This article appeared on the website "movingon.org", of former members of David Berg's "The Children of God", now known as "The Family".
We publish it here in the context of studies on cult apologists and on the right-wing lobby called CESNUR.
Apologetics and Academic Supporters of the Family
From Jules - Friday, July 23, 2004
Since the raids on Family communities in the mid nineties, the group has spent a great deal of time, energy and money in developing relationships with academics and apologetics. In the last few years they have been circling the wagons, in what seems to be an attempt to inoculate these individuals against the inevitable and growing outrage of the young people who have left the group and are speaking out (a.k.a. “coming persecution”).
As we who were there know, one of the most effective carrots within the group is the “privilege” of access to the top leaders. The WS/CO VIP club and the “honour” of seeing and hearing Berg, Maria and Peter was aspired to by thousands of rank and file members of the group and was a source of pride to those who had achieved this status. While recently Peter has been much more visible and has traveled a great deal to meet the members of the group face to face, after thirty years of seclusion, there is still enough hype for this to continue to be an effective way to exercise control and inspire awe among the followers.
This strategy seems to have worked well with the Family’s academic supporters as well. “Favourable” studies and reports are rewarded with access to (some) of their publications, (some) members of the group and access to (some of) the leaders of the Family. Peter has been meeting with academics for a number of years now. Just last month he was in Waco Texas in a hotel close to a conference that was being attended by many scholars of religion. Academics on the Family’s “favourable” list were permitted to visit him. Last year these researchers were for the first time granted individual audiences with Maria herself.
While the ethics of trading expert endorsement for access and funding are extremely questionable, I am personally rather cynical and think that academics are what they are. Like many journalists, they are usually not out to save the world or to uncover the truth. What most of them seem to mostly want is respect from their peers, status in their institutions and tenure. After I was able to leave the Family, I met a number of the people on the Family’s list. While it is difficult to tell sometimes, in my opinion, not all of the researchers who hold “most favoured status” with the Family are necessarily evil; some of them are merely compromised or confused. However the Family has eagerly embraced the endorsement of some real genuine creeps. Here is what I have discovered about some of the people who have supported the Family:
DR. RALPH UNDERWAGER
He was an expert witness for the Family and filed an affidavit on their behalf in France after the police and social services raided two communities there. Underwager helped to found the False Memory Syndrome Foundation. He seems to have a lot in common with Berg. In an interview with Paidika, a Dutch paedophile magazine, he stated:
“Paedophiles can boldly and courageously affirm what they choose. They can say that what they want is to find the best way to love. . .. Paedophiles can make the assertion that the pursuit of intimacy and love is what they choose. With boldness they can say, "I believe this is in fact part of God's will.“
"...As it happens, holy dispensation for pedophiles is the exact credo of the Children of God cult. It was fitting, then, when Underwager filed an affidavit on behalf of cult members tried in France in 1992, insisting that the accused were positively "not guilty of abuse upon children." In the interview [with Paidika], he prevailed upon pedophiles everywhere to shed stigmatization as "wicked and reprehensible" users of children.
In keeping with the Foundation's creative use of statistics, Dr. Underwager told a group of British reporters in 1994 that "scientific evidence" proved 60% of all women molested as children believed the experience was "good for them.""
Underwager also apparently supported the Family during the British custody case in the mid-nineties both before and after Justice Ward's decision was delivered and released.
"The BFMS [British False Memory Society] in the UK publicly supported Rachel and Gideon Scott, the UK cult leaders, in the run up to the wardship case judgement. Dr. Elizabeth Tylden, a BFMS Advisory Board member, who had "experience of gross sexual impropriety to which children in this organisation have been exposed" resigned. The Scotts attended with Pamela Freyd, Ralph Underwager, Hollida Wakefield, Roger Scotford and Richard Ofshe a Dutch Conference in June 1995 attacking child protection."
DR. GORDON MELTON
Gordon Melton was very involved in the custody case in the UK in the mid-nineties. He testified on behalf of the Family and helped them to defuse the inevitable damning indictment of the abuse of children in the group. He was also very involved in the creation of the Family’s Charter and has made no secret of the fact that he dreamed of single-handedly bringing the group into the mainstream.
“DR. MELTON: When you are investigating groups such as this, you never rely upon the unverified testimony of ex-members.
MR. MORGAN: Why?
