President Bush has some new troops in his crusade to promote "healthy marriage" and teen celibacy with federal funds -- followers of the Rev. Sun Myung Moon, the controversial Korean evangelist and self-proclaimed new world messiah.
At least four longtime operatives of Moon's Unification Church are on the federal payroll or getting government grants in the administration's Healthy Marriage Initiative and other "faith-based" programs.
Two of those Moon associates were in Oakland last week leading dozens of local pastors and social workers enrolled in a "Certified Marriage Education Training Seminar" at the Holiday Inn next to the Coliseum.
In some ways, Moon is an unlikely ally for President Bush's crusade to promote traditional family values.
The 85-year-old Korean is perhaps best known for presiding over mass marriage ceremonies for devotees whose unions are arranged by Moon or other church leaders. After marriage, Unification Church couples are given detailed instructions for their honeymoon, right down to the sexual positions they are supposed to assume during their first three conjugal couplings.
According to Unification Church teachings, the children born from these marriages are "blessed children,'' who, unlike the rest of humanity, are born without original sin.
At the Oakland seminar, Josephine Hauer, a graduate of the Rev. Moon's Unification Theological Seminary in New York and a newly hired "marriage specialist" with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, worked the crowd of ministers and church workers packed into a stuffy room.
"Family is a good thing," said Hauer, holding a cordless microphone in one hand and her PowerPoint remote in the other. "I want to make this a marriage culture again -- a healthy marriage culture.''
As Hauer spoke, the Rev. Bento Leal, another graduate of the seminary and the associate minister at the Bay Area Family Church, a Unification Church congregation in San Leandro, checked a list of names at the door.
Before her new federal job, Hauer was the director of marriage education at the University of Bridgeport in Bridgeport, Conn. That school was taken over in 1992 by the Professors World Peace Academy, a Moon-affiliated group, and its current president, Neil Salonen, is a former president of the Unification Church in America.
After less than three days, attendees of the Sept. 23-25 seminar in Oakland were awarded a "Certified Marriage Education Professional Document of Completion," issued by Moon's University of Bridgeport.
"Sixteen hours of training won't make you the best marriage educator," Hauer told her students. "But it takes all kinds of work to save marriage -- people to run the sound system, write the press releases.''
During a seminar break, Hauer declined to answer any questions about her ties to the Unification Church.
"I'm a professional. I don't talk about my religion or my politics," she said. "My religion is not an issue.''
Bush administration officials agreed.
"We don't ask people's religious affiliation before we hire them,'' said Wade Horn, assistant secretary for children and families at the Department of Health and Human Services.
"But if someone uses federal funds to proselytize, that would be a violation,'' Horn said. "It doesn't matter whether they are Baptist, Presbyterian, Jewish, or even members of the Unification Church."
Last week's crash course on marriage education was sponsored by the California State Healthy Marriage Initiative, an organization founded two years ago by the Rev. Dion Evans, pastor of Chosen Vessels Christian Church in Oakland.
Last month, Evans and his partners won a $366,179 grant from the Bush administration's Compassion Capital Fund -- part of the latest $45 million in social service contracts given to churches and community groups from the program this year.
"For four years, I did this work with no government funds,'' said Evans, adding that he has not yet received his first check from the Compassion Capital Fund. Evans said he partnered with the University of Bridgeport because "acknowledgement from a university gives them (seminar participants) support.''
"We had to settle for the University of Bridgeport,'' he said. "This is the last time we will be using them."
Critics say the Oakland program shows how difficult it is to give money to religious organizations while maintaining separation of church and state.
"Moon has been a big backer of the faith-based initiative,'' said the Rev. Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State. "But it's beyond belief that you can have the University of Bridgeport issuing marriage education certificates and claim that is secular.''
Lynn said the Oakland program also shows how "there is virtually no monitoring of where this money is going.''
"Money goes out and nobody knows how it's used and nobody knows what it's for,'' he said.
Following the money from the federal government to the streets of Oakland is not easy.
The organization that actually received the federal grant is the Institute for Contemporary Studies, a conservative think tank in Oakland and one of Evans' key partners in the California Healthy Marriage Initiative.
