Strange Bedfellows, Episode 3: Have Shofar, Will Travel

(Be sure to read the earlier episodes before you get to this one: The Black Bapticostal Bishop and Yogis, Swamis—and Rabbis)

A really strange event, that most folks … including most conservative Christians … somehow missed in the news occurred in March 2004. Here’s how one Roman Catholic writer described it in an article posted on the Net in June that year:

Sun Myung Moon Crowned Messiah in Washington, DC.

In one of those truly bizarre things that you really have to see to believe, multimillionaire “Reverend” Sun Myung Moon was crowned messiah on March 13, 2004 in the Dirksen Senate Office Building in Washington, DC. Attending the ceremony were apparently seventy-one congressmen, including two senators, dozens of ambassadors to the United States, and various other figures from the religious and political establishments of the nation. Rev. Moon runs the ‘Unification Church’ cult, as well as owning the faux conservative Washington Times and a number of other media outlets worldwide.

A number of religious leaders from a whole bunch of faiths gathered together to proclaim Rev. and Mrs. Moon the “true parents of all humanity”.

Then this Rabbi declared that Rev. Moon is the true messiah and blew his horn. It wasn’t just Jews, but also Shia Muslims, Sunni Muslims, Evangelicals, mainline Protestants, Hindus, assorted other faiths, and just about everyone.

Everyone, that is, except Catholics and Orthodox. All they could get from us is a defrocked, excommunicated former priest who left the Church and now calls himself “Archbishop” George Augustus Stallings of the Imani Temple. I guess we were lucky (read blessed).

Then Rev. and Mrs. Moon were crowned, and all the little heathens gathered round to worship the Beast. How jolly!

More details were provided by an article on salon.com:

You probably imagine your congressman hard at work in the Capitol debating legislation, making laws — you know, governing. But your newspaper probably didn’t tell you that one night in March, members of Congress hosted a crowning ritual for an ex-convict and multibillionaire who dressed up in maroon robes and declared himself the Second Coming.

On March 23, the Dirksen Senate Office Building was the scene of a coronation ceremony for Rev. Sun Myung Moon, owner of the conservative Washington Times newspaper and UPI wire service, who was given a bejeweled crown by Rep. Danny K. Davis, D-Ill. Afterward, Moon told his bipartisan audience of Washington power players he would save everyone on Earth as he had saved the souls of Hitler and Stalin — the murderous dictators had been born again through him, he said. In a vision, Moon said the reformed Hitler and Stalin vouched for him, calling him “none other than humanity’s Savior, Messiah, Returning Lord and True Parent.”

To many observers, this bizarre scene would have looked like the apocalypse as depicted in “Left Behind” novels. Moon, 84, the benefactor of conservative foundations like the American Family Coalition — who served time in the 1980s for tax fraud and conspiracy to obstruct justice — has views somewhere to the right of the Taliban’s Mullah Omar. Moon preaches that gays are “dung-eating dogs,” Jews brought on the Holocaust by betraying Jesus, and the U.S. Constitution should be scrapped in favor of a system he calls “Godism” — with him in charge. The man crowned “King of Peace” by congressmen once said, according to sermons reprinted in his church’s Unification News: “Suppose I were to hit you with the baseball bat to stop you, bloodying your ear and breaking a bone or two, yet still you insisted on doing more work for Father.”

… The event was the grand finale of Moon’s coast-to-coast “tear down the cross” Moonification tour, intended to remove Christian crosses from almost 300 churches in poor neighborhoods — the idea being that the cross was an obstacle to uniting religions under Moon. Yet the Dirksen ceremony was sold as a celebration of world peace. According to a cheery promotional video released by Moon’s International and Interreligious Federation for World Peace, the ceremony marked the dawn of “the era of the Eternal Peace Kingdom, one global family under God.” Moon’s coronation also cured God’s pain, the announcer explains.

