An effort to extend the influence of the Unification Church through bestowing blessings on individuals and families is finding fertile ground in Africa, according to observers and Unification officials.
Unification leader Sun Myung Moon’s campaign of holding worldwide blessing services has been interpreted either as an effort to broaden the boundaries of the church to include members of other faiths or as a shrewd move to extend the influence of the church [see October, `97 RW].
The blessing movement has had minimal success in the West, but the situation is different in Africa. Several members of NUREL-L, a scholarly computer discussion group of new religious movements, were skeptical when Unificationist scholar Andrew Wilson quotes church leaders in claiming that 85 percent of African couples have received the “blessing.”
The blessings have been very popular in Africa, with over 15 million reported in Nigeria. These blessings consist of a couple sharing a cup of “sanctified” wine or grape juice and pledging to be faithful and have a God-centered marriage, even though most won’t join the UC.. Wilson adds that the blessings are conducted in association with public health, environmental and agricultural programs, particularly in the wake of the AIDS epidemic in Africa.
Moderator of the discussion list and University of Calgary religion professor Irving Hexham says that while he doubts the 85 percent figure that Wilson uses, the common practice of requesting and accepting blessings in Africa would make the Unificationist claim not too far-fetched.. The reason most Westerners may not have heard of this phenomenon, Hexham adds, is that Western media tend not to provide full coverage of religious phenomenon in Africa.