It has become the story that will not die: Why was the Rev. Sun Myung Moon given a robe and crown in a U.S. Senate office building March 23, and why did several members of Congress attend? This morning, a Moon front group, the Interreligious and International Federation for World Peace, held a press conference in Washington, D.C., at the National Press Club to explain what the coronation was all about.

Several Christian, Jewish and Muslim religious leaders attended the event to show solidarity with Moon and salute him as a peacemaker. The March 23 event, the Rev. Phillip D. Schanker said, was designed to acknowledge "community workers, interreligious heroes and other activists." The event, he said, also promoted reconciliation among religions and the races.

During the ceremony, Schanker said, "ceremonial robes and crowns" were placed on Moon and his wife "in the context of their role as king and queen of peace."

Schanker and another Unification Church official, the Rev. Michael Jenkins, said the event had been distorted by writers who did not attend it. This, they claim, generated controversy and caused members of Congress to distance themselves from the Moon gala.

The event, Schanker said, was "mischaracterized" by "independent writers" who made "ugly" charges. "We are here," he said, "to set the record straight." (The reference to "independent writers" was to blogger John Gorenfeld, who first reported about the event and later did an in-depth piece about it for

Claims that the event was merely about peace among religions seem to conflict with a description of the ceremony that appeared on a Unification Church website. On Moon's Family Federation for World Peace and Unification website a few days after the crowning, top Moon official Chung Hwan Kwak was quoted as saying, "So in effect, the crowning means America is saying to Father, 'Please become my king.'"

Observed Kwak, "The 'outside' view of the Capitol Hill event was that Father received a crown, an award for his years of dedication and leadership in reconciliation and peace-making. The 'inside' view of the event was that America surrendered to True Parents in the king's position."

Archbishop George Augustus Stallings, founder of a breakaway Catholic church and a frequent Moon ally, spoke at the press conference and took questions. But Stallings dodged the most important question and refused to say which member of the Senate arranged for Moon's group to use the room in the Dirksen Senate Office Building. (Under Senate rules, such requests for Senate space must be submitted by a member of that body.)

Asked directly to name the senator who had put in the room request, Stallings said, "We do not know." Asked how they could not know, Stallings said, "We don't. Read my lips."

But a moment later, Schanker stepped up to the microphone to clarify matters. The Moon group does know who requested the room but will not say, Schanker said. It is up to the Senate Rules Committee, he said, to make that information public.

A representative from Church & State attended the press conference and asked Stallings if it were true that religious leaders who work with Moon are paid for their efforts or receive expensive gifts. A clearly agitated Stallings called the question racist, saying it implied that black ministers can be bought. (In fact, it was a white minister in Minnesota, who worked with Moon but later broke with him, who first told Church & State about this practice.)

"There's always this instinct, that black pastors can be bought," said Stallings. "Let me set the record straight, black pastors cannot be bought. It is a racist and loaded question."

A moment later, Stallings admitted he had received a gold watch from Moon and flashed the watch briefly (see it here). He also admitted that he receives payments from Moon's Family Federation for World Peace and Unification. Stallings described the money and watch as compensation for services rendered, saying, "Anyone who does work for any organization deserves to be compensated." He then joked that he doesn't get enough.

The question of Moon's possible divinity also came up. Although Moon has been proclaimed the Messiah in the "Spirit World," Jenkins said this does not necessarily mean he is the son of God. Unification Church members, Jenkins said, interpret the title as one anointed by God but not the same as God.

Jenkins went on to compare Moon to Martin Luther King, Gandhi and Jesus Christ, noting that all were persecuted.