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When I first met the Children of God, more than 30 years ago, they were already getting a lot of opposition from the churches. One of their best defences was this one: 'Judge a tree by its fruit.'

It was a hard argument to refute, as the movement was populated by fresh, idealistic, enthusiastic young hippies who had been turned on to the teachings of Jesus. Even agnostics were impressed by their vitality and expressions of love.

I expressed one reservation before moving in with them. I said that it sometimes takes a little while for the fruit to actually appear, and so we must always be willing to examine ourselves to see if we are moving away from the truth. I observed that enthusiastic and spontaneous young people look pretty good almost anywhere. But the big question was what would be the long-term results of their ministry?

I spent only a few months actually living with The Children of God before I felt that I would have to break fellowship with them and head out on my own. They had just started to teach something called 'flirty fishing', in which they were offering free sex to outsiders as an enticement for people to join their ranks, donate to their cause, or just say the magic prayer that was guaranteed to give them a ticket to heaven that not even God could take away.

To me the error was obvious: They had mistaken sex for love. From beginning to end the Bible imposed restrictions on sex, and the Children of God (later called The Family) was ignoring those restrictions at their own peril. At least that was my firm belief.

So I branched out and started my own movement, called first just Christians, and later Jesus Christians. We Jesus Christians have, over the years, often been compared with The Family, on the basis of the fact that we live together, that we do not work in system jobs, that we often use cartoons to illustrate our message, or that we talk about Bible prophecy.

However, those are not the issues that people MOST dwell on when comparing us with The Family. Instead, they mention my own personal links with them (No other member of our community has ever been a member of The Family or of the Children of God.), and then they launch into a description of the very teachings which caused me to leave The Family more than a quarter of a century ago, as though these are the teachings that we share in common. It is a cruel and unfair comparison.

About the time that I left The Family, their leader (David Berg, a.k.a. 'Mo') was undertaking a dangerous and perverted experiment. His mistress had become pregnant by a waiter that she was flirty fishing, and so 'Mo' decided to keep a record of the experiment that he was going to make with this baby, whom he named Davidito ('little David'). Davidito was to be exposed to total sexual indulgence, including regular sexual fondling by members of Mo's harem, as well as regular exposure from infancy to sexual intercourse and orgies.

The philosophy was basically that all sex is beautiful and ordained by God, and it is only religious hang-ups about sex that destroy people's appreciation of it. This child was going to experience pure love through total sexual indulgence.

Mo made several prophecies about Davidito eventually taking on the mantle of leadership from his aging stepfather. It was prophesied that he would lead them into true 'freedom'. The entire Children of God community was given unrealistic hopes for this boy from the day that he was born, and an intimate diary was kept of all his experiences, which was shared with the entire movement.

The effect on Davidito himself was traumatic. His most notable personality trait was extreme shyness. Nevertheless, he stayed in the community until he was out of his teens, engaging in sex with his many topless nurses from the time he was eleven years old.

A few years ago, Davidito left The Family, convinced that what they were teaching was not, as they claimed, based on the teachings of the Bible. Unfortunately, he fell in with another lot who turned out to be worse for him than the people he had fled. He linked up with other former members of The Family, who were largely motivated by hatred toward the people they had once loved.

This feeling of hatred grew in Davidito (who had changed his name to Ricky Rodriguez) as a result of his new associations, to such a point that he eventually plotted to kill his mother, Mo's former mistress. (Mo died in the 1990's.) Davidito's hatred for his mother having allowed him to be sexually abused in such a way grew to the point where he could no longer contain it. However, his mother, in company with her latest lover, now leads The Family, and Family security is such that it was impossible for him to locate her.

The nearest that Davidito could get to his mother was to meet up with one of his former nursemaids, a woman old enough to be his mother. He arranged a meeting with her in January of this year, in Tucson, Arizona, and he stabbed her several times before slitting her throat. He then drove to San Diego, California, where he took his own life with a gunshot to his head.

The song says, 'Lemon tree very pretty; and the lemon flower is sweet. But the fruit of the poor lemon is impossible to eat.' Such was the fruit, both of The Family's distorted teachings about sex, and the anti-Family movements justification and nurturing for hatred and revenge.

Both sides will argue that it is not possible for them both to be right, and that one or the other of them has to be wrong. And depending on which side you listen to, it is easy to start believing one side or the other. But, whether or not it is possible for them both to be RIGHT, there is no doubt in my mind that it is not only possible, but quite definitely true that both sides are very WRONG. There is no need for anyone to side with either camp.

That is not to say that there are not good people in both movements. We have tried hard to establish positive relationship and constructive communication with both sides, but our efforts have been fruitless in both directions.

As a community, we have tried to take the biblical truths which were taught (or at least hinted at) by The Family (especially in their early days), and to preach them without the lies about free sex. We have tried to communicate lovingly to members of the Family, as well as to communicate lovingly with ex-members.

Ex-members do not take long at all to launch into vitriolic tirades against anyone who dares to say anything positive about The Family. Their hatred is rarely more than a sentence or two away from the surface. But The Family itself is much more subtle. They smile sweetly and express love in words over and over again, all the while walking backwards away from us. And as soon as they have a door between us and them, they lock it and warn their members not to open it.

We write this article now because the front page story in the Los Angeles Times about Ricky Rodriguez's tortured life and death has stirred up worldwide interest once again in The Family; and scandal in The Family is never very far away from us.

You see, when The Family stopped preaching Christianity on the streets, and started flirty fishing, opposition from the churches actually fell off. And that's about the time that opposition toward ourselves took off. The church today (and many system parents and other authorities) have more hatred for the truth that we teach (and that was hinted at in the early teachings of The Family) than they do for the perversions that took all these years to manifest themselves in a murder-suicide by the one whom The Family promised would lead his people to freedom.

As evil as Family teachings about sex are, and as evil as anti-Family teachings about hate are, most people would prefer either of them to the truths contained in the teachings of Jesus. But we are determined to stick with the truth, and to bank everything on the good fruit that will eventually come from that.

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