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 Published Sunday, March 11, 2001

The Rev. Moon still has much to say

Doug Grow / Star Tribune

Confession from the back pew: As the Rev. Sun Myung Moon went on and on Thursday night at the New Salem Baptist Church, some of us got fidgety.

"I wonder if nobody clapped, he'd stop talking," said the man next to me.

Moon talked on.

"Maybe if we clapped more, he'd stop talking," the man said.

Moon rambled on.

At about 9 p.m. -- 1 hour and 30 minutes into his sermon, which was being simultaneously translated from Moon's native Korean -- the power in the north Minneapolis church went out.

As it turned out, this power failure was neither a providential message nor devilish conspiracy. According to Xcel Energy, an electrical line fell on a garage, causing a three-hour loss of power to 300 customers, including the church.

The failure created a surge of hope in the back pew. Maybe darkness would stop Moon. But his aides rushed to the pulpit with flashlights and candles. And Moon talked on -- though, under the cover of darkness, scores of people slipped from the church.

Like many others, I went to New Salem Baptist because I was curious about Moon. It's hard not to be curious about a doomsday prophet who has managed to build a vast business empire while being decried as a cult leader and convicted as a tax cheat.

Moon, 81, is on a whirlwind tour of the country, visiting nearly every state in 51 days. His stated mission: To save America by saving the family. He said he's got 12 years to get stuff straightened up, or else. Moon's critics believe this is an effort to help him sneak his Unification Church into the mainstream.

If there's money to be made from this tour, it's hard to see where it's coming from. There wasn't a collection plate in sight, and Moon's church appears to be picking up all expenses.

It's a tour that seems to be embraced especially warmly by black ministers, including black ministers in the Twin Cities, who say the Moon message of strengthening families is one they've been preaching for years. One of the reasons these ministers may be receptive to Moon's entreaties is that they have learned to suspect the labels attached to people of color.

"White Christians get a little upset if there's a non-European saying America needs to be evangelized," said the Rev. Jerry McAfee, who is pastor at New Salem Baptist. ".... I've read about Moon. I've heard it said that he has called himself Jesus and that his wife is Mary. I talked to people [Unification Church members] about that. I said, 'If that's what you believe, then, we have issues.' They said, 'That's not what we believe.' I want to hear the man for myself."

After the service, McAfee admitted he didn't expect to hear quite so much from Moon. But he offered a gentle assessment.

"For a man of 81, he has energy," McAfee said.

The opening of the service showed promise, for those of us who came expecting some pop from the pulpit.

McAfee gave a passionate welcoming that had the diverse audience clapping and chanting. "God is good all the time and all the time God is good!"

McAfee was followed by Bishop George Stallings Jr., a former Catholic priest who founded the independent Imani Temple in Washington, D.C. Stallings got the New Salem crowd primed for the main event.

"I know there are people saying, 'Why in the world are you having that man [Moon] in your church?'" Stallings said. "Before tonight is over, you will know that God has put a prophet in our midst!"

With that promise, it was Moon time. He was escorted to the front of the church by four Minnesota Korean War vets. Anticipation filled the air.

Moon talked about Adam, Eve, sin, Satan, salvation, genitalia and Moon, which seems like a lot of promising material. But within 20 minutes, we in the back pew were sneaking peeks at our watches.

Sometimes, Moon would interrupt himself and ask things like, "Do you feel grateful for Rev. Moon?"

"Yes," was the polite, though tepid, response from the crowd.

About an hour into his sermon he asked, "I'm tired, should I stop here?"

Only a few asked him to go on.

But it didn't matter. He went on and on. Prophets don't have to answer to the fidgety people in the back pews.

Doug Grow can be contacted at dgrow@startribune.com

Copyright 2001 Star Tribune. All rights reserved.

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