Married, or Not?

unificationShould a wedding ceremony during which the bride forgets the groom’s name be considered valid? That question may sound slightly preposterous, but I just witnessed it happening.

One of the network news programs just did a story on the latest “Holy Marriage Blessing Service” conducted by the Unification Church. This is the religion founded by Sun Myung Moon, whose disciples believe to be the second coming of Jesus. (Moon died in 2012, but his wife continues to lead the religion, and officiate at these regular ceremonies.)

Many of the couples who marry in these ceremonies are matched by their parents or, if they are determined to be especially blessed, they are “randomly” matched by the church leader (presently the widow of their messiah). Reportedly, each match takes about thirty seconds as the prophets place the hands of men and women together in divinely appointed relationships.

Officially, a person can decline their match after they’ve had a little time to talk with their future spouse, but it’s evident that contradicting the action of one’s savior would require immense courage.

That said, I have no doubt that—due to the earnest commitment and efforts of both parties—many of these marriages end up happy. After all, as C.S. Lewis wrote in Mere Christianity:

Knowledge can last, principles can last, habits can last; but feelings come and go… But, of course, ceasing to be “in love” need not mean ceasing to love. Love in this second sense — love as distinct from “being in love”—is not merely a feeling. It is a deep unity, maintained by the will and deliberately strengthened by habit; reinforced by (in Christian marriage) the grace which both partners ask, and receive, from God. . . . “Being in love” first moved them to promise fidelity: this quieter love enables them to keep the promise. It is on this love that the engine of marriage is run: being in love was the explosion that started it.

In the case of Unification Church members, even if the relationship lacked an emotional stage of “being in love,” it doesn’t mean that it is destined to fail. Far from it, since, as Lewis wisely points out, true love isn’t about feelings.

In the aforementioned case, the bride was from a French-speaking African nation. The husband, I believe, was from Japan. Her English was quite good, but his was poor. They were essentially unable to communicate. Then, when the interviewers revisited them immediately before the ceremony was to begin, they asked the beautifully-gowned bride what her husband’s name was. And she had forgotten.

Another peculiar thing about Unification marriage practices is that, following the wedding, there is a 40+ “separation period,” during which they are required to refrain from intimate relations. While Christians are called to practice premarital chastity, I’m unfamiliar with any other group that requires a post-wedding purification.

One last comment about the Unification marriage blessings. As if they could not be more bizarre. In 1997 the Moons presided over a ceremony in Washington, D.C. While only 2,000 of the 30,000 couples were actually being married, among the other 28,000 couples having their marriage “blessed” by the Unification messiah included a prominent American political figure—none other than Al Sharpton.

At least he and his wife, Katherine, probably knew each other’s names.


The picture above comes from one of the group weddings. This young bride has to be content with the photograph of her absent groom. One wonders if the two have yet to meet.

11 thoughts on “Married, or Not?

  1. This has always struck me as very odd.
    We have friends who still arrange marriages (and go back to their country of origin for the matchmaking and wedding). They couples do get to meet and have a final say. Some of these work out quite well as the tradition is to work to make the marriage work. (Sort of like Lewis said)
    But you have to start with something…these seem to start with blind faith that their religious leaders know what it best instead of trusting themselves.
    Your last 2 paragraphs just keeps me shaking my head.

    1. No one should care more about their children’s happiness, so there is wisdom in parents playing some kind of role in matchmaking. Especially in cultures where there is a lot of isolation. (I imagine there are many villages around the world where “everyone” in the community is related to one another in some fashion. You would definitely need help in finding someone from outside of that gene pool.)

      I too was shocked when I encountered that final fact in my “research” for the post. Apparently he was a “Pentecostal” preacher when younger, and was converted to a Baptist denomination in the sixties by one William Augustus Jones, Jr. of the Progressive National Baptist Convention.

  2. That is one of my favorite Lewis quotes. So often our culture (and me too!) puts so much emphasis on feeling. True love does not fade away, even when the feeling does. Thanks for this reminder!

  3. One of the hallmarks of a cult is interfering in sexual relations between married couples. What better way to show how much you are under our control? Our secret (the definition of “cult”) rituals and powers allow us to tell you what to do.

    1. That’s a great insight. They also tend to obstruct relationships with one’s family. The only person I know who joined the Unification Church was a college classmate who was in the Marching Band along with me and my fiancé/wife. As soon as she signed on, they shipped her out to another part of the country and we immediately “lost touch.” Very sad.

  4. Dear Robstroud,

    That quote from CS Lewis is such a great vision of the right idea of love, and the foundation of a good marriage; that once we are committed to do a good, we sometimes need to call on a deeper love (or faith) to get us through the times when we don’t feel like doing the right thing. And (thankfully) I think you are right; with good will and effort on both parts, even an arranged marriage can work out in the end, and be successful. I think I would just add the clarification that comes to mind; which is that based on several of his works and commentaries on marriage elsewhere, I don’t get the idea that Lewis is downplaying sensuous pleasures (like romantic love), as much as reminding us to know their right place. And I feel it is a difference that is worth outlining, lest we carry with us the wrong impression. Christianity is not pessimistic because it must endure hardships sometimes; it endures hardships if needed because it is hopeful; it has a vision of a better world. Anyway, you got me thinking, and I have dedicated my post “The Small Man Orders His Wedding” to you and this topic. Thanks for thinking out loud and sharing!

    1. Thank you for the dedication of your post… I’m eager to read it. Yes, you’re right about Lewis recognizing the importance–and “good-ness”–of passion within the consecrated confines of marriage. After all, he would agree, it’s a dimension of the original creation, which was declared completely good by our Maker.

      Yes, we have a vision of a better world (as Larry Norman sang, “I’m Only Visiting this Planet). But from our Father’s hand we receive many wonderful blessings that make even this sojourn a wondrous adventure.

  5. Pingback: The Small Man Orders His Wedding | The Windmills of Her Mind

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