Sydney Morning Herald: The Family's Planning

From XFamily - Children of God

The Family's Planning

Sydney Morning Herald/1993-11-06

By Col Allison

It is May 16 this year, 12 months after 72 children of The Family religious sect were dragged sleeping from their beds, the alleged victims of sexual abuse and brainwashing. An open day anniversary celebration of the sect's unexpected victory in the Sydney courts is beginning.

As supporters arrive at the leased $2 million mansion in Baulkham Hills -one of the sect's three communal homes in The Hills district - the first voices they hear are not the trained tones of the guest speakers, the Christian fundamentalist groups' hard-nosed lawyers, Chris Murphy and Greg Walsh. They are those of placard-waving protesters on the footpath outside, demanding their day in court.

The demonstrators describe themselves as disgruntled cult members. They include Tore Klevjers, 40, his Dutch-born wife, Lucia, and a handful of other former members, reminders of the days when The Family was a sexually promiscuous group known as the Children of God. Their banners read: "The Family Cult - Another Waco?" and "The Facts Vs The Lies - The Family Cult did not win the court case".

Inside the 2.5-hectare grounds of the 10-bedroom house, adults and some of the sect's 87 children (15 more have been born since the raid) link hands and perform The Family theme song, Side by Side ("Working close together every day, side by side, Together building dreams ...").

Outside on the street, the sect leader, Stuart, a 41-year-old father of nine and a fourth-generation Salvationist, eyeballs his former housemates with annoyance.

Mrs Klevjers tells the Herald: "Like all destructive cults, the Children of God uses deceptive proselytising techniques. Smiling faces, obedient, beautiful children, colourful posters, wholesome music cassettes and videos... all designed to convey an image of happy, dedicated Christians."

Castle Hill police are called twice to remove the protesters. Patiently the uniformed officers explain to sect members now on guard at the wire gate that the ex-members are within their rights to protest outside the property.

Inside, Chris Murphy addresses the assembly. He says the care application case brought by the Department of Community Services was "most horrible in nature, alleging that each of 65 children had been sexually abused by their parents".

The case would have run for a minimum of two years had a settlement not been reached in the Supreme Court last November. Before the deal was reached, the case had already run for three months and cost at least $4.5 million(including legal costs).

A year's stay of proceedings was negotiated to allow the children of The Family to socialise with outsiders in 54 leisure-time activities, ranging from soccer and horse-riding to needlework and music. The cost? About $350,000.

Murphy tells the group: "I've played cards as much as I've played religion and I've never played poker with anyone with four aces who threw their cards in. The prosecution in this case threw their hand in. There was not a shred of evidence, nothing."

Mrs Klevjers, who said she raised "five and a half" children in the Children of God, with whom she lived for 18 years until six years ago, said the sect "had nothing to celebrate".

"I've seen all the abuses first-hand and there are many like me who want, no, who demand to have their say in court," she said. The sect leader denied any wrongdoing, saying the Klevjers "had problems when they were with us".

All water under the bridge, perhaps. Especially now that the care application inquiry has been laid to rest this week at Cobham.

True, the formal cessation required a Supreme Court order to a reluctant magistrate, Mr Ian Forsyth, who, panicky lawyers believed, was on the brink of continuing the case in defiance of that court's settlement of last November.

But the Klevjers' vigil in May indicates a major problem for the 140-strong Family in Sydney (there are 400 members in Australia and 3,000 worldwide).

Having endured a traumatic 18 months of police surveillance, fear and hopelessness in court, and disruption to routine by organising the comings and goings of an army of children, sect adults are now coming to grips with their future.

Always there is the past, revisited in the form of protesters in the streets, or in media reports - the lingering legacy of the Children of God era which the leader, Stuart, described yesterday as "that window period of opportunity between the pill and AIDS".

He said: "We were younger then and had few children and, yes, there was flirty fishing (hooking recruits for Jesus) and much more sexual freedom, but never child abuse. Never.

"Our image has changed a lot. I hope we're getting out from under the stigma of the cult. We're a religious group, a witnessing outreach group. We've been vindicated by the courts, whatever our small but vocal number of enemies say."

The Family broke away from the Children of God more than a decade ago, Stuart says, in dissatisfaction with the leadership, The Children of God cult was formed in the 1960s in California by an alcoholic radio evangelist, David Brant Berg, known as Moses David or just plain Dad to his followers.

