Beware of any religious organization with Family in its name
by Perry Bulwer
That title may seem overly dramatic, but 'family' really is a loaded word today and not everyone promoting so-called family values is actually family-friendly or safe for children. This warning came too late for the St. Regis hotel in Vancouver that I recently discovered had donated rooms to a missionary family on their way to China. The hotel features them on their blog and Facebook page, without any apparent awareness that they are part of an extreme evangelical Christian cult that is responsible for tearing apart thousands of families, including my own, over the last four decades.
More on that particular family in a bit, but perhaps you are wondering if they are connected to one of the Family-named religious groups the Southern Poverty Law Center recently published an intelligence report on: 18 Anti-Gay Groups and Their Propaganda. The Center will be listing several of those groups as hate groups, including four with Family in their name: American Family Association, Family Research Council, Family Research Institute and Illinois Family Institute. A fifth group, Abiding Truth Ministries, has a website called Defend the Family, which promotes hate and bigotry. Online you will often find references to Defend the Family International, which is always a reference to that group, but commonly confused with The Family International, also known as the Children of God founded by David Berg. Likewise, The Family, the political cult in Washington is often confused with Berg's cult. I once saw a U.S. senator's website that was commenting on The Family political cult, but linked to The Family International's website.
Speaking of politics, a federal election is happening here in Canada right now and voters are being courted by the inevitable appeals and promises to families common to many electoral campaigns. Appealing to families makes political sense since almost everyone is or was part of a family, but not all politicians mean the same thing when they talk about families, which come in many forms. That fact seems to be lost in this election. Not only are the three main parties promoting family-friendly agendas, they have each used the same photo of a multicultural, middle-class family in their campaigns. Obviously, it is wise to be sceptical about such appeals and political promises in the midst of elections. Political promises are rarely kept, not all voters fit that demographic, and not all politicians mean the same thing when they talk about families.
In the U.S., President Obama recently concluded that the Defense of Marriage Act is unconstitutional and the government would no longer defend that law in court. In response to that a New York Times editorial stated: “Republicans like to cast themselves as the protectors of 'family values.' But ... [d]enying same-sex couples and their families the ... spousal benefits and protections granted other married couples is not a family-friendly policy. It is discrimination, plain and simple.” Someone should tell that to Stephen Harper, the leader of the Conservative Party of Canada who is trying to win a majority government in this election.
Although same sex marriage became legal in Canada in 2005, Stephen Harper attempted to reopen a parliamentary debate on the issue after he was elected Prime Minister in 2006. That never happened, as he was leading a minority government until this latest election was called so did not have the clout to pull it off, but it showed that he obviously did not agree with the Supreme Court that same sex couples were families too, with the same equal rights as other families. I doubt he has changed his mind on that as he is a member of the fundamentalist, evangelical Christian and Missionary Alliance.
The Family International, a.k.a. the Children of God, was founded by David Berg who previous to that was briefly a pastor in the Christian and Missionary Alliance (strange bedfellows, a pedophile cult leader and the Prime Minister of Canada). Partly because of negative publicity in the 1980s related to wide-spread child abuse, Berg, who died in 1994, changed the group's name to the more friendly sounding Family of Love, and then to The Family International. Berg's early followers were mostly single young adults and teens who were convinced by his dogmatic biblical literalism to leave their families to serve God in his 'Revolution for Jesus'. In those early days, Berg preached vehemently against the traditional family, using scripture to reinforce the idea that:
... God’s in the business of breaking up little selfish private worldly families to make of their yielded broken pieces a larger unit—one Family! He’s in the business of destroying the relationships of many wives in order to make them One Wife—God’s Wife—The Bride of Christ. God is not averse to breaking up selfish little families for His glory, to make of the pieces a much larger unselfish unit—the Whole Family—the entire Bride—the One Wife instead of many wives!
“One Wife” is one of The Family’s foundational doctrines, one of the most fundamental tenets of their theology. It is based on an internal document written by Berg to his followers, which remains required priority reading for new members and formed the basis for even more bizarre and controversial sexual doctrines. Far from institutionalizing the nuclear family, as one ignorant apologist falsely wrote about the group, The Family’s leadership has never hesitated to separate husbands and wives or manipulate the parent-child relationship. If The Family International places any importance at all in the nuclear family, it is only within the following context, described by Wendell W. Watters, M.D.:
The family plays powerful roles in human society. In addition to its nurturing and protective functions, the family is the primary agency for carrying out the socialization process by which social norms and values become incorporated into the character structure of the growing child. Indeed, so powerful is the family in human society that many revolutionary political movements have, in their initial stages, attempted to destroy its power to maintain the status quo, by appealing directly to children over the heads of their parents.