DR. MELTON: To put it bluntly, hostile ex-members invariably shade the truth. They invariably blow out of proportion minor incidents and turn them into major incidents, and over a period of time their testimony almost always changes because each time they tell it they get the feedback of acceptance or rejection from those to whom they tell it, and hence it will be developed and merged into a different world view that they are adopting.”
As stated during expert testimony for the Local Church in its lawsuit against Spiritual Counterfeit Project.
“He was quoted as having said of the Peoples Temple [Jonestown]: "This wasn't a cult. This was a respectable, mainline Christian group."
When questioned in court yesterday, he said that he had been quoted correctly. He also replied that another US-based group, Children of God, was not a cult, although he found the group's teachings of encouraging sexual intercourse and masturbation as forms of worshipping God to be "immoral and distasteful".
He was also reported by the US paper as describing the Peoples Temple as "a congregation in a Christian denomination recognized by the National Council of Churches".
He also said at the time: "Overwhelmingly, so-called cults have a positive impact on people's lives.
The worst thing that most of these groups can do is waste your time."”
Melton has a history of receiving money and funding from the groups he is “researching”. In 2000 he received a donation of $10,065.83 from the Family Care Foundation
He also traveled to Japan to defend the leader of the terrorist group AUM, at the expense of the group.
The leader was later sentenced to death.
In 1999 he presented a paper entitled: "So Many Evil Things": Anti-Cult Terrorism via the Internet” which stated that criticism of these groups (or himself) online was equivalent to violence, persecution and terrorism.
He is in fact a member of a controversial religious group himself:
“Introvigne is also a member of the militant Catholic splinter movement Alleanza Cattolica, which he joined 18 years ago. The AC is a daughter organization of the international Tradition, Family and Property [T.F.P.] an ultra-conservative club of rich, influential Catholics who are admittedly "ready to fight tooth and nail" against "perverted elements of society such as abortion, socialism, unions, drug use and homosexuality."
A report called Prayer-Power-Profit by Marishane, a South African sect researcher, was written under commission of the University of Amsterdam in 1989. It makes connections between TFP and other right-wing Catholic organizations such as Opus Dei and the Order of Malta. … Introvigne has never made a secret of his membership in this organization. He regularly writes articles for the AC organ "Christianita" and also gives instruction for one week a year to the youth department at Legionare Christi.
Introvigne has clearly stated that he believes the issue of abuse in the Family has been “taken care of” to his satisfaction, with no charges ever being brought against perpetrators.
“ Six years after the raids, the Justice Court of Aix-en-Provence has vindicated The Family. All defendants have been found not guilty and acquitted. … We hear criticism of the decision, but we do not hear apologies for the unnecessary suffering caused to adults, teenagers and children in the brutal 1993 raids. The court vindicates scholars such as Dr Melton and myself who have always argued that abuse of children, while very real and in fact occurring in a period of the Children of God's history, was later taken care of and largely eradicated by the leadership, well before the raids occurred. ”
A great deal more information on him can be found here: http://www.kelebekler.com/cesnur/eng.htm
He has misrepresented himself as holding a doctorate degree, when in fact he does not. He was one of the primary people involved in the Family's book Sex, Slander and Salvation.
“In January, 1993, Family representatives had contacted Lewis (as the Executive Director of AWARE) and another unnamed academic "seeking advice on how to combat the negative publicity and other attacks they felt certain would result from the group's bold new public stature" in the United States (Lewis and Melton, 1994b, vi). Already in other countries around the world, The Family had been trying to distance itself from its controversial sexual practices such as "flirty fishing" (religious prostitution), sexual sharing among members, and sexual abuse of children (Ward, 1995). The resultant collection of essays published by Lewis and J. Gordon Melton, entitled Sex, Slander, and Salvation, became a volume that The Family touted as proof of its legitimacy and the group has distributed copies to media in an attempt to gain favourable press.”
Alternative Religions And Their Academic Defenders, by Stephen Kent and Theresa Krebs
" The fact that The Family volume was financed by the group itself is never reported anywhere, although it is clear to the reader that the whole project was initiated by Family leaders (Lewis 1994c). The Family volume has been recognized for what it is: a propaganda effort, pure and simple, paid for by the group (Balch 1996)."
