Worshippers Clutching AR-15 Rifles Hold Commitment Ceremony

NEWFOUNDLAND, Pa. (AP) – Crown-wearing worshippers clutching AR-15 rifles drank holy wine and exchanged or renewed wedding vows in a commitment ceremony at a Pennsylvania church on Wednesday, prompting a nearby school to cancel classes.

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 World Peace and Unification Sanctuary for a religious event that doubled as an advertisement for the Second Amendment.

The church, which has a worldwide following, believes the AR-15 symbolizes the “rod of iron” in the book of Revelation, and encouraged couples to bring the weapons. An AR-15 was used in the Florida high school massacre on Feb. 14.

NEWFOUNDLAND, PA – FEBRUARY 28: Church officials hold AR-15 rifles during a ceremony at the World Peace and Unification Sanctuary on February 28, 2018 in Newfoundland, Pennsylvania. The controversial church, which is led by the son of the late Rev. Sun Myung Moon, believes the AR-15 symbolizes the “rod of iron” in the biblical book of Revelation, and it has encouraged couples to bring the weapons to a “commitment ceremony” or “Perfection Stage Book of Life Registration Blessing”. Officials in the rural area in the Pocono Mountains have reportedly told elementary school parents that their children will be relocated on Wednesday to accommodate the AR-15 ceremony. The semiautomatic rifles are similar to the weapon used in a Florida high school shooting on February 14. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

NEWFOUNDLAND, PA – FEBRUARY 28: A woman holds an AR-15 rifle during a ceremony at the World Peace and Unification Sanctuary on February 28, 2018 in Newfoundland, Pennsylvania. The controversial church, which is led by the son of the late Rev. Sun Myung Moon, believes the AR-15 symbolizes the “rod of iron” in the biblical book of Revelation, and it has encouraged couples to bring the weapons to a “commitment ceremony” or “Perfection Stage Book of Life Registration Blessing”. Officials in the rural area in the Pocono Mountains have reportedly told elementary school parents that their children will be relocated on Wednesday to accommodate the AR-15 ceremony. The semiautomatic rifles are similar to the weapon used in a Florida high school shooting on February 14. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

The Rev. Sean Moon, who leads the church, 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.”

Moon is the son of the late Rev. 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.

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.

NEWFOUNDLAND, PA – FEBRUARY 28: A man holds a pistol during a ceremony at the World Peace and Unification Sanctuary in Newfoundland, Pennsylvania on February 28, 2018 in Newfoundland, Pennsylvania. The controversial church, which is led by the son of the late Rev. Sun Myung Moon, believes the AR-15 symbolizes the “rod of iron” in the biblical book of Revelation, and it has encouraged couples to bring the weapons to a “commitment ceremony” or “Perfection Stage Book of Life Registration Blessing”. Officials in the rural area in the Pocono Mountains have reportedly told elementary school parents that their children will be relocated on Wednesday to accommodate the AR-15 ceremony. The semiautomatic rifles are similar to the weapons used in a Florida high school shooting two weeks earlier. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

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 accoutrement.” The church has held at least one other ceremony featuring assault-style rifles.

But Wednesday’s event, coming on the heels of the high school massacre in Parkland, Florida, which killed 17, rubbed emotions raw.

“It’s scaring people in the community,” one protester told a church member. “Are you aware of that?”

The ceremony prompted Wallenpaupack Area School District to move students at an elementary school down the street to other campuses.

Lisa Desiena, from Scranton, protested outside the church with a sign that called the group an “armed religious cult.”

NEWFOUNDLAND, PA – FEBRUARY 28: Anti-gun protesters stand outside as couples with AR-15 rifles and other guns participate in a ceremony at the World Peace and Unification Sanctuary in Newfoundland, Pennsylvania on February 28, 2018 in Newfoundland, Pennsylvania. The controversial church, which is led by the son of the late Rev. Sun Myung Moon, believes the AR-15 symbolizes the “rod of iron” in the biblical book of Revelation, and it has encouraged couples to bring the weapons to a “commitment ceremony” or “Perfection Stage Book of Life Registration Blessing”. Officials in the rural area in the Pocono Mountains have reportedly told elementary school parents that their children will be relocated on Wednesday to accommodate the AR-15 ceremony. The semiautomatic rifles are similar to the weapons used in a Florida high school shooting two weeks earlier. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

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.”

NEWFOUNDLAND, PA – FEBRUARY 28: A woman holds an AR-15 rifle during a ceremony at the World Peace and Unification Sanctuary on February 28, 2018 in Newfoundland, Pennsylvania. The controversial church, which is led by the son of the late Rev. Sun Myung Moon, believes the AR-15 symbolizes the “rod of iron” in the biblical book of Revelation, and it has encouraged couples to bring the weapons to a “commitment ceremony” or “Perfection Stage Book of Life Registration Blessing”. Officials in the rural area in the Pocono Mountains have reportedly told elementary school parents that their children will be relocated on Wednesday to accommodate the AR-15 ceremony. The semiautomatic rifles are similar to the weapon used in a Florida high school shooting on February 14. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

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