Parishioners with the Sanctuary Church hold onto their AR-15s, which churchgoers were encouraged to bring to a blessing ceremony to rededicate their marriages, at the World Peace and Unification Sanctuary in Newfoundland, Pennsylvania, USA, 28 February 2018. 
Jim Lo Scalzo/EPA

This Week in God, 3.3.18

First up from the God Machine this week is a report on a Pennsylvania church with services that are far from traditional.

A Pennsylvania-based religious group is scheduled to host a blessing ceremony for couples that will feature their AR-15 rifles.

World Peace and Unification Sanctuary in Newfoundland believes the AR-15 symbolizes the “rod of iron” in the biblical book of Revelation, and it is encouraging couples to bring the weapons to a commitment ceremony Wednesday morning. The AR-15 is the gun used in the Florida high school massacre.

The Associated Press’ report added that this Pennsylvania church’s congregation is “a breakaway faction of the Unification Church, which often is described as a cult.” If the Unification Church, which didn’t condone this week’s event, sounds familiar, it’s because it was led by a controversial Korean religious figure named Sun Myung Moon, who died in 2012, and whose movement has long been aligned with Republican politics in the United States.

The Rev. Hyung Jin “Sean” Moon, who leads the Pennsylvania church, is one of Sun Myung Moon’s sons.

A separate Associated Press report added that the event did, in fact, happen on Wednesday – it featured “crown-wearing worshippers clutching AR-15 rifles” who “drank holy wine and exchanged or renewed wedding vows” – and while there were no incidents, the nearby school canceled its classes for the day.

As for the broader context, Vox had a piece this week noting that the Moon business empire is now known as the Tongil Group, “a multibillion-dollar conglomerate that supports Unification Church goals.” The piece added that the Moon family has, in recent years, “made pro-gun rhetoric a major part of their religious and financial activities. Among the Tongil Group’s holdings is Kahr Arms: a small-arms company founded by another of Moon’s sons, Justin Moon. The company has long received attention from politically connected public figures. In 2016, Eric Trump attended the opening of one Tongil-affiliated gun store.”

Also from the God Machine this week:

* Idaho’s Republican-led legislature is moving forward with an anti-Sharia measure, which intends to “prohibit the application of foreign laws in Idaho courts.” Since Idaho courts are not applying foreign laws, the proposal appears to be addressing a problem that doesn’t exist.

* This conflict in Israel was resolved fairly quickly: “Christian leaders say they will reopen the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem after Israeli authorities suspended a plan to impose taxes on church properties in the holy city. Major denominations, including the Roman Catholic and Greek Orthodox churches, said the church would reopen early Wednesday after it was shut for three days to protest the Israeli tax plan.”

* And an interesting Roman Catholic controversy is brewing: “The Catholic church risks damaging its moral authority and plunging its followers into confusion if the Vatican presses ahead with an imminent deal with the Chinese government, a group of influential Catholics has warned.”