18 Oct 2007

The Making of a Twisted Sexual Theology: Q+A on "Jesus Freaks"

ReligionWriter.com, Part 1, October 12, 2007

The bizarre, tragic nature of his life began with his conception: Ricky Rodriguez was born as a result of “flirty fishing,” a practice of proselytizing through sex advocated by David Berg, the Jesus-quoting founder of the religious sect now known as The Family International (formerly The Children of God.)

Berg, the son of a well-known Pentecostal evangelist, brought a gospel of Jesus, free love and end-time prophecy to hippies of the 1960s and 70s. Berg’s polygamous wife Karen Zerby conceived Ricky with a potential convert in the Canary Islands; Berg became Ricky’s spiritual father, raising him to become the movement’s prophet-prince who would usher in Jesus’ Second Coming.

But something went badly awry with Berg’s religious fantasy. Ricky, raised in seclusion in Berg’s household, was subject to sexual abuse from his first year onward, often at the hands of his several nannies. In Berg’s view, God created children to enjoy sex, and adults were best suited to please them. Ricky, along with other rebellious teens in the movement, were later sent to harsh re-indoctrination camps.

Although many of the children born to Family members left the group, and some channeled their energies into trying to bring the group down through the media or the courts, the group continues today. In January, 2005, a 29-year-old Ricky — depressed, unable to adapt to live outside of the group, and, in his words, weighed down with a “need” for revenge — stabbed to death one of the former nannies who had abused him before taking his own life.

In his new book, Jesus Freaks: A True Story of Murder and Madness on the Evangelical Edge, veteran religion reporter Don Lattin tells Ricky’s poignant story while tracing the evolution of a sex-addicted leader who saw himself as God’s prophet.

ReligionWriter spoke with Lattin this week about his new book. The first half of the conversation appears today, in which Lattin describes why he was drawn to the story, and how Berg developed a sexual theology with such terrible consequences for the children around him. The second half the conversation will appear next week.

RW: This story seems so dark – why were you compelled to write it?

Lattin: The fact is, I didn’t know just how dark it was going to be before I started. Obviously, I knew about some of the disturbing aspects of The Family — I reported on them for an article I wrote in 2001, “Children of a Lesser God,” about children who had grown up in four alternative religions of the 1960s: The Family, the Church of Scientology, the Hare Krishnas and the Unification Church, or the Moonies.

Having come of age as a journalist during the cult wars of the 1970s, I have always been interested in new religious movements. The intensity of the conversion and belief and devotion makes for a compelling story, whether for good or evil. There’s an interesting question there: When does a new religious movement make the leap from being a cult or sect to a religion? The second generation gives you a window into that process, because the question is whether they will keep the faith or not. So I didn’t go looking for horror stories; I was interested in what happened to the children born into The Family.

I wrote that story in 2001 around the time Ricky was just leaving The Family. In 2005, when he snapped and went on his crusade, I was able to basically break the story. The 45-minute video tape he made the night he committed the murder and then killed himself was so chilling and inexplicable. How could someone who was raised in a group that claims to be inspired by Christian love and compassion — someone who was raised to be the leader of that group — come out being so angry and vengeful? I knew the stories of what had gone on during “flirty fishing” years, and I had heard about the re-indoctrination camps for teens, but when I saw that video, I decided I had to get to the bottom of this and find out his story.

RW: Let’s talk about the group’s leader, David Berg, who abused Ricky and many others in pursuit of sex and power. You suggest that Berg was sexually molested as a child; do you think that explains his behavior as an adult? What made him act in such an evil way?

Lattin: That’s the $64,000 question. I wouldn’t say he was sexually abused as a child, but he describes his mother as incredibly repressive. As a boy, he would masturbate or play with himself, and she went to extremes to stop him. One time, Berg said, she threatened to cut off his penis, and even brought out a razor and bowl, in front of his entire family and his friends. That is a kind of sexual abuse, though it’s the flip side. (Below left, David Berg, 1919-1994)

So he struggled to control his sexual feelings as a child, and today we would probably call David Berg a sex addict. But Berg was also very involved with his mother. Out of the three children in his family, he was the only one who stuck with the evangelical faith of his parents. As his mother and father became estranged, he basically became mother’s new husband, though they weren’t having sex; he filled the role his father had played, being the PR man and chauffeur for his mother, the famous evangelist.

