The Family And The Unification Church Edited by Gene G. James
Families today are in crisis, in part because for many marriage has become merely a secular contractual arrangement which can be terminated at will. In contrast, the Unification Church seeks to revive such traditional values as premarital chastity, fidelity, and parental heart, while simultaneously introducing some novelreligious concepts and practices. Unification though affirms a moral code and belief system which stress both nuclear and extended families as a channel through which the spirit of God can work. The Movement highlights the spiritual depths of love, marriage, and parenthood. For Church members, God is experienced as a full and essential Partner in the give-and-take inherent within familial relationships.
The doctrines of marriage and the family are fundamental to Unification thought and lifestyle, and cannot be understood apart from their religious context. They are the central focus which unites the Church's ideal with everyday experience. In the Unification Church the most sacred rituals are the engagement and wedding ceremonies, referred to as "the Blessing." For the faithful, the Blessing connotes far more than a ceremony. It is one of the few Unification sacramental liturgies and includes practices similar in form to communion, baptism, penance, matrimony, and other traditional Christian sacraments. It is a moment of encounter with God, of rebirth. Ideally the Blessing provides us with moral assurance and spiritual benefits.
One does not automatically become spiritually mature. The ideal needs to be actualized experientially. Thus, the Blessing is said to be "conditional" (i.e., dependent upon human fulfillment). Blessed couples are those who have received the Blessing, including the responsibilities, commitments, opportunities, and promises implied. Blessed couples perceive themselves as in the process of becoming the "true" or ideal people that God desires. "Blessed" marriage is a special holy marriage through which one attains a new position before God. We will explain more about the theological meaning of this, but first let us mention our own introduction to the Unification Church.
In this paper we will give some personal experiences as a "Blessed" couple, as well as a general understanding of marriage in the Unification Church. We were married in 1970 in the wedding of 777 couples performed in Seoul, Korea, by Rev. Sun Myung Moon. We had joined the church independently of one another, almost four years earlier for Nora, and two years earlier for Hugh, and had both lived in the National Headquarters center in Washington, D.C, in the late 1960s.
Nora joined the Church while working on a master's degree in social work at New York University. Her interest in studying the extent to which religious systems change people's basic values (for a master's thesis) led her to two young women who were teaching the Divine Principle (Rev. Moon's teachings) which she studied and eventually decided to adopt. Upon graduation Nora moved to D.C. in order to work and train in the headquarters center and continued to work professionally as a therapist.
In 1968 Hugh obtained a master's degree in public administration from Syracuse University and went to Washington to work as a management analyst with the Department of Navy. One month after arriving in D.C. he met the Church. Agnostic and interested in politics, he was attracted to the answers the Divine Principle provided to his questions and the social breadth of the church's world view. (Nora taught him part of the Church's teachings.) Hugh continued to work for the U.S. government. Over the next two years both studied, taught, worked, witnessed, prayed and worshipped together.
In America the movement at that time was small and the feeling was somewhat like that of the early disciples of Jesus. There was a strong sense of purpose, of being "chosen" to help bring the kingdom of Heaven on earth. Our lifestyle was very simple. We worked at jobs to support ourselves and our spiritual efforts.
Later on we 'will share our personal experience of our matching, Blessing, and subsequent marriage. However, let us explain some of the ideological underpinnings of the faith, attitudes and practices which are so much a part of our lives.
The Blessing is at the ethical and theological center of Unification lifestyle and thought. Ethically it is essential because the daily life, practices, and attitudes of Unification members, single as well as married, revolve around it. Single members look forward to the moment when they will receive the Blessing, thereby entering a new stage in their spiritual growth. They are eager for the arrival of the day when they will be wed, hopefully, to their ideal complement, an eternal spouse. From a Moonie perspective, although a single member works, fundraises, witnesses, studies, and preaches, those tasks are secondary to what is happening internally to prepare him or her for the Blessing. Presumably Blessed members are even more aware of both the benefits and the struggles inherent within the concept and experience of being Blessed, since the Blessing forms an integral part of their lives. To be a sacrificial, exemplary couple is neither easy nor trite.
