Presented on October 21, 2000
Annual Meeting of the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion and Religious Research Association
Doubletree Post Oak Hotel
Douglas M. Sell
Department of Education and Child Development
University of Nebraska Medical Center
985450 Nebraska Medical Center
Omaha, Nebraska 68198-5450
The study of members (or former members) of new religious movements (NRM) can be a task fraught with controversy. Unconventional religious movements, particularly those which confront the mainstream religious or secular mores embedded in a culture or society, may find themselves criticized (and occasionally attacked) by members of longer-standing religious, political, and government institutions (Bainbridge, 1997). Some studies have shown negative effects associated with membership (Enroth, 1987; Walsh, Russell, & Wells, 1995), while others have shown positive to neutral effects on psychological adjustment (Galanter, 1989; Lewis, 1994; Shepherd & Lilliston, 1994). Some authors have implied that only persons with significant personality or psychiatric problems will join or remain in such groups (Day & Peters, 1999; Hexham & Poewe, 1986; Hoffer, 1951).
This study was concerned with just one NRM called, The Family (formerly Children of God'). Founded by the late David Brandt Berg in 1967, its most recent census reported over 10,000 active members located in 86 nations. The Familys practices have tended to be born out of the Jesus People Movement of the 1960s and early 1970s, in which American Protestant fundamentalism mixed with a nearly exclusive focus on having a personal relationship with Jesus and an experiential orientation that placed relatively little value on beliefs or practices (Bainbridge, 1997).
Wallis (1987) categorized The Family as a "world-rejecting" movement: spawned by socially marginalized persons experiencing anxiety, deprivation, and despair, members of world-rejecting movements have rejected both materialism and the impersonal nature of corporate capitalist society. Such movements seek to change society or to develop an alternative way in which they can live in it. The Family have become much more visible in the United States, coinciding with their return around 1990.
The Familys belief system shares much in common with many nondenominational, conservative evangelical Christian theologies. The Family doctrine is based on a mixture of Christian fundamentalism and extra-biblical teachings, most usually in the form of "MO Letters," (Father Moses epistles which were periodically sent out to Family communes). The Mo Letters usually delineated the groups proscribed behavior, doctrine, and organization, and they were generally given equal weight to Scripture (Millikan, 1994). The Family therefore upholds the concept of progressive revelation; the Bible is considered to be Gods Word yet additional clarification, insights, and plans may be made known in the present (Melton, 1994). They proclaim a coming apocalyptic period which will be ushered in by the Millennium. Some of their basic tenets of faith include the belief that a rise of the Antichrist is imminent and that negative world events are signs of the impending Great Tribulation.
According to Gomes (1995), some Family beliefs and practices (some core and others peripheral) do lie outside the circle of what is considered essential to Christianity, yet many are not unique to The Family. The Family of today, in fact, is less radical and more analogous to many conventional Christian churches. Since 1995, The Family have had an Internet site on the World Wide Web (www.thefamily.org) which provides an up-to-date view of their activities, history, theology, and core message to persons interested in finding more information about the group.
Since The Familys inception, the group has emphasized the power and "divine goodness" of human sexuality (Saliba, 1994). The Law of Love is a foundational principle of The Familys theology, based on Jesus statement that "Loving God with all ones mind, soul, and heart and loving ones neighbor as oneself" is the greatest commandment, which should guide and govern all actions of Christians, and led to The Familys doctrine of positive sexuality (The Family, personal email communication, April 10, 2000).
The most renowned Family practice which grew out of the Law of Love was "Flirty Fishing" (or "FFing"). Begun as an experiment in 1973, this entailed female Family members purposely meeting strange men in social settings, developing a conversation, and then possibly following this encounter with physical intimacy (which might lead up to sexual intercourse). Such loving contact and selfless giving was thought to meet the perceived bodily and emotional needs of lonely men, and in-turn lead them to accept Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. By 1979, FFing had become a missionary practice which pervaded most Family Homes, and the practice contributed considerably to The Familys infamous reputation of being a "sex cult." Since artificial birth control was rejected by The Family, several children were conceived during FFing encounters; these progeny were called "Jesus Babies." While most these children became Family members, they accounted for < 10% of total Family births during the period in which FFing was practiced (Lewis, 1994; Palmer, 1994). That men engaging in sexual encounters with Family members would periodically voluntarily tithe (i.e., give money) lead to allegations that The Family were engaged in prostitution as a means to simply support their memberships financial needs.
