• Grownup Children of God

    cog-busSome time back, I wrote about the Children of God—a doomsday cult born in the swinging sixties, notorious for the sexualizing of Jesus, children, proselytizing, and just about everything else, with pornographic comic books for scripture and a perv for a prophet. Since its heady first days, the cult—now sanitized under the anodyne name of the Family International—has remained notorious, not least because of a steady stream of defectors’ horror stories.

    Now two more cult survivors have come forward, but with a difference. Most of those to this point have been young folk who were either born into the cult or taken into it as children when their parents converted—the actor Rose McGowan, the entire Phoenix family, the novelist Taylor Stevens, and others, with heart-wrenching tales of growing up in an atmosphere of physical and sexual abuse, privation, and terror.

    The most recent stories, in contrast, come from two (unrelated) people in late middle age, who joined the Children of God of their own accord as young adults in the 1970s, started families inside the cult, and eventually defected into normal life in the 1990s. Their perspective, though still an inside view of the cult, is quite different: an account of how easy it is to get sucked into such a group, to learn to subordinate your own moral sense to the ideology of the group, and to put yourself so wholly in the power of a self-serving messiah that you can allow your own children to be brutalized.

    Both Danielle Fortin and Jerry Golland joined the group when at a low ebb in their414px-Jhooker lives.  Fortin was a heroin addict who wanted to turn herself around. Golland was a poor chump whose passport and money had just been stolen, sitting desolately in a London park when the all-singing all-dancing recruiters came by and swept him up. As a woman, Fortin was expected to take part in the “flirty fishing” that passed for spreading the Good Word, but which in fact consisted of using sex to haul in possible male converts. Golland, however, appears with his guitar in a number of pictures from the seventies, doing some all-singing all-dancing recruiting of his own. Both Fortin and Golland spent a couple of decades inside the cult.

    How harshly, if at all, should such people be judged? We (rightly) see the children born or dragged into cults like this as victims, and the adults who put them there as abusers; certainly it is hard to believe that any convert could spend twenty years in the Children of God without being a full participant in the group’s abusive practices. It is also easy, as outsiders, to see anyone willingly joining such a cult as being at least a gullible idiot. And yet, my gut feeling is that adult converts to a mind-control cult like the Children of God would start out as victims themselves, and cross the line into being abusers by a series of easy little steps. And then—to their credit—these ones disengaged and have since led estimable lives. But…

    …at what point does disengagement and reformation wipe out the past? What if a hypothetical victim were now to come forward with accusations from long ago? Would society decide to forgive and forget—or would we be inclined to move people like Fortin and Golland from the category of cult survivor to the category of predator? Myself, I strongly doubt that the latter would be justified; and it raises questions for me about instruments like sex offender registries, where certain crimes—painted with a very broad brush—may be treated as both unforgiveable and unforgettable, and their perpetrators as beyond redemption. Discussion would be welcome.

    Category: FeaturedSecularism

    Article by: Rebecca Bradley