Second Generation of the Family
My study is on the second-generation of a new religious movement (NRM) whose practices concerning children went against mainstream society and the groups effect on the second generation while they were members and once they left. I researched the NRM formerly named the Children of God and now called the Family. The movement was started has a Fundamentalist Christian commune in the late 1960’s by David Berg; it now has a worldwide membership of 12,000. The Family received a bad reputation because of their radical sexual practices that included threesomes, sharing, prostitution in the name of God, and sexual acts with minors. The second-generation was socialized for the Family, not mainstream society, concerning their goals and duties. I studied the effects that growing up in this environment had on the children who left once old enough. I focused on the effect it had on their relationships with their parents, siblings, relatives, and non-members while they were in the group and once they had left. I also looked at how the participants felt about interacting with non-members and adjusting to their new life once they left the Family. I found that the participants had negative feelings about the Family and that it had affected their relationships. Also, the participants had a difficult time adjusting to mainstream society once they left.
This is a study on the second-generation of the Family; formerly know as the Children of God. This group started during the “Jesus Revolution” of the 1960’s in California. In 1968, David Berg, his family, and his followers started their community dedicated to mission work. The communal group grew quickly. In 1969 the group had 100 members; by 1972 there were 130 communities all over the world; today there are 12,000 full-time and associate adult volunteer members with over 1,400 homes in 100 countries (thefamily.org). For my research, I interviewed former members, focusing only on the second-generation.
With the exception of three participants, who left with their family when they were children, all the subjects with whom I spoke had made a conscious decision to leave the Family. Most began to realize that they did not agree with the beliefs of the Family and needed to start a life outside of the group. All of the subjects I spoke with had mostly negative views concerning the Family and their beliefs. Because I only researched ex-members, my findings are biased against the Family. As I introduce the background to what the Family is about and what they do, I first looked at both the websites of the ex-members as well as the group in order to give as much of an unbiased foundation as possible.
I focused my research on the relationships between the former members and their parents, their siblings, and their relatives that were affected because of the Family beliefs and environment, while they were members and after they left. Because of its communal setting, relationships with others are different than what we are used to in Western-style society. The first theme is the relationship the subjects had with their parents. I was interested in seeing how this relationship would be affected since it was the parents who choose to raise their child in this type of setting. The second theme is the participants’ relationship with their siblings. I found that their experiences in the Family caused different types of bonds with their siblings. I also examined how being in the Family affected the subjects’ relationships with their relatives outside of the group. Since the Family is closed off to outsiders, it was interesting to see how this relationship was affected. Lastly, I looked at how growing up in the Family affected their relationships with non-members once they left the group. I asked if they felt they were able to relate to others or not and how hard it was for them to adjust to their new life.
During the 1960’s, there was a growth in NRMs. I became interested in the second generation of these NRMs as these groups get older. I wondered how the second generation felt about being separated from mainstream society. The majority of the members who I interviewed made a conscious decision to leave the Family because they realized that the Family was holding them back. They decided to leave the community in which they were socialized for to live in another one. The Family did not take the responsibility to socialize their members for mainstream society; and so, this study was to see how former SG members managed once they left and the effects that lingered.
Since the Family is not a commonly known group I provide a brief history of the group as well as a timeline. I will write an introduction to who David Berg is and his role in the Family. Because I focused on the second-generation, I also give a summary of the practices in Family concerning their children, both from the time period of when my subjects were children as well as currently. I also explore the setbacks that many of the subjects experienced because of their time in the group. The Family developed many new terms for their members, and I provide a glossary so that the reader can become familiar with some of the terms.
There are many definitions of what a NRM is; however, it can safely be described as a group of people who have organized and rejected the current ideas of religious organizations or ideals (Bainbridge 1997: 3). People who join NRMs feel alienated from their society and family and are looking for a substitution (Saliba 1995: 70). NRMs offer themselves as communities that can satisfy needs that are not met in the larger society.
Whether NRMs are good or bad for their members is a very controversial issue at present. Outsiders often feel that they have an idea of what goes on in NRMs; however, most of what outsiders learn comes from the media, which often provides a biased picture since they only focus on the negative aspects of NRMs (Dawson 2003:1). As a result the public usually stigmatizes and condemns NRMs because of ignorance (Dawson 2003: 2). NRMs are often easy targets because of their unorthodox ideas and beliefs. Anthropologist Lorne Dawson (2001: 1) pointed out that some of “their beliefs may seem more real than some of ours;” however, they feel unusual because their beliefs are so different than what we are socialized to believe (1).
The late 60’s were filled with counter-culture ideas and as many young adults decided to leave mainstream society to join a NRM, their parents became worried about the groups they were joining (exfamily.org; Dawson 2003:5). Parents of these young adults, along with other concerned members of society, including former members, began anti-cult organizations. These anti-cult organizations see their mission as “raising public consciousness about ‘destructive cults’” (Tabor and Gallagher 1995:147). Many believe that NRMs “deprive potential members of their right to know the truth, violate constitutional rights, destroy family and exploit the weak” (Tabor and Gallagher 1995:150).
The Christian Research Institute (CRI) describes a dangerous “cult” as having these characteristics: “total commitment to leader’s interpretation of Bible, belief that their leader can do no wrong, belief in continued revelation that can contradict previous revelation, strong belief that we are in times prior to the end of the world, a ‘we vs. they’ mentality, and pressure to conform to dictates of the group” (Tabor 1995:153). Using these characteristics, the Family would fall under the CRI’s definition of a “dangerous group.” However, Tabor (1996) interestingly points out that Jesus and his followers had the same characteristics of a “dangerous group” as well.
The religious movements of the 1960s and 70s were spiritual experimentations where adults made a conscious choice to leave mainstream society (Palmer 1999:1). Susan Palmer noted that NRMs are usually in the “process of experimenting and adapting socialization and disciplinary” which leaves room for chaos and mistakes (4). As these movements evolved, there is the question of what role does the second-generation have. In an NRM, much like in mainstream society, parents seek to teach children the group’s religious ideals and values (Palmer 1999:1). The parents were opposed to the ideals of mainstream society and joined a communal society with different ideals. As their children grow, they hope that the second-generation keeps the same ideals. However, Palmer found that the second-generation has a different attitude: they are born into these subcultures and so take it for granted because it is all that they have known and they are curious of the outside society since it was never their choice to reject it (1).
The idea of family can also be very different from one society to the next as well as within the same society. In mainstream society, the family has many images; however, the stereotype is that of the father, mother, and children. While becoming more rare, this is the expected situation and what we advertise as the expected situation of a family. Many NRMs are communal settings and the definitions of family can be very different than mainstream’s definition.
Simon Coleman (1999) sought to find out what the role of children in the NRM the Word of Life, a Protestant Evangelical organization based in Sweden (71). Coleman found that while the children have high values within the organization because they have been raised under the groups Christian guidelines, the children have a risk of being “exposed to secular ideas as they grow older” (75-76). In order for NRMs to survive they must keep their numbers up; this can be achieved in two ways, first, recruiting new members, and second, keeping members in, particularly those born in the group.
It is interesting to see how the second-generation reacts once they leave their group for mainstream society. Individuals are socialized to perform and act according to what is expected of them in their society, most of this occurring during childhood (Smelser 2001:14516). While children receive their first and most influential socialization from their families, it is also received through other experiences with peers, schools, media, etc. (Smelser 2001: 14516-14517). Children in NRMs are socialized in an environment that follows strict doctrines that are often the result of rejection of the larger society. What the children learned inside of the community can often be a contradiction to what they see outside of it. Also, many times they are sheltered from the mainstream society and are not adequately prepared to survive outside of their community.
