In Pictures: Couples Clutching AR-15 Rifles Renew Wedding Vows at Controversial Pennsylvania Church

Hundreds of worshippers clutching AR-15 rifles and pistols packed into a church in Pennsylvania to have their weddings blessed and their weapons celebrated as life-saving "rods of iron."

The women wore white bridal gowns and the men wore dark suits as they gripped their unloaded weapons. Many wore crowns—some made of bullets—while church officials dressed in flowing bright pink and white garments.

00 Officials dressed in pink robes hold weapons during a service at World Peace and Unification Sanctuary in New Foundland, Pennsylvania in Newfoundland, Pennsylvania Don Emmert/AFP 01a A couple wearing crowns of bullets sit with their AR-15-style rifles at a blessing ceremony at the Sanctuary Church in Newfoundland, Pennsylvania. Eduardo Munoz/Reuters 01c A man wearing an NRA cap holds a pistol during a ceremony at the World Peace and Unification Sanctuary in Newfoundland, Pennsylvania. Spencer Platt/Getty Images 01b A man clutches a pistol during the service at the Sanctuary Church in Newfoundland, Pennsylvania. Eduardo Munoz/Reuters

The weapons were checked at the door to make sure they were unloaded, and then secured with zip ties.

09 A woman has her gun inspected before a ceremony at the World Peace and Unification Sanctuary in Newfoundland, Pennsylvania. Spencer Platt/Getty Images 10 An AR-15 rifle is inspected before a ceremony at the World Peace and Unification Sanctuary in Newfoundland, Pennsylvania. Spencer Platt/Getty Images 11 People attend a blessing ceremony with their AR-15-style rifles in their cases at the Sanctuary Church in Newfoundland, Pennsylvania. Eduardo Munoz/Reuters 12 A woman tries to take out her AR-15-style rifle out of its case during a blessing ceremony at the Sanctuary Church in Newfoundland, Pennsylvania. Eduardo Munoz/Reuters 14 People sit underneath pictures of weapons at the controversial church in Newfoundland, Pennsylvania. Eduardo Munoz/Reuters

World Peace and Unification Sanctuary is located in Newfoundland in the rural Pocono Mountains, about 100 miles north of Philadelphia. The controversial church is headed by the Reverend Hyung Jin Moon, son of the late Reverend Sun Myung Moon, of "Moonies" fame. The younger Moon's congregation is a breakaway faction of the Unification Church, which distanced itself from the ceremony.

02 A church official holds a gilded AR-15-style rifle at World Peace and Unification Sanctuary in Newfoundland, Pennsylvania. Eduardo Munoz/Reuters 03 Reverend Hyung Jin Moon arrives carrying a crown during services at the World Peace and Unification Sanctuary in Newfoundland, Pennsylvania. Don Emmert/AFP 04 Reverend Hyung Jin Moon, the church's pastor and the son of the late Sun Myung Moon, participates in a ceremony at the World Peace and Unification Sanctuary in Newfoundland, Pennsylvania. Spencer Platt/Getty Images 16 An official at World Peace and Unification Sanctuary holds a weapon during their service in Newfoundland, Pennsylvania. Don Emmert/AFP 17 A woman wearing a bridal gown takes her seat before the service at World Peace and Unification Sanctuary in Newfoundland, Pennsylvania. Don Emmert/AFP 18 Worshippers wait for the start of the service at World Peace and Unification Sanctuary in Newfoundland, Pennsylvania. Don Emmert/AFP 19 Worshippers wearing crowns prepare for the service at World Peace and Unification Sanctuary in Newfoundland, Pennsylvania. Don Emmert/AFP 20 Armed men watch over the crowd of worshippers before services at World Peace and Unification Sanctuary in Newfoundland, Pennsylvania. Don Emmert/AFP 21 A woman holds an AR-15 rifle during a ceremony at the World Peace and Unification Sanctuary in Newfoundland, Pennsylvania. Spencer Platt/Getty Images 22 Couples hold AR-15 rifles and other guns during a ceremony at the World Peace and Unification Sanctuary in Newfoundland, Pennsylvania. Spencer Platt/Getty Images 23 People with AR-15-rifles and other guns rejoice during a blessing ceremony at the Sanctuary Church in Newfoundland, Pennsylvania. Eduardo Munoz/Reuters 24 A woman holds an AR-15 rifle during a ceremony at the World Peace and Unification Sanctuary in Newfoundland, Pennsylvania. Spencer Platt/Getty Images

A spokesman for the church said the marriage blessing ceremony had been planned long before a man with an AR-15 massacred 17 people at a school in Parkland, Florida, on February 14.

Moon said in a statement that the staff of the Florida school should have been armed, a strategy also put forward by President Donald Trump, despite widespread criticism from teachers.

08 A man carries his rifle past a car with a 'Pray for President Trump sticker' parked outside World Peace and Unification Sanctuary in Newfoundland, Pennsylvania. Don Emmert 07 The U.S. flag flies outside World Peace and Unification Sanctuary in Newfoundland, Pennsylvania. Don Emmert/AFP 06 People exit the church with their AR-15-style rifles after attending a blessing ceremony at the Sanctuary Church in Newfoundland, Pennsylvania. Eduardo Munoz/Reuters

"Each of us is called to use the power of the 'rod of iron' not to arm or oppress as has been done in satanic kingdoms of this world, but to protect God's children," Moon said, citing the Book of Revelation in the Bible.

Protesters demonstrated outside the church holding signs that read: “Worship God, not guns” and “What would Jesus pack?”.

05 People protest outside the church as worshippers attend a blessing ceremony with their guns at the church in Newfoundland, Pennsylvania. Eduardo Munoz/Reuters 05a Anti-gun protesters stand outside as couples with AR-15 rifles and other guns participate in a ceremony at the World Peace and Unification Sanctuary in Newfoundland, Pennsylvania. Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Sreymom Ouk, 41, who attended the ceremony with her husband, Sort Ouk, and their AR-15, told the Associated Press their weapon was 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," she said. "You have to protect against evil."

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