Three 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.