In Reply to: Re: About Watchman, allegations, apologies, and memories posted by excog on September 27, 2007 at 12:56:26:
From the Houston Chronicle in 1993:
"Like prodigal sons and daughters, The Children of God have returned.
After more than 20 years the “sex cult” of the 1960s is back in the United States, shorn, polished and with a new name, The Family.
They’re older now. They have children, scores of children. They estimate their membership at 9,000, and 6,000 of those are children from unions of their own members and from “flirty fishing,” the sexual seduction of potential converts that made them notorious.
They also bring a freshly scrubbed image, a public relations campaign and a lifestyle they say is now “more conservative than most middle-class American families.”
What they have not brought is their fugitive prophet, David Brant Berg.
The group scattered throughout the world then, taking their hippie philosophy of “free love” and their adopted name, The Children of God, with them. By 1976, they had become known as the world’s largest and only religious prostitution ring, a cult of about 12,000 that sent its young women and, less frequently, men out to win converts and gain donations with sex.
They were less widely known, but more infamous, for Berg’s views on sex with children. “Moses David” or “Dad,” as he is called in the group, and inner circle published reams of “Mo Letters” that advocated sex with toddlers, incest, intercourse between youngsters and adults, until girls reached the age of fertility then mutual masturbation or any sex act short of intercourse, until they reached the age of 16.
Those oracles, printed and reprinted in Berg’s numerous missives, eventually led to arrests of cult members in Spain, France, England, Australia and other countries, though those cases were never successfully prosecuted. [...]
Family members now say their image is distorted, that they are misunderstood by the public, misrepresented in the media and persecuted by watchdog groups such as the Chicago-based Cult Awarness Network. They have produced dozons of press releases to bolster their assertions and they have hired Houston attorney Mike DeGeurin, whose brother represented cult leader David Koresh, to represent them.
Since 1987, they say, there has been no prostitution, or ‘flirty fishing,’ by their members. They say they no longer have sex with persons outside The Family; monogamous marriage (with only a few exceptions) is the rule; homosexuality is banned; the age of consent within The Family is 21; any sexual contact between an adult and a minor is an excommunicable offense and moreover, sex with and among children has never been advocated or allowed in The Family.
Their critics and exmembers, however, say they are lying about the past and don’t believe them about the present.
Indeed, Family members appear to be as wholesomely mainstream as they contend. Seated beneath an umbrella by an azure swimming pool on the well-kept grounds of The Family compound near Cleveland, [Christie R.], her husband, Ben, and Kay Spain are a pleasant, articulate trio.
[R.], 40, joined The Children of God 22 years ago. She embraced Berg’s teachings and she “flirty fished” with the rest of the young women in the group. She says she no longer does it, though she has no quarrel with the morality of her past.
“We were hippies and we came from the “free love” generation,” she said. “A lot of people were exploring their sexuality in the late 1960s and early 1970s and we were too.”
Under Berg’s tutelage, The Children of God was libertine. For more than a decade, members practiced prostitution outside the cult and open sex within.
It was not all they did. Members “witnessed” and passed out religious tracts on street corners and sought donations. They sold religious posters. They formed musical groups and produced and sold a number of music videos for children.
But “flirty fishing” won “friends” for the group and was a vital part of the economy of the communal homes. It became a refined technique and Berg and his lover, Maria, published a “how to” manual on the best way to hook and keep a fish.
At the same time, sex was not only for recruiting purposes. He wrote of “sharing love-up time” between members and having group sex.
Female members also were required to keep records of their “fish,” vital information about the men including their age, occupation, receptiveness to being approached, likes and dislikes and what was received from them. This information, say ex-members, was computerized and a profile for the best potential “fish” was worked out.
Statistics produced within the group and published for members only in April of 1988 showed 971,489 “Flirty Fishing” witness contacts (attempted seductions) in 10 years; 222,280 “fish loved” (sexual encounters) and 105,706 “souls won.”
“We made mistakes then and we’re different now, but “flirty fishing” was a way of showing love” said [R.] “It was a sacrificial way of reaching out to people. People needed something and we gave it to them. It was a way of showing God’s love.
“But it’s also something we stopped totally in 1987.”