Jesus said: "If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple" (Luke 14:26). In another gospel, Jesus is quoted as saying: "For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law" (Matt. 10:35). The Hitler youth movement was a major component of Nazi policy, while the early years of the Communist government in the former Soviet Union were marked by an attempt to appeal directly to the young. The present-day religious cults are noted for creating rifts between parents and their adolescent children. However, once a movement achieves its revolutionary goals, as in the case of Christianity and communism, it reverses this position and attempts once more to use the family as an ally in maintaining and extending its power.
Wendell Watters, M.D., Deadly Doctrine: Health, Illness and Christian God-Talk (Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, 1992), 47-49.
That is exactly the pattern that Berg and his Christian evangelical cult followed. The only difference is that his 'Revolution for Jesus', which was supposed to herald the second coming of Jesus in 1993, with Berg and his Children of God as the vanguard, never materialized. Failed predictions do not stop evangelicals, however. After changing their name to The Family International, they now try to have it both ways. They continue to encourage teens and young adults to leave and even hate their families just like Jesus said, while at the same time promoting in their public relations websites and materials a false image of a child-friendly, family-focused missionary movement.
The blog for the St. Regis Hotel in Vancouver provides an example of that false image. The hotel management proudly proclaims it donated two nights stay for a missionary family with eight children on their way to China. The blog post describes their mission project: “EPIC (Empowering Parents in China) is a grassroots effort to provide Chinese parents with supplemental programs to help develop a more child-focused teaching methods...”. The post then tells us that: “Their mission is tied into the umbrella group The Family International...”. The blog post includes a photo of the family and to the uninformed they look so sweet and harmless, until you scratch the surface and begin looking a little deeper, which the hotel management failed to do. That is why my title warns not to trust religious groups with Family in their name.
Deceiving businesses has always been one of the main sources of support since the inception of The Family International as the Children of God. Even as Jesus Freaks in the early days, while most members were proselytizing on the streets, some specialized in soliciting directly from businesses. They would dress in business attire and use slick promotional materials and deceptive presentations, almost always featuring photos of children, to con companies into giving goods or money. They have had decades to perfect this fraud. Those donations are always used for the group's benefit, contrary to their usual claims that they are helping others. And even in cases where they do pass on some of the goods to others, they usually skim off the best for themselves first, which has been their practice all over the world. They then use the fact a company has donated to them as proof of their legitimacy for other companies they are targeting, or to win approval or favour from local authorities in their community.
I am certain that is what happened at the St. Regis Hotel. The manager was duped, with the help of smiling children, into helping them instead of being suspicious about a family that would take eight young children to China in the middle of the school year and with no apparent means of support other than begging. He apparently simply took their word that they were part of a legitimate group without doing any kind of background check, or if he did he didn't get past the first few online search results, which are the group's own websites. If he had looked just a little deeper he could have easily found all kinds of information warning about the terrible abuses of children The Family International is infamous for.
He also would have a difficult time finding any information at all about EPIC, the so-called grassroots project to provide child-focused teaching methods. First of all, the fact they call it a grassroots project ought to have aroused suspicion. If it has grassroots it probably has no transparency or accountability to anyone. Calling themselves a grassroots project is just another example of the obfuscation this group uses to deceive people about who they really are. It must have been enough for the manager to hear that they were tied to a large missionary group, but if he had looked into that group first he would have learned that The Family International, far from using child-focused teaching methods, denied true intellectual freedom to an entire generation of children who were forbidden to attend school or university. They were home-schooled by untrained teachers with an inadequate curriculum that was intended to indoctrinate rather than educate. But the manager did not do that background check and now his hotel is being used to promote, both on its blog and Facebook page, the activities of a notoriously abusive group founded by an alcoholic pedophile responsible for tearing apart thousands of families.
By the way, I posted two comments to the blog and emailed the manager twice, once with links to information about the group, and again without links to avoid any spam filter. Not only were my comments not published, but a comment most likely from another group member supporting that family was published. So far, the manager seems unconcerned that he is providing public relations cover for a child abusing organization. Perhaps more comments from the public on the hotel's blog and Facebook page will help convince him to stop promoting child abuse.
UPDATE: April 18, 2011
After I published this article the manager of St. Regis Hotel, Jeremy Roncoroni finally contacted me by email to explain that the reason he did not approve the comments I submitted to the hotel's blog was because he did not want that blog to be a forum for discussion of the issues I raised. However, he did approve a positive comment about the group after he censored mine, and his email contained no indication that he would take further action. He merely excused himself by saying that "the family in question came to us through a personal request" as if that explained and excused everything. As I told him in reply, he seemed to be missing the point of my comments, which was to inform the hotel's management that they were providing support and positive public relations for a deceptive religious group with a long history of well documented child abuse. I did not think it was necessary for me to spell it out for him and ask him to remove the post from his blog, but because he had ignored the information I had sent him (he either did not understand or did not care) I did have to specifically ask him. After he received my reply, in which I provided personal details of my own abuse in and recovery from The Family International, he responded less than an hour later, simply stating, "the blog has been removed, thank you". He gave no indication he would do the same for the posting that appears on the hotel's Facebook page.
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