By MICHAEL RUBINKAM
A Pennsylvania-based offshoot of the Unification Church is encouraging couples to bring their AR-15 rifles with them to a commitment ceremony in the Pocono Mountains, a half-mile from an elementary school.
World Peace and Unification Sanctuary in Newfoundland said it planned the Feb. 28 ceremony months ago, well before last week's massacre at a Florida high school. Authorities say the alleged gunman used an AR-15 in the attack that killed 17.
Tim Elder, the Unification Sanctuary's director of world missions, said Tuesday the church believes the AR-15 symbolizes the "rod of iron" mentioned in the Bible's apocalyptic book of Revelation.
The church website directs couples to show up to the ceremony with an AR-15 "or equivalents such as an AK semiautomatic rifle, representing both the intent and the ability to defend one's family, community ... "
The church is down the road from Wallenpaupack South Elementary School, and some parents expressed alarm at the planned ceremony.
"It's something I would consider keeping my child home. It's scary," parent Liz Zoccola told WNEP-TV.
"I wish they wouldn't have it at all. I don't think there's a good time to have it, especially this close," Kendra Hanor, another parent, told the station.
Elder told the AP that the weapons will be unloaded, secured with zip ties and checked at the door. He said the church did not consider canceling or moving the ceremony.
"Now more than ever, good people need to stand up and claim for themselves the tools that can be used to stop that kind of evil," he said.
State police are aware of the event but do not plan to send any troopers to it, since the church is breaking no law, Trooper Mark Keyes said Tuesday.
The Unification Sanctuary's leader, the Rev. Sean Moon, is the son of the Rev. Sun Myung Moon, a self-proclaimed messiah who founded the Unification Church, which is often described as a cult.
The Pennsylvania offshoot is a staunch supporter of the Second Amendment. Unification Sanctuary operates a group called Rod of Iron Ministries, which is hosting a "President Trump Thank You Dinner" on Saturday -- a fundraiser for Gun Owners of America.
The Rev. Sean Moon's brother founded Kahr Arms, a gun manufacturer.