The Family Responds… To "Heaven's Harlots…My Fifteen Years as a Sacred Prostitute in the Children of God Cult" by Miriam Williams
Of late, The Family has been approached on different occasions requesting our response to Miriam Williams' recently published book, "Heaven's Harlots, My Fifteen Years as a Sacred Prostitute in the Children of God." Since her book focuses on her years as a member of our fellowship, we feel constrained to set the record straight. In preparing this statement, we encounter the difficulty of having to publicly disagree with some former members of our Fellowship, which we have avoided doing, as we love them and respect their decision to depart from our fellowship. We have no wish to alienate them or add to their grievances, and we believe that these former members are entitled to their personal perspectives, outlooks and beliefs. However, we believe that we also are entitled to a response, particularly where The Family is unfairly maligned and slandered, or where stories are exaggerated to the point that it is difficult to separate truth from fiction. Although many people who have departed from our fellowship testify that their experiences as a member of The Family were positive ones, there are some former members who have had some negative experiences, as in any organization. We lament any negative experience anyone could have incurred while in The Family, and over the past ten years policies have been implemented to ensure that the rights of our members could not be infringed upon by others. We have also attempted to provide ample opportunity for former members to communicate with us in person or via an 800 number, and have taken great pains, both formally and informally, to apologize for any grievances they have. We believe that such efforts have been helpful for all parties involved. Thus, we will not attempt to sort through the personal experiences of anonymous former members presented in Ms. Williams' book, but rather will address the main issues highlighted therein.
"My Fifteen Years as a Sacred Prostitute in the Children of God Cult":
Flirty Fishing was the controversial practice that Ms Williams has termed "sacred prostitution." It was generally practiced by the Family for ten years, from 1977 to 1987, at which time it was officially banned as an outreach method for a variety of reasons. Miriam Williams, according to her own account, joined The Family in late 1971, left The Family in 1980, rejoined The Family in mid 1981, left The Family in February 1982, rejoined in 1985, and left again at some unspecified point in 1986; a total of 12 years.1 As such, Miriam Williams could not have practiced Flirty Fishing for 15 years. According to her own account in her book, she actually only practiced FFing for approximately three years, from 1977 until 19802, at which point she left The Family and never practiced Flirty Fishing again. Therefore, it is plain from the onset of the book that Ms. Williams and her publisher have taken ample license for exaggerated and misleading statements. Contrary to the implications of the title of this book, Flirty Fishing was a personal and intimate form of evangelization. The motivation, guiding principle and reasoning behind it was that of going to great lengths to try to show someone that they were loved, helping the recipient to better accept and even understand God's great love for them. As such, Family members were encouraged to engage in relationships, even sexual, with non-members, as an opportunity to talk to them about God and His message of love for them. Needless to say, linking the spiritual love of God with the physical manifestation of that love in the form of sex in this very intimate form of personal witnessing, was found to be very controversial by mainstream Christianity. However, through this ministry, the Family was able to lead over 200,000 souls to Christ, reaching many hearts with the Gospel who might never have had the opportunity to receive God's love otherwise. As far as categorizing Flirty Fishing as prostitution, we would like to quote from Ms. William's book: "The more I met these men who had all the material wealth they wanted, the more I felt like a true angel of mercy, bringing their wasted and thirsty souls the water of life… I would venture to say that more than half the thousands of men we talked to in clubs asked Jesus into their hearts… This was my reward for giving up my life and body. The Bible said, and I believed, that this simple prayer and belief in Jesus was the way to salvation. If this was true, how could such a puny thing as giving sex limit me from leading a person to salvation? These busy, important men obviously needed the intimacy that a sexual relationship provides in order to open up to the message of Jesus' Love…"3 We believe that Miriam herself confirms in these passages the true spirit and motivation behind Flirty Fishing. The terms "harlot" and "prostitute" are in no way applicable to the practice but simply pejorative statements used sensationally by Ms. Williams and her publishing company to popularize and sell her book. As any organization or denomination, we cannot give account of or be responsible for the actions of every individual, and mistakes have been made; but those souls won to God's Kingdom are truly eternal and we believe they are well worth the sacrifices made for their sakes. As a final point, Flirty Fishing was found by courts in Italy and England to not be prostitution, since its primary motivation was to lead souls to God's Kingdom, and not financial gain.