David Berg was the founder of the Family. Coming from an active evangelical family, witnessing to others came easy for him. Berg felt that people were being led further and further away from Christianity (thefamily.org). By starting this group, he was hoping to create a community were people were dedicated to the Lord in an environment that would be free of the pollutants of the mainstream society. Members of the Family looked at Berg as a modern day prophet. The Lord spoke through him. However, as leader of the group, he exercised absolute control. Since the Lord spoke through him, all of Berg’s saying and teachings were automatically assumed right. Any member who spoke out against him or his teachings was penalized. If a member continued rebelling they could be forced to leave. Because of this, members found themselves listening to Berg without question. This was one issue that I found had bewildered my participants, as they would see members carry out practices that the participants felt were morally wrong.
As Palmer (1994) mentioned, NRMs are in a constant evolution as they experiment with their ideas and beliefs (4). This is no exception with the Family. Throughout the group’s life there have been many changes in their policies and practices. While there were numerous changes, I will only mention the ones that are relevant to this study. The practices that I will go over concern sexual practices of the members and beliefs of how to raise their children. I also will speak about other practices that I found had an influential effect on the participants, these include, a communal lifestyle, perceptions of outsiders, and education.
In 1972, David Berg wrote the Mo Letter (see glossary) “One Wife.” This letter introduced the radical sexual practices that made the Family infamous. In the letter, Berg writes practicing a monogamous relationship with your spouse is a selfish act, and according to the Lord, members must share themselves with others. This letter came out when Berg began extramarital affairs with his secretary Karen Zerby, known as Mama Maria to members. Zerby became Berg’s soi-disant, or second wife, and now is the leader since his passing. Berg looked at sex as a beautiful and sacred act created by God. The Devil had influenced the System to perceive it has sinful and dirty. Members of the Family were encouraged to look at sex with an open mind.
As the Family’s sexual practices became more open and liberal so did the beliefs of what role a child had concerning sex. Children were not only encouraged to learn about sex but also to be active participants. Berg sent out Mo Letters condoning sex with children. According to Berg, paraphilia, such as incest and pedophilia, were “man’s laws” (Glossary: xfamily.org). Berg claimed, “his writings were the word of God and the clear implications were that his opinion superceded ‘man’s laws’.” Berg made paraphilia seem natural and that it is considered right by God (Glossary: xfamily.org). Because of these beliefs, countless of children of the Family were subjected to sexual abuse. Not all members of the Family practiced pedophile; however, Berg’s teachings gave reason for it.
The Family’s communal living was an important aspect of the group. The Family followed the example of the Early Church and strives for a “cooperative lifestyle” in which “all that believed were together, and had all things in common” (Acts 2:44; The Family’s Basic Belief, thefamily.org). This was seen as more practical and economical but also it provided a “close fellowship and spiritual unity” (The Family’s Basic Beliefs, thefamily.org). During the 1980s and 90s, Combos, Jumbos, and Teen Homes were practiced. These were large homes that could range in size from 50 to sometimes 300 people (xfamily.org). In this type of community, it was not unusual for parents to be separated from their children. Members would be designated work jobs and if this impended on their parenting, a member’s commitment to the Lord came first. Sheperds were given the task of looking after the children. As a community, the Family looked at everyone as one big family. If a child was separated from his or her parents there would be another member to take over the parental role.
The Family had strict perceptions of the world outside of their group. The Family had a “we vs. them” mentality. Once an individual joined the group, they were expected to leave all past ties of the outside world. The outside was called the System; anything that was outside of the group was considered be “un-Godly.” Also, members kept a distinction between them and outsiders by believing to be the chosen ones whose job was to save souls from the System through witnessing. The members’ perception of the outside world was that it was filled with sadness and hate. This turned out to be very influential when members would leave the group.
Because of the “we vs. them” mentality, members often had little contact with the outside world, other than witnessing. Members were not allowed to work in the System or go to a System school. As a result, members who left found it very difficult to adjust because of their lack of necessary skills. This was especially true for the second generation, most of which would have never held a job, applied for a bank account, driven a car, and other simple things that we would take for granted.
Education was also an issue for the second-generation. The Family did not allow their children to go to schools run by the System. Children were either home-schooled or went to a Family-run school. The Family did not believe education to be as important as the learning about the Word of God. Berg wrote in the Childcare Handbook II, “I consider for our children right now, the best education you can possibly get is in the Word, in the Bible and in the Mo letters” (Beliefs and Practices; xfamily.org). Children were not expected to receive an education past high school, if even that much (Beliefs and Practices; xfamily.org).
The Family is a very secretive group; they only allow some of their publications to be read by the public, not even the members know were the World Services is located, were the top leaders live, and not many outsiders are aware of the beliefs that are practiced inside the group. However, despite all of the precautions, authorities of the System have always been wary of the Family. They began to question whether the education that the children were receiving was adequate as well as becoming suspicious of some of the group’s sexual practices. In the 1990’s the Family was charged with numerous cases of abuse. The most well known was the Lord Justice Ward case that lasted from 1992 until 1995 (Judgement [sic] of Lord Justice Ward; xfamily.org.) The case was over the custody of a child born into the group; the grandmother charged the group of abuse against her grandchild. Lord Justice Ward found that while the MO Letters endorsed sexual abuse, the group had made changes and that it was a safe environment for the child (Judgement [sic] of Lord Justice Ward]; xfamily.org.)
As outside concern for the children rose outside of the Family, the group realized that they would need a document that would state the rights and security given to their children; this was materialized in the Love Charter of 1995. As the second-generation grows older and they start to think about their future, some are looking at the outside as a possibility. The Family is dealing with this problem currently as its second-generation has begun to reach its adult stage. The Charter responded to this issue and provides a new and more involved role for their second-generation members. Since the Family first became aware of the second-generation’s concerns in 1993, the second-generation children “have been merged into all levels of Family leadership, often sharing responsibilities on an equal basis with their older co-workers” (Children in the Family International – thefamily.org).
Despite these changes, the Family still sees some of its second-generation members leaving the group. Before the Charter, former members found that they had not been adequately prepared for life outside. The Family’s website states, “a vocal minority of former members has openly declared that their parents had no right to raise them according to their parents' religious convictions and mores, and have publicly stated their intent to harm the Family and members within the organization.” As a response, the Charter gives the parents the responsibility to “assist them to the best of their ability in finding suitable accommodations, helping them to enroll for further education, or assisting them in finding employment, etc.” (Children in the Family International – thefamily.org).
The Charter also addressed the question of sexual abuse towards children. The Love Charter drew “clear lines are drawn as to what is appropriate behavior with children and what is clearly not accepted, for which offenders face excommunication” (Children in the Family International; thefamily.org).
My participants, for the most part, grew up in the Family before the adoption of the Love Charter, so their experiences differ from the children in the group now. However, when I asked some of my participants what they thought about the Family at present, overwhelmingly the response was that while the Family might say they don’t abuse their children anymore, the participants felt that it was still in practice in some of the homes.
My criteria for including participants in the research was that my participants be a former second generations members of the Family who were members before they reached the age of eighteen. I got in touch with the subjects through contacts and through the website movingon.org. My findings came from twelve subjects. All had been born into the Family. I had in-depth interviews with six of the subjects. I was only able to have face-to-face interviews with two of the subjects due to distance and lack of funds or time. The participants signed the consent forms to participate in the research. The other interviews were conducted over the phone; their consent was recorded. The remaining six subjects were contacted through movingon.org. I sent these participants questionnaires via email, which they answered in detail. They gave their consent with the understanding that answering the questionnaire was the same as signing a consent form.
