When U.S. Sen. Trent Lott stood before his fellow lawmakers in 1993 and
encouraged them to support "True Parents Day," some said he was doing the
bidding of the Rev. Sun Myung Moon and the Unification Church.
That holiday, reborn as just plain "Parents Day" and officially celebrated
the fourth Sunday of July, was signed into law in 1995 by President Clinton.
Children are supposed to salute their parents, as on Mother's Day or
Lott's Senate speech that first introduced the innocuous sounding day does seem to reveal a connection between Moon and his wife, Hak Ja Han, referred to as the "True Parents" by Unificationists the world over. But Parents Day is only one example of increasing connections between the Unification Church and Republican leaders, whose party convention starts in Philadelphia on Monday.
Some have even questioned GOP presidential nominee George W. Bush's ties to the church. Since leaving the presidency, Bush's father has spoken at three Unification-sponsored events, allegedly earning millions of dollars from Moon's organization.
In an interview with MSNBC, a spokesman for the younger Bush's campaign said he has not received funds from Moon "of any note." With dozens of Moon-affiliated political organizations, hundreds of businesses and thousands of American members, it is impossible to trace how much Unification money may have been contributed.
The connection to Parents Day is more tangible. "I wish to join the Women's Federation for World Peace in celebrating July 28, 1993, as True Parents Day. I also urge my colleagues in the U.S. Senate, and all citizens of our Nation to recognize and support True Parents Day and the restoration of God-centered families in our society," the senator from Pascagoula said in 1993, finishing up by inviting Senate members to attend a presentation by Moon's wife, the president of the Women's Federation for World Peace.
The following day, after an introduction by Sen. Orrin Hatch R-Utah, Mrs. Moon gave a lecture on Capitol Hill, during which she revealed that she and her husband are "the first True Parents." In Unification dogma, as Moon explained to the crowd, the True Parents will save humanity. The reverend himself sat in the front row during the speech, surrounded by members of both the House and Senate.
Church officials admit they lobbied for the holiday, motivated by their belief in families. They deny there is a connection between the new national holiday and one of the Unification Church's holiest days.
According to church literature, which often refers to Moon and his wife as the Messiah: "Parents' Day is a day of hope when people can attend God on the Earth and enjoy happiness and glory. Without this day, human beings cannot go to heaven and thus to God."
Still, despite the denial, much was made of the congressional coup in the Unification News. The church publication featured a photo of the Moons holding a framed copy of the final bill, co-sponsored in 1994 by U.S. Reps Dan Burton and Floyd Flake. Both before and after the Parents Day triumph, the Unification Church has been courting the right wing establishment.
After Reagan's 1980 election, he was photographed holding a copy of the News World, a Moon-owned paper, heralding his victory. Moon created several anti-communist organizations that ex-Unificationists say funneled money to the Contras during Reagan's administration.
President Bush spoke at several Moon-sponsored events, including Women's Federation For World Peace functions, a Family Federation For World Peace event in Washington and at the opening of a new church-owned paper in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
When conservative minister Jerry Falwell's Liberty University nearly folded, the Unification Church bailed it out with a $3.5 million loan. Church officials say they are not trying to buy influence.
Instead, they say, the staunchly conservative slant of the Washington Times, a newspaper owned and supported by the Unification Church, earns them friends. Those friends have not come cheap. Church officials recently announced that the paper has lost $1 billion since it opened. The Washington Times Foundation, a non-profit group associated with the Unification Church, held an awards ceremony in February at which Moon was presented with the Distinguished Lifetime Achievement Award for Freedom, Faith and Family.
The Washington Times covered the event and said a lot of movers and shakers in the Republican party were there, including Hatch and Sen. Strom Thurmond, R-S.C., House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., and Reps. Henry Hyde and Christopher Cox. Alexander Haig, former commander of NATO forces, turned up, as did Reagan-era defense secretary Caspar Weinberger. Critics and former members of the church say Moon uses photos and videos of himself rubbing elbows with the powerful to attract and impress new followers.
A church-owned publication, Today's World, described the 1996 Family Federation event where Bush spoke: "The providence of God through True Parents continues to advance giant stride by giant stride... Included among the guest speakers were former presidents George Bush and Gerald Ford... Prime Minister Sir Edward Heath of Great Britain and former congressman and currently a leading figure in the Republican party, Jack Kemp." Unificationists say the politicians simply are attracted to the family programs the church promotes. "I don't think any of these guys are particularly sweet on the Unification Church," said Philip Schanker, president of the church's Family Federation for World Peace. "Even if they disagree with the church, they support family values.
"I think what's happening in America, a new constituency is developing, one that doesn't think we should tell kids, 'We know you can't control yourselves, so use contraceptives.' It's not a traditional black versus white or rich versus poor issue. Lots of organizations not related to our movement are promoting family values. ... We have a very legitimate effort to bring these values into policy-making."
On Friday in Mobile, Alabama state Sen. George Callahan, R-Theodore, spoke at the American Leadership Conference, a Unification-sponsored event. "I've attended several of their sessions and events. They seem to want to diversify and become part of the larger religious community of Mobile," Callahan said. "They aren't pushing their religion, it's more family values. That's why they invite me. My platform falls in line with theirs. I'm a pro-life, family values politician."