The image doesn't make sense. It's a frame of a video made at a ceremony in Washington honoring the Reverend Sun Myung Moon. The video finds Moon declaring in a speech, "I am God's ambassador, sent to earth with his full authority. I am sent to accomplish his command to save the world's six billion people, restoring them to heaven with the original goodness in which they were created. The five great saints and many other leaders in the spirit world, including even Communist leaders such as Marx and Lenin, who committed all manner of barbarity and murders on earth, and dictators such as Hitler and Stalin, have found strength in my teachings, mended their ways, and been reborn as new persons."
But what's that in this isolated frame? You can find it on the blog maintained by John Gorenfeld, who's a one-man Moon tracking unit (gorenfeld.net/blog). Someone seems to be presenting Reverend Moon with a crown perched on a crimson pillow. Under the image Gorenfeld has written incredulously, "That's not Rep. Davis (D-Il.) bowing to Moon with one of the crowns, is it?"
Actually, it is. Danny Davis of Chicago, a member of the House Progressive Caucus, has been associated with Moon for years and asks us to think nothing of it. "You know, the Boy Scouts have rituals that they go through, and they make individuals Eagle Scouts and they give awards and presentations," he says. "They recognize people for promoting peace. Of course the highest recognition goes to the highest promoter, and the highest promoter is Reverend Moon, so they come up with something higher than the certificates and plaques that other folks get."
Since joining Congress in 1997, Davis has been a regular at many Moon events. The March 23 coronation was simply more bizarre than most. In 2002 he attended a conference of Moon's Unification Church in Chicago where something called the Interreligious and International Federation for World Peace (IIFWP) was launched. According to the body's Web site, Davis is now a cochairman.
In October 2001 Davis and former vice president Dan Quayle spoke at a Moon-sponsored event in New York called "Global Violence: Crisis and Hope." Two months later, according to a Moon Web site, Davis and secretary of state Jesse White attended a luncheon where "2000 religious leaders gathered to receive True Mother's pronouncement of the Unified Nation of Cosmic Peace." True Mother would be the reverend's wife, Hak Ja Han Moon.
A year later Davis was one of several congressmen and other politicians attending a Moon-sponsored prayer breakfast. According to an IIFWP Web site, Davis spoke as Moon's champion: "You are not criticized unless you are doing something. We must all turn stumbling blocks into stepping stones."
The Congressional Record quotes Davis on June 19, 2003, hyping an upcoming Moon event, the "Ambassadors for Peace Award--Excellence in Leadership." Davis said then, "We are grateful to the founders of Ambassadors for Peace, the Reverend and Mrs. Sun Myung, for promoting the vision of world peace, and we commend them for their work." In late December 2003, according to the Jerusalem Post, Davis attended a Moon rally in Jerusalem. This April Davis attended a Moon-sponsored panel on the future of the Middle East.
What's this about? Davis insists it's merely about Moon's support for his efforts to "to talk about peace and to come up with peaceful ways of resolving conflict and teaching about peace and its implications." Davis says he's never been exposed to anything "kooky" or "cultist." He says, "Nobody's ever said to me, 'Stop following Jesus Christ and start following Reverend Moon.' Or 'The new Messiah cometh.' That has not been my experience."
Despite the Reverend Moon's recent bevy of "world peace" initiatives, he remains, at 84, a controversial figure. Steve Hassan, a former Unification Church leader who turned anti-Moon activist and wrote a book called Combating Cult Mind Control, says Moon wants nothing less than to conquer the world, "uniting" the world's religions under him. "He really has a plan to take over," Hassan says, "and make everyone think the right way and feel the right way, and he'll assign who you're going to marry."
But Davis doesn't see a problem. "I think much of what Reverend Moon expresses is optimistic hope," he says. "Reverend Moon has had a lot of events in Chicago and a lot of interactions with ministers and churches. That's really how I first came into contact with the group...before I even came to Congress."
Moon became notorious in the late 1970s for officiating at mass weddings in places like Madison Square Garden, marrying thousands of men and women who barely knew their fiances. Hassan says, "The divine principle states that Adam and Eve were created as babies and around age 17 the archangel Lucifer had sex with Eve and Eve seduced Adam, so all of humanity is under the influence of Satan. Any marriage where you are choosing who you are going to marry is not divine. You should marry for God so you can have sinless children."
Moon's Web site tparents.org teems with ruminations on sex and marriage. "Do you like the smell of your husband's semen?" Moon asked in 1994. "Answer to Father. Does it smell good or bad? You may not like the smell of your wife's stool, but do you smell your own? Why don't you smell your own but you smell your wife's? Because you are not totally one."
