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Claims of Child Abuse in a New Religious Movement

New Religious Movements (NRMs) are groups commonly--and incorrectly--referred to as "cults." (The label of "cult" typically says more about the person's negative view of the group than it does about the group itself.) Often these groups are very misunderstood, and portrayed in media (television, newspapers and magazines) in ways that are quite far from reality. One such case is that of The Family, a world-wide NRM that has been accused of promoting systematic sexual abuse of its children. Clinical child psychologist Lawrence Lilliston and sociologist Gary Shepherd, both of Oakland University (Rochester, Michigan, USA), investigated these claims of child abuse and wrote the following report. This report is provided here with the permission of the authors.

Please note that the placement of this report on my webpage is not an endorsement of The Family's beliefs or practices. I believe that the report has educational value, and I include it here for that reason. By reading it, you may learn (a) a little about how a psychological evaluation is written, and (b) to be a more critical "consumer" of media claims regarding NRMs and other religious groups. To the best of my knowledge, all religious perspectives have been slandered and persecuted at one time or another; I hope that this report encourages some degree of tolerance among people with differing religious views.

You should be aware that The Family funded the evaluation, and that there is some ongoing discussion of this type of practice in academic circles. A general consensus exists that such arrangements should be acknowledged, whether the object of study is a religious group, or a product. In my case, my only connection to The Family is that I have met several members of the group, and I found them to be very helpful once when I travelled to Ukraine and needed some advice and assistance with the visa office in Kyiv.

Psychological Assessment of Children in The Family

Lawrence Lilliston
Department of Psychology
Oakland University
and Gary Shepherd
Department of Sociology and Anthropology
Oakland University

© 1994 Lawrence Lilliston and Gary Shepherd

If you find this article interesting, you may also want to obtain a copy of the Lewis & Melton's (1994) book, Sex, slander, and salvation: Investigating the Family/Children of God, published by the Center for Academic Publication (Stanford, California). In this book funded by The Family, you will find several additional studies investigating aspects of The Family.

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