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

The most controversy surrounding Moon involves his teachings, especially his claim to be the Messiah. The Moon theology doesn't deny Jesus' role in Christian belief as the Messiah, or savior, sent to Earth to redeem mankind from sin. But, according to Moon, that mission could have only been successful had Jesus married and begot children through whom the human race could have been lifted up. He reserves that role for himself, thus the title of True Father and, for Mrs. Moon, True Mother.

Moon formally proclaimed himself the Messiah in 1992. At that time, he declared himself and his second wife, Hak Ja Han (whom he married when she was 17 and who bore him 14 children), to be "the Messiah and True Parents of all humanity." He has never retreated from the claim, making his proselytizing aimed at religiously orthodox -- not to mention traditionally liberal and Democratic -- black ministers seem all the more incongruous.

However, David Bromley, the sociologist, isn't fazed.

"Moon is a classic charismatic figure who sincerely believes in his Messianic mission," he says. "As such, he's shown an interest in reaching out to any group that will listen. Whether or not they accept him, in his mind he's fulfilled his obligation."

Integral to Moon's outreach is something called the Ambassador for Peace Award, which Moon's followers bestow generously as a way of inducing ministers, politicians, and other high-profile individuals who might not otherwise link themselves with Moon to attend his functions. "When someone says they want to recognize the good work you've done in the community, you don't usually ask questions about their motives," says Matt Jimenez, a longtime Hayward city councilman who was among the Ambassadors for Peace honored at the big San Francisco gala last September.

In a glowing communiqué filled with praise for True Father and touting the event as an "overwhelming success," Michael Jenkins, the Unification Church president, referred to Jimenez and about a dozen other award recipients as "receiving appointments" as Ambassadors for Peace. "An appointment? I don't know what they mean by that," says Jimenez, adding that before attending the Hilton event he had no idea that the Unification Church was even connected with it.

Jenkins' recap of the event, posted on the church's Web site, asserted that "a special presentation was made to Dr. Charles Townes," the renowned UC Berkeley physicist and Nobel laureate famous for his work in helping develop the laser. "For health reasons he couldn't attend that evening but was grateful to receive his appointment." However, when contacted by SF Weekly, Townes chuckled when asked about the "appointment," saying that he neither knew about nor was interested in Moon's organization and only "vaguely" recalled "being sent something in the mail about some kind of peace award."

As with the ACLC's pitch to ministers, Moon-sponsored events seem to follow a familiar pattern -- with at least some invited guests not realizing until after they arrive that they're attending an event primarily meant for True Father's adoration.

Perhaps the most notable such occasion was the Capitol Hill gathering in 2004, at which at least two U.S. senators and a half-dozen members of Congress later complained of being blindsided. After showing up for an Ambassadors for Peace event at which some of their constituents were to be honored, the elected officials were treated to a coronation ceremony for Moon and his wife, complete with long robes, jeweled crowns, and the triumphant blowing of a ram's horn to announce Moon's entry. (The event went unreported in mainstream media for several weeks until San Francisco freelance journalist John Gorenfeld, who has written frequently about Moon, broke the story.)

After seeing what was happening, elected officials and congressional staffers alike began heading for the exits. Those unable to get out in time heard Moon proclaim himself to be "God's ambassador" sent "to accomplish His command to save the world's six billion people." He then told of having spoken with many of the world's now-dead rulers in the spirit realm and disclosed that Hitler and Stalin, among others, had come around to his thinking.

"Would I like to take that one back? Oh, yes," says Congressman Danny Davis (D-Chicago), who came in for ridicule for holding Moon's crown that day. Davis, a deacon in his Chicago-area Methodist church, says he became involved with Moon through clergy friends in the ACLC. "In my mind, I saw the ceremony as merely a sign of respect, and no more significant than if I were asked to crown a homecoming queen," the congressman says. He has broken ties with the ACLC and all other Moon groups. "I wish them well, but quite frankly, I don't have time for the [political] headache it's caused me," he says.

Amos Brown, who also attended the "coronation" that day, isn't wavering.

"Rev. Moon is the victim of a double standard," he says. "Some folks deify the pope and others deify Billy Graham. But you don't see a lot of people shaking their heads over that."

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