Encyclopedia of Religion
and Society

William H. Swatos, Jr. Editor

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"The Family" is the current name used by one of the more controversial of the "new religions," a group best known by the name Children of God (COG).

This group developed as a part of the Jesus Movement (JM) in the late 1960s, and quickly, through mergers and aggressive recruitment, became the largest of the JM groups. The COG spread across the world and has had outposts in well over 100 countries. It is best known for its "litnessing," which refers to the production and distribution of thousands of different publications, many known as "Mo Letters," after the name Moses, which was assumed by the founder David Berg.

A recruitment tactic know as "flirty fishing," or "ffing," which was practiced for a number of years by the COG, also gained it notoriety because it involved young women using sexual favors to attract potential recruits. That practice, and the accompanying COG literature, has caused this group to be controversial, even though the practice of ffing has been discontinued for years.

In recent times, The Family has attracted considerable attention as the focus of a number of government-initiated legal actions in several different countries to take away children of the group on grounds that they were being abused (including sexual abuse), and that being reared in Family communal living situations with home schooling itself constituted abuse or neglect. All of these efforts to take away Family children have ultimately failed, although the battles and controversy have been very demanding and costly. The Family currently has between 8,000 and 9,000 members, with about 5,000 of those being children of early recruits.

James T. Richardson


R. Davis and J. T. Richardson, "Organization and Functioning of the COG," Sociological Analysis 37(1976):321-339

J. Lewis (ed.), Sex, Slander, and Salvation (Stanford, Calif.: Center for Academic Publication, 1994)

J. T. Richardson and R. Davis, "Experiential Fundamentalism," Journal of the American Academy of Religion 51(1983):397-425

D. Van Zandt, Living in the Children of God (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1991)

R. Wallis (ed.), Salvation and Protest (New York: St. Martin's, 1979).

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