Family International, which had been called The Children of God, The Family of Love and The Family, is a New Age religion, and a cult. It was started in the 1960s in California by David Brandt Berg (1919–1994).
History[change | change source]
The Children of God (1968–1977)
The Family of Love (1978–1981)
The Family (1982–1994)
The Family International (2004–today)
Overview[change | change source]
Broadly, the Family are a Christian evangelical movement. However, their beliefs are selective. Their "spiritual revolution" is against the outside world, which the members called "the System". After the death of the founder, his widow Karen Zerby became the leader of TFI, taking the title of 'Queen' and 'prophetess.' She married Steve Kelly, an assistant of David Berg whom Berg had chosen as her 'consort' before his death. Steve Kelly took the title of 'King Peter' and became the public face of TFI, speaking in a more public capacity than either David Berg or Karen Zerby.
'Flirty Fishing'[change | change source]
In 1974, the group began a method of evangelism called Flirty Fishing. This meant using sex to "show God's love" and win converts. The method was apparently exrtemely successful. According to TFI, as a result of Flirty Fishing, "over 100,000 received God's gift of salvation through Jesus, and some chose to live the life of a disciple and missionary".
The group encouraged children to have sex with adults and each other. The High Court of Justice, Family Division, in the UK found there to be "widespread sexual abuse of young children and teenagers by adult members of The Family". According to data provided by TFI to researcher Bill Bainbridge, from 1974 until 1987, members had sexual contact with 223,989 people while practicing Flirty Fishing. Flirty Fishing also resulted in the births of many children, including Karen Zerby's son, Davidito (aka Ricky Rodriguez). He committed suicide after murdering a female member of the cult who had sexually abused him as a toddler. Children born as result of Flirty Fishing were referred to as "Jesus Babies". By the end of 1981, more than 300 "Jesus Babies" had been born.
In his judgment of a child custody court case in England in 1994, after extensive research of COG publications and the testimony of numerous witnesses, Lord Justice Sir Alan Ward said this about Flirty Fishing:
I am quite satisfied that most of the women who engaged in this activity and the subsequent refinement of ESing, (which was finding men through escort agencies), did so in the belief that they were spreading God's word. But I am also totally satisfied that that was not Berg's only purpose. He and his organization had another and more sordid reason. They were procuring women to become common prostitutes. They were knowingly living in part on the earnings of prostitution. That was criminal activity. Their attempts to deny this must be dismissed as cant and hypocrisy. To deny that the girls were acting as prostitutes because 'we are not charging but we expect people to show their thanks and their appreciation and they ought to give more for love than if we charged them' is an unacceptable form of special pleading. The 'FFers handbook' told the girls that fishing could be fun but fun did not pay the bills. 'You've got to catch a few to make the fun pay for itself. So don't do it for nothing'.
Later corrections[change | change source]
Flirty Fishing was officially abandoned in 1987. After some complaints from people who had been abused as children by adults, a new rule, that sexual interactions should not occur between an adult and a minor, was encouraged and promoted, but not enforced.
In March 1989, TF issued a statement which stated that, in "early 1985" an urgent memorandum was sent to all of its members "reminding them that any such activities [adult-child sexual contact] are strictly forbidden within our group". In January 2005, Claire Borowik, spokesperson for TFI, issued a statement that said, "Due to the fact that our current zero-tolerance policy regarding sexual interaction between adults and underage minors was not clearly stated in our literature published before 1986, we came to the realization that during a transitional stage of our movement, from 1978 until 1986, there were cases when some minors were subject to sexually inappropriate advances... This was corrected officially in 1986, when any contact between an adult and minor (any person under 21 years of age) was declared an excommunicable offense".
Further reading[change | change source]
- Chancellor, James 2000. Life in The Family: an oral history of the Children of God. University of Syracuse Press, Syracuse, NY.
- Bainbridge, William Sims 2002. The Endtime Family: Children of God. State University of New York Press. ISBN 0-7914-5264-6
- Van Zandt, David 1991. Living in the Children of God. Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey.
References[change | change source]
- Beit-Hallahmi, Benjamin (1993). The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Active New Religions, Sects, and Cults. Rosen Publishing Group. ISBN 978-0-8239-1505-7.
- Huxley J 1992. Sunday Times: Sex-cult children held – Children of God. The Sunday Times (Sydney) 17 May 1992.
- "'The Family' and Final Harvest". Washington Post. 2 June 1993. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/national/longterm/cult/children_of_god/child1.htm. Retrieved 2008-04-27. "Sure, Alexander concedes, plenty of people object that The Family's "Law of Love" permits sex outside marriage and that the group once used (and still espouses the concept and beliefs about) a practice known as "flirty fishing" – the use of sex to win converts"
- xFamily.org Publications Database — contains the entire text of "Mo Letters"
- The origins of a movement: from "The Children of God" to "The Family International", 
- Bainbridge, William Sims 1996. The sociology of religious movements. Routledge, p223. ISBN 0-415-91202-4
- Judgment of the Rt. Hon. Lord Justice Ward – 1995 judgment resulting from major UK custody case involving The Family.
- Child Abuse?! (March 1989) (Hosted by xfamily.org)
- Claire Borowik