Children of God

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The Children of God (COG), later known as the Family of Love, the Family, and now The Family International is a new religious movement that started in 1968 in Huntington Beach, California, USA. It was part of the Jesus Movement of the late 1960s, with many of its early converts drawn from the hippie movement. It was among the movements prompting the cult controversy of the 1970s and 1980s in the United States and Europe and triggered the first organized anticult group (FREECOG).

As it grew and expanded around the world, so did its message—salvation, Millenarianism, spiritual revolution against the outside world that they called "the System"—and resultant controversy. In 1974, it began to experiment with a method of evangelism called Flirty Fishing—using sex to show God's love and win converts and support. The practice was discontinued in 1987. Their founder and prophetic leader, David Berg, communicated with his followers via Mo Letters—letters of instruction and counsel on a myriad of spiritual and practical subjects—until his death in late 1994. After his death, his widow Karen Zerby became the leader of the Family.

The group’s liberal sexuality and its publication and distribution of writings, photographs and videos advocating and documenting adult-child sexual contact and the sexualization of children led to numerous reports of sexual contact between adults and minors. A number of judicial and academic investigations in the 1990s found the Family to be a safe environment for children, yet such investigations have also highlighted troubles in its past. Family leadership, admitting only that that some children were abused from 1978 until 1985, created policies prohibiting excessive discipline or any sexual contact between adults and minors. Those found to have abused children after December 1988 are excommunicated from Family membership. The Family requires individuals who decide to report child abuse to a law enforcement agency or pursue any other legal action against an alleged abuser to leave the group entirely or, if the alleged abuser has been excommunicated for child abuse, to move to a lower commitment membership status until the matter is resolved.

The January 2005 murder of a former member by the leader's son Ricky Rodriguez (who had also left the group several years earlier), and his subsequent suicide shocked both members and former members, and led to considerable media attention.


Main article: Beliefs of the Children of God

Theologians have placed the Family's basic theology within the historical Christian tradition, along with some unorthodox beliefs.

The Family International states they believe the Bible to be the inspired Word of God and sacred revelation. David Berg is regarded as a prophet by them, in the understanding of one who passed on the message of God, not so much as a predictor of the future, though he frequently attempted to predict future events with varying accuracy. They believe his "mantle" passed to his wife, Karen Zerby, at his death. They regard the officially published writings of both of them, but not everything they have written, as part of the Word of God. While there is an understanding in the movement that all word is not on the same level of significance, nevertheless all word is important to read and take heed to.

They hold that the Great Commission of evangelizing the world is the duty of every Christian and that their lives should be dedicated to the service of God and others. They have several levels of membership and the most committed, "Family Disciples," live communally. They also encourage the having of children. While birth control was initially highly discouraged, the choice is currently left to the individual and is not uncommon in practice.

A central tenet to their theology is the "Law of Love," that simply stated maintains that if a person's actions are motivated by unselfish, sacrificial love and are not intentionally hurtful to others, such actions are in accordance with Scripture and are thus lawful in the eyes of God. They believe that this tenet supersedes all other biblical laws. They say that God created human sexuality, that it is a natural emotional and physical need, and that heterosexual relations between consenting adults of legal age is a pure and natural wonder of God's creation, and permissible according to Scripture. It is their understanding of the Scriptures that the followers of Christ are His bride, called to love and serve Him with the fervor of a wife. Members are expected to have sex freely and willingly with any member who is "in need", a practice known as "sharing". Teenagers above the age of 16 are also encouraged to "share" with other teenagers their own age, sex between minors and adults being strictly forbidden.

They believe that they are now living in the time period known in Scripture as the "Last Days" or the "Time of the End," which is the era immediately preceding the return of Jesus Christ. Before that event, they believe that the world will be ruled for seven years by a government headed by a man known as the Antichrist. At the half-way point in his rule he will be totally possessed by Satan and that will precipitate a time of troubles known as the Great Tribulation. This will be a time of intense persecution of believers as well as a time of stupendous natural and unnatural disasters. At the end of this period believers will be taken up to heaven in an event known as the Rapture that is shortly followed by a battle between Jesus and the Antichrist commonly known as the "Battle of Armageddon". The Antichrist is defeated and Jesus Christ reigns on Earth for 1000 years.