Born in 1919, he preached an anti-establishment doctrine described by an American Jewish organisation, the AntiDefamation League, as a potpourri of messages involving dreams and revelations, biblical misquotations (or misinterpretations), sex and anti-Semitism.

He preached a final judgment in which a great dictator will arrive, an anti-Christ possessed by Satan, who would dispose of all religious and ideological differences, economic problems and the threat of nuclear war. Then he would invade Israel and abolish all religion. The world would be purged before the Second Coming of Christ, who would be welcomed by loyal Children of God followers who had survived the Holocaust.

The Family believes much the same today. This is why, Stuart says, the anti-sect people are having such a field day, with children arrested en masse and still in detention or before the courts in Melbourne, France and Argentina.

To Moses David, sex was a big factor in his philosophy. A father of four, he was thrown out of the Missionary Alliance Church in Arizona in 1950 after a sexual liaison with a minor. It's claimed he told a newspaper interviewer he had harboured a sexual desire for his mother and both his daughters and engaged in sex with one of them, Faithy, for years.

Through his "Mo Letters", Moses advocated incest and the induction of young boys into sex with adult women. He urged cult women over 16 to recruit followers by prostitution, becoming "the happy hookers for Jesus".

According to one US report, by twisting Christ's instructions to his disciples - "Follow me and I will make you fishers of men" - Moses's flirty-fishing fleet trawled over 971,489 "witness contacts" (attempted seductions) in 10 years. He netted 222,280 "fish loved" (sexual encounters)and 105,706 "souls won" (contributions gained).

Quantities of Mo literature were seized in the May 15 raid by the door-kicking police and the department. The Family said the literature was historic only and was kept away from the children.

The care case effectively closed with the first witness still in the box. Ms Pauline Rockley, the 41-year-old who manages the department's Campbelltown office and is known by her peers as Rocky, earned the nickname "The Rock" for her steadfast, world-record-breaking testimony.

She co-ordinated the raid and insisted in court the department would prove"from the testimony of ex-members and from the literature" that all the children were in need of care. Then came the startling concession that the raid took place in concert with a similar raid in Victoria, on shaky police intelligence, amid fears that the 19 families might abscond. She then revealed that the police inquiry found nothing to warrant criminal charges and the police had withdrawn.

When she then conceded the case was based "on no specific evidence", talk of mediation and departmental backdowns was inevitable. It's no secret that many district officers and executives in Community Services and some of the Children's Court hierarchy were piqued that the allegations were never tested in court. They still are.

If nothing else, the case has focused attention on the workings of the Department of Community Services. The man who authorised the raid and controlled its aftermath, Mr David Merchant, missed out on becoming the department's new director on the retirement of its chief. His position of deputy director was subsequently "deleted" and a week later he took up a new job as a senior executive with the Sydney Water Board.

Mr Merchant astonished everybody when he said after the mediated settlement that there was still a "strong case" that the children had been sexually abused. "We have not recanted from that at all," he said.

The man who replaced him as the departmental strategist and policy spokesman, Mr Ken Buttrum, mindful of Chris Murphy's pursuit of a $10 million compensation case against the Government for wrongful imprisonment of the children, will not discuss the allegations: "The case is over and we're satisfied the children are safe and their well-being is assured in The Family."

But the sect leader is not satisfied by this. He wholeheartedly supports the call by the Opposition spokesman on community services, Mr Ron Dyer, for an inquiry by independent experts into the department's methods of investigating and prosecuting child protection cases.

Stuart said many of the younger children were still traumatised by the way they were treated in temporary departmental care after the raid. And many still express anger at the way their interviews were conducted.

The sect's plans? "Our first priority is to apply pressure on the Victorian authorities who are still determined to force 86 children there through the ordeal we faced before it ended in Sydney."

The Klevjers and the other former cult members may yet get their day in court, south of the border. But don't hold your breath. Pressure is mounting daily on the Victorian Government to end the increasingly expensive case, now stalled in the Melbourne children's courts for lack of Legal Aid Commission funds.

And with so many Government members privately scandalised by the likely costs of the case, not to mention the political fallout, nobody will be surprised if the pin is suddenly pulled. Mediation, Sydney-style, may provide the inexpensive and face-saving solution.