In the photographs of my wedding that were published in newspapers around the world, I am nowhere to be seen. I was in the back, standing in the bleachers next to my bride, looking toward the front stage where the “True Parents”, the Reverend and Mrs. Sun Myung Moon, were standing.
Dressed in white satin robes and wearing ornate white crowns, they smiled benignly over the rank upon rank of brides and grooms filling Madison Square Garden on a sweltering day in July 1982. We were all members of Moon’s Unification Church, brought together for a mass wedding.
The men were all identically costumed in navy blue suits with white shirts, shoes and white gloves. The women all wore white wedding dresses made from the same Simplicity pattern, with the neckline raised for modesty, and white veil-like headpieces, and carried similar floral bouquets on one arm.
Of the clothes I wore so proudly that day, only one piece remains in my possession: a deep maroon tie that all the grooms were required to wear. On its back is a white label that bears the slogan, “World Peace Through Ideal Family, July 1, 1982.”
The writing is barely legible now; it could not sustain repeated trips to the cleaners. The first two words are in an elegant script, but the next three words are written in block letters, emphasizing Moon’s plan to unify the world through interracial marriage. Soon, we were told, all humanity would join in celebrating a new era of peace centered on the wisdom and guidance of True Parents.
The ceremony was, therefore, as much a declaration of Moon’s sweeping theocratic ambitions as it was a celebration of nuptials. Indeed, for myself and my bride, and for most of the other couples, the marriage rites had little impact on the way we lived. We were still required to live apart from each other, and could not have sexual relations for a period of three years. Before we could consummate our marriages, we would each have to recruit at least three new members to the Unification fold, if we had not done so already.
It was during these years of separation that my wife left the Unification Church and, consequently, our marriage was considered dissolved. For two years after that, I waited for Moon to declare another mass wedding ceremony, so that I could again be matched and fulfill the dream of an “ideal family.” This never occurred.
The marriage ceremony at Madison Square Garden became, therefore, a watershed in my life; a moment when I was lifted exultantly toward the dream of a utopia when, as foreseen in Revelation 21:4, “God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain; for the former things are passed away.” Though my belief in this utopia was largely brought about through mind control, it seemed very real and I never felt so close to that dream again.
Still, for a ceremony that held so much meaning for me then, my recollections are oddly fragmentary. To refresh my memory, I am forced to reread the articles that appeared in various New York newspapers, which I scrupulously preserved in a scrapbook in 1982. “Marriage Seen as Godly Duty,” reported the New York Times stiffly; “Once in Blue Moon Wedding Ceremony,” jibed the New York Post; “Big Vow-Wow at the Garden,” riposted the Daily News.
What I do remember is that we had to stand a long time in the rotunda outside the arena, in a queue of couples standing four abreast, waiting for the doors of the arena to open before we could begin the procession. The ceremony was set to begin at 11 a.m. but was delayed for 27 minutes because everyone who entered the arena had to pass through metal detectors, for fear that one of us, or a spectator, might be a demonic assassin.
As we waited in the rotunda, we got acquainted with the couple standing next to us. I believe they were both from Europe, but that is all I remember. Some of the new brides and grooms had met their spouses only one week previously, when Moon held a “matching” ceremony for several hundred couples; but my own matching had occurred more than a year earlier, on Dec. 31, 1980.
I did not know Erica until the day we were matched, but during the ensuing months I visited her twice; and in this interval we grew quite fond of each other. Erica looked gorgeous in her homemade wedding suit, I thought.
At last the door to the arena opened, and we began to file in. As we entered, our column of two couples was joined by another column coming from the other direction, and we became a procession of brides and grooms, marching eight abreast.
Somewhere, a band struck up the wedding march from Mendelssohn’s Suite for A Midsummer Night’s Dream as we strode up and over a large dais at the front of the arena.
As we passed over the dais, we also walked directly beneath “True Father and True Mother,” who were standing on platforms on either side of the procession, methodically dipping wands into large bowls of holy water, then splashing it on the passing couples, in a kind of baptism.
I remember receiving a large dollop of this perfumed water as I passed directly beneath Moon, and I felt honored that I had gotten this close to him.
The couples then walked down the steps of the dais into the bowl of the arena, which had been completely covered in thick-pile white carpet for the occasion. As we had practiced during the rehearsal, Erica and I took our places in the back, standing in the bleachers overlooking the arena. We remained standing throughout the hour-long ceremony.
When the last of the couples had passed over the dais and found there places in the arena, Moon asked us all to pledge our commitment to our marriages, and to take responsibility for any failure. He did this by asking four questions, each differently worded but all implying that our marriages were of cosmic significance, and that any failure in the marriage would result in severe and eternal punishment from God.
After each question, we all roared our assent. (In the Unification Church, it is customary to yell out “Yes!” as loudly as possible whenever Moon asks for reassurances.) Moon then began to pray aloud in Korean for several minutes, after which he called for the couples to exchange rings.
As the groom, I had been entrusted to hold the two gold bands, each embossed with the “Twelve Gates” symbol of the Unification Church, throughout the ceremony. Fearful of losing them, I had kept them in one of the fingers of my glove.
This precaution caused me to fumble around for several long moments before Erica could slip one of the rings onto my finger, and I could place the other on to hers. I was very embarassed by this gaffe; most of the others had completed the ring exchange before us.
However, my embarrassment was soon forgotten as Moon declared the ceremony complete, as Moon declared the ceremony complete, and led us all in a victory cheer. Following another familiar custom, he cried out in Korean: “Aboji!” (“Father!”)
All the newlyweds stooped slightly so they could place their hands on their knees, and then straightened while flinging their hands over their heads, shouting “Mansei!” (“Victory Forever!”)
This cry of determination was the symbolic sealing of the ceremony, similar to the moment in traditional weddings where the groom kisses the bride. Since Unification newlyweds are not supposed to kiss each other until the separation period is complete, it is not surprising that Moon prefers to end the ceremony this way, by focussing the couples’ attention back onto himself and his theocratic dream, rather than upon each other.
I have heard Moon speak warmly of the pleasures of married life, and the desire of couples for each other. Yet, in the end, our wedding wasn’t really about intimacy and loving at all. It was, rather, a massive and well-staged production for the benefit of the media and the world.
Like an unhinged Cecil B. de Mille, determined to keep outdoing himself with still larger spectacles involving even more extras and greater production values, Moon continues to stage mass weddings in ever larger venues with ever more dramatic twists. In 1992 he married 20,000 couples in a Korean outdoor stadium, while simultaneously wedding another 10,000 couples by satellite hook-up in four other countries (provided the numbers announced by the church are true).
But I remember clearly how I felt at that turning point in my life when I found myself playing the role of an extra at my own wedding. Oddly, it was a moment of hope, and for sweet dreams of “world peace through ideal family.”
For these dreams, I had surrendered everything: even my right to choose my bride or when I could live with her. For “True Father”, I had given up even more: my future, and even my identity. And I did it without complaint, with a delirious and reckless abandon; and it was all for nothing and it led to nothing; and it felt wonderful.
K. Gordon Neufeld