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Gun violence in the US

Church blesses AR-15-wielding couples wearing crowns made of bullets and says guns would have stopped Florida shooting

The World Peace and Unification Sanctuary promises global unity through heavy firepower

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 01 March, 2018, 7:34am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 26 June, 2018, 4:04am

Hundreds of couples toting AR-15 rifles, some wearing crowns made of bullets, packed a Unification church in Pennsylvania on Wednesday to have their marriages blessed and their weapons celebrated as the “rods of iron” mentioned in the Bible.

With state police and a smattering of protesters standing watch outside the church, brides clad in white and grooms in dark suits brought dozens of unloaded AR-15s into the church for the religious event, which doubled as an advertisement for the Second Amendment.

Standing before the congregation in the World Peace and Unification Sanctuary, the Reverend Hyung Jin-moon prayed for “a kingdom of peace police and peace militia.”

It was a kingdom, he said, “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.”

The church, which has a worldwide following, believes the AR-15 symbolises the “rod of iron” in the book of Revelation. An AR-15 was used in the Florida high school massacre on February 14.

[The AR-15 is] a religious accoutrement
Tim Elder, Unification Sanctuary’s director of world missions

Many celebrants wore crowns – some made of bullets – while church officials dressed in flowing bright pink and white garments to go with their armaments.

At one point, the Reverend Yeon Ah Lee Moon hefted an AR-15 with what appeared to be elaborate gold plating and decorations.

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.

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 accoutrement.”

The commitment ceremony was also given the name “Perfection Stage Book of Life Registration Blessing”.

In a statement, the Reverend Moon said: “Each of us is called to use the power of the ‘rod of iron’ not to arm or oppress as has been done in satanic kingdoms of this world, but to protect God’s children.”

He continued: “If the football coach who rushed into the building to defend students from the [Florida school] shooter with his own body had been allowed to carry a firearm, many lives, including his own, could have been saved”

Moon is the son of the late Reverend Sun Myung Moon, a self-proclaimed messiah who founded the Unification Church, which critics regard as a cult.

The younger Moon’s congregation is a breakaway faction of the Unification Church, which had distanced itself from Wednesday’s event.

But coming on the heels of the high school massacre in Parkland, Florida, the ceremony rubbed emotions raw.

“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. 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.”

But 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.”

Students from an junior school near the church were relocated for the day to distance them from the gun-toting couples at the ceremony, according to the Wallenpaupack School District website.

A spokesman for the church said the marriage blessing ceremony had been planned long before the February 14 massacre.

The Pennsylvania school district three years ago called off classes during the massive manhunt for survivalist Eric Frein, who police said used an AK-47 style weapon to ambush a Pennsylvania state trooper barracks and then fled into the mountains.

Frein was found guilty in April of killing a Pennsylvania state trooper and wounding another in the September 2014 attack.