The God and Freedom Banquet to Welcome the Reverend Sun Myung Moon on His Release from Prison

The God and Freedom Banquet to Welcome the Reverend Sun Myung Moon on His Release from Prison

Susan Fegley Osmond
August 20, 1985
The Regency Ballroom, Omni Shoreham Hotel
Washington DC

On August 20, 1985, over 1,700 ministers, ministers, rabbis, and prominent laypeople welcomed Father on the day of his release with a banquet in his honor in Washington DC.

The God and Freedom Banquet at the Omni Shoreham Hotel in Washington commenced at about 6:00 p.m., but an important event had already occurred earlier that day in the nation’s capital. In a press conference that attracted national attention, about twenty religious leaders headlined by Rev. Jerry Falwell, head of the Moral Majority, and Rev. Joseph Lowery, president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, joined forces to call upon President Reagan to pardon Rev. Moon.

The Revs. Falwell and Lowery, known in the United States to have diametrically opposed views on nearly every other issue, not only lambasted the government’s prosecution of Rev. Moon — which Rev. Falwell said resulted in imprisonment only because of the unpopular religious views of the defendant– but also jointly exhorted the government to halt the erosion of religious freedom, Said Rev. Lowery, “The President, who steadfastly claims to uphold the separation of church and state and who proclaims support of religious freedom, has been strangely silent.” as the number of intrusions swells to unprecedented levels during his administration.”

History Has Longed for This Moment
In the evening, when I first entered the Shoreham Hotel’s filling banquet hall, tears sprang unbidden to my eyes. The tears were not only my own; they felt like the tears of Jesus and spirit world, rejoicing that a moment longed for throughout history had finally come to pass. I realized I hadn’t understood the significance of this event.

Although religious freedom was the rallying theme for this banquet, one could quickly discern that something more had drawn this crowd. When I talked to people, quite a few admitted they had had little to do with religious freedom work heretofore, but had either been to CAUSA seminars, or had benefited from the IRFF food distribution outreach. They, and people who had campaigned during the past year for religious freedom, told me their primary reason for coming was to honor Father or show their support for his work.

A warm standing ovation greeted the guests of honor, True Parents, as they joined the people sitting at the head table. Father and Mother were relaxed and radiant, and their combined humbleness and warmth brought an immediate sense of intimacy to the immense banquet hall.

As the national anthem was sung by Dr. Warren Cutts, father of Southeast Regional Coordinator Tom Cutts, I gazed upon one of the two huge American flags which flanked the head table. I saw spiritually superimposed upon the flag the faces of Jesus and Heung Jin Nim, looking out upon the audience with profound love and concern, and was reminded of a conservative Christian interpretation of the significance of the flag of the United States: The original 13 stars symbolize Jesus and his disciples, the 13 red stripes Christ’s suffering, the white stripes his purity, and the field of blue his truth. I sensed that this moment marked a new birth for the nation — a reconsecration of the covenant which had been its founding stone.

The invocation given by Dr. Joseph Paige of Shaw Divinity School set the mood for the banquet:

Father God, we are here tonight…on this very special occasion, to welcome home one of Your sons. A person, Lord, who has slaved and worked hard, who has labored in the vineyard; who has had the courage to stand tall and to accept both criticism and rejection, and yet who has had the courage to still continue his labor, to continue his mission. Lord, we ask you to bless this occasion; likewise those who had the courage to come here tonight and witness Your Presence among men. Bless those, Lord, who have labored, prayed, and made sacrifices, and talked, and preached, and have been ridiculed for supporting this great man that we honor here tonight. Lord, we ask You to give him more vision; to give him, Lord, the strength he needs to continue this great mission of uniting world Christianity….

The heartfelt amens which followed the latter thought revealed to me that people had not come here only to celebrate the cause of religious freedom. These rare and courageous people were truly committed to the reconciliation and uniting of world Christianity.

An Evening of Tribute
As everyone in the audience dove into the three-course meal, emcee Dr. Donald Sills introduced the forty people at the head table — a process that took about ten minutes. During the whole time, True Parents sat very respectfully, not touching their food. Even during the meal proper, True Parents had little chance to eat, for many people came up from the audience to shake their hands.

Entertainment by several ministers and Unification Church members was followed by award presentations. Representative Robert Forrey of the Idaho State Legislature presented Father with a beautiful hand-made card from civic leaders in the Northwest, many of whom had attended CAUSA seminars. The card read:

A tribute: We express our sincere gratitude for the efforts and ideals of CAUSA and its founder, the Reverend Sun Myung Moon. We regret that he has been misunderstood and has faced injustice in the nation that God conceived in liberty. May we not forget his sacrifice and devotion for our nation during the time of his unjust imprisonment. May God guide the efforts of CAUSA at this time, a crucial moment in history, and may America respond to the challenges we face together. May God grant you, Rev. Moon, the strength and courage to continue your good work.