The Family's official statement of their beliefs can be found here: [1]

Recent Teachings

The Family's recent teachings center around beliefs that they have termed the "new spiritual weapons." The Family believes that they are soldiers in the spiritual war of good versus evil for the souls and hearts of men. Although some of these beliefs are not new to the Family, they have assumed greater importance in recent years. Some of these are:

Prophecy: In Family jargon, the traditional definition of prophecy— a prediction of the future—has been expanded to refer to any message received in the spirit from Jesus, deceased founder David Berg, or another "spirit helper"(see below). A great emphasis has been placed on each member using prophecy directly and regularly to guide their daily lives. Although prophecy, also referred to as "channeling," has been a part of the movement from the beginning, it has assumed greater significance in recent years. It has been noted by scholars that the Family is unique among new religious movements in its decentralization and democratization of divine guidance from God.

Spirit Helpers: These include angels and departed humans who are sent to give instruction and to fight in the spiritual warfare taking place in the spiritual dimension that Family members believe is coexistent with the physical world that surrounds them. These helpers are believed to relay the divine messages they receive in prophecy and also are engaged in spiritual combat with Satan and his demons.

The Keys of the Kingdom: The Family believes that the keys referred to in the biblical passage "and I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven" (Matthew 16:19), have assumed greater significance today.

Loving Jesus: This is a term that members of the Family use to describe their intimate, sexual relationship with Jesus. The Family describes the "Loving Jesus" teachings as a radical form of bridal theology [2]. They take bridal theology a step further by encouraging members to imagine that Jesus is having sex with them during sexual intercourse or masturbation. Male members are told to visualize themselves as women "in the spirit".

The Family continues to stress the imminent Second Coming of Christ, preceded by the rise of a worldwide government led by the "Antichrist". These doctrines regarding the "End Time" influence virtually all long-term decision making.


The Children of God (1968-1977)

The founder of the movement was a former Christian Missionary Alliance pastor, David Brandt Berg (1919-1994), also known within the group as Moses David, Mo, Father David, and Dad to adult group members and eventually as Grandpa to the group's youngest members.

Members of the Children of God founded communes, first called "colonies", but now refered to as "Homes," in various cities around the world. They would proselytize in the streets and distribute literature. New converts who joined the movement memorized scripture, went through a course of Bible knowledge classes, and were expected to emulate the lives of early Christians while rejecting mainstream denominational Christianity. (See religious conversion)

In common with converts to some other religions, and in keeping with Biblical custom, most incoming members adopted a new "Bible" name. (See name change)

Berg communicated with his followers through his more than 3,000 published letters written over 24 years, refered to as "Mo Letters" by members of the group. By January 1972 David Berg introduced through his letters that he was God's prophet for this time, further establishing his spiritual authority within the group. Nonetheless, Berg freely acknowledged his failings and weaknesses.Template:Fn

Up to the end of 1972 COG members had distributed approximately 42 million Christian tracts, mostly on God’s Salvation and America’s doom. Street distribution of Berg’s Letters (called "litnessing") became the COG's predominant method of outreach--as well as support--for the next five years.

The Children of God ended as an organizational entity in February 1978. Reports of serious misconduct, financial mismanagement, and abuse of their positions by a number of the established leaders, including the opposition of some to FFing (Flirty Fishing), caused Berg to reorganize the movement. He dismissed over 300 of the movement’s leaders and declared the general dissolution of the then existing COG structure. This shift was known as the "Reorganization Nationalization Revolution" (RNR). A third of the total membership left the movement, and those who remained became part of the reorganized movement, dubbed the "Family of Love," and later, simply the "Family." Most of the group's beliefs remained the same.Template:Fn

The Family of Love (1978-1981)

The Family of Love era was characterised by movement of Family members into more countries. Regular witnessing methods included door to door, giving out tracts and other gospel literature, classes which included Family music as well as classes on various aspects of the Christian life.

In 1974, David Berg introduced a new witnessing method called Flirty Fishing (or FFing), which allowed female members to physically express God's love by engaging in sexual activity with potential converts. It began as an experiment started as early as 1973 by members of Berg's inner circle and was eventually introduced to the rest of the membership. By 1978, it was more widely practiced by members of the group. In some areas, Flirty Fishers used escort agencies to meet people. As in other witnessing methods, people who were reached through FF'ing supported the movement generously. Even though FF'ing was practised for a relatively short length of time, several people who were FF'd remain friends, supporters and well wishers to this day.

