Cults: Sordid Sex & Secrets?
Larry King Live/2008-07-31
LARRY KING, HOST: Tonight, exclusive -- is it the most shocking cult ever? They say incest, orgies and sex games ruined their lives.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DAVIDA KELLEY: Raising us as kids like that, in that sort of environment, in that abusive environment, was very wrong.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Did unspeakable abuse drive man to murder and suicide?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RICK RODRIGUEZ: It's a need for revenge. It's a need for justice. Because I can't do go on like this.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Former cult members tell their incredible stories.
But first, the feds are now involved in the Caylee Anthony case. The FBI has questions and they want answers.
[unrelated segments redacted]
KING: Is it the most scandalous cult ever?
Our guests, former members, make some shocking claims after the break.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JULIET STEVENSON [Narrator of Cult Killer: The Rick Rodriguez Story): The Children of God were founded in 1968 in Southern California by a charismatic Baptist minister called David Berg. To the outside world, the family was a missionary organization spreading their word from Mexico City to Manila. But behind the closed doors of their communes, free love was their theology.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: OK. A strange story.
We begin here in Los Angeles with Davida Kelley, a former member of the Children of God. It's now called Family International. She was raised in the household of that sect's now dead leader, David Berg, whom she says sexually abused her.
Also here is Amy Bril, a former member of the Children of God. She was summoned to the household of David Berg as a young child and married to him at age 13.
What -- where do we start here, Davida?
How -- you grew grow up in this?
DAVIDA KELLEY, FORMER MEMBER, CHILDREN OF GOD: Yes.
KING: Born in it?
KING: This was in Los Angeles?
KELLEY: This -- it was founded in [Huntington Beach, California|Huntington Beach]] during the hippie era. And David Berg was initially like just a possessed fanatical pedophile that founded this entire cult.
KING: And you were raised in it?
KING: At what age were you first tampered with?
KELLEY: I -- my first memories of being exposed to any kind of sexual abuse whatsoever was probably as early as age five.
KING: What was the point of the cult, Amy?
What were they saying to attract members?
AMY BRIL, FORMER MEMBER, CHILDREN OF GOD: Initially, it started out pretty innocently, as they were offering freedom from the church, the religious system that people were disillusioned with. The hippies were disillusioned with their families. They were dropouts.
KING: Offer you better things?
BRIL: Yes. And he was offering a way out, an escape.
KING: Did he have many members?
BRIL: It started out small, with his own personal family and it grew. One of those members was my dad, who joined when he was 13 years old in Huntington Beach.
KING: Your dad joined when he was 13?
KING: How big is it -- how big did it get?
KELLEY: I assume there's probably close to like between 8,000 and 10,000 members currently.
KING: Ten thousand members all over the world?
BRIL: Well, there's been all kinds of people coming through the group for the last 30 years. People have joined, left, joined, left.
KING: Is it easy to leave?
BRIL: Not for those that are born in the group -- into the group.
KING: Do you agree with that, Davida?
KELLEY: It's very difficult -- to leave?
KELLEY: Oh, you're allowed to leave at any point, but you have absolutely no support whatsoever when you leave, like because you're not integrated into society...
KING: Because you're out there.
KELLEY: You're not intrigued into society whatsoever. You don't have a formal education. So when you leave, you're just -- you're out there to face the world alone and you have absolutely no options in life. And you don't know where to start or how to begin your life or (INAUDIBLE).
KING: The children of God, now known as Family International, has been on and off the public radar for decades. We did a show on it in 1993. The January 2005 murder of a former member by the leader's son, Ricky Rodriguez, and Ricky's subsequent suicide generated headlines around the world.
Ricky, who had himself fled the group, made a video just days before he killed a woman who had been involved in his childhood molestation and he then took his own life.
We have a portion of it from a British documentary. A word of caution -- some viewers might be upset by this material. Watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RICKY RODRIGUEZ, FORMER MEMBER OF CHILDREN OF GOD: This is Rick and I'm making this video. I want there to be some record, my ideas, just who I was really.