My sample includes twelve second generation members of the Family, four are female and eight were male. The ages ranged from nineteen to thirty years old. The amount of time they spent in the Family was from five years to twenty-four years, and the amount of time since leaving the Family ranged from four to twenty-two years. On average, the participants who I interviewed were members until their teens. All of the participants are Caucasian except one who is Asian. Nine of the participants live in the U.S. while three live in a different country. Two of the females had children of their own; however, only one was married. Two of the participants were married and the rest were single. Six of the participants have family or close friends who are still members. Nine of the participants mentioned having been sexually abused while they were members of the Family. This included watching their parents have sex, having sexual interactions with other children, and an adult having sexual intercourse with them at a young age. Three of the participants were physically abused while in the Family.
I found that former members were willing to speak with me because of my background. Both of my parents were members of the Family for a number of years. A few years after I was born, they left the Family because they were concerned for the safety of their children. The participants felt more comfortable speaking with someone who could relate to their experiences. I also found that many of the participants were happy to have someone to listen to their stories.
As I began my interviews, a theme that kept recurring was how the Family affected the different relationships former members had, these included relationships with their parents, siblings, other relatives, and non-members. The Family’s influence on their relationships could be seen while the member was both in and out of the group.
As I began my study, I became interested in the relationship between former members and their parents. A parent's first role is to be the instructor of their child's social and moral roles and expectations (Smelser, 2001, 14517). Just as important is the "role of community and community agents as modifiers of family interactions" (Smelser, 2001, 14519). In a communal setting like the Family, the role of the community is much stronger and influential than its role in mainstream society. The Family is an extreme example of how “community agents” influence what a family is and how it should work. Today, the Family follows the Charter's guidelines on parenting where the parents are expected "to raise their children in a godly manner; to lovingly care for and protect them and supply their various needs; and to see to it that they are properly and adequately educated" as well as "regularly spend time with their children, live with them, and be kept informed of their educational progress and well-being" (thefamily.org). From looking at the Charter, the roles of an ideal member parent are similar to the responsibilities of a parent in mainstream society. A parent should provide care and protection, as well as getting their child ready for life on their own through education. However, the Charter was not adopted until 1995, when the group was taking steps towards "having smaller, more easily manageable numbers of personnel in each of its community Homes" (thefamily.org). Many of the participants who I talked with had been children in the Family prior to 1995 so they had different experiences with their parents while they were in the Family than those outlined in the Charter.
Relationship with Parents – Separation
Most of the participants who I spoke with had to deal with separation from one or both parents. One reason for this was the introduction of Combos - large homes that were occupied by 50 to 200 or more Family members (xfamily.org). Because of the large number of members living in these homes, they would often be divided by age groups, which could mean being separated from both parents and siblings. Seven of the participants lived in Combo’s, or a living situation, similar to it. All of them experienced some form of separation from their parents. Those who were affected the most were those who were in the group the longest.
Of all my participants, Saul had lived in the group for the longest period of time, until he was 24, so he had experienced many different stages of the group and was able to give me various accounts of them. He recalled that the Family came up with the idea of Combos because they wanted everyone to be together. He was 13 when he moved into one of these homes and said that from that age on he did not feel he had a relationship with his father; his mother had already left the Family. He did not feel that his father was really his dad because “he never cared if I knew what four times four was, or if I knew how to drive a car. It was someone else’s responsibilities; his job was to get money. While they would still have family day and get together every month, it was a sheperd that raised Saul and made sure he “was ok.” A sheperd would be appointed to a group of children to take over the role of parent and teacher.
With the introduction of Combo living, the Family was making the group more communal, which was seen as both economical and spiritually beneficial. Mainstream society might look at the separation as unethical since it meant taking children away from their parents, but for the group, everyone was your family. Even though Saul was separated from his biological father, this was not seen as harmful for him because he would be receiving the same care and nurturance from another member of the Family. He mentioned that each group of kids would have a shepherd. Saul's shepherd was his father figure at this point of his life.
His biological father was separated from his children, because he had other obligations than raising a family. Only Saul’s deaf brother stayed with his father. In exchange, the group provided Saul with shepherds and the Word, through the Bible and MO Letters. His father would raise money for the group while Saul lived with other teens to learn more about the Word of God and David Berg. However, Saul still has not come to terms with the separation that he had to experience from both his parents. He still has not been able to feel “the whole parental connection thing. I’m still void of that kind of attachment feeling of mommy or daddy.”
While the Family felt that having an "aunt" or "uncle," another term for sheperd, replacing the role of mother and father would be sufficient, Saul’s story and others show that some of the participants still feel the sense of loss from having been separated from their parents. One former member, David, lived in the Philippines with his family until the age of 15 when he left to go to India. What is interesting about his experience is that rather than moving into a Combo, he was leaving a larger home for a smaller home. This was after the adoption of the Charter when Combo’s were dismantled and members were scattered out into smaller groups. David left his parents and siblings behind when he moved to the smaller home and remembers having a miserable time. I asked him how he felt about being separated from his parents at the time. He answered:
To be honest, I was pretty much lost. Though I was always in the care of uncles and aunties who felt it was their responsibility to play the role of the parents I no longer had.
For many of us, our teenage years are often when we need the most guidance from those who are close to us. At 15, David left his family to move into a new home where strangers would take the role of his parents. They would be the ones to guide him as he progressed into adulthood rather than his biological parents with whom he had spent his last 15 years. Although homes were scattered in many different countries, members would treat each other as family, even if they had never met before, making it normal for David to leave his family behind for a new “family.” David would leave his biological parents in trade for his social parents. However, David felt the impact of leaving his family. He wrote, “Not having my parents around meant in my mind that I was truly alone in many respects.”
Hazel was in the Family for 21 years; she left only four years ago. She was usually in the same homes as her parents, “from living with 60-90 people, to living in a small apartment only with my direct family.” It was when she lived in the larger homes that she experienced being separated from her parents. She would only see them during the scheduled parent time for about an hour after dinner. She also remembers being able to see her parents during “ Family Day every week or two, but sometimes we were switched around between families.” This followed the Family’s ideology that having a nuclear family was selfish – “we were all one big family.” Even during Family Day, The group would keep the idea that everyone is family. While on some days Hazel would be with her parents, on other days she would spend time with another family.
I asked her if she remembers what her relationship with her parents was like. She answered:
I have nice memories of my first years. Then I have some sad memories of them always going away on leadership trips and leaving us alone with “uncles” and “aunties”. Then, when I was 10 I stopped living with them and I had to live in JETT (junior end time teens) Homes and Teen Homes and I barely saw them anymore. I would say that my relationship with them after that age was practically inexistent.
JETT was what the Family would call teens between the ages of 12 and 14; the teen homes that Hazel mentioned were homes just for the teens. Calling teens JETT gave them a role to complete as the Endtime approached. When she was young, she had a good relationship with her parents because they were sharing their lives with her. However, as she grew older, her nuclear family began to split in order to follow the guidelines of the Family. According to the group, mission work was the most important job a Christian was responsible for, as can be read in the following passage cited from the Family’s website:
We believe the Great Commission, which our Lord has given to His Church, is to evangelize the world, to "go ye into all the world and preach the Gospel to every creature" (Mark 16:15). It is our conviction that this is the great mission of the Church and the explicit message of our Lord Jesus Christ to those whom He has saved.