According to the Family, as a result of Flirty Fishing, "over 100,000 received God's gift of salvation through Jesus, and some chose to live the life of a disciple and missionary."Template:Fn According to data provided by the Family to researcher Bill Bainbridge, from 1974 until 1987 Family members had sexual contact with 223,989 people while practicing Flirty Fishing.Template:Fn Flirty Fishing also resulted in the birth of many children, including Karen Zerby's son, Davidito (aka Rick Rodriguez). Children born as result of Flirty Fishing were referred to as "Jesus Babies". By the end of 1981, over 300 "Jesus Babies" had been born.

In an official statement on its origins, the Family International partly describes the practice of Flirty Fishing as follows:

In part as a response to the sexual liberality of the early '70s, Father David presented a more intimate and personal, voluntary form of evangelism, which became known as "Flirty Fishing" or "FFing." ...Father David proposed that the boundaries of expressing God's love to others could at times go beyond just showing kindness and doing good deeds. He suggested that for those who were in dire need of physical love and affection, even sex could be used as evidence to them of the Lord's love. The motivation, guiding principle, and reasoning behind the FFing ministry was that through this sacrificial proof of love, some would better accept and understand God's great love for them. The goal was that they would come to believe in and receive God's own loving gift of salvation through His Son, Jesus, who gave His life for them. By this unorthodox method David felt many would find the Lord's love and salvation, who never would have otherwise.

Although we no longer practice FFing, we believe the scriptural principles behind the ministry remain sound.Template:Fn

In his judgment of a child custody court case in England in 1994, after extensive research of Family publications and the testimony of many witnesses, The Lord Justice Ward said this about FFing:

I am quite satisfied that most of the women who engaged in this activity and the subsequent refinement of ESing, (which was finding men through escort agencies), did so in the belief that they were spreading God's word. But I am also totally satisfied that that was not Berg's only purpose. He and his organization had another and more sordid reason. They were procuring women to become common prostitutes. They were knowingly living in part on the earnings of prostitution. That was criminal activity. Their attempts to deny this must be dismissed as cant and hypocrisy. To deny that the girls were acting as prostitutes because "we are not charging but we expect people to show their thanks and their appreciation and they ought to give more for love than if we charged them" is an unacceptable form of special pleading. The "FFers handbook" told the girls that fishing could be fun but fun did not pay the bills. "You've got to catch a few to make the fun pay for itself. So don't do it for nothing."Template:Fn

A judge in Italy came to a very different conclusion in 1991, deciding that flirty fishing was not prostitution (see Tribunale Penale di Roma (Criminal Court of Rome), November 15, 1991, In re Berg and others, and in the archives of the Criminal Court of Rome (RG 3841/84):

The judges concluded that it was only in "the last months of 1977 Berg started counseling the members that it was permissible for proselyting reasons to offer sexual contacts and services to perspective [sic] members, the more so when the latter were potentially good financial contributors to the cult." Among the Children of God, the judges argued, flirty fishing was not understood as prostitution but "as a personal contribution to the humanitarian aims that the sect always claimed to pursue."

The practice of Flirty Fishing or "FFing" was officially abandoned in 1987 in favor of other witnessing methods and also to avoid contracting AIDS. In 1987, new rules were introduced that banned, under penalty of excommunication, sexual contact with non-members. However, the new rules also stated that exceptions to the rule would be allowed in certain cases. For example, one publication stated: "All sex with outsiders is banned!--Unless they are already close and well-known friends!" [3]

The Family (1982-1994)

By 1982 more Family members had moved to southern and eastern parts of the world and by the end of 1983 the Family was reporting 10,000 fulltime members living in 1,642 Family Homes. In addition the Music With Meaning radio club had by this time grown to almost 20,000 members. The Family also stated that at this time witnessing efforts were resulting in an average of 200,000 conversions to Christ and distribution of nearly 30 million pages of literature per month.

In the 1990s, allegations of sexual abuse were laid against The Family in different locations worldwide, including Argentina, Australia, Brazil, France, Italy, Japan, Norway, Peru, Spain, Sweden, the UK, the USA, and Venezuela (see links below). The Family leadership has maintained that they did not sanction or condone the sexual abuse of children, and that government-led investigations and court cases did not find evidence of abuse in the 750 children they examined. An outline of some court cases, selected excerpts of some court rulings, newspaper editorials and other material that supports the group's positions can be found at [4]. Some actual court documents can be found in the Court Cases section below.

