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A History of The Family
The Children of God: 1968-1977
The life in The Family begins with David Brandt Berg. Born February 18, 1919, to itinerant evangelist Virginia Brandt Berg, by 1944 Berg had committed his life to full-time Christian ministry and had married Jane Miller. By 1951 he had four children. He was ordained to the ministry in the Christian and Missionary Alliance and spent twenty years in and out of various ministry positions, working a number of years for Rev. Fred Jordan with his Church in the Home radio and television program and Jordan's Soul Clinic training institutes.
Berg had several religious experiences that he interpreted as God's placing a special call on his life. He was to serve as a missionary to a lost and confused America, but not in the company or the pattern of the established churches. In 1966 he and his family left Jordan's Soul Clinic ranch and took to the road as an itinerant singing and evangelistic ministry. Along the way they added Arnold and Arthur Dietrich. By this time Father David had already begun to recede into the background as teacher and mentor, with the majority of public ministry and evangelistic witnessing falling to his children and new followers, now known as Teens for Christ. In early 1968 Father David and his extended "family" settled into Huntington Beach, California.
It was here that Berg grasped not only the vision for a new ministry, but also the initial insight for his grand role in God's Kingdom.
One dark night, as Iwalked the streets with those poor drugged and despairing hippies, God suddenly spoke to my heart and said, "Art thou willing to go to these lost sheep to become a king of these poor little beggars? They need a voice to speak for them, they need a shepherd to lead them, and they need the rod of My Word to guide them to the Light!" And that night I promised God that I would try to lead them and do everything I could to save them and win them to the Lord and lead them into His service.... They'd been churched to death and preached to death and hounded to death by the System and it hadn't done any good, so we just had to get out there and somehow love'm back to life, ("I Will Set Up One Shepherd!" MO Letter (hereafter ML) #1962, Jan. 1984)
The Teens for Christ had been singing one night a week in the Light Club, a Christian coffeehouse operated by Teen Challenge. They had little success until, at the insistence of Father David, they discarded their white shirts, ties, and three-piece matching outfits and began dressing, talking, singing, and acting like the rebellious youth they were attempting to reach. The first shot in the Jesus Revolution had been fired. In no time the Light Club was full every night, and a good number of young people were responding to the simple gospel message of committing their lives to Jesus Christ as personal Savior. But Father David's revolution was not only for Jesus. It was also against the "System," the corrupt educational, political, economic, and religious structures of contemporary American society that were soon to be consumed by the full wrath of God. Those youth who received Jesus were further challenged to "forsake all" by rejecting every tie to the evil System, commit full-time as a disciple of Jesus on the model of the early church, and move in with Father David and his growing family.
By the spring of 1969 "Uncle Dave's Teens for Christ" now numbered almost fifty. The growing antisystem rhetoric, aggressive evangelism on school campuses, and disruptive "church visitations" led to considerable opposition and negative publicity. In April, acting on prophecies that California faced imminent destruction, Father David took his band of disciples on the road again. A young Pentecostal church worker named Karen Zerby (Maria) joined up. She went to work as Father David's secretary, and soon they began a sexual relationship. In August of 1969 the majority of the group had settled temporarily at a campground in the Laurentian Mountains in Canada. Here Father David announced the foundation prophecy for the Children of God: "A Prophecy of God on the Old Church and the New Church" (ML #A, Aug. 1969). The old System Church had now been rejected by God in favor of His New Church, the Children of God. In conjunction with establishing this New Church, Father David also announced to his inner circle that he was ending his relationship with his Old Wife and taking Maria as his New Wife. Though Maria was to be far from Father David's only sexual partner, she remained unfalteringly loyal as wife and scribe. She gradually rose in stature within the movement, and eventually inherited the mantle of leadership upon Father David's death.
For the remainder of 1969 the Children traveled the eastern United States conducting sackcloth-and-ashes vigils, warning a corrupt and decadent America against impending doom. Father David organized the community into twelve tribes and established a hierarchy of leadership centered in his extended family. The disciples lived off the land, surviving on gifts from supportive family members, funds brought into the community when new disciples joined, and "provisioning" most food and necessities by direct appeal to the general public. By the time the COG (Children of God) settled on to Fred Jordan's Soul Clinic ranch in West Texas in February of 1970, they numbered nearly two hundred. In March of 1970 a second colony was established at Jordan's mission house in Los Angeles.
