Couples clutching AR-15 rifles married at U.S. church's commitment ceremony

AFP_11H9GQ

Worshippers clutched rifles and donned crowns made of rounds of bullets, as they exchanged or renewed wedding vows at a church in the U.S. state of Pennsylvania on Wednesday.

The World Peace and Unification Sanctuary hosted the event, at which couples wearing white dresses and dark suits renewed their vows and received blessings on their unloaded firearms, according to the Associated Press.

The rifle is central to Sanctuary Church's view of Christianity, as a means of protecting followers and their families, Moon preaches. He and his wife are known as the king and queen. The church's leader, the Rev. Sean Moon, said in a prayer that God gave people the right to bear arms.

Those unable to purchase and legally transport an acceptable semiautomatic rifle to the ceremony "are invited to purchase a $700 gift certificate from a gun store, as evidence of their intent to purchase a "rod of iron" in the future", the church states.

Jonathan Franco of Tannersville was born into the Unification Church and now follows the offshoot Sanctuary Church.

At the entrance to the church, an attendant checked each weapon at the door to make sure it was unloaded and secured with a zip tie.

It was a kingdom, he said, "where the citizens, through the right given to them by almighty God to keep and bear arms, will be able to protect one another and protect human flourishing".

Moon in services highlights references to the "rod of iron" in the Bible, including multiple references from the Book of Revelation.

Coming amid intense national debate over gun control after the Florida high school massacre two weeks ago by a gunman toting an AR-15, the event at the church on Route 507 drew a few dozen members of the media and about a dozen protestors.

A handful of protesters gathered outside the church to condemn the blessing involving guns.

She said she was "very annoyed" that the event was tantamount to political endorsement and that it was "time to revoke" the non-profit status of such religious groups. "I used to be scared a little".

"If someone, like in Texas, they come into a church and start shooting people, the neighborly thing to do is get your gun and go kill that guy", said Stephens, referencing the November killing of 26 people at First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas. "You have to protect against evil".

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