As noted, despite its official statements to the contrary, the actual beliefs and practices of The Family International place the movement outside the boundaries of orthodox, mainstream Christianity.
Therefore theologically The Family International is accurately defined as a cult of Christianity. Sociologically, the group has many cultic elements as well.
(Note the difference between theological and sociological definitions of the term 'cult.' Sociology concerns itself with behavior, while theology concerns itself with doctrine.)
As so often, though, this has not kept certain academics from giving The Family a clean bill of health.
For instance, the movement has been greatly helped in its quest for legitimacy by such people as J. Gordon Melton - a religion researcher who has admitted that he does not know how to tell the difference between orthodoxy and heresy.
Many religion researchers consider Melton to be a cult apologist.
A cult apologist is someone who consistently or primarily defends the teachings and/or actions of one or more movements considered to be cults - as defined sociologically and/or theologically. (Here's why Melton is referred to as a cult apologist.)
Some 'New Religious Movement scholars' have even gone as far as to collaborate with the very groups they study. On this, see Integrity and Suspicion in NRM Research, by Benjamin Beit-Hallahmi.
In an expanded version of that article, Beit-Hallahmi writes this about 'research' produced by cult apologists James R. Lewis and J. Gordon Melton:
AWARE, led by James R. Lewis
, has become a contractor for operations that can no longer claim any semblance or resemblance to research.
One symptomatic product of the post-Waco NRM consensus is the Lewis volume titled From The Ashes: Making Sense of Waco
(1994a). It seems like a typical apologetic pamphlet, a collection of 47 statements, authored by 46 individuals and 3 groups. Of the 46 individuals, 34 are holders of a PhD degree, and 19 are recognized NRM scholars. One cannot claim that this collection of opinion-pieces is unrepresentative of the NRM research network; quite the contrary. Most of the top scholars are here. The most significant fact is the participation by so many recognized scholars in this propaganda effort.
In addition to From The Ashes
we now have Church Universal and Triumphant in Scholarly Perspective
(Lewis and Melton 1994a), and Sex, Slander, and Salvation: Investigating the Children of God / The Family
(Lewis and Melton 1994b). The last two are clearly made-to-order PR efforts (with a few scholarly papers which got in by honest mistakes on the part of both authors and editors). The Family
and Church Universal and Triumphant
were interested in academic character witnesses, and many NRM scholars were happy to oblige.
Balch and Langdon (1996) provide an inside view of how AWARE operates by offering a report on the fieldwork, if such a term can be used, which led to the AWARE 1994 volume on CUT (Lewis and Melton 1994a). What is described is a travesty of research. It is much worse than anybody could imagine, a real sellout by recognized NRM scholars.
Among the contributors to the Family volume we find Susan J. Palmer
, James T. Richardson, David G. Bromley
, Charlotte Hardman, Massimo Introvigne
, Stuart A. Wright, and John A. Saliba
. The whole NRM research network is involved, the names we have known over the past thirty years, individuals with well-deserved reputations lend their support to this propaganda effort. There must be some very good reasons (or explanations, at least) for this behavior.
The PR documents produced for groups such as Church Universal and Triumphant or The Family are but extreme examples of the literature of apologetics which has dominated NRM research for many years.
Another aspect of these cases is that the reporting of financial arrangements is less than truthful. The fact that CUT financed the whole research expedition to Wyoming is not directly reported. We learn that CUT provided only room and board, while AWARE covered all other costs (Lewis, 1994). The fact that The Family volume was financed by the group itself is never reported anywhere, although it is clear to the reader that the whole project was initiated by Family leaders (Lewis 1994c).
The Family volume has been recognized for what it is: a propaganda effort, pure and simple, paid for by the group (Balch 1996).
Melton's cozy relationship with The Family is illustrated by a donation he received from the Family Care Foundation - a non-profit, public corporation for the funding of The Family International's ventures and missions.
The Family Care Foundation's
2000 financial report has an interesting item listed on it.
Gordon Melton (a long time apologist for the group) received a donation for his "International Religions Directory Project" in the amount of $10,065.83 from
the Family Care Foundation, a charity founded by Family leaders.
You can find the link to the FCF 2000 financial document here (PDF document, the item listing the donation to Melton is on page 38)
FCF has also given money to an apologist for The Family, J. Gordon Melton. In 2000, FCF gave $10,065.83 to Melton, an academic who has defended The Family for years. (Page 38.[...])
The Family funded and edited Melton's 1994 book about The Family, Sex, Slander, and Salvation, and advertise it on their website. His latest work is The Children of God (Signature Books. 2004) The Family website also lists Melton as an "expert."
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