The Family made a literal translation of the Bible; the “Great Commission” of the Church was to be missionaries. As there was no separation of Church and home – this became the mission in everyone’s life. Her parents would leave on “leadership trips” while Hazel joined Teen Homes, where she would learn how to one day go on her own mission trips. Following their interpretation of the Bible, they held evangelicalism as higher than forming nuclear relationships.
Matthew is another former member who experienced small, medium, and large homes. Like the other participants, he remembers the larger homes as being the most “uncomfortable”. In these homes, there would often be 150-200 kids.
Much of the time that I lived in these large homes, I was not in the company of my parents. I.e. my parents were living elsewhere in another family home, sometimes in the same city, other times in another country. If my parents were within reasonable proximity to where I was living I normally saw them once a week or at least once a month / every few months. In these situations I was on multiple occasions singled out for special (negative) attention because I was a quiet child who didn’t appear to be very happy and this was considered a cause for concern.
Like the others, Matthew had to deal with separation from his family. He mentioned that he would often feel depressed in these situations. In the Family, communal living provided “close fellowship and spiritual unity.” In a community as large as the one he lived in, it was necessary for the members to be divided. So when Matthew showed signs of depression because of separation from his family, the group looked at it as a deviance of sorts that needed to be fixed. Compared to the larger homes, Matthew had better memories when living in the smaller homes:
I was generally younger when living in the small homes. In the situations that I recall best, there were generally only one or two other kids. We were home schooled, sometimes by my mother or another adult. Generally these situations were quite good as they weren’t high pressure environments and I felt quite comfortable. I have some fond memories of these situations. In the medium sized homes, life was generally not too bad. These homes normally had between 30-60 members. Again home schooling was the norm. In most of these situations my parents also lived in the home.
Living in the smaller homes not only meant that he would be living with his parents, but it also meant that he would be raised by his own parents. While there could be many different factors explaining why he felt more “comfortable” in the smaller homes rather then the larger homes, having the comfort of his parents nearby appears to have had an important effect.
Despite being separated from his parents, Matthew managed to keep a good relationship with his parents throughout his time in the Family. However, how strong his relationship was would depend on whether or not he was with them.
I had a pretty good relationship with my parents while I was little growing up. Much of the time we traveled through Southeast Asia we moved and operated as a small family unit. It wasn’t until I was 8 that I started to be separated from my parents and I found that this definitely put some distance between us, though time that we spent together was still emotionally rewarding and I always felt that my parents loved me and cared a great deal about me.
When he was young, his family worked together has they moved around witnessing – they were a “small family unit.” It wasn’t until he was older, when the family began to do their jobs as evangelicals that he began to feel the separation of his parents. Like Hazel’s and other families of the group, mission work was a priority. Yet, throughout this, he could still feel a bond with his parents.
Another former member was separated from her family as well, but her circumstances were different from the other participants. Noel remembers her family physically leaving the group when she was five years old. Her biological father had already left the group, and her mother was living separate from the Family with a man who was a “friend” of the group. Her mother had a child with him at this time and subsequently more children. Her mother decided to leave the family when Noel’s younger sister almost drowned and the Family said that it was “God telling her [Noel’s mother] that she was being punished.” However, despite leaving the Family and living with her new husband, her mother was still “mentally involved” with the group until Noel was twelve. With this mentality, her mother sent Noel to a school operated by the Family “because she thought it was best.” Her younger sister did not attend this school. On the weekends Noel would be at home with her family but on the weekdays she would be sent away to the school. Even though she was young at the time she remembers being “separated from my mother and going to school there and not understanding why my sisters weren’t while I was going.” At her young age, she was frustrated and confused why she still had to go to the school. I asked her how she felt about the experience and she answered that she was “satisfied to be able to go home.”
It was at the school, when she did not have her mom protecting her, where Noel recalled being molested by an older man. Noel went on to say “I’ve only talked about this with my mother like once or twice. It is a little hard subject for her to hear.” Every week, Noel left her family for the school, while her sisters remained at home with her mom. To this day she still has a hard time communicating with her mom about her experiences at the school. She believes she might still be dealing with the issue of why her mother would send her away.
Nine of the participants who I interviewed were face with separation from their parents while they were members of the group. According to the Family’s beliefs individual families “make God jealous.” Through Combo’s, the Family was able to alter the individual families into larger ones. In this communal setting, everyone could feel that you were family. Because of this, being separated from your parents would be o.k. Another reason for separation was the duties that were expected from a member of the Family. Adults were expected to commit themselves to spreading the Word of God. As children saw their parents leave to follow this duty, they themselves would be trained to follow the adults’ footsteps. They would live with their peers so that they could study and learn together in a spiritual setting. Members were supposed to be willing to sacrifice their own needs for their group.
However, the participants who I spoke with felt differently. Looking back, they remember feeling confused and lonely during the separation. They did not feel that substitutes like sheperds could take the role of their parents. For the ones who were separated for many years, the effects were more lasting as they felt the loss of a parent/child bond.
Not only could members become separated from their parents because of the policies of the Family, they might also become separated if one of the parents left the Family. The group viewed the outside society as the System (xfamily.org). The website xfamily.org defines the System as “anything and everything that is 'out there' and not within the group, which considers itself separate from the "un-Godly" world.” When members would leave the group they were considered backsliders (exfamily.org). All members formed a very tight and guarded group, so when one would leave, they were “shown great distrust and disrespect and treated as de facto enemies” (exfamily.org). If a member left the Family it meant that they were too “weak” to stand against the Devil (Maria, date unknown.) In a letter published by Mamma Maria, she wrote “The Lord is allowing the Devil to try to dissuade people in every way, to give them everything he can possibly think of to try to dissuade them from serving the Lord.” (Maria, date unknown). Not only were former members being influenced by the Devil, but they were also a security threat since they had articles and letters published by the Family that were for members only. The Family had strict rules and regulations about who was allowed read their letters. If one’s parent left the Family, little to no interactions would be allowed; it would be as if they lost their parent.
Saul, the informant who was a member until he was 24, had a younger brother who I also interviewed. Christian is 19 and has been out of the Family since he was 13. Their mother began to have doubts about the Family and left the group, without her children, when Saul was ten years old; Christian must have been a toddler. A nanny came to help out the large household, as they had numerous siblings, and she eventually married their father.
The Family believed that if you left the group it meant that you had been persuaded by the Devil to leave. The Family already kept a distant relationship with the outside, except for evangelizing, so when it was an outsider that was a former member, the consequences were more extreme. Both Saul and Christian remember leaders calling their mother the devil and evil. Their father worked hard to keep his ex-wife away from his children; they weren’t even allowed to write letters to her.
While Saul knew about his mother, Christian was raised by his step-mom, believing her to be his mother. Christian did not find out about his real mother until he was eight years old. When I asked him how this affected him when he found out, he answered, “in the Family you’re taught that everyone is your mom, dad, family, so I didn’t think much about her being outside of the group.” Christian recalled having a bad relationship with his stepmother; who beat him on numerous instances. One would think that a relationship like this with his “mother” would have made him welcome his real mother; however, he was raised to believe that everyone in the group was your family. With this mindset, he did not dwell on the fact that his real mother lived outside of the Family.
In contrast, Saul, who always knew who his real mother was, had a slightly different opinion about his mother. He told me that his dad “spent his whole life trying to keep his kids away from mom,” with the result that it “drove them right into her arms.” However, not being raised by his mother did have an effect on their mother-son bond. Saul feels he has a child/mother bond, but it in fact was artificially created. While Christian was not aware of his mother, Saul felt the effect of not having his mother around because she had raised him until he was ten. Christian saw everyone in the Family as his “family.” Saul was given the chance to have a comparison between his “family” and his real family. However, Saul still had to deal with the separation of his mother from the age of ten. When she left, he had to create the emotions he would normally have felt if he had a mother. Despite these created feelings, he still felt a void from his childhood.