During this phase the basic patterns for COG life were established. Father David began to withdraw from direct contact with the disciples, guiding the community through his established leadership structure. The disciples settled into a routine of Bible memorization, Bible studies developed by Father David, provisioning, routine jobs to maintain community life, devotional and fellowship meetings, training in witnessing strategies, and witnessing ventures. After losing a power struggle with Father David, Fred Jordan evicted the COG from both his properties. This event facilitated the spread of the movement. By the end of 1971 some sixty-nine colonies had been established in the United States and Canada with almost fifteen hundred disciples.
The summer of 1971 also marked the beginning of FREECOG, the original anticult organization. The COG's strong antiestablishment rhetoric and demand that new disciples forsake all worldly possessions and ties to the system brought "blistering attacks from the religious press." FREECOG, started by concerned parents, began a propaganda campaign accusing the COG of criminal behavior such as kidnapping and drug use. Additionally, the COG was accused of psychological terror in the form of hypnotizing and "brainwashing" innocent young people. A number of parents attempted to kidnap their children and forcibly "deprogram" them. These attacks were met with a two-pronged response. On the one hand, Father David insisted that underage youth must have legal authorization from parents or guardians before joining the community. In addition, some public relations efforts were made in an attempt to establish a more positive public persona. On the other hand, the Children became much more security conscious. Guards were established to protect the colonies from unfriendly visitors. Some colonies were designated "Selah" (secret). The attacks on the COG only exacerbated a fortress mentality that already laid heavy emphasis on the otherness of the outside world (Van Zandt 1991, 37-38).
In this formative period, Father David received two revelations that would dramatically shape the future of The Family. In December of 1970, while on a scouting mission for new colony sites in Europe and Israel, he recounts the following dream:
I was praying about you and your needs there—your need of my help, supervision, and instruction, counsel, and leadership, and I became so burdened about your desires for me to return.... Suddenly I saw myself in a vision seated at a table with a pen in hand.... from my pen there shined rays of light in several directions.... And I'll never forget the peaceful, contented, happy, pleased look I had on my face.... While I was with you I could only be in one place at a time.... Now I'm equidistant from all of you and closer to all of you in spirit than ever before, with more pure light flowing from my pen by His Spirit, more light to lead and guide you than I have ever given you before. ("I Gotta Split!" ML #28, Dec. 1970)
From this point on, he withdrew from direct contact with most members, relying on written correspondence to the leadership to retain control and direction of the movement. Outside of the top level of leadership and his personal household, few of the some fifty thousand persons who passed through The Family ever had a personal encounter with Father David. He self-consciously channeled his charisma and authority through his correspondence, known as MO Letters. In "I Gotta Split!" Father David, for the first time, drew a direct parallel between his life and that of Jesus. In a very short time, the disciples begin to view the MO Letters as Scripture.
In the spring of 1972, Father David had a dream of mass destruction in the United States. In response, he urged his followers to flee America as soon as possible and to begin in earnest the missionary task of reaching the world for Jesus.
The storm of God's judgments upon the ease and luxury of these nations, particularly America, is fast approaching.... God has warned us time and again ... that His judgments were going to be soon poured out upon America, and we (the COG) should flee.... Those whose loyalty, love, faith, diligence and faithfulness has already been tried and proven and ready for new fields of battle, not those who just want to go along for the ride! ("The Great Escape!" ML #160, Apr. 1972)
By the end of 1972, missionary colonies had been established in much of Western Europe and Latin America, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, and India. The speed and level of response by the North American disciples demonstrate their strong level of loyalty and commitment to the COG, the degree to which Father David had established his charismatic authority through the Letters, and the effectiveness of the leadership structure.
With the migration out of North America, the overtly confrontational, antiestablishment component of the COG message dissipated. In part, this change was due to the new target populations of Europe and Latin America, where denunciation of American society as corrupt was hardly revolutionary. The change in posture also reflects the enlarged vision for a worldwide missionary enterprise. The shift is captured in an encounter with the World Council of Churches. It was the summer of 1972, and John was leader of the COG colony in Utrecht:
Sometime in the summer of 1972 I became aware of some kind of big meeting of the World Council of Churches there in Utrecht. We had a couple of disciples who had been with The Family back in the States. Someone came up with the idea of doing a sackcloth-and-ashes vigil against the WCC. I mean, who was more obviously the System Church? We all thought this was a great idea. We brought in the colony in Amsterdam. We really got into it. The girls got busy sewing our sackcloth robes and making warning scrolls, while the guys began to search the woods for staves. Word spread, and soon everybody wanted in on this thing. People from everywhere began showing up. A lot of top leadership came. It was really turning into a major production.
