Apology to Former Members

Letter of Apology from Karen Zerby (Maria) and Steve Kelly (Peter) to Former Members of the Family International (formerly the Children of God)

November 2009

To former members of the Family (or the Children of God)‚

We pray that this letter finds you and your loved ones well. We wish you all the best and hope that your lives are filled with God’s many blessings. We want to take this opportunity to thank you for your years of missionary service with the Family. Your contributions have played an important role in our mission of reaching the world with God’s love.

As you may be aware, the Family is currently in the process of restructuring and reformation, what we have referred to as the “change journey.” Although we have undergone a number of reorganizations throughout our history, the changes currently underway are monumental. Our hope is that they will enable Family members to better serve God and fellow man, while also developing their potential and pursuing their personal goals. 

As part of the process of introducing change, we have been evaluating our culture and practices, as well as our doctrine, to determine which elements of our current practices and beliefs represent truly core values and which are outdated or subject to change. This has also entailed examining our history and different attitudes and mindsets that have become part of our culture.

To our deep regret, over the course of the Family’s forty-year history, mistakes have been made that affected the lives of a number of members, both young and old. Although we have expressed our apologies in the past for difficult or hurtful experiences that any current or former members may have had, we want to take this opportunity to again express to you our heartfelt apologies.

Considering that the Family has gone through eras within our history during which attitudes, outlooks, and doctrinal interpretation or implementation varied, the experiences of former members may vary vastly. This being the case, we realize that this apology may not specifically address some aspect of your experiences. However, our hope is that it will be understood to address any difficulties you may have personally faced.

As the Family’s current leadership, we want to personally apologize to you for any negative, difficult, or hurtful circumstances you may have experienced during your time as a member of the Family or in the process of leaving the Family. We acknowledge that a number of former members faced difficulties in the transitional period of establishing themselves once they departed from our communal society. We are striving to facilitate the transition of former members and their entrance into the work force or educational pursuits.

We acknowledge that negative attitudes have existed throughout our history toward people who departed from the Family, regardless of their reasons for doing so. Although we have endeavored to eradicate such perspectives from the early 1990s onwards, some people have continued to feel stigmatized upon leaving or thereafter, for which we are very sorry.

We have also been saddened that many who wished to continue as part of our fellowship of faith or to consider the Family their faith base, or to maintain contact with their friends and loved ones within the Family, have not felt welcome. We are striving to build a more inclusive culture that will be welcoming and embracing of others without regard to their membership standing.

David Berg’s [Dad’s] writings were often harsh toward former members, at the time referred to as “backsliders.” The application of the principles articulated in these writings resulted in uncharitable actions and gave rise to a judgmental and intolerant spirit toward those who chose to leave. Former and current members were hurt, relationships were strained or severed, and families were divided in a number of cases, resulting in hurt and unhappiness in the lives of a number of people.

We are very sorry for the hurt and difficulties this former position caused. People who left the Family should not have been labeled, and their actions should not have been judged or criticized by others. While the “backsliding” concept has not been prevalent in our publications for the past 15 years, the former position was not fully reversed; the necessary focus was not placed on ensuring that people who chose to leave the Family received the help and support that they needed. We apologize if you didn’t receive the assistance that you needed or would have wished for.

The negative perspective toward those who chose to leave the Family also came to be applied to second generation members who decided to pursue a different career or lifestyle. This should not have occurred. We acknowledge that every individual has the right to exercise his or her freedom of choice regarding career pursuits and lifestyle goals. Family members are now free to pursue additional careers or higher education without prejudice to their membership. We sincerely apologize to any second generation members who did not receive the support and encouragement they needed to get established, or lacked in education or accreditation to transition to the work force or to the pursuit of higher education.

In the late 1990s and early 2000s, a number of former second generation members formed common cause in expressing their grievances and unhappiness with their experiences in the Family. The debate became highly charged, resulting in our addressing the issues being raised by former members in our internal publications. We regret that some of our writings of the time in defense of the Family came to be misinterpreted as the Family’s general attitude and stance toward former members, particularly second generation former members. That was not our intention, and in hindsight, we wish we could have foreseen this and avoided publishing anything that created that impression. We regret any hurt or communication breakdowns this caused.

