The "Washington Post" reported August 1, 1996 that Bill Cosby tried to get out of a speaking engagement scheduled before 2,000 followers of Rev. Sun Myung Moon. The crowd was supposed to listen to Cosby's comedy act.
When Bill Cosby tried to cancel that engagement for the "Inaugural World Convention of the Family Federation for World Peace" (a front for Moon's Unification Church) Moon's lawyers threatened him with litigation. Cosby admitted that legally he didn't "have a leg to stand on." So at 9 A. M. this July he did an "unsmiling perfunctory performance of 16 minutes' length to an audience of Unification Church members, diplomats, and churchmen and - women from groups founded by Moon, the messianic Korean" --often accused of "aggressive recruiting practices."
The list of speakers also included former President Ford and once Prime ministers Edward Heath of Britain and Brian Mulroney of Canada. President Ford's chief of staff, Penny Circle said "He didn't know," that Reverend Moon was involved when Ford agreed to speak at the gathering. Circle commented that Ford was "Committed to do it now. It's kind of a done deal." The event's coordinator Larry Moffitt of the Washington Times Foundation (controlled by Moon) claimed that "If somebody is not aware, that is not possible. That is not true."
Bill Cosby said, "When I look down the list and see Gerald Ford, you say, well, gee whiz, that's fine, so you go ahead and sign up." Cosby claimed he didn't know of Moon's involvement until told by a reporter for the "Washington Post" shortly before the event.
Cosby subsequently called Moon's people to say he was "Giving the money back." But he explained that "Their lawyers got on the phone." He didn't want to be sued so he fulfilled his commitment and agreed to go on with the show, but said. "I would not do this organization again because there are some families that are hurt by this."
George Bush, another ex-president, was paid reportedly $80,000 to do a speech for Moon in Japan in 1995. He supposedly donated this to charity according to his spokesperson. Gerald Ford's assistant said "He is taking an honorarium on this one it's a business thing." Speaker's Bureaus who handle lecture bookings say that Moon pays fees often over $100,000 for one speech. Both Ford and Bush would not comment on their fees for Moon events and Moon's man Moffitt said it was confidential.
According to others involved "Everybody knows the Unification Church is somewhere in the background," said Kevin Carlton, Spokesman for Boston University President John Silber, who has spoken at several Moon-sponsored meetings.
Critics of Moon say he pays big money to famous speakers as a means of gaining respectability and credibility, which helps his recruitment efforts. It also provides photo opportunities so that the Moons can pose for pictures with famous figures seen worldwide.
Cynthia Lilley, founder of Mothers Opposed to Moon, said that leaders and celebrities
"Should know better." She recounted how her daughter was shown recruiting films with Moon and Bush together, which impressed her. Lilley said, "They use the films to reassure parents that it's okay that their children are on the streets selling flowers 18 hours a day" a common fund-raising method used by the group.
Lilley and her group have written letters to those who agree to appear at Moon events, like Bush and Ford, trying to dissuade them from being involved. However, she doesn't receive many responses and it seems that the large honorariums are more important than the concerns of many families adversely affected by Moon's organization.
Why are people concerned about the Moon organization?
Such concerns left the Moon organization struggling for credibility. In early 1996, Moon now in his 70s, proclaimed his plans for a "Holy Wedding" of 3.6 million couples in Washington during November 1997. This has done before in previous mass weddings involving thousands of his followers--often including foreign brides for American men. These couples often don't even meet each other until the ceremony.
Moon owns the Washington Times which reportedly has lost more than $400 million and his corporations include U.S. Property Development, a real estate company, and Atlantic Video, a production company --both based in Alexandria, Virginia. He owns dozens of other small businesses in more than 20 U.S. cities.
The Unification Church is not winning many new converts. Though church officials claim they have more than 30,000 followers in the United States, cult-watcher groups put the figure at 3,000.
Moon's stages conventions with famous speakers sponsored by front organizations such as "Family Federation for World Peace," "Women's Federation for World Peace," "Summit Council for World Peace" and the Washington Times Foundation. The "Family Federation for World Peace" maintains offices within the Washington Times newspaper building on New York Avenue NE. Calls to that group are referred to the Washington Times Foundation, a charitable organization funded by the newspaper.
What is does the Unification Church believe?
The largest so-called "World Peace" conventions have been held in Asia, Europe and South America. But Rev. Moon seems to have decided last year to expand his "conferences" to major North American cities. Such gatherings have been staged in Tampa and Boston this spring, at times without the media mentioning the connections to Moon's Unification Church.
Moffitt, a Moon spokesperson, admitted they try to attract former heads of state who still have influence to advance their agenda which is supposedly about "morals and values" and "healing and reconciliation between opposing groups." Moffitt also said that, "The
Cross-reference for all of the groups is that all of them share Reverend and Mrs. Moon as founder."
After a speaking engagement for Moon in Japan during 1995 President Bush was asked to stop allowing himself to be used by Moon to gain credibility. However, his spokesperson said, "President Bush is aware of this group and this organization
and the work it tries to do strengthening the family. He's happy to speak to them just as President Ford and Coretta Scott King and Barbara Walters and others have or will be."
Walters, the ABC News anchorwoman, did not speak at a "Women's Federation for World Peace" meeting and said she didn't know Moon was linked to the event. She has no plans to speak at Moon events in the future. Such celebrities as actor Christopher Reeve, astronaut Sally Ride, and former GOP presidential candidate Richard Lugar have spoken at "World Peace Federation" conferences.
Betsy Berg, a booking agent for lectures, claims the conference connection to Moon "is all very surprising." She has signed people like Cosby for events sponsored by the "World Peace federations." Ms. Berg said, "We've been doing business with them for a couple of years. They do maybe 20 events a year and they always have big-name people. Nobody's ever been aware that there's a connection to Moon, if we were aware of that, we'd be concerned."
Bush's spokesperson acknowledged he has heard from "cult awareness groups and things like that" but claims that "this group is about strengthening the family and that's what President and Mrs. Bush are deeply focused on."
Bush's appearance last year came after a damage award of more than $150 million to thousands of Japanese who sued the Unification Church and a Moon-owned company, called "Happy World," saying they were pressured to give millions of dollars to insure that deceased loved ones would be happy in the hereafter.
In Japan, Mrs. Moon told 50,000 devoted followers that her husband was "instrumental in bringing about the collapse of communism."
Note: Based on a report by Marc Fisher for the "Washington Post" published August 1, 1996