The Family International (TFI), a controversial Christian movement known for once using sexual favors to win converts, has launched significant reforms that have stunned cult watchers and followers alike.
Known originally as the Children of God, the group began in 1968 as part of the Jesus People movement but became infamous for its sexual libertarianism, prophetic obsession, and elitism.
Founder David Berg adopted evangelical views on many doctrines, but over time his teachings supplanted the Bible. Cult watchers criticized Berg's teaching that female disciples should use sexual favors—termed "flirty fishing"—to convert men to Jesus. More notoriously, the group once had an open attitude about sexual contact between adults and minors.
Both practices ceased by 1987, but even after Berg's death in 1994, TFI leaders Peter (nee Steve Kelly) and Maria (nee Karen Zerby, Berg's widow) taught that consensual sex between non-married adults was permitted in Family homes and encouraged members to think of Jesus as a love partner.
The last time TFI made headlines was in January 2005 when Maria's son Ricky Rodriguez, the once-future leader who left in 2001, killed longtime member Angela Smith and then shot himself.
But a new vision for TFI, which peaked at 15,000 members and numbers 4,000 today, may lead to less shocking headlines.
In a 2010 document called "Change Journey Manifesto," Peter (who married Maria after Berg died) announced that God said TFI needed to change directions in order to fulfill its mission and allow members to blossom as individuals. "We are standing at the edge of the cliff, poised to dive into the future, into the new," he wrote.
Spokesperson Claire Borowick told CT that what TFI today calls "the reboot" ...1
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