If you’re a person on the internet in 2018, you probably saw the Associated Press’ viral tweet below, which showed “worshippers” blessing their AR-15 rifles during some sort of ceremony in Newfoundland, Pennsylvania. The event was seen as hugely insensitive in the wake of the Parkland shootings, in which a gunman used a weapon similar to the AR-15 rifle to take 17 lives and was protested by members of the community.
Worshippers clutching AR-15 rifles and some wearing bullet crowns, participated in a commitment ceremony today at World Peace and Unification Sanctuary, in Newfoundland, Pa. The event led a nearby school to cancel classes for the day. Photos @jacquelinelarma pic.twitter.com/GXzrZeK41z
— AP Images (@AP_Images) February 28, 2018
The tweet went viral because, well, look at those photos—captured by Jacqueline Larma for the AP. They were widely seen as a sign of hyper violent, nationalistic gun worship run amok. And while it may be true that many American Christians have an unhealthy relationship with firearms that has veered into idolatry, these pictures were not an example of that. The people in these photos are not Christians in any traditional sense of the word. They are, as religion reporter Amy Sullivan points out, some sort of cult with “no discernible relationship to Christianity.”
This point won’t be shared nearly as many times as the original image, but this “church” is really a cult, with no discernible relationship to Christianity. https://t.co/0UFKMH14bi
— Amy Sullivan (@sullivanamy) February 28, 2018
The whole thing was evidently some sort of “wedding ceremony” which took place at the “Sanctuary Church,” a church which CNN calls “controversial,” and that’s putting it rather mildly. It’s run by Pastor Hyung Jin Moon, whose father founded the Unification Church in the 1950s and became low-level famous for “mass weddings,” in which he would marry huge crowds of people to each other. The Sanctuary Church itself broke away from the Unification Church and calls itself “Rod of Iron Ministries,” owing to its belief that the “Rod of Iron” mentioned in the Bible is a reference to guns.
It’s all very weird, as the photos above demonstrate. And as Sullivan pointed out in another tweet: “Yes, it’s whack. But it’s a cult. It doesn’t make your point about conservative Christians, no matter how much you want it to.”