Rick was born into a religious cult.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He would tell me I just want to die, I'm just tired of this life. I'll never be free from this pain and this past.
Rick was planning suicide and murder.
RODRIGUEZ: How can you do that to kids? How can you do that to kids and sleep at night?
Within 48 hours, two people were dead.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You know, everything was backward, the way we were going at absolutely everything. And everything that was wrong, we were taught was right. Everything that was really evil and wicked and perverted was done in the name of Jesus.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: And Ricky, Davida, he killed, what, the person who was his nanny?
KELLEY: Yes. She was one of many nannies who... KING: Tampered with him.
KELLEY: Yes, when he was a child.
KING: Did you know Ricky, Amy?
BRIL: I did.
KING: Did you know this was coming?
BRIL: Well, I met him about six months before this happened. I was able to actually spend some time with him reuniting. And he was very troubled. And those of us who knew him at the time were deeply concerned about his state. He was very disillusioned with the fact that his mother, a current leader of the family, had never apologized or made amends with those that she had had a hand in abusing.
KING: And he couldn't just leave? He couldn't just leave?
KELLEY: Yes. You're allowed to leave at any time, but with no support whatsoever.
BRIL: He did leave, in fact.
BRIL: He did.
KING: He did?
BRIL: He tried.
KING: Davida, what's the Story of Davidito Berg (ph), Davidido (ph) or whatever that is?
KELLEY: Davidito Berg?
KING: Davidito Berg.
What is that?
KELLEY: It's a series about the upbringing, how we raised as children and it's like a volume. But it, you know, just explains our lifestyle and kind of depicts it. And it's like a sort of a catalog or a standard by which the rest of the family members were sort of expected to live by.
KING: It was like your bible?
BRIL: It was a sort of a child care bible put out by Berg and Maria to teach the current members at the time how to train and bring their children up.
KING: And the cult, again, is trying to tell people they're benefiting them by doing all this, is that right?
BRIL: Oh, everything that came out or was published by David Berg or Maria was considered to be the word of God. So, of course, it was considered to be instructional and something that would liberate them and teach them how to live better lives.
KING: Were there orgies, as well, Davida, many men and women together?
KELLEY: Initially, yes, during the first generation that both myself and Armandrita Berg (ph) grew up in. Yes, that was a policy by which everybody was expected to, you know, abide by and participate in.
KING: Where was this done, in homes?
KELLEY: In the communities. In the communities...
KING: In the communities where they lived?
KING: You mean they would live at home and then go to this place?
KELLEY: No. This happened in the homes, in their own communities. Like there's many, many communities -- hundreds of communities all around the world. And communities just meant like different families -- several different families all living together communally in a commune.
BRIL: It's a commune -- like a commune or a community of believers who (INAUDIBLE).
KING: We, of course, by the way, invited Family International to take part in tonight's discussion. They did not respond to that request. However, they posted a lengthy statement about all this on their Web site already and we'll get to some of that later.
Some of our guests have relatives that are current members of the Family International.
Are they in danger?
They'll tell us, ahead on LARRY KING LIVE.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (singing)
KELLEY: This is all done in the name of God. You were raised and disciplined to be a Christian. And to find out finally that Jesus had nothing to do with it, it was really the sick mind of a pervert and a pedophile who just used it to manipulate an entire cult to believe in him and support him and his beliefs.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: That was the infamous late David Berg, right?
Davida Kelley remains with us. So does Amy Brill. We're joined now here in Los Angeles by Juliana Buhring, a former member of the Children of God and co-author of "Not Without My Sister," a first-hand account of the sexual, physical and mental abuse she and her sisters suffered. One of the executive directors of Rise International, which works to protect children from abuse in cults.
And in London, Celeste Jones, a former member of the same cult. She and Juliana are half sisters. They have the same father. She's co-author of that book, "Not Without My Sister," a project worker for NCH. That's a major children's charity in the United Kingdom. She's also a director of Rise International.
Juliana, did you grow up in this cult?
