Rev. Sun Myung Moon draws crowd to Minneapolis church

Star Tribune
Friday, March 9, 2001

As he peered into the audience Thursday at New Salem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, the Rev. Sun Myung Moon jokingly asked two important questions:

"Where am I? What city is this?" asked Moon, founder of the Unification Church, through a translator. "I am told this is the Twin Cities; a big one and a smaller one that come together. We, too, have come together as brothers and sisters."

A diverse crowd overflowed the pews and aisles at New Salem to listen to Moon during a stop on his 51-day, 50-state We Will Stand tour.

Moon, 81, was invited by New Salem's pastor, the Rev. Jerry McAfee, and other Twin Cities clergy members to speak about religious and racial harmony and the importance of family.

Outside the church, Mary Jane Anderson of White Bear Lake directed traffic. One of about 100 members of the Unification Church of Minnesota, she said she was impressed with the turnout.

"You don't have to belong to a specific religion to understand Reverend Moon's message," she said. "God loves everybody."

The Unification Church has been criticized for its recruitment practices, religious teachings and financial dealings. In 1997 it also took flak for orchestrating a mass wedding ceremony in Washington, D.C., involving 28,000 couples who paid $70 each.

Today, Moon has about 3,000 serious followers in the United States, according to educated estimates, but the Unification Church's influence far exceeds its numbers.

It paid millions of dollars last year to buy United Press International, in addition to its ownership of 20 newspapers and radio and television stations in the United States and abroad. Golf Digest magazine also has been linked to the church.

Several ginseng products, including the soda Ginseng-Up, are produced by the Unification Church's Il-Hwa Enterprises, according to a Newhouse News Service report on the church.

Moon has long attracted followers from different backgrounds, but one question has dogged his church since the 1970s: Is it a cult?

Not according to David Bromley, a sociologist at Virginia Commonwealth University. "I don't approve of the Moonies, but I don't think they are harmful," he said in the Newhouse News report. "Moon preaches love."

But Jay Howard, founder of Minneapolis' Association for Theological Studies, which tracks cults and occult activities, said he considers it a cult.

"It doesn't blow things up," said Howard, who holds a degree in psychology and counseling from North Central University in Minneapolis. "But the church indoctrinates to such a degree that it takes an act of Congress to get someone out of it. That's not a good sign."

In 1984, Moon served 13 months in federal prison for tax evasion, and a congressional investigation revealed that his organization was illegally trying to control a bank in Washington, D.C.

There was a power failure at New Salem Baptist Church about 9 p.m., about midway through Moon's speech. He continued speaking as church officials brought in candles and flashlights.

"This was nice," said Susan Breedlove of Minneapolis. "Although I wouldn't go so far to agree with everything that was said, I applaud the gesture."

Terry Collins can be contacted at tcollins@startribune.com -- Staff writer Nolan Zavoral contributed to this report.