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Reverend Moon goes mainstream in 50-state tour

BYLINE: GREGORY SMITH
DATE: 03-19-2001
PUBLICATION: Providence Journal Company
EDITION: All
SECTION: SPORTS
PAGE: A-01

* In a Providence appearance supported by some of the state's top politicians, the Unification Church leader champions family values.

* * *

PROVIDENCE - The man America came to know as the messianic leader of the "Moonies" swept into Rhode Island yesterday with a plea for racial and interfaith harmony.

The Rev. Sun Myung Moon addressed a racially mixed crowd of about 440 people in a ballroom at the Providence Marriott.

The controversial religious leader, now 81, is leading a "We Will Stand" tour 50 states in 51 days in which he asks people to put aside religious, racial and social differences and stand up for the creation of a loving community under God.

He champions "family values," calling the nuclear family the salvation of America and insisting that people refrain from having sex outside marriage.

Moon, who began his ministry in 1945, brought his controversial Unification Church from Korea to the United States in the 1960s. While his creed is Christian in most respects, Moon has cast himself as the "New Messiah," sent by God to continue the work of Jesus.

Backed by a zealous army of recruiters, Moon was accused of using brainwashing techniques to keep his followers obedient. He raised eyebrows by conducting mass marriages, sometimes thousands at a time.

At one point he ran afoul of the U.S. government, was convicted of tax evasion and served 13 months in prison.

While he no longer commands the attention and the crowds he once did, Moon's persistence in the face of harsh criticism has won him friends in black churches. Five years ago, he reconstituted his movement as the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification.

The Southern Christian Leadership Conference, a largely black organization, denounced the government's treatment of Moon as religious persecution, and he has cultivated ties to the black clergy ever since. The Rev. Al Sharpton, a national black political leader from New York City who is a Baptist minister, renewed his marriage vows in 1997 in a Unification Church ceremony.

Some leaders of black congregations spoke up for Moon's crusade yesterday, including the Rev. Rufus Oscar Kuma, of Living Hope Assembly of God in Pawtucket. Mr. Kuma sought to reassure his fellow clergy, saying that Moon is not trying to convert people to his church but is only trying to unite various religious faiths in one community.

The Rev. Michael Jenkins, president of Moon's church, told the audience, "Years ago you may have heard that Rev. Moon was not very popular. Times have changed." He likened Moon to Jesus and Martin Luther King Jr., as a prophet reviled by many in his own time but carrying a message of eternal validity.

Moon's current message is sufficiently mainstream to draw declarations of support from U.S. Sen. Lincoln Chafee, Governor Almond and Mayor Vincent A. Cianci Jr.

Chafee and Cianci hailed Moon as a unifier of people. And Almond and Cianci both proclaimed yesterday as "We Will Stand Day" in Rhode Island.

In an extemporaneous speech that was alternately self-effacing and self-aggrandizing, Moon referred to his controversial image.

"People used to say, don't go to see Rev. Moon and look in his eyes, you'll be brainwashed," he said.

Although some of his words were recognizable in English, he spoke through an interpreter. Moon urged his audience to follow his example and preach the truth with courage, no matter how much persecution they encounter.

* * *

* CALL FOR UNITY: The Rev. Sun Myung Moon, at left, visited Providence yesterday as part of his 50-state North American speaking tour to promote his Family Federation for World Peace and Unification.

JOURNAL PHOTO / CONNIE GROSCH

PICTURE CAPTION

KEYWORDS: RELIGION; RELIGIOUS; GROUPS

2001 The Providence Journal ProQuest Archiver