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Saturday, November 29, 1997 Published at 04:30 GMT

Unification Church

Happily Ever After?
image: [ The pictures used by Reverand Moon to arrange the wedding ]
The pictures used by Reverand Moon to arrange the wedding

Jennifer Perry, aged 25, first met her prospective husband, Sebastian, on Sunday. By Saturday they will be married.

Their marriage, along with 2,000 others, is part of a mass ceremony due to take place in Washington DC. The 2,000 weddings have all been arranged by one man, the Reverend Sun Myung Moon, the head of the Holy Spirit Association for the Unification of World Christianity, or Unification Church - Moonies for short.

[ image: The couple only met six days before the ceremony]
The couple only met six days before the ceremony
The Rev Moon uses photographs to match the couples and although Jennifer and Sebastian seem to have few reservations about the commitment they are about to make, Jennifer's mother has already voiced her doubts, as Jennifer says:

"My mum, she's not too happy with it. The way she sees it, is that I let someone else make a very important decision for me. But the way I see it is that I let ... God make a very important decision for me. That's how close I am to God. I truly believe God works through Reverend Moon, I do. "

[ image: Couples attending one of the Unification Church's many arranged marriages]
Couples attending one of the Unification Church's many arranged marriages
Jennifer's mother is not alone in questioning the suitability of arranged marriages for Western couples. Rev Phillip Schanker of the Unification Church agrees that arranged marriages are harder to sell in the West than in the Church's home base of Korea.

"There are a lot more challenges among the Western couples. I find many people approach this without a realistic understanding of what they are committing to."

For one American couple, at least, Reverend Moon seems to be doing something right. Michael and Elena Smith have been married now for 15 years and have four children. Despite having to overcome massive cultural and language barriers, Elaina is Korean, their union seems to be a happy one.

Elaina says, "He chose me best husband, I think. I don't think I can find a better man than my husband."

Her husband Michael stands firmly by the Reverend's teaching of building world peace through the creation of loving families. He says: "Your family should serve the world or the community. Well I want to stand as a good example and end this trend we have right now in America of divorce rising rapidly."

The Moonies claim that the divorce rate among their arranged marriages is 10%. This compares favourably with America and most European nations but at what price? Critics say that Moonie couples are placed under enormous pressure to stay together and that the central role played by the Reverend Moon in their lives is essentially unhealthy.

Daniel O'Connell is a professor of Religious Psychology and he believes the Moonies' approach to marriage risks missing the central message of the marriage contract.

He says, "I find it in fact a violation of the very nature of the marriage bond, which is a free contract between two parties. And it is the freedom of that contract which constitutes a very essential part of the bond."

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