Phillip had a similar experience when his father and mother divorced. His father left the Family when he was four years old; Phillip did not see him again until he was 13, when Phillip left the Family. When his father left, similar constructions of his father were narrated to Phillip as were to the two brothers.
I was taught he was an evil backslider and an enemy of the Family who wanted to destroy it. We had no contact with him and when he did find our address, the letters and gifts he sent were discarded.
Like Saul and Christian, Phillip had to deal not only with having his father physically leave him but having him out of his life emotionally and mentally as well. They were told that their parent was “evil” for wanting to leave the group. Minimal contact was allowed between the parent and the children. Even though his father wrote him letters, Phillip did not know about the letters while he was a child. Phillip wrote that he felt his father “didn’t do enough to care for and protect his children.” At a young age, he saw his father leave and was told that his father was “evil.” In addition, he felt that his father made no attempt to form a relationship after leaving, since all the letters his father wrote were kept from Phillip. Under these circumstances, it would not be hard for Phillip to feel that his father abandoned him to start a new life.
Phillip mentioned his father did not do enough to “protect” his children. His father left the Family for a reason, maybe realizing what the outcomes would entail; Phillip feels that a father should have thought about the outcomes of his children staying in the group as well. Phillip is now experiencing the setbacks because of his time in the Family, such as lack of education, hard time relating to others, and more, when he relates how his father “didn’t do enough.” He feels that he would have had a better start if his father had tried to “protect” him from the Family.
I spoke with two other former members who had had minimal if any contact with their biological fathers. Alec was a member of the Family until he was twelve years old; however, Alec’s father left when he was only two years old. The only contact they had was when Alec received a letter when he was getting married (since dissolved). The letter ended with, “Good luck with everything and congratulations. Will write again soon.” Alec received the letter 15 years ago and has not had any more.
David also never met his biological father because he is “a result of the FFing [Flirty Fishing] days.” I had asked how is his relationship with his father and he answered, “My father… well I’ll never know.”
Being separated from a parent because they left the Family was a different experience. In all the cases, the backsliders were completely severed from the group, including from their own children. Many children were told their parents were evil and they were not allowed to keep in touch with each other. The effect of this separation was different than those separated from their parents who were still in the group. When a child still had his or her parents in the group, the separation was not as drastic. If the parents were in the group, the children were still able to see them during Family Day. However, if the parent was considered a backslider contact was usually completely cut off. The child was expected to forget that they even had a parent on the outside.
Looking back, participants feel that their separation from their parents had a negative effect on their relationship. Because of the Family’s policies, separation was expected, since everyone was family in the group. Many participants experienced separation when they lived in the larger homes. They were expected to give up their family. However, once the participants left the Family, they were opened up to a new society and a different way of thinking. In mainstream society, they learned that a child is not expected to separate from his or her parents; rather, they felt that parents were supposed to protect their children. The theme of “protection” came up a few times as the participants felt they were opened up to possible harm when they were separated from their parents. As they reflect on their experiences, they feel their parents should have done more to protect them. Many also feel that they have missed out on a relationship with their parents because of the separation. Despite being told that everyone was their family or that their parent had been influenced by the Devil, they could still feel the negative effects.
Relationships with Parents after Leaving the Family
Another aspect of the relationship between the parent and their child was how they communicated with each other about the experiences of the Family. Good communication between two people is always a sign of a good relationship. Some participants showed that in their relationships, communication was impossible due to conflicting views. Others could talk to their parents about events that had happened; yet the conversations were sometimes censored. As I analyzed my results, I found that the participants’ current relationship with their parents was interconnected with how well they communicated with their parents. I found two dimensions to this theme: participants who still have parents in the Family and participants whose parents had left the Family.
As mentioned before, the Family felt safer keeping separations between members and non-members. If a member that was leaving decided to remain a “friend of the Family,” contact with those inside was not as difficult. However, when former members started rejecting and disagreeing with the ideas of the Family, as was the case for all of the respondents I spoke with, it was much more complicated. Lack of communication with their parents was one of the greatest effects that my participants’ felt after they left the Family. Usually this was because of the conflicting beliefs that the parents and their children had concerning the Family.
Saul and Christian are the two brothers; their father is still a member of the Family. They remember their father being a strong believer in the lifestyle and beliefs of the Family. Because of this, their father kept a high status in the Family. Saul believes that his father, who joined when he was twenty-four, is still in because it is all he has known since his early twenties. Both of them maintain minimal contact with their father. Christian believes that his father’s “brain is still locked inside the cult.” He does not believe that his father’s thoughts and sayings make sense in mainstream society. For example, Christian attempted suicide numerous times; all that his father had to say was that “life is hard” and “God will be with you till the end.” Christian called his father’s situation hopeless.
Both of David’s parents are still in the Family; David is the member who lives in Asia. He too had the same reaction about communicating with his parents. He wrote:
I used to write about once a month. To be honest, they simply have nothing to do with the life that I have had to build out here. I have chosen to forsake my past in an attempt at a new life. Constant reminders of the past simply get in the way.
For former members, it is difficult to talk to parents who are still part of the group because of the contradictory mindsets. The participants I spoke with were trying to make new lives outside of the Family. However, part of their life, their parents, was still in the group. It was hard for the participants and their parents to relate and to look past their differences. Their parents were still inside the group that they had tried, and are still trying, to leave behind. Since they left behind the ideals and beliefs of their old lives, they found it difficult to talk to those who still followed those same ideals and beliefs. Their parents did not make sense from a standpoint within mainstream society. The participants realized that all that would have come out of the relationship would have been more confusion and deterioration of the new life that they had started.
Matthew was the participant who maintained a good relationship with his parents while he was in the Family, even during times of separation. Matthew’s father is still in the Family but his mother is out of the group. While he finds it hard to communicate with his father because of lack of common interests, he still feels “that there is a warmth between us which will remain and I feel that we may become closer if we have the chance to spend more time together in the future.” Despite their differences, Matthew has hope that his relationship with his father will heal and grow with time.
Matthew has been able to maintain and have hope for a good relationship and communication with his father. Though he was separated from both his parents while in the Family for a period of time, he never felt that he had lost his parents. He was always aware that they still loved and cared for him. This has influenced how he thinks of them today, especially for his father who is still in the Family. Despite the separation, physically and mentally, he still feels that he has a bond with his father.
Having good communications between parent and child has been just as difficult for the participants whose parents had left as well. Most participants found it hard to forget the abuse that their parents subjected them to while in the Family. Some parents have tried to make amends and have asked for forgiveness for their actions. Others refuse to show remorse for what they did, in part because they do not feel they have anything to apologize for. It is apparent that some children are trying to rebuild their relationship with their parents while others have given up on the ordeal.
Alec was the member whose father left when he was two. His mother and stepfather raised him. Despite his parents having been out for seventeen years, Alec still cannot separate them from his memories of the group. He gives an explanation of their relationship, comparing it to a night of Tequila and its repercussions:
I just see similarities between how they are now and how they were before and even though they are very different now I guess it's the old flash back syndrome. I got really drunk on Tequila once and was sick for 2 days, now it takes but the smell of Tequila to send me gagging—kind of the same.
Even if his parents have changed, Alec cannot let go of the memories of abuse that he associates with them. He sees that the “flaws in their personalities presented them as willing participants in the activities that went on day by day.” Alec’s parents had raised him very strictly within the Family’s guidelines. It is difficult for Alec to maintain good communication with his parents because he will not have a relationship with someone whose personality traits would allow them to listen to the beliefs of the Family.