JULIANA BUHRING, FORMER MEMBER, CHILDREN OF GOD: Yes, I was born and raised in the group.
KING: When did you start to think something was wrong?
BUHRING: I don't think I ever truly believed in the doctrine. I always thought that something was wrong. But because we were told that everything that we felt was our wrong or evil was our problem or our fault as opposed to the doctrine's fault. I thought that I was the one that had a problem with it, therefore I was the one that was wrong, not the doctrine.
KING: When were you sexually abused for the first time?
BUHRING: From the time I was born, sexual abuse was all around us. My earliest memories are watching adults in orgies, being paired up with other children my age to being taught sex by adults.
KING: At what age?
BUHRING: My earliest memories are 3-years-old. So it would have been from three on that I remember that.
KING: And the benefit, this was explained to the group, was what?
BUHRING: OK, David Berg came out with a doctrine called the Law of Love where he believed that everything done in love was good and fine. And he reasoned that because children could orgasm, therefore they should be able to participate in sex. So then he started his experiment on Ricky Rodriguez, the son.
KING: Who killed himself.
BUHRING: Who killed himself. And in this manual, the book which he showed, it showed or told adults how to do that. And then adults followed those instructions and it propagated to all the children in the group.
KING: Celeste in London, did you grow up in the same circumstances as your half sister?
CELESTE JONES, FORMER MEMBER, CHILDREN OF GOD: Yes, I did. I grew up with Amy as well. We grew up as children together for many years.
KING: How did you get out?
JONES: It was difficult. I know they're saying you're free to leave at any time, but the psychological barriers are huge. And they keep you in as a virtual prisoner. The fear is the main thing you have to get over. Because all your life you're told that the outside world is scary and bad and that if you left, you would be struck by lightning, you would be killed. There is this mistrust placed from I can remember. And so I think having to break that fear was huge.
KING: Other than maybe adults looking for sex, Celeste, what's the attraction of this group?
JONES: I wish I could say because I was born into it. So it's not like I ever saw any attraction. I was told what to think and what to feel. And I found it difficult after leaving and being an adult myself now thinking, what was the attraction for my parents?
I don't think I can answer that for them. It's very difficult. Actually I remember thinking as a child, and definitely as a teenager, if I was never born into this, I would have never joined. And that was a thought I always had.
KING: Were your parents in the group?
JONES: Yes, they joined in England. My dad was a hippie, he was looking for sort of alternative religion. He ended up taking drugs, he dropped out. Yes, so I think he was ripe pickings for the Children of God when they came over from the states to the U.K.
KING: Cult leader David Berg exhorted his followers to his words, glorify God in the dance. This resulted in video tape performance of nude or scantily clad women, teens and girls.
We have a tape showing a very young Celeste Jones, our guest. Again, some may find this disturbing even though it's been edited well for content. Watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Were you eventually nude there, Celeste? What's the point of this dance?
JONES: Yes, well, I think they were told us that come -- all the adult women were doing it. And so we watched it first of all. Then do this dance for Davidito, who was David Berg's son. However, it was really for David Berg. And those tapes were circulated to all the communes and all the adults watched them. It's very uncomfortable for me to see that because there's an innocence there, but also I was really exploited. And that was very, very troubling for me. That wasn't the only dance I did. I did nude dances all the way up until I was 12-years-old.
KING: Can't the law do anything about this, Davida?
JONES: I wish they would.
KING: I'm asking, Davida can't they do something?
KELLEY: I'm not sure because for instance, they don't practice it anymore. They do not sexually exploit and abuse their children anymore because they can't. Those of us in the first generation have alerted the authorities and alerted the media and drawn attention to this abuse that happened in our generation. So it doesn't occur anymore. And the statute of limitations might have run out, however the pedophiles that have done this to our generation are still in positions of leadership to this day.
KING: That's terribly damaging.
Celeste, thank you very much.
