TV preacher Pat Robertson may think the Rev. Sun Myung Moon is a "cult leader," but he apparently doesn't mind joining forces with him to achieve common political goals.
On Dec. 1, Moon's American Clergy Leadership Conference (ACLC) sponsored a press conference in front of the Supreme Court to coincide with legal arguments before the justices over the Florida election results. The event was billed as a nonpartisan, interfaith call to "unite upon the common ground of America's tradition of faith in God to prevent the continued partisan struggle over the election results in Florida from further polarizing the nation."
Among the speakers was Dr. Daniel Perkins, a representative of the Christian Coalition, who read a formal statement from Robertson. (Christian Coalition board member Billy McCormack was originally scheduled to appear, but dropped out due to a family illness.)
Robertson's participation in the event is especially ironic given his attack on Moon the day before. In a Nov. 30 essay called "How to Recognize a Cult" posted on Robertson's Christian Broadcasting Network website the TV preacher said one hallmark of a cult is the "exaltation of the leader of the cult."
"Cults," said Robertson, "often center around a man or woman who is trying to gain power, money or influence from manipulating people. This appears to be the case in the Unification church with Sun Myung Moon."
Moon, a controversial Korean evangelist, has made repeated efforts to reach out to evangelical Christians who share his right-wing political agenda, and he has succeeded in establishing a cordial working relationship with TV preacher Jerry Falwell and several other Religious Right leaders. Falwell and company have received generous speakers' fees from Moon, and they love Moon's Washington Times, a daily newspaper in the nation's capital that ardently backs the conservative Republican agenda. (See "Unholy Matrimony," October 1996 Church & State.)
These ties exist, however, despite a Moon theology that drastically departs from evangelical Christianity. Moon claims he is a new messiah sent by God to complete the failed mission of Jesus. Moon and his wife, Hak Ja Han, who call themselves "True Parents," want all Christians to unite under their divine authority.
Moon's ACLC, which sponsored the Supreme Court event, was founded in May. According to the Rev. Michael Jenkins, a top Moon official (who presided at the Supreme Court press conference), the group is part of Moon's plan to melt down all denominational barriers to form one body of Christ.
In a May 21 sermon, Moon said, "Eventually, interfaith unity will become a reality centered on True Parents.
"America," Moon explained, "is founded based on Christianity....No one denominational leader can make unity; unity can come only by the guidance of True Parents. And by uniting they can save America and have an impact to create unity in the world."
The ACLC received its greatest press attention this year when it helped cosponsor Nation of Islam Minister Louis Farrakhan's Oct. 16 Million Family March in Washington, D.C. The Moon relationship with Farrakhan apparently remains strong. Minister Benjamin Muhammed of the Million Family March organization was one of the speakers at the ACLC press conference at the Supreme Court.
Why would Robertson team up with a group designed to unite Christians under Moon? Observers say the TV preacher either didn't know the ACLC was a Moon front or decided to put aside his religious convictions in pursuit of his all-out drive to put Republican George W. Bush in the White House.
Whether the action was a blunder or a calculated move, many see the Robertson-Moon relationship as a remarkable development on the religious and political scene.
"They say politics makes strange bedfellows," observed Barry Lynn of Americans United for Separation of Church and State. "But the Moon-Robertson marriage of convenience is a new height of absurdity. I wonder if the Christian Coalition rank-and-file will approve of Robertson's ties to a man Robertson himself regards as a cult leader.
"Moon and Robertson do have a lot in common," continued Lynn, in an Americans United press release. "Both have built billion-dollar religious empires, and both have run into trouble with the Internal Revenue Service. But I don't believe the Moon-Robertson marriage will last. Both men think they're destined to run America if not the world and they can't both be right."
Robertson's contribution to the Moon press conference is only one small part of a relentless crusade by Religious Right leaders to push Bush and raise money for their tax-exempt, supposedly nonpartisan, religious and legal groups at the same time.
Robertson's Christian Coalition worked for Bush's election in the GOP primary and the general election, distributing millions of voter guides. Since then, Robertson has waged a feverish legal and public relations battle for the GOP candidate, arguing for the Bush position on his nationally televised "700 Club" program and circulating petitions supporting the Republican viewpoint.
