Lauren: Responsibility and Abuse

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DISCLAIMER: The following article is preserved here for educational purposes. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of's editors.

Editor's note: Originally posted on, 2002-07-31.

Responsibility and Abuse

by Lauren

I’ve been following with interest the polemic between Albatross, Geek and Wolf in Albatross’ post, “I propose a debate”.

Ever so slightly, I can understand where Geek, Wolf and others are coming from with their posts. There are, however, two key factors that I believe they (and many others) do not consider when the subject of Zerby's and Kelly's guilt or innocence in matters of abuses in The Children of God/The Family come into discussion.

These factors are: Responsibility and the Definition of Abuse.

I am not a psychologist, but it would seem to me the mentality of "forgive and forget" when applied to the widespread abuse of others stems from an underlying belief that the accused are not actually guilty of wrongdoing beyond the "we're all humans and we all make mistakes" zone & that therefore, the abusers should simply be forgiven and we should all "live and let live".

I believe that the "we all make mistakes" reasoning should be reserved for genuine human flaws – ie, Berg's alcoholism, Zerby's meddling in the intimate details of people’s lives better left private, poor judgment of character, etc. It should not be used in the case of recalcitrant child sexual molestation, physical abuse or situations where countless people have had their lives and emotions traumatically scarred in the name of God, and the perpetrators continue to refuse to acknowledge the part that they played in bringing these abuses about.

There are some who have visited this site and have illogically and redundantly harped on the fact that because there are people who have had it worse than we have, those who relay their experiences are either a) exaggerating, b) giving in to peer pressure, c) a bunch of whining losers or d) trying to blame someone else for their problems. To these individuals, I state my belief that to claim any of the above is fallacious and over simplistic. It is a mockery, it is insensitive and it indicates a disbelief that the events being relayed by the individuals were in actuality, abusive.

If "someone else having it worse" is the criterion for what is abusive and what is not, then anything short of baby rape, sexual slavery with pregnancy resulting in death, genocide and physical mutilation should be considered acceptable forms of behavior.


My views on responsibility revolve around Zerby. They apply to Kelly by implication and connection.

One thing many of us tend to forget is that without Zerby, there would have been no "Children of God". FGAs in the Family use this argument to defend her, as if because of her loyalty to Berg, she is unequivocally absolved from insanity. Prior to Zerby's arrival on the scene, Berg was a washed up, down and out loser. Only Zerby knows her own motives behind her reverence and loyalty to Berg. The rest of us can assume whatever we want. Regardless of what prompted her to do what she did, it had innumerable repercussions.

Zerby's faithfulness to Berg was the beginning of the "Mo Letters". Without Zerby, every word Berg uttered 24-hours-a-day would not have been recorded, transcribed and a large portion of it dished out for Family members to gobble up. Zerby pushed Berg to lead the Family (remember that old "TK" called "Thank God for Maria"?) Even as early as 1993 Berg had relinquished a great part of the leadership of the Family into Zerby's hands while he retained the spiritual head. (Remember the "Back on Track" series? Berg didn't even know what was going on in Europe until after the fact.)

Zerby knew exactly what was going on in her own household in regards to the sexual activities the children were involved in. She didn't stop it, but rather published the juicy details for Family members to feed on as an example. It only starts there. Zerby has not been a helpless bystander that did nothing but take orders, transcribe tapes and bring Berg more wine.

But assuming that that's all she was, the simple fact that she stayed with Berg and supported him through thick and thin can only mean that she approved (or at the least, condoned) his actions, his writings, his doctrines and his policies. She still refuses to acknowledge that the sexual aspects of the Law of Love when applied to children are inherently wrong and against the Laws of God. Why? Whether Zerby's motives for supporting Berg in all his ways were driven by blind love and adoration, desire for power or because of fear are known only to her.

Definition of Abuse

The accusations do not stop at child molestation or sexual abuse. Zerby (and Kelly by implication) are responsible for so much more. When the subject of guilt or innocence and "who is to blame" for the mess that took place in the Family comes up, inevitably the subject will revert to sexual abuse against children. It took place, I have no doubt of that. I don't at all swallow the Family party line that the sexual abuse was sporadic and that the Family leadership (ie, Berg and Zerby) didn’t know it was going on. From the Family's own writings at that time it's painfully obvious that they not only knew, they promoted it. Perhaps they were not aware that it was damaging – perhaps they had only heard "good reports" (considering the victims were to young to write, this would be no wonder). I will cut them that much slack. But they were aware of it.

Agreed: Berg was the main offender in his household (although, from reading the "Story of Davidito" uncut, Sara probably runs a close second). What about the host of other abuses that were suffered by an even greater number of young people in the Family than those that suffered from sexual abuse? What about physical abuse? What about emotional abuse? What about sleep deprivation, food deprivation, beatings, exorcisms, silence restrictions, public humiliations? Who was responsible for implementing these? Berg? Zerby? Kelly? And do these not also count as abuses?

