At the same time that Lewis intervened
in Kent's publication process in early March, 1993, he and various academics associated with his organization, the Association for World Academics for Religious Education
(AWARE) were engaged in producing a publication to help The Family cultivate a positive public image. In January, 1993, Family representatives had contacted Lewis (as the Executive Director of AWARE) and another unnamed academic "seeking advice on how to combat the negative publicity and other attacks they felt certain would result from the group's bold new public stature" in the United States (Lewis and Melton, 1994b, vi). Already in other countries around the world, The Family had been trying to distance itself from its controversial sexual practices such as "flirty fishing" (religious prostitution), sexual sharing among members, and sexual abuse of children (Ward, 1995). The resultant collection of essays published by Lewis and J. Gordon Melton
, entitled Sex, Slander, and Salvation
, became a volume that The Family touted as proof of its legitimacy and the group has distributed copies to media in an attempt to gain favorable press. At least one academic, however, who reviewed the book saw it otherwise.
Robert Balch's book review identified this publication as an opportunity to raise the vital issue of bias among social scientists who publish similarly skewed portrayals of other groups (Balch, 1996, 72). Most importantly, Balch recognized the study's disregard for "[Erving] Goffman's (1959) work on impression management, which describes how group members engage in 'teamwork' to prevent 'leakage' of potentially discrediting information to outsiders (including, presumably, social scientists)" (Balch, 1996, 72).
Former members of The Family, as well as some of The Family's own publications, provide important insights into the group's "backstage" arrangements that went on prior to contact that AWARE researchers had with it. The Family invited academics and other "Systemites" to what it called "Media Homes" (Kent, 1996c, 68). A former member who was familiar with these homes described such a place as "basically a nice, squeaky clean, polished-up home [which was] about as polished as you could get" (Kent, 1996b, 157-158). Another former member reported that part of making "everything look as perfect as possible" at the Media Homes required "mega-preparation" such as moving out crowded children, removing bunkbeds from overcrowded bedrooms, and placing single mothers elsewhere (Kent, 1996a, 39-40). The same former member claimed that The Family "only kept the best PR people there...the people who were, you know, prepared to talk and, you know, knew how to talk and wouldn't, you know, slip up or whatever" (Kent, 1996a, 39). In order to avoid revealing sensitive information, Family spokespersons underwent intensive rehearsals of "questions and answers -- what to say about this, what to say about that" (Kent, 1996b, 155). The Family even produced several booklets of anticipated questions along with appropriate answers and maintained strict security regarding which among its publications members could provide to "Systemites" for perusal (Family Services, 1989, 1992a, 1992b; Berg, 1983, 432-468).
Another way that The Family controlled information that researchers acquired was by destroying controversial sexual material involving children. In 1991 The Family's World Services department issued a directive entitled "The Pubs Purge," which ordered an "extensive purge of [particular] publications" by burning or blocking out portions "with ink or white-out as well as the specific pages that should be removed from within the remaining books" (World Services, 1991). The documents purge was not motivated by the organization's denunciation of Berg's teachings, but rather by the realization that these publications provided the group's critics with evidence that child/adult sex had been allowed. Consequently, the directive never acknowledged any harm from the sexual practices, but blamed the need for the purge on "them that [sic] are defiled & and unbelieving" (World Services, 1991, 2). Not surprisingly, therefore, when AWARE researchers and others conducted their study of media homes and examined the group's publications in other Family facilities, they found nothing amiss. One researcher contributing to the AWARE study, for example, stated that: "[a] study of a cupboardful of COG to Family literature was undertaken with the assistance of a YA [Young Adult] who pointed out important passages in the Mo Letters, the Book of Remembrance
and the children's comic, Life With Grandpa
" (Palmer, 1994, 9).
Other academics wrote general letters of endorsement for The Family (Palmer, 1993; Shepherd, 1993; World Services [1994b?]; [1994c?]) and spoke favorably about it on a video that the group used as another form of legitimation (The Family, 1994). Some of this questionable research is being incorporated, uncritically, into the wider academic literature on The Family's effects on its youth (Bainbridge, 1997, 224, 237).