Few empirical studies have been conducted on active members of The Family, although several socio-psychological histories have been written about the group. The Family has been domesticated by internal and external pressures since its beginnings, so much written about it during its colorful history in the 1970s and 1980s will have somewhat limited value since the group became somewhat more mainstream during the 1990s (Lewis, 1994; Richardson, 1994).
In 1993, Shepherd and Lilliston (1994) completed an in-depth psychological assessment on child and adolescent members of The Family living in two different communal homes based in California. Most of these participants had previously lived in Family Homes located in other nations (e.g., South America, Asia, Europe, and Mexico). Their study sample therefore most likely reflected the additive product of child rearing and educational practices (as well as other environmental influences) present in other Family communities around the world.
Shepherd and Lilliston (1994) found consistent evidence (in the form of observational data, direct assessment of children, and interviews with members) that their study participants had been and continued to be raised in healthy environments. Participants appeared comfortable when interacting with adults, seemed to have age-appropriate ego and emotional development (with no indications of significant anxiety or depression), and exhibited well developed ego functions (i.e., had appropriate impulse control as indicated by neither suppression of spontaneity nor under control). Members were judged to have a generally high degree of ego regulation (i.e., capacity to adjust behavior to different situational demands and changes in ongoing situations) and good cognitive flexibility (i.e., ability to take on stimuli and situations from a different perspective). Creativity and curiosity were high, and functional skills (which enable individuals to cope with stress) were well developed, and perhaps superior compared to children drawn from mainstream American society. No evidence of either psychopathology or child neglect or abuse was uncovered.
Children and adolescents in the Shepherd and Lilliston (1994) study functioned at a high level compared to similar aged non-member cohorts, suggesting that The Family Home-based schools were quite effective at teaching basic academic skills. The child participants academic and cognitive functioning was determined to be above the norm; WISC and WRAT scores placed most children above average, and the typical Family child exceeded age-based norms in reading and arithmetic by two to four grades. Their problem-solving skills on concrete, abstract, and interpersonal tasks were well developed. Based on the results of their psychological tests, clinical interviews, and behavioral observations. Lilliston and Shepherd (1994) described the Family children as "emotionally well adjusted, cognitively advanced, and quite adaptive in interpersonal functioning" (p. 52).
The results obtained by Lilliston and Shepherd (1994) led them to conclude that occasional allegations of wide-spread, institutionalized child abuse within The Family are unwarranted. While not denying that singular cases of child abuse might have occurred or could happen (given the global child abuse base rate), these authors concluded that "The children we studied are simply too healthy to be products of a system in which abuse occurs at a high level" (p. 56). That The Family has consistently been found innocent of all allegations of child abuse brought against them in various courts lends further support to this point.
The Shepherd and Lilliston (1994) study was a well done, in-depth investigation of The Family, but it had some limitations. First, the researchers relied largely on observational data to evaluate the psychological functioning of their relatively smallish sample. Although this method of data collection offers many advantages, the use of accepted psychometric instruments would provide data that could more directly be compared to scores obtained from the population. Second, while their sample was arguably representative, it was relatively small and participants were drawn from just a few locations in the same geographic area. Third, while the investigators used widely accepted intelligence tests, no standardized personality or religiousness instruments were administered. So while they were able to collect valuable qualitative information, more quantitative data would have enabled more direct comparisons with larger, normative samples.