Berg's writings contributed to suspicions about the movement's care of their children, because of his challenging of modern-day taboos in Western society about adult/child sexuality. Some individuals do not believe that Berg merely questioned society's boundaries—they believe he ignored them. Several women have publicly accused Berg of molesting them as children, including his eldest daughter Deborah Davis, his granddaughter Merry Berg, another of his granddaughters, Joyanne Treadwell Berg, and Davida Kelley, a child who had grown up in his household.

By 1988, reports of sexual abuse began to filter up to the top of the Family's leadership. This prompted Berg to renounce his ideas regarding adult/child sex, writing: "We do not approve of sex with minors, and hereby renounce any writings of anyone in our Family which may seem to do so! We absolutely forbid it!--Moses David 12/88"Template:Fn

Earlier in the decade, a childcare manual published by the group in January of 1982 described the education, home life, and care of the son of Karen Zerby, known as Davidito. The 700-page book also included a dozen or so photographs depicting the child engaged in sexual play with his governesses, particularly Sara (also known as Sara Davidito, Sara Kelley, or Prisca Kelley). This book was removed from circulation and reprinted without the offending pages. Some pages from the original edition have been posted on the Internet Story Of Davidito [5].

The extent to which Davidito was subject to inappropriate sexual activity is disputed. In a 1994 interview with David Millikan, regarding the incidents recorded in the Story of Davidito, Davidito said, "People feel that the sexual activities I had occurred so much more than it really did. They believe it had a bigger emphasis and played a greater part than it did. If they think my early life revolved around sex it's going to seem very weird, but I know this wasn't the case, so it was not such a big deal to me." Millikan also writes: "I pointed out to him that under most legal definitions of sexual abuse, Sara and the other women who participated in sex with him would be found guilty."

Davidito was the natural son of Karen Zerby and a Spanish hotel employee whom she "FFed". His legal name was Richard Peter Rodriguez (also Richard Peter Smith and David Moses Zerby). He was considered to be the adopted son of David Berg although no official adoption took place. Ricky later developed a deep-seated resentment towards Berg and Zerby, because of the sexual, physical, and emotional abuse he felt he had suffered as a child and his unconventional upbringing. His sister with whom he grew up does not hold the same views.

When Davidito grew to adulthood he left the group and married Elixcia Munumel. In September 2004, after separating from his wife, he moved to Tucson, Arizona and worked as an electrician. According to accounts by his friends and relatives, he moved there because he heard his mother had visited and he wanted to find her. In January 2005, he arranged a meeting with a former associate of his mother's who was involved in his childhood sexual experiences [6], Angela Smith (formerly Susan Joy Kauten) and stabbed her to death in his apartment. He then drove to Blythe, California where he committed suicide with a handgun. He earlier that night released a video [7] to be distributed to friends, family and former members explaining his actions. According to an article in the New York Times, in the video, "he said he saw himself as a vigilante avenging children like him and his sisters who had been subject to rapes and beatings. "There's this need that I have," he said. "It's not a want. It's a need for revenge. It's a need for justice, because I can't go on like this."Template:Fn

In March 1989, the Family issued a statement which stated that, in "early 1985" an urgent memorandum was sent to all of its members "reminding them that any such activities [adult-child sexual contact] are strictly forbidden within our group."Template:Fn (emphasis in original). In January 2005, Claire Borowik, spokesperson for the Family International, issued a statement that said, "Due to the fact that our current zero-tolerance policy regarding sexual interaction between adults and underage minors was not clearly stated in our literature published before 1986, we came to the realization that during a transitional stage of our movement, from 1978 until 1986, there were cases when some minors were subject to sexually inappropriate advances... This was corrected officially in 1986, when any contact between an adult and minor (any person under 21 years of age) was declared an excommunicable offense.[8]"

In December 1988 the Family implemented a policy that forbade adult-child sexual contact on penalty of permanent excommunication (expulsion from the movement). This policy was not retroactive. The Family, as a religious movement, does not take the place of civil authorities when it comes to the investigation of alleged crimes. Individuals, or parents of minors, who have a complaint may take their case to the relevant authorities. Because of the impact such an investigation could have on the lives of other children living in the communal Home, members who file charges or pursue other legal action against those excommunicated for child abuse are expected to temporarily leave the Family or move to a different membership status, explained in the June 2003 Charter amendmentsTemplate:Fn in the Rights of Children (pg. 22) and the Right of Redress (pg. 51) sections.

