Family Ties

Ex-members of a cult that once advocated sex between adults and children want the group's leaders exposed and punished

After 145 pages detailing an organization built on deception and child abuse, Lord Justice Alan Ward allowed the three-year-old boy to stay in the Family. He stated that Zerby helped stamp out the abuse and that the Family of 1995 was a different organization from the Family of the 1980s.

Although the Justice Ward case exposed Family secrets, the group ultimately considers it a victory.

They also point out pro-Family books written by outsiders, including religious scholar and vampire buff J. Gordon Melton. Melton is a part-time lecturer at the University of California-Santa Barbara and president of the American chapter of the Transylvania Society of Dracula. He is the author of both The Encyclopedia of American Religions and The Encyclopedia of the Undead.

David Berg's sexual obsessions became Family 
David Berg's sexual obsessions became Family doctrine.
Berg's daughter, Faith Berg Fischer, was a longtime 
Family leader.
Berg's daughter, Faith Berg Fischer, was a longtime Family leader.

Here's Melton on The Story of Davidito, from his 2004 book on the Family:

"Very much in line with the instructions on childhood sexuality were passing references to it in the otherwise lengthy treatment of child-raising issues contained in The Story of Davidito…a book about a Jesus baby."

The Family liked Melton's uncritical works so much that The Family Care Foundation gave him a $10,000 "grant" in 2000. (Melton wrote a similarly uncritical book about Scientology and also testified on behalf of Aum Shinrikyo, the cult responsible for the 1995 Tokyo subway attacks.)

Melton did not reply to numerous phone calls left at his home and office in Santa Barbara.

The Endtime Family, a book written by William Sims Bainbridge, a staff associate for the National Science Foundation, makes absolutely no mention of institutionalized child abuse. It shares the Family's viewpoint that its members are a persecuted minority religion.

"Even if we are unprepared to embrace the faith of the Family, we can be inspired by it," Bainbridge wrote.

When asked by phone why he did not address controversial Mo letters and ex-members' allegations, Bainbridge explained that his goal was "scientific," not "journalistic." Then he hung up.

One sociologist the Family doesn't like is Stephen Kent of the University of Alberta, whose papers on the Family include a "psycho-sexual history" of Berg.

From his office in Alberta, he describes an atmosphere of "situational pedophilia" in the Family of the 1970s and 1980s.

"In the Family, the theology caused the breakdown of normal adult relationships at the same time that it sanctioned adult-child sex," he says, adding later, "I've had to wrestle with how otherwise normal, intelligent people can get involved with a group like this…What [Berg] and other controversial leaders do, however, is use elaborate religious or otherwise ideological claims to give a supernatural justification for actions. Now, most ordinary people do not have experience with mental illness, and they fail to see that the leader is deeply troubled…so they saw [Berg] as God's prophet as opposed to a pedophile."

After the embarrassment of the 1993 Australian raids, the government there paid several hundred thousand dollars to families found to be unjustly imprisoned.

But a Family video shown for the first time in an October 2005 Australian 60 Minutes report tells a different story.

In the undated video, the voice of a male Family member, identified by ex-members as Berg, is heard saying, "God created boys and girls able to have children by about the age of 12 years of age. God, now he's going to advocate childhood sex? Yes."

For the most part, current Family members did not consent to interviews.

Residents of a Family home in southwest Houston refused to comment for the story. The Web editors of, a pro-Family site with postings by current second-generation members, refused to post a query asking to speak to them about their positive experiences in the Family. Members referred questions to Borowik or Davenport.

Davenport says she's unaware of Berg's writings on incest, rape and child pornography. However, these writings have been public record for years.

For example, Berg's instructions on developing explicit photographs of underage girls was excerpted in the Lord Justice Ward case: "As much as Dad loves to receive your nudie-cuties, girls, he wanted to mention a word of caution about getting these developed in commercial photo shops, especially if there are any shots of underage girls on the roll…So keep those gorgeous nudie-cuties coming, girls, but please use discretion in getting them developed."

Anthony, the Houston second-generation member, says he and other second-generation members have never even seen the purged Mo letters about the videos with children on them.

According to Anthony, The Story of Davidito was not an explicit documentation of child abuse but a benign child-care manual.

So what about a picture of three-year-old Ricky pouncing on Sara Kelley's bare breasts as she lay naked in bed?

"He was a baby and she was nursing him," Anthony says. "You can have a sense of humor in there; there's nothing wrong with that, right?"

And what about the picture of three-year-old Ricky in bed with his naked nanny? She holds him close to her and kisses him on the lips. The caption reads, "When two lie together, they shall have heat!"

"Nowadays, that would definitely be inappropriate wording, right?" Anthony says. "In the '70s, I tell you, it was the hippie movement. That would be totally normal back then. You know what, in most European countries…the kids kiss the parents on the mouth even when they're adults."

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