The Unification Church’s marriage system symbolizes its break with Christianity.

The family is under assault. The divorce rate, while tapering off last year due to the economic situation, still approaches 50 percent. But the Rev. Sun Myung Moon believes he has the answer to the problem—marriage Unification style. To demonstrate his solution, the Unification Church that he founded in 1954 rented Madison Square Garden, and on July 1, 1982, he married some 2,000 couples—half of his American following—in one massive ceremony, matching up the couples himself. Then three months later, on October 14, in a less-publicized ceremony (at least in this country) he eclipsed his own record by marrying 5,837 couples in Seoul, Korea. Some Americans who missed the New York ceremony traveled to Korea for this latter ceremony.

Quite apart from the matter of arranged marriages, the Unification Church breaks with traditional marriage patterns. Only by understanding the role of marriage in Moon’s thought can we penetrate into the heart of Unification thought and hope for the world. The “blessing” (marriage) symbolizes better than any other aspect of Unificationism the absolute break it has made with traditional Christian faith. Far from being merely a heretical sect of Christianity, the Unification Church has created a whole new religious gestalt that just happens to draw upon Christian symbols and materials. Unlike orthodox Christianity with its focus upon repentance, forgiveness, and salvation through faith in Jesus Christ, Unificationism has built its entire life and faith around the blessing and the blessed life. In Moon’s view, man and woman together reflect the image of God. Jesus is believed to have failed—failed to marry and bear children. Moon demonstrated his cosmic role by marrying and fathering 12 children to reverse the effects of the act of adultery, the original sin of Adam and Eve. (Soon after the birth of his twelfth child, Moon assumed the title “Lord of the Second Advent,” the equivalent of the Christian Messiah. Altogether, Moon has 16 children, two by his first wife, one illegitimate child whom he fathered as a young man, and 13 by his present wife.)

To enter the world of Moonie marriages is to enter a semisecret world, a world little discussed outside the higher echelons of the Unification Church, and revealed to unmarried members only in steps. Only recently, as a result of the mass marriages of 1982 and Unificationism’s increasing openness to outside observers, has the nature of the marriage covenant and ritual process become visible.

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Marriage Unification Style

The Unification Church impresses on the new member from the day he joins the importance of the marriage process, or blessing. Without the blessing no one is saved or qualified for the kingdom of heaven. Everything prior is mere preparation. Single members must demonstrate their readiness to assume the responsibilities of the blessed life. During their first years they must work with other single members to overcome racial prejudices, resolve personal conflicts, and become comfortable with individual relationships. They attempt to bring spiritual children into the church (i.e.,) recruit new members) as a model for the eventual parenting of physical children. They master the very sophisticated and often complicated Unification theology. They live with hardship and privation, spoken of within the church as “paying indemnity.”

After two to seven years of preparation, when the member feels ready, he or she initiates the marriage process proper by making a formal application to be matched. For the application to be considered (though there is some flexibility), the members must meet some minimal requirements—two years of church membership and the age of 23 (female) or 24 (male). The church also requires two years of celibacy. The application goes to the blessing committee composed of older members appointed by Moon. For the application to be approved, the candidate must have recruited three spiritual children and be judged “mature” and ready for the blessed life.

If the application is accepted, the committee will notify the member of the next matching session. Sessions have been held at irregular intervals every few years. Prior to the matching sessions the members will meet again with the blessing committee to express any preferences either for a particular individual or type of person. Many ask for a particular kind of interracial or intercultural partner, and in many cases the preferences are honored. For example, in the matching prior to last year’s wedding in Korea, Moon specifically singled out those individuals who had asked for Western-Oriental or Western-African matches.

The final decision, as is well known, is up to Moon. (The majority go to the matching expressing no particular choice at all.) Members will gather in a large hall with others who are to be matched. As soon as they are paired, the new couples spend some minutes alone and decide either to honor Moon’s choice or to reject it. Overwhelmingly it is accepted, though Moon has been known to have matched an individual as many as three times before an acceptable spouse was found.

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After the matching, the couple pass through the first of three important rituals in the blessing process. In Unification theology, the wine ceremony, the closest parallel in the Unification Church to the Lord’s Supper or Eucharist, begins the reversal of the Eden events. It changes the satanic blood lineage of the couple and restores them to the heavenly lineage Adam and Eve had before the Fall. In the wine mixture, which contains over 20 ingredients and takes three years to prepare, is blood from Moon and his wife. The women receive the cup first. Since Eve fell before Adam, the women are the first to be restored. They lead their husbands-to-be in that restoration. Also, after this ceremony until the marriage is consummated, the men view their future spouses as “mother” figures who lead them to their full status in the kingdom. The wine ceremony binds the couple as surely as marriage. The bond can only be broken by one partner’s leaving the church or committing adultery.

After the engagement (except in those cases that occur immediately before a blessing ceremony), the couple separate and build their relationship through letters, phone calls, and occasional visits. The church is quite explicit about the subordination of romantic love to the larger goal of sharing a spiritual relationship to God, Moon, the church, and the creation of a stable home. The engagement may last for a few days or a few years. Many of those who participated in the 1982 blessings were matched just days before the ceremony.