The Care and Protection of our Children
In her final conclusions, Ms. Williams states that The Family condones abusive physical and sexual practices with minors. This is unequivocally false. Any form of abuse, whether sexual, physical or otherwise is absolutely forbidden in our fellowship! Any infraction of this rule will result in immediate expulsion from our fellowship. While The Family holds to liberal views on heterosexual relations between consenting adult persons, it does not in any way mean that we tolerate, condone or permit any inappropriate behavior with our children, whom we consider a precious gift from God to be protected and nurtured. The Family recognizes that during a short period of our history our policies in this regard were not clearly articulated, which resulted in incidences of inappropriate behavior towards minors. This was officially corrected in 1986, when any sexual contact between an adult and minor was rendered an excommunicable offense. The Family’s success in protecting our children and ensuring their well being has been documented by court-appointed and independent investigations of almost 700 children living in Family communities. After extensive physical, psychological and educational testing, all of the children were found to be healthy with no sign of abuse in a single case. This total absence of abuse speaks for the efforts made to safeguard children in Family communities. We question whether the same statistics could be produced for children in society at large.
Stephen Kent named as an "expert" on The Family
Ms. Williams portrays Stephen Kent as an "academic expert" on the Family. As an anti-religious activist, Mr. Kent has ruthlessly maligned members of the Family and other religious groups, inciting authorities to investigate innocent Family communities, falsely accusing them of heinous crimes. Mr. Kent has refused on numerous occasions to interview or have dialogue with current Family members or visit our communities. He also ignores the body of work produced by his peers, who have conducted in-depth research on The Family. His refusal to study both sides of the story, and his disregard for empirical evidence (including court rulings vindicating The Family in a number of countries disqualifies him as an impartial third party professional regarding The Family. We believe the public and the media would do well to look with suspicion upon those who call themselves "experts," when, as in the case of Stephen Kent, they have not produced reputable, peer-approved work on the group in question, nor have performed any serious empirical research beyond compiling testimonies from hostile former members.
Final Conclusions of Ms Williams' Book
Throughout her book, Ms. Williams makes it clear that she was never forced to act against her own will, nor did she ever witness or hear of any incidences of abusive behavior during her time in The Family.4 However, in the final chapters and epilogue of her book, dedicated to her experiences after departing from our fellowship, she states as fact strong allegations against The Family, although she herself never saw any signs of these personally. She alludes vaguely to unknown sources as her confirmation of this and from that point on, every aspect of The Family becomes abusive and harmful. We believe that Miriam Williams' book bears witness to the fact that people's experiences are often re-interpreted upon exiting a religious group, particularly a high commitment religious movement such as The Family. What Ms. Williams once understood to be religious idealism is re-interpreted throughout her book as mind control, brainwashing, manipulation and exploitation. What she once understood to be the giving of her life in love to others through evangelizing, bringing up her children and loving the husbands she chose to marry, is re-interpreted as abuse, degradation, prejudice, and the usurping of her personality. Personal choice in freely associating or disassociating from the Family, (a freedom which she admittedly exercised on three occasions) is reinterpreted as her "escape" from The Family and the "regained control" of her own faculties. With such re-interpretation, religion becomes sinister and the only truth or wisdom allowed for is higher education and the value one finds within one's self. We respect the author's right to the form of new age religion she has adopted, however we do not believe that her newfound beliefs place her in a position to stigmatize the beliefs of others as abusive and degrading. As Bible-believing Christians, we believe that it continues to be our duty and God-given right to dedicate our lives to preaching the Gospel, and sharing our lives with others to the best of our ability. In attempting to label our missionaries as sinister, mind-controlled robots with no self-will or purpose, thousands of devoted men and women, who have chosen to dedicate their lives to helping others, are demonized. By such a yardstick, many people of diverse religious beliefs would be stigmatized, persecuted and harassed, and religious liberty placed in jeopardy.
The Family is a Bible-based international Christian fellowship dedicated to sharing God's Word and salvation through Jesus Christ with others. We seek to comfort, help and minister to those in need, endeavoring to follow the model of Jesus, Who said His ministry was to "preach the Gospel to the poor…to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord." (Luke chapter 4 verses 18 and 19). To this end, Family members make considerable and admirable sacrifices of their time, finances and energy. For more information, you can contact The Family at 1-800-4A-FAMILY or visit our Web site at http://www.thefamily.org.
(The Family--copyright 1998)