ABOUT "THE FAMILY"
Is it a cult?
Persecutions of The Family:
A book is available which documents investigations of The Family: "Sex,
slander, and salvation: Investigating the Family/Children of God." 1
Some of the accusations made against the group have been:
||Mind Control: In the early 1970's, the organization came under fire from
which was organized by Ian Haworth specifically to raise public awareness of what it felt were the
mind control techniques of the COG.|
||1977: A series of Mo Letters dealt with adult sexual activities
between teenagers or children. In a 1977 letter called "Child Brides",
he is reported as saying "I hope all our young kids have plenty of sex...Why did
the Lord make you able to have children at the age of 11, 12, 13 if you weren't supposed
to have sex then?" 2 This theme was repeated in later Mo Letters such
as "The Devil Hates Sex But God Loves It" and "Teen Sex."
||1989 to 1995: The COG was accused by groups within the anti-cult movement of engaging in sexual abuse of their children. Over
700 children were examined by child protective services in various countries around the
world. Of them, at least 475 were taken into care for a time. No cases of child abuse
could be confirmed. The rate of child abuse within COG households was apparently lower
than was found in society generally.|
||1993: There appeared to be a coordinated effort to convince many
child protective services that young children in the Family were being abused. Many
children were taken into care and their parents charged in Spain,
Argentina, France, and Australia.
No evidence for
sexual abuse of children was ever found. Charges were either dropped for lack of evidence,
or the parents were tried and found not guilty. The charges were largely based on the testimony of
former members of The Family who reported that they had been sexually abused as
children. These former members frequently refer to a book: "The Story of Davidito"
which was written by David, son of David Berg's wife, Maria. Although the book does
discuss his witnessing of sexual activity by peers within the group, and their encouragement of him
to explore his own sexuality, there is nothing in the book related to adult molestation or
abuse of children.|
||1993: A psychologist and sociologist from Oakland University "studied
thirty-two children in two Family homes in California...Subsequent to the study...the
authors also visited three more Family homes." 3
They "found no evidence for child abuse among these children. Assessment by the
first author of preschool and elementary aged children indicated no psychological signs of
abuse. Children interacted well with adults, including Family members as well as the
authors. They displayed no anxiety or unusual fears or phobias around close interactions.
This comfort in interaction was consistent with intensive clinical interviews which
revealed no anxiety related to adults. On a measure involving identification and functions
of body parts, presented pictorially, no children indicated abnormal responses to bodily
sexual areas as displayed in the pictures. No unusual themes were elicited...In interviews
with adolescents in the group, the authors found no evidence for past sexual abuse despite
||1995: Lord Justice Ward of the High Court in London issued a child
custody judgment in 1995-NOV. 2 He wrote: "I
am totally satisfied that there was widespread sexual abuse of young
children and teenagers by adult members of The Family." With reference to its
policies regarding children, he said: "The Family have been black, very black and
they are still not white, but the shade of grey grows lighter by the month...I have
decided to trust them to continue to bring lightness to their darkness...The Family cannot
hide from the world any longer. The Family do not wish to hide from the world any longer.
I hope the world will accept them back into the fold." |
||1993 to 1999: Although many groups within the anti-cult
movement in the United States have been discredited for their criminal activities, the
movement appears to be alive, growing and receiving considerable government support in a
few European countries, such as France. A French parliamentary
reports on cults in 1996 stated that children from The Family were frequently
forced to engage in prostitution. A French anti-cult group the "Association for
the Defense of the Family and Individual" (ADFI) is reported to having "accused
the Family of child abuse, prostitution, and various other unlawful activities."
4Although these accusations appear to be groundless, they
have been frequently repeated by members of the governments Mission to Fight Cults.
In 1993, French police raided several Family communities, arresting 50 adults and
children into custody. After a particularly unethical interrogation, members were charged and tried for
a variety of criminal acts. As in earlier cases in Australia, Britain, Italy and other
countries, they were eventually found not-guilty by the Aix-en-Provence court in 1999-JAN.|
||The Observer newspaper 5 reports
that a teenage woman was recently "awarded £5,000 by the British Criminal
Injuries Compensation Board, having been abused by members of the sect from the age of
three." This award would be about $7,500 in US funds at the time.
||The Family has received a great deal of criticism from
counter-cult groups over its promotion of masturbation. Both male and female
members are urged to masturbate while fantasizing about engaging in sexual activity with
Jesus. David Berg is said to have written a letter which was distributed after
his death. He introduced the
Jesus Revelation." 2He said "In the
quietness of your chamber when you are alone, you can tell Me you love Me and you can show
Me you love Me. For this is a very intimate and special way of loving Me."
||Undated: According to xFamily.org, a number of women in
Berg's family accused him of sexual abuse. Their web site states:|
"At least five women, including both his daughters and two of his
granddaughters, have publicly alleged that Berg sexually abused them
when they were children."
||"Berg's eldest daughter Deborah Davis has written a book in
which she accuses her father of sexually molesting both her and
her sister when they were children, and attempting to have sex
with her as an adult.
||Her sister Faith Berg corroborated these
claims, but described them in a positive way.
||In a child-custody
case in the
United Kingdom, Berg's granddaughter
Merry Berg testified that Berg sexually molested her when
she was a young teenager.
||Another of Berg's granddaughters,
Joyanne Treadwell Berg, spoke on American television about
being sexually abused by her grandfather.