Right when his own religious message was taking off in the late 60s, his mother died. He was surrounded by the sexual revolution in California, and suddenly he was free as a bird. As he gained power — well, of course power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. We know now from his children and grandchildren that he abused them going way back.

RW: Can you explain Berg’s “Law of Love,” and whether that is still practiced by the group today?

Lattin: They have tried to crack down on adult-child sexual relations, but they openly acknowledge practicing the law of love, which means sexual “sharing” with people in the group who are not your spouse. I don’t think they’re doing flirty fishing like they used to, though it might happen on an ad hoc basis when they proselytize. They have calmed down, but not completely.

In some ways, Berg’s critique of the piety and hypocrisy of the mainstream American evangelical movement, or Christianity in general, was right on — there is that suspicion of the body, the idea that the spirit is good and the flesh is evil. Some of what he was writing then is what sex-positive theologians or gay theologians are writing today. He was way ahead of his time — he just went overboard with it.

Berg claimed to have a theological grounding; Jesus said love is the greatest commandment, and Berg took than to an extreme. At his famous sex-sharing parties with his inner circle, he was known for taking off his clothes, walking around with a bottle of wine and quoting the scripture: “To the pure, all things are pure.” As I mention in my book, of course, he left out the rest of that quotation, which reads: “but to the corrupt and unbelieving, nothing is pure.” (Titus 1:15.)

I didn’t discuss this in the book, but Berg followed a sort of antinomianism, which is the Christian idea that because you’re already saved through Christ Jesus, then you can’t sin. He wasn’t the first person to think that way.

But converts to The Family were not religiously literate — they didn’t have a grounding in the Bible, or a Christian education, so it was easy for Berg to shape his theology as he wanted it. He didn’t let the Jesus revolution get in the way of the sexual revolution.

RW: Other religious founders gave themselves special sexual status. Joseph Smith, for example, asked his closest followers to let him marry their wives. The Prophet Muhammad had more wives than the four allowed for the average believer. Do you see a pattern here? Does sexual power go hand-in-hand with religious power?

Lattin: In writing about new religious movements for the past 20-25 years, I’ve found that three things bring the leaders down: sex, money and power. Berg was not so interested in money — he lived comfortably — but he was very interested in the power and control, and also sex.

There are some parallels with Joseph Smith, who he said was one of his role models. Smith and Berg both took the wives of their top disciples, and I’ve seen this in other religious movements. You also hear about it among primates. You’d think, of course, that if you take someone’s wife, he’d get angry, and punch you in the face and leave. But what happens is, it strengthens people’s commitment, and if you promise some kind of salvation from this sexual sharing, as Berg did, then it’s a mechanism of control as well.

Coming next week: Don Lattin talks with ReligionWriter about academics who have been sympathetic to The Family; whether or not Ricky Rodriguez was a hero; and why The Family leaders have never been brought to justice.

“A Misbegotten Martyr:” Ricky Rodriguez’s Tragic Quest for Justice

Part 2, October 16, 2007

Last week, Don Lattin spoke with ReligionWriter about the evangelical influences behind the sexual theology of The Family International, a religious sect founded by leader David Berg in the late 1960s. Berg’s spiritual step-son, Ricky Rodriguez, was raised to be the group’s leader — Berg prophesied that Rodriguez would eventually sacrifice his life for the salvation of fellow sect members at the end of time.

In 2005, Ricky did lose his life — he shot himself in the head on a desert road after having stabbed to death one of the many adults who sexually molested him as a child. In the video he made (image left, from xfamily.org) before the murder and suicide, Ricky spoke about how hard it was for him to cope with his past as an adult out in the real world, and how he constantly thought about suicide. But the idea that the group’s leaders, including his own mother, who encouraged and allowed the on-going sexual abuse of Ricky and his siblings, were never punished for their actions weighed on Ricky. “Suicide is the quitter’s way out,” he said to the camera. “I’m trying to do something lasting.”

