Authors try to repair The Family's circle of despair
Press » Tucson Citizen » 2007-11-29
By Chuck Graham
What you remember most about the film is how happy the blissed-out cult members look. Their secret clan is said to be built on giving free and loving sexual gifts to each other, boosting each other's enthusiasm with physical love while their cult goes about the hard work of offering the spiritual encouragement of Jesus to the world's poor and oppressed. When the cult was formed in the early 1970s these members called themselves the Children of God. Now they prefer to be known as The Family.
On the movie screen all the cult members appear to be in their 20s, glowing with good heath and fellowship in caring for each other's intimate needs. But the film's title is "Cult Killer," a British documentary shown downtown a few weeks ago when Don Lattin, author and a former journalist for the San Francisco Chronicle, was here to talk about his new book on The Family - "Jesus Freaks: A True Story of Murder and Madness on the Evangelical Edge."
Tucson's reputation as a great town for startling murders was further burnished in 2005 when local resident Richard S. Rodriguez violently stabbed and cut the throat of Angela K. Smith, the personal secretary to former Tucsonan Karen Zerby, who is the leading spiritual leader in The Family. Immediately after he murdered Smith, Rodriguez headed for California on Interstate 10. Near Blythe he pulled off the interstate and killed himself. Once upon a time, Rodriguez was supposed to have become the next leader of The Family.
But in 2000 he rejected The Family's values. He was troubled by their devotion to a kind of togetherness that never appeared in the Holy Bible. Later, Rodriguez would move to Tucson. Some say it was to find his mother (who occasionally visited relatives here) and murder her in revenge for ruining his life through sexual abuse by cult members.
Lattin believes the story. So does Juliana Buhring, now in her late 20s, one of The Family's children who feels not only betrayed but permanently damaged psychologically by her treatment growing up in the cult. Buhring was also at the screening. Her book on her own cult childhood, "Not Without My Sister," was written in company with two of her sisters.
Their book has been published in Europe, has been a best-seller and will be released early next year in the United States. Lattin and Buhring set up the film screening and panel discussion as a fundraising event to help expand RISE International, a London-based "community interest company" intent on establishing chapters in additional cities in several countries to specifically care for these "second generation children," as Buhring calls them, born into the cult and now grown into adulthood.
"Our education was so lacking," said Buhring. "When I got out I had no skills to get a job. I didn't even know how to write a check."
While The Family officially states that since 1988 all sexual activity between adults and children has been forbidden, an estimate of several thousand children had already been born into and abused by the cult's adult members. Buhring said she didn't think the practice had completely stopped today, even if it is no longer encouraged.
Lattin covered the religion beat for the San Francisco Chronicle for nearly two decades. He has been reporting on religious cults of all kinds for three decades, as well as the activities of radical Islamists and right wing Christian fundamentalists. He believes in the value of RISE International, as well. It is Buhring's intent that one of the chapters will be in Tucson. For further information online, www.riseinternationalcic.org as well as www.thefamily.org.