Theologically the Blessing is central because marriage and the family are among the most basic of concepts within Unification thought and tradition. This statement is supported by an understanding of the following basic doctrines of the Unification Church: (a) God exists and is the origin and pattern for all human life, values, emotions, and institutions; (b) the internal and external traits of humans reflect the characteristics of God their creator; (c) God is the origin of the two genders, male and female. Though a man has elements of femininity, essentially he is a male; though a woman has elements of masculinity, essentially she is a female; (d) God's ideal since the beginning of time was for love, families, spouses, parents, children, and people in general to be "true people (according to their original nature),"1 but because of the fall of man, such ideals have yet to be realized; (e) ultimately every person who is living, has ever lived, or will ever live, will eventually be able to become a true person able to love others and the creation with the same quality of love as God; (f) the central and most fundamental social institution is the family centered on God; God did not make the individual completely, emotionally self-sufficient; people need people; everyone needs someone to fully love and with whom to share; (g) though capable of reaching individual maturity alone, and thus able to achieve a certain degree of fulfillment, each person is designed to form a larger unit with his complement. To fully reflect God's nature (which is both masculine and feminine), and fulfill one's own emotional-needs to a higher degree, there is a need to experience being a spouse and raising children; and (h) only with Christ's second coming and the beginning of a new age, can the eschatological hopes and goals discussed here be fully achieved.
Like all aspects of life, marriage and children are gifts from God. They are blessings that are possible only because God created and continues to sustain the world. According to the Biblical account in Genesis, marriage and progeny are God's second great blessing to Adam and Eve. In total there were three blessings given to them by God. The first blessing, to be fruitful, meant that each individual was to be responsible for perfecting his or her character by developing a relationship with God. The second blessing, to multiply and fill the earth, meant to achieve perfection on a social level, to create an ideal family and community. The third blessing, to have dominion over creation, indicated that all people should (on the foundation of the first two blessings) exercise a dominion of love over the natural world. The first blessing concerns individual maturity; the second, social development; and the third, ascendancy over creation. As part of the second blessing, the family occupies a central position between the other two blessings. It is a connecting link between the individual and the world.
God did not intend Adam and Eve to marry, according to Rev. Moon, until they had become mature, until they could stand as true husband and wife. Otherwise they could never be true parents to their children. Adam and Eve were allowed the opportunity, and given the responsibility, to participate in creation of their own characters. They were to keep God's commandments, especially the commandment not to eat the fruit (interpreted by Rev. Moon to mean not to live a married life without an indication from God that they had reached the appropriate level of spiritual maturity). By remaining obedient, they would have become co-creators with God- If they had developed their own spirits, God would have taken it as a condition for their participating in the creation of the entire world. This would have then entitled them to dominion over the natural world.
Unfortunately, Adam and Eve had a premature, unprincipled sexual relationship. They failed to obtain God's approval. Their marriage was never blessed.2 History has been, Unification thought teaches, a continual attempt by the Creator to find couples who meet spiritual requirements to be blessed. God's desire has always been to have an ideal couple on earth. He wants a couple who can show others the appropriate pattern of God-centered love and marriage needed to create an ideal family. Unfortunately most relationships are self-centered and less than loving. God's plan, then, would be for a Blessed couple and family, to serve as a nucleus, and to extend that paradigm to all those willing and able to meet the qualifications for a blessed marriage and family. Thus a new dispensational family would be established, centered upon the highest of spiritual ideals.
As Unificationists, we believe that nearly 2,000 years ago, Jesus came as the Messiah to establish on earth an ideal family, community, nation, and world, which he called the kingdom of Heaven on earth. He was able to achieve complete perfection only on an individual level before being crucified. Humanity was not yet ready to accept the perfect love and truth which he brought. He achieved spiritual, but not physical, salvation. He was unable, at that time, to substantialize in the social order God's ideal for humanity. Such a realization awaits the second coming of Christ. Jesus was always single; he had no natural family which could serve as an example to others; he had no progeny; hence he could provide no example for husband-wife/parent-child relationships.3
After J-2, God continued preparing the world for that messianic family to which other families could be spiritually "grafted" and thus restored to God's original intention. For us, that time is now -- and Rev. and Mrs. Moon are the central family through whom we as followers can find new meaning for marriage and family life.
