Publishers Weekly Book Review: Life in The Family: An Oral History of the Children of God

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Life in The Family: An Oral History of the Children of God, Syracuse University Press, 2000, ISBN 0815606451, by James D. Chancellor — Review by Publishers Weekly

The Children of God (now called "The Family") was the most controversial offshoot of the 1960s Jesus People movement, resulting in reams of negative publicity and mobilizing the nation's first formal anticult organization. Southern Baptist Theological Seminary professor Chancellor has created what is perhaps the most sympathetic book about The Family, using the methodology of oral history to allow the movement's faithful participants to speak for themselves. His full interviews with more than 200 Family members have been edited and arranged according to themes such as conversion, beliefs, sexual practices, mission strategies, the sacrifices of membership and the next generation. Many of their statements will prove controversial; some members are still committed to the principles behind "The Law of Love," the group's sexual ministry program that had members initiating intercourse with nonmembers to draw them into God's love and into the movement. The practice has since been discarded and is punishable by excommunication (as is the practice of sex between adults and children, once the most controversial aspect of the Family). Chancellor's book makes a valuable counter-ethnography to the stories of those who have left the movement, including Heaven's Harlots, Miriam Williams's fascinating memoir of her 15 years in the group's upper echelons. While Williams's autobiography is absorbing, it follows the traditional genre of the exposé, while Chancellor's oral history of present-day members is something entirely new. (July)

Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.