Today ReligionWriter continues the conversation about Ricky and The Family with Lattin, author of the new book Jesus Freaks: A True Story of Murder and Madness on the Evangelical Edge.

RW: These days many journalists, academics and religious leaders are hesitant to use the word “cult,” preferring instead the more neutral term “new religious movements.” But when it comes to The Family, where leader David Berg did apparently control and sexually abuse the group’s children, is it actually helpful to use the word “cult?”

Lattin: There’s a difference of opinion among religion writers if you should ever use the word in newspaper stories, unless you use it in a quote. The Children of God [as The Family was formerly known] was a sect, in the dictionary-definition sense that a sect splits off from something else. The Family was an evangelical sect, part of the Jesus Movement. I know people will take issue with my book title, but I think it’s a good argument that this group came out of the evangelical movement. Cults tends to be a group based around the charism of one leader in an authoritarian or extreme way; we can definitely see The Family was like that.

RW: What sense do you make of The Family — that Berg translated Jesus’ “love of neighbor” to mean free love and ultimately child sexual abuse?

Lattin: It is a cautionary tale of what happens when a self-defined religious prophet goes over the edge. It was not just sexual abuse, but a whole messianic complex that preachers like Berg get caught up in. They exploit people financially, using apocalyptic prophecies to scare people into giving their money away — You can abuse people with Christianity, there’s no doubt about it. Of course I’m not saying all Christians are like that – Berg’s movement was neither a healthy nor a typical expression of Christianity. But if you look at the incredible success of the Left Behind books and movies, you can still see the appeal of apocalyptic teachings. Berg started out, before his “Law of Love” and other sexual teachings, as your standard The-End-Is-Near prophet. Berg said Ricky and mom [Karen Zerby] were going to be the two witnesses of the end-times — that’s right out of the Book of Revelations.

RW: In your book you describe the academic work of sociologists studying the group, who downplayed the adult-child sexual contact and relativized it by pointing to other cultures where children are married in their early teens. Some of this sympathy towards The Family is still visible today. Do you find it alarming?

Lattin: It is alarming, because I think some academics were really compromised by The Family. Some were compromised in nefarious ways [i.e. paid for their research,] but most were compromised because they were more interested in studying The Family and keeping good relations with The Family than they were in blowing the whistle. They didn’t see it as their job to blow the whistle.

What I see in writing about new religious movements are two distinct camps of “experts:” There are the alarmists, who think everything is the next Jonestown, and there are the apologists, who never see anything wrong. A lot of academics, especially sociologists of religion, give groups leeway; it is true that in a lot of culture, kids do marry young, and adults practice polygamy. People who are so horrified by The Family’s child abuse tend to forget that the world is a big place, with a lot of moral questions about what age is proper [for sex] and how many wives are proper. But the fact is we do live in a society where certain taboos and values apply, and these religious groups are part of that society.

RW: Why haven’t children born into The Family, who suffered sexual or other abuses, been successful in prosecuting cases against The Family or individual leaders and members?

Lattin: Second-generation defectors who claim abuse have tried to get lawyers and start investigations, but they never went anywhere. It’s not like no one knew about this stuff; people had accused The Family of child abuse for years. But it mostly happened in ’70s and ’80s, so the statute of limitations had expired, and it mostly happened outside U.S., so it’s difficult to bring a suit, and of course Family members were constantly changing their names, so a lot of kids have no idea who abused them. It’s too bad the second-generation defectors didn’t take advantage recently when California lifted its statute of limitations on civil suits for child molestation. It was just a window of time, and they didn’t get it together. In any case, the abuse itself happened outside of California.

RW: After reading your book and watching Ricky’s video, it’s hard not to see him as something of a tragic hero. How do you see him?

