Miss Indonesia’s link to religious cult The Family International

Miss Gibraltar Kaiane Aldorino was crowned Miss World 2009 on Saturday, outshining 111 other hopefuls at a glittering ceremony with a distinctly African flavour, AFP reports.

Among those losing out …

was Miss Indonesia, Kerenina Sunny Halim, who was the subject of a last-minute legal battle with a South African weekly that reported on her public comments about her ties to an American religious cult.

According to a report by the weekly Mail and Guardian, Halim belongs to The Family International, which has been mired in child and sexual abuse allegations by former members.

The 23-year-old Halim told the Jakarta Globe that she is a member of the church, for which she did humanitarian work after the Asian tsunami in 2004, the Mail and Guardian said.

Organisers lost a court battle to quash the story early Saturday.
[…more…]

– Source / Full Story: Gibraltar wins Miss World 2009, Sibongile Khumalo, AFP, Dec. 13, 2009 — Summarized by Religion News Blog

Following her national coronation, Miss Indonesia, 23-year-old Kerenina Sunny Halim, admitted to the Jakarta Globe that she is a member of The Family International, a “non-governmental-organisation” for which she did humanitarian work in Aceh after the Asian tsunami in 2004. Halim, whose American mother and Indonesian father were members, was born into the organisation.

The Family International is the modern day spawn of The Children of God — and admits as much on its website. The name was changed in the 1980s after negative publicity forced it “underground”.

Founded in California in 1968 by David Brandt Berg, The Children of God was a counter-culture evangelical group with a foundation of biblical fundamentalism — and bonking.

Berg, who was also addressed as “Moses”, “Chairman Mo” or “Dad”, preached free love to his followers, to the extent that females were encouraged to go into the world and engage in “flirty-fishing” of men: essentially to use sex to proselytise.

Perry Bulwer, a Canadian lawyer and blogger who “escaped” the cult in 1991, described the now deceased Berg to the Mail & Guardian as “a self-professed prophet who was an alcoholic, incestuous, paedophile”.

During the 1990s the group, which sets up large communes for families to live together, was investigated for prostitution, child abuse and kidnapping in countries such as Argentina, France and Spain, with some members jailed briefly.

Thomas Bergstrom of Family Care, the Indonesian arm of The Family International, said Berg’s sexual-
healing approach to lost souls was “ancient history” and that while “there have been allegations, these were all proven untrue in court”.
[…more…]

– Source / Full Story: Miss Indonesia’s links to religious cult, Niren Tolsi, Mail & Guardian, South Africa, Dec. 11, 2009 — Summarized by Religion News Blog

On Friday night, the pageant organisers went to court in a bid to gag the Mail & Guardian newspaper, which published damning stories on a contestant’s alleged cult connections and the pageant’s ballooning costs.

According to the Mail & Guardian, the 2009 Miss World pageant would cost the City of Johannesburg at least R90-million – twice the previously allocated R45-million.
[…]

It also pointed out links between Miss Indonesia, 23-year-old Kerenina Sunny Halim, and The Family International, a US religious cult infamous for child and sexual abuse scandals.

The organisers of the pageant appealed to the South Gauteng High Court for an urgent interdict on Friday night, saying the stories would cause “irreparable commercial damage to the organisation if a global audience was exposed to them on the day of the pageant.”

But Judge Rami Mathopo disagreed and struck the case from the roll.
[…more…]

– Source / Full Story: Paper wins in court over Miss World gag , SOURCEANDDATE — Summarized by Religion News Blog

Once dismissed as ‘sex cult,’ Family International launches image makeover

Cult announces comeback plans at conference of cult apologists

It’s a time of intense self-scrutiny for the Family International (formerly known as the Children of God), a tiny Christian fellowship that advocates communal living, extramarital sex and an apocalyptic worldview.

Some 40 years after David Berg, a charismatic evangelical preacher, garnered thousands of hippie followers in Southern California with his messages about sharing bodies, food, children and homes, the movement is struggling to reinvent itself. The 1960s church has battled allegations of past child sexual abuse, complaints from disaffected and aging members and dissatisfaction with an outdated theology.

All new religious groups face essentially the same question if they hope to endure: How do you revise some teachings and practices for wider appeal without forsaking the faith’s unique identity and unconventional doctrines?

“Many desire to see innovation, professionalization and modernization,” Karen “Maria” Zerby, one of the Family’s spiritual and administrative leaders, said last week in her first-ever public address. “We must determine what elements of our theology, culture and context are rooted in the past and no longer hold relevance.”

Zerby, who was Berg’s wife and his successor after his death in 1994, shared her plans for reshaping the Family at the annual meeting of the Center for the Study of New Religions in Salt Lake City.

This is no small task for Zerby and her co-leader, Steve Kelly (who goes by “Peter Amsterdam”). The Family now has about 15,000 members gathered in small communal centers in 90 nations — none in Utah.

There is a core group of followers, including some second- and third-generation members, but fewer than 20 percent of the original participants remain, and many of the those are in poor health with no medical insurance or retirement plans.

The church made headlines in 2005 when Zerby’s son, Ricky Rodriguez, murdered Angela Smith, his former nanny and confidante of his mother, and then shot himself. Rodriguez blamed the Family for ruining his life.

That’s all behind us, said two public-affairs representatives for the church who were in Salt Lake City for the conference.

“We acknowledge that mistakes were made and that there were excesses,” said Claire Borowik, who has been with the Family International for 30 years. “We’ve taken stringent measures to right those wrongs and apologized to former members.”

Thus, she said, “we find it disheartening for people to focus so much on the past.”
[…]

Zerby’s speech in Utah was part of the Family’s coming-out party, said Utah attorney Michael Homer, one of the conference sponsors.

“The Family has made a decision to begin constructing a more public profile,” he said. “It plans to enhance its Internet presence and adapt its message to the cultures in which it lives. It also plans to open the membership to persons who are not full-time missionaries and do not want to necessarily commit their entire day to Family activities. This may include allowing members to live outside homes and not participate in communal living.”
[…]

– Source / Full Story: Family International: Once dismissed as ‘sex cult,’ tiny church launches image makeover, Peggy Fletcher Stack, The Salt Lake Tribune, June 25, 2009 — Summarized by Religion News Blog

Buyer Beware:
Learn more about The Family International
CESNUR, the organization at whose conference The Family announced its plans, is known for its support of a wide variety of cults ranging from relatively benign to destructive. Among cult experts interested in helping people leave — or avoid — cults, CESNUR is known as an organization of cult apologists.
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