Alec has found that he is tired of hearing his parents apologize. He wrote “I have now, after 17 years, gotten sick of them saying sorry and growing old in a shroud of guilt.” Alec told me that he tries to have limited communication with his parents and only sees them once or twice a year. He wrote “I can still only stand to be around them for a couple of hours at a time and moved 1300 km away from them to get some distance.”
Despite his parents' remorse of the past, he cannot overcome his feelings towards them. Instead of satisfaction from hearing an admission of guilt from his parents, he has found himself getting tired of hearing the excuses. For him, he can still see how and why they joined, and then stayed in the group, in their actions today. All that Alec receives from communication with his parents is more remorse and bad memories. In order to leave his past he must avoid the things and people that he connects with the past.
Another feature that makes it hard and almost impossible to have communication with one’s parent is when they will not admit their wrongdoing. Noah’s parents joined the Family in the beginning of the 1970’s. They left in 1988 when he was nine; however, they still lived with the mentality of the group for years. He believes that they joined because “it was the answer to their prayers.” Despite having left the Family, his parents still agree with the Family. Noah wrote:
My parents still support the Family, stand by its practices and rationalize much of my experience. My mother is much worse than my father. While it seems that she has gotten further away from the Family, she defends it (and her abuse) much more vehemently than my father does. My father has given my sisters and I apologies for his abuse, while my mother denies, to this day, that she ever abused us.
Noah has found that it is very hard for him to spend time with his parents. They are not able to maintain good communication because of their conflicting interests. Noah seeks an apology for his parents’ abuse; however, his parents refuse to concede to his wishes. They do not see their actions in the past as abuse. As Noah sees it, their “rationalization” is just more proof of the power the Family still has over his parents. This is a flaw that he cannot look past.
Christie was a participant only in the Family until she was five years old. Even though she was very young, she still has a lot of questions and has a hard time confronting her parents for answers. She told me that she has a very good relationship with her parents and that she does not have any bitterness against them.
Despite Christie and her parents’ good relationship, it does not seem that they have good communication with her parents concerning her experiences in the Family. While Christie was in the Family, she has a memory of being sexually abused by adult members; this has been a hard subject for her to talk to her parents about. She remembers in her early teens having issues with her experiences in the Family; yet, she “didn't want to go there and didn't want to talk about it to my parents.” It has taken her some time to be able to talk about her experiences but she still hasn’t sat her parents down and “grilled” them.
Christie was only in the Family at a very young age, so she does not have many memories of it. However, it seems that she had issues that needed to be confronted. She realized the need to let her stories out into the open and discuss what happened, but it has been hard for her. While she has a good relationship with her parents, she is still not able to communicate openly about her experiences in the Family.
After talking with the participants, I found that they had different perceptions concerning their relationship with their parents. When the parents were still members, the participants found it very difficult to maintain a relationship with them. This was due to the conflicting beliefs and interests. I found that the participants were living in a different society than their parents; and so, it was hard for them to relate to their parents. They could not look to their parents for advice because their parents’ counseling would be ineffective in their new life. Rather, the participants found that they have to leave their parents behind as they build a new life for themselves.
When the parents were out of the Family, the relationships could be strained as well. This would happen if a participant could not forgive their parents. They could not disassociate their parents with their past. If the parents still supported the Family, relationship were difficult to maintain. The participants and their parents found that they had different perceptions of abuse and could not look past these differences. Even if relationships were good between participants and parents, communication about the experiences in the Family were often absent. In both cases, when the parents are in or the parents were out of the Family, the influences of the group can still be seen on the relationships between participant and parent.
While in the Family
Looking back, the participants that I talked to found that the Family had a major influence on their relationship with their sibling as well as their parents. In the 70’s and 80’s, the time period when most of my participants were born, the Family’s stance on birth control was that it was the work of the Devil. They adhered to a literal translation of the Bible verse “Be fruitful and multiply” Gen. 1:28. In one of Berg’s letters, The Devil Hates Sex (1980), he wrote “He (God) wants to populate heaven with his children! And the faster we can have them right now the better, as far as He's concerned” (Berg, Father David, 20 May 1980 (DFO#999:118). The Family has since changed their stance on the participants. The Love Charter (1998) states, “The decision to use or not to use birth control is regarded as an entirely personal matter between the individuals concerned and God.” (208).
The Family’s prior belief of not using any type of birth control meant that most families were large. On average, most of the participants I spoke with came from a family with 5 to 6 kids; the most extreme case was one who had 23 siblings (including half-siblings). However, I also spoke to one individual who was an only child. The participants I spoke with had many chances to form relationships with their numerous siblings. However, most felt that the Family, for better or worse, had influenced their relationships. The two dominant themes that I found involved the separation from siblings, while in the Family and once outside of the group, and the support system that they found in their siblings once they left the group.
The Family’s practice of living in Combo’s meant that children would be separated not only from their parents but their siblings as well. Because of the large number of members in each Combo, children were divided up according to their age. As families would have many children, some of the individuals that I spoke with found themselves separated from siblings that were younger or older than them. Because the family was split up, some felt that they had missed out on opportunities to spend time with their siblings.
Saul had a number of siblings that were sent to live with different groups. He would get to see them every now and then, but he felt that he “didn’t get to do things with them as brothers and sisters would.” Saul had a chance to see his siblings; however, he did not feel the same connection. Despite the communal setting, he still could feel and see the effects of being taken away from his family.
Noel was the individual whose mother sent her to a Family-run school during the weekday. I asked her how she felt about leaving her home every week, she replied “what I remember mostly was being separated from my mother and going to school there and not understanding why my sisters weren’t while I was going.” Despite her young age, she felt frustrated and confused about the separation. What must have been hard for her to deal with this was the fact that it was only she that had to go to the school. While her sisters were allowed to stay at home with her parents, she was individually separated from her home and family. The reason for this was that her sisters’ father was never a member of the Family and did not want his children to go to that school; her mother had complete jurisdiction over her own daughter.
When we think of what a child needs as he or she is growing up, we think of the support and guidance of the parents. What is just as important is the bond between the children of a family. While the separation from their parents was seen as a significant effect on their relationship, being separated from their siblings also had an impact on the participants. Ann Goetting (1986) wrote that humans need a social support system to provide “companionship, friendship, comfort and affection” – she found that siblings “are in a unique position to fill these crucial roles.” (704). The participants who were separated from their siblings at some point during their childhood experienced the loss of the support system a sibling could provide, much like the feeling of vulnerability that the participants felt when they were separated from their parents.
Relationships with Siblings – After Leaving the Family
Some felt the separation not only while in the Family but also once they left. In most cases, it was because the participants still had siblings that were in the Family. The separation was both physical and mental, as those who were still in the Family had very different beliefs and ideas than those who had left and were trying to start a new life.
Similar to having a parent in the Family, the participants felt that they did not have the same interests and beliefs as those still in the group, causing stress on the relationships. Saul was the participant whose brother I interviewed as well. He had numerous siblings and has managed to help all of his siblings (not including half-siblings) out of the Family, except for one. He writes to his sister in order to make her understand why he feels that the Family is hypocritical. He told me that she refuses to listen to him.
David was the participant from Asia. His parents and eight siblings are still in the Family. David does not maintain good communication with his parents because of conflicting interests. He found that this has influenced his relationship with his siblings. He wrote, “Besides the two eldest ones, I think they’ve all forgotten who I am.”