In 2008, we issued an open apology to current and former second generation members, in which we apologized to any second generation member, who, due to the lack of restrictions and stringent child protection policies from 1978 through the mid-1980s, was subjected to inappropriate or harmful sexual behavior of any kind (www.myconclusion.com/apology-to-second-generation). We want to reiterate our heartfelt apologies to you if anything of this nature happened to you.

We regret that more restrictions, guidelines and safeguards were not in place to prevent hurtful or inappropriate behavior in the practice of the sexual applications of the Family’s Law of Love doctrine. A number of safeguards were instituted over the years, but we acknowledge that in practice, marital relations were strained or disrupted in a number of cases, which resulted in family units being destabilized. We sincerely apologize to any first or second generation member who was subjected to any hurtful or inappropriate behavior due to the Family’s practice of the Law of Love.

We also acknowledge that prior to the establishing of our Charter in 1995, marriages and families didn’t receive the necessary safeguarding to preserve the stability of families. Due to an overemphasis on the principle of placing God’s work over personal families, in a number of cases families endured separations that were not initiated by personal choice; or parents were asked to separate for a time, and in some situations these ended up being permanent separations. Teens (or preteens) in a number of cases lived apart from their families for extended periods. We acknowledge that being apart from a parent or children or a husband or wife is very difficult, and we are deeply sorry for the cases where this occurred. The rights of parents and children were addressed in 1995 when the Charter was published, whereby protections for families and clearly articulated rights for parents and children were established, placing greater emphasis on family units.

Due to our previous belief that children born in the Family were destined to serve the Lord with the Family, we sought to protect young people from outside or harmful influences, with the goal of helping them to become stronger Christians. This resulted in an overly protective environment that became restrictive and limiting, and focused primarily on preparing young people for future missionary service. It took us time to come to the realization that teenagers would naturally question the Family’s beliefs and lifestyle, and would need to receive preparation to adopt life and career pursuits outside of the Family, if they chose to do so. We acknowledge that the education of children brought up in Family communities must enable them to pursue the career of their choice or higher education.

In order to prepare young people for future discipleship, programs to address what was considered problem behavior at the time were implemented, such as the “victor” program. We apologize to any second generation members who had negative experiences with “victor” programs or any other similar programs in operation between the late 1980s and early 1990s. We acknowledge that in some situations where such programs were implemented, young people were subjected to unloving or inappropriate treatment and excessive discipline. This was wrong and should not have occurred.

We regret that more stringent restrictions for child discipline were not instituted earlier to ensure that minors were not subjected to any form of excessive discipline. This was addressed in 1994 with the publishing of child discipline guidelines (“Family Discipline Guidelines,” ML #2919), which were also included in the Charter in 1995.

In the process of addressing what was considered problem behavior, some teenagers or young adults were strongly reprimanded in Family publications. Adult members were also highlighted from time to time, and their troubles made public. Public reprimands of this nature were inappropriate. Peter and I apologize to any young person or adult who had their private lives made public in this way.

Since 1995, with the publishing of the Charter, clearly articulated rules and regulations have been in place to govern all aspects of Family life and to protect the rights of individuals. The rights of children within the Family are clearly defined therein, as well as the rights and responsibilities of parents. Standards regarding education, leadership authority, medical decisions, etc., were established, upholding the parents’ responsibility for all decisions pertaining to their minor children. We are confident that these guidelines have served to ensure that Family communities provide a positive environment for all members. The current structural changes underway will further serve to provide opportunities for individuals to operate according to their personal faith and conviction, and to develop their potential.

We wish we could change the past to undo any hurts or difficulties you experienced, but sadly, that’s not possible. As the Family’s leadership of today, we ask your forgiveness. We hope that you will accept our apologies as sincere and heartfelt in expressing our regret for any pain or unhappiness you experienced during your years in the Family. We wish you the very best in your family, career, and future. We pray that your life will be filled with God’s blessings, peace, joy, and fulfillment.

Maria and Peter

The Family International www.thefamilyinternational.org | E-mail: family@thefamily.org