By the way, as we said, we invited the Family International to respond and here's what they say: "The Family International has a zero tolerance policy in regards to the abuse of minors. The family will immediately expel and excommunicate any adult member deemed guilty of physically or sexually abuse behavior towards children. Family members are advised to conduct themselves in conformance with the laws of the jurisdiction in which they live and to cooperate with the justice system of the land. The family's policy for the protection of minors was adopted in 1986. We regret that prior to the adoption of this policy, cases occurred where minors were exposed to sexually inappropriate behavior between 1978 and 1986."
We'll be right back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You would think that somebody would say in the family, well, something is wrong here, our children are killing themselves. And the only response we get is well, they weren't all suicides, some of them are still alive or they're inflating the numbers.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How many people need to pass way before something happens? UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is the consequence of what they've reaped upon us. So I don't know how this story is going to end.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: That clip is from an HBO documentary. And by the way, when I read that disclaimer from the group, that was not sent to us. That was on their Web site today.
Our panel remains with us. And joining us is Miriam Williams Boeri. She's a former member of the Children of God. She joined the sect rather than being born into it. She's author of "Heaven's Harlots: My 15 Years as a Sacred Prostitute in the Children of God." She's an assistant professor of sociology, Kennesaw State University.
Why did you join?
MIRIAM WILLIAMS BOERI, FORMER MEMBER, CHILDREN OF GOD: I was hippie, 18-years-old, 17 when I first heard about them and they were a Christian commune and I think you might have been around at that time. You know, the period of hippies were looking for communes, they were looking to change the world. There was the Vietnam War.
KING: This was this L.A. then?
WILLIAMS BOERI: No, I was actually in New York City.
KING: And there was a commune there, too?
WILLIAMS BOERI: There was.
KING: What did you think of all the sexual activity?
WILLIAMS BOERI: There wasn't that sex when I joined. In fact, we weren't even allowed to kiss or hold hands.
KING: What changed?
WILLIAMS BOERI: Moses David changed. But one thing that I think should be clear is that there were concentric circles around the leaders. And the further away you were from those leaders, the less you participated in the sex. All of us had some sexual activities that were going on that would not be considered normal in mainstream society. But the further you're away from the leaders, the more that you could choose for your children what they would do and what they would not do.
KING: How long did you remain in the sect?
WILLIAMS BOERI: I left in 1981 for the first time. And then my husband, who had been in the group, wanted to go back. But we always remained again, these concentric circles, outside the furthest circle. We were pretty much on our own, pretty much. And then I left again when people came from, I was in Europe that time. And people came from India, where some of these girls lived. And as soon as this family came from India and they lived with us, I saw immediately that the father was probably abusing his child and I left immediately after that.
KING: Juliana, you were saying that during the break when we read their statement that it's not true. You think they're still practicing?
BUHRING: I think that because all the pedophiles from that era are still in the group and because the group refuses to hand them over to the law or to prosecute them, I believe that pedophilia is a sickness. And it's not something that you do one day and the next you don't. It will come back sooner or later eventually.
And these people are still protected within the group. The group does not have a firm child protection policy. And in their charter, they state that members want to go to the police, they have to leave the group to do so. Which means that most people, if there is a crime committed, I've heard of many cases all the way up into the early 2000s where kids are still suffer some form of abuse, but they deal with it internally like the Mafia, like the Catholic Church until they began to be prosecuted.
KING: Amy, do you agree?
BRILL: I actually do agree that who knows what goes on in each individual community. I think there's a big range, a difference between the communities.
KING: Do you keep in touch with old friends in the group?
BRILL: I used to. Less and less now.
KING: You don't miss it, I gather.
BRILL: I do not miss it, absolutely not.
KING: Amy, we thank you and Juliana for being with us. Davida remains and so does Miriam and we'll have more with when we come back. Don't go away.
[unrelated segment redacted]
KING: Joining us now is Rachel Bernstein, the psychotherapist and expert on cults. She runs a support group for former cult members. And Stephen Kent, professor of sociology, University of Alberta, writing a book on child sexual abuse within the Children of God.
Rachel, what's your read on what we've heard?
