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Students will leave area as Pa. church plans AR-15 ceremony

The Scranton-area church denies it is ‘blessing AR-15s’ on Wednesday, weeks after the Florida school shooting.
Pastor Hyung Jin Sean Moon points to his "Rod of Iron," apparently an AR-15 rifle, while wearing what appears to be a crown of bullets. (Courtesy of Unification Church)

Just weeks after a shooter used a modified AR-15 rifle to kill 17 people in a Florida school, a Pennsylvania church is inviting congregants to bring that same model of gun within its walls for a ceremony.

“This is an excellent way to honor the memories of the 17 people who were massacred there,” said Tim Elder, director of World Missions at the World Peace and Unification Sanctuary in Newfoundland, Pa. “Now more than ever, good people need to stand up and claim the tools with which we can deal with that kind of evil.”

The event was planned prior to the shooting in Parkland, Florida, but regardless of the church’s intentions, it has attracted national attention. Wallenpaupack Area School District administrators said they will relocate students at a nearby elementary school to a different school on Wednesday.

“Considering the potential numbers of participants to this event, we anticipate that logistical concerns may arise (traffic, parking, etc.),” Superintendent Michael Silsby wrote. “We respect your decision if you choose to keep your children home for the day. Students who are absent next Wednesday will be marked ‘excused.’ We will have an increased security presence at the South School all next week.”

But the church denied widespread reports that they will be “blessing guns.”

“The guns are part of the ceremony. Guns don’t need to blessed,” Elder said.

In an open letter, Pastor Hyung Jin Sean Moon, son of the Unification Church’s founder Rev. Sun Myung Moon, said the the church invited couples to bring AR-15s to their ceremony as a symbol of the “rod of iron” referenced in the Book of Revelations.

“Contrary to what you have probably read, the Sanctuary Church in Newfoundland is not ‘blessing guns,’” Pastor Hyung Jin Sean Moon wrote in an open letter. “On Feb. 28, several hundred couples will gather to (re)dedicate their marriages to each other and most importantly to God.”

“The scripture tells us that God will shepherd His children with the rod of iron, guarding the flock not as a dictator, but as a loving father,” Moon continued. “Ninety-eight percent of mass shootings in the last 60 years have taken place in ‘Gun Free Zones.’ The idea that passing such laws will protect our sons and daughters is a dangerous and delusional fantasy. You and I are responsible to protect our families, communities and, ultimately, our nation. The ‘rod of iron’ allows not only strong men, but also women and the elderly to have the ability to protect themselves and others from such predators.”

The ceremony has gotten national attention as masses of Americans call out for new laws to prevent shootings like the recent ones in Parkland, Las Vegas, Orlando, Aurora, Colorado, Sutherland Springs, Texas, Roseburg, Oregon, and Newtown, Connecticut.

Learn more about Rev. Moon's teachings at christkingdomgospel.org.