Following this, Representative D.W. Bayer, also of the Idaho State Legislature, awarded Father a huge trophy from civic leaders in the Northwest. The room resounded with the flash and clatter of media cameras. Father exclaimed, “Wonderful! Thank you!” and much to the delight of the audience, kissed the trophy.

Dr. Sills then read a congratulatory letter from Washington DC Delegate to the House of Representatives, Walter Fauntroy, after which Mrs. Frances Merrill, a representative in the Utah State Legislature, read a telegram from her brother, Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah: “Welcome back, Rev. Moon, from an unjust time in prison. It was a miscarriage of justice, and in my opinion, an embarrassment to the United States. You are an example to others, advocating freedom of religion, and we look forward to your continued fight for religious alternatives to communism!’ Mrs. Merrill gave Father a kiss, which he returned with a hug.

Chief Robert Gopher, president of the International Pow-Wow Society, which promotes Native American culture and tradition in the United States and Canada, then presented Father with a Native American ceremonial drum. On October 14 of last year, Chief Gopher had made a nationally televised plea for President Reagan to extend executive clemency to Rev. Moon. The President had responded through the United States Attorney General that only Rev. Moon could request such clemency.

The ceremonial drum presented to Father was a religious instrument, with designs and feathers representing the earth, the four races of humankind and the common blood they all share, the four seasons, and the bounty of nature. This sort of drum is customarily presented to the person who is most devoted to the Creator, and who loves people of all races. Upon receiving the drum, Father embraced Chief Gopher in such a heartfelt way that one could vividly sense Father’s concern for his Native American “cousins!’ Father then took up the drum and played a few dramatic measures upon it. There was something both commanding and filial about how Father struck the drum. It felt to me as if the whole cosmos awoke and moved to the dynamic rhythm, and God Himself danced in liberation and victory.

Enchantment and Delight
During the course of the banquet I had noticed a subtle transformation in the audience, like something that had been in shadow coming forth into the light. You could feel it rippling through the hall: in the laughter of delight when Father kissed the trophy, in the hearty guffaws when in an emphatic but parental manner Father helped Mr. Forrey pronounce his name, in the enchanted laughter and applause as Father struck the sacred drum — there was more than respect here for Father, there was love. Dr. Sills joked that the reason Dr. Pak flung up behind Father every time Father stood up was because Father’s chair kept falling over, but the joke met with laughter mixed with murmurs of indignation. The minister and his wife sitting next to me exclaimed, “Why don’t they get him a decent chair? He should have the best chair!”

Rev. Don Olson of Miami next awarded Father a plaque from ministers in Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Florida, and Tennessee. It was inscribed: “We are sorry that you have suffered the injustice and humiliation of Danbury, but we are grateful that you have shown us the way of victory in faith. We appreciate your profound vision which you have shared with us, and we will support you in your work wherever you may go!’ The names and titles of the ministers were etched below, with a final inscription, “Victory of Danbury!’

Dr. Richard Rubenstein, president of the Washington Institute for Values in Public Policy, read a long letter of congratulations and support to Father from the participants of the Second International Congress of the Professors World Peace Academy, which had just been held in Geneva, Switzerland. In addition Dr. Rubenstein outlined the history of PWPA and described some of the many other projects Father has initiated involving the international academic community. “So, all over the world things are happening, not just here,’ he said.

During all of these awards and presentations to Father from representatives of the religious, academic, and civic communities, I felt a great weight being lifted from America. It was as if, in the forgiving eyes of God, the clock had been turned back to Father’s first arrival in the United States, when he was welcomed with acclamations, and all the intervening years of ugliness had been dispelled like a ghastly nightmare. America had conditionally been given a clean slate. But a marked difference remained between the pristine interval when Father was first greeted in America, and the present time. In the early 1970s, the people who welcomed him were innocent of what he taught and what he stood for. What they had presented to him they gave, childlike, out of a vague feeling of goodwill. But the people who applauded Father tonight were familiar with his ideals and his work, and some had even imperiled their reputations to stand in support of him. These were people of commitment and action.

After the presentations and awards, five speakers addressed the audience prior to Father’s speech. Dr. Robert Grant, the chairman of the influential lobbying group Christian Voice, urged the audience to help America regain the balance between the sacred and the secular originally wrought by the nation’s founders. George Washington and Patrick Henry, he said, had been in favor of establishing a state religion in America. Thomas Jefferson and James Monroe had opposed this on the grounds that it could result in religious tyranny. Dr. Grant stressed, however, that Jefferson and Monroe had no intention of eliminating a religious frame of reference from the realm of civic action; in fact, quite the opposite. The result of this conflict between the founding fathers was a dynamic tension in American life, wherein religious values continued to shape all aspects of society, but neither distended into religious absolutism nor dissipated in a tyranny of atheism.