RACHEL BERNSTEIN, PSYCHOTHERAPIST: Well, it's been very interesting and unfortunately a very sad story. What you have people that have been damaged, really terribly hurt by being exploited, by being in a situation that was supposed to be a spiritual community but was instead a place of great perversion.
KING: Why do people do this to people?
BERNSTEIN: Sometimes it's because they truly believe that this is something that's useful for them, necessary for them. And other times, it's just because they like the power that they are able to develop over these people. And they like to have the people show them how much they are devoted by seeing how much they are willing to do for them.
KING: They deny they are a cult, Stephen. What is a cult?
STEPHEN KENT, PROFESSOR, UNIVERSITY OF ALBERTA: The definition of a cult varies. Some people just say it's a group that holds unusual beliefs. A lot of people however talk about cults in the context of harm. A cult is a group with an intense belief system that is often harmful to its own members and also members outside of that particular group.
KING: Harmful according to society, but they don't think it's harmful?
KENT: They probably don't. But when you talk to people who have been in and then come out, a lot of people's eyes get open about what happened.
KING: What are you doing now, Davida? Are you married?
KELLEY: No, I'm self-employed.
KING: Are you working?
KELLEY: I'm a fetish model.
KING: You're a what?
KELLEY: I'm a fetish model.
KING: What is that?
KELLEY: It's part of the adult entertainment industry.
KING: Oh, you appeal to --
KELLEY: Yes. Honestly, I didn't have much options when I left.
KING: You appeal to prurient interests.
KELLEY: Yes. When you leave the cult, you have a basic education and you're not integrated into society. So when you leave, your options are very slim, which is why so many children have committed suicide because they don't have a college education. They don't have anywhere to turn to and they don't have any options in life.
KING: Well said. What are you doing, Maria?
WILLIAMS BOERI: When I left the family, I went back to college as a freshman with four kids. I was 38-years-old and I stayed in school until I got my Ph.D.
KING: And you're an assistant professor. Are you married now?
WILLIAMS BOERI: I am married to someone that was not in the group.
WILLIAMS BOERI: I have five children that were born in the group and they are all out with me.
KING: What is post group like, Rachel?
BERNSTEIN: Post group is when people really are depending on their experiences, are really suffering a lot of after effects.
KING: Do you need a rehab?
BERNSTEIN: Very often it helps to have a good therapist and a good support system, either through your family or through other former members who really understand the very singular and individual kind of experience you've had in a group like this.
KING: Biggest danger in a group, Stephen?
KENT: Biggest danger has to do with the kinds of harm that people can inflict upon themselves and upon their loved ones.
KING: As the boy who killed himself?
KENT: Sure. And with this group, there have been a lot of post- group suicides or even some suicides of young people while they were still in the group. And the issue that Davida brought up about what these people do when they leave, there are countless stories about people leaving this group and at least having to go through some forms of the sex trade in order to get out, because they have little skills and they grew up in a highly eroticized environment.
KING: Does it depend, Rachel, on a charismatic leader?
BERNSTEIN: If a group is dangerous in this way, yes. The leader has to be someone people want to listen to and people feel the need to please. And so if a leader is charismatic in that way, he can get away with much more than he should.
KING: Are the former members religious in any way today? That's next.
KING: Davida, are you a member of my religion? Are you religious?
KELLEY: Oh, I'm absolutely religious. Yes, I still believe in God. I still am saved, I still believe in Jesus. And I don't blame Jesus or God for any of this. I'm agnostic, though.
KING: What about you, Miriam?
WILLIAMS BOERI: Not at all.
KING: Not at all religious. You had the idea for a foundation?
WILLIAMS BOERI: I think that one reason I'm here is in any way that I can to -- Juliana has a Web site number. If people could donate to a foundation and children that are coming out or adult children that are coming out can either get some mental help, mental health service help and also go back to college. I think all of these children could get their GEDs and go back to college. America is wonderful because everybody can get an education. That's why I came back here and I got it.
KING: Do you know Juliana's Web site?
KELLEY: Isn't it Rise International?
KING: Rise International.
KING: CIC.org. Do you think this can help?