The purpose of this study was to complement the Lilliston and Shepherd (1994) study by addressing its shortcomings. First, study participants were drawn from several different homes across a large geographic area. Second, the actual number of participants (N = 172) was much larger than the one used in their study. Finally, this study obtained considerably more quantitative information due to its use of standardized instruments which permitted the investigator to make straightforward comparisons between the personality and religious functioning of current Family members (who have spent most of their lives growing up within the group) and normative group peers.
Participants personality was assessed with the Sixteen Personality Factors Questionnaire (16PF--Fifth Edition)(Cattell, 1989; Cattell, Eber, & Tatsuola, 1970), and the Structural Analysis of Social Behavior (SASB) Intrex-Medium Form, which was completed for both Self at Best and Self at Worst scenarios (individual introjects only) (Benjamin, 1974; Benjamin, 1993; Benjamin, 1996a). Based on findings of the study conducted by Lilliston and Shepherd (1994), this sample was expected to have normal personality development as defined by all 16PF Primary and Global Factor scales remaining in the normative range. Mean Introject sample scores on the SASB Intrex were also expected to remain within a range suggestive of overall healthy psychological functioning. It was expected that some members might have personality features which might suggest less than optimal adjustment (as in any large group), but that overall scores would show participants' profiles to be similar to the scale's norm group.
Sample scores were expected to reflect good mental health in general, as evidenced by mean personality scale scores that (a) did not have extreme mean magnitudes and (b) showed no overall patterns of psychopathology. Given a frequent finding in previous studies of members in communal NRMs, we might expect to find somewhat reduced levels of personal autonomy and elevated levels of self-monitoring and self-restraint, but these trends would be expected to be of small magnitude compared to the normative groups. Such a finding may speak more to the adequacy (i.e., personal fit) and successful adaptation to living in a communal setting rather than religious immaturity or psychological maladjustment (Bainbridge, 1997). All sample scale scores will therefore need to be interpreted in light of the context in which participants live. It was anticipated that the sample score variance would be similar (i.e., not significantly different) to the norm sample's score variance.
Religious attitudes were assessed with the Intrinsic-Extrinsic Religiousness Scale--Revised (I/E-R) and the Religious Status Inventory (RSI). The sample was expected to have greater religious maturity as defined by significantly higher scores on all Religious Status Inventory Dimension and Factor subscales. The sample was expected to have a religious motivation which was more intrinsic than extrinsic as defined by the I-E/R subscales (I, Ep, and Es).
The participants were expected to be at least somewhat invested in "looking good" as a group, therefore scores on scales which measure social desirability (i.e., 16PF response profile scores) were expected to be significantly elevated above the norm.
All participants (N = 172, mean age 19.35 years, age range 15 - 25) were active members living in official group communes (Homes') located in either the United States or Canada. Most participants were born, raised, and educated in The Family.
Given the somewhat exploratory nature of this study, it was decided that all results would be evaluated using two-tailed statistical tests. Given the relatively large number of variables evaluated, there exists some risk for capitalizing upon chance. Therefore, multivariate overall significance tests were computed at each step of the analysis (the results of which are listed at the bottom of most tables).
The hypothesis that the group would present with an overly positive impression management bent was not supported by the data. The three 16PF validity scales were all well within normal limits. In fact, the Impression Management scale score was significantly lower than average, suggesting the participants answered more openly than many who take the test. Mean group scores on the 16PF were within the average personality domain with no pathological trends. Mean SASB Intrex scores suggested that participants had healthy introjects, viewed rebellion in relationships negatively, and highly prized internalized self-discipline.
The SASB Intrex group profiles at Best suggested a strong internalized sense of nurturance (4) coupled with internalized discipline (5), self affirmation (2), and self love (3). The "peaks" were all positive (which seems to suggest a healthy ability to care for the self), but all with a desire to do this within norms set by the community. At Worst, the group offers a somewhat different picture: ambivalence appears, and the balance between Good Self and Bad Self is obviously a vacillating one, where ambiguity becomes part of the picture. This is a normal and desirable trait, and this does not appear to have pathological results. Sample SASB Intrex scores did not suggest psychopathology, as the relevant cluster scale scores (6, 7, and 8) were not elevated. Mean sample SASB Intrex scores were all in the relatively healthy range.