To the Family’s sanitization department, they certainly don’t. Perhaps to people like Geek and Wolf, they don’t either. Again, I revert to the argument of “having it worse”. Just because children in the Family did not have their eyes seared out with hot irons or were not locked in their rooms for the first 14 years of their lives does not mean that they did not suffer abusive situations.

Zerby was directly responsible for the “dark ages” of the Family. I would venture to say that one of the roughest time periods in the lives of almost every Family young person (both those still in and those now out of the Family) would have to be the DTR & everything that followed right up until the Charter. With it came the victor camps, the silence restrictions, the harsh discipline and much more. Zerby may not have “done the deed” so to speak, but it was because of her insolent desire to pound square pegs into round holes and thus create little cookie cutter disciples that many of our young people went through horrendous time periods in their lives.

Zerby and Kelly have both said that they are sorry that these things happened and that it was never intended, but not once have they personally taken responsibility for the hurts and said, “The buck stops here”. It would seem that Zerby has no problem claiming title to the leadership of the Family, but is incapable of taking responsibility of the leadership when it comes to taking the blame.

If they can apologize on Berg’s behalf posthumously for not foreseeing potential problems with his sex and Law of Love doctrines and for not putting guidelines into place to prevent those problems, why can’t they apologize for themselves while they are still living? Why can’t they say, “I’m sorry that these things happened to you. I never would have done them myself, but I am to blame for allowing the policies to be put into place without including guidelines to prevent abuses. Because I am the leader and because the DTR was my doing, I am responsible for your hurt and I’m sorry, please forgive me.”

Why "Forgiving and Forgetting" is not possible

It takes a special soul to be able to forgive an act for which the perpetrator superciliously continues to hang on to the “rightness” of & it takes a practically immortal soul to be able to both forgive AND forget. There are, I’m sure, quite a number of abused former members of the Family that have been able to put the abuses behind them, forgive those involved, and chalk it all up to experience. I’m sure that just about everyone on this site has done that to some degree or other.

Forgetting, however, is another matter entirely. I don’t know about everyone else, but I am perfectly capable of forgiving the perpetrator of a crime and still hold an interest in seeing justice met. Because I have forgiven and am not bitter, does not mean that I’m content to let abusers walk along their merry way arrogantly assuming that they are justified in all actions because of their superior position of being God’s spokespeople to the World.

The Family has cleaned up its act with sexual abuses. Wonderful. There are no more victor camps. Thank God for that. Are we to automatically assume that the long line of experimentation resulting in traumatized lives is now over? I would hardly think so. Until the Family policies allow for public schooling (without shame or feeling out of God’s will) then there will continue to be educational neglect in the Family. As long as the Family discourages system jobs or lucrative forms of fundraising that aren’t high witnessing opportunities, there will continue to be children forced out on the street to raise funds for their Home. Perhaps to some people (and certainly to many Family people – and it would seem especially to Family leadership) these are not abusive situations. But if there is anything I personally look back on with utter abhorrence, it was the thousands of hours I spent as a young teenager beating the pavements, frozen and under-dressed in order to put bread on the table and wanting nothing more than to go home where it was a few degrees warmer and I didn’t have to listen to yet one more person’s rejections. My official education stopped at age 12. Anything beyond that is only accredited to the fact that God has gifted me with aptitude and I was a voracious reader. Am I to believe that these types of actions are no longer occurring today?

I believe that what infuriates and causes people to refuse to simply “forget” is the fact that top family leadership continue to show no remorse for the policies that they themselves instituted and were responsible for; policies which resulted in wide spread damage on countless levels (emotional, psychological, educational, mental, etc.) to innumerable young people and children – some children so young they weren’t even talking yet.

What’s worse is that these same leaders have in their purblind self-righteousness set themselves up to be the instructors, placed in position by God to pass on His words for the Family to follow and obey.

Karen Zerby (or whatever her name is now) is personally responsible for untold emotional and physical damage done to the second (and third) generation of Family members directly under her administrational and then spiritual oversight. In her blind obstinate drive to legislate righteousness, we have a generation of messed up kids. Even now she continues to plunge headfirst into one new spiritual doctrine after the other, that, while some may find helpful, have done nothing but confuse and drive others away from Christianity. Jesus had something to say about people like her, “He that kills you thinks that he does God service”. When she called for all 10-12 year olds to have the same dedication as adults, she thought she was doing God service. When she instituted victor camps, she thought she was doing God service. When families were split up during the “separation era”, she thought she was doing God service. When “witches” were hunted down in the Family, she thought she was doing God service.

Piously, the Family leadership calls for (and prays for) the young former Family members to forgive and move on with their lives. Of course, they are only concerned for us; bitterness is not healthy, they say. Zerby, please note that even God doesn’t forgive until we confess and repent.