Despite setbacks and opposition from critics and ex-members, the Family (formerly the Children of God) appears to be passing on leadership to the second generation and keeping its distinctive identity, according to a report in Nova Religio, (October) a journal on new religious movements.
The Family has courted controversy since its beginnings in the Jesus movement during the late 1960s for its mix of evangelical Christianity with the liberal social mores of that time. For almost a decade, the group has dismantled some of its most controversial aspects — authoritarian rule, encouraging women members to engage in sexual relations with potential converts, and cases of child abuse. John Bozeman writes that the move toward more openness to American society continues. The group, which has about 14,000 members, has published a charter outlining its beliefs and practices, aimed both at critics and members to inform them of their rights.
The Family has also taken a less stigmatizing stance toward ex-members and those members not involved in the communal segment of the group. The more marginal members are now given “Fellow Member” status where they are not expected to follow the full charter. Ex-members have been sent apologies for past intolerant behavior. Bozeman adds that the group is “going through a period of internal renewal.
A rising second generation is in the process of making [founder] Father David’s message their own . . . The family has welcomed it and encouraged their youth to occupy positions of responsibility within the Family community.” The Family still practices extra-marital relations among members, called “sharing,” while holding an “extremely literal” understanding of the Bible — thereby not likely to form many ties with either liberal or conservative Christians.
(Nova Religio, Seven Bridges Press, LLC, P.O. Box 958, Chappaqua, NY 10514-0958)