Akron Beacon Journal: Former Cultist Now Preaches Against Religious Entrapment

From XFamily - Children of God

Former Cultist Now Preaches Against Religious Entrapment

Akron Beacon Journal/April 27, 1985

By Barbranda Lumpkins
Beacon Journal staff writer

In 1972, Una McManus was young and naive when she met some people in a park in her native Ireland and became interested in what they had to say about God and life.

So at age 15, she joined the Children of God, which turned out to be a cult that drastically changed her life, she said.

Ms. McManus, 28, now a communications and philosophy major at the University of Akron, is telling her story to all who will listen in the hope of helping others understand what life in a cult is about.

"They're a nasty group," Ms. McManus said in her Akron U office, where she works for university information services. "The Children of God offered young people a way to rebel, but you end up being a slave for the cult leader -- an exploited pawn."

To look at her now, it is difficult to believe how such an intelligent, seemingly well-adjusted young woman could have been drawn into a cult. But Ms. McManus said all types of people are susceptible to their influence.

"Some people think only drug addicts, weirdos and lunatics get involved in cults. But they don't know how sneaky and sophisticated (cults) are.

"It's hard to understand if you haven't been through it," she said.

The Children of God, also known as the Family of Love, was started in the United States in 1968. The group spread across the country and the world under the leadership of David Berg.

Ms. McManus, who grew up a Roman Catholic in Dublin, was a member for five years, spending much of her time traveling throughout Europe, Scandinavia and England to raise money and recruit members for the group.

She met her husband, an Akron native, after she joined and they married when she was 16. They soon had two sons.

Ms. McManus said a subtle process of indoctrination was used to control her thinking. The group called itself a loving family, "but that was all superficial garbage," she said.

She said she decided to leave the group when its leader started promoting doctrines of "religious prostitution" and being "hookers for Christ."

Although leaders tried to frighten her into remaining with them, Ms. McManus said she and her family left and came to Ohio.

Later, her husband took the children and returned to a cult commune in Columbus. Cult leaders denied her the right to see the boys, she said.

After a long court battle, Ms. McManus gained custody of the children, divorced her husband and sued the cult and Berg for damages. She was awarded $1.5 million, which she has never collected because the cult is now underground and claims to have no property in the United States.

Ms. McManus has written two books about cults, Not For a Million Dollars and Dealing With Destructive Cults. She is working on a third book called The Danger Zone of Popular Religion.

Ms. McManus urged churches to take an active role in helping former cult members back into the mainstream of society. And, she said, families should not turn their backs on loved ones who are caught up in a cult.

Despite her experiences, Ms. McManus said she is no longer bitter. However, she said she is much wiser where religion is concerned.

"I am very cautious about how religion can be misused and how it can so easily be turned into a neurosis," she said.