40 Years in America

30,000 Blessing Ceremony

Four elder Korean women received special spirit world blessings at Blessing í98.

Rev. Dennis Dillon, publisher of the New York Christian Times, served as emcee; a Hispanic pastor offered the invocation; a white Pentecostal Philadelphia evangelist was the first speaker; a diverse mix of twenty or so ministers received Blessing í98 Family Awards for demonstrating outstanding leadership in their churches and communities; PBS film critic Michael Medved and his wife Diane delivered a video message of support and appreciation over the jumbotrons; the 2,000-voice choir electrified the audience with spirited renditions of "Kumbaya" and an original piece entitled, appropriately enough, "Blessings"; and Rev. Wyatt Tee Walker, senior pastor of the Canaan Baptist Church of Christ in Harlem and Chairman of the Board of the National Action Network, delivered the keynote address.

Blessing organizers were thrilled by the response. Although recently matched member couples still were arrayed in neat rows on the floor and the Pro-Family Rally was distinct from the Blessing ceremony, there was more of a unified thrust. Part of this was due to the 2,000-voice choir that filled the hall with its massed voices during "Amazing Grace" and the "Hallelujah Chorus." There also was the opportunity for more milieu control and intimacy. At precisely 11:00 a.m., the satellite hookup was established and a highly polished "Welcome to New York City" video clip began on huge jumbotrons. The hall lights similarly dimmed for video introductions preceding benedictions by representatives of eight world religions. Unlike in Washington D.C., there were few, if any negative newspaper articles in the days preceding the Blessing or afterwards. Even the NYPD expressed appreciation for the movementís "good organization in unloading and loading 520 buses."

Amid all the good feeling, there were a couple of dissonant notes. One of these was the tendency to highlight distinctions between godly and ungodly forces in society. This was especially apparent in the Pro-Family Rally. It was also evident in depictions of Madison Square Garden as an "ark of salvation" within a largely reprobate city. The fact that there was a torrential downpour and savage thunderstorm going on outside during the event accentuated participantsí sense of being among the elect. Rev. Joong Hyun Pak credited "God with the weather" and cited someone who said, "Inside MSG was Noahís Ark, outside was judgment!"

However, it was Dr. Tyler Hendricks, President of the Unification Church in America, who worked the ark imagery into an extended reflection and who drew the clearest, or at least the most stark distinction between those who responded and didnít respond to Blessing í98. In a section entitled "Where Were You on June 13?" within his regular "UViews" monthly column, he criticized New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani and the Dalai Lama, both of whom were invited but declined due to schedule conflicts, the mayor to join a gay pride parade in Brooklyn, the Dalai Lama to preside over a two-day Tibetan benefit rock concert, ironically enough, at RFK Stadium, Washington, D.C. According to Dr. Hendricks, "A religious leader chose an event on behalf of his nation instead of one on behalf of the world. A political leader chose an event on behalf of homosexuality instead of one on behalf of godly marriage." Utilizing the "ark of salvation" metaphor to evaluate the contrasting outcomes, he wrote,

We could consider Madison Square Garden on June 13 as a place of salvation, like the ark. Those who heard the call came inside. The weather was fine as we entered. The doors were closed, courtesy of the Madison Square Garden staff. Outside were the gay pride activists, the anti-Moon demonstrators, the Hollywood rock concert for Tibet. When the doors closed, when the Blessing started, the rains came. Torrential rains washed out the gay pride parade. The rains wiped out the anti-Moon protesters. Lightning struck RFK Stadium, seriously injuring eleven people. All these events were called off. Inside the Garden, no one was in the least bit aware of the weather raging outside. And when we emerged, when the doors opened, the rain had stopped. We walked out onto literal dry ground. The air smelled fresh; something was washed.

A delicious irony, of course, was that many of those drenched on the outside, with the possible exception of the gay pride activists and anti-Moon demonstrators, were in all likelihood either knowingly or unknowingly blessed!

The introduction of spirit world Blessings at Blessing í98 was a second discordant note. This was quite unexpected. It already was a stretch for more than a few ministers and their congregations to countenance Hindu, Buddhist, Sikh and Muslim benedictions over the proceedings. The thought that billions of spirit world couples, including a select group of religious founders and some of the worst criminals of history, were also participating in the Madison Square Garden event surely would have been either incomprehensible or unacceptable for most. Nevertheless, the first order of business once Rev. and Mrs. Moon, as officiators, had taken their seats was a "Report to Heaven" delivered by Rev. Chung Hwan Kwak. Rev. Kwak reported that True Parents were tearing down all the existing walls in the spiritual world, including the wall of hell. He announced that on this occasion, they were extending the pre-Blessing to "16 billion couples in the spiritual world." He stated, "This may sound unbelievable, but it is true." He announced,

