A few years ago, shortly after a school shooting in Florida, a Pennsylvania church made news for blessing AR-15s. The fact that hundreds of people were slated to attend with their weapon-babies and the whole thing was taking place across the street from an elementary school only led to more headlines.
One of the church’s leaders, Tim Elder, said at the time there was biblical justification for what they were doing: The Bible talks about Christ “ruling with the rod of iron.” Therefore, I guess, guns must be anointed in the name of Jesus.
Obviously, this wasn’t a traditional church. (Though, honestly, this incident wouldn’t be all that far-fetched at some evangelical megachurch in Texas.) This was the World Peace and Unification Sanctuary — an offshoot of the controversial Unification Church founded by Sun Myung Moon — and it was led by Moon’s son, Reverend Sean Moon. The church was (and is) so insane that they offer step-by-step instructions for members to multiple Holy Salt, Holy Wine, and Holy Water. As if buying more just isn’t an option.
The same Christian sect run by Sean Moon, now known as Rod of Iron Ministries, is back in the news this week because, while the gun-obsession hasn’t changed, they’re expanding: VICE’s Tess Owen reports that the group has purchased a 130-acre property in eastern Tennessee that will eventually serve as a “training center.”
Because nothing says holiness like a bunch of armed Christian nuts heading to the mountains of Tennessee to prepare for a war that exists only in their minds, under the guidance of a man who wears a crown of bullets.
The goal of the Tennessee property, explained the younger Moon in a sermon streamed to the alternative video platform Rumble over the summer, is to recreate the Unification Church’s infamous spiritual retreat Cheongpyeong, located about 27 miles outside of Seoul, South Korea.
“As soon as I was in the vicinity of this property, I immediately felt Cheongpyeong,” said Moon in his regular broadcast, titled “The King’s Report,” which he often delivers wearing a crown of polished bullets. “As this spiritual download was happening, and we could feel the presence of Cheongpyeong, we just knew that of all the Tennessee lands that we’ve seen, this is the one that we must get to reclaim and have as a spiritual retreat.”
Moon said in a sermon that he hopes to construct a divinity school on the property, along with an elementary school and a middle school, and “training centers.” He made a separate video in Korean about the property, painting a utopian vision of what he planned to do with it.
He talked about constructing separate cabins for men and women, and digging a well in the center of the compound to provide a source of water to the cabins. The well, he said, would symbolize Christ’s Second Coming. He hopes to plant roses and lilies around the well; roses symbolize men, he said, and lilies symbolize women’s virginity. He also wants to plant fruit trees and a vegetable garden, and he told viewers that the land was suitable for growing ginseng (which can fetch a high price in the U.S., as much as $600 per pound.)
That’s a lot of words to describe a place that increasingly resembles a cult. That’s not me saying it either; a lot of former Moonies are worried about what’s developing:
Recreating a Cheongpyeong in the U.S., even without ansu [spiritual beatings], is an unsettling prospect for many in the ex-Moonie community who, from a distance, keep tabs on developments within the Unification Church and splinter congregations like the Rod of Iron Ministries. Some watch in horror as beloved family members and friends become even more entrenched in Pastor Moon’s conspiratorial, gun-centric rhetoric. And some worry that the political intensity, mainstreaming of conspiracy theories, and rampant disinformation in the U.S. makes Moon’s teachings and desire to recreate Cheongpyeong even more dangerous.
VICE was able to locate the property in question, and for now, it’s mostly empty and isolated. But for someone with cash, there’s enough space to build a small village. And cash shouldn’t be a problem, given that the church is asking people to donate money based on the number of “generations of ancestors” they want to “liberate.”
If the ministry is looking to avoid comparisons to a cult, they’re not doing a good job of it. Here’s a screenshot from the site linking potential members to other “helpful” resources… including Infowars, another website run by conspiracist Alex Jones, and multiple right-wing propaganda outlets.
We’ll undoubtedly hear about the ministry again. The question is: In what capacity?
If you’re interested in more, VICE did a longer look into the church a few years ago: