The Children of God (1968–1978)
The founder of the movement was a former Christian Missionary Alliance pastor, David Brandt Berg (1919–1994), also known as Moses David, Mo, Father David, King David, and Dad to adult group members and eventually as Grandpa to the group's children.
Members of the Children of God founded communes, which they called "colonies", in various cities around the world. They would proselytize in the streets, and distribute literature. New converts who joined the movement had to memorize scripture verses and were expected to emulate the lives of early Christians and reject mainstream denominational Christianity. Berg communicated with his followers in his more than 3,000 published letters written over 24 years and called "Mo Letters" by members of the group.
The Children of God was technically disbanded in January of 1978 after Berg fired all 300 of his top leaders for failing to implement Flirty Fishing and abusing their authority. This period was called the "Re-organisation Nationalisation Revolution" (RNR) by Berg. Most members of the Children of God were absorbed into the new Family of Love, which amounted to little more than a name change and new local leadership. Most of the group's beliefs remained the same.
The Family of Love (1978–1987)
As time passed Berg became more authoritarian and the literature distributed by the group began to be characterized by sexual innuendo. Around 1978, a technique of proselytizing called Flirty Fishing was developed in which members were encouraged to initiate sexual relations with non-members in order to win converts, supporters, and influential friends. Many female members began working for escort agencies. These and other practices caused many members who considered them questionable to leave the movement.
The practice of Flirty Fishing or "FFing" was later officially abandoned around 1987 because of the AIDS epidemic. There is at least one known case of a female member of the group contracting HIV from a blood transfusion and eventually dying of AIDS.
The Family (1987–1994)
In the 1990s numerous allegations of pedophilia and 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. The Family leadership have maintained that they did not sanction or condone the sexual abuse of children. Some claim that government-led investigations and court cases did not convict Family members nor communities, and that no evidence of abuse was found in the 750 plus children examined by state authorities. An outline of each court case and excerpts of rulings of the courts can be found at .
Berg's writings, however, display an interest in, and lack of concern regarding, sexual contact with children. In "The Devil Hates Sex -- But God Loves It!", Berg wrote:
Berg would later describe his dreams of having sex with pre-pubescent girls (The Little Girl Dream) as well as his fantasies of having sex with his own mother. It should be noted that the Family has removed these publications from circulation in what they claim was an official renouncement of these teachings.
In addition, a childcare manual published by the group in January of 1982 vividly describes, with photographs, the sexual activity that took place between the son of Karen Zerby and his governesses, particularly Sara (also known as Sara Davidito, Sara Kelley, or Prisca Kelley; she later became a top leader in the organization). This 700-page manual, and all other publications that seem to approve of pedophilia or incest have since been removed from circulation, but copies still exist, mainly in the private collections of former members.
The boy mentioned above (the natural son of Karen Zerby and a Spanish hotel employee whom she "FFed"), was called Davidito (little David) within the group. His real 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 ever took place. As Davidito grew up he developed a deep seated resentment towards Berg and Zerby because of the sexual abuse he had suffered as a child due to their policies and because of the unnatural way in which he was raised. He would later state that he and his sister were never allowed to be "just children". They always had to perform and demonstrate their supposed natural superiority to other children in the group.
When Davidito grew to adulthood he left the group entirely, married and tried to live a normal life outside this group. In October 2004, he moved to Tucson,Arizona and worked as an electrician for a business owned by a former member. 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 close associate of his mothers and one of his former abusers, Angela Smith (formerly Susan Joy Kauten) and stabbed her to death in his apartment. He then drove to Blythe, Arizona where he shot himself in the head. He released a video 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." New York Times: Murder and Suicide Reviving Claims of Child Abuse in Cult, Laurie Goodstein, New York Times, January 15, 2005. pg. A-1.
The group's current policy (as of 1995) forbids, under penalty of full excommunication, sexual contact with minors, and the group has not accepted any responsibility for abuses that occurred during the more permissive period created by Berg's writings. It maintains, rather, that any abuses were the work of individual members. 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. The Rt. Hon. Lord Justice Ward ruled in a 1995 court case that the group, including its top leadership had engaged in abusive sexual practices involving minors, that they had also engaged in severe corporal punishment and sequestration of minor children. However, in a last minute turn around, he said that The Family had abandoned these former practices and that they were a safe environment for children, with some reservations: he required that the group cease all corporal punishment of children in the United Kingdom, improve the education of members' children, denounce Berg's writings, and "acknowledge that through his writings Berg was personally responsible for children in The Family having been subjected to sexually inappropriate behaviour" (see links below).
