Deborah Drue Thompson and Russell Wilson were married along with 4,148 people today in Madison Square Garden, having known each other precisely one week.
The "largest wedding ceremony in human history," as it was billed by the Unification Church, was performed in Korean by the Rev. Sun Myung Moon, who also acted as matchmaker. "Mansei!" Moon shouted three times, and the newlyweds echoed the cry. After the ceremony, a crooner sang, "Be My Love."
Deborah Drue Thompson wore the same white wedding gown, from the same Simplicity pattern, as the 2,074 other brides; Wilson, like the 2,074 other grooms, wore a blue suit. After the wedding, they will return to their respective homes, she to Texas, where she now works as an artist; he to Denver, where he works for the church. The marriage will be consummated when the church decrees. They will live together when the church decrees. Don't speak to them, please, of the girl next door, or romantic love, or high school sweethearts, though few could look more like the all-American couple than Thompson and Wilson. Don't ask why they couldn't have made a good marriage on their own.
"We're not saying we couldn't have, we're saying we didn't want to," says Wilson.
"It's an act of faith," says Thompson, "to leave our decision to Rev. Moon."
Thompson was a complete stranger to her husband when they became engaged last week.
She was in a room with about 1,500 Unification Church members, she remembers, many of whom had come to New York from around the world to be "matched" to their life partners by Moon.
Thompson herself, 28, with corn-silk blond hair and pale green eyes, wasn't matched right off.
First Moon called for people who wanted to be married to people from different countries, but since Thompson didn't want to do that, she stayed seated. Then there was a chance for marriages between western men and eastern women, but since Thompson comes from Kansas City, Mo., that didn't apply. Then, finally, about an hour into it, the Rev. Moon stood beside Deborah Drue Thompson and walked with her down a row of people, gazing into their eyes. He can read a face, she says; he can look in your face and see your ancestors. He looked and he looked and finally, he moved into the crowd and pulled out a man named Russell Wilson, who is 25 and also happens to have fine blond hair. Thompson is hard-pressed to recall her feeling the first time she saw the man she would wed.
"Very spiritual," she says.
Wilson remembers more clearly, though his thoughts are focused on Moon rather than on his fiance'.
"He smiled at me like a father," says Wilson. "He smiled with all his heart."
Rough times, lately, for the Rev. Sun Myung Moon. Convicted of tax evasion in May, the 62-year-old religious leader is scheduled to be sentenced in New York later this month. Controversy around Moon, whom critics have accused of "brainwashing" his young followers, also erupted anew last month when Moon, in court, said that he had met and had conversations with Jesus, Moses and Buddha and himself felt he had "the possibility of becoming the real Messiah."
These setbacks, however, did not affect the marrying mood of the disciples, of whom the Unification Church claims 30,000 in the United States, 3 million worldwide. Summoned by Moon, who last performed a mass ceremony in Seoul, South Korea (1,800 couples, the record according to the "Guinness Book of World Records"), they came from all over the country and the world this month to be matched and wed. Seventy-five were members of the staff of The Washington Times, including Theodore Agres, assistant managing editor, and Jonathan Slevin, assistant to the publisher. Many, like Thompson and Wilson, would have known each other barely a week; others would have been "matched" by Moon, or an elder in the church, a year or a few years ago, but had to wait until now to wed. ("It's like when the priest comes to town, you get married," a church member, 32-year-old Robert Heater, cheerfully said.) Many would marry strangers from other countries whose languages they could not speak. Many after the weddings would return not simply to other parts of the country, but to other countries.
Today, in a two-hour ceremony in which the processional alone took 45 minutes, they married. With Moon and his wife atop a platform of red-carpeted stairs, row after row of couples passed by, filling the floor of the huge sports arena, then slowly lining up the side wall, like so many dolls in the shelves of a shop. The women--whose gowns had been chosen by Mrs. Moon--each carried in their right arms a bouquet of 12 white roses, while lifting, with the left hand, the hems of their skirts. The men, all of whom wore white gloves, presented to their wives, with the vows, the official 14-karat gold Moon wedding ring (cost: $300, paid by the participants).
Relatives and friends had difficulty finding their loved ones among the crowd. "There he is," yelled the family of Chris Jones, from England. "No, no, he's not." Many, from seats on the floor, used opera glasses; some rushed to the sidelines; some dozed. Many seats of the stadium were empty--it appeared, at times, there were as many in the bridal party as in the audience.
Nor would the mood surrounding the wedding be called joyful.
On the morning of the wedding, as brides in identical gowns walked from a church-owned hotel two blocks to Madison Square Garden, they were picketed by a few dozen parents--parents fearful of giving their names to reporters, they said, lest their children and the church cut them off.
Two days before the ceremony, according to church spokeswoman Joy Irvine, one of the brides, while going to visit her father, had been kidnaped by three men in a van.
And during the ceremony itself, there was a litany of pain from the parents almost as repetitious as the couples walking by.
"Why does the government allow this?" asked Susan Edgar, a mother.
"My only daughter, so I'm here," said Thelma Holman, of Queens.
"He's our son," said Mary Jones, of England. "We're not believers, but he's 24 and grown. He's our son." The Rehearsal
The day before the wedding at Madison Square Garden and Bo Hi Pak, an assistant to Moon and president of News World Communications Inc., is giving instructions to the troops. The troops, sitting in couples on the floor, have been rehearsing since 7 in the morning and it is now noon, but Pak is still not pleased.