WILLIAMS BOERI: I think so. Anyone that wants to make a donation, Juliana will make sure that it goes to the right children that are coming out.
KELLEY: For that matter, just for any children to know that there's lots of children probably in the cult that would like to leave but don't have any options or don't know where to turn or who they can go to. And if anybody out there is a relative of any members that have family in any kind of cult whatsoever, please reach out to them and like make sure that they know that you can --
KING: You've had two sisters who left as well?
KING: How are they doing?
KELLEY: Well one for instance is in Africa right now and she's trying to come back to the U.S. but she can't even afford her own plane ticket. And I can't afford to support her. I wish that we knew - could ask our relatives.
KING: What's the other one doing? KELLEY: The other one lives in Houston, Texas. She's a model. And then I have my two younger sisters that are still in the family, in the Children of God.
KING: You were saying during the break that this cult is enormous.
KENT: Well, in the 1980s, it may have been the largest globalized pedophile organization in the world. There are some other pedophile religious groups, like the Devdasi Temple Prostitutes in India that have larger numbers. But child abuse, child sexual abuse was the central doctrine in this group's theology and the group was global.
KING: Any country that does not have any cults?
BERNSTEIN: I think they exist everywhere. I think the fact that cults exist is because there is something about human nature that allows for this to happen. And so --
KELLEY: Which is why relatives that have any members in cults need to reach out to them and check in on them and make sure that they know if they want to leave, that they have an option. Because a lot of these children don't know that they have any options. They haven't been exposed to society. So they have nowhere to go and nowhere to turn.
KING: You're raised trapped?
BERNSTEIN: Raised trapped.
KING: You were a prisoner?
BERNSTEIN: Right and also in a system like this, your family who was supposed to be protecting you typically are the ones who are letting the monsters come in at night.
KENT: And one of the big issues now is as these monsters hit 50, 60, 70-years-old, they're going to go back to their second generation kids who have left and made it in the world wanting help. Because they have no pension system, they have no retirement, they have no Social Security benefits. It's a real crisis.
KING: We're almost out of time. Are these people bright?
KENT: Oh, yes, very smart people. Many of the ones that I've talked to, both current and former members. I mean, there's a range of course, in any group.
KING: But it's not that this is appealing to the lowest common denominator?
KENT: Oh, no, very talented, very smart people.
KING: I'm very impressed and we have to do more on this, thank you, thank you all. Juliana's organization by the way, can be reached as riseinternational.org, riseinternational.org.
You still have time to cast your quick vote. Do you know anyone who has been in a cult? Go to CNN.com/larryking and weigh in.
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Tomorrow, women behind bars. That's LARRY KING LIVE Friday.
Time now for Wolf Blitzer, sitting in for Anderson Cooper, the host of "A.C. 360."
Wolf, take it away.
Editor's note: At least two different versions of this statement have been issued. Changes have been noted below. Text removed from the first version is in red and text added to the second version is in blue.
The Family International’s response to the July 31st Larry King Live Show (CNN)
In Response to the CNN Larry King Live Show
From Claire Borowik for the Family International —July 30, 2008 (updated August 1st)
Contact: Claire Borowik, Public Affairs Desk for the Family International, (202)
298–0838, or email@example.com
It’s a sad day for serious journalism when a program with the standing of Larry King Live produces a sensationalistic segment focused on the claims of a handful of apostates of the Family International and anti-religious lobbyists. Over its 40-year history, over 35,000 people have been members of our fellowship. The detractors featured on this program are not representative of the thousands of former members who have at one time served as missionaries with our movement.
The usage of the label “cult” in reference to the Family is particularly pejorative. Such labeling is an age-old tactic—Jesus and his followers were also maligned as the “cult of the Nazarenes” in their day. The Family International, founded in the late 1960s, has expanded into an international missionary fellowship located in over 100 countries around the world, that has led millions to faith in Christ, and has assisted the needy in a multitude of volunteer and humanitarian efforts (see http://www.thefamilyinternational.org).
This continual interaction with the public hardly fits the profile of a secretive cult as billed by this show.
