Could a seemingly innocuous new national holiday for parents somehow be linked to the Rev. Sun Myung Moon, the controversial leader of the Unification Church?
National Parents Day ostensibly honors all mothers and fathers, but Unification Church literature indicates the holiday may hold religious significance for its members, who consider Moon and his wife to be the "True Parents" of humanity and refer to them as "Father" and "Mother".
"I think that Parents Day, in the minds of the members of the Unification Church, is a rather cryptic allusion to 'True Parents,' " said Rick Ross, a Phoenix-based cult expert and consultant and a vocal critic of Moon. "A day that honors the 'True Parents' of this world, and that would be Reverend Moon and Mrs. Moon because they are the 'True Parents'.
National Parents Day, the fourth Sunday in July, was created by Congress and President Clinton in 1994. It still is not widely observed by most Americans.
State Rep. Mark Anderson, R-Mesa, a long-time follower of Moon, has been the local Parents Day coordinator since the holiday's July 1995 debut in Arizona.
A strong advocate for what he terms "universal family values," Anderson said his events honor good parents and that's about it. His most recent Parents Day dinner and awards ceremony was held July 28th at River of Life Tabernacle in Phoenix. The holiday actually fell on July 26th .
"I think reasonable people who look at Parents Day will see it for what it is, which is very clearly not a Unification Church project," said Anderson, whose holiday organization is being forced to repay the Arizona House of Representatives for supplies, postage and staff time he used on Parents Day-related work.
Other apparent links between the Unification Church and National Parents Day abound.
Past articles in the church's Unification News, available on the Internet through various Moon-related Web sites, are ripe with references to National Parents Day and "True Parents," with some even citing the "True Parents" as the holiday's founders.
In fact, the way an item found on the "True Parents Organization" Web site puts it, Congress established Parents Day to commemorate a July 28, 1993, address given by Moon's wife, Hak Ja Han Moon, to about 100 congressmen and senators in Washington, D.C. Her purpose that day, according to the Web site item, was "to declare the advent of the Completed Testament Age and to enlighten the assembled leaders regarding the significance of America's spiritual mission." She reportedly emphasized "true family values" as "the only solution to evil and to the breakdown of human society."
New Mexico state Sen. Mark Boitano, the brother of famed Olympic ice skater Brian Boitano and one of apparently only two other Unification Church members now serving in state government, ran New Mexico's Parents Day activities this year, just as Anderson did in Arizona.
Kym Guntermann, who is affiliated with the Unification Church of Arizona, participated on Anderson's Parents Day steering committee, but so did a number of people of innumerable religious backgrounds, Anderson said.
The Web site anecdote about Parents Day being related to Moon's wife is historically inaccurate, he added. Neither he nor the Unification Church can be responsible for the various ways individual members chose to observe the holiday or what they post on the Internet, Anderson said.
"Nobody I know interprets it that way here," Anderson said.
And although he himself has contributed articles to Unification News in the past, Anderson said he doesn't read the publication much. Guntermann participated in the local Parents Day celebration at his request because she is a personal friend, the lawmaker said.
Anderson said he likes the Parents Day concept because it's consistent with his personal view that "the main problem in America is the breakdown of the family." But he also has other ties to the holiday.
The genesis of National Parents Day came within the Moon-supported American Freedom Coalition, where Anderson once served as an executive director. Robert Grant, the now-defunct coalition's president, today heads the National Parents Day Foundation, which shares office space with the American Constitution Committee, another political organization with links to Moon.
"Parents Day wasn't even Reverend Moon's idea--it was the idea of Bob Grant or one of the people up there in the organization," Anderson said. "I think that church members probably latched onto the idea - now I'm talking about individuals--as somehow linked to the church."
Grant, an evangelical Christian and lobbyist associated with right-wing religious causes, told The Tribune he is indeed one of the fathers of National Parents Day. It was enacted by Congress as a bipartisan, non-sectarian holiday through neutral-language legislation, he said.
While having heard some talk about "True Parents" coming from his Unification Church acquaintances, Grant said Parents Day is far bigger than any one denominational group's "slant" on it. The original thought behind the creation of the holiday was simply to ensure a yearly platform for the national conversation about the role of parenthood in American society, he said.
"To be sure, Mark and other members of the Unification Church see Reverend Moon as a prophetic figure, as they call it, 'True Parent.'" Said Grant, adding that most major religions also have tenets that aren't embraced by those whom associate with heir followers.
Regardless of his motivation, Anderson's efforts on behalf of this year's Parents Day dinner were noticed by House Speaker Jeff Groscost, R-Mesa, whose office demanded that he reimburse the House of Representatives $404 for the office supplies, postage and staff time he used on the preparations. The House memo requesting payment indicated related long-distance telephone charges will be billed later.
His Parents Day work was deemed sufficiently related to state business by previous speakers Mark Killian, R-Mesa, and Don Aldridge, R-Lake Havasu City, Anderson said. Groscost said his policy requires any representative working on a project that isn't "intrinsically legislative" in nature to repay the House for any expenses he or she incurs. The decision to charge Anderson had nothing to do with the merits of National Parents Day, which Groscost said appears to him to be a broadly supported worthy cause and not a Unification Church event. Nor has Groscost noticed Anderson ever pushing any specific religious agenda at the Capitol, he said. Anderson's voting record is consistent with social conservatives of various stripes, the speaker said.
Monsignor Edward Ryle, executive director of the Arizona Catholic Conference, helped Anderson run Parents Day this year and in the past. A check already has been cut to pay back the House of Representatives, he said last week.
Stories of Moon involvement in the holiday have reached his ears, too, but Ryle was quick to say "not a penny of Unification Church money has gone into it in Arizona. We've raised it all locally."
The Arizona Parents Day dinner included the participation of corporate sponsors such as Arizona Public Service Co., Mobil Oil Corp., Bashas' Market Inc., Southwest Airlines and TRW Inc. Paid speakers included Pastor Leo Godzich, founder of the National Association of Marriage Enhancement, and Rabbi Bonnie Koppell of Temple Beth Sholom in Mesa.
Gov. Jane Hull agreed to put her name on the event's host committee, as apparently did Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Arizona, six congressmen and 18 state lawmakers.