the pastor of a large church in Houston that is affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention -- and who teaches Moon's Divine Principle from his pulpit -- have no problem with the edict. "Not only do I no longer have a cross in the sanctuary, I've told my parishioners who wear crosses to turn them in to me," he says. "I've got a whole drawer full of them."

As part of a "Tear Down the Cross" campaign, dozens of ACLC ministers answered Moon's call to get rid of the cross during Easter 2003, Daugherty says. Since then, he confides, the effort "hasn't gone over as well," with some preachers who removed crosses later bowing to pressure to put them back up. "It's not easy. A lot of these ministers have come into religion under the dogma of the cross. Removing one is almost like blasphemy. The ministers themselves are pretty hip to it, but their congregations aren't, and they're the ones who pay the bills."

The issue is one Amos Brown hasn't faced.

Although there is a large crucifix atop the stand-alone bell tower of his beloved Third Baptist Church, Brown ordered the cross that once adorned the church sanctuary to be taken down years ago after objecting to the white Jesus affixed to it. "That," he says, "was long before I ever had anything to do with Rev. Moon."


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