Producers’ claims that the Family International never responded to their invitation to participate on the program or to submit a statement are false. I submitted a statement on three occasions to the producers, in fact to seven different producers, as well as communicating on a number of occasions with the program coordinator, Rosy Stefanatos (Rosy.Stefanatos@turner.com). She did not acknowledge my statement, or my phone calls, or e-mails (e-mail correspondence available upon request). For this reason, I opted to post our response on our public site. I find it quite disillusioning that
this program would ignore the Family’s right of response, and it raises a question as to why the producers would not inform Larry King of our communications. It seems clear that the intent was to demonize my fellowship with a completely one-sided, biased program.
Family Policy for the Protection of Minors
The Family International has a zero tolerance policy in regards to the abuse of minors. The Family will immediately expel and excommunicate any adult member deemed guilty of physically or sexually abusive behavior towards children. Family members are advised to conduct themselves in conformance with the laws of the jurisdiction in which they live and to cooperate with the justice system of the land.
Allegations of abuse are taken very seriously by Family leadership, which has the obligation under the Family’s Charter to investigate such reports in a timely fashion and to take appropriate measures (” Procedures for Excommunicating Family Members,” The Family Charter). The Charter stipulates that the parents and the members of the community are responsible to provide a safe environment for all minors residing in their community. Parents are ultimately responsible for all decisions pertaining to the care and well-being of their children ("Rights of Children and Responsibilities of Parents,” The Family Charter).
The Family’s policy for the protection of minors was adopted in 1986. We regret that prior to the adoption of this policy, cases occurred where minors were exposed to sexually inappropriate behavior between 1978 and 1986. This was addressed in 1986 when any sexual contact between an adult and minor was officially banned and, subsequently in 1989 declared an excommunicable offense. This policy has remained unchanged for nearly two decades, and the Family’s Charter (first published in 1995) reaffirms this standard.
All previously published literature underwent careful scrutiny to ensure that it reflected this position, and questionable publications were officially renounced and expunged between the late 1980s and early 1990s. In 1994, official acknowledgement was made of the responsibility David Berg bears in publishing writings that proclaimed a teaching of sexual liberty (in 1976 and 1978) without instituting safeguards for the protection of minors. This was officially corrected in 1986, when clear guidelines were instituted banning any such contact and subsequently in 1989, when infractions of this policy were rendered an excommunicable offense.
The successful institutionalization of this policy is evidenced in the 600+ children of Family members that were subjected to government-enforced examinations in the early 1990s in several countries. These examinations confirmed the absence of physical, emotional, educational, or sexual abuse among children of Family members, resulting in the vindication of members by courts of law on three continents.
Official Apologies Tendered
Since 1993, the Family’s administrative branch has issued eight official apologies to former and current Family members for any grievances regarding their experiences in the Family. Family leadership officially addressed therein any questionable past actions regarding discipline, education, or sexual misconduct that may have taken place. These apologies were published a number of times and have been a matter of public record for the past decade.
Our sincere hope for those who were once part of the Family is that they can lead constructive, fulfilling lives and progress in the new goals they set for themselves once they decide they no longer wish to make serving the Lord with the Family their career. Our prayer is for reconciliation and mutual respect in the path that each one has chosen of his or her own free will.
Although the Family has apologized on a number of occasions to former members for any hurt, real or perceived, that they may have suffered during their time in our membership, we do not give credence to tales of institutionalized abuse told by those who seek to cause harm to our church and children. There is no basis in fact for such allegations, as evidenced by the findings of courts around the world, which evaluated over 600 children living in Family communities by means of extensive court-appointed physical, psychological, and educational testing. In every case, the courts have been satisfied with the standard of life offered to the children. (For summaries of court rulings see http://www.cesnur.org/testi/TheFamily/se_thefamily.htm.)