Somehow, Father David got wind of it. He sent us a letter. I can paraphrase: "Are you guys crazy? That meeting is filled with influential and powerful Christians from all over the world. We have a task to carry the message of Jesus to the whole world and there are lots of people at this meeting who could really help us do that. So don't make enemies out of these people, make friends."
Sort of took the wind out of our sails. But hey, we did what Dad said. We tossed away the sackcloth and staves, put on our best attitudes, and started going down to the meetings to help in any way we could. As usual, Dad was right. We made lots of important friends there, people who later helped us all over the world. And I don't remember hearing about any more vigils.
In 1973 Father David addressed two pressing problems within the COG. First, the explosive growth, rapid distribution, and overwhelming youth and inexperience of most disciples left the organization with serious leadership problems. He sought to slow the growth of the movement until adequate leaders could be developed. Second, though the evangelistic success of the COG was remarkable by any standard, Father David saw that the effort would fall far short of reaching the entire world before The End. In June of 1973 he issued "Shiners?—or Shamers!" (ML #241). Earlier he had urged disciples to move away from direct personal witnessing toward distribution of COG literature, but many disciples did not respond well to this change. Peter Amsterdam recalled his experience: "It was really weird for me. For the first year and a half I was in The Family, we'd always said that we didn't work for money. We just trusted the Lord for income and witnessed."
"Shiners?—Or Shamers!" ordered the transition, establishing strict record keeping, quotas, and penalties for non-productive members. New disciples slowed to a trickle. By the end of 1973 more than 19 million pieces of literature had been distributed, mostly MO Letters carrying an End Time warning and a simple gospel message. The distribution of COG literature was termed "litnessing," and it quickly became the primary method of evangelism. Though disciples continued to witness personally where possible, "litnessing" became the primary task. Since the literature was exchanged for "a small donation," finances improved dramatically.
From the earliest days of "Teens for Christ," music had been a central aspect of Family life and witness. Almost every colony had disciples who played guitar and sang on the street as part of the witnessing strategy. Disciples have written hundreds of songs of protest, praise, and proclamation. By 1974 several COG bands had achieved wide public acceptance. "Les Enfants de Dieu [the Children of God]," the French performance group, recorded a top-selling song in 1974. For several months, they appeared regularly on national television. Other groups in Latin America achieved a similar level of success. "Les Enfants de Dieu" and other COG singing troupes were common sights at pop and rock festivals across Western Europe. In addition, numerous discos, known as Poor Boy Clubs, were opened around the world. These clubs featured dancing, recorded and live music, and dramatic skits. They were an important means of witnessing and winning new disciples. Poor Boy Clubs foreshadowed the gradual shift in target away from the dropouts and toward the "up and outs" of society.
In 1975 Father David's dissatisfaction with the leadership structure reached a crisis point. The top level of leadership generally consisted of his extended family and a few long-term members. By this time, Father David had developed an expanded sense of self. He was not only God's unique End Time Prophet, but King of God's New Nation. It appears that some top-level leadership began to chafe at this elevated status. In some cases they were not responding to his guidance and direction, or passing that direction down to the field colonies. By contrast, Father David was deeply concerned about the overly authoritarian approach of most leaders, and their general lack of concern for the welfare of the ordinary disciples. In the "New Revolution" of early 1975, Father David established a new "Chain of Cooperation." This new organizational format consisted of various levels of elected leadership, reaching all the way to the King. Some members of the Royal Family were given charge of special aspects of COG activity, providing them with substantial status and resources, but excluding them from direct control of the organization. However, the old guard retained primary authority over the movement. Most of the leadership under the Chain of Cooperation was appointed from the top rather than elected from the bottom. The Chain also functioned to further distance Father David from the vast majority of disciples. The Chain remained in place until 1978, and life for most of the ordinary disciples grew more difficult.
In the early 1970s Father David initiated the most significant and controversial dimension of his "Revolution for Jesus," a complete transformation of sexual ethos. Shortly after taking Maria as a second wife, Father David began having sexual encounters with other female disciples in his inner circle. By the early 1970s, the top level of leadership were following his example and experimenting with multiple partners. These activities were unknown to the vast majority of disciples, whose sexual mores continued to reflect the conservative Christian roots of the movement. But dramatic change was soon to come.
