A Pennsylvania church held a commitment ceremony this week as many attendees exchanged or renewed wedding vows while worshipping their favorite weapon–an AR-15 rifle.
The World Peace and Unification Sanctuary, also known as the Sanctuary Church, had the event Wednesday (Feb. 28). 250 worshippers attended the church sporting white gowns and black suits, with crowns and tiaras bedazzled with bullets. Attendees were required to bring their unloaded guns, where they were zip-tied at the door. The ceremony brought caution to local institutions like an elementary school, who switched campuses the day of the event.
“Blessed couples are requested to bring the accoutrements of the nation of Cheon Il Guk, crowns representing the sovereignty of Kings and Queens, and a ‘rod of iron,’ designated by the Second King as an AR15 semiautomatic rifle or equivalents such as an AK semiautomatic rifle, representing both the intent and the ability to defend one’s family, community and ‘nation of Cheon Il Guk,’ ” the church’s site says.
The Associated Press reports Rev. Sean Moon, the son of the late Rev. Sun Myung Moon, held the ceremony partly in honor of President Donald Trump, who sided with his viewpoint of arming teachers with guns. The event took place on the same day Parkland students returned to school after the mass shooting that claimed 17 students and members of the faculty at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Feb. 14.
Tim Elder, Unification Sanctuary’s director of world missions, shared with reporters the ceremony was for the couples, but the AR-15’s were viewed as “religious accoutrement.” The church believes the guns aren’t weapons per say, but the “rod of iron” used to protect God’s children. Their reference stems from the Book of Revelation in the Bible.
The Unification Church has always caught headlines. Their late leader was a self-professed messiah who held mass weddings for strangers in the ’70s. Often viewed as a cult, Rev. Moon has used the bible to lead a conversation on the intersection of guns and religion. The mass marriages continued, with one highlighted in 2014.
“Family Federation is all about healing and reconciliation. We host events to promote inter-religious dialogue, responsible civic leadership, and marriage blessing ceremonies. Rev. Moon’s teachings are all about bringing people together so that we bring joy and happiness to God, our Heavenly Parent and feel fulfillment ourselves. Bringing weapons into any of that seems completely contradictory to me,” Rev. Iwasaki Shota of the Pennsylvania branch of the Unification Church, said in a statement.
One worshipper claims they shouldn’t be chastised for their beliefs. “We as good people, we strongly believe in the Second Amendment,” Sreymom Ouk said. “So showing the rod of iron, which represents, for our church, it’s the AR-15, and it represents that you can protect against evil with that rod of iron in a sense.”
The event follows a “President Trump Thank You Dinner” the church held last weekend.