Although the group has publicly renounced former policies and doctrines that condoned or encouraged sex between adults and minors, in their internal publications there has been no such renunciation. Evidence of this is represented by the following quote from Family leader Karen Zerby:
The Family / Family International (1994–present)
After Berg's death in October of 1994, Karen Zerby, from Camden, New Jersey in the USA, most commonly known in The Family as Mama or Queen Maria, took over leadership of the group. She then married her longtime lover, Steven Douglas Kelly, an American also known as Christopher Smith, Peter Amsterdam, or King Peter. He became her traveling representative due to Zerby's hermitic separation from her followers.
In February of 1995, the group introduced a Charter of Rights and Responsibilities. As its title implies, it set forth a new way of living within the organization. The rights referred to 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 a member was expected to give to the group if he or she wished to remain a full-time member, including tithing of up to fourteen percent of his or her income (ten percent to World Services, three percent for regional services and projects, and one percent typically to regional literature publishing). It provided that any of the rights could be revoked at any time by Zerby and Kelly, and more responsibilities could be added.
Of the more unusual teachings Zerby has propagated, her encouragement to followers to engage in a spiritual sexual relationship with Jesus stands out as the most unusual. Male members of the group are encouraged to visualize themselves as women "in the spirit" during masturbation or intercourse in order to accommodate this practice. This doctrine is explained in the Family publications Loving Jeus Part 1 and Loving Jesus Part 2
The Family also believes in channeling spiritual beings through prophecy. Members are encouraged to hear from Christ and other spiritual beings multiple times during each day and to make both large and small decisions in consultation with the spirit world. They do this individually and in prayer groups with all members typically expected to contribute at will. It is not uncommon for members to believe they are channeling well-known people from history who are communicating from the afterlife.
Prior to the 1990s this sort of prophecy was not as common among members and was more typical among leadership and prominent members. David Berg himself clearly drew many teachings from external secular and religious references and sources, usually without attribution, and he also frequently channeled people from the afterlife. But it was after his death that the process became more democratized and Zerby has strongly preferred to call on spiritual beings for instructions and advice. It is possible this was prompted in part by clinical blindness that she developed during the 1990s.
As a fundamentalist Christian group, The Family's doctrines tend to be progressive, with a few exceptions. For example, while they view male homosexuality as sin, they are generally accepting of lesbianism, or at least female bisexuality. This was not always the case and more acceptance spread throughout leadership during the 1990s, influenced partly by Karen Zerby's discussions of her own same-sex encounters.
The Family has also slowly moved away from traditional protestant doctrines of Salvation as a requirement before death to one of Universal Reconciliation. This has partly come about in order to reconcile their belief in hell with other strongly held beliefs in god's absolute love for mankind and forgiveness for human weakness.
The Family continues to stress the imminent Second Coming of Christ, and the rise of a worldwide government and Antichrist figure preceding that. These doctrines regarding the "End time" influence virtually all long-term decision making.
The second generation
- Main article: Second generation
Zerby's practices and teachings have alienated many of the second generation members of the group, who have left in large numbers to pursue secular careers. There is a great deal of anti-Family sentiment among many of those who have left, including threats to legally pursue alleged physical and sexual abusers, whom, it is thought, may have been shielded from prosecution by the group's leadership.
Many of these former second-generation members have kept in communication with each other. A notable example of this is their use of the site, MovingOn.org. Generally, many of them have left the religious discipline of their parents. The Family International prefers to call these former members apostates. The former members resent this label, as most of them never chose to join this group in the first place (they were born into it) and, thus, can not rightly be called "apostates".
- Main article: Category:Secrecy
A consistent trait throughout the history of The Family has been their aversion to government oversight and extreme secrecy surrounding leadership and finances. World Services (WS), the central administrative wing of The Family, continues to operate in complete secrecy, with very few members of The Family actually knowing their whereabouts or the identities of the members of those offices, most of whom operate under pseudonyms instead of their more commonly known "Bible names". Many of them have also legally changed their names and some sources have indicated that they have used fake passports in the past.
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 persons 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 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.
- Main article: Category:Finances
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 large amounts of funds in Japanese Yen and Swiss Francs, with other large reserves transferred into gold bullion.
The Family has consistently avoided property investments and stocks or bonds, believing them to be too high risk and too subject to government oversight.
This category has the following 2 subcategories, out of 2 total.
Pages in category "History"
The following 28 pages are in this category, out of 28 total.