The Family has issued apologies. Karen Zerby, writing in the Letter "An Answer to Him That Asks" in 1995 stated: "Because of the insight Dad [Berg] gave into the Scriptures which granted us a great deal of sexual freedom, without clearly stated explicit restrictions that prohibited all sexual activity between adults and minors, it resulted in actions that caused harm to some children. He must therefore bear responsibility for the harm. ... As the author of the Letters, he accepts the blame, but this doesn't mean that everyone else is completely blameless. Anyone who attempted to use the Law of Love to justify any unloving, selfish or hurtful behavior is responsible before God for it."

According to Eileen Barker's book An Introduction to New Religious Movements, the group has been acquitted of all charges of sexual abuse of children. Other researchers have concurred that there is no evidence of greater sexual activity amongst teenagers in the Family than in society at large.Template:Fn

Family expansion in the 1990s

In the early 1990s, alongside many other religious groups, Family members took advantage of the newly opened Eastern Europe (following the fall of communism) and expanded their evangelisation campaigns eastward. The production and dissemination of millions of pieces of Gospel literature earned them the colloquial name "the poster people."

The early 1990s also saw the launch of what the Family terms their "Consider the Poor" (CTP) ministries. Expanding their outreach beyond witnessing, members began reaching out a helping hand in material ways to the poor and disadvantaged. Family members became active in disaster relief efforts, the provision and distribution of humanitarian aid, musical benefit programs for refugees, visitation to hospitals, and so on.

The Family (1995-2003)

After Berg's death in October of 1994, Karen Zerby, from Tucson, Arizona, known in the group as Mama, Maria Fontaine, or Queen Maria, took over leadership of the group. She then married her longtime coworker, Steven Douglas Kelly, an American also known as Christopher Smith, Peter Amsterdam, or King Peter. He became her traveling representative due to Zerby's reclusive separation from most of her followers.

In February of 1995, the group introduced the Family Charter [9], consisting of the "Charter of Responsibilities and Rights," which defined the responsibilities which Charter Members, Homes and leadership were expected to live up to as the standard of discipleship and the rights of Charter members and of the Charter Home. Following that was the "Fundamental Family Rules," which was a summary of all rules and guidelines from past Family publications which were still in effect with the enactment of the Charter.

The Charter set forth a new way of living within the organization--that of allowing members to operate according to their own faith and according to their desires. The rights referred to in the Charter were what a member could expect to receive from the group and how members were to be treated by leadership and fellow members. The responsibilities referred to were what members were expected to give to the group if they wished to remain full-time members, including tithing ten percent of their income to World Services, giving three percent to the "Family Aid Fund," which was set up for the sole purpose of helping and supporting needy field situations worldwide, and one percent to the Home's regional common pot, which was used for local projects, activities, and fellowships.

The Charter also provided that it or any part of it could be revoked at any time by World Services if the need was to warranted it. The Charter, presently in its second edition, has been subsequently amended over the years according to the growing and changing needs of the movement.

In a 1995 court case, the Rt Hon. Lord Justice Ward decided that the group, including some among its top leadership, had engaged in abusive sexual practices involving minors and that they had also engaged in severe corporal punishment and sequestration of minor children. However, he concluded that the Family had abandoned these practices and that they were a safe environment for children. Nevertheless, he did require that the group cease all corporal punishment of children in the United Kingdom and denounce any of Berg's writings that were "responsible for children in the Family having been subjected to sexually inappropriate behaviour."

The group has publicly renounced any doctrine that alluded to encouraging sex between adults and minors. This was made clear in an internal publication issued by Karen Zerby in 1988, where she stated, “We've already put out an urgent notice to the Family & to the whole world that we don't do such things, and we mean it, we don't do it!--And anybody [in the Family] who does is in serious trouble, not only with the world but with us! … If we hear of anybody who violates these rules, we're going to immediately excommunicate them!” [Child Abuse—1988]

This renunciation was later argued by some, using what Family leader Karen Zerby said, as quoted from “Summit '93, Mama Jewels #2,” 1992 [10], when she brought the subject of loving affection between adults and children up for discussion only at a leadership conference in 1992. Regardless, Family policy remained unchanged and offenders are excommunicated.

