Noted: It's the "international evangelical sex cult"

BergKids.jpgThree major dailies — the Los Angeles Times, The New York Times and the San Francisco Chronicle — have published lengthy follow-up stories on the Children of God (now The Family International) since last week’s murder-suicide by Richard P. Rodriguez (known as “Davidito” in his boyhood).

Laurie Goodstein of The New York Times has written the most comprehensive account, which does not follow the lead of the Chronicle‘s Don Lattin in calling the group a “desert evangelical sex cult” (last Tuesday) — or (from Saturday’s update) an “international evangelical sex cult.”

(Lest it seem that Lattin used the broadest possible meaning of evangelical, as one might say Hare Krishnas are evangelical Hindus, there’s also his summary of the Children of God’s founding by David “Moses” Berg: “During the spiritual counterculture of the 1960s, Berg embraced a strange brew of evangelical Christianity, radical politics and free love.”)

Goodstein is more precise: “The founder of the Children of God was David Brandt Berg, a son of Pentecostal evangelists. In the late 60′s, he attracted a group of hippie followers who styled themselves as revolutionary Jesus freaks.”

Goodstein’s story also is helpful because she quotes Family spokeswoman Claire Borowik attempting to reconcile the group’s past (when Berg encouraged sexual promiscuity) with its present (it renounced promiscuity in 1986):

Ms. Borowik, the spokeswoman, said in a lengthy telephone interview that Mr. Rodriguez had been reared in an atmosphere similar to “a nudist colony,” where sexual freedoms were taken for granted. She cited scholars who said the sexual practices appeared to cause no harm to the children and a psychologist who evaluated Ricky as a teenager and found him well adjusted.

“He was never taken advantage of,” she said. “Rather he was allowed to explore his sexuality freely. He was allowed to explore as a young boy what comes naturally, and usually in our society, we do not allow such exploration.”

Larry Stammer of the Los Angeles Times adds this detail: “[The group] also has gone on the attack, warning detractors that “the enemy will rue the day,” in a message they said came from Jesus Christ, and calling them “vitriolic apostates.”

I’ve give it a rest on the National Association of Evangelicals as a reliable measure of evangelicalism. Instead, I’ll keep GetReligion’s readers posted on whether the Family ever joins the Evangelical Press Association or tries to send its music ministry to play “Wrong Side of the Bed” at the Cornerstone Festival.

The photo shows Children of God founder Berg holding Richard “Davidito” Rodriguez, right, and Richard’s half-sister, Techi.

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  • Dwight

    Let’s just say they are an aberrant, antinomian fundamentalist sect, and quit quibbling over the evangelical definition. The real story here is that finally, the Family/COG’s leaders may have to come into the light and face judgment for their deeds and be shown to be liars. This could be a major story about young adults who have left the cult they were born into finally being heard and getting justice for the abuse they suffered. Who cares if the press doesn’t understand what “evangelical” means?

  • jeffrey edmunds

    Growing up in suburban Washington DC in the late 60s and early 70s I knew a sweet girl named Suzy — she lived across the street from me — who was recruited into this group. I later heard that she was living in a group-home in Rome, Italy; and then that she had died under mysterious circumstances. I still pray for her.

  • Peter Frouman

    One correction: You say the group “renounced promiscuity in 1986.” This is not true. They never “renounced promiscuity” but in fact still practice the “Law of Love” and except for current restrictions on male homesexual activity, sex with outsiders and adult-child sexual contact, they are free to share sexually with multiple partners.

    What they claim to have renounced is adult-child sexual contact and their previous doctrine that the Law of Love permitted adults to share sexually with children and that basically anything (including incest) was permissible as long as it was done in love. In 1986, they reversed this position in the memo “Liberty or Stumbling Block” in which they prohibited adults from having sexual relationships with minors. However, this was not enforced until 1988 when they made it an excommunicable offense. Claire Borowik of all people should know that adult-child sexual contact in The Family did not stop in 1986 because she personally participated in it (by having sex with a 14 year old boy and other

    minors entrusted to her care) in 1987.

    Current Family policy is to temporarily excommunicate parents and others who opt to report the abuse of children to law enforcement authorities. They are allowed to rejoin “once the matter is resolved.” They do not have a similar policy for the reporting of other crimes such as theft and robbery.

  • http://getreligion.typepad.com/getreligion/2004/02/about_douglas_l.html Douglas LeBlanc

    Many thanks for these corrections, Peter. Are there any websites you would recommend that provide more details? I’m aware of http://movingon.org. Is it the best site to visit?

  • http://www.frouman.net/uneasyrider Peter Frouman

    There are quite a few web sites about the Children of God/The Family, Besides, http://movingon.org/ (the details of the policy to excomunicate members who report child abuse can be found at http://www.movingon.org/article.asp?sID=1&Cat=31&ID=1272 ), I would also reccomend http://www.exfamily.org/ which has an impressive archive of information about the group, including a gradually expanding archive of their publications. Excerpts from the “Liberty or Stumbling Block” memo I mentioned in my comment can be found at http://www.geocities.com/magicgreenshirt/no_regrets.html

    This is an account by James Penn, who recently appeared (in shadow) on CNN’s “Anderson Cooper 360.”

    The 56-minute video Ricky made before he murdered Angela Smith and then killed himself can be found at http://www.ishiver.com/welcomep.html or http://www.xfamily.org/index.php/Ricky%27s_video

    There is also a Wikipedia entry at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Children_of_God

  • Dwight

    Check out these two interviews with a Southern Baptist Seminary professor who wrote a book about the Family. Has he crossed the line and lost objectivity, using the same line of argument the Family uses?

    http://www.cornerstonemag.com/pages/show_page.asp?633

    http://www.cornerstonemag.com/pages/show_page.asp?641


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