Ricky Rodriguez wrote an
article on the website
MovingOn.org in which he describes Berg's deviant sexual
activity involving a number of women and children.
||in a 2005-JUN Rolling Stone article,
Davida Kelley, the daughter of Rodriguez's nanny
Sara Kelley, accused Berg of molesting her.
||In the same article, a
woman identified only as
Armendria alleged that Berg sexually abused her when she was
13 years old."
||1994: Berg died. The leadership of The Family apologized to
children that had been harmed by the group. They were offered an
opportunity "to come forth and talk to their parents, seek counseling."
The family offered the services of a psychologist. According to Claire Borowik, The Family's current spokesperson, nobody requested help.
||2005: Ricky Rodriguez was a son of Mo Berg and heir apparent
to succeed his father. Berg prophesized that the boy would one day "deliver
them out of great sorrow and bondage." Rodriguez killed Angela
Smith, an older woman who may have helped to raise him. Then he
committed suicide. 6
It is our assessment that child abuse in a few communities probably happened during the
early 1980's. However, The Family appears to have a clean record since.
Continuing criticism appears to be motivated by:
||Anger on the part of disgruntled former members of The Family
||Discomfort by some individuals in the counter-cult movement
concerning the group's open sexuality.
||Intolerance by individuals in the counter-cult movement of new religious groups whose
theology differs from conservative Protestant Christianity.
Is The Family a Cult?
This is an unanswerable question, because different individuals and groups use the word
"cult" in so many different ways:
||It certainly meets the sociological usage of the term. "The Family"
is a small faith group that exists in a state of tension with the predominant religion,
Christianity. Like the Jehovah's Witnesses, Christian
Science etc., they are not fully accepted by many Christian denominations.
||It also meets the definition that is often used by the
counter-cult movement (CCM) who
consider a group to be a cult if it does not accept some of the historical Christian
doctrines. Although "The Family" does follow most traditional beliefs, they
reject the doctrine of restrictivist salvation (the concept that almost all humans will
be tortured forever in Hell after death). In addition, they communicate with the spirits
of dead people, and embrace free, consensual heterosexual behavior, both inside
and outside of marriage, as a gift of God.
||Many media sources and groups within the anti-cult
movement (ACM) have
branded The Family as an evil, destructive, mind control
cult. They have been linked to those faith groups whose beliefs and practices have
caused loss of life (e.g. the People's Temple and Solar Temple), etc. We disagree with
this assessment. Of the 10 common factors observed in
destructive "death" cults, we find that two are missing: the feeling of paranoia
within the group, and the collection of large numbers of weapons. And while the remaining
8 factors are present, they exist to a less intense degree than have been seen in
destructive cults. "The Family" does expect their members to work long hours
proselytizing, often at the expense of adequate sleep. Members do live a simple frugal
life. We would classify The Family to be a high demand new religious
movement like the Jehovah's Witnesses and Hare
The Family is in many ways close in belief and practice to the early Christian church:
Members follow the
"anti-family" instructions of Jesus to abandon one's family of origin (Matthew
10:34-37, Matthew 12:46-50, Luke 9:59-62,
& Luke 21:16-17), to give all of one's possessions away and adopt a
simple life of poverty (Matthew 19:21-24, Matthew 19:27-29, Luke 14:33,
18:22-25 & Luke 18:28-30) and to follow a life devoted to propagating the
faith. They share whatever they do have, they help the poor and they have experienced
continual discrimination and repression from the established culture.
The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above
essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.
Unfortunately, many of the references to the Family on the Internet are written by
anti-cult and counter-cult groups and are somewhat lacking in objectivity. Others are
prepared by individuals who seem to have left the Family with a major grudge.
James Lewis & J. Gordon Melton, "Sex, slander, and salvation: Investigating
the Family/Children of God," Center for Academic Publication, Stanford, CA,
Hugh Muir, "Family Values", The Sunday Telegraph Magazine, London, UK.
Gary shepherd & Lawrence Lilliston, "Psychological Assessment of Children
in The Family" at: http://www.thefamily.org/dossier/books/book1/chapter5.htm
"The Family Vindicated by French Court - 'Catastrophe' for the Anti-Cult
Movement ADFI and the Governmental 'Mission to Fight Cults'," at: http://www.cesnur.org/Aix.htm
The Observer, a British newspaper, describes many new religious movements which
they call "cults". They had a brief description of the COG at: http://www.guardian.co.uk/cults/a-z-cults/c_cults.html.
Essay is no longer available.
Nita Lelyveld et al, "A Young 'Prophet' Cannot Defeat the Demons of
His Past," Los Angeles Times, 2005-MAR-13, at:
Copyright 1998 to 2005 by Ontario Consultants
on Religious Tolerance
Author: B.A. Robinson