Washington -- Evangelical leaders, including many Southern Baptists, were unaware that the Jan. 19 Inaugural Prayer Luncheon for Unity and Renewal was sponsored and by Sun Myung Moon, founder of The Washington Times and the Unification Church.
The prayer luncheon, held in Washington, featured more than 1,400 of the nation's leading ministers, civic and political leaders. A delegation of Southern Baptist leaders was in attendance, including SBC President James Merritt, Executive Committee President and Chief Executive Officer Morris H. Chapman, and Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission President Richard Land. Other Southern Baptists in attendance were Paul Pressler of Houston, Houston pastor Ed Young of Second Baptist Church and Prestonwood Baptist Church pastor Jack Graham from the Dallas area.
"I was shocked to see that Sun Myung Moon was on the program and in essence, the host," Chapman said. "I was even more surprised on the way out of the banquet hall to be given a propaganda book on the Unification Church." Merritt, who delivered a tribute to evangelist Billy Graham, said he was stunned to learn that the event was sponsored by Moon's church.
"We knew that it was going to be an interdenominational event, but we had no idea that the luncheon was hosted by the Moonies," said Merritt, pastor of an Atlanta-area church. "My invitation to the event came through Doug Wead." Wead, a former White House senior staffer for George Bush, was one of the organizers of the luncheon. In his invitation to Merritt, no reference was made of Moon's participation or sponsorship. Wead could not be reached for comment.
"I didn't even see the program until I got there," Merritt said. "I had no idea this was the nature of the meeting. I believe this incident will teach us to be a little more judicious."
Pressler, a Baptist layman who played a key role in launching the conservative resurgence within the SBC, said he, too, was surprised. "This was completely unanticipated," Pressler said. "I was not pleasantly surprised by the focus of the luncheon."
The luncheon featured such well-known evangelicals as Jerry Falwell, the Urban Alternative's Tony Evans, and Trinity Broadcasting Network's Paul Crouch. Former National Evangelical Associational President Don Argue also supported the event.
The luncheon included an address from Moon as well as complimentary copies of one of his books and other Unification Church materials. Once Merritt realized the intent of the luncheon, he decided to use his time to honor Graham as an opportunity to share the gospel message. "It did give me and several others a chance to preach and share the gospel," Merritt said. "So hopefully, we took what could have been a bad situation and used it for good."
Chapman said Merritt handled the situation admirably. "The redeeming feature was the strong witness to the saving power of Jesus Christ given by Dr. Merritt and other Christian guests," Chapman said. Pressler, too, said he was pleased with Merritt's handling of the event. "Dr. Merritt was superb," Pressler said. "He was able to use his time on the platform to not only honor Billy Graham, but share the gospel."
Chapman said the experience "will serve to remind evangelical Christians that the world increasingly is filled with wolves in sheep's clothing."