Religious Values Are Being Lost
This fragile balance, said Dr. Grant, has now been lost, and America is now a country where in some states children are not allowed to pray audibly in school, senior citizens are forbidden to pray over government-provided meals, the need for chaplains in the military is being debated, churches are padlocked, ministers are jailed, and an unpopular Oriental religious leader is imprisoned by a hostile bureaucracy for exercising his religious convictions according the wishes of his followers and his church. It now seems, said Dr. Grant, that “the freedom to practice the religion of our choice is to be considered a privilege” granted by unelected officials rather than “an inherent, God-given right.” as envisioned by the nation’s founders. These founders, argued Grant, would be appalled to find what has become of the nation they had established.

When Dr. Joseph Lowery, the president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, took the floor, the hall suddenly ignited. At least half of the audience was black, and Dr. Lowery is a beloved leader of the black community in America — having in essence inherited the mantle from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. His theme was also the need to ensure religious freedom, but he emphasized that those who will violate religious rights will also violate civil rights and human rights. “Out of the imprisonment of Brother Moon has come a new realization of the need for the community of faith to come together to protect those liberties that are dear to all of us’,’ he declared. “We’ve come to realize that unless we protect each other, there is no security for any of us.”

Dr. Lowery’s speeches are truly a phenomenon. He is the archetypal charismatic activist preacher. Many of the things he said were familiar to those who have heard him before, but it didn’t matter. As he recounted the story of Mordecai’s “first protest march in history’,’ the audience stood and clapped and shouted — even danced — in response to his percussive phrases. As his thrilling voice reverberated through the room, the audience appeared to congeal into one entity, and the resultant duet between it and Dr. Lowery filled the hall with a virtual canticle of freedom. Twice he was given a tumultuous standing ovation by the crowd, before in the end the house was all but brought down with applause.

Dr. Cleon Skousen, the founder and director of the National Center for Constitutional Studies, was the perfect choice to follow Dr. Lowery. His quiet, grandfatherly, touchingly sincere manner of delivery was such a dramatic change from the electrifying Dr. Lowery that the contrast itself imbued his message with heightened poignancy. His words went straight to the heart.

Dr. Skousen’s entire address testified to Father’s motivation in coming to America and the work he has done while in this country, seen from the vantage point of a constitutional scholar and devout Christian. During his speech a pervasive calm held the audience in thrall, and many were moved to tears.

“Rev. Moon Was a Victim”
Arnaud de Borchgrave, the editor-in-chief of The Washington Times, also testified eloquently to Father’s work to ensure freedom in America and to counter communism. In a sonorous voice seemingly borne from the realm of legend, Mr. de Borchgrave stated, “I am personally convinced that Rev. Moon was a victim of prejudice, injustice, and persecution. His powerful anticommunist voice was being heard around the world — much to the discomfort of those who are prone to blame America first…. Rev. Moon has been on the ramparts of freedom in his worldwide struggle. And for this he was persecuted and punished.”

Dr. Milton A. Reid, the pastor of Gideon’s Missionary Baptist Fellowship in Norfolk, Virginia, seemed to be conscious of his John the Baptist role of preparing the audience to receive Father. Himself a victim of government harassment and imprisonment, he spoke from the unique vantage point of someone who has shared an experience similar to Father’s. His speech, though, was laden with phrases that intimated Father’s unique mission and identity. I am not sure how much Dr. Reid understands Principle, but his instincts certainly seem to be leading him in the right direction. About halfway through his speech, with exacting deliberateness, emphasizing particularly the final few words, he called Father “one of the most misunderstood religious leaders since Jesus of Nazareth.” At that point many people in the audience gasped in sudden realization. At my table one minister whispered with intense excitement, “Interesting! Interesting!” Dr. Reid continued, “Rev. Moon has had the courage to say what few Christian ministers in the West would dare to say: that God is giving him the task of completing the works of Jesus. Now to some of us that is threatening…. But this is the task of all Christians’: Dr. Reid concluded, “[God] has set before us, believers and nonbelievers, Rev. Moon, ho tells us that he has received a revelation from the son, and he is acting on it. Maybe if we listen to him we might glean from him a new reflection from the son!’ At the end of his speech there was thunderous applause and much animated discussion.

Emcee Dr. Don Sills, the president of the Coalition for Religious Freedom, then gave a short address while copies of Father’s speech were handed out to the audience. Dr. Sills bemoaned the weakening of religious liberties in America, and he laid the responsibility for this at the door of religious leaders themselves. He took the religious community to task for allowing government agencies, courts, and legislatures to assume an illegitimate role of moral leadership in the United States. “You and I, religious leaders, have failed to offer true and Godly solutions. We’ve not presented a vision before this nation. We’ve not said to the world, ‘We know where we’re going and we want you to follow’, ” he declared. Meanwhile, Satan has been able to undermine the credibility of the clergy, said Dr. Sills, because of the petty infighting, narrow thinking, and division that has characterized the pastorate.