In late 1973 Father David and Maria began to frequent ballroom dance clubs for exercise and entertainment. Father David gave attention to the lonely persons they met and encouraged Maria to employ her feminine charms as a tool to "communicate the love of Jesus." She made friends with a young businessman named Arthur. Father David encouraged her to begin a sexual relationship with Arthur, making sure he understood fully that: "I'm loving you because God loves you! God wants me to show you how much He loves you and how much He cares for your needs" ("God's Only Law Is Love!" ML #537, Dec. 1973). Arthur was converted, joined, and remains a loyal disciple.
In March of 1974 Father David and Maria moved to the resort of Tenerife in the Canary Islands. He gathered a small group of trusted and attractive female disciples to begin a broader experiment in this new witnessing strategy, which he termed "Flirty Fishing," later shortened to "FFing." A series of MO Letters beginning with "The Flirty Little Fish" (ML #293, Jan. 1974) laid out the theoretical basis of this new direction. However, the Tenerife colony was "selah" (secret), and few field disciples were aware of the extent to which Father David was pushing the Flirty Fishing principles. In 1976 the "King Arthur's Nights" series came out. These Letters described the FFing of Maria and others in graphic detail, set the model for the larger community, and encouraged the disciples to begin this new "ministry." Slowly, a number of colonies throughout the world began to implement the new approach. But acceptance was by no means universal. Many disciples had strong reservations, and a significant but difficult to determine number left the movement. A few of the leaders rejected Flirty Fishing and would not allow it under their jurisdiction. Other leaders viewed it as too dangerous or uncontrollable. They authorized the practice only for themselves or a few trusted followers.
Flirty Fishing marked some significant shifts. The hostile, confrontational approach was now gone forever, replaced by a strong emphasis on the love and compassion of Jesus. Additionally, the target audience had shifted almost completely away from the "hippies and dropouts" who were at the center of Father David's original vision. By 1978 a number of disciples had small children, and they began to employ those children in their witnessing endeavors. Almost all the children began singing and witnessing at a very early age, a practice that continues to the present. This strategy naturally led toward target audiences that appreciated and enjoyed children. The Children of God were coming of age. But the COG was also coming apart.
The Family of Love: 1978-1981
By the end of 1977, very serious problems were coming to the attention of Father David. A number of leaders in the Chain of Cooperation, including some members of Father David's immediate family, began to question his divine appointment as God's End Time Prophet. They also raised doubts regarding some of his teachings, particularly the radical shift in sexual mores. In addition, Father David became more aware of the extent to which many leaders were abusively authoritarian and were living in luxury by means of exorbitant taxes on field colonies. In January of 1978, Father David issued "Re-organization Nationalization Revolution" (ML #650, Jan. 1978). Known as the RNR, it is the most significant event in the history of The Family. The COG, as an organizational entity, was abolished. The Chain of Cooperation was totally dismantled, and some three hundred leaders were fired and ordered into the streets as ordinary disciples. Colonies, now termed homes, were to elect leaders who would be directly responsible to King David, who would establish a "very benign, liberal and loving dictatorship in which we are going to insist that the Colonies govern themselves!" The movement was renamed "The Family of Love." All those loyal to the King were welcome to remain.
Several key figures departed, including Deborah (Father David's oldest daughter). Timothy Concerned, his most trusted assistant, and Rachel, his most cherished disciple and consort, also left. Father David was deeply troubled by these losses. He became discouraged and depressed, and his discouragement led to alcoholism and serious health problems. He openly admitted his difficulties to his disciples. He would later reflect back on this time with sadness:
That was quite a blow when Rachel and Emanuele departed. Deb and Jeth had already departed, and a whole bunch of top leaders departed at the time of the RNR. I guess I got mad at the Lord and I said, "Well, Lord, if everybody else is going to quit, I might as well give up and quit too!"—and I drank too much. Lord forgive me, I was trying to drink myself to death. ("My Confession—I Was an Alcoholic!" ML #1406, summer 1982)
Membership fell in 1978, even with the birth of some six hundred children. After the Jonestown tragedy, King David anticipated a wave of "anticult hysteria" and issued the "Nationalize Reorganize Security-wise Revolution," the "NRS." Members were urged to go underground. A number of disciples returned to their homelands and blended back into the System. Many others "went mobile," traveling about in campers or caravans as itinerant missionaries. Most ceased to identify themselves publicly as Children of God. Their only direct connection to the movement was the MO Letters. Many disciples "infiltrated" the established churches, seeking opportunities to spread the message and to obtain financial support. By the end of 1979, the number of "souls won" plummeted by 80 percent from the high in 1977. Though the disciples continued to litness and witness, Flirty Fishing increased dramatically after the RNR. In some areas of Asia and Latin America, FFing became the primary means of witness and financial support.
