On this day in 1982, one of the largest public displays of affection in history took place, as 6,000 couples in Seoul, South Korea, all members of the Unification Church, simultaneously exchanged their wedding vows. The ceremony was presided over by the founder and head of the Unification Church, the Reverend Sun Myung Moon, after whom members of the church are unofficially known as “Moonies.”
Three months before the mass wedding in Seoul, the Unification Church had held a similar event in Madison Square Garden in New York. On that occasion in July 1982, some 2,000 couples were assembled, for what was the first large scale Unification Church wedding to be held outside South Korea. The two ceremonies are considered to be part of the same blessing, bringing the total number of married to close to 8,000.
The Unification Church was founded by Moon in 1954 in South Korea as The Holy Spirit Association for the Unification of World Christianity. It was officially renamed by Moon in 1994 as the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification. Moon, who was born Mun Yong-Myong in 1920, began religious preaching after a visitation from God when he was 16 years old. According to Moon, God instructed him, as the new Messiah, to continue his religious work to unite all Christians under one banner, and to establish the Kingdom of God on Earth. After its foundation, the church grew quickly and dramatically, with Moon’s followers taking direction from the textbook the Divine Principle, and believing him to be the Son of God.
In the mid-1960s, Moon began to preside over increasingly large wedding ceremonies, bringing couples together that had largely been hand-selected by him, often on the basis of their photograph. The mass blessings have come to symptomize the workings of the Unification Church, and are a representation of “unification” in practice, an embodiment of sharing and coming together. Although they have become known as “mass weddings” with traditional wedding dress being worn by the participants, the weddings are in fact ceremonial only, and couples must later exchange official vows, in accordance with the laws of their country. Some of the couples involved are already married, and in their cases the ceremony represents a statement of “rededication.”
In 1988, in recognition of the theme of unification and brotherhood, Moon instigated a hugely symbolic ceremony, giving his blessing to 2,500 couples made up of citizens of Japan and South Korea. Moon wanted to demonstrate that his church was able to overcome the traditional enmity held between the two nations.
The church has never been too far from controversy. Some detractors have labelled the movement a cult, and Moon has fought against accusations of fraud and tax evasion in the United States. In recent years, as Moon has reached old age, he has taken a lesser role in the church, leaving some of the duties to his children. During this time, the ceremonies have reached an even more dramatic scale. In 2009, Moon presided over a blessing ceremony for 40,000 couples.
Credit: CORBIS BE024251
Caption: Reverend Sun Myung Moon and his wife preside over a mass wedding ceremony in Seoul on 14 October 1982.