“Because of the lack of religious leadership throughout the world, a philosophical vacuum has been left, not only in the United States but in other countries, which the communists have endeavored to fill with their false, atheistic doctrines’,’ he continued. “We must on a worldwide basis reclaim our roles of leadership as God’s representatives, and then hand in hand you and I must walk this world out of darkness of slavery into the light of freedom and the dawning of a new age. Truly, this is the day the Lord has made!” He then testified to the work that Father has done, in the face of severe opposition, to defeat communism and bring about world peace. He introduced Father as a man he greatly admired and as one whom, despite theological differences, he could truly call a friend.

Soul-Searching Reflection
A prolonged standing ovation greeted Father as he rose to the podium. He proceeded to read his address slowly in English, as the audience carefully followed along.

The audience honed in on Father’s speech with breathtaking concentration. Neither amens nor hallelujahs interrupted the flow of ideas, and through intermittent applause Father bulldozed unheeding. I had to chuckle a bit to myself — many times uninformed people have expressed to me their fear that Father would mesmerize an audience into mindless mob action, like some sort of Hitler. If they could have only seen this! Here, the same audience that had been stirred into something of a frenzy by Dr. Lowery’s determined exhortations sat so still listening to Father that you could have heard a pin drop on the carpet. It was crystal clear that Father’s power is grounded not in reducing people to a mindless state, but in drawing them into profound, soul-searching reflection.

The ministers were riveted to the page, absorbing the ideas in an almost unearthly silence, deeply engrossed in thought. One could see in their expressions that here they were coming across ground-breaking concepts, and they poured all their energy into digesting this compelling, and sometimes disturbing, content. I could see before my eyes the making of the cultural revolution Father has spoken of so many times: It comes not through clamorous protests and rallies, which have ignited so many “revolutionary” movements of the past, but through the soundless revolution in the ideas which shape men’s outlook and actions. As Rev. Tom McDevitt, the regional coordinator of Washington DC, later commented, this moment felt like the ushering-in of the Completed Testament era.

An ear-piercing yet sober standing ovation followed Father’s speech, punctuated by repeated bravos and shouts of encouragement. Afterwards Dr. Sills could only utter, “The word of God says, ‘Go ye into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature:… Before I take time to criticize Rev. Moon and his theology, I must be willing to pay the price that he has paid in prayer” In concluding the banquet, he urged everyone to not let this evening be the end, but to come out of the walls of their churches and join hands, and allow God to speak through them to society at large. “You and I are involved in the greatest movement upon the face of the earth, and that is to bring God to a lost and dying world”

When Dr. Sills announced a special gift for everyone — Gods Will and the World, an anthology of 38 speeches by Father which encapsulate his teachings — many people in the audience gasped. It was clear from the tone of their voices that they regarded this as a great treasure.

Infused with New Vitality
The banquet ended with the audience standing and singing a rousing rendition of “God Bless America” and joining in a benediction offered by Rabbi C.H. Meir Leifer, which summed up the feeling of the evening: “We thank Thee so much for granting us the blessing to have our great leader, Rev. Moon, back among us….”

After the banquet, the tables where the book of Father’s speeches were being handed out were overrun with people. No one that I could see turned down the hook. In fact ministers helped pass them through the crowd. One pastor even urged me, “Did you get yours yet?” When I hesitated, he insisted, “You should have one. Take this copy,’ while he reached for another for himself and a person beside him.

The next morning, the ministers met again for a continental breakfast and testimonial. At that time many ministers testified to the growth of CAUSA work in their regions as well as work with the trucks for food distribution. One quoted sections of Father’s speech of the night before which he found most inspiring. Others spoke about how to expand the work of the Coalition for Religious Freedom. All were infused with the idea that as a united body they had to reclaim the role of leadership in society.

I was overwhelmed by how avidly the ministers took to the tools Father has made available CAUSA, the trucks, his teachings — and how liberated the ministers appeared, now that they felt able to make an impact on society. One minister said that for the first time he felt truly alive, and also happily testified that whereas his church had formerly been a one-night-a-week establishment (convening during the week only for Wednesday night prayer), with materials made available through CAUSA his church had now become active six nights and three mornings a week.

As Father has told members, August 20 was truly a crossroads: the point where Cain and Abel of the twentieth century met and embraced. Over 2,000 people, including media people and members, attended the event — the latter in a second ballroom, where they watched the proceedings on video. All came for different reasons. But I think none came away unchanged. It was without question a landmark in the lives of each of these people, and in the history of the world as a whole.