Benjamin Beit-Hallahmi, Collaborationism and Research Integrity, Part 1, Chapter 1 of Misunderstanding Cults (University of Toronto Press, 2001), p. 48,49
He, like Melton, also accuses former members of ulterior motives and lying about their experiences:
"Protracted conflict between the organization and oppositional coalition creates possibilities for extended apostate careers. Apostates may pursue a variety of strategies to solidify their careers: acquiring various credentials that support a more permanent social niche; inflating prior organizational status to enhance the value of their testimony to control agencies; modifying the narrative content to appeal to specific interests within the oppositional coalition; and embellishing the narrative so as to heighten audience interest."
-Linking social structure and the exit process in religious organizations: Defectors, whistle-blowers, and apostates, Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, March 1998
A now infamous memo written by a colleague of Bromley’s on behalf of himself and Eileen Barker (although that he wrote on anyone's behalf was later denied by the author) states:
“Our meetings with the members of the Unification Church [UC] confirmed our earlier impressions that while they may assent to the value of a long range strategy for dealing with the anti-cultist [sic] and their forensic consultants, their response is very substantially confined to ad hoc responses to crises. I pressed them on the question of whether it might be possible for the UC [Unification Church] in collaboration with several other NRMs to raise a significant amount of money that could go--no strings attached--to an independent group, which in turn, would entertain proposals and fund research on NRMs.“
In my opinion, one of the most problematic aspects of research conducted in this field is the extreme polarization that has developed over the past decade or so between the different camps. Both apologetics and members of the Anti-Cult Movement both seem to spend a great deal of time personally attacking each other and defending their relative positions. Hello, it's not about you, it's about us. Some critics of these groups will not interview current members, while some apologetics refuse to accept the word of former members, neither of which leads to balanced studies.
The good news is that things are changing. I attended an AFF conference last month, which I will write about in more detail as soon as I have some time. Some of the things that impressed me though were that:
a. The issue of the second generation is finally being taken seriously. The majority of the presentations made were on this topic and this is becoming the next “hot” issue for not just the media, but researchers too. The majority of the second generation born into the Family have left and there are comparable statistics in each of the other major NRMs. This changes the dynamic and questions the notion of discounting ex-members considerably.
b. We are finally earning the credentials to be able to be taken seriously ourselves. There were about six presenters who were born and/or raised in NRMs, most of who had postgraduate degrees and who are currently doing research on this very issue. We are growing up, but the apologetics are getting older.
c. Those of us raised in the Family, as well as second-generation former members from other groups are mobilizing. Just here on this web site, researchers have access to a huge sample group that was invisible to them before. It was much easier to go directly to the group themselves because they knew exactly where all the current members were and if they sucked up and won the trust of the leaders, they could access a significant (pre-screened, carefully trained) number of people in a short time. In 2003 Peter said that the group had 1600 SGA members. I am sure there are less now. We can also provide access to the documents and publications that the Family will not give them. Even when Melton was their star expert witness in the UK case, he had not seen A Liberty or a Stumbling Block in its entirety.
As an aside I sometimes wonder if these researchers know what they are getting into. No matter how nice and innocently wide-eyed these people seem to be, you do not become a cult leader by being naive. It takes a great deal of skill and manipulation to control every part of the life of thousands of people. They are masters at what they do and would not be there if they were not. Sometimes there is an arrogance that comes with intelligence and credentials and it can be an Achilles Heel. Watch out for that gazing into the abyss.
This is getting pretty damn long, so I better get to my point. What I recommend, if you are concerned about the way the Family has been whitewashed by their supporters and those duped by their “charms”, is to participate. There are a number of studies being done, one of which is linked right now from the home page of this site. More are coming. There are a number of books under development right now and some in the planning stages. Almost every academic study will guarantee the anonymity of the participants, so if this is a concern, get that in writing from them. Find out if they have an ethics review board and what the criteria for their study is. Write to the academics on the Family’s list (the ones I listed here seem to be a lost cause, and perhaps there are things I don’t know about some others as well) but there are others who seem to have just missed the point and might benefit a great deal from hearing from you.
The Family’s “most favoured” list is here, complete with contact information: http://thefamily.org/dossier/referrals/index.html
The fact of what they did to us is not going to disappear. We are not going to disappear. Despite all the money, time and effort the Family has spent to try to sweep us under the rug, the truth will come out if we refuse to be silent.
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