In the years prior to the RNR, the sexual ethics of the COG grew increasingly liberal. The practice of multiple sexual partners (sharing) had filtered down from leadership to the colonies. In the RNR, Father David freed the disciples from any leadership constraints, and the "love bomb" exploded with full force. Sexual liaisons between members of each home and at interhome fellowships became common practice. As one disciple recalls: "I know of places where relationships started up within an hour of receiving the Letters."
In early 1979 The Family took a significant leap along this path. Father David had long held that sex was a beautiful, natural creation of God. In exploring how this principle might relate to children, he sent out Letters detailing his early childhood sexual experiences, the sexual curiosity and sexual education of Maria's three-year-old son Davidito, and directives for adults to allow children full freedom to express their natural sexual inclinations. Father David did not issue any clear instructions that mandated sexual contact between adults and children. However, from 1978 to 1983, he and the entire Family were exploring the outer limits of sexual freedom. Most disciples were aware that sexual contact between adults and children was occurring in the King's household. Some disciples interpreted certain MO Letters as encouraging sexual contact between children and allowing for sexual interplay of adults with minors. It is not possible to determine the extent or degree of this activity, but it was not merely a localized phenomenon.
Between 1978 and 1980, The Family was widely dispersed, with most disciples living in nuclear families. Many remained loyal, continuing to tithe and maintain contact through the Letters. Others slowly drifted away. The year 1980 saw the full-scale development of the Music with Meaning (MWM) radio shows. Father David commissioned his daughter Faith to spearhead a worldwide effort to develop quality radio programs that would reach millions of persons with the Family message. Production units were assembled in Greece, France, Thailand, and Puerto Rico. By 1983, Family radio shows were being broadcast on over thirteen hundred stations and Music with Meaning was receiving four thousand letters per week from responsive listeners.
By the end of 1980, The Family of Love had grown to almost eight thousand members. Dispersed throughout the world in small homes, most disciples were isolated from the larger community. In many areas of the world, disciples were out of touch with the sense of unity, sacrificial cooperation, and missionary zeal characteristic of the early years. In April of 1981, Father David initiated the "Fellowship Revolution" (ML #1001). Homes were ordered to begin weekly fellowship meetings with others in their area. A new hierarchical structure was established, consisting of local, district, area, national, and continental "Shepherds." These persons were elected. However, many individuals who held leadership positions in the old "Chain of Command" and had remained loyal after the purge of the RNR surfaced again as leaders in the new structure. The Fellowship Revolution also established "Combos" in each country, large homes that functioned as national headquarters. The Fellowship Revolution was accompanied by a renewed insistence that as many disciples as possible leave North America and Europe and move to the south and the east. The move was necessary to avoid a coming nuclear disaster and to bring the proclamation of salvation through Jesus to as many people as possible before The End.
The introduction of video equipment was another significant aspect of the Fellowship Revolution. In 1980, the Music with Meaning community in Greece recorded various aspects of their life and ministry and sent these videos to World Services. Father David, who had lived in seclusion for over ten years, was delighted to have this access to his "kids." He encouraged all the Homes to obtain video equipment and begin sharing a video record of their lives with him and other homes. Videos functioned to break down the isolation and played a significant role in pulling The Family back together.
In keeping with his desire to explore fully the limits of sexual freedom, Father David requested that MWM and other homes make "Love Videos," which would involve musical background and: "Our beautiful women could dance in a very artistic and soft and loving way.... I don't mean a lot of porn ... any kind of porn, but just plain beautiful beauty and artistry just the way God made you in your natural beauty" ("Nudes Can Be Beautiful!" ML #1006, Mar. 1981). Numerous Love Videos were produced. They mostly consisted of women dancing topless or fully nude, often covered by a sheer veil. On rare occasions, younger girls would join in the dancing, usually topless and attempting to mimic the movements of their mothers.
Father David also offered a suggestion that some homes might film some romantic or erotic scenes between couples. MWM in Greece and a few other homes responded by producing videos that depicted sex acts between couples, usually men with women, but a few women with women. These more explicit videos were sent to Father David and circulated among some leadership homes. Most disciples were not involved. Some of these videos went beyond even Father David's spirit of sexual exploration. After seeing one of them, he wrote:
Sex can be ugly if you don't approach it from the right angle and in the right way, in the right spirit, and with the right know-how. Some places it's against the law to even have such materials in your possession, so it could endanger your family, and we don't want to hurt the Lord's work or you. So let's cancel those outright love-making sexual-act videos and let's put more emphasis on displaying the beauty and music and attire of our lovely women's dance videos, shall we.
