Just two weeks after a gunman killed 17 students, teachers, and staff at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, worshipers gathered in Pennsylvania for an elaborate ceremony touting the same assault-style rifles used in the shooting.
According to leaders, the ceremony was intended to serve as a commitment ceremony for heterosexual couples. Participants donned wedding attire and carried rifles as emblems of their commitment to protecting themselves and their community. Several wore crowns made of bullets.
The ceremony was designed and carried out by the World Peace and Unification Sanctuary Church of Newfoundland, Pa. Led by Hyung Jin Moon, son of the late founder of the Unification Church and self-proclaimed messiah Sun Myung Moon, the church is an offshoot of the main church and has been criticized by the Unification Church as an unsanctioned breakaway movement.
“Rev. Moon’s teachings are all about bringing people together so that we bring joy and happiness to God, our Heavenly Parent and feel fulfillment ourselves,” Rev. Iwasaki Shota of the Unification Church said in a statement. “Bringing weapons into any of that seems completely contradictory to me.”
For members of the Newfoundland Sanctuary Church, however, guns are a God-ordained component of community safety. The group believes that the book of Revelation in the Bible promises them that God’s faithful people will rule over all nations with a “rod of iron.” To Sanctuary Church leaders, the modern-day rod of iron is a rifle that symbolizes churchgoers’ “sovereignty and vigilance to protect God’s coming nation.”
In a statement on their website, the Sanctuary Church invited “all heterosexual couples” to attend the event.
“Blessed couples are requested to bring the accouterments of the nation of Cheon Il Guk, crowns representing the sovereignty of Kings and Queens, and a ‘rod of iron,’ designated by the Second King as an AR15 semiautomatic rifle or equivalents such as an AK semiautomatic rifle, representing both the intent and the ability to defend one’s family, community and ‘nation of Cheon Il Guk,’ the website states.
Those who cannot legally purchase and transport rifles, the website continues, are encouraged to “purchase a $700 gift certificate from a gun store, as evidence of their intent to purchase a ‘rod of iron’ in the future.” Only those bringing guns or gift certificates showing intent to buy a gun were welcomed into the February 28 event.
For Hyung Jin “Sean” Moon of the Sanctuary Church, guns are not just God’s weapon of choice—they are the family business. Moon’s brother “Justin” Moon Kook-jin is the owner of Kahr Arms, a firearms manufacturer just 30 minutes from the Sanctuary Church. Justin Moon, a member of his brother’s church, has been vocal about his belief that the AR-15—the gun used in the vast majority of America’s recent mass shootings—is a symbol of the nation’s values of freedom and self-determination.
“Every American should really have an AR,” Moon told the Philadelphia Inquirer yesterday. “It’s America’s rifle.”
A participant in the recent Sanctuary Church ceremony took Moon’s sentiment to heart.
“I actually purchased my weapon there yesterday because, although I have several rifles, I didn’t have an AR-15,” said David Konn, who drove up from Florida for the event. “I think it retails for $689.”
Although attendants at the door checked that each weapon was unloaded, other residents of the Poconos area expressed their disagreement with the overall message of the ceremony, especially on the heels of one of the deadliest mass shootings in American history.
Scranton resident Lisa Desiena protested with other concerned Pennsylvanians outside the church. A gun owner herself, Desiena told reporters that she sees no reason to glorify the AR-15.
“I don’t need a freaking assault weapon to defend myself. Only thing they’re good for is killing. Period. That’s all that weapon is good for, mass killing,” Desiena said. “And you want to bless it? Shame on you.”
In light of parents’ and administrators’ concerns, the Wallenpaupack Area School District moved children from a nearby elementary school to a different location for the day.
“You don’t know who’s going to be there, you don’t know who has problems or what anybody’s intentions are,” said Cassandra Marro, whose child attends the nearby school.
For Rev. Hyung Jin-Moon, the ceremony’s intentions were clear. During the event, Moon prayed for “a kingdom of peace police and peace militia where the citizens, through the right given to them by almighty God to keep and bear arms, will be able to protect one another and protect human flourishing.”
While many claim God’s blessing over their gun ownership, there is no mention of guns in the Bible. The first recorded use of a firearm was in 1364.
--by Caroline Matas
Image Source: American flag AR-15. Photo by katesheets, Flick Creative Commons.