That partnership comes through another recently founded organization, the Bay Area Inner City Leadership Alliance.
It was founded by the Rev. Walter L. Humphrey, the pastor of Moriah Christian Fellowship Baptist Church in Oakland, and Robert Hawkins Jr., president of the Institute for Contemporary Studies. Board members include Evans and Leal, the Unification Church minister. Leal said the Institute for Contemporary Studies, not the Unification Church, applied for the federal funding for the marriage education training.
"Unificationism is my own faith," Leal said. "This just gives me a chance to work with clergy who are also interested in this issue.''
Hawkins, the director of the Institute for Contemporary Studies, said Moon's teachings were not part of the marriage education program.
"Bento (Leal) has never proselytized, and I didn't know Josie (Hauer) was a Moonie,'' he said. "I just looked at her curriculum and thought it was good.''
Hawkins said the project is designed to give pastors of smaller inner city churches new skills for "marriage and family strengthening."
"It's an experiment," he said. "You have to start somewhere.''
Moon has also partnered with the Bush administration in support of the Korean evangelist's strong teachings against premarital sex.
Free Teens USA, an after-school program in New Jersey promoting abstinence until marriage, has been given $475,000 by the federal Health Resources and Services Administration, another part of the Department of Health and Human Services. Free Teens is led by Richard Panzer, another alumnus of Unification Theological Seminary. Panzer was also a leader in the American Constitution Committee, one of many political organizations affiliated with Moon.
Panzer insists that his program is "devoid of any religious content.''
"I am a Unificationist, but I am also a professional,'' he said. "The purpose of Free Teens is not to bring young people to any one religious faith.''
Another longtime political operative in Moon front groups, David Caprara, now directs the Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives for the federal government's Corporation for National and Community Service. That agency runs, among other things, AmeriCorps Vista, which works with community organizations in low-income neighborhoods, and has emerged as a key player in Bush's faith-based initiative, handing out $61 million to faith-based organizations in fiscal year 2003.
Caprara is the former president of the American Family Coalition, a "grassroots leadership alliance" funded by the Washington Times Foundation and founded by Moon in 1984.
Caprara declined to comment on his Unification Church ties, referring questions to his press secretary, Sandy Scott.
"We don't inquire about employee's personal religious beliefs,'' Scott said. "What inspires David's work is a dedication to fighting poverty.''
During the 1970s, Moon's Unification Church was widely accused of deceptively recruiting and "brainwashing" idealistic converts on street corners and college campuses across the nation.
In 1982, Moon made headlines around the world when he presided over a mass marriage ceremony involving 2,075 couples in New York's Madison Square Garden.
Late that decade, Moon spent a year in federal prison after being convicted of income tax evasion.
For the past three decades, his controversial sect has struggled to make the leap from "cult" to "religion," to win credibility among political and religious leaders in the United States and around the world.
Through such publications as the Washington Times, a church-financed, conservative daily newspaper in the nation's capital, and through alliances with priests and pastors across the theological spectrum, Moon and company have spent a fortune courting the opinion-makers of church and state.
Moon showed an early interest in the Bush administration's faith-based initiative. In the spring of 2001, the American Leadership Conference, a project of the Caprara's American Family Coalition and Washington Times Foundation, sponsored a "Faith-Based Initiative Summit," a conference that was transmitted via satellite to 40 gatherings in churches and hotel meeting rooms across the country.
That summit came just months after one of President Bush's strongest supporters in the Christian Right, TV evangelist Pat Robertson, warned that religious cults would soon be eligible for federal funds.
In the Feb. 20, 2001, broadcast of his "700 Club" television show, Robertson said the president's faith-based initiative "could be a real Pandora's box."
"What seems to be such a great initiative can rise up to bite the organizations as well as the federal government," said Robertson, who expressed particular concern about federal money going to the Church of Scientology, the Hare Krishas and "the Moonies."
Robertson and Bush have since come to a meeting of minds on the president's faith-based initiative.
Another of the 145 recipients in the most recent outlay of the Compassion Capital Fund was Robertson's charity, Operation Blessing International, which got $500,000 from the Department of Health and Human Services.