You’d think from these articles that 70 or 80 US congressmen were endorsing Moon as Messiah! What was probably closer to the truth:

By all accounts, most of the congressmen in attendance didn’t expect a coronation. Instead, they thought they were heading to an awards dinner honoring activists from their home states as “Ambassadors for Peace.” A flier for the event claimed an impressive who’s-who of organizers, including Republicans Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Rep. Roscoe Bartlett of Maryland and Charlie Black, a top Republican strategist. Democrats were named, too, like Rep. Harold Ford of Tennessee, who, incidentally, claims to have not even heard of the event.

But not all of those in attendance were oblivious to what was going on. There was one of the organizers of the event, Congressman Danny Davis (D-IL). From an article on Politics1.com:

Initially, Davis told Capitol Fax he was “not necessarily in agreement with everything that [Moon] said … Jesus the Christ is my guy.” Next, he explained to Christian Challenge that he “was attempting to provide an accolade to the Rev. Moon and his wife for promoting visions of world peace … [and their] visions of family structure. From my vantage point, it did not have anything to do with religion. I am a practicing Baptist, and have been a Protestant all my life.” Davis added that Moon’s messianic pronouncement speech “was similar to a baseball team owner telling team members that ‘we are the greatest team on earth’“ just before a game. Then — in an interview published yesterday in the Chicago Reader community newspaper — Davis equated Moon’s messianic crowning ceremony to the Boy Scouts: “You know the Boy Scouts have rituals that they go through and they make individuals Eagle Scouts and they give awards and presentations. [The IIFWP] recognize people for promoting peace. Of course the highest recognition goes to the highest promoter and the highest promoter is Reverend Moon, so they come up with something higher than the certificates and plaques that other folks get.”

And there was Congressman Curt Weldon (R-PA):

When first contacted by investigative reporter John Gorenfeld, Weldon’s press secretary stated: “I’m telling you, he didn’t go.” When Gorenfeld sent her some links showing Weldon was listed as a primary sponsor of the event, she stated that Weldon “planned to attend this awards show, but couldn’t make it due to his schedule.” When Gorenfeld next produced a photo of Weldon standing with a group of Moon associates at the event, she said that Weldon’s participation was apparently “limited to his attendance.” Soon after, Gorenfeld found a photo of Weldon actually giving the welcoming “congratulatory remarks” from the stage — as a photo was displayed of himself giving a pin to Libyan dictator Moammar Khadafy. Gorenfeld, who has extensively covered Moon’s involvement in US politics, said that pin presented last year by Weldon to Khadafy was apparently one of Moon’s peace pins. Okay, back to Weldon’s staff for version #4 of Weldon’s explanation. Weldon’s chief of staff told Christian Challenge that Weldon “was at the banquet for ‘5 or 10 minutes’ to speak about his recent trip to Libya; Weldon neither saw Moon at the event, nor witnessed the coronation, nor heard his Messianic speech … [and] ‘in no way does Congressman Weldon share that belief.’“ That he did not know of Moon’s involvement strains credibility (see yesterday’s story) as he and Davis also co-hosted Moon’s Capitol Hill event in 2003 and they praised him by name in the Congressional Record. Weldon later added — not that he has any remaining credibility on this issue — that he did not give Khadafy a Moonie peace pin but, rather, pinned a US flag to the anti-American dictator’s lapel.

Indeed, lots of religious strangeness going on! The story of the coronation is worthy of an entry all of its own in this Wild World of Religion blog. But actually I offer it here primarily as a piece of the puzzle of the Strange Bedfellows story I am serializing. And that piece is the participation at this coronation of one Rabbi Mordehi Waldman.

An article on ReligionDispatches.com describes Rabbi M in more detail:

 For years, Reverend Sun Myung Moon, founder of the Unification Church, has featured in his elaborate arranged-marriage ceremonies a fellow straight from the pages of an Orthodox Jewish clothing catalogue—black suit, black beard, black fedora, usually wearing a prayer shawl identical to the one draped around Eddie Long.

I had the privilege of meeting Moon’s rabbi a few years ago when covering a Unification Church event, an interreligious “reconciliation ceremony” held at a hotel in New Jersey. After a parade of sketchy ministers representing a handful of faiths praised Moon as the unifier of all religious traditions, the man obviously tasked with representing Judaism walked into the room. He was sorry he was late, he said. It was eight o’clock on a Friday night—Shabbat—and he’d just flown in for the occasion.

