A Rejoinder to James Chancellor’s Response to My ArticlePerry Bulwer, B.A., LL.B.I have a few comments in response to Dr. Chancellor’s criticisms of my article. First, he describes my criticism of William Bainbridge and G. Gordon Melton as a “scathing attack” on those two scholars. In fact, half of what I write about Bainbridge is simply citing what other scholars have written about his work on The Family. My own analysis is confined to pointing out two glaring errors in Bainbridge’s foreword to Dr. Chancellor’s book. It is hardly a scathing attack to point out that an expert on The Family is completely wrong about one of their central doctrines regarding nuclear families, namely One Wife.
Similarly, most of what I write about Melton comes from other scholars’ analysis of his work on The Family. My own criticism, far from a scathing attack, simply points out the discrepancy between Melton’s writings from 1986 to 1992, in which he doubted The Family could ever gain respectability in the larger religious community, and his favorable view of The Family in his writings in 1994 and beyond. Furthermore, I do not consider it an attack to point out the fact that a scholar who once wrote critically and now writes favorably about The Family also received a large cash payment from the group.
It seems that my reporting of that last fact has caused Dr. Chancellor to accuse me of using innuendo to paint him with the same brush as Bainbridge and Melton. Perhaps that is just his way of trying to distance himself from them. The sentence in which I report the fact of Melton receiving money from The Family contains two main clauses. The first clause points out that both Melton and Dr. Chancellor are considered experts by The Family. The second, independent clause singles out Melton as the recipient of money from the group. There is no suggestion by me that Dr. Chancellor accepted money from The Family and I reject the insinuation that I deliberately tried to give that impression. Perhaps I would have been clearer if I made that sentence into two separate ones, but I am not sure even that would have satisfied Dr. Chancellor.
Interestingly, after accusing me of deliberately attempting to disparage him by factually associating him with scholars whose work on The Family is somewhat dubious, Dr. Chancellor uses innuendo himself to attempt to associate me with abusive leaders in The Family. He writes that I “… was an active adult male in The Family, age 20 to 34, during the very worst years of sexual, physical, emotional, and psychological abuse of the disciples and their children.” His insinuation is that I must have had some part in the abuses that occurred, even though he knows nothing about me and admits to not having done any research on former members.
Dr. Chancellor conveniently overlooks the fact that I was only 16 when I joined the group, hardly a mature adult. While still an extremely impressionable minor, I was submitted to intense indoctrination by means of spiritual coercion and psychological manipulation, in an isolated environment where I was undernourished and overworked. There is a reason the Canadian and U.S. militaries require parental consent for new recruits under 18 years old who have not yet attained full maturity (an appropriate analogy since I was recruited and indoctrinated to believe that I was a revolutionary Christian soldier). Furthermore, consent in the case of the military is given with full disclosure and recruitment is without coercion, unlike the group I joined. My life most likely would have taken a very different turn, if I had known the true nature of the group and that their leader, whose identity was kept from me for at least the first year after joining, was a sex-obsessed, incestuous, and abusive alcoholic. Perhaps in his haste to insinuate, wrongly, that I abused others it did not occur to Dr. Chancellor that I too was abused.
It is difficult to determine if Dr. Chancellor is encouraging me or merely taunting me to write my story. I do intend to write it one day, but that could yet be years in the making. He says that my credibility would be enhanced (I did not realize it needed enhancement) if I revealed more about my personal involvement in The Family. Early drafts of my article did contain passages where my personal experiences confirmed some of the reported abuses. However, I decided to take out all personal references. The intent of the article is to fill in some of the gaps in Chancellor’s narrative. Just as Chancellor chose to leave out of his book any in-depth discussion of Family leadership, I chose to leave out my personal experiences as the evidence I provide is loud and clear without requiring confirmation from me. Furthermore, if he is not willing to do research on former members, it is not clear to me how reading my unique story would help him understand what he refers to as “this very unusual community of people.” Is Dr. Chancellor here making the same assumption he appears to make in his book, that is, former members are a homogenous group divided only between those who remain favorable to The Family and those who do not? It will take more than just a few personal stories like mine to understand the extremely diverse community to which he refers.
If Dr. Chancellor is so concerned about my credibility, perhaps it will satisfy him if I respond to his innuendo by categorically stating that I was never in a position of leadership in The Family, and I never abused anyone in anyway, sexually, physically, psychologically, emotionally or otherwise. I did witness instances of physical, spiritual and psychological abuse as well as medical neglect, and suffered the same, at the hands of Family leaders. The list of abuses I suffered is too long to list here, but includes two medical emergencies where my life was seriously endangered (I have the scars to prove it) through no fault of my own. Both times, though certainly not the only times, I was punished by leadership for being out of God’s will (I have scars of a different kind from that). I did not see all that abuse for what it was, given my state of mind at the time, which was entirely informed by David Berg’s warped world-view in an isolated, high demand, totalitarian milieu. That is a large topic not suitable for discussion here, but it suggests a possible subject for Dr. Chancellor’s next research project.