Noah was the participant whose parents still stand by the Family’s beliefs. Noah’s sister was sent back to the Family by their parents when she was 16. She is now 20; Noah feels that “keeping in touch with her his pointless.” He wrote that her emails are “completely devoid of any real emotion or worthwhile content.”
If a sibling is still in the Family, the participants are not able to understand or relate to their siblings anymore. When former members decide to leave the Family and their ideals, they must also leave behind those who are still in the group. Attempts can be made to maintain a relationship with their siblings; however, the differing beliefs and ideals are often too much to overcome.
Is the siblings were out of the Family as well, if found different dimensions to the relationships between the participant and their siblings. One of the participants, who I had spoken with, Alec, had chosen to separate himself from his siblings. None of his siblings are still in the Family; however, he still feels that he needs to stay away from his family for his “own sanity’s sake.” He wrote, “my theory is that after going through something as chaotic as the COG there's bound to be huge differences in how the situation is dealt with.” Like David, who had to leave the past behind in order to go on, Alec realized as well that he would not be able to have a healthy relationship with his family because of the past.
Alternatively, I found that many of the participants I spoke with felt that their siblings were a crucial support system for them once they left the Family. Almost all of my participants mentioned the lack of people that could relate with them and their stories. Their siblings would often be the only ones who had experienced the same things that they did as second-generation adults. Through their siblings, they were able to find the support that they needed both while in the Family and once outside of the group.
Alec was the participant who felt that, while in the Family; he had provided support for not only his siblings but for the other children during his time in the Family. As the eldest child in the home, he felt that other children turned to him in search of help. He wrote:
It was I who was the father of the children and commanded a great deal of respect. Inter-sibling rivalry and fights would be brought to me to settle as I wouldn't hit anyone but was fair in my decisions.
Unjust and cruel forms of discipline and punishment in the Family were a dominant theme during the talks with former members. Here we see how the children dealt with it. Instead of relying on the adults, they formed their own system, using one of their own to be the leader. Alec and the children of the home found a support system among their siblings and their peers. It is interesting that Alec mentioned this is part of the reason why he feels he needs to be away from his family. While he still feels he offers a protective role for his siblings, he has realized that he needs to “stay clear from the chaos” in order to concentrate on his own needs.
Christie was the participant who did not feel comfortable talking with her parents about certain sexual experiences that had happened while she was in the Family. However she did find a confidant in her sister as well as someone to whom she ask questions about what happened. She told me that she has “talked to my sister about some things that she remembered because I felt that was a safer place for me to talk [than with her parents].” While she could not relate to her parents, the ones who had placed her into that situation, she felt that she could speak and ask questions freely with her sister.
Other participants mentioned the support they receive and give to their siblings; however, it seems that often it is only one or two of their siblings that they feel this bond with rather than all of them. Noah, who has five siblings, mentioned that he only gets along with one of his siblings at present. The reasons why he does not get along with the rest of his siblings range from one having a “superiority complex regarding her spirituality” to another being “chemically dependant.” However, he and his one sister “support each other the way I'm assuming members of healthy families support each other.” This example shows that it is not the experience of the Family alone that forms the support system among siblings. They must also have a common goal that they wish to reach. While his other sisters have headed in other directions, he found one who wanted similar interests and goals as he did.
Hazel, another respondent I spoke with, felt that she offered support for her siblings because her parents were not able to fulfill this role. She wrote that even though her mother lives with her and most of her siblings, she feels that she is more the head of the family and, “more the mother figure than she is. I’m the one that brings in the money, that bought the house and that establishes the rules and settles arguments.” Like Alec, Hazel sees that her mother cannot fulfill her role the caretaker of the family. As the oldest child, Hazel has taken it as her job to provide the mother role that she feels her siblings need.
When the participants left the group, they found themselves in a foreign society. While in the Family, they were not taught what life outside of the group was like. Once outside, they were left on their own to figure out how to survive in the new society. The result often was confusion and loneliness. Many found that they could turn to their siblings, who were experiencing the same things, for help. Their siblings were the only ones who were experiencing the same things as them. Through their sibling relationships, they found help in getting out of the Family, readjusting to their new life, and someone to talk to.
Relationships with Relatives
As mentioned before, members of the Family were expected to give up their past when they joined their group, this included the family that they already had. As the second generation began to form, they found themselves lacking their biological extended family, such as grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. I spoke with the participants about their relationship with their relatives who were not members of the Family. Most had similar experiences of little to no contact with those relatives outside of the group. For some, this had a negative impact on their relationship once they left the Family.
Alec would not have contact with his relatives outside of the group for years at a time. He described his relationship with them has, “[I] Hardly knew them for the start of my life, then was in my rebellious teenage phase, then moved a long way away.” He admitted that his relatives know little about what his childhood was like. He wrote, “They are afraid of what they don't understand and so don't ask questions.” Alec was absent from their lives for years; he lived in a community that was closed to the outside. When Alec left, it was difficult for them to feel a bond with each other. Unfortunately, they also did not feel comfortable talking to him about his experiences.
Alec was not the only participant who mentioned that his relatives did not understand what the group was about and what he or she had experienced growing up in it. This was partly as a result of the secrecy of the group. Noah wrote, “as a child I was kept apart from my relatives and of course I always knew not to share my (parents') life with them.” Not only did Noah have limited contact with his relatives but also what he could tell them was restricted. This had an effect on his relationship with them once he left the Family; he wrote that he has never been able to develop a friendship with one of his relatives; because of the lack of communication, they were not able to build a healthy relationship. However, he did mention that his relationship with his relatives is better now that it was while he was in the Family.
Some of the relatives were worried about their family. They would never see them and would barely ever hear from them. Christie and her family moved back to her grandparents’ house to raise some money before going back on a mission trip. However, when they arrived, the grandparents had deprogrammers at the house to help them leave the Family for good. When I asked why her grandparents wanted them to leave the Family she replied:
I think that my grandparents were wanting them out and too wanting them home because they traveled so much they didn't know where they were a lot of the They wanted us to come home, spend time with the grandkids, those kind of things. I think they thought that something didn't add up.
Christie went on to describe: “There wasn't any anger. More than anything there was just worry, although they wouldn't come home, that might have caused some tension.” Her grandparents did not understand what was happening, but they knew that their children and grandchildren needed to get out of the Family. Christie explained that they never felt any anger towards them; her grandparents were only worried about their family. As a result, her grandparents helped, to the best of their ability, to influence their children in leaving the group. Christie went on to say that she has maintained a strong relationship with her grandparents. It is important to remember that Christie was only in the group until she was five years old. Also, the fact that she left with her parents had a different impact on her life compared to those who left parents behind. Since her parents had a relationship with her relatives, it was easier for her to become familiar and comfortable with her grandparents.
For some, when they left the Family, their relatives were all that they knew outside of the group. Many remember the confusion and shock of leaving the community they grew up in and going into mainstream society. Most had never held a job or had any money of their own. Hazel is grateful for the help her relatives gave her family. She wrote, “It’s been great to get to know this whole side of my family I didn’t even know about. They always welcome us with open arms.” Her relatives were happy to see their long-lost family back and were happy to help out. They did not feel uncomfortable in helping out and getting to know their family. For former members, trying to readjust in a new world, having their relatives guide them on how mainstream society works was a priceless gift.
Having lived in the Family had a major impact on one’s relationship with their relatives. What made a difference was how understanding the relatives would be once the members left the group. All of the participants mentioned that their relatives did not understand the group; however, there were disparities concerning how open and understanding the relatives were. For some of the participants, they never had the chance to form a relationship with their relatives; and so, once they left they did not feel any kinship tie to their relatives in mainstream society. When the relatives were more understanding, it was easier to from a healthy family relationship.