The Family International (2004-present)

In 2004 the movement's name was changed to the Family International primarily to avoid being confused with other entities that also went by the name the Family. However Homes were told that they could retain their former names with the proviso that they make clear they are affiliated with the Family International.

In 2004 there were major internal changes in the group. Documents of the group talk about arresting a general trend to a less dedicated lifestyle and the need to be recommitted to the group's general mission of fervently preaching the Gospel. In the second half of 2004 they held a six-month renewal period to help members refocus their priorities. Membership was reorganized and new levels of membership were introduced. Members now fall into the following categories, Family Disciples, Missionary Members, Fellow Members, Active Members, and General Members.

The Family Discipleship Charter, also known as the Family’s Charter, governs Family disciples, but the Missionary Member Statutes and the Fellow Member Statutes were written for the governance of the Family’s Missionary member and Fellow member circles, respectively. Homes of Family Disciples now work to newly annunciated set of criteria on which they are reviewed every six months.

At the beginning of 2005 there were 1,238 Family Homes and 10,202 members worldwide. Of those, 266 Homes and 4884 members were FD, 255 Homes and 1,769 members were MM, and 717 Homes and 3,549 members were FM. Statistics on AM and GM categories are currently unavailable.


Child Abduction

Main article: Child Abduction in the Children of God

Since the late 1970s, there have been increasing reports of children of former members being abducted and moved to other countries to prevent their parents, law enforcement authorities and child welfare agencies from finding them. An investigation into the whereabouts of four missing children, whose mother, Ruth Frouman [11], was expelled from the group in July 1987, eight months after being diganosed with breast cancer, and not allowed to leave with her children, resulted in police raids [12] on 10 Family Homes in Buenos Aires, Argentina in September 1993.[13]. Two of her children were returned to their father in May 1993. The other two abducted children were not reunited with their father and their other relatives until mid-1997.

However, there have also been reports of parents taking their children out of the Family without the other parent's consent and instead resolving the custody dispute in the judicial system. In these cases, Family members have respected the law and not abducted the children. For example, in 1992 the spouse of Grant Borowick, brother of Family International spokesperson Susan Claire Borowik, left the Family and in 1993 returned with three male relatives to take her children back to her hometown of Salta, Argentina. According to news reports, Grant Borowick spent six months trying to obtain visitation rights through Argentine courts. [14] It is unknown whether he was successful.

Although official Family spokespersons have rarely made any public statements about specific child abduction cases involving its members, members of the Family claim that there is some evidence that the Family's policies and practices regarding child abduction and child custody began to change in the mid-1990s. In February 1995, several months after the death of its founder, the Family introduced to its members a rule book known as the Love Charter or the Charter of Rights and Responsibilities. Section 60, Permanent Marital Separation Rules, states that couples with children must come to a mutual written agreement regarding the separation and the custody of the children and that obtaining a legal divorce and child custody order is optional.[15] This policy stated that it only applied to marital separations after February 1995. The June 2003 amendments state that if the parties involved cannot reach a mutual agreement and "opt to use the court system to settle the matter," they must "relinquish Charter membership until the matter is settled."Template:Fn

At least one Family member, Peter Bevan Riddell, is known to have been convicted of child abduction. In 1984, he was convicted of child kidnapping and forgery in Japan and deported to Australia. After his release from prison, he returned to the Family to work for David Berg and Karen Zerby in World Services.[16] Another Family member, Brian Edward Pickus, has been wanted for decades on an Interpol warrant issued by the United States and the state of Hawaii for kidnapping, burglary and unlawful flight to avoid prosecution.[17]

The second generation

Second-generation adults, those adults who were born and/or raised in the Family International and are known in the movement as "SGAs," have assumed many if not the majority of the leadership positions in the organization. This includes the chairmanships of many of the international, regional, and national boards.

Yet as with other high-commitment religious groups, many second-generation members of the group have left to pursue secular careers, get a tertiary education, and raise their children in a drastically different environment than the one they were raised in. There is a great deal of anti-Family sentiment amongst some of those who have left, including threats to legally pursue alleged physical and sexual abusers, whom, some allege, have been shielded from prosecution by the group's leadership.

The Family International has asserted that most former second-generation members have chosen to remain publicly silent about their experiences, and that the public silence of this group indicates that the vast majority of them have cordial relations with those still in it. It claims there is ample firsthand and anecdotal evidence to support this assertion. Many former second-generation members have publicly complained of negative experiences in the group.

