The Unification Church USA is leading an unprecedented media campaign prior to the Blessing ceremony in the United States on March 23, 2012. The Public Affairs department, led by Douglas Burton and Ariana Moon and assisted by interns from the Generation Peace Academy (GPA), has produced press kits to be used by district pastors at media events a week prior to the Blessing. How the media events are prepared is left to the discretion of the district pastors, and will take place in those districts where the Blessing candidates and American Clergy Leadership Conference (ACLC) clergy agree to support the events.
“Every year, the Marriage Blessing is the best opportunity for the church to get its story to a broader public,” said Douglas Burton, the public affairs director for the Unification Church USA. He continued, “Our arranged marriages are one of our best-kept secrets. When the reporters and editors meet and interview our members coming back from a Blessing, their stories turn out positive in every way. This year, we are making an unprecedented effort to bring the story to the local press before the event. Even if there is no coverage, we will educate our local constituency and our allies, including those among the Christian clergy, and we will open up a line of communication with local editors. Finally, the publicity events will be an opportunity for celebration, creativity and fun at the local level.”
On March 12, 2012, the church held its first professional press conference at the New Yorker Hotel since the beginning of Lovin’ Life Ministries in 2009. Speakers at the conference, which was titled “Why Arranged Marriages Work,” included widely-quoted psychologist Dr. Robert Epstein, the former editor-in-chief of Psychology Today, Rev. Luonne Abram Rouse of the United Methodist Church, Rev. Phillip Schanker, director of the Blessing Family Ministry USA and candidates for the March 23rd Marriage Blessing. Similar press conferences will take place in Washington D.C., Detroit, Chicago and Los Angeles.
"I've presented two studies on arranged marriage at recent meetings of the National Council on Family Relations, involving more than 50 people from 10 different cultures and of six different faiths,” stated Dr. Epstein. “I've focused mainly on how love sometimes emerges and grows stronger over time in arranged marriages. My research, which I've been conducting since 2003, suggests that arranged marriage in the Unification Church works as well as other arranged marriages and certainly far better on average than mainstream marriages in the U.S. With mainstream Hollywood-inspired marriages failing so badly in the U.S., I think we need to take a close look at other, more successful models for marriage. Unification Church and other arranged marriages can begin to teach us about the possibility of creating marriages in which two committed people work together over time to create stronger bonds - to build a love that gets deeper over the years."
“The fruits of our efforts to reach media are already evident,” said Burton. “We already have the commitment of a national news agency to cover our Marriage Blessing event over the next few weeks. Also, we have sent video segments of our March 12th press conference, including the presentation given by Dr. Epstein and testimonies by the Blessing candidates, out to church pastors nationwide for use in local press events.”
“The value of this campaign is that for the first time, we’re bringing the core values of our movement, centered on the Blessing, to the public sphere,” said Rev. David Rendel, Chief of Operations of the Unification Church USA. “It is an opportunity to reap the harvest of our investment into the lives of numerous second-generation and young first-generation members of the Unification Church. These young church members are now dedicating their futures and committing themselves to the ideal of building a God-centered family. Taking a position where we are on the offensive rather than the defensive in terms of facing the media can allow our mission to take on great momentum as we go forward to bring more people to receive God's blessing on their families.”
Rendel continued: “Our current media campaign is a good start. It has also helped us realize our own hesitancy to be the ones to reach out to society at large. By shying from the media, we’ve essentially been undervaluing the great blessing we’ve been given as members of this movement. However, the media campaign not only provides us with a great medium through which we can spread the good news, but it also helps us to remember how great the blessings are that we already have.”
“I’m really excited about this initiative because I think it will give the media a chance to understand the value of the Blessing and what our church can give to the world. Also, this initiative is an opportunity for our members to articulate what our church is all about to their friends and communities,” said Heather Thalheimer, director of education at Lovin’ Life Ministries. “I know that every member of our church wants to share the breaking news and the beauty of the Blessing, but many times members find it difficult to find the right way to express what needs to be said. The press kit prepared by Doug and Ariana will help members to do so.”
“What’s new about media outreach this year is that it is deliberately conceived to support membership growth nationwide,” said Burton. “It is not exclusively for the purpose of raising the public image of individuals or the church as a whole, but it is intended to promote the opportunities of joining the Lovin’ Life communities in 2012. If done properly, outreach events can support the witnessing initiative of Rev. Hyung Jin Moon, the international president of the Unification Church.”
The media outreach will continue for some weeks after couples return from the Marriage Blessing. The graduates of the GPA Leadership Module have been encouraged to continue as volunteer contributors to the Public Affairs department from their home cities after their year of service work.
Contributed by Ariana Moon.