Also inclining me to ask if Dr. Chancellor views all former members as essentially the same, even while he objects to being lumped in with other experts on The Family, are his complaints about how he has been treated by other former members. I do not understand why he feels the need to bring up specific instances of his interactions with other former members and various accusations made against him, as if I am somehow responsible. He writes: “But I think it is very important that this community of people understand that their story is harmed, not enhanced, when they make unjust and in some cases malicious attacks on persons who view the Family through a different lens.” I certainly have not made unjust or malicious attacks on Dr. Chancellor or anyone else, and I am not responsible for those who may have. It seems to me that he has simply taken this opportunity to air some grievances unrelated to me and my article, and in doing so has used a little innuendo of his own.
Dr. Chancellor complains about statements I make in my article that his is not the whole story, and takes this opportunity to assure his readers that he is well aware of that fact. Perhaps he missed it, but I was also careful to explain to my readers that same point, writing: “Chancellor does acknowledge that his book is not the whole story and that The Family requires a broader assessment from academics as well as former members.” It seems Dr. Chancellor is still on the defensive, as if my article is a direct or even indirect attack on him. It is not. My intended audience for this article is the academic community and my purpose, which I repeat a few times, is to provide a fuller picture than they would get from just reading Dr. Chancellor’s book alone.
Regarding The Family’s doctrine of Deceivers Yet True, Dr. Chancellor complains that I do “… not point to a single statement made by a disciple in my book that is not true.” That is to miss the point about that doctrine. It is not as much about making false statements as it is about only telling half-truths; deceiving and misleading while appearing to be truthful. That is what makes it an effective strategy and why I criticize him for not forewarning his readers about that doctrine. The analysis by Justice Ward in the British custody case is sufficient to show how far Family members will go to conceal the truth and tell outright lies. More difficult to discern is the dissembling of truth outside of a courtroom by telling only half-truths and part of the story. Contrary to Dr. Chancellor’s suspicion that I am most troubled by what he put in his book, not what he left out, what I objected to in Dr. Chancellor’s interviews of Family members was not lies they told, but truths they did not. Although, to his credit, Dr. Chancellor does expose “a great deal of the darker side of the Family,” his methodology, as he has acknowledged, prevented him from discovering the truths that current members did not tell him about. Further research into the perspectives of former members of the Family, including those who have criticized Dr. Chancellor and other academics, will provide a more accurate and complete picture of the Family.
Dr. Chancellor states that the major issue here is sexual abuse, that according to his understanding there is “no evidence of current sexual abuse,” and wonders if I have such evidence. I do not claim in my article that systemic sexual abuse is occurring now or that I have evidence for it. What I do is document Family publications, Family doctrines and beliefs, and leadership attitudes that continue to put children in harms way or deny them basic human rights. Justice Ward came to the same conclusion and expressed concern for children’s futures in The Family. I also document the fact that many changes in The Family are superficial and thus provide no real assurance that their children’s inherent human rights will be respected, something Ward was also concerned about. Hence, even if there is no evidence of current abuse, these other facts about the Family suggest that the level of abuse and risk to children might be greater than the current evidence indicates, for, as I have argued repeatedly, discovering the full truth about the Family requires more diligent investigations than have thus far been conducted.
I am glad that Dr. Chancellor does not consider my “attack” on his work, as he puts it, to be malicious. It is not. It is not even an attack, let alone a scathing attack. My article is not intended to disparage his work or him personally. My only interest is in ensuring the whole truth about this controversial and secretive group is revealed to the public, especially scholars involved in the study of such groups. In my article I credit Dr. Chancellor with acknowledging his is not the whole story, and I proceed to fill in some of the gaps left by his methodology. I, too, do not provide the whole story and acknowledge that there are issues better left to others.
To satisfy Dr. Chancellor’s curiosity about my experiences in The Family, and to show I harbour no ill-will towards him, I would be willing to be interviewed by him should he ever decide to attempt “… to do the same kind of research with former members and tell the whole story again from a very different perspective.”
About the Author
Perry Bulwer spent close to 20 years in The Family International. He dropped out of high school in 1972 to join the Children of God (COG), as the organization was then known, when he was just 16 years old. He lived in COG communes in Canada, the United States, Japan, the Philippines, Korea, Malaysia, and China. After he left the group in 1991, by then known as The Family of Love, or simply The Family, he went on to earn a law degree. He was called to the Bar in 2003 and is a member of The Law Society of British Columbia. Perry is involved in a number of social justice and human rights issues, and is an advisory board member of RISE International, a UK-based community interest company that advocates children’s rights and supports survivors of child abuse.
Cultic Studies Review, Vol. 6, No. 2, 2007, 167-172