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Recent developments
Is it a cult?

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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:

bulletMind Control: In the early 1970's, the organization came under fire from FREECOG, which was organized by Ian Haworth specifically to raise public awareness of what it felt were the mind control techniques of the COG.
bulletChild Abuse:
bullet1977: 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."
bullet1989 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.
bullet1993:  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.
bullet1993: 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 intensive questioning."
bullet1995: 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."
bullet1993 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." 4 Although 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 taking 90 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.
bulletCirca 1997:
bulletThe 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.
bulletThe Family has received a great deal of criticism from counter-cult groups over its promotion of masturbation. Both male and female Family 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 "Loving Jesus Revelation." 2 He 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."
bulletUndated: 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."

bullet"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.
bulletHer sister Faith Berg corroborated these claims, but described them in a positive way.
bulletIn 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.
bulletAnother of Berg's granddaughters, Joyanne Treadwell Berg, spoke on American television about being sexually abused by her grandfather.
bulletBerg's informally adopted son 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.
bulletin a 2005-JUN Rolling Stone article, Davida Kelley, the daughter of Rodriguez's nanny Sara Kelley, accused Berg of molesting her.
bulletIn the same article, a woman identified only as Armendria alleged that Berg sexually abused her when she was 13 years old."

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Recent developments:

bullet1994: 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.
bullet2005: 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:

bulletAnger on the part of disgruntled former members of The Family
bulletDiscomfort by some individuals in the counter-cult movement concerning the group's open sexuality.
bulletIntolerance by individuals in the counter-cult movement of new religious groups whose theology differs from conservative Protestant Christianity.

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Is The Family a Cult?

This is an unanswerable question, because different individuals and groups use the word "cult" in so many different ways:

bulletIt 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.
bulletIt 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.
bulletMany 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 Krishnas.

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, 14:26 & 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, Luke 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.

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References used:

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.

  1. James Lewis & J. Gordon Melton, "Sex, slander, and salvation: Investigating the Family/Children of God," Center for Academic Publication, Stanford, CA, (1994) book.
  2. Hugh Muir, "Family Values", The Sunday Telegraph Magazine, London, UK. 1997-JAN-5
  3. Gary shepherd & Lawrence Lilliston, "Psychological Assessment of Children in The Family" at: http://www.thefamily.org/dossier/books/book1/chapter5.htm  
  4. "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
  5. 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.
  6. Nita Lelyveld et al, "A Young 'Prophet' Cannot Defeat the Demons of His Past," Los Angeles Times, 2005-MAR-13, at: http://www.latimes.com/

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Copyright 1998 to 2005 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Updated: 2005-
Author: B.A. Robinson

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