NEWFOUNDLAND, Pa. — Members of a group in Pennsylvania that is stated to be a breakaway from the “Unification Church” but still follows the late Sun Myung Moon as the “Messiah” raised eyebrows on Wednesday after they brought AR-15s to a couples’ blessing ceremony as the “rod of iron” cited in the Book of Revelation and a commitment to defend their communities and the spiritual “nation of Cheon Il Guk.”
The event was called the “Cosmic True Parents of Heaven, Earth and Humanity Cheon Il Guk Book of Life Registration Blessing” Ceremony, according to a public release, also known as a “perfection level” blessing.
“On February 28, all brothers and sisters who believe that True Father Sun Myung Moon is the Messiah and that Hyung Jin Moon is his representative and heir in the physical world who has inherited the True Parents’ authority and preserves the words and practices established by True Father, are invited to participate in an historic Perfection Stage Book of Life Registration Blessing that True Father promised,” it read.
Dressed in wedding garb, with the men donning crowns and the women wearing either crowns or tiaras, members of the World Peace and Unification Sanctuary in Newfoundland held unloaded assault rifles during the service. Some of the crowns were made of bullets.
“Blessed couples are requested to bring the accouterments of the nation of Cheon Il Guk, crowns representing the sovereignty of kings and queens, and a ‘rod of iron,’ designated by the Second King as an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle or equivalents such as an AK semi-automatic rifle, representing both the intent and the ability to defend one’s family, community and ‘nation of Cheon Il Guk,'” the release outlined.
It said that failure to bring the rifle, or at least a gift certificate as proof of intent to purchase one, would be a sign of disrespect to the group’s founder.
“As the parable of the ten virgins spoken of in Matthew 25:1-13 explains, believers should be prepared internally and externally to receive the grace of the bridegroom’s arrival so they can be welcomed into the ‘wedding banquet,'” the group wrote.
Hyung Jin “Sean” Moon leads the Newfoundland location, being the son of the Korean Unification Church founder Sun Myung Moon, who died in 2012. Moon launched the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification in 1954 after claiming that he was a “messiah” and that Jesus told him at age 15 that he must complete His “unfinished work.” His followers refer to him as the “true father.”
Moon, who once said that because Jesus did not marry during His lifetime, He failed to make humans “perfect children,” became known for officiating mass weddings, which have at times involved more than 2,000 people. His organization received criticism for matchmaking couples, and online reports state that some of those who were wed did not meet until just days before the mass wedding. “Larson’s Book of World Religions and Alternate Spirituality” says that “[s]ome do not meet their future marriage partner until the day of the wedding,” a statement that the Unification Church denies.
Moon himself had 14 children through his second wife Hak Ja Han, who is referred to as the “true mother.”
According to CBS News, Sean Moon prayed at the event that the people would be “a kingdom of peace police and peace militia where the citizens, through the right given to them by almighty God to keep and bear arms, will be able to protect one another and protect human flourishing.” All weapons were reportedly checked at the door to ensure that they were unloaded and secured with zip ties.
However, word of the event generated both fear and protest from those who learned of the gathering. The Wallenpaupack Area School District moved students from an elementary school to another location as a precaution. While the event was reportedly planned long before the Parkland, Florida shooting, a group of demonstrators who stood outside of the facility didn’t think that the gathering was a good idea.
“I thought it was a joke, but then here it is real,” one woman told CBS News.
Another held a sign characterizing the World Peace and Unification Sanctuary as an “armed religious cult.”
One neighbor expressed indifference to the group, stating, “Who am I to say that it’s wrong, what they’re doing, you know? They’ve got a lot of followers.”
“[T]he Sanctuary Church in Newfoundland is not ‘blessing guns,’” Sean Moon also wrote in a note of clarification posted to social media, explaining that while the rifles were a part of the service, the event focused on couples gathering to “(re)dedicate their marriages to each other and most importantly to God.” He also cited that participants wore crowns as “the Bible speaks repeatedly of Christ’s followers as co-heirs of His Kingdom, as kings and queens, who must not lose their crowns.”
While some religious groups proclaim men other than Jesus alone as the Messiah, 1 Timothy 2:5-6 states, “For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time.”
Jesus also declared in John 14:6, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father but by Me.”