As former missionary kids, the second generation of former members have now become adults. Many have returned to the country of their citizenship and have, thus, become Third Culture Kids (TCKs). Many of the former second-generation members have kept in communication with each other. A notable example of this is their use of the site, MovingOn.orgTemplate:Fn established by a former second-generation member in 2001.

Those who have remained in the group have chosen to continue the missionary work of their parents and have been vocal in their defense of the Family lifestyle at MyConclusion.comTemplate:Fn, a site established by second-generation members of the Family International shortly after the January 2005 murder-suicide of Rick Rodriguez and Angela Smith.

Members of the Family International are encouraged to maintain friendly relations with relatives who have left. However, they are also discouraged from associating with relatives that are considered active enemies of the Family. Some former second generation members have found it difficult to maintain friendly relations with their relatives still in the Family when their parents and siblings have appeared on televion programs around the world to denounce them as mentally unstable liars in the pay of the anti-cult movement.

There are many former second generation members that have reported crimes to law enforcement agencies, have testified against the group in court cases involving its members, and publicly express negative opinions about the group's members and practices. The Family uses the sociological/religious term apostates to describe these ex-members and has argued that their testimony is unreliable and less credible than that of current members. The Family has also argued that second generation members who alleged they were abused in the group are liars, mentally unstable or demon-possessed and that the anti-cult movement paid them large sums of money to tell lies about the Family. Some of the second generation of former members resent the apostate label, as most of them never chose to join this group in the first place (they were born into it) and, thus feel they cannot rightly be called apostates.

Relationship with government authorities

Family members are expected to respect the legal and civil authorities of the countries in which they live, in keeping with the biblical admonitions of Romans 13. Members may choose to use their adopted religious name in every day life, rather than their legal name.

In sociological terms, the movement exists in high tension with the surrounding environment. Yet, members have consistently shown their peaceful cooperation with the duly appointed authorities, even when provoked by police and social service raids of their communities in the early 1990s.Template:Fn


A consistent trait throughout the history of The Family has been the high value they have placed on their independence and privacy from what they term the "System"—the surrounding political and economic environment. This has led to secrecy surrounding leadership and finances. World Services (WS), the central administrative wing of The Family, continues to operate in seclusion, with very few members of The Family actually knowing their whereabouts.

Some members have legally changed their names. There have been allegations that members of the Family, including senior leaders, have used forged or fraudulently obtained passports and other identity documents from Australia, Canada, the United States and other countries.

Senior leadership also typically still attempt to keep their legal names from common circulation, although this has became more difficult through the second half of the 1990s, due to legal action in many countries. In particular, a major court case in England brought to light many formerly guarded names of senior members.

In The Family's publications printed photographs of WS members were typically "censored" by means of a rudimentary pencil drawing pasted over the person's face. It was not uncommon in Family-produced art for Berg's head to be replaced with that of a hand-drawn lion.

Following the death of David Berg in 1994, all members of The Family and the public were finally allowed to see up-to-date photographs of the organization's late founder. For many members this was the first time they had ever seen a photograph of his face. In recent years, Steven Kelly has carried pictures of Karen Zerby with him on travels to show members, since most have never seen a picture of their spiritual leader prior to this.

Although, by now, most of the group's members will have seen photographs or video footage of Karen Zerby and Steven Kelly, their identities and location are still heavily guarded by those members working closest to them. Recent photographs or video footage of Karen Zerby, Steven Kelly, and most WS members are not readily available even to fulltime members of The Family. Some may argue that it is unique that the organization's leadership neither seeks the limelight, nor lives at a higher standard than the rank and file, which is often not the case with other religious leaders and organizations.


Family finances are based on a system of tithing. Ten percent of all income for all members is required to be donated to World Services. A further three percent, typical in every region, is to be donated to the regional offices for locally administered projects and a community lending program. A further one percent is given for regional literature publishing.

A study of how The Family channels funds around the world is very interesting from a sociological angle since it depends largely on trust of carefully placed non-senior members who typically manage bank accounts in their own names that contain organization funds. Surprisingly, very little graft has been experienced, and the notable cases involved insubstantial amounts of money.

Organization literature includes many discussions of impending world financial doom. The Family as a result has gone to considerable lengths to avoid investments and actions that it deems unstable in the event of a world financial crash. Typically, they store any reserves in Japanese Yen, Swiss Francs, or gold.