The next day, he handed me a business card that read, “Rabbi Dr. Mordehi Waldman: Have Shofar Will Travel.” He had enjoyed 15 minutes of fame a few years back, when he appeared at a reception held in the Dirksen Senate Office Building and blew his shofar to announce the coming of the messiah just before Moon had himself crowned “humanity’s Savior” and “returning Lord.”

After journalist John Gorenfeld wrote about it in June 2004, the event became a major embarrassment for the congressmen who attended. It had been a big day for Waldman, however. Though blowing the shofar (a curved piece of ram’s horn used like a trumpet) is usually reserved for the Jewish High Holy Days, Waldman now blows his at every opportunity. He has done so for Unification events across Asia and Europe, occasionally referring to his patron as “Rabbi Moon.”

What’s in it for him? As he explained it at the time, he had been single when he first crossed paths with the Unification Church. But then, he said, “Reverend Moon’s people said to me, ‘Rabbi, it’s not good for you to be alone. You should have a wife,’ they said. Then they asked me: ‘What kind of wife would you like?’ So I said, ‘A slender blonde.’”

I wondered if I was hearing a bit of shtick—a Borsht Belt routine about the shiksa[non-Jewish woman]-loving rabbi—but then he added, “That’s how I met this lovely lady right here.” Sure enough, he pulled a slender blonde woman to his side. “Look at us, a German Lutheran and a Jewish rabbi!” he said with a grin. “Hello! Reconciliation, right?”

When next I saw the rabbi, he was back in the hotel ballroom, blowing his shofar.

For the past century and more, it was Hindu gurus that seemed to be favored by many to add a “spiritual presence” to things in America.  As quoted in the previous episode of this saga,  “…there seems to be something about flowing saffron robes, mantras and exotic India that excites the imagination of many within the US spiritual marketplace.”

But of course, this would be totally unacceptable to Christians. To a Conservative Evangelical, Hinduism is utterly heathen and pagan. So you won’t ever see a Hindu invited to lead the worship at a local Charismatic Megachurch. But Moon seemed to have stumbled on to something that would be acceptable to many… hearing from a Jewish Rabbi. After all, Jesus was a Jew, Paul was a Jew, the Bible was largely written by Jews. There seems to be something about shofars, prayer shawls, yarmulkes, and torah scrolls—and the hint of the exotic Holy Land—that excites the imagination of many within the US Christian spiritual marketplace.

True, Moon’s outlandish claims for himself didn’t resonate with most Christians, even though he threw around Christian terms at times. Thus the Rabbi’s endorsement didn’t do him much good in Protestant circles.

But Moon’s use of a rabbi – almost as a “prop” for his events—seems to have foreshadowed a trend that has been gathering steam in some Protestant Christian circles in the last decade and more.

I think you would find that Rabbi Mordehi is actually scorned in his own Jewish religious circles if he does, in fact, have “rabbinical credentials.” For Jews in general, particularly Orthodox Jews, have little or no interest at all in “reaching out” to Christians or other groups, either in joint social projects or to attempt to make converts. Their religion, their religious customs, and their religious heritage is their own—trying to “convert” to Orthodox Judaism if one was not “born Jewish” is a very difficult task. So no, very few such rabbis have the attitude of Rabbi Mordehi… “Have shofar, will travel.” To perform or endorse just about anyone willing to pay the price.

But if most rabbis would reject invitations to active involvement in, and endorsement of, Christian spiritual activities, what would a Christian pastor need to do in order to acquire the services of a rabbi for a big event at his own church?

He would tap into a totally different “branch” of religion that also has men dubbed “rabbi.” This is the world that attempts to combine, at some level, Judaism with Christianity—to proclaim Jesus as Messiah, but retain some or most of the customs and lore of Judaism.

We’ll explore that world in the next episode of this series.

This entry was posted in Religion in the News and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Strange Bedfellows, Episode 3: Have Shofar, Will Travel

  1. Pingback: Strange Bedfellows, Episode 3: Have Shofar, Will Travel | Currently StaRRing …

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s