The Words of the Burton Family
The word Moonie began as a slur to members of the Unification Church, and even in 2009, 33 years after the word first appeared in Newsweek, the word rankles and insults followers of the Reverend Dr. Sun Myung Moon of Korea. Nonetheless, several feature stories about the church in 2009 are unstained by the word, suggesting growing respect for the church within the media community in the United States.
News accounts about the church and its members in 2009 have included several respectful references that stand in high contrast to portrayals of the church in previous years. The Annapolis Gazette in January gave substantial and respectful coverage to the accounts of Church members who attended the Middle East Peace Initiative trip to the Holy Land in late 2008. See the article by clicking on this link.
“Rejection is an everyday thing for missionaries” was a headline in the February 4 Santa Monica Press (California), which gave an empathetic portrait of the aspiration and inspiration of Unification Church missionaries in that city. The Press even got the church’s new name correct: the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification.
Perhaps the most surprising story is the full-page feature treatment of the Unification Church’s unusual arranged marriages in Denver’s Rocky Mountain News of February 9, 2009. It was surprising because the Rocky had published stories in 2004 and 2005 that used the pejorative M-word in headlines. Yet, in the February 9 story, the headline is undeniably appreciative of the Unification Church family track record: “Moon’s Matches Have Met the Test of Time and More.”
Reporter Jean Torkelson wrote, “The church follows the teachings of the Korean-born Moon, now 90, who built an international movement teaching that he was sent to complete Jesus' work as messiah, and that strong families lead to world peace.” Torkelson let the church members speak for themselves about the successes of their marriages: “About 75 percent of Moon marriages endure, says the pastor, the Rev. Michael Hentrich. (His 1982 linkup with wife Shigeko is one of them.) That said, ‘Our life isn't for everybody; it's not just about happiness and the pursuit of love.’”
Some smaller, local papers picked up on the topic of Reverend Moon’s tradition of arranged marriages and treated the subject with respect without using the M-word. The Prince Georges Gazette, February 26, 2009 featured a story about the arranged match of Daniel Burton of Greenbelt, Maryland, and Christella Hardman of Freemont, California. "Our marriages are public, like we're coming together to serve others," Burton said to the Gazette. Burton, a 2001 Eleanor Roosevelt High School graduate, said he looked forward to the ceremony ever since he proposed to Christella six months ago at Greenbelt Lake.
Some Unificationists were encouraged to read the May 8, 2009, issue of West Hawaii Today, which referenced the Unification Church as “a denomination of Christianity founded by South Korean the Rev. Sun Myung Moon that stresses the importance of family and inclusion of people from different backgrounds.” After years of being put down or smeared with the M-word, it felt good to them to read a phrase that matched the church’s own self-understanding.
May 2009 website articles about academic awards granted to Unificationist college graduates gave respectful notice to the church affiliation of the awardees. These included the May 6, 2009, LoHud News, a Web-based publication covering the Lower Hudson River Valley and the May 18, 2009, Cincinnati.com, the website of the Cincinnati Enquirer. The Enquirer story included the sentence: “Like her parents, Paul and Jutta Tobkin, of Fairfield Township, Abrahams is a member of the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification and was married at a marriage blessing ceremony by the Rev. and Mrs. Moon.”
On May 28, 2009, Time, which 33 years ago smeared the Unification Church with the word cult, printed a web story that documents the improving image of the Unification movement. Time.com, the online presence of Time Magazine, carried an article about efforts in France to outlaw Scientology as a religion based on charges that it primarily is a money-raising scheme demanding exorbitant fees to be paid by its members. Text included the following: “Some outside observers may agree with Gounord's claims of French intolerance toward religion. France's 1996 list of dangerous cults, for example, contains 172 groups, including Jehovah's Witnesses, Hare Krishnas, the Worldwide Church of God, the Unification Church and even transcendental meditationists -- all of whom have largely shed their cult status in the U.S. and the U.K.”
Time will tell, but the tone of the stories above appears to signal a new wind blowing through the minds of editors and reporters covering the church; to some Unification Church loyalists, it may feel like a spring breeze.
Contributed by Douglas Burton