By Bob Smietana
The images coming out of “Sanctuary Church” in Newfoundland, Pennsylvania, are disturbing and fascinating.
Some worshipers from the cultlike group—an offshoot of the late Rev. Sun Myung Moon’s Unification Church—wore crowns made of bullets at a service this week.
Worshippers clutching AR-15 rifles and some wearing bullet crowns, participated in a commitment ceremony today at World Peace and Unification Sanctuary, in Newfoundland, Pa. The event led a nearby school to cancel classes for the day. Photos @jacquelinelarma pic.twitter.com/GXzrZeK41z
— AP Images (@AP_Images) February 28, 2018
Others prayed with pistols or clutched assault rifles as though they were dearly beloved children.
White-gloved church ushers held rifles like an honor guard as congregation members drank wine, blessed their guns, and got married or renewed their wedding vows.
All at a religious group with its own armed militia—where kids are taught how to stab people with knives and packing a pistol is a religious duty.
Loving your neighbor, say leaders of this sect, means “being deadly.”
“It’s about practicing to be deadly because you love people,” says Moon’s son, Rev. “Sean” Hyung Jin Moon, who teaches his congregation how to shoot.
Moon’s family benefits from his blessings. Sean Moon’s brother, Justin Moon, owns a nearby gun maker, which the congregation has promoted.
His congregation is a cult, not a church, says religion writer Amy Sullivan.
This point won't be shared nearly as many times as the original image, but this "church" is really a cult, with no discernible relationship to Christianity. https://t.co/0UFKMH14bi
— Amy Sullivan (@sullivanamy) February 28, 2018
The World Peace and Unification Sanctuary is one of a number of splinter groups formed after the death of Unification Church founder Rev. Sun Myung Moon, “a self-proclaimed messiah who founded the Unification Church, which critics regard as a cult,” according to the Associated Press.
The group did at least ensure that the guns were not loaded, according to published reports.
“An attendant checked each weapon at the door to make sure it was unloaded and secured with a zip tie, and the elaborate commitment ceremony went off without a hitch. Some worshippers wore crowns made out of bullets,” the AP reported.
“Tim Elder, Unification Sanctuary’s director of world missions, said the ceremony was meant to be a blessing of couples, not “inanimate objects,” calling the AR-15 a ‘religious accouterment.’”
The Unification Church distanced itself from the gun blessing service.
But the cultlike group has had ties with guns in the past.
The elder Rev. Moon, who died in 2012, had millions of followers around the globe.
He also was extraordinarily wealthy, according to CNN, with a “massive business empire—including holdings in industries such as chemicals, arms manufacturing, mining and pharmaceuticals….”
He was convicted in 1984 of tax evasion and served time in a federal prison.
In 2004, Moon was honored in a controversial ceremony at a U.S. Senate office building, where he was given a crown by a congressman from Illinois and claimed to be the Messiah during a speech.
Politicians who attended the event said later they were surprised and angered by Moon’s actions.
At the news of the gun blessing by the cult group, a nearby elementary school canceled classes.
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BOB SMIETANA (@BobSmietana) is senior writer for Facts & Trends.