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Moon's visit moved to hotel

Some say Baptist community is divided over Wednesday event

of the Journal Sentinel staff
Last Updated: April 2, 2001

Controversy over the Rev. Sun Myung Moon's impending visit to Milwaukee has caused the event to be moved from a north side church to the Hilton Milwaukee City Center, organizers said Monday.

It was unclear whether the change was due mainly to dissent within Bethel Baptist Church or to outside complaints that made the pastor and lay leaders uneasy.

The change was announced at a news conference where several pastors of black churches and a local spokesman for the Nation of Islam stood solidly behind stated efforts by the Korean-born Moon - founder of the Unification Church - to rebuild families, restore communities and renew the country through a nationwide interfaith tour of religious leaders.

More than one speaker attacked WVCY-FM (107.7) for its sharp criticisms of Moon's theology and tour, with some alleging that the white-run Christian radio station was not interested in helping the black community.

"We are outraged over the most recent incidents of attacks against the Reverend Sun Myung Moon," said Bishop John Witherspoon of Milwaukee, guiding bishop of Exodus Faith Ministries of America. "We like him because he is bringing black, white, yellow and brown together, something apparently the long-standing denominations are fearful of."

Some pastors said that the Wednesday evening event had been moved from Bethel, 2030 W. North Ave., because the church had received a bomb threat.

However, the Rev. Maurice Lawrence, local director of pastor outreach for Moon's organization, said in a follow-up interview that controversy whipped up by WVCY had hit Bethel Pastor William E. Robbins "like a bombshell."

Lawrence said there had been calls and threats, but not a bomb threat. Asked to elaborate, he said he knew of threats to organize a demonstration against Moon's visit and was not sure what the other threats had been.

A Milwaukee police official said Monday afternoon that there had been no report of a bomb threat at the church.

Community divided

There were unconfirmed reports of divisions among members of Robbins' congregation over Moon's visit. Robbins, who was not at the news conference, did not return calls to his church on Friday or Monday.

"He (Robbins) said, 'A bombshell had been dropped on me because I didn't know there would be all this controversy,' " Lawrence said. "There was a lot of stress on him he wasn't expecting."

The Rev. Joseph Dallas of New Creation Bible Church in Milwaukee, a black pastor who called Moon a false prophet on WVCY's "Crosstalk" show Monday afternoon, said in a telephone interview that the black community was divided on the issue.

"Some people in the Baptist organization are quite appalled by a Baptist church doing that (hosting Moon's event)," Dallas said. "We are going to be having an informational protest. We're going to be passing out information about the Unification Church to expose their lies. We believe Moon has a hidden agenda to deceive the churches."

Treating the lectern like a pulpit, the black religious leaders at the news conference gave impassioned support for Moon, despite doctrinal differences. The leaders said they considered Moon to be a Christian who accepted Jesus Christ as redeeming savior.

Moon has taught that Jesus appeared to him and asked him to complete the parts of Jesus' mission that Jesus was unable to because he was not accepted by the Jews. Critics contend he sees himself as messiah destined to control the world.

Describing himself and his wife as "True Parents" free from original sin, Moon has taught that part of that mission is to bring other married couples to that same state by conducting mass weddings. To help create racial and religious unity, Moon's church selects interracial partners for his members to marry.

"We are a group comprised of many clergy who have set aside our doctrinal and ideological differences to bring the faith community together within urban America," said Witherspoon, 68. "To this end the Reverend Sun Myung Moon has arranged a 51-day, 50-state tour called 'We Will Stand' And this morning, we're here to say that we will stand!"

Other Milwaukee speakers included the Rev. Richard Bush, of Pentecost Church of God in Christ; the Rev. Aaron Woods, of Action for Christ Church; the Rev. Ionia Champion, of Fellowship Baptist Church; Bishop S.T. Mann of True Love Apostolic Church; Gregory Muhammad, a Milwaukee representative of Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan; and Bishop Isadore Rowsey, of Paramount Church of Holiness. Bishop Abraham Stornes of Walking in the Spirit Word Ministries of Chicago also spoke.

"You must be aware of the fact that you can have two Baptists on one side and both are going to disagree on something," said Stornes, who sees nothing in Moon's teachings that suggests he is anti-Christ.

Radio appearance expected

Michael Jenkins, North American president of Moon's Family Federation for World Peace and Unification, had been expecting to appear on WVCY's live "Crosstalk" show Monday afternoon to explain his church's theology. He was upset when Vic Eliason, the show's host and vice president of WVCY's string of Christian stations, would not put him on the air.

The two men disagreed over whether Jenkins had even been invited to speak on the air. Both told a reporter they spoke privately on the phone, with Eliason questioning Jenkins on Moon's teachings.

Eliason contended that Jenkins avoided being specific about Moon's written teachings, giving personal impressions without firmly attributing them to Moon.

Appeared in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel on April 3, 2001.

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