A gun-obsessed church pastor has held a blessing ceremony for couples who turned up with AR-15 rifles and bullet crowns.
The controversial World Peace and Unification Sanctuary church, in Pennsylvania, held the event for its gun-loving congregation just two weeks after 17 people were killed when a gunman opened fire with an AR-15 at a Florida high school.
On Wednesday, dozens of couples attended the church, wearing golden crowns – many made of bullets – and carrying their rifles.
Rev. Hyung Jin ‘Sean’ Moon, who believes the Bible prophesied the AR-15 as the ‘rod of iron’, had warned anyone planning to attend without a weapon, or a $700 coupon from a gun store proving they planned to buy one, that they wouldn’t be welcome.
‘OK, you may be able to sit in the back and receive the blessing like the ungrateful punk that you are, the ungrateful piece of shish that you are,’ he tells his followers. ‘… And you’ll know that you’re a piece of cr*p.’
‘Will you go to hell, will you lose salvation if you don’t bring a crown and a rod of iron? No. Will you be a b**** if you don’t? Yes,’ he added.
Worshipers drank holy wine and exchanged wedding vows in the commitment ceremony, while church officials in white and pink robes, blessed their AR-15s.
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.’
Tim Elder, Unification Sanctuary’s director of world missions, told worshippers the ceremony was meant to be a blessing of couples, not ‘inanimate objects,’ calling the AR-15 a ‘religious accouterment.’ The church has held at least one other ceremony featuring assault-style rifles.
Sreymom Ouk, 41, who attended the ceremony with her husband, Sort Ouk, and came with their AR-15, said the weapon is useful for defending her family against ‘sickos and evil psychopaths.’
‘People have the right to bear arms, and in God’s kingdom, you have to protect that,’ she said. ‘You have to protect against evil.’
Wednesday’s event was held exactly two weeks after Nikolas Cruz, 19, opened fire at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, with an AR-15, killing 17 and leaving 15 injured.
Emotions are still raw after the massacre, and in the past weeks, the survivors have emerged as powerful voices demanding stricter gun laws, and have organized anti-gun rallies in Florida, and an upcoming event in Washington DC next month.
One of those students, Emma Gonzalez, 18, wrote an open essay focused on the AR-15, the semiautomatic rifle that has, along with its other versions by various manufacturers, become a common thread in America’s deadliest mass shootings.
‘You don’t drive a NASCAR on the street, no matter how fun it might be, just like you don’t need an AR-15 to protect yourself when walking home at night. No one does,’ Emma said.
Yet Rev. Moon, a self-proclaimed messiah who founded the Unification Church, often described as a cult, argued in a prayer that God gave people the right to bear arms.
The sanctuary believes the AR-15 symbolizes the ‘rod of iron’ in the book of Revelation, and Moon believes the crown and rifle are ‘accouterments given to us by the king of kings.’
Church officials said that weapons were unloaded, secured with zip ties and checked at the door.
But the event sparked fear in the local area, and anti-gun demonstrators held a protest outside the church.
‘It’s scaring people in the community,’ one protester told a church member. ‘Are you aware of that?’
Lisa Desiena, from Scranton, protested outside the church with a sign that called the group an ‘armed religious cult.’
She said she owns a gun, but ‘I don’t need a freaking assault weapon to defend myself. The only thing they’re good for is killing. Period. That’s all that weapon is good for, mass killing. And you want to bless it? Shame on you.’
The ceremony also prompted Wallenpaupack Area School District to move students at an elementary school down the street to other campuses.
Moon is the son of the church founder Rev. Sun Myung Moon, a Korean evangelist and self-proclaimed messiah who died in 2012 aged 92.
Moon’s brother Justin Moon, founded gun manufacturers Kahr Firearms Group, based in Greeley, Pennsylvania.
Sanctuary is an offshoot of the Unification Church, whose followers are sometimes called ‘Moonies,’ according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, which refers to it as a cult.
The blessing ceremony today follows the church’s ‘President Trump Thank You Dinner’ on Saturday.
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