("Glorify God in the Dance!—Caution & Importance for Your Erotic Videos!" ML #1026, July 1981)
By the mid 1980s, the novelty had worn off, and Maria was becoming more sensitive to the possible negative effects of these videos. In April of 1984 World Services put a number of restrictions on the dance videos. Within a few years the disciples were instructed to stop altogether and erase any of these recordings in their possession.
By the end of 1981, The Family of Love had begun to pull back together into a cohesive movement. A new leadership structure was in place, and large numbers of disciples were moving from marginal levels of involvement in North America and Europe toward greater unity and commitment on far-flung fields in Latin America, Africa, and Asia. Another significant transition overtook The Family. In 1971 there were 15 adults for every child. In 1981 there were 719 births, and the ratio had fallen to 1.3 adults per child. From this point on, children constituted the majority of members. The care, discipline, and education of children would soon require an increasingly significant portion of energy, time, and resources.
The Family: 1982-Present
From 1982 to 1984, The Family reordered itself back into a tightly knit organization. The disciples also began to renew the original vision of communal living. The average home size increased from four to ten. Disciples responded in significant numbers to Father David's warning of imminent nuclear disaster in the North and his call to carry the message of Jesus to the "Third World." By the end of 1982, 34 percent of the disciples were in Latin America and almost 40 percent in Asia.
In 1982 children became the majority of full-time members. The emphasis on sexual freedom combined with a strict policy against any form of birth control produced an annual birth rate of 75 per 1000 adults. The trend was obvious. The Family responded in several ways. Children began to play an even greater role in outreach ministries. An ever increasing amount of attention was given to child rearing and a substantial portion of the literature turned toward issues of family life and the care and education of the children. Most significantly, The Family began to see the youth as the hope of the future, the disciples who would carry the message to The End. There was no direct or conscious effort to de-emphasize the recruitment of new disciples from the outside, but this was the trend. New disciples did join, particularly in Asia. However, the total number of full-time members reached ten thousand in 1983 and hovered around that mark for the next ten years, despite averaging over 700 births per year. Many of the new disciples proved to be short term, and The Family began to lose more people than were joining through evangelism and recruitment.
In 1982 the children began to turn into teenagers. At that time, age twelve was considered entry into adulthood. Most parents had no experience with adolescents, had a good number of younger children to care for, and were busy in their work. Several "school homes" were established to care for the education and discipleship of the growing number of teens. These specialized homes established a trend that continued until the mid-1990s. The majority of young people spend most of their teen years apart from one or both of their parents.
In 1983, Father David received disturbing reports of misconduct at one of the teen homes. Word came of fights, vandalism, lying, and disrespect for adults. His response was quick and decisive.
Belonging to this Family is a privilege and a blessing and an honor!—And anybody that dishonors this Family like that doesn't deserve to be a member.... Their parents ought to be ashamed.
We are not going to have any kids or parents of that kind of kids who are going to reflect on the message we preach, the Jesus we are supposed to manifest.... Any more reports of such behavior, and that family is out—Excommunicated. Incorrigibles will be expelled from The Family. ("Teen Terrors!" ML #1512, May 1983)
This letter set the tone for the next decade. Teenagers were to be strictly guided, with high expectations for their personal conduct.
Though the disciples became more absorbed in child rearing and family responsibilities, evangelism was still the central focus. The primary outreach strategies remained personal witnessing, literature distribution, musical groups, and Flirty Fishing. In Asia and Latin America, a few homes experimented with large public evangelistic meetings. This method was successful, but Father David was not comfortable with mass evangelism. With the April 1983 Letter "Mass Evangelism," he moved the disciples back to the direct, personal approach.
Do we want to blow the whole thing by going so public that we offend the System and the scribes and the Pharisees and the Chief Priests and they go to the System and insist that they get rid of us! As far as I am concerned, the only safe, sound, permanent, effective, efficient and fruitful evangelism, is personal evangelism! ("Mass Evangelism!" ML #1510, Apr. 1983)
Flirty Fishing had been opened to all members and was strongly encouraged. By the early 1980s Flirty Fishing was widespread and becoming increasingly central to the life of many communities. "FFing" was originally envisioned and theologically justified as a witnessing strategy, a method of reaching persons who were not open to the message under any other circumstance. Family records indicate that from 1978 to 1983 an average of nine thousand persons a year were led to Jesus through FFing. Yet according to these same records, this number is only slightly more than 1 percent of the total conversions through Family witness. Flirty Fishing was not a useful tool to recruit new disciples. Very few male disciples were "FFed" into the movement. Though men were not as effective in FFing, they did participate and occasionally were able to bring in new female disciples. I have encountered only one man who was FFed into The Family. Far more disciples were lost to the System as a result of Flirty Fishing than were ever gained.