Contrary to statements made by Davida Kelley, Ricky Rodriguez never accused his mother, Karen Zerby (current co-administrative and spiritual overseer of the Family International) of abusive actions towards him, whether in his video or in his multitudinous Internet rants. Such actions never occurred, and her tale is absolutely false. In 1995, after three years of studying former and current member testimony in a British custody case, Justice Ward issued a lengthy ruling, in which he made note of the important role played by Karen Zerby to ensure that children were protected from any form of abuse. He stated: I am now totally satisfied that The Family, I would think at Maria’s prompting, has since 1986 made determined and sustained efforts to stamp out child sexual abuse and to prevent any inappropriate contact between adults and children whether young children or teenage children. I have no evidence that child abuse is presently prevalent any more within The Family than outside of it. (W 42 1992 In the High Court of Justice Family Division Principal Registry in the Matter of ST (a minor) ND in the matter of the Supreme Court Act 1991)
Incidence of Suicide amongst former members
There is no factual basis to claims of Family detractors that a high incidence of suicide exists amongst former second generation members. We find it very grievous that even one former member would succumb to suicide, however, the claim that nearly 30 suicides occurred in the past 15 years has no basis in fact or official causes of death. According to available records, the rate of incidence of suicide amongst the approximately 32,000 former members of the Family is far below the average in general, and in conformance to the expected rate in some age ranges.
We acknowledge that those who were once a part of our movement are as likely to succumb to social illnesses as the population at large. The World Health Organization estimates that suicide is responsible for a global mortality rate of 16 per 100,000 people per year. In the last 45 years, suicide rates have increased by 60% worldwide, rendering it among the three leading causes of death among those aged 15–44. In a period of history where the rates of suicide are rising at an alarming rate, suicide and acts of violence are virtually unknown in the Family International.
Not Without My Sister, by Juliana Buhring and Celeste Jones
Juliana Buhring’s dramatic escape narrative has no basis in fact, and she was actually assisted by Family members in her transition from the Family International, and departed on good terms. Celeste Jones’ account is likewise riddled with distortions and inaccuracies, to the point that it’s difficult to discern fact from fiction in this book. Juliana and Celeste are clearly benefiting from the publicity afforded them by programs such as this to make a name for themselves and to sell books.
Approximately half the young adults born in the Family continue to be members of the movement. They tell a very different story than the tales published in this book, and have published a blog in response to the allegations highlighted on this program, to ensure that their voices may be heard. Over 400 young people raised in the Family have posted statements and testimonials with photos. (Please see www.myconclusion.com.)
and Rachel Bernstein
It’s surprising that the producers of the Larry King Live Show would invite two people from the academic field that are of the infinitesimal minority of scholars that are active in anti-religious campaigns. Many scholars have researched, studied, and published their research on the Family International in recent years, unlike Kent
and Bernstein, and yet none of these were contacted for this show. Kent and Bernstein’s only source of information on the Family is hostile ex-members. It’s clear that the scope of this program was narrowed to people antagonistic to minority religions. Kent’s only source of information on the Family is hostile ex-members. His allegations are false, and have no foundation in fact.
Approximately half the young adults born in the Family continue to be members of the movement. They tell a very different story than the tales of the detractors featured on this program, and have published a blog in response to such allegations, to ensure that their voices will be heard. Over 400 young people raised in the Family have posted statements and testimonials with photos. (Please see http://www.myconclusion.com.)
It seems we never learn from history, and even in the aftermath of the unjustified raids on the FLDS communities, which resulted in an incalculable tax on resources and the trauma of hundreds of children, the discrimination against religious minorities continues.
It seems we never learn from history, and despite the trauma that hundreds of Family children suffered in the early 1990s due to unfounded allegations such as those presented on this show (and disproved by the courts), the witch hunt continues.
The Family International, formerly known as the Children of God, is a fellowship of Christian missionaries dedicated to preaching the Gospel around the world. Members have received Jesus Christ as their personal Savior and live and work together in small communities. Founded by David Brandt Berg (1919–1994) in Southern California, the Family has expanded into an international missionary fellowship located in over 100 countries around the world. Approximately two-thirds of the Family’s full-time membership is comprised of second and third generation members. (For more information, please see http://www.thefamilyinternational.org.)