As Unificationists we skip the current practice of romantic courtship, trusting choice of a spouse to our spiritual leader, Rev. Moon. We can say that a Unification Blessed marriage begins with the matching, and members consider it a privilege to be matched and subsequently Blessed, even though arranged marriages are foreign to much of contemporary culture. Built into the faith of a member is a sincere trust in Rev. Moon as a vessel through whom Divine guidance is given. There is a great deal of idealism and high expectation among single members. Thus, we have confidence in the method and in the specific choice of the matching process. Nevertheless, emotions are very real and (regardless of the ideal) there is the reality of facing a real person complete with liabilities as well as assets, weaknesses in addition to strengths. This is the person one must decide whether to accept "for better or for worse," not only "until death do us part," but for eternity! Existentially it is a moment laden with great emotion. For some the path is simple and clear: acceptance is absolute. God's decision, as revealed through the founder of the Church, is their choice. They have no other personal preference. For others, there is great caution and consideration before the couple makes a decision to accept or reject the suggestion of Rev. Moon.
It is through a matching process in which Rev. Moon selects spouses that the marriages of most Unification couples are arranged. Occasionally there are recommendations by a major Church leader. Such was the case for us. In 1970, when we were matched, Rev. Moon was not in America, making our engagement somewhat different. The Korean missionaries working in America discussed potential candidates with Rev. Moon, then returned to America to talk with each individual about the matches they had discussed with Rev. Moon. Because the person Rev. Moon had suggested for Nora had left the Church, Nora was asked by Dr. Young Oon Kim if there was someone she would like Rev. Moon to consider. After prayerful consideration, she said Hugh. Recalling her reasoning, Nora declared, "I knew we were very different and he was younger than I, but I always felt good being around him and things always went well when we worked together. However, I had no idea how he felt about me as a wife rather than a co-worker. I was worried he would think I was too old for him." (Nora is six and a half years older than Hugh.)
Hugh recalls, "I was surprised when Dr. Kim asked me who I would like to marry. Although I had often felt drawn toward Nora, I tried hard to focus on doing the work and will of God and not to have romantic feelings for her. However, because Dr. Kim asked my preference I told her Nora. Though we had never talked about it, I thought it was a great match. I called her to let her know I also had talked with Dr. Kim, and was baffled when she hesitated about getting married. When I told her I'd always cared about her even though I had never revealed it, she immediately changed and became excited about going to Korea for the wedding." Nora later said she was worried Dr. Kim would pressure Hugh and wanted to know what he really felt. Our pictures were sent to Rev. Moon who then approved the match. In more recent engagements, Rev. Moon has been personally present, choosing men and women who then consulted privately with each other, returning to give their acceptance or rejection of the match. But in those early days, he only came to America for brief visits.
After the matching, a holy wine ceremony is conducted to formalize the engagement. Externally, it may resemble a eucharistic service, but it has a different meaning. During that ceremony, we believe, new life is given by God through Rev. and Mrs. Moon to each couple. At that point the commitment is binding and eternal. Through the taking of the wine and participation in the ceremony, sins are forgiven and rebirth occurs. The couple is then offered to God as newly recreated beings, pure and free of past sins. In the same position, theoretically, as the newly created Adam and Eve (i.e., undented by original sin), they become a replacement before God tor their "fallen" ancestors. Part of a new spiritual lineage, they have the potential to become parents of offspring freed from sins of the past. The taking of the wine is a symbol of new life flowing into the body. Externally the couple is recognized as a married couple, internally they are viewed as new citizens of the kingdom of God.
For the wine ceremony to be efficacious, several elements are needed: a mediator, holy wine, and an eligible couple. As mediators, between God and man, Rev. and Mrs. Moon are believed to bring the blessing of forgiveness to fallen people and lift them up in the sight of God so that they can be accepted as new citizens in the kingdom. One might liken it to receiving citizenship in a nation which is not one's native land. The holy wine is a symbol of new life. The newly engaged couple stand in the position to restore God's lost children; from their descendants a new order of heavenly children will populate the world.
The final step in transmission of the Blessing is the public wedding. Though externally resembling other services, there are elements which are different. A distinguishing feature is its size; usually a large number of couples are married simultaneously. Although some individuals have been wed in small, private ceremonies, most Unificationists were married en masse. Since their paradigmatic marriage in 1960, Rev. and Mrs. Moon have officiated at many weddings, including eight mass weddings: 36 couples in 1961, 72 couples in 1961, 124 in 1963, 430 in 1968^777 in 1970, 1800 in 1975, and 2075 and 5,837 in 1982. (In addition, there were small, private weddings, including Blessings in America of 35 couples in 1976 and of 74 in 1977.)
