Blessing the AR-15s: So this was a 'mass' in an ordinary church linked to famous 'evangelist'?

If you want to understand the current cyberspace freakout about those church rites to bless AR-15 rifles (or something like that, that were based on the Bible, or something like that), please watch the CBS News video at the top of this post.

If you are a journalist who works on the religion beat, you are going to want to place coffee cups or other beverage containers far, far away from your computer keyboard or the glowing-screen device of your choice. Try to stay calm.

Did you watch the video? OK, now let's proceed. Based on the contents of this video, answer this: Who are these people and what kind of church is this?

Apparently, these are run-of-the-mill Christians at a normal church. Right?

Or maybe you turned to CNN for further information -- like this online report, with this headline: "Pennsylvania couples clutching AR-15 rifles renew wedding vows." Pretty far into this report, news consumers learn the following about the Rev. Sean Moon, the head of this organization:

Moon is the son of Rev. Sun Myung Moon, who founded the Unification Church in the 1950s. Before he died in 2012 at age 92, the elder Moon was a high-profile international evangelist for decades. He was famous for conducting mass weddings, including at New York City's Madison Square Garden and another one uniting 360,000 couples in South Korea.
The Sanctuary Church calls itself Rod of Iron Ministries, and is a breakaway faction of the Unification Church, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. The Unification Church distanced itself from Wednesday's event, saying its ceremonies and teachings do not involve weapons.

Wait, wait, wait. Sun Myung Moon was famous because he was AN EVANGELIST, as opposed to the content of his teachings? He was an "evangelist" like, well, the Rev. Billy Graham?

Believe it or not, even that wording is a little bit better than an Agence France-Presse visual report that started like this:

A mass of unusual sorts takes place in a church in Pennsylvania, where dozens of revelers come to pray armed with semi-automatic weapons.

Wait, wait, wait. A "mass"? You mean like a Catholic Mass? I don't think so.

So what is going on here? Let's turn to religion-beat veteran Bob Smietana, who shows remarkable restraint here:

Now, as always, most Americans who read newspapers probably ended up reading some variation on this Associated Press report (as carried by USA Today). Here is the overture of this extended feature:

Crown-wearing worshippers clutching AR-15 rifles drank holy wine and exchanged or renewed wedding vows in a commitment ceremony at a Pennsylvania church on Wednesday, prompting a nearby school to cancel classes.
With state police and a smattering of protesters standing watch outside the church, brides clad in white and grooms in dark suits brought dozens of unloaded AR-15s into World Peace and Unification Sanctuary for a religious event that doubled as an advertisement for the Second Amendment.
The church, which has a worldwide following, believes the AR-15 symbolizes the "rod of iron" in the book of Revelation, and encouraged couples to bring the weapons. An AR-15 was used in the Florida high school massacre on Feb. 14.

Hopefully, readers kept going. A few passages later there was this:

Moon is the son of the late Rev. Sun Myung Moon, a self-proclaimed messiah who founded the Unification Church, which critics regard as a cult. The younger Moon's congregation is a breakaway faction of the Unification Church, which had distanced itself from Wednesday's event.
An attendant checked each weapon at the door to make sure it was unloaded and secured with a zip tie, and the elaborate commitment ceremony went off without a hitch.
Tim Elder, Unification Sanctuary's director of world missions, told worshippers the ceremony was meant to be a blessing of couples, not "inanimate objects," calling the AR-15 a "religious accoutrement." The church has held at least one other ceremony featuring assault-style rifles.

OK, that is mildly worded -- but the crucial information is in there. The Unification Church would certainly fit under doctrinal definitions of the word "cult," as used by mainstream churches, and during his lifetime, critics debated whether Sun Myung Moon's control of the lives of his followers might justify calling his movement a sociological "cult."

The bottom line: This is not an ordinary church holding a rite to bless marriages/weapons.

But in this case, especially in America's current hurricane of gun-control coverage, it was hard for news consumers to get past the visuals in many reports -- even reports that briefly noted the Moon movement link.

Take, for example, this online feature at Newsweek. It offers the bare minimum of facts, but offers 26 photos of the event (including the obligatory shot of a car with a "Please pray for President Trump" sign). The visuals overwhelm the information.

So let's end by going back to Smietana, on Twitter:

Let us attend (especially people who manage newsrooms).

FIRST IMAGE: Screen shot from the CBS News report.

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