The Rev. Sun Myung Moon was welcomed to Mobile by a bevy of local politicians and religious leaders Saturday - a far cry from the resistance the Korean prophet faced when he tried to build a seafood and ship building business in Bayou La Batre 24 years ago.
Moon came with a throng of leaders from many religions to proclaim a message of saving the soul of humanity by rebuilding the family.
In his speech to the more than 500 people who attended the family-centered "We Will Stand!" event, Moon mentioned the old conflict in which that tiny Mobile County fishing village attempted to keep out the Unification Church that some local and state officials dubbed a cult.
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There was laughter through the room at the Arthur Outlaw Convention Center, where the meeting was held, as Moon scanned the room for raised hands. He found none.
"It's OK! You're forgiven!" Moon said, waving his hand across the audience. "The past is past."
That worked both ways. The city of Bayou La Batre presented Moon and his wife with a plaque Saturday, thanking them for their "generosity and commitment to the Bayou La Batre community."
The Unificationists have firmly entrenched themselves in the businesses and community of Bayou La Batre. The church has referred to its settlement there as a "model," and it built one of its few U.S. grade schools there.
Clinton Johnson, Mobile's city council president, presented Moon with a key to his city. Mobile County Commissioner Mike Dean presented Moon with the welcome from the entire commission.
Moon and a diverse group of religious leaders - Christian, Jewish and Muslim - are touring the 50 states and Washington, D.C., in 51 days with a strong message of family values. Mobile was the 28th stop on the tour that some say may be the last hurrah for the 81-year-old Moon.
Moon's plane arrived Saturday morning, fresh from a stop in Overland Park, Kansas. To the disappointment of his growing Unificationist flock in south Mobile County, Moon planned to leave for his Sunday date in Los Angeles on Saturday evening.
"We wish he could stay with us, but this tour's tight schedule won't let him," The Rev. Joshua Cotter, pastor of Bayou La Batre's Family Church of South Alabama. Moon's plane took off from Brookley Field an hour after he finished his speech, Cotter said.
Moon spoke for more than two hours Saturday - an hour longer than was planned, but a far cry from some of the marathon talks Moon has given in the past.
"Are you sure you want me to continue talking?" Moon asked the crowd Saturday. "I once spoke for 16 and three-fourths hours. So I can continue talking all night, if you like."
More than four decades after Moon founded the Unification Church, the man and his teachings remain the subject of division and controversy within some parts of the mainstream religious community.
But, while the religious leaders on the tour disagree with Moon theologically, they said they share the same family values.
"This was not a religious event. It was a moral event," said Ronald Ali, imam at the Masjid of Al-Islam in Mobile.
Wyatt Tee Walker, pastor of the Canaan Baptist Church of Christ in the Harlem community of New York City and a longtime activist, said the tour he has joined isn't about Rev. Moon or the Unification Church.
"This is a tour to end racism, to break down the barriers of race and of religion that separate us, to end the breakdown of the family," Walker said.
Georgia Sen. Donzella James, who has spoken at the tour's last three stops, said she's been criticized by some in the black community for her association with Moon, whose church owns the conservative Washington Times daily newpaper in Washington.
But James, who describes herself as devout a Catholic as she is a Democrat, said Moon's message simply speaks to the problems of today's families.
"In Britain, they have mad cow disease and foot-and-mouth disease," James said. "Here we have mad child disease and foot-in-mouth disease with our children."