Most of the participants also mentioned that their relationship with their relatives was better than when they were in the Family. The forced separation from outside relatives, while in the group, explains the distant relationship. Some of the relationships have grown closer because of help that the relatives have offered since they left the Family. For others, it is just the fact that they now are able to maintain constant communication with their relatives.
The relationship that their parents had with relatives also affected the children’s own relationship with their relatives once they left the group. For Christie, it was easy to form a bond with her grandparents because she was aware of the bond that her parents had with them. However, if the participant’s parents did not help their children become acquainted with their relatives it was much harder to establish a relationship once they left.
The participants found that the Family had influenced their relationship with their relatives. While the participants were still members, they had limited communication with their relatives. Often, this had a negative effect on their relationships once the participants left the Family. Upon leaving the group, many found themselves lacking an extended family network to help them adjust. However, some found that they were able to build relationships with their relatives and found support in their new relationships.
Adjusting to the Outside
From talking to my informants, I learned that most had been secluded from outside society while they were children. While they were allowed to leave their homes for witnessing and mission work, they were never allowed to participate with the outside world. At the time, they did not think anything of it. The Family taught their members that outsiders and their way of living was inferior to their community. Members of the Family were the “chosen ones.” Children were taught that life outside of the group was filled with sadness and hate. They were also taught to live communally, were the capitalistic style of labor did not have any meaning. Living in this group meant a lifestyle that was contradictory to that of mainstream, Western societies. With this mindset, I found that when my informants left the Family they found it difficult to relate to others and how to fit in with the new ideals they were learning.
Most people have a preconceived idea of what a new religious movement (NRM) is; oftentimes it is wrong and based on groundless reasons. Former members realized that the ideals practiced in the Family are at odds with those of mainstream society. Because of the practices that the Family is infamous for, many of the participants found it hard to talk to others about their past lives, some are still dealing with this issue.
Christie had a couple of bad experiences when she was in high school that discouraged her to share with others her history in the Family. On two separate occasions, she confided in a friend and a boyfriend that she used to belong to a NRM. Both individuals responded negatively, telling her that it would be best for her to not tell anyone else. These experiences made her suppress her past for years. It wasn’t until she was older, and found the confidence to talk to others again, that she realized her past was something that should not be buried.
The other informants felt the same way as Christie about sharing their past. Matthew wrote:
I had a difficult time telling people about my childhood as I felt that many people wouldn’t understand or relate to it. I also worried that people would avoid me if they knew I had such an unusual past.
Once Matthew was outside of the Family, he realized that the community he was raised in was not considered the norm; rather, it would be considered strange. He was aware of the prejudices that might be held against him if others knew he used to be a member of a NRM. Not only would he be considered different but also it was also difficult for him to relate to others because of his upbringing.
The other participants also had a difficult time relating to non-members. They found that this was due to the different mindset that they had while in the group. While this mindset made sense in the Family, once members left the group they found themselves at odds with mainstream society.
Phillip, the participant who’s father left the Family when he was thirteen, felt the same as Matthew about leaving the family, mentioning that he had “difficulty relating to other people: I felt completely alienated, out of place, and that I had nothing in common with anyone.” Once he left the group, he realized how different his upbringing was. He was constantly aware of the conflicts of adjusting to mainstream society.
Some of the participants found that they could not relate to their peers outside of the group. Alec wrote that one of the most difficult aspects of leaving the group was “relating to girls giggling over boys in magazines they found cute when I was taught to go up and just ask for sex. (This is at age 11 to put it in some perspective.)” In mainstream society, children are protected from sex until the reach a mature age, or what is defined as a mature age. Alec was raised in an environment were sex was openly talked about and practiced. He found that he was at a higher maturity level than his peers.
A couple of participants mentioned direct effects that they saw of the Family on their romantic relationships. Saul was a member until he was 24 years old. Because of the length of time that he was in, he had practiced many of the beliefs of the Family concerning relationships. He found that these practices stuck with him once he left with his girlfriend, also a member. In the Family, couples practiced open-relationships; monogamous relationships were considered selfish. Despite leaving the group, Saul and his girlfriend continued this practice. Saul reflects that this is how he lost her. He realized that a monogamous relationship in the Family may be considered selfish, but outside of that community it was very normal. As Saul adjusted to the new beliefs he changed the way he treated women and now practices monogamous relationships.
Emmanuel was a member of the Family until he was 14 years old. He left because leaders of his home felt that he had too many disciplinary problems. Emmanuel was aware of the practices of the Family when he left. However, because he left at a younger age than Saul, the practices were not as fixed in his beliefs concerning relationships. Rather, Emmanuel practiced the opposite of an open relationship and was faithful as well as very protective in his relationships.
Another difficulty that many of them face was lacking necessary skills to survive in their new lives. Almost all of the participants mentioned the lack of a formal education was one of the biggest factors that affected their transition. When the participants were growing up in the Family it was during a period when the group did value education highly. At most, they believed that a high-school education was sufficient. Even if members were allowed this much education, it was never received from an institution outside of the Family. While the informants were in the Family, they did not feel affected by this because they were taught that other things in life, such has spirituality, was more important. This is a reasonable way of living in a community like the Family; however, if you enter a society were formal education is a necessity for survival it is often hard to adjust.
Because of their prior lifestyle, former members also lacked some of the basic daily life skills that we take for granted, like going to the grocery store or paying the bills. Working was also an issue since none of them had any concrete work history. It was not uncommon for a former member to have never had a dime to their name until they left the group. When second-generation members would leave the Family, they would be stepping into a new realm were they were expected to know and be proficient of many things that they had never done while in the group.
Many mentioned that being able to talk to others helped or would have helped with their transition. Some confided in close friends or spouses. Two of the participants received counseling. For the ones who did not seek professional help, they mentioned that therapy and counseling would have been beneficial in the transition. One participant was very adamant about this and asked, “Who is going to re-wire you?”
For members who grew up in the Family and were only socialized for that type of environment, entering mainstream society was a culture shock. Noah adequately described the experience of the second-generation when they leave the Family:
A child is raised in a communist sex cult and brainwashed into believing that the Family lifestyle is superior to that of the outside world. At age 13, after a lifetime of isolation, indoctrination and abuse, he is allowed to attend a public high school.
In conclusion, I found that growing up in the Family did have an impact on the lives of the second generation members who left the group. If they had stayed in the Family, their responses might be different; however, I spoke with participants who made a conscious decision to leave the Family because they did not agree with the group’s practices. From the standpoint of outsiders, the participants look back on their experiences negatively. I find that this is due to the different societies in which they were socialized. While in the Family, they were taught separation from their family is okay; yet, once they left, they realized this is not the norm. They now look at the separation as having a harmful effect on their relationships with their families. The participants still feel separation from their families. Some parents and siblings never left the Family, making communications between the participants and them challenging. Even if the participants’ families have left the group, some have found it hard to separate the memories of the Family with their own family, making the relationships unhealthy. The participants now have a different view of the Family and they find it hard to be associated with anything that has to do with the group.
The difficulties that these participants have to deal with are the conflicting beliefs of the community they grew up in and the one they live in now. The participants agree with their present society’s beliefs that the practices of the Family were wrong. Despite this, the participants have still found it difficult to adjust to their new lives because of their upbringing. They were socialized for a society where education was not values, people lived as a community, and the members were the “chosen ones.” This made it difficult for them to adjust into their new lives.
From talking to the participants, I feel that a program should be developed to help members who are leaving NRMs. These programs could help the former members adjust to their new life as well as heal relationships that were affected by the former members time in the Family.
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