"So far," Pak shouts through the microphone, so that one's ears ache, "We are doing picnic. Now, we mean business. We are now going to practice walk. Happy, but also solemn and dignified. A few things are important. Number one: Spirit. The entire world will look at you; every TV camera will look at you. You must become truly exemplary. Two: The entire ceremony the most important thing you must be professional. The manner you walked in was absolutely zero. Picnic walk. The next time you come in, will be no picnic."
In the stands, accompanying a visitor--for all visitors must be accompanied--is Moon spokeswoman Joy Irvine, a plump, outgoing woman, herself matched three years ago and scheduled to be a bride. As a spokeswoman, few could be more pleasant. She laughs, she is articulate, she is quick with a joke. Not everyone need be matched by Moon, she says, it is an article of faith for those wishing to express their faith. Some people come to the church engaged, and often Moon approves of those engagements. One need not accept the person with whom one is matched; you go off alone with a person, after you are matched and you talk things over, and if it doesn't strike you as right, you come out and ask to be matched again. How many shots do you get at a match? Moon has said five. What happens if you reject more than five matches? A quite charming giggle.
"Then you turn into a pumpkin . . . oh, I don't know . . . there's a story about a Korean, Koreans are known as very strong individuals, he took 20 suggestions."
But on the specifics, on the peer pressure to accept your "match," on the questions of whether or not people can marry for love, there is a retreat back into polemics, a vagueness, a shadowing.
Why can't people marry for love?
"The key to the marriage is filled with love; it's a marriage centered not just on each other, but on God, the real base of marriage is the spiritual ideal which is shared . . . "
What about if you love someone and they're matched to someone else?
"For dedicated members of the church it doesn't come up . . . "
Was she physically attracted to the man she was matched with?
Another giggle. "It's a funny thing, I always thought from my hippie days, I would have somebody with blond hair, flowing hair and glasses. When I saw him, maybe you'll see, he was quite bald. But I figured giggle at least I got the glasses."
She goes on for some time, but it is difficult to hear her, for Bo Hi Pak is still rehearsing the bridal party.
"You'll say, 'Oh, yes' up to roof down!" he screams. "Can do?"
"Yes," the multitudes roar.
Later, while the bridal party goes for a lunch break, Irvine takes the reporter for a stroll. It is cavernous inside Madison Square Garden, a long, long walk from the bowels of the building to the main floor; and on the ground floor level, outside rows of glass doors, there is a curious thing. A few dozen onlookers, noses pressed almost against the doors, stare inside. Parents. Among them Juanita and George Howard from Bloomfield Hills, Mich., just arrived in New York, staring at the couples who are now racing toward the main floor. Looking for their son. One gathers, a visitor opens politely, that if they are here they are not upset.
Juanita Howard, in a floppy denim cap, answers with midwestern restraint.
"Let's just say we've made our adjustments," she says carefully. "We're no longer worried about Scott's safety, I'll say that. He seems very happy . . . it isn't something we understand, but he very much wanted us here and he's our son . . . if anything, it's harder for her parents, they're off in Tokyo . . . we received a lovely letter from Chisato, her name is Chisato, from her mother, and one from her father . . . Mr. Moon--I refuse to call him Rev. Moon--isn't for us, but he seems to be for Scott . . . "
She breathes often during this, looking tired. At length, cheerful Joy Irvine comes out of Madison Square Garden, and is introduced. The Howards make small talk, with effort, very polite.
"It doesn't seem very intimate . . . we had always wished Scott would get married in our back yard, in the garden . . . " says Mrs. Howard.
"Well in a way he is getting married in a garden," says Irvine. Looking On
The sun shone brightly on the brides as they picked their way down unsavory Eighth Avenue; hundreds of brides, who marched to the incredulous gaze of bag ladies. The sun shone brightly on the grooms, who had been directed, by computer, into groups in which to march with their betrothed.
The sun shone on the parents too fearful to give their names; the sun shone on the guests standing in line to pick up their tickets to the affair.
The guests were not, for the most part, however, too sunshiny.
"Believe me, we're doing someone a favor," said a man, whose wife refused to speak to the press, before she yanked him away, "We didn't want to come to this thing."
"No, I should say, I am not a parent, and I'm glad I'm not," said Naomi Reich, of Princeton, N.J. "I'm here as a neighbor of the young man who is getting married, as friends of the parents . . . his name is Jeffrey, he had eight months to go on his doctorate at Princeton, when two of these people invited him to dinner . . . now he's engaged to a girl who flew in from Finland, unbelievable, I would say."
Inside, with the tape of Virgil Fox traditional wedding music, the mood among the spectators did not improve. Parents, most dressed for afternoon weddings in silks and suits, sat glumly, with cameras and glasses.
Many were angry and confused. Scanning the crowd for bride Ann Datson, her mother, Susan Edgar, and her sister and her grandmother were clearly upset.
"She don't even know what he's talking about," muttered the bride's sister, as Moon chanted in Korean. "Is this legal by the laws?"
Edgar, looking grim, said her husband had refused to come.
So why had she?
"She's the mama," put in the grandmother. "Mama's different from a father. Mama's got to come."
"I don't see how America permits this to happen," Edgar said. "Maybe he's a great man, but they should let these kids run their own life."
"We're Catholics," the grandmother whispered in a confidential tone.
"Moon put her up with the man she's with," said the mother, "I never see her. She goes wherever he sends her."
Down on the floor there was the exchange of the rings.
"They got rings," the grandmother said, sitting up, "They got rings, it's a wedding."
"Amen," came a shout of 4,000 voices from the floor.
"I'm aghast at this," the mother said.
"Amen," the grandmother said automatically.