That was the year of a great “Reformation and Revolution” in the group. It also was the year after a female member in Japan reportedly died of AIDS-related pneumonia. Richards and Spain agreed that AIDS was a deciding factor in The Family’s curtailment of prostitution.
At the same time The Family had come under scrutiny in many Third World countries and in South America, where it had become the only cult officially banned in Argentina.
The “reformation” was extreme, though possibly not as complete as described by Family members. A January 1990, letter from Maria, Berg’s second in command, ordered female members to require their “fish” to wear condoms. It also contained a section on “which outsiders to still have sex with!” and told them to restrict their outside sexual activities to men in the “well-known” category.
Much of Berg’s more lurid literature was ordered destroyed in 1987, however, among it was “The Davidito Letter.”
[R’s] husband said he had never seen the letter until a reporter showed him a copy and having seen it, “It’s not something I’d want to try to defend. I couldn’t tolerate this sort of thing.”
[C.R.]said she had seen the publication, but that it was not widely disseminated within the group and not regarded as a guideline for rearing children.
“I remember the letter,” said [R]. “Granted, it was extreme. But it was never distributed that widely and a lot of people, like my husband, may never have seen it. To me, it seemed pretty far out. I heard of some people taking this as a green light for sex with children, but those were individual cases.
“It was never meant as something we had to follow and I know a lot of people disregarded it.
“The fact is, we’ve gotten older and we’re a much more conservative group now. And we’re very concerned about being totally legal. We absolutely do nothing illegal now.”
Former members disagree with [R's] description of the letter as largely disregarded and say sex with and among children was common in the cult.
Cherish Lloyd, 19, who left the group a little less than two years ago, also remembers verbatim passages from the Davidito letter and said it was used extensively when she was small.
“Sara Davidito was in charge of child care instructions for the entire family,” said Lloyd. “Everybody knew the Davidito Letter and I didn’t know a single child who wasn’t sexually molested in one way or another.”
The ex-members agree, however, that drastic changes took place in 1987 and that the Davidito letter and many of Berg’s other writings about sex were burned.
Among them was “Heaven's Girl,” a primer for teen-age girls that was supposed to project a role model for them. In the illustrated text, the young girl seduces converts, is gang-raped then wins her attackers over through love.
“Let’s make this sexy, really sexy,” Berg told his artists in recorded instruction he gave for the book. “She’ll do a lot of FFing and…shouldn’t she meet me before I die? Shouldn’t she be in bed with me?
“She’s your creation. Handle her any way you want. Boy, I know how I’d like to handle her!”
In fact, he said, the atmosphere for teen-agers has become austere, leading a number of them to rebel.
Those who do are sent to “Victor” camps, where they are put on a strict regiment, forced to read “Mo Letters” for hours at a time and retrained in The Family principles.
“The abuse is more a sort of brain-washing now,” said [G]. “The thing is, the same person (Berg) who was the leader of it before is still the leader now. He’s never been brought to justice for any of the things he did and there’s no reason to believe he’s changed.”
Within the past year they also have submitted to various studies by psychologists and sociologists, a number of whom give favorable accounts of what they have found.
Lawrence Lilliston, chairman of the psychology department at Oakland University in California, wrote after a live-in study in 1993 that “there is absolutely no evidence for child abuse among these children.” Lilliston says, however, that he did not interview former members and discounts their stories as biased and unreliable.
Dr. Stuart Wright, a sociologist at Lamar University in Texas, said he visited two communes for approximately a week at a time and found the children apparently “very healthy emotionally and psychologically.” Wright said his study is continuing and has not been completed.
And Dr. Ralph Underwager of the Institute for Psychological Therapies in Minnesota supplied an affidavit for The Family when their members were on trial in France last year, stating the group “is not guilty of abuse upon children.”
“I did qualify that, however” said Underwager, “by adding that that finding was based only on the data I reviewed and all the data I was asked to review was supplied by The Family.”
One researcher they do not cite is Dr. Steven Kent, a University of Alberta sociologist who has written extensively about the group and believes child abuse was once rampant, even if it has now ceased. “Critics will remain skeptical about this group until they acknowledge that these things took place and identify the victims and get help for them and identify the people who did it,” said Kent."