Gideon's Bible of Free Love
By RHYS WILLIAMS.
A British branch of the religious group the Family said it had "nothing to hide" yesterday, despite confirmation by Scotland Yard that it is monitoring the organisation's activity in this country.
The disclosure that the Family was under the scrutiny of detectives from the obscene publications squad followed the seizure last Thursday of 150 children from the sect's base in Buenos Aires, Argentina, after allegations of child abuse.
The children, including four Britons, are undergoing psychological and medical tests.
Last night British consul officials were in touch with police who were continuing to investigate allegations of child abuse by cult members. Their American mother was not among those sect members held on charges of racketeering, kidnapping and violating the rights of children.
This latest seizure follows a series of raids on the group around the world. Last June, French police removed 138 children from group homes, while in May last year, 120 children in Australia were taken into care. In all cases, police were following up allegations of child abuse and the children were released within a few days through lack of evidence.
Gideon Scott, "house shepherd" of a Family branch in Leicestershire, said he had written to the police offering the fullest co-operation. "We're not going to say there was never any child abuse by individuals in the group around the world, but it has never been a policy of our group that that should happen."
Controversy has surrounded the sect since its 1968 birth in a hippie commune in California. Founded as the Children of God by David Grant Berg, a former itinerant Methodist preacher, whom followers refer to as Father David or Mo, the evangelical group has preached Christian fundamentalism and salvation through Jesus.
But it has always been dubbed a sex cult, accused of spreading a gospel of spiritual redemption through sexual promiscuity. Ian Howarth, director of the Cult Information Centre in Britain, said that Mr Berg circulated his ideas through letters to cult members around the world. "By the mid-1970s, the Mo letters taught that God was love and that for you to bring God to someone you must give them love."
And so Father David provided the philosophical justification for Flirty Fishing, a kind of theological prostitution whereby he urged women and girls to use their bodies to recruit converts. Cult members were dubbed Happy Hookers for Jesus or God's Whores.
Father David disbanded the Children in 1978, following the expulsion of several young sect leaders for what Mr Scott described as "abuse of their power". Five wilderness years ensued, during which the directionless group fragmented. In 1983 it reformed as the Family of Love and embarked on a period of "theological speculation". In a leaflet, "Teen Sex", it considered, though ultimately rejected, the notion of under-age sexual relations.
By 1987, it had renamed itself the Family and drawn up a strict code of practice which restated its evangelical mission and outlawed, among other things, drugs and alcoholism. It now has 3,000 adult and 6,000 child followers in 500 houses worldwide. Several hundred live in Britain. Each house is self-financing through the sale of videos and posters, members' trust funds and donations from former members.
Mr Scott claimed the sexual element of the group's teachings had always been exaggerated. The Family, like the Children of God, believed in open sexual relations providing love was at the root. But the accusations of abuse and brainwashing were "deplorable". "We allow free love, but we do not allow sexual contact between anyone over 21 and those under 21. Anyone infringing that will be excommunicated, and they have been. Sex between children under 16 is definitely not encouraged."
Mr Scott believed the accusations were levelled by disenchanted former members. "We cannot say we were whiter than white, or that nothing unpleasant has ever happened, especially in that early 1980s time when there was no code of practice. But it was never a policy of the group."