The Words of the Stumpf Family
In 1982, Rev. Sun Myung Moon held his first mass wedding in the U.S. at Madison Square Garden in New York City. Now, as a second generation of Unificationists comes of age, the church is adopting new ways to play matchmaker.
Newlyweds Neal and Eri Stumpf spend time together on one of Eri's
visits from Japan.
The crowd of young people was split down the middle of the large conference-style room, with men on one side and women on the other. At the front and center stood an eighty-nine-year old Korean man. He commanded attention as he pointed his finger over and again, alternating between each side. For every two gestures, a man and a woman stepped forward from their peers, met in the middle and walked side-by-side from the room. When Rev. Moon's finger finally landed in his direction, Neal Stumpf hesitated for just a second. Did he really mean me? As he walked down the aisle created by the divided crowd, he knew a girl was doing the same. But Neal kept his head down, unsure if he was allowed to look at her yet. Rev. Moon's selection had been very quick, almost unceremonious. But some say he focused 100 percent of his mind and heart on making each pair. Others say that when he looks at a person, he sees their match's face reflecting back. However he did it, in little more than a second, Rev. Moon had just matched Neal with his future wife.
For members of the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification, commonly called the Unification Church, arranged marriage is more than a tradition. "It's kind of our only Sacrament," says Neal's father, Richard Stumpf. "Love needs to be inherited from generation to generation… the [married] couple is like the temple of God, where God wants to dwell in the family." Richard is also the coordinator for the Northwest Family Fellowship, a Washington-based branch of the movement founded by Reverend Sun Myung Moon in 1954 in Korea. Central to the movement is the belief that a "blessed" marriage restores the couple and their descendants from human corruption to the lineage of God.
The "class of '82" (from left) Richard and Hiroko Stumpf, Dario and
Keiko Pisano and Jon and Liz Brooker at the Stumpf home in Ridgefield,
Richard and his wife Hiroko were matched and blessed at Rev. Moon's first mass wedding in the United States in 1982 at Madison Square Garden. At this ceremony, candidates for each match were narrowed into categories by age, nationality or disabilities. Rev. Moon would call for a certain group to stand, along with anyone willing to marry someone from that "category." This "class of '82" also includes Northwest Family Fellowship members Dario and Keiko Pisano and Jon and Liz Brooker. "We have to have an ideology that goes beyond nations, and must go beyond religion in order to create a global world family," says Jon Brooker of the mass wedding tradition. "The only way to create a global family is by having just thousands and thousands of people merging together and learning to love each other."
For the first 50 years of the movement, only Rev. Moon had the authority to match and bless his followers. Now, he has granted this authority to parents in the movement. "Our age is the first generation in our church, and our children are called second generation," says Hiroko. "Now, Rev. Moon is telling us to find the second generation, our children, their spouses. We pray and we find." Although the practice of parents finding spouses for their children may be new to the church, members point out that this kind of arranged marriage is Biblical. "This is not new. When you look at [the book of] Genesis, parents are matching," says Hiroko. "Rev. Moon has introduced us back to the original way."
Although arranged marriage remains a strict tradition within the movement, second-generation Unificationists, called "blessed children," are not without options: they have a say in the process. "There are no forced marriages" says Jon Brooker. "That needs to really be hammered in; you can always say no." When Neal, now twenty-one, pronounced himself ready, he chose to be blessed by Rev. Moon himself. After completing an application, Neal traveled to Korea and stood in a room full of young people from all over the world, many wearing headset translators to follow the process.
Immediately after their matching, Neal Stumpf and his match, Eri, (her last name is Stumpf) shared their first conversation sitting across from each other on the floor of a huge conference room. All around them, hundreds of other couples were doing the same. Eri had come from Japan and didn't speak English. Stumpf used the few phrases he knew in Japanese to begin a conversation. They were officially "blessed," or married in the church, at a mass ceremony the next day. However, the couple is not yet living together permanently. After the blessing event, the two returned to their respective homes and got to know each other through extended visits. During one of these visits, the pair was legally married and began to live together. Eri will officially move from Japan to Stumpf's home in Washington.
At their blessing ceremony in Korea, Neal and Eri exchanged gold rings bearing the symbol of the church.
Unlike first-generation converts, the blessed children have been raised with the values and practices of the faith. As a result, in order to be matched by Rev. Moon today, candidates must conform to absolute purity. Before his matching, Stumpf and Eri had never kissed a member of the opposite sex. While friends from school ventured tentatively into dating and relationships, they each grew up knowing how they'd find their spouse. After their blessing, Stumpf and Eri bonded by holding hands, a new experience for both of them. "They are pure to that extent," says Tiffany Takao, another Northwest Family Fellowship member. "That's the standard that [Rev. Moon] is now looking for: they completely are offering themselves to the other person for the first time."
Manae Pisano, a second-generation Unificationist, recently participated in Rev. Moon's first matching by photograph. While the process was similar to a mass ceremony, Manae was not present when Rev. Moon selected her future husband. Unlike most of her peers, Manae says she never wasted any time waiting for Prince Charming. "One of our philosophies is not to find the perfect person. That perfect person isn't out there," says Manae Pisano. This, she says, gave her room to work on improving herself. "I look at society and [the emphasis] is only on the other: who is the perfect guy or girl for me, who has the best body, the best face… it's never about yourself: am I humble and loving and kind, and can I embrace anyone?" As Manae approached the decision to be matched, she prepared with a seven-day fast, a commonly recommended preparation for matching. As she reflected, she asked herself: "Can I really accept anyone? Can I accept a fat person, can I accept someone that's ugly, can I accept someone who's not smart…I really had to look deep to find a place where I could trust God."
For blessed couples, the catalytic event of blessing is only the beginning. "We're trying to establish the three-generation family model," says Jon. "The nuclear [family] model is splitting in half, but in our church divorce is almost unheard of." According to Family Department of the Unification Church in North America, the movement has a "broken blessing" (divorce) rate of only 18.6%. "Rev. Moon has created the first family-centric worldview," asserts Richard "It's not just two people getting married, it's two families coming together. Without connecting the grandparents to the kids, you really can't pass on culture well."
Rev. Moon, called "True Father" by members of the movement, believes this kind of marriage and family may have an even higher purpose, the path to world peace. "For us, the concept of heaven is not a place you just can go to, but you have to create it first," says Richard, "if you didn't learn how to love…then you'll be kind of isolated when you go into the spirit world." Belief in this concept has given these individuals and families the conviction that marrying a stranger can bring fulfillment in this world and the next. "We don't know how Rev. Moon matches, we only know the result," says Jon. "Rev. Moon has said that in order to make peace in the world, you begin with the individual peace between the husband and wife. He believes that by matching people of different nationalities, different religions, and even 'enemies' together…peace can come about."
Photos by: Alysha Beck