With the Blessing ceremony, Unification couples are married, ready to begin the responsibilities of married life and parenthood. However, there is one more specific requirement before family life begins. To make a spiritual foundation for the family, a 40-day period of sexual abstinence is observed before consummating the marriage. This is a period of prayer and preparation. Since the wedding is a mass wedding (not individualized according to personal situations) depending on each couple's situation there may be even longer periods of separation before the couple is ready to begin the marriage. For instance, couples may be asked to complete a certain mission or meet some spiritual requirement before starting a family.
As Blessed couples we believe that a perfect marriage is made, rather than found; a perfect spouse grows, rather than appears. As single people, we are taught that it is one's spiritual responsibility to "perfect oneself" while on earth, where opportunity is provided for the working out of kinks, irregularities, and "less than desirable traits" in one's personality. Perfection is viewed as the maturing and fulfilling of one's potential, and should not be confused with robot-like sameness. Single members with idiosyncrasies and personality difficulties are often advised to work out their problems prior to marriage, since problems may intensify in the intimacy and constancy of the marital relationship. In fact, group and communal-style living is believed helpful in polishing off rough edges and in expanding one's ability to love, thus preparing the single person for potentially successful marriage.
Beyond the sacramental value of the Blessing, married life is considered a further opportunity to perfect oneself. Whereas a solitary person can keep greater distance between himself and others (able to hide his real self and problems), a spouse and parent is constantly challenged to grow and change. To many Church members this is a challenge sought and valued. Marriage is approached and nourished in the Unification Church in the above context, thus making it a part of a couple's spiritual responsibility in life to work out a good relationship, coming before God together as a new creation which transcends the sum total of the two individuals.
One may ask what makes Unification marriages different, apart from the arrangement and the scale of the wedding. We would be foolish to imply that there are no problems -- Unification couples are real people. Coming from all sorts of backgrounds and experiences, our common faith is a great source of strength, yet we also go through crises and tests of faith, and couples sometimes feel they have irreconcilable differences. Practically speaking, we have the same struggles other couples have -- personality conflicts, financial problems, child-rearing problems, etc.
Although our day-to-day married life may look very similar to that of others, from our training in the Divine Principle we have gained several valuable elements.
One attitude learned is the value of fidelity. Spiritual meaning is given to the maintenance of faithfulness; therefore, a trusting relationship usually can exist. A blessed wife of eleven years, Anne Edwards, gives this advice: "Be faithful. Be determined to be committed to God, the True Parents, and your mate forever. He or she will feel this and reward you with gratitude and a similar fidelity. Once you make this commitment with mind and heart, you are free. With the secure center of commitment and fidelity, we can go anywhere in the garden of marriage without fear of loss."4 This fidelity is essential for the spiritual and emotional growth of the children as well.
Secondly, our common faith gives strength and meaning to everything the Unification family is and does. Parents and children have a framework around which to judge right from wrong, and into which fit the pieces of life into a larger perspective. We develop our own Sunday School curriculum and give our children religious training which we hope will help them to understand the beauty and mystery of the spiritual side of life, as well as give them a well-rounded sense of who they are, and a practical guide for living a life of goodness and success. Our experience has been that children are very naturally religious and understand theological concepts far better than one would anticipate. We were surprised to overhear our four and five year old children discussing whether God is inside or outside the world and asking whether God had a Mommy and a Daddy.
Thirdly, as Unificationists, we have been taught not to fear struggle. The difficulties in life are there to be overcome -- not avoided. Problems in marriage are viewed as presenting a challenge for growth. Rev. Moon often stresses learning to embrace an ever-widening circle of people. To be able to love ever more deeply is considered one of the greatest goals in life. It is with this attitude that many couples enter into interracial, intercultural marriages. Rev. Moon once said that a black mother looking into her child's blue eyes cannot help lose feelings of racial resentment.