Lattin: I wouldn’t say he was a hero. I would say he was a misbegotten martyr. It’s so touching and tragic because here’s a guy who was raised to be a martyr for the forces of righteousness in the battles of the End Times — righteousness in that case meant David Berg and Zerby and The Family. Ricky was able to free himself from The Family as a young adult, but he turned that crusade against The Family rather than against “the System,” or the outside world, as he was supposed to. Berg was a horrid master at self-fulfilling prophecy. So Ricky never really escaped his destiny, even when he went against the group. That’s one of the things that’s so compelling about his story.

RW: What is The Family like today? It seems from all their mission work abroad, it must be very international.

Lattin: There are thousands of converts worldwide, but it’s hard to say how many; The Family’s membership figures are notoriously unreliable. But it’s safe to say there probably are between 5,000 and 10,000 active members. They are spread all around the world, in small seemingly independent missionary groups in Africa, Asia, everywhere. According to Family records, 13,000 children were born into The Family between 1971 and 2001, and I think that’s a valid number. A few thousand of that second generation have stayed in — members had such huge families, it was not uncommon to have 5 or ten kids, so if even just two stay in, that adds up.

RW: In the book, you talk with current Family members, even members of the second generation, who claim to have had completely positive experiences in the Family and to have never been abused. How do you make sense of these conflicting testimonies?

Lattin: It’s not that hard to make sense of it. First, hardly anyone in The Family ever met or even saw David Berg. It wasn’t like they had an up-close and personal look at David Berg as Ricky and others in that inner circle, or “The Unit,” did. You have to differentiate between this “Unit” around Berg and Zerby with their aberrant, bizarre sexual practices, and what filtered out into the wider group. But the real horrible abuse, in terms of sexual abuse, just happened for a certain period of time. It’s not hard to find someone who was born later, say in the late 1980s or early 1990s, who didn’t have that experience. The Family did try to clean up their act, the farther away you got from Berg, the better off your were.

As far as hearing stories from those who leave the group: When you leave the group, you tend to redefine everything. Leaving a new religious movement is sort of like leaving a marriage. Someone who was once your lover and spouse is now someone you can’t stand, and yet they are the same person. As someone reporting on this, you get used to hearing wildly differing descriptions of the same movement, and, in some sense, both are true. Most of the parents in The Family were not child molesters, just misguided idealistic young people who thought they were doing something helpful for their children in freeing them from the sexual repression that Berg grew up with. So it’s not simple; it’s not black and white.



  1. International Journal of Cultic Studies Vol 6 2015 pp 102-105

    The Children of God - There Is Life After the Cult

    By Faye Thomas, MDiv

    Reviewed by Cynthia Kunsman

    Houston, TX: Strategic Book Publishing and Rights. 2013. ISBN-10: 1608605280; ISBN-13: 978-1608605286 (paperback), $16.99 ($15.29, Amazon.com). 258 pages.

    Faye Thomas offers us a glimpse into the stages of recruitment into the Children of God (CoG) and the difficulties that she faced during her recovery process. However, not unlike the misconception many Evangelical Christians hold, the author seems to presume that a mature Christian orthopraxy and sound doctrine make one impervious to cultic influence.

    I found the author to be an endearing character in the well-written narrative, which depicts the all-too-familiar experience within a high-demand group. (A rudimentary knowledge of Spanish will help the reader because the author uses simple phrases that are not translated directly in the text. These phrases add character to the work, but they can be distracting to those who are unfamiliar with the language. I didn’t locate the appendix, which included translations of the Spanish phrases in the text, until after I had finished the book.)

    Along with stressing the often-denied message that all young people share a vulnerability to cults, the author chronicles her transition back into mainstream life and a return to her religious roots. She also notes that recovery, which she processed primarily from a religious standpoint, proved to be a more difficult process for her than surviving within the cult itself. The book chronicles the potential pitfalls when one is searching for a healthy belief system after having exited a thought-reform group. One of those pitfalls can include one’s lack of objectivity regarding the spiritually abusive nature of new spiritual transitions and interests.

    The Memoir

    Faye Thomas provides us with a window into her world as a college student in the late 1970s as a business major who receives a scholarship to complete her junior year in Spain. Schiller International University’s small Madrid campus offers American students the benefit of solidifying their Spanish language skills via immersion in the culture. In August of 1977, the 20-year-old embarks upon a host of immediate challenges common to relocating in a foreign country, including the unanticipated reaction of the nationals to her appearance. She finds herself alone as an African American; and the Africans whom she does encounter in Madrid come from cultures and belief systems that are often equally foreign to her.