The TV preacher also fanned the flames of division in the country and exploited the situation for financial gain. In a December Christian Coalition fund-raising letter, Robertson thundered, "We are in a spiritual warfare of immense proportions.... The fact is, the crisis in Florida poses a threat to the very future of our nation.
"Remember," he concluded, "when anti-faith and anti-freedom groups attack the integrity of our system, they are also attacking your family and your rights and the rights of every Christian in this nation. Please send your best gift today doubling your best previous level if it [sic] all possible."
Since Nov. 7, Robertson's legal group, the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), has intervened in the state and federal courts on Bush's behalf. ACLJ Chief Counsel Jay Sekulow flew to Florida to wage a legal campaign for the Republican candidate in state courts. In late November, he and his associates moved their "base of operations" to Washington, D.C., to file a friend-of-the-court brief in the Bush case at the U.S. Supreme Court.
Although the ACLJ's litigation efforts were decidedly peripheral to the central battle between attorneys for the Republican and Democratic campaigns, Sekulow was apocalyptic in press releases and appearances on Robertson's "700 Club" program.
In a Nov. 28 appeal to supporters, he burbled, "We cannot let up, even for a minute. Our nation stands at a critical crossroads. The next 10 days are absolutely crucial to the future integrity of the Constitution and the rule of law.... Please give as generously as you can TODAY!"
Robertson's ACLJ circulated a petition to federal and state officials demanding that they not "undo the will of the people."
Meanwhile, a Falwell-affiliated group, Liberty Counsel, also intervened in federal and state courts on Bush's behalf. Like Robertson, Falwell was an aggressive Bush partisan before the election and he continued his work for the Republicans after Nov. 7.
In an "urgent" email alert Nov. 28, Falwell said, "We must work fast before Al Gore steals the election." He asked supporters to sign a petition to Gore demanding that he concede.
In one of the federal lawsuits, Falwell exaggerated the role of his attorneys and later had to concede in his "Falwell Confidential" that Jim Bopp, a lawyer working for the James Madison Center for Free Speech, is "the acting lead attorney on this case."
Other Religious Right figures weighed into the post-election controversy as well. Dr. Richard Land, head of the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, said Gore and running mate Joe Lieberman "have abandoned any pretense of a fair election."
In a Nov. 27 statement issued through the Baptist Press News Service, Land, a Bush backer who heads the Southern Baptist Convention's lobbying office in Washington, insisted the election's fairness and the rule of law are "under sustained assault by Mr. Gore and his legions of lawyers."
Land's stance is hardly surprising. Although his agency is a tax-exempt religious group, he bluntly criticized Gore and praised Bush in an Oct. 19 speech in North Carolina at a meeting of the Christian Action League. Although he denied that he was endorsing Bush, Land noted that Bush appeared at a "Christian Life Seminar" in 1999 and supports the Southern Baptist view on issues such as school prayer, pornography and homosexuality.
Religious Right activist Charles Colson took an even more unusual tack. In a Nov. 20 email alert, he urged followers to deluge members of the Florida Supreme Court with phone calls and published a list of their telephone numbers.
"If we've learned anything in recent years," he said, "it's that judges are as susceptible to public pressures as anyone else." He warned of "judicial usurpation" and partisanship, as well as news media bias.
Colson's appeal quickly drew fire from ethicists.
Robert Parham of the Baptist Center for Ethics (a moderate agency not controlled by the fundamentalist Southern Baptist Convention) noted that Colson has personal and political ties to the Bush family that he didn't mention in his appeal. In October Florida Gov. Jeb Bush restored Colson's civil rights, privileges Colson lost after a felony conviction in the Watergate scandal. In addition, Colson's prison ministry has strong official support from Gov. George Bush in Texas.
Said Parham, "Before Colson picks the speck out of the eye of Florida judges and the media, he might want to examine the beam in this own eye. Inspecting one's own eye is a commendable practice for all Christian partisans."
One wonders if Robertson, Falwell, Land and others are listening as well.