On May 8, former Vice President Mike Pence and former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo headlined a virtual rally organized by an offshoot of the Unification Church, a controversial religious movement known for holding mass weddings of its adherents and that has been accused of being a cult. Though American conservatives have long made common cause with the Unification Church, the head of the outfit that pulled together this event declared not too long ago that the “Christian era has ended”—which means Pence and Pompeo, whose self-professed religious devotion is a prominent part of their respective political profiles, were (knowingly or not) collaborating with and bolstering a group that says it is supplanting the Christianity they embrace.
The event—called the “Rally of Hope”—was hosted by Hak Ja Han Moon, the head of the Unification Church (whose members consider her and her late husband, Sun Myung Moon, the messiahs), and sponsored by the Universal Peace Federation, a group co-founded by the Moons in 2005 and affiliated with the Unification Church (which now refers to itself as the Unification movement). According to the UPF, the gathering, put on before a socially distanced audience and supposedly streamed to 1 million people in 194 nations, was held to launch a project called Think Tank 2022, which aims to reunify the Korean Peninsula.
The UPF says this new outfit is a “global multi-sector network of more than 2,000 experts” in business, academia, and other fields, though Think Tank 2022 does not yet have much (or any) online presence. Still, Hak Ja Han Moon was able to draw an impressive amount of star power for this kick-off, with the event featuring speeches from Pence, Pompeo, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, former Defense Secretary Mark Esper, past UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon, former Republic of Korea Prime Minister Chung Sye-Kyun, and Zanzibar President Hussein Ali Mwinyi. Also among the speakers were Jonathan Falwell, a pastor at Thomas Road Baptist Church in Virginia and a son of Jerry Falwell, the founder of the Moral Majority. Another featured participant was Hun Sen, the dictatorial, longtime leader of Cambodia, who has amassed a horrific human rights record.
The three-hour-long event was a celebration of both Moons, with Hak Ja Han Moon referred to as the “mother of Peace” and “Heavenly Parent.” During his videotaped speech, Pence claimed that Think Tank 2022 is “bringing the wisdom of leaders in government, business, religion, civil society” and that thanks to this new endeavor, “the dream of peaceful cooperation and unity will be closer to reality than ever before.” (Pence spoke at a previous and similar Rally of Hope in March.) Pompeo, who was introduced as a “devout Christian,” hailed former President Donald Trump’s assorted engagements with Kim Jong Un, the tyrannical and murderous leader of North Korea. “We tried something different,” Pompeo said. (Foreign policy specialists have tended to note Trump’s overly palsy overtures to Kim yielded no true progress.) Gingrich praised the Moons, the Universal Peace Federation, Think Tank 2022, and the Washington Times, the conservative paper Sun Myung Moon founded. Esper noted that Hak Ja Han Moon has been “working to help strengthen America’s role in the world.” He didn’t elaborate on what he meant by that.
The rally ended with a ceremony that was staged to look like an official act. A color guard brandishing the flags of nations from around the world marched about. Then Hak Ja Han Moon came out to “receive” the “historic resolution” establishing Think Tank 2022. She signed this document and then struck a gong to declare the project launched.
It’s unclear what Think Tank 2022 is actually doing. The group does not seem to have a website. A week after the rally, the project was not mentioned on the home page of the Universal Peace Federation. Mother Jones sent Larry Moffitt, a spokesperson for UPF, an email with a list of questions regarding Think Tank 2022—who are its 2,000 experts, who is running this operation, how much funding does it have? The email also asked if Pence, Pompeo, Esper, Gingrich, and the other speakers at the Rally for Hope were paid for their participation. Reached by phone, Moffitt said he would look at that email “and get back to you.” He did not.
Pence, Pompeo, Gingrich, and Esper did not respond to questions about their appearances at the event.
The Unification movement has long sought to cultivate allies among Washington powerbrokers, particularly on the right. That was presumably one motivation for Sun Myung Moon in 1982 to establish the Washington Times, which has long been a mouthpiece for Republicans and conservatives. In 2004, he managed to hold a bizarre crowning ceremony for himself and his wife within a Senate office building, during which he declared in Korean that he was the Messiah. (Presidents and kings, he said, had ”declared to all heaven and earth that Reverend Sun Myung Moon is none other than humanity’s Savior, Messiah, Returning Lord and True Parent.”) Some members of Congress who attended the event—which was sponsored by the Washington Times Foundation—insisted they had been duped.
The relationship between the right and the Unification movement has long been curious. Much of it has likely been influenced by the Washington Times and its standing as a dependable conservative outlet. But the theology pushed by the Moons and their devotees challenges the basic Christianity embraced by so many conservatives. The Moons’ claim to be the messiahs, of course, runs counter to mainstream Christianity. And one Unification tenet promoted by a senior person in the movement is that Christianity is essentially over.
In a 2017 video, Michael Jenkins, a main player in the Unification movement’s cosmos of nonprofits and businesses, said, “The Christian era has ended.” Jenkins is the president of the Universal Peace Federation, which hosted the Rally for Hope and created Think Tank 2022. He is also president of the Washington Times Foundation. (According to its latest tax filing, that foundation raised $242,303 in 2019 and only handed out $2,595 in contributions. It spent $256,005 on salaries and other administrative expenses, including $93,400 in salary for Moffitt, the UPF spokesperson, who is also the vice president of the foundation.)
This video recorded Jenkins giving a talk at a Unification Church in Columbus, Ohio, in which he quoted “Mother”—Hak Ja Han Moon—saying “Christianity failed.” He noted that she had proclaimed, “the New Testament era is over. The Christian era has concluded.” He suggested that the Unification Church is in the process of replacing Christianity. Consequently, Pence and Pompeo contributed their celebrity to an effort mounted by a movement that appears to consider Christianity kaput. (The video was originally obtained by Warren Throckmorton, a professor at Grove City College in Pennsylvania who writes a blog that covers religious issues.)
Moffitt also did not respond to a Mother Jones request for a comment from Jenkins.
Pence’s and Pompeo’s appearances at the rally were much appreciated by the Universal Peace Federation, which released a celebratory press release noting that “world-class leaders” had “affirmed and enhanced the concept of Think Tank 2022.” But if one goal was to garner media attention in the United States for this venture through the participation of Pence, Pompeo, Gingrich, and others, the Universal Peace Federation fell short. It seems the only major American media outlet that covered the event was the Washington Times.