    While visiting a cafe that is featuring a group of singers, she encounters a handsome, English-speaking, CoG missionary named Daniel. Her eager new friend quickly develops into her love interest; and when she is pressured to make a quick decision, she accepts his invitation to join him at the “Paris colony” for the Christmas holiday. Although disappointed when he returns to Spain just after she arrives in Paris, she decides to enjoy the opportunity of the visit. Within a few days, she acquiesces to 2 years of full-time service in the CoG and abandons her scholarship. Daniel had suggested to her early in their relationship that her stress was not a normal response to so many life changes, but was rather a spiritual sign that God was calling her to join the group. She also considered that joining would advance their personal relationship.

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  2. Her colony gives her the new name of Joy as she completes her indoctrination period in Paris. When finally permitted to visit Daniel’s colony in Madrid, she finds him to be distant and observes him courting another potential convert. Upon her return to France, an African member named Eli consoles Joy with earnest romantic interests, which grow into a marriage proposal. When Eli asks her to elope to marry, which would require leaving the group, the devoted Joy stands on her convictions to remain faithful to leader Moses David. She continues to follow the Mo Letters, the infallible writings of the group’s prophet that dictate imperatives for members worldwide, because she believes that she will eventually be “overtaken” by God’s joy for her perseverance.

    Joy moves from colony to colony in both Europe and Latin America during her 2 years with the CoG. The group enlists her to establish a new colony in Geneva that is solely devoted to Flirty Fishing (abbreviated FFing)—the sexual seduction of potential converts as a recruitment technique. Her moral discomfort with FFing grows from discussions with Eli in Paris into a theme that carries throughout her experience in the group. She notes the cognitive dissonance arising from the conflict of the Mo Letters with her prior religious training, observes the marital strife that FFing causes for several married couples, and soon is unfit for FFing when she becomes pregnant. She delivers a healthy son in July of 1979 and eventually finds a reasonably good living situation for herself as a single mother within a colony in Curacao.

    As the end of her 2-year commitment to the CoG approaches, Faye/Joy’s sister locates her after the untimely death of their brother. Her family had already been searching for her, fearful that she may have died in 1978 during the tragedy at Jim Jones’s compound in Guyana. A potential recruit, who declines joining the cult, secretly helps her set up a private post-office box to maintain family contact. Concurrent with another death in the author’s family in the United States, the tone and content of the Mo Letters become increasingly surreal to her. When the letters start discussing the benefits of the sexual fondling of children by adults and of homosexuality, she decides to leave.

    Along with the help of Eli, the former member of the colony in France who had once proposed to Joy, her sister plans her escape. In the middle of the night on the planned date in May 1980, she collects her babe and the plane ticket that her sister had sent to her Curacao post-office box. Within hours, the 22-year old sits with her 10-month-old child on her lap in a plane bound for Chicago.

    Eli and another former member who becomes her roommate help her reclaim her critical-thinking skills as together they examine the false teachings of the CoG. As also is true of the narrative of her CoG experience, which documents the all-too-common elements of life in a high-demand group, the author chronicles the painful process of starting over and the deep grief that accompanies it. She recounts the collateral damage that both her cult experience and her recovery process inflict on her relationships as she builds her new life.

    I found the reception and care extended to the author by loved ones and her religious community to be very encouraging. (Evangelical Christians can revictimize former members because of the negative stigma of cults, but the author found much support.) She eventually completes a BA degree in business management and earns an MDiv degree at Wesley Theological Seminary. Reverend Faye Thomas now pastors both Church on the Hill, which she established in Washington, DC, and her urban outreach parachurch organization called the National Network of Christian Men and Women. Late chapters in the book detail the projects and the political and social goals of her parachurch endeavors.

