The World Peace and Unification Sanctuary, a church in Pennsylvania, USA, held a service on Wednesday during which members were asked to attend with the rifles to be presented for blessings.
Worshippers clutching AR-15 rifles drank holy wine and exchanged or renewed wedding vows at the ceremony, prompting a nearby primary school to cancel classes.
This is coming barely two weeks after an AR-15 was used by a 19-year-old to murder 17 people at a high school in Florida on Feb. 14.
The church, founded by Sun Myung Moon, a self-proclaimed messiah who died in 2012, teaches that the AR-15 symbolizes the “rod of iron” in the book of Revelation, and encouraged couples to bring the weapons.
Moon’s son, Sean, is now the leader of a faction of the church, which broke away after his father’s demise.
At the event, he prayed for “a kingdom of peace police and peace militia 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”, the Chicago tribune reports.
An attendant checked each weapon at the door to ensure it was unloaded and secured with a zip tie, and the elaborate commitment ceremony went off without a hitch.
Many residents of the community protested outside the church, calling the church an “armed religious cult”.
“It’s scaring people in the community,” one protester told a church member. “Are you aware of that?”
“I don’t need a freaking assault weapon to defend myself. Only thing they’re good for is killing. Period,” said Lisa Desiena, from Scranton.
“That’s all that weapon is good for, mass killing. And you want to bless it? Shame on you.”
But Sreymom Ouk, 41, who attended the ceremony alongside her husband, Sort Ouk, and with their AR-15, said the weapon is useful for defending her family against “sickos and evil psychopaths”.
“People have the right to bear arms, and in God’s kingdom, you have to protect that. You have to protect against evil,” she said.