Parenting Award Controversial
The Daily Camera/August 6, 1999
By Margie McAllister
Camera Staff Writer
LONGMONT - Two weeks ago, Zack and Naomi Prendergast were celebrating one of the happiest moments in their lives.
At the time, they were flying home from Washington, D.C., with the 1999 "Parent of the Year" award given by the Parents Day Foundation. They got an added boost on Tuesday when the Longmont City Council honored them.
By Wednesday, however, the Longmont couple hit bottom. They had given back the award and were fighting allegations they belong to Children of God, also known as The Family, a Christian cult linked to free love and child pornography overseas. The group gained notoriety in the 1980s for using female members as "happy hookers for Jesus."
"I am not part of a cult - unless being a family is a cult," Zack Prendergast said on Thursday.
With allegations flying, it`s hard to sort out facts on the family of 14, who live in a brick ranch house in the Fox Hill Country Club area.
While the Prendergasts deny being part of a cult, former Children of God members say Zack Prendergast led indoctrination camps for children.
Even Wednesday`s news was contradictory. The only thing the Parents Day Foundation and the Prendergasts agree on is that neither side asked the other`s religious affiliation before giving the award.
The foundation is under the umbrella of the Unification Movement of Rev. Sun Myung Moon. Prendergast said in an impromptu interview in front of his house Thursday that the foundation called him last week, saying that word of its "Moonie" affiliation "was coming down" and suggested he could avoid controversy by returning the award.
Prendergast worked with Children of God members in Italy during the 1980s, he acknowledged, but he stopped short of saying he belonged to the cult.
"I have worked with Children of God on projects in Italy during the 1980s," Prendergast said. "But we also worked with the Red Cross and Catholics in Italy. If affiliated with a group, are you guilty of that group`s behavior?"
Some speculate that allegations of Prendergast`s past affiliation with Children of God may have put him crosswise with backers of the Parent of the Year Award, including Rev. Moon and his Unification Church.
J. Gordon Melton, a leading authority on new religious movements at the Institute for the Study of American Religion in Santa Barbara, Calif., described the two religious movements as having opposing doctrines but with a common commitment to family.
Referring to Children of God by its more recent name, The Family, Melton described the groups` clashing philosophies.
"The Family can show off their family units, and they look pretty nice and they are pretty nice," he said. "What they don`t tell you is that if someone should come by from another Family house who they liked, it would be perfectly OK to have sex with them. This would absolutely be abhorrent to the Moonies. They think adultery is the base sin."
Some local charities are openly supportive of the Prendergast family. Nursing home staff members talk warmly about his pre-adolescent daughters, who sing and dance at holiday times. Zack Prendergast teaches fatherhood classes on Thursdays for the Alternatives for Youth. At least once a week, the family totes groceries to Samaritan House shelter in Denver.
In fact, the Prendergasts donated so many services around Longmont and Denver that in February 1997, they incorporated as Family Services Inc. That status was "suspended" Monday because Prendergast has not sent in required nonprofit corporation reports, said a clerk at the Secretary of State`s office.
Tom Loftus of Alternatives for Youth hired Zack Prendergast this year on a $25,000 grant to teach fathering classes.
"We did a complete background check and it was all clear," Loftus said, casting doubt on any Prendergast cult links.
"He has been very good," Loftus said. "We`ve heard good things about his Responsible Fatherhood program."
Samaritan House shelter in Denver also likes the family.
"They have been regular contributors," assistant Vicky Sparks said. "The kids read and sing and play with our families. They all help. And, they have all acted appropriately."
"Our family only has done good," Prendergast said. "Our personal beliefs are simple Christianity. We have tried to work with people in need."
Camera Staff Writer Nadia White contributed to this report.
Photo Caption: Zack Prendergast denies he is a member of the Children
of God, or The Family, a controversial Christian cult. Marty