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

Moon's determined, if less than triumphant, effort to penetrate the black religious community here should come as no surprise, considering that San Francisco has long held a special place in the Korean-born religious leader's dogma. It was in San Francisco, on his inaugural trip to the United States in 1965, that Moon first established "holy ground," a small plot of rocky soil atop Twin Peaks. He even designated new names for his followers to use in referring to the landmark mountain: "Mother's Peak" and "Father's Peak," the latter -- the taller one -- being a short hike from a popular scenic overlook that offers expansive views of the city and bay.

"It is Heavenly Father's own sanctified spot, a place where you can come to pray and not be bothered by Satan, a place that is restored," a Unification Church account of the solemn event quotes Moon as declaring. According to the account, Moon took several followers to Twin Peaks on a cold February morning, his second day in the United States.

Four of them were instructed to form a square 10 feet by 10 feet, and Moon "walked slowly and prayerfully" around the area three times, scattering "holy salt" brought with him from Korea.

It was the first of 62 "holy ground" sites Moon consecrated during a whirlwind cross-country car trip that lasted 40 days. He designated one such site in each of the 48 mainland states. California got four, including one halfway up Mount Whitney (the state's tallest peak); in Death Valley (its lowest elevation); and in Los Angeles' Griffith Park, overlooking Hollywood.

But Twin Peaks was, and remains, special. For years, Moon's followers have traveled there to pray, meditate, and have their pictures taken. Moon took time out from his 1993 U.S. speaking tour to return to the mountain. The Rev. Michael Jenkins, the Unification Church president, who did not respond to an interview request for this article, wrote last year that Moon views Twin Peaks as "the breasts of a mother" and the bay as representing "the mother's womb," from which the charismatic Moon expects a "new birth of believers" to emerge. Jenkins referred to San Francisco as "a place that gave birth to our movement."

"I can remember us piling into a van and getting up to Twin Peaks at 4 in the morning to pray and greet the sun," recalls Patt Monderer, who spent four years as a self-described Moonie fresh out of college, including a stint at a Moon commune in Boonville, before leaving the group in 1976. At the time, Moon enjoyed success enlisting young people, some of whose frantic relatives, along with other critics of the movement, insisted they were the victims of mind control. The Bay Area was a locus of the movement. Moon maintained communal houses in the Haight (his followers even operated a gas station off Market Street) and in Berkeley, next to the UC campus.

Moon founded the Unification Church in 1954 (its original name was Holy Spirit Association for the Unification of World Christianity). His movement was largely unknown in the United States until the 1970s, when he declared that God had instructed him to turn his attention to America. He made headlines by presiding over mass weddings of his followers in the '70s and '80s, and on the political side by urging Americans to forgive President Richard Nixon during the Watergate scandal. He later ascribed his IRS troubles, which landed him an 18-month sentence in a federal penitentiary for evading more than $160,000 in taxes, to political payback for befriending Nixon.

In 1982, the same year he got out of jail, Moon founded the Washington Times newspaper, which, along with Fox News and radio talk shows, has become a potent force among conservative media in the nation's capital. In 2001, through New World Communications, the same entity that controls the Washington Times, Moon also acquired United Press International. Another Moon entity, Professors World Peace Academy, controls the private University of Bridgeport in Connecticut. As Moon's support for the conservative political agenda has grown, and his movement has gained more mainstream acceptance, white evangelicals, who were once among his fiercest detractors, have become more tolerant toward the movement. Moon has even donated $3.5 million to the Rev. Jerry Falwell's Liberty University.

The Unification Church's Daugherty says that Moon's idea for a 52-mile-long tunnel and bridge across the Bering Strait would need to be a joint effort among the United States, Russia, and private donors, including perhaps "oil companies," if the tunnel could also be used to move petroleum products between the two nations. The idea behind the project is to open a passage between North America and Asia, both literally and figuratively, and in the process provide a monumental legacy befitting a man who sees himself as a modern-day Christ. Daugherty says that a "working group" of Moon supporters is examining how to advance the project and that a "group of millionaires" among Moon's followers has pledged money to the effort. Thus far, there's no discernible governmental interest in the idea. "He [Moon] has said he plans to live to be 100, and he intends to see the Peace King Tunnel built in his lifetime," Daugherty says. "He's serious about it."

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