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The Family International

Children of God, Family of Love, The Family, The Family International Fellowship; Fellowship of Independent Missionary Communities


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• This entry provides a brief look at The Family International. For indepth information we refer you to our collection of research resources.

• Entries in Apologetics Index are updated as time permits.

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Murder-Suicide Brings Renewed Focus

In January, 2005, ex-member Ricky Rodriguez, the one-time heir apparent of The Family, murdered his former nanny and then committed suicide:

Police in Arizona and California said they are investigating an apparent murder-suicide involving the son of Maria David, the prophet and spiritual leader of the Family, an international evangelical sex cult previously known as the Children of God.

Early Sunday morning, the body of Richard P. Rodriguez, 29, was found behind the wheel of a car in an industrial area in Blythe, a Riverside County town in the Mojave Desert on the Arizona border.

Rodriguez, known as "Davidito" when he was growing up in the Children of God, had been groomed as a child to be the heir apparent of the sect, founded in the late 1960s by the late David "Moses" Berg.
[...]

Those familiar with the Children of God know that Rodriguez had one of the most infamous upbringings in the sect, which in its early years encouraged sex between minors and between minors and adults.

Critics of the cult have long pointed to a booklet published by the Children of God titled the "Story of Davidito,'' which describes in glowing terms how Rodriquez was sexually abused as a toddler by his nanny, Sara.

"He was the prince,'' said Daniel Roselle, 29, a Los Angeles man who was also raised in the Children of God. "He was put on a pedestal as the future leader of the Family.''

Roselle, who says he was sexually abused by sect members when he was 7 years old, left the group in 1995, about five years before Rodriguez defected in 2000.

"I knew Ricky (Rodriguez) well, and talked to him about four months ago, '' Roselle said. "He had a lot of rage.'' The two lived at a Children of God commune in Japan in the late 1980s.

In a statement released yesterday, the Family International confirmed that Rodriguez was the son of Maria David, and that Smith was a member of the sect for more than 30 years.
[...]

Berg died in 1994, but his movement lives on today as "The Family."

Other survivors of the Children of God include hundreds -- perhaps thousands -- of "Jesus babies" born in the 1970s and '80s. Their mothers were young missionaries who followed Berg's call to share sexual favors in order to bring young men to Christ.

They called it "flirty fishing.''

Steve Kent, a professor of sociology at the University of Alberta, said the highly sexual climate at Children of God communes "did real damage to that second generation.''

Kent and Roselle said there have been suicides in recent years among children who grew up in the Children of God.

"While no one can justify what he (Rodriguez) did, you can understand his frustration and rage,'' said Kent, who has spent years studying the movement.

"He and others from that generation have never seen justice from all the abuse they suffered.''
Source: Murder-suicide case in desert evangelical sex cultOff-site Link San Francisco Chronicle, Jan. 11, 2005
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The murder-suicide has brought a renewed focus on The Family:

Mr. Rodriguez's murder-suicide is reviving accusations by former members about routine physical, emotional and sexual abuse that they say they experienced as children.

There is evidence of the practices in documents that the cult's leaders consider so damaging that they acknowledge they twice sent out "purge notices" to their followers with explicit directions about which pages to burn, which photographs to white-out and which to excise with Exacto knives.

Mr. Rodriguez recorded a videotape the night before he killed Ms. Smith and committed suicide. The video, which was provided to The New York Times by Mr. Rodriguez's wife, was taped in his apartment in Tucson and shows him loading a gun and showing off other weapons.

He said he saw himself as a vigilante avenging children like him and his sisters who had been subject to rapes and beatings.

"There's this need that I have," he said. "It's not a want. It's a need for revenge. It's a need for justice, because I can't go on like this."

Mr. Rodriguez is not the only suicide among people reared in the Children of God. Some former members who keep in touch with one another through a Web site, movingon.org, say that in the last 13 years at least 25 young people reared in the cult have committed suicide.
[...more...]
Source: Murder and Suicide Reviving Claims of Child Abuse in CultOff-site Link The New York Times, Jan. 15, 2005
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When Ricky Rodriguez was a boy he was revered as a prince and future prophet of the free-love cult the Children of God. He was also sexually abused by cult members with the encouragement of his mother and stepfather.

Earlier this month, in a gruesome act of revenge, Rodriguez stabbed to death his mother’s former secretary, Angela Smith, then shot himself.

In a video he made just before the killings, he fondled a knife and vowed to “bring down those sick f******”, including his mother, the cult’s leader Karen “Mama” Zerby, also known as Queen Maria.

The murder and suicide in Tucson, Arizona, has convulsed the Christian missionary sect, now known as The Family International, and revived allegations of rape and sexual abuse by former members.


Rodriguez, 29, was known to all members of the Children of God as Davidito. His late stepfather, David Berg, founded the cult in the 1960s and sent female members “flirty fishing” for new members as “sacred prostitutes”.

Berg was an advocate of free love who sanctioned child abuse and incest. Former members describe him as a paedophile who devised a religious philosophy to justify his longings.

In The Story of Davidito, a manual for cult members, Rodriguez’s sexual abuse as a toddler is described explicitly and enthusiastically. There are pictures of him lying in bed with naked teenage girls and attending orgies. One photograph portrays him undressing in front of “Sue” (Smith). Another shows Smith naked with one of his nannies.

In the video he made the night before Smith’s murder on January 8, Rodriguez blames his mother for the abuse he suffered: “It happened to thousands of us . . . some worse than others. My mother is going to pay for that. If I don’t get her and life goes on, I will keep hunting her in the next life. There is this need I have . . . It’s a need for justice because I can’t go on like this.” [...more...]
Source: Revenge of a son on cult of free loveOff-site Link The Sunday Times, Jan. 23, 2005
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The FBI has launched a criminal investigation into a religious sex cult with close ties to San Diego. Many people who were raised in the group say they were sexually abused as children – all in the name of God. Federal agents are now taking a closer look.
Source: FBI Launches Investigation Into Sex CultOff-site Link KFMB TV, Apr. 4, 2005
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About This Page:

• Subject: The Family International
• First posted: Dec. 1, 1996
• Last Updated: Apr. 7, 2005
• Editors: Anton and Janet Hein
Copyright: Apologetics Index
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