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  3. The Message

    Midway through the memoir portion of the book (soon after she is separated from Eli), the author includes a chapter entitled The Struggle Within, in which she explains why she believes she remained in the group. As a reviewer who shares a religious background that is quite similar to the author’s, I quickly recognized the concepts and theology of the Word of Faith (WoF) movement that she cites in this chapter. WoF deviates from core, theological Christian orthodoxy and focuses on positive confession as a means of achieving perfect, divine health. Pentecostalism, which is generally accepted as within the pale of Christian orthodoxy, grew out of late-19th-century revivalism as something of a theological innovation or renewal movement among Evangelical Christians. Pentacostalism is notably recognized by its practice of speaking in foreign tongues. Today, the movement also often is associated with prosperity teachings that promise adherents monetary wealth.

    At first, I didn’t find the WoF authors quoted in this interim chapter to be all that unusual, considering the author’s precult traditions and culture. Intimately familiar with the sources and with some experience with the urban church culture in the DC area, I was comfortable with the nature of the specific quotes because they were applicable and positive. The author couched her involvement in the CoG in Christian terms that associated thought reform with her own error—a willful choice of carnality, fueled by confirmation bias: “Since the flesh is always at enmity with God, the cult is a door to release sin and the lust of the flesh” (p. 109). With its position at the book’s midpoint, I considered that this section likely noted a chronological record of the author’s own thought processes at the time, long before she exited the group.

    I believe that both the author’s use of and reliance on the writings of the charismatic leaders of the WoF movement for guidance out of CoG, and her current theological stance point to her unwitting grooming and preparation by one movement for the appeal of and manipulation within another. Her return to language of her precult and early church experience likely provided comfort, but it could be interpreted as an example of the long-term influence of all high-demand groups and the greater difficulty in leaving them compared to the difficulty in remaining a member.

    I identify personally with this very experience because I prepared to walk away from a 4-year Shepherding/Discipleship experience in the Baltimore/Washington corridor. I relied heavily upon WoF sources for confidence to exit. Empathizing with the author, I found that the painful process of confronting the short experience of obvious abuse in a group known to my exit counselor came far more easily than my later, deliberate choice to dig deeper into the more insidious spiritual abuse within WoF theology. The latter heralded a profoundly personal existential crisis. I then looked inside the abyss of my own personal deficiencies that made me particularly vulnerable to manipulation. Seventeen years after my exit, I still find myself peeling away layers of the experience as a part of my ongoing personal and spiritual growth. The author bravely begins this difficult process and notes aspects of it in this chronological, interim chapter in the memoir section.

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  4. Having concluded the personal history portion of the book in a similar approach to that which Deborah Davis employed in her contributions to seminal writing about the CoG (1984), the author then expounds upon her thesis that her youth and spiritual immaturity as a Christian made her vulnerable to cultic influence. Quoting Enroth and Melton’s Why Cults Succeed Where the Church Fails (1985), she applies several of their concepts in her conclusion. Ultimately, however, her thesis favors a spiritualized “demand for purity” view without a critical discussion of thought reform itself.

    In a section focused on and entitled the Lure of Cults, the author explains the factors that cults exploit with young adults for the purpose of recruitment and retention. She notes that a desire for greater self-awareness, promised by the cult, results in the paradoxical relinquishing of one’s individuality to the cult. In addition to the appeal of “dropping out” of society and the “freedom of sexual expression” allegedly afforded by the CoG, she cites the pressure of shared financial responsibility borne by all members as a potent retention tool (pp. 174–180). The author quotes Enroth’s claim that 90% of recruits leave within 2 years (Enroth, 1985, p. 54) and identifies this with her own 2-year experience. She attributes to a spiritual cause Enroth’s observation that Christians often rejoin other destructive cults after they exit Bible-based cults; the cause she offers is rejection of Christ’s Lordship, which is then compounded by the lack of Christian resources for former cultists. For the Christian, “the unadulterated Word of God,” in concert with the support of family and friends, provide the best solace after one exits a group.

