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Suffer the little children
Written by Editor   
Wednesday, 23 August 2006 20:47

On Monday, August 21, 2006, a UK station aired the Cutting Edge: Cult Killer--a program exploring how one man's abuse in a destructive cult culminated in a murder-suicide. That man was 29 year-old Richard Peter Rodriguez and the cult was the Children of God, founded by David Brandt Berg in 1968.

The Children of God changed their name to the Family of Love in 1978 and renamed themselves to The Family in 1982. They became officially known as The Family International in 2004, though for reader ease, this article will continue to refer to them as the Children of God.

A year ago last January, on Saturday, the 8th, Richard Rodriguez stabbed Angela Marilyn Smith to death in his Tuscan, Arizona apartment. Smith was allegedly his childhood nanny and a close friend of his mother and present Children of God leader, Karen Elva Zerby.

Rodriguez then drove to Blythe, a California-Arizona border town and shot and killed himself. Officials found him early the following morning. Unlike most murder-suicides that often leave loved-ones wondering why, Rodriguez made a video the Friday before detailing his plans.

Although the Children of God is moving toward its 40th birthday, unless one was a cultic studies scholar, few were aware of this group prior to last year. Even with the 1993 death of the late actor, River Phoenix. Phoenix--who with his siblings, had been raised in the cult--died of a drug overdose outside of Hollywoods Viper Room on Sunday morning, October 31.

The lack of public knowledge was in part due to the fact that the group made sporadic, often far-between, news appearances in little-known papers. For example, an article about Flirty Fishing appeared in the Austin, Minnesota Daily Herald in 1978 during reports of the Jonestown Massacre. There was another brief mention in a London article on cults in 1987, though that was more of a cameo appearance than anything else. Then there were the two articles in 1991--one in Canada and the other in Australia.

The minimal media coverage is not particularly surprising considering that new age cult competition has been fierce. What, with Mansons Family, Peoples Temple, Order of the Solar Temple, Branch Davidians, Heavens Gate, Falun Gong and various other "churches"--each vying for a starring role in the spotlight as they played out their gruesome dance upon the Worlds media stage.

By mid-1992, 140 children were being held in protective custody by Melbourne, Australian officials. (Herald Sun, 1992) In 1993, officials in Argentina took 150 children into protective custody. (The Guardian, 1993) In 1994, a Hong Kong paper reported, "EXPLICIT child pornography has been discovered inside a Macau village house last rented by members of the controversial religious sect known as The Family." (South China Morning Post, 1994). By 1995, three countries--Australia, the United Kingdom, and Argentina--had tried and dismissed cases relating to Children of God practices involving allegations of child sexual abuse and incest.

While the Children of God is mentioned occasionally after 1995 (with the news of another murder-suicide in Pennsylvania in 2002 and a murder of 48 year-old Jario Pinzon by 25 year-old Charles Luis Allen, in New Orleans in 2003), it would not be until January of 2005, that they would once again come under scrutiny by the public at large. By April 5, 2005, the FBI had begun investigating the cult "with ties to San Diego."

Children of God spokesperson, Claire Borowik, is alleged to have written, "The Family International says it banned all sexual contact with children in 1996, and apologized to the victims." (KFBM, TV, 2005) while later claiming, "the "Christian fellowship" adopted a policy for protecting minors in 1986." (Courier-Mail, 2005)

In an August 17, 2006 article, when Victoria Moore of the Daily Mail asked, "Did the promiscuity impinge on them as children?" Tally Spencer--daughter of Jeremy Spencer, who once played with Fleetwood Mac--replied, in part, "We were young and besides I think it is always exaggerated. But yes, they did have group sex." Which brings us to today, and the recent airing of Cutting Edge: Cult Killer.

In an August 22, 2006 review, Iain Heggie wrote of the made-for-television special, "There were enough tears to make us assume that this abuse was not fun but not enough information to help us understand what it was like. We were marooned in a dark dungeon of unspecific pity." Heggie ended with, "Cult Killer lacked the rigour to show how abuse made a killer and a wider perspective on the relationship between cults, sex abuse and personality damage."

Perhaps Heggie is correct. Perhaps the show lacked the depth required to bring its audience into the mind of a tortured soul--a man whose sexual abuse beginning at 3 months old was graphically chronicled in the "Davidito Letters" (later compiled into a "762 page book" titled, "The Story of Davidito") which were then distributed to members to instruct them on the finer points of how to sexually abuse their children.

Indeed. How does one demonstrate the essence of children marching together, "hailing" to their God, while using the salutation that has long been associated with Hitlers Germany? How does one depict the tentacles of the past that reach out through time and space threatening hope--the very thing that many have come to take for granted?

Then again, Dr. Phil appears to have come close to imparting the struggles and heartaches of the children who are now adults in his special, The Family cult. Nonetheless, it is doubtful that any show or words will ever truly bring its audience into the minds and hearts of the survivors. One thing for certain, this brief article doesnt even come close to conveying what many of the survivors experienced--dark night of soul. After all, unless you were there, you simply cannot know.

In any event, I urge you to watch Dr. Phils special on the Children of God and Richard Rodriguez suicide video and transcripts. Then browse both the Children of God and the xFamily sites. And when you are finished browsing the aforementioned, please sit back for a moment and consider this: Several courts backed down on the child sexual abuse allegations in favor of the freedom of religion.

In the end, the implications are simplistically clear: In our society, religious freedom trumps the welfare of children.

 

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