Fourthly, there is the support of others who share the same belief system. In the Church we have a tradition of trinities of couples. Although not yet well developed in America, the ideal is that three couples care for each other in such a way that they will be willing to live as an extended family -- taking responsibility to help one another in time of need, praying together, and raising children in the enriched atmosphere of a large number of role-models. Korean couples who have employed this system tell of the moral, financial, and emotional support they have received from other families of their trinity at such a time as the death of a spouse. Japanese couples explain how they share apartment buildings and work out cooperative baby-sitting arrangements. In all situations, the three couples serve each other so that all can make some contribution to the larger mission.
Until recently, many of the couples in America have continued to be part of the center life, living communally and often serving in a capacity of house-parents to single members. However, with the recent Blessing of many more couples, many are moving into homes and apartments and becoming vital parts of the community. This new providential era of home church5 will probably change the structure and methods of the church, as well as its image. In one sense, the church will be far less visible. Rev. Moon has often said that his desire is not to build big churches -- or even a new church at all -- but to bring truth and rebirth to humanity -- no matter what the external structure.
The lifestyle of Unification members in America has been primarily a communal, celibate style seemingly more appropriate for young, single members. With the introduction of a small number of Blessed marriages (only twenty couples in the U.S. until 1975) to the Church community, couples often served as leaders or parent figures to the "Family" of single members congregated in a local center -- a role which recognized and allowed for the nuclear family to exist and grow within the core lifestyle of the Church. The role had dignity and provided a means of support for the family in the midst of the larger extended Family. However, as new, larger groups of couples joined the ranks and began to have children, the Church had also begun broadening and differentiating, and this earlier role could not easily be applied. For instance, a larger number of couples in a center must have the opportunity to grow and expand their nuclear families; they can no longer fit the style of the single members.
The increase in the number of couples and in the size of their families, compounded by the growth of Church business enterprises and other activities, is in the process of changing the lifestyle. For some this change has not been easily made. Couples have found themselves concerned with caring for and supporting a growing family, while simultaneously in the midst of a transition in their occupational role as Unification leaders or members. The life of faith is no longer the simple total involvement and communal lifestyle that was possible for single people. Sometimes the heart is torn between one's love for one's spouse and children and the sacrifices made in the religious life. This is the painful experience of many Unification parents who have gone to the mission field to do evangelical work (for months or even years), leaving their dear ones in the care of others. Some, with absolute faith, have made many sacrifices tor the sake of God's Providence, including temporarily working apart from spouses and children. However, for others, the desire to provide the best of everything in a material sense may introduce a new conflict into a seemingly absolute faith. This, we feel, is one of the areas of greatest potential conflict for Unification couples.6 It is not easy to maintain the same level of commitment after being married. Many Unification couples have done so, but not without much personal and familial sacrifice.
At this point it seems appropriate to express something about the difference between our ideals and everyday reality. Most Unification members are idealistic people; therefore, every discrepancy between ideal and practice is painful, and is difficult to explain without an in-depth study of the role that restoration plays in the Divine Principle. This aspect of our belief system is among the most misunderstood in sociological circles. We will use an hourglass diagram in our explanation.
From a sociological point of view, it is easy to observe the two broadest parts of the hourglass. The "real world" is the world as we know it. It is composed of contemporary social institutions, personality theories, even religions. The "ideal world" (at the top of the hourglass) is the world we are striving to attain. It is the ideal taught in the Divine Principle. The core of this world is the God-centered family, out of which a God-centered society with God-centered institution is envisioned to grow. How do we get from the bottom of the hourglass to the top? By the path of Restoration! It is deeply religious and requires faith and sacrifice. It necessitates a self-denying interim ethic. In the narrow opening of the hourglass lies the re-birth experience -- the stripping down of the trappings of the old world, the shedding of everything which, though good in itself, may hinder the process. One could liken it to the Biblical reference to a "camel going through the eye of a needle."
Unlike a single born-again experience, we see marriage (indeed, the religious life in general) as a lifetime process which begins when a person first hears the Divine Principle and joins the church. Often the life seems Spartan to others; certainly it is sacrificial. But there is also the gradual rebuilding of a fuller life. In the ideal world -- the kingdom of heaven -- we believe that all institutions and levels of society, as well the individual, will be restored. Until that time we are in the process of becoming restored. We believe that as more individuals are restored, the path broadens and individual maturation becomes shorter and easier.
