The Words of the Burton Family
With varying accuracy and points of view, news media around the world scrambled to cover the Universal Blessing Ceremony in Asan, Korea, on October 14. And regardless of the point of view of the coverage, no one can doubt that there was plenty of it. Who’s worth reading from East to West?
An Associated Press story on October 12 from Seoul got the ball rolling, and the following day the story appeared in the Washington Times and at least five other news outlets, including the Britain's Daily Telegraph. By the end of October 15, there were stories in 35 major newspapers around the world. The AP story from Seoul on October 12, however, missed a key fact: that Rev. In Jin Moon is the hands-on president of the Unification Church in the United States. This deficit was filled by Julia Duin of the Washington Times, whose online story on October 13 named all four of the children with official church leadership responsibilities and who provided more accurate numbers of the participants in the ceremony worldwide -- more than 100,000 (washingtontimes.com/news/2009/oct/14/rev-sun-myung-moon-passes-the-torch/).
An early story moved by the AP and printed by the Fort Worth Star Telegram reported -- wrongly -- that Reverend Moon hadn’t shown up at the event, and several United Kingdom-based news agencies got the idea that Reverend Moon was “bowing out” of his leadership role, which is news to all church leaders close to him.
Readers can thank the Christian Science Monitor’s David Clark Scott (features.csmonitor.com/globalnews/2009/10/14/did-rev-sun-myung-moon-invent-the-mass-wedding/) for a detailed backgrounder about mass marriages in the Middle East and China that put the Unification Church’s marriage tradition in perspective. The New York Times report (www.nytimes.com/2009/10/15/world/asia/15moon.html?hp) was largely factual and informed that the process for matching couples has evolved: “In recent media interviews, Moon Hyung-jin, …said that the church had modified the practice [of Rev. Moon himself arranging marriages] and that couples now met and dated well before their weddings.” Britain’s MailOnline carried good factual coverage of the event as well (www.dailymail.co.uk/news/worldnews/article-1220306/We-40-000-people-tie-knot-largest-mass-wedding-10-years.html)
The Korea Times ran a story focused only on the fact that Geun-ryung, a daughter of the late Korean President Park Chung-hee, participated in the ceremony with her husband (www.koreatimes.co.kr/www/news/special/2009/10/178_53543.html). “The couple are not followers of the Unification Church. But they joined the ceremony as they were attracted to the religion for its active engagement in overseas volunteering programs and efforts for the reunification of the two Koreas,” according to Korea Times.
Britain Daily Telegraph included a helpful comment from Michael Breen, a Korea-based author who is writing a biography of Reverend Moon. According to Breen: "[The blessing ceremony] is also partly cultural. In Korea, group weddings aren't as weird as they might be elsewhere. Some societies see this as a freak show, without any effort made to ask what these people are doing and why,'' he said. "It's like the hajj in Mecca. Nobody calls that freakish.''
Two papers in Britain that made no such effort sounded predictable, scarifying alarms. The Guardian story, headlined “Cult Church Passed to a New Generation as Sun Sets on Moon” apparently was published without the complication of telephone calls to any Unification Church members -- the Guardian’s modus operandi for years, according to readers.
In a similar vein, the Express sputtered dark warnings: “Yesterday's massive public ceremony by a man who struck terror into the hearts of parents in the Seventies for his brain-washing activities shows that he hasn't gone away.” Friends of the Express should worry that the editors of that publication may be frozen in a 1970s time warp. Since the Reverend and Mrs. Moon began these ceremonies in 1961, they have moved from controversial to celebratory events, involving people of all Abrahamic religious faiths and beyond. At the marriage blessing ceremony in New York City, for example, respected rabbis, imams, and Protestant ministers participated.
For many Unificationist readers, it was a blessing in itself that the hateful rhetoric of the Express and the Guardian were the exceptions that proved the rule on October 14. In general, the news coverage of the blessing demonstrates the maturity and growing acceptance of the Unification Movement by the larger religious community. As the London-based Times Online put it: “In the 1970s and 1980s the church acquired a reputation for brainwashing and separating recruits from their families, but for the past two decades it has projected a more low-key and responsible image (www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/article6873860.ece).
None of the news agencies picked up the fact that Rev. Moon’s grandson, Shin Myung Moon, 22, was wed to an American bride, Krista Karjailenen, 18. Shin Myung, the first son of Rev. In Jin Moon and Dr. James Park, recently gained his Master’s Degree from the University of Edinburgh and is headed to the Ph.D. program at the London School of Economics. Ms. Karjailenen is a college freshman in New Jersey. Their matching is the first in which a grandchild of the founder has married a westerner.
All major newspapers now recognize what church members have known for more than a year: that the torch of leadership has passed from Reverend Moon to four of his adult children -- all American citizens and all Harvard graduates. Rev. In Jin Moon, 44, a graduate of Harvard Divinity School and Columbia University, is president of the Unification Church in the United States. Dr. Hyun Jin Moon, 40, leads the Universal Peace Federation, a worldwide peace-building organization; Kook Jin Moon, 39, leads several international businesses that support the church; and all report to Rev. Hyung Jin Moon, 30, who has the lead responsibility for the religious ministry.
Not news for fishers of men, but for laborers in the media vineyard, a news flash.
Contributed by Douglas Burton