Witnessing and disciple winning were by no means the only focus of Flirty Fishing. Even before 1978, FFing had become a primary source of financial support and political protection. Many female disciples established long-term relationships with wealthy or influential men. These men often provided money, food, clothing, housing, and other needs, including legal advice, help in immigration, and protection against social and political repression. It was not uncommon for some women to spend considerable amounts of time with their "fish," sometimes leaving their husbands and children for weeks or months at a time. In some areas of Asia, Europe, and Latin America, female disciples went to work for escort services, providing sex for a fixed fee. Though conceding that escort service work (ESing) perhaps crossed the line, Family leadership insists that Flirty Fishing was not prostitution because the ultimate goal was always to bear witness or support the witness for Jesus.
Flirty Fishing was characteristic of growing sexual liberality and the increasing role that sexual activity was playing in Family life. After the RNR in 1978, FFing and sexual "sharing" were opened to all disciples. In the spring of 1980, Father David sent out "The Devil Hates Sex!—But God Loves It!" In his own iconoclastic and "revolutionary" style, Father David made very clear his view that the disciples served a "sexy God" and that God loved sex and wanted his Children to enjoy it fully "God made them male and female, not the Devil! God blessed them and said "Be fruitful and multiply!"—in other words, "Go to it, start fucking!—Right out here in the open, in public, in the Garden, on the grass" ("The Devil Hates Sex!—But God Loves It!" ML #999, May 1980). Nudity and open sexuality became common features of life. Father David had spelled out the full implications of the "Law of Love"; anything done in love was above the law. Sexual sharing grew to the point where some Shepherds made out and posted "sharing schedules" on a weekly basis. But by 1983, problems were surfacing.
During the early 1980s, sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) began spreading through The Family. Flirty Fishing introduced STDs, and open sexuality resulted in widespread contamination. It was also common practice to have a considerable amount of sexual sharing at area fellowships, facilitating the spread of STDs from home to home. In March of 1983 Father David issued ML an MO letter, "Ban the Bomb!" (#1434). He halted sexual activities at area fellowships, restricted visiting leadership from sexual contact in the homes, and limited all sexual relationships to persons residing within the same home. The significance of "Ban the Bomb!" goes beyond the control of STDs. It is the first point at which Family leaders began to face the negative spiritual consequences of unrestricted sexual freedom.
So, let's do a little sex-fasting at area fellowships! It's not going to hurt you, it'll keep your minds more on the Lord & off of the carnal & the flesh & more on the spiritual, which I think is far more important! ... You'd get through the meeting in better shape & not so tired & not having to stay up so late every night! You'd get more rest & wouldn't become so totally exhausted & hardly able to even stay awake in the sessions! (Maria: That's true!) Let's keep our minds more on our main business of figuring how to evangelize the world ... & not how to infect the world. ("Ban the Bomb!" ML #1434, Mar. 1983)
In December of 1984 Maria wrote "Sex for Babes?" (ML #1909). This Letter prohibited new members from any sexual encounters during their first six months. The pendulum of sexual freedom had reached its apex, and began the slow swing back toward a somewhat more conventional sexual ethos.
In 1984 two lasting changes in outreach strategy also occurred. In 1983 Father David had a vivid, futuristic dream of Heaven and the New Jerusalem, which he termed "Space City." Family artists produced a colorful poster of that vision with a message on the coming kingdom printed on the back. In 1984 a whole series of posters were produced for use as evangelistic tools. The posters have messages on the End Time, heaven, love, and peace written on the back. The message always closes with an appeal to the reader to pray and receive Jesus as Savior. Posters soon became a primary outreach tool, and as of 1996 more than 100 million had been distributed in over forty languages
Also in 1984, Maria commissioned the Music with Meaning home to produce a series of audiocassettes for the general public. The songs were appealing to a general audience, bearing themes of love and peace and hope and forgiveness. However, each tape closed with a direct appeal to receive Jesus. The tapes were an immense success and soon became a central focus of outreach. They were also an additional basis of financial support, distributed for "a small donation." The Family has produced scores of cassettes and CDs. Over 8 million copies have been distributed worldwide.