For the early Blessed couples it was painful to pioneer the path. We made, and still make, many personal and collective sacrifices. Careers, ties with parents and friends, time with children, ambition, wealth, and leisure are often sacrificed. Our lives are not our own, but are viewed as being for the sake of others, which requires broadening the path -- with the hope that the Kingdom can come in the next generation. Our tears, and the tears of our children, are the most precious gift we can offer humanity. For us the deepest pain comes, not in the making of the offering, but in being misunderstood. Knowing the ideal tor which we are striving makes every deviation from that more intense. We are not zombies without feeling, nor do we lack desire, at times, for easier ways of life. But, we believe that we are paying a redemptive price for humankind which will allow God a working base from which to bring the Kingdom of Heaven on earth.
One point that stands out is the strong emphasis in the Unification Church on faith and spirituality. It is something which transcends, but is present in, daily human relationships. The challenges of life are given meaning and are experienced from the perspective of one's total life of faith as growth-producing. We, as a couple, have chosen this course for ourselves and our family because we believe that we are living at a turning point in history. We believe that because of God's blessing, our children are born into this new providential era and a new lineage. Unlike us, they are free from original sin and the need to go through such a difficult restoration process. Of course, they also are responsible for their own spiritual growth and are affected by the influences (both good and evil) of their environment.
Our desire to have the optimum situation in which to raise our children, and at the same time participate in the restoration, is often a source of tension and conflict. It is here that couples sometimes face a crisis of faith and marital conflict. A personal example would be fitting here. We discussed our answers to a questionnaire Nora had prepared for Unification couples. One question dealt with the tension between commitment to one's family and commitment to the Church which is the foundation of that marriage and family.7 One possible response read: "In a situation where my spouse is having a struggle of faith, I would continue my commitment to the church even though my spouse could not continue in the church." Nora was somewhat surprised that (as a third choice) Hugh chose this doctrinal answer, rather than another response which stated: "Our marriage and family ties are very strong, and if in conflict with church responsibilities, we have chosen or would choose to protect the family bond and have a less demanding relationship with the church." Hugh was surprised that Nora, if faced with no alternative but a choice between him and the Church would choose to stay with him in order to keep the family intact, even if it meant externally leaving the Church community. Of course, the question is hypothetical; neither knows what his or her choice would be if such a situation were to arise. Fortunately, although some tension is always present between these two priorities, few couples have been faced with such an extreme choice. Based on our contact with other couples, we feel that most of them strongly value their family, as we do, and would go to great lengths to keep it intact. Our responses may reflect the tendency for each individual to apply in his own way the two great commandments, to love God with all one's heart and to love one's neighbor (especially one's children and spouse) as oneself. These are the marriage of the vertical and horizontal; the two are inseparable.
1 "True" is a favorite word of Unificationists. In this context it means to be ideal, perfect and mature.
2 Sex is not itself sinful, since God intended man and woman to procreate, but only within the confines of a God-centered and sanctioned, marital relationship.
3 He had no bride who could represent (in addition to his mother) the feminine aspects of the Creator.
4 Anne Edwards, "Marriage, some practical concepts," The Blessing Quarterly, Vol. 1, no. 2. (Summer 1977): 61.
5 "Home church" is the name given to the concept of making one's home in the community a central, spiritual hub.
6 It might also be noted that some other religious communities have avoided this problem by banning marriage and remaining celibate.
7 The question and possible responses were as follows: Blessed marriage and families are a fundamental and external bond of great spiritual significance, according to the Divine Principle. Also, our affiliation with, and contribution to the church, are of great spiritual value. These two commitments are not always equal in strength. Please check the phrase or phrases which best describe your feelings. If you check several, rate them 1, 2, 3, etc.
We are confident and secure in our marriage and are willing to make the sacrifices which may be required for the higher purpose.
Our marriage and family ties are very strong, and if in conflict with church responsibilities, we have chosen or would choose to protect the family bond and have a less demanding relationship with the church.
When conflicts come up between church commitment and my family, I usually choose or would choose to sacrifice my family even though my spouse would find this very difficult to live with.
In a situation where my spouse is having a struggle of faith, I would continue my commitment to the church even though my spouse could not continue in the church.