The second major step in the marriage process is the blessing ceremony itself, in which vows are taken in public. Moon, as God’s representative, conveys God’s blessing on the union. This is the ceremony that was held in Madison Square Garden.

Although couples reach the high point of the process in the blessing ceremony, it is by no means the end of the procedure. In spite of what has been said about the ceremony, it was not even a legal wedding for the majority of those who participated. Until recently. Moon had not gone through the formality of obtaining a license to marry (required of all ministers in New York City), and until 1982 none of the “blessings” he performed in America were legal marriages. The several licensed ministers in the church performed a private ceremony, or the couple sought out a justice of the peace to make the wedding legal. Many couples in the 1982 blessing “married” several years ago (though they followed the church’s rules against cohabitation), especially in cases in which a marriage could stop an attempted deprogramming. Many other individuals (and almost half of the participants in the July 1 wedding flew in from out of the country to participate) did not arrive in time to get the legal papers (license, blood test, etc.) required for a legal marriage. A few couples are not legally married even yet.

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But for those who came out of the blessing ceremony legally married, the final stage had begun. The day after the ceremony they gathered with one of the church’s older members for a lengthy lecture. For example, many of the seminary students listened to David S. C. Kim, the president of the Unification Theological Seminary. He explained that they were to begin a 40-day separation period to allow for some prayerful meditation on the seriousness of the blessed life. After the 40 days, if all other requirements had been met, the couple would consummate the marriage in a private three-day ceremony. This ceremony also completes the restoration to pre-Adamic conditions. The ceremony begins with the acknowledgment of the woman as dominant—the relationship assumed at the wine ceremony—but ends with the man assuming the dominant role he will have as head of the family.

Having finished the blessing process, the couple is ready to found a home and raise a family. It is at this point that the church has failed to live up to some expectations. Many couples looked forward to a home life resembling their image of normalcy—an apartment, a job, family life. However, the ideal Unification marriage is an ordered existence in which leisure time is given in service to the church and world.

Many couples accept this idea. Kevin Barbazon, who lives and works with his wife, Maria, in Harlem in New York City, says, “I can see that our struggles actually pulled Maria and I very close. Rather like the early pioneers in America who fought it out together!”

When such service requires a spouse to undertake a mission across the country or even around the world, tremendous strain is placed on the most stable, happy home. The loss of some prominent married members for just that reason has led the church to cut the practice to a minimum.

Living The Blessed Life

A full year has passed since the marriage of the 4,000 in New York and 10,000 in Korea. What has happened to the church since then? The immediate effect was disastrous. The marriage of half of the church’s American membership in July disrupted its life at every level. As members turned their attention to marriage and spouse and the practical problems of setting up homes, they neglected the day-to-day maintenance of the church. (Church members are expected to work for the church in exchange for small stipends, or to work elsewhere and donate all but their living expenses to the church.)

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The cash flow was so disturbed that the World Mission Center (the former New Yorker Hotel) was closed during the hard winter weeks to save fuel costs. I visited the center last December and found it more like a tomb than a beehive of activity, which it customarily is. Program budgets were cut to the minimum, and a recovery did not occur until the spring of 1983. The long-term effects of the blessings may well be more positive for the church. Prior to 1982 it had relatively few Americans who had been through the entire blessing process and who could testify to the reality of the blessed life. It now has a firm foundation upon which to move into the next generation.

Married couples, previously bonded by their experiences as singles, now share a common wedding date, so they can join together for large anniversary parties. In the spring of 1983 the first babies from the 1982 blessings arrived. The church heralds each newborn with a picture in the Blessing Quarterly, a church journal for married couples only. Couples then become even more closely intertwined as together they learn the joys and pains of parenthood.

Will the Unification marriages enable the church to reach its long-term goal of bridging racial, cultural, and national barriers and unifying all people? Only time will tell. However, that success will depend upon the church’s ability to lower the extreme hostility now directed against it.

The weddings’ next accomplishment may be to quell that hostility, based as it is in the anger and hurt of parents who feel the church has taken their children from them. Some parents used the blessing ceremony as the occasion for reestablishing broken relationships. “In our case, what the blessing did not accomplish, the arrival of our first baby did,” one previously blessed couple said.

On Living With The Unification Church

It seems obvious that we need some alternative to the marriage-on-demand/divorce-on-demand pattern within which Western culture has become increasingly trapped. It is also just as obvious that the Unification Church’s utopian option is unworkable for even a significant minority of the public. About 90 percent of those who become Moonies drop out sooner or later. Of those who remain, only one in ten completes the blessing process.

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The Unification marriage process is not acceptable as a Christian alternative. Christians would have to abandon the essentials of biblical faith and adopt the Unification Church’s theology before it could begin to make use of the few attractive aspects of the marriage system.

I hope the marriage crisis in our society will be resolved. I am convinced that the churches of Jesus Christ will be a major factor in that solution, not as we move into a utopian and tighter structure, but as we adopt a more realistic attitude toward the pressures on contemporary marriage, provide more support for single adults, and strengthen our educational efforts with the youth under our care.


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