Controversy is brewing among the congregation at the Enon Baptist Church. Church members are concerned about ideological changes in the beliefs and teachings of their pastor, the Rev. Arnold Howard, who has served the Harlem Park church in that position since 1989.
The AFRO obtained a letter that claims Howard’s affiliation with the American Clergy Leadership Council, an “interdenominational clergy organization,” is in direct conflict with his duties and obligations as pastor of Enon Baptist.
At the heart of the matter is the ACLC’s connection to the highly controversial Unification Church led by the Rev. Sun Myung Moon, a North Korea-born man who claims he is the second coming of Jesus.
“We’ve been infiltrated by these people,” said Jesse Bennett, a longtime member of the church and author of the open letter. “Rev. Howard has been teaching the Divine Principle in his sermons and in bible study classes. We want ACLC and the Unification Church out of Enon. We didn’t ask for them to come and we did not invite them.”
Bennett also wrote to the Baptist Minister’s Conference of Baltimore and Vicinity inquiring about their position on the ACLC and the Unification Church.
Regarded as a cult by some members of Enon, the Unification Church has met objection worldwide since its inception in 1954.
The Divine Principle, the text used by the Unification Church, co-written by Moon and one of his early disciples, was first published in 1966. Some of Moon’s philosophies, found in the book, are similar to the ancient teachings of Christianity, including an acknowledgement of one God, the life and death of Jesus Christ and the Bible as holy text.
Moon and his followers regard he and his wife, Hak Ja Han, as the “true” mother and father or parents of humanity, sent to absolve mankind of their sins. The basis of Moon’s claims is his affirmation of himself as a modern day Messiah. This distinction has caused religious leaders and scholars to openly question Moon’s authenticity and motives.
On the ACLC’s website, Howard is listed as the co-chairman of the Maryland, Virginia and Washington D.C., region and a video posted by the organization shows Howard lecturing about how to incorporate the doctrine of the Divine Principle into the teachings of the Bible.
Another Enon Baptist member said Howard relieved him from his position at the church when asked to show support of the Divine Principle. “He told me that I was either for him or against him,” the member told the AFRO. “I said to him, ‘I am not against you but I am not for the Divine Principle’ and shortly after I was removed from my position.”
According to Bennett, the pastor addressed his affiliation with the ACLC during his Easter address to the congregation. The sermon, “Because Jesus Appointed Me To,” and the website video were abnormal for Easter Sunday, Bennett said.
He also said that during a congregation meeting Howard claimed the support of the executive board of the Baptist Minister’s Conference. According to Bennett, Howard said: “I presented excerpts of my speech from Sunday to the Baptist Ministerial Alliance and when I finished, they applauded, they gave my message a round of applause, they liked my message.”
“It is extremely important that your body responds immediately to our inquiry on the position the BM takes with these groups,” wrote Bennett in his open letter.
BMC President, Dr. Walter Brunson Jr., responded that they did not support the teachings of Rev. Moon, the ACLC or the Unification Church. However Rev. Howard, Brunson said, was entitled under his first amendment right to “present his personal views during the Theological Moment,” but added that “the conference did not at that time nor do we at this time endorse his position.”
Howard’s attendance at the American Clergy Leadership Conference, an annual event sponsored by the Unification Church, along with conferences, galas and training sessions allegedly financed by the Unification Church, has called the pastor’s alliance into question. Bennett said Howard “allows ACLC meetings, regularly hosts prayer breakfasts and utilizes the facilities of Enon Baptist Church” to further the goals and objectives of the Unification Church.
“Rev. Howard should resign in writing from the ACLC,” said Bennett. Church members will meet at the end of May to decide what happens next.
When contacted by the AFRO, Howard declined to comment on the matter. “This is an internal church matter,” he said.