As The Family reconfigured toward a more tightly structured organization of large communal homes, problems developed. A number of disciples had lived independently for years, and in some places the level of conduct, spiritual life, and missionary commitment had fallen off considerably. Additionally, local and mid-level leadership began to take on more and more responsibility and authority. Many disciples still carried scars from the early years, and they were reluctant to be drawn back into a similar authoritarian environment. These were not idle fears. In 1985, World Services received reports of harsh and oppressive leadership practices in Japan and other areas. They responded with a flood of literature urging local and area leaders to carry out their duties as servants, dealing with disciples under their care with love and understanding. World Services, under the direction of Peter and Maria, conducted leadership conferences to establish a more caring and uniform leadership structure. In time, these conferences evolved into permanent training centers for leaders, teens, and adult disciples who needed help in regaining or maintaining the standards of Family life.
The Family was evolving and maturing, and so was the target pool of new disciples. Dropped-out, counterculture youth littering the beaches of California or the pop festivals of Europe were no longer the source for new members. In addition, almost all homes now included small children. Given their strong communal understanding, all adults are responsible for the care and direction of all children; parents were therefore becoming increasingly wary of inviting total strangers into their communities. As a result of these factors, Family homes began requiring a probationary period for prospective members. Six months was eventually established as a uniform policy. This probationary period allowed the potential new recruit to understand the nature of life in The Family, and also allowed the disciples to assess the quality and commitment of the new member. The probation period has gone a long way toward stabilizing community life and eliminating short-term, "flash in the pan" disciples.
Most of the disciples had responded to the call to go south and east. The only disciples remaining in Western Europe and North America were those unwilling or unable to go to the mission field. Most lived in small, scattered homes and had little oversight or direct communication with the leadership. In February of 1986, Father David commissioned several ambassadors to go to North America and Europe as "Searchers." After some success in Europe, the Searchers went to North America to recover the lost sheep. The quest was a success. According to Family sources, some two hundred former members rejoined, and many homes were rejuvenated. However, Father David still viewed North America as alien territory. The mission emphasis remained south and east. Between 1986 and 1987, over three hundred disciples left North America for Asia and Latin America.
Many of the returning disciples were teenagers who were considered in need of spiritual direction and training. In response, The Family established a Teen Training Camp (TTC) in Mexico, initially designed to run for June and July of 1986. The camp was so successful that it continued. Similar Teen Camps were established in South America and Asia.
In the early stages of the Teen Training Camps, Several teenage girls related experiences of inappropriate and uninvited sexual contact with adult males. This problem was reported to World Services, and Maria responded. In August of 1986 she instructed the woman responsible for child care literature to write an official internal memorandum titled "Liberty or Stumblingblock." "Liberty or Stumblingblock" clearly defined the policy regarding sexual relationships between adults and minors:
For the record, we want to say that we do not agree to adults having sexual contact with children. The Family should just not do it. Even though teen sex with adults may be tolerated in some countries, we are against it, as its fruit is more bad than good. Adults should refrain from any sexual involvement with all underage children and minors ... it should be emphasized to our teens and children that they need do nothing against their will. They can always say, "No!"
However, this memorandum was not a MO Letter and did not come directly from Father David or Maria. The Prophet had repeatedly affirmed sex to be enjoyed as fully as possible. Pulling back from that total affirmation proved difficult. A short time later, adult sexual contact with minors was made an excommunicable offense, but as late as 1989 the problem still existed in some locations. In the fall of 1989, Maria issued "Flirty Little Teens, Beware!" Again, adult men and women were warned sternly that any sexual involvement with minors was not tolerated and would result in immediate excommunication. However the tension between the strong affirmation of sexuality and the necessity of restraint is evident:
There is nothing wrong with fighting against giving in to sexual desires if in some particular situation they're wrong. Let's face it, sex is not something that's always good, clear across the board. Just because we promote sex & we believe God made it & that it's his wonderful creation doesn't mean that it's always good under every circumstance! "All things are lawful, but all things are not expedient or edifying!"
|Foreword, William Sims Bainbridge||ix|
|1. A History of The Family||1|
|2. Becoming a Child of God||34|
|3. We Hold These Truths||58|
|4. The Law of Love||94|
|5. Mission Impossible||151|
|6. The Cost of Discipleship||177|
|7. Children of the Revolution||205|
|A. Statement of Faith||255|
|B. Family Musical Literature||271|
|Glossary of Family Terms||279|