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Getting Through : Dealing

Where I'm At

from GoldenMic - Friday, October 26, 2007
accessed 707 times

Examining some of the exciting new contributions to the effort at understanding the effect of The Family on its children.

My name is Mike Martella, and I come from a cult that is horribly similar to the Family, started in Southern California at about the same time as Berg’s group, based on a similar evolution from Pentecostal evangelism to the revolutionary 1960’s Jesus Freaks. My cult was much smaller, never larger than 500 people, but like TF, it has persisted through the years and now defines itself as a “Christian community”, but with all the abuse and exploitation glossed over and more carefully disguised, hidden under the banner of religious freedom, and with all “past” abuses being “regrettable mistakes” and “unfortunate excesses”.

I have long been interested in TF as a larger version of the hell in which I was raised, and the stories of SGA’s (second-generation adults) have consistently triggered me, reminded me of my own past, and stricken my soul. In the last ten years I have committed more and more of my time and resources to the understanding and support of SGA’s, including my present participation in workshops, trainings, and presentations for and about SGA’s with the ICSA and in consultation with SPF. Also, In solidarity and mutual interest with my SGA “peers”, I joined the MovingOn website discussions, attended Ricky’s memorial, and recently attended Noah’s premier in Los Angeles. Frankly, I have found and made some of my closest friendships among SGA’s from TF, finding understanding and commonality that has become an essential part of my slowly evolving post-cult humanity.

In my work to address the effects of being born and/or raised in cults, I have read most of the works related to TF, and it has been slim pickings indeed! There are the puff pieces written by apologists like Bainbridge (The Endtime Family , 2002), Chancellor (Life in the Family , 2000), Lewis and Melton (Sex, Slander, and Salvation , 1994), Melton (The Children of God – The Family , 1997). These works acknowledge some “regrettable excesses” but contend that TF is just a New Religious Movement (NRM) being persecuted from without by angry parents, a media looking for juicy news, and “disgruntled former members”, apostates who are just whining about not being able to fit in.

There are also a few works written by former members that discuss their own victimization in TF, but primarily reject TF on theological grounds, contending it was Berg’s theology that got distorted and corrupted, but minimizing the wide-scale oppression and abuses, including Deborah (Linda Berg) Davis’ The Children of God, the Inside Story (1984). Sam Ajemian’s The Children of God Cult, aka The Family (2005) is a vigorous polemic that identifies and denounces many of the cult's most bizarre practices, and provides many specific details of the abuses. One other work, Heaven’s Harlots (Miriam Williams, 1998) accurately tells the story of FFing from the inside, but the author was clearly still in some form of post-traumatic daze, discussing the events and horrors of her personal story in an honest and open, but rather dispassionate, literary monotone that only marginally conveyed the emotional and psychological horror of it all.

2007 has been a water-shed year for the systematic uncovering of the lies and secrecy of TF, with three projects that have finally and fully addressed what it means to have been raised in the context of such insanity, not because one chose to follow some whacked out prophet, but because one’s parents did so. Finally, there are some materials that address what its like to be raised in a cult, providing a view of TF similar to what Anne Hamilton-Byrne did for the “Great White Hope” (also calling itself “The Family”) in Unseen, Unheard, Unknown 1995), what Nansook Hong did for the Moonies in In the Shadow of the Moons (1998), and what Tim Guest did for the cult of Osho (formerly known by its leader, Bhagwan Rajneesh) in My Life in Orange (2004).

Noah Thomson’s Children of God (2007) is an extraordinary documentary produced for HBO that details a man’s search through his own past cult experience. Crossing the country and in South America, Thomson interviews his SGA peers in an attempt to document what happened, and its ongoing effects. The interviews weave around Noah’s own hopeless attempt to establish a meaningful connection with his own mother, still in the cult, as he seeks to figure out why she joined and why his family was destroyed.

Not Without My Sister (2007) is a best-selling work by Kristina Jones, Celeste Jones, and Juliana Buhring that describes the confusion, fear, and loneliness of being raised in The Family, endlessly moving and repeatedly abused, and desperately seeking stability in a sexually perverse madman’s cult. The book gives names and dates and explicit details of abuse and privation, as three sisters each describe their lives in TF, and their path to freedom. It is a moving tale, the book has sold well, and the authors are using some of the resulting money and notoriety to set up a foundation for addressing the needs of other SGA’s, RISE International.

Jesus Freaks (2007) is written by award-winning journalist Don Lattin, and presents a vivid account of the The Family’s history and abuses. This book was a true compliment to the sister's more personal account of life in The Family, and Noah's video, emerging as a very straightforward and brutally honest examination, written in the same style as Krakauer's Under the Banner of Heaven (2003). The book cites names, places, and details. It explicitly discusses such issues as FFing, the “law of love”, “masturbating to Jesus” and the crazy prophecies from such luminaries as Art Linkletter... and then it also goes in to explicit detail about Mene, Davida, Merry, James Penn, Kristi LaMattery, Elixcia, and many others... there is NO excuse-making or minimizing, and the whole thing is written pretty expertly.

Jesus Freaks really really got to me, and I am heart-broken all over again. I didn't even know it was coming, the first comprehensive non-apologist examination that isn't told from the inside or based on fundamentalist Christian debate... This is just straight and clear, and it really got to me. This is an excellent source book for anyone trying to explain what happened, how it happened, and who was involved.

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from GoldenMic
Friday, November 02, 2007 - 11:12

Average visitor agreement is 3 out of 5Average visitor agreement is 3 out of 5Average visitor agreement is 3 out of 5Average visitor agreement is 3 out of 5Average visitor agreement is 3 out of 5(Agree/Disagree?)

I got a call from Sam Ajemian this morning, and he was justifiably distressed at my characterization of his book. I reviewed my original comments, and realized I had merged two sentences into one, and lumped Sam's book with D. Davis' work.

I have re-edited my comments in the above article to include what I had planned to say; "Sam Ajemian’s The Children of God Cult, aka The Family (2005) is a vigorous polemic that identifies and denounces many of the cult's most bizarre practices, and provides many specific details of the abuses." Sorry, Sam.
(reply to this comment)

from TV Guy
Thursday, November 01, 2007 - 19:45

Mike, if you liked "Jesus Freaks," you might be interested in knowing it's on Nightline tonight:
(reply to this comment)
from ErikMagnusLehnsher
Monday, October 29, 2007 - 19:40

I was unaware of the book by Don Lattin. I just ordered "Jesus Freak" from Amazon. Thanks.
(reply to this comment)

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