Moon has often been quoted denouncing the licentiousness of American culture, condemning any marriage outside his own church. "What is the meaning of lesbians and homosexuals?" he asked in 1997. "That is the place where all different kinds of dung collect....As human beings we should mobilize our 40 billion cells and clean up these dirty places. Would you women want this dirty dung-filled water to be poured over you? What about men? Do you want to be soaked in that kind of dirty water? Only Satan and dirty dung-eating dogs go after that."
Davis is a longtime supporter of gay rights and he's received contributions from the Human Rights Campaign. How can he square his beliefs with Moon's? "I will stand on the top of Sears Tower and defend the rights of each and every person in this country without regard to their sexual orientation or gender preference," Davis says. "I will go to my grave defending those rights."
But if Moon hasn't made a dent in Davis's core beliefs, Hassan argues that he's had no interest in trying to. His goal, in Hassan's view, isn't to change Davis's mind but to gain cover and mainstream legitimacy.
In the early 1980s, around the time Moon was convicted of income tax evasion and served more than a year in prison, the Unification Church launched a $30 million PR campaign to improve its image. It's safe to say that effort has reaped benefits. Through Moon's Washington Times (which Ronald Reagan once referred to as his favorite paper), United Press International, which Moon also owns, and a host of other enterprises, Moon has cultivated an astonishingly wide range of Washington movers and shakers. Former presidents George H.W. Bush and Gerald Ford have spoken at Moon events.
Traditionally, Moon has drawn most of his political support from the right wing. But as he strengthened his ties with white, evangelical conservatives, he also began a concerted effort to reach out to blacks. Hassan says Moon used his personal wealth to get his foot in the door. "They would go to black churches and say, 'We want to help you. We want better relations. What do you need? A new roof? Thirty thousand dollars? Here you go.'"
Newsday reported in 2001 that Moon had made significant inroads with black clergy. The Christian Science Monitor noted the same year that Moon had been "raising his profile," particularly among black ministers. Even Louis Farrakhan was won over after Moon sponsored his Million Family March in the fall of 2000. Farrakhan then visited Korea with Moon. According to a Nation of Islam Web site, he said Moon had become immortal. "I see him attempting to break down the barriers that divide people religiously, ethnically, racially, and nationally. So I see him as he sees himself, as a true parent of human beings who need better parenting."
George Augustus Stallings Jr., a former Catholic priest who's pastor of the independent Imani Temple African American Catholic Congregation in Washington, D.C., and copresident of the Moon-founded American Clergy Leadership Conference, says it's a misconception that Moon "somehow has this financial largesse about him that he showers money on black churches." Stallings says black ministers retain their own religious identities while supporting Moon's efforts at "bringing together the human family." What Reverend Moon is about, says Stallings, "is allowing God to work in and through him to say we must move beyond our sectarianism and become God-centered people."
In the last five years, Moon's reached beyond black clergy to liberal black politicians like Maryland congressman Elijah Cummings and New York congressman Charlie Rangel. Rangel went so far as to issue a congressional proclamation in April recognizing Moon and his wife as "'True Parents' exemplifying self-giving service and leadership and as 'King of Peace' in the key areas of reconciliation and peacemaking over fifty (50) years."
Davis says there's a reason Moon's appeals have resonated with some members of the black congressional caucus: "We kind of know what it means to have been ostracized, to know what it means to be accused when three or four gather together, you gotta be watched by the law and see what it is that you're plotting and planning, and it's kind of hard to say, we are gonna stay away from these guys because they may taint you, they may make you look bad."
Moon himself, in a 1985 sermon posted on one of his Web sites, says it's his destiny to bring together races that God had separated: "The white people have been in a position like the top of the mountain while the black people have been like the valley. God wanted that distinction between white and black until the time when the Messiah should come, so He allowed the two groups of people to go their individual ways in order to perfect their particular characteristics. But once the Messiah comes, he can bring them together into one beautiful, harmonious relationship."
If Moon gains credibility and recognition from politicians like Davis and Rangel, what do the politicians gain? Davis says he's "never asked" for anything in the way of contributions, but notes that Moon's people have made donations to the Westside Health Planning Organization in lieu of an honorarium for Davis's speeches, and that in his last primary campaign they "put together a little fund-raiser one time and gave me a few thousand dollars."
Davis says, "Different people learning about each other, learning about each other's cultures and background, folkways and mores and kind of helping to bridge the gaps that exist between people, that's what interests me about the group. I mean, if they're looking for something other than what they get, I don't know what it is. I'm not looking for anything from them, other than respect and working to promote peace. Anything beyond that is absolute gravy."