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Moon visits Sioux Falls to urge focus on family

BY KEVIN DOBBS
Argus Leader

published: 4/16/01

The Rev. Sun Myung Moon, the controversial 81-year-old Korean minister who founded the Unification Church, came to Sioux Falls on Sunday as part of a 50-state tour designed to save the world from moral corruption.

"We have to restore God's love, life and lineage," Moon shouted while flailing his arms near the close of an often animated presentation.

Speaking through an interpreter to an audience of about 400 invited religious leaders and supporters from across the nation at the Sioux Falls Convention Center, Moon spoke of soaring divorce rates that have fractured the lives of children who lack guidance and left an ethically confused society in its wake.

He said fidelity and a commitment to lasting marriages are essential in rebuilding healthy communities. And he added, while decrying racism and economic disparity, the best way to spread the message across a country as vast and diverse as the United States was to join forces with leaders from various faiths, races and cultures.

Moon's tour began in February in New York and wound its way through Minnesota and North Dakota before making South Dakota the 49th stop on the trek. It is scheduled to wrap up with a conference this week in Washington, D.C.

Along the way, event organizers said Moon has garnered the support of some 12,000 pastors and religious leaders of myriad denominations, from pentecostal ministers to the Nation of Islam.

"He's bringing a message of hope," said David Payer, a Des Moines businessman who came to Sioux Falls to see Moon. "The message is one of coming together, transcending racial and denominational barriers for the sake of families."

Moon pleaded for husbands to be more attentive to their wives, for married couples to thwart temptation and remain faithful, for parents to prioritize children over their own interests.

His words were often met with rounds of applause and cheers of reassurance.

"We've got to bring Mom and Dad back into the family, bring purity back to our children," said the Rev. James Gavin of Family Federation for World Peace and Unification in Minneapolis. He has toured with Moon across the Midwest. "This is about a spiritual movement that will bring people back to where God wants them to be."

But while support was uniform for the demonstrative speaker inside the convention hall, Moon has been roundly criticized over the years for various reasons.

Moon, who founded the Unification Church in Korea in 1954, moved to the United States in the early 1970s and brought with him the organization widely referred to as the "Moonies." The church is now officially called the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification.

The church has been compared to a cult and critics have accused it of brainwashing its members in the name of building Moon's own financial empire. He currently oversees an array of businesses in the nation's capital, including the Washington Times newspaper.

Moreover, his views of morality have long been called excessively rigid and unforgiving.

On Sunday, for instance, he spoke out against career-minded women and homosexuals, saying childless couples are among society's greatest weaknesses.

"When I hear young American wives deliberately try to stay away from having children because of the burdens, do you think they deserve to go to heaven? Or someplace else?... Woman is born for the sake of her children and her husband," he said.

"A wife should submit to her husband, as she does to the Lord," he added later, referencing the Bible. "The woman is born for the sake of receiving the seed of life. That is the purpose."

In opposition to gay and lesbian lifestyles, his words were more subtle but still potent.

In repeatedly emphasizing the importance of bearing children, he said, "Man alone cannot produce. He needs a wife. ... Lineage is the most important factor to continuing God's plan."

Nonetheless, while acknowledging that Moon has widespread criticism, many religious leaders in attendance said it was Moon's fundamental message of strengthening American families that drew them to the event.

"He is not bringing us down, but calling us up, asking us to open our eyes and ears, to look at and hear what is happening," said Bishop Johnson, who oversees a group of pentecostal churches in Kentucky. "His is an important message that we're spreading."

Reach reporter Kevin Dobbs at kdobbs@argusleader.com or 977-3924.

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