Included in the Blessing of numerous spirits are 34 couples who will receive a special Blessing as the representatives both from Godís side and from Satanís side. These include: Jesus, Confucius, Buddha, Mohammed, Mary, Adam, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Joshua, Caleb, John the Baptist, Socrates, Swedenborg, Sundar Singh, Syngman Rhee, Hwal Ahn Kim, Park Chung Hee, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Richard Nixon, Nobusuke Kishi, Takeo Fukuda, Karl Marx, Vladimir Lenin, Joseph Stalin, Mao Tse Tung, Kim Il Sung, Adolph Hitler, Hideki Tojo, and Benito Mussolini.

Rev. Kwak commented, "There is no corner that the Blessing of true love cannot reach." It was "an amazing grace, not just for good spirits but for bad spirits as well, since it opens even the door to hell." He asserted that through "this historic Blessing ceremony of the spiritual world and the earthly world, officiated by True Parents, all religious spheres can be harmonized to form a unified realm of blessing" and that the two worlds, spiritual and physical, "can unite into one, thus establishing the realm of liberation." He concluded by proclaiming "this is the great, pivotal Blessing ceremony that will launch the era of Heaven on earth and in heaven centered on God and True Parents."

There were several ways to interpret these extraordinary claims. They could be judged to be evidence of a retreat from engagement with the world, not into self-righteous sectarianism, but toward an otherworldly mysticism. At the same time, there were good reasons for maintaining that this was not the case. First, as has already been noted, spiritualism was an integral part of the movementís tradition and had not interfered with its engagement with the world. Spirit world Blessings also were not unprecedented. A day prior to the 360,000 Couple Blessing in 1995, Rev. and Mrs. Moon blessed Mrs. Moonís physical mother, Rev. Moonís physical elder brother, and Rev. Moonís physical mother, each of whom had passed from the physical plane. Blessings in which one partner was in the spirit world and the other on earth also had occurred. Previously, reference was made to the union of Heung Jin and Julia Moon. Even earlier, on January 3, 1971, Rev. Moon was understood to have blessed Jesus with a Korean church member. At Blessing í98, immediately following his "Report to Heaven," Rev. and Mrs. Kwak, presumably with Heung Jin and Jesus, presided over a "physical and spiritual world ceremony" in which "four Korean women elders were...Blessed as wives on earth to four major saints of the spirit world -- Buddha, Confucius, Mohammed, and Socrates."

A second reason why the introduction of spirit world Blessings might not be considered a retreat had to do with the logic of the Blessing and the movementís teachings. As Rev. Kwak indicated, there was no corner of reality that the Blessing of true love could not penetrate. Spirit world Blessings were a logical extension of this principle. Further, if Rev. and Mrs. Moonís status as True Parents and their declaration of messiahship were to be taken seriously, they ought to be lords of heaven as well as earth. In an editorís note accompanying its coverage of Blessing í98, the Unification News held that "Unificationist ideology is firmly planted on earth" but also took the spirit world "very seriously." It cited a passage from The Exposition of the Divine Principle that stated,

During the period when the providence of restoration is to be completed after the Second Coming of Christ, God will complete the cosmic foundation for the Messiah by working throughout heaven and earth based on the Completed Testament Word.

According to Richard Lewis, Unification News editor, this indicated that "from the 1950s, it was clear that Reverend Moonís work would ultimately relate directly to the spirit world. Therefore, what is taking place now should come as no surprise."

The public acknowledgement of spirit world Blessings was really more of a risk than a retreat. Had the movement acknowledged them only among its membership as a form of compensation or consolation for the lack of external results, the retreat label might have applied. However, Rev. Moon was springing mass spirit world Blessings on an unsuspecting public in much the same way as he sprung his declaration of messiahship on unsuspecting guests in 1992. This, in fact, was typical of his approach. Though members may have settled, or wished to settle into stable routines, he quite literally was living in apocalyptic time. At the very moment the movement had achieved a certain comfort level with its minister and parishioner guests, he introduced content sure to upset or even scandalize.

For many, the spirit world announcement was unclear. Rev. Kwak read from a prepared text at a side microphone in soft tones with a Korean accent. The report itself was elaborate and dense, probably more suited for a gathering of academics than a mass audience whose senses had just been overwhelmed by a 2,000-voice choir and distracted by the spectacle of a lavishly decorated and packed arena. Most heard something about a Blessing of saints; and the names Stalin or Marx may have struck a dissonant chord for those listening carefully. However, there was no context for the report to have much of an effect, and explanations would have to wait for later.

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