The Family has consistently avoided property investments and stocks or bonds, believing them to be contrary to the scriptural requirements for Christian discipleship and their End time beliefs.


The group has often and heavily been criticized by the press, the anti-cult movement, and the Christian countercult movement. In 1971, an organization called FREECOG was founded by concerned family members of followers, including deprogrammer Ted Patrick, to "free" them from their involvement in the group.

Frequently, critics of the movement cite the writings of David Berg and/or specific incidents and behavior of certain individuals, including members of the leadership. Family members meanwhile argue that the entire volume of writings of Father David do not reflect either the fundamental beliefs (contained in the "Statement of Faith") or the organization's policies (contained in the Charter, published in 1995). Likewise, they reject the concept of the entire group being blamed for the alleged wrongdoing of individuals.

The controversy over the movement has generated strong feelings in both current and ex-members. An example of the contrasting interpretations of Family life can be seen in the accounts of second generation members: former members at Movingon.Org and (mostly) current members at MyConclusion.comTemplate:Fn.

Notable members (past and present)

Actors River Phoenix, Joaquin Phoenix, Summer Phoenix, Rain Phoenix, and Rose McGowan were members of the group during their childhood. Renowned [18] blues slide guitarist Jeremy Spencer [19], a founding member of Fleetwood Mac, has been a member of the group since 1971. Comedian Tina Dupuy [20] was also a member, and now bases her comedy show around her childhood in the group.


According to the Children of God, there were 130 communes or "colonies" in 15 countries in 1972. In 1993, 7,000 of the 10,000 members were under 18 years of age. Recent statistics by The Family International puts full-time and fellow members at just over 11,200 in over 100 countries (around 4,000 adult full-time members and 4,000 children). Some estimates have placed the total number of people that have passed through the group at 35,000.

Programs, projects, and productions

Main article: Programs, projects, and productions of the Children of God.

The Family International (as the group calls itself today) or The Family International Fellowship has various programs through which it operates. The main ones include Family Care Foundation (FCF), Aurora Productions AG, and Activated Ministries. However, the group has many other local foundations and projects in various countries throughout the world.

Leadership, Regional Offices, and Management

Main article: Leadership and Management of the Children Of God.

The leadership of The Family International is headed by:

  • Karen Elva Zerby
- spiritual leader of The Family International
- American
- legally changed her name to Katherine Rianna Smith, 4-Nov-1997
- Aliases: Maria, Mama, Maria Fontaine, Maria David, Maria Berg, or Queen Maria
  • Steven Douglas Kelly
- head-leader of The Family International
- American
- legally changed his name to Chris Smith
- Aliases: Peter Amsterdam or King Peter

Under them, management is divided into World Services, Creations, and Family Care Foundation. Each region is managed by a team of Continental Officers (COs), each team typically having five to seven members. The management structures beneath the CO team are more variable and their members are changed frequently.


  • Template:Fnb Chancellor, James (2000). "Life in The Family: An Oral History of the Children of God". University of Syracuse Press, Syracuse, NY. pp. 64-67
  • Template:Fnb Bainbridge, William Sims (1996). "The Sociology of Religious Movements". Routledge. ISBN 0-4159-1202-4. pg 223
  • Template:Fnb Vogt, Nancy R. "Correlates of Adolescent Sexual Activity in the Family", Graduate School of Psychology, Fuller Theological Seminary.

Web pages



Journalistic and popular

External links

Primary sources

See also: Programs, projects, and productions of the Children of God

Members' sites

Former-member websites

  • - Community site for former first generation members of the Children of God/The Family. Includes archive of over 4000 COG/Family publications, documentation, and message boards.
  • Family Art - Flash presentation addressing plagiarism of art used in internal publications of the Children of God/The Family.
  • LaMattery Resource- A LaMattery family site about The Family.
  • MovingOn - Community site for former second generation members of The Family.
  • New Day News - Site for former members of the Children of God/The Family. Includes message boards and collection of photos.
  • Sword of the Lord Ministries Ex-member site includes some video interviews.
  • xFamily - A wiki site about The Family, including archive of selected COG/Family publications, and featuring the Ricky Rodriguez pre-murder-suicide video.
  • xFamily Forum - A message board about The Family.

Opposing Viewpoints

Court cases


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