    Evangelical readers may find disappointment in the author’s continued praise of additional WoF ministries and individuals as helpful and healthy resources for Christians in recovery. Her list of cited authors includes Ken Hagin, the Copelands, Fred Price, and Francis McNutt, among others. She also documents the ministry commission that she received through a personal prophecy from Cindy Jacobs (p. 207), a particularly controversial individual who is noted for the spiritual “deliverance”/exorcisms she conducts (Cindy Jacobs, 2003). The author describes her further investment in WoF in the early 1990s through her development of coursework in the theology of the Pentecostal movement, spiritual gifts, and healing ministry—principles that she advances in the church for which she now serves as pastor. From a thought-reform perspective, the author has unfortunately escaped a very devastating cult to heavily invest herself in a different belief system that is considered within Christian, countercult apologetics circles to be theologically aberrant, albeit less destructive (McConnell, 1988; Positive Confession, 2012; Tillin, 1999).

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  5. Although she cites ideologues from the E. W. Kenyon school of WoF, the author does not acknowledge the influence of theosophy and New Thought Christianity on the movement (McConnell, 1988). Most Pentecostals and Charismatics know nothing of Phineas P. Quimby, a late-19th-century philosopher trained in the European-style of mesmerism, who explored medical applications of hypnosis as a modality for healing (Quimby, 2008). Quimby’s notable student, Mary Baker Eddy, sought his help for a host of somatic illnesses. Eddy adopted many of his ideas and incorporated them into her tradition of Christian Science—a charge she staunchly denied, despite the concurrence of her work with Quimby’s writings published posthumously (Eddy, 1912, Quimby 2008). E. W. Kenyon found much merit in Eddy’s Science and Health With Key to the Scriptures, and then essentially sanitized and supplemented it to conform to Evangelical Fundamentalist doctrinal standards (Barron, 1987; Kenyon, 1969; McConnell, 1988).


    Although I find so many elements of this memoir to be an inspiring and insightful chronicle of recruitment into, devoted service within, and exit from a high-demand group, I attribute it as an unfinished saga. The author’s detailed and sometimes tedious account of personal recovery demonstrates well the stages of recovery from cultic involvement, but her embrace of WoF theology suggests that she has not yet fully stepped into true freedom from thought reform and the magical thinking of the Kenyon school of faith healing. Although I don’t believe that her experience can be recommended to Evangelicals who are emerging from thought-reform programs, it unfortunately is not at all uncommon within Evangelical circles. It serves as an account of cult-hopping into a less damaging but familiar theological system. Perhaps the author, who overcame so much adversity, cultivated a meaningful life, and forged so many opportunities to help others, will one day tire of the demands of WoF. I hope to one day review another book by her that documents the completion of her saga and reflects full liberation from high-demand systems.


    A century of Christian Science healing. (1966). Boston, MA: Christian Science Publishing Society.

    Barron, B. (1987). The health and wealth gospel: What’s going on today in a movement that has shaped the faith of millions? Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

    Cindy Jacobs. (2003, October 1). Retrieved from http://

    Davis, D., & Davis, B. (1984). The Children of God: The inside story. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

    Eddy, M. (1912). Science and health. with key to the scriptures. Boston, MA: Allison V. Stewart.

    Enroth, R., & Melton, J. (1985). Why cults succeed where the church fails. Elgin, IL: Brethren Press.

    Kenyon, E. (1969). The two kinds of faith: Faith's secret revealed. (9th ed.). Lynnwood, WA: Kenyon’s Gospel Publishing Society.

    McConnell, D. (1988). A different gospel: A historical and biblical analysis of the modern faith movement. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson.

    Positive Confession. (2012, February 1). Retrieved from http://www.watchman.org/articles/other-religious-topics/

    Quimby, P. (2008). The complete collected works of Dr. Phineas Parkhurst Quimby: In order of subject matter. Manchester, CT: Seed of Life Publishing.

    Sargant, W. (1957). Battle for the mind: A physiology of conversion and brain-washing. Garden City, NY: Doubleday.

    Tillin, T. (1999). Ten Reasons to Reject Word-of-Faith Teachings. Retrieved from http://www.banner.org.uk/wof/tract3.html

    International Journal of Cultic Studies ■ Vol. 6, 2015