Religious Maturity. RSI scores suggested that participants had significantly greater religious maturity than Christians in conventional churches on whom norms were based. Six of the 8 Dimension scales (Awareness of God, Acceptance of Gods Grace and Steadfast Love, Knowing Gods Leadership and Direction, Involvement in Organized Religion, Being Ethical, and Affirming Openness in Faith) scores were found to be both significantly higher than the norm, as was the Dimensions Total scale which suggests that the sample had greater religious maturity than the normative group. Six of the seven RSI Factors scores were found to be both significantly higher than the norm and meeting the criterion that their magnitude be at least 0.25 standard deviations different from the norm, as was the Dimensions Total scale. Although Religious Omissions and Simple Trust were elevated, suggesting somewhat less religious maturity than the norm, Worship and Commitment, Involvement in Organized Religion, Avoidance, and Fellowship scores suggested greater religious maturity than the norm. The Family participants significantly higher general factor for overall Religious Maturity (Factors Total) suggests that the sample was, as expected, more mature in this domain.
Religious Motivation. I/E-R scale scores suggested that participants' religious motivation was considerably more intrinsic than that of persons included in normative samples available. Scores on the Intrinsic (I) scale found the sample to be exceedingly more intrinsic than the norm. Extrinsic religiousness was similar to the norm; while social extrinsic motivation (Es) was significantly below the norm, personal extrinsic motivation (Ep) did not differ significantly from the norm.
The Family participants obtained scores on personality (traits and introjects) and religiousness (maturity and motivation) scales were consistent with the hypotheses of overall good mental health, overall greater religious maturity, and more intrinsic religiousness than norm-group peers. These results suggest that participants appear to have been raised in and/or continue to live in psychologically and social healthy environments. That The Family members in our study sample, on average, obtained psychologically normal scores suggest that they differ little from those of the normal population was supported by the results. This is not to say that no maladjustment exists amongst The Familys membership, but rather, that there appears to be a preponderance of overall normality.
The Family members live a rather different lifestyle than is normative in most cultures around the world. While overall scores suggest healthy psychological and religious functioning, this group must be understood within a proper context. While the positive findings in this study might be generalized to the greater international Family community, these findings are not necessarily applicable to youth raised in different NRMs. Given the variety of NRMs throughout the world which have a plethora of different beliefs and practices, it is unfeasible to generalize the results obtained by members of one NRM to another, unrelated religious group.
The SASB Intrex scores attained by this sample might prove analogous to what might be attained by military personnel on a submarine, where there exists a need for individual members to be loyal, self-sacrificing, and deferent to rules and authority on the one hand, while being self-disciplined, autonomous, and self-sufficient on the other, if the entire community is to survive. Members who have not benefited, or were perhaps harmed by being raised in this group, may have freely left it for this very reason. That embers who benefited, stayed, and those who did not were able to leave of their own volition might explain the fact that ex-members of NRMs have tended to have the particular score profiles observed where people who leave (whether freely or being forced out) are more likely to make a negative appraisal of their former lineage.
The SASB Intrex results suggest reasonably normal personality and intrapersonal functioning. The average participant tended to devalue free thinking and place greater value on loyalty to group needs than most peers their age. The visual representation of the mean cluster scale values show group members to be largely normative. Sample pattern coefficients suggest that The Family are socialized to think that to be assertive, individuated, and differentiated is a "bad thing." This is consistent with The Family communitys view which promotes interdependence rather than autonomy. This is consistent with the Shepherd and Lilliston (1994) finding of positive parenting practices.
Kantor and Lehr (1975) conceptualized family systems into three major types: Closed, Open, and Random. These three basic categories, which differ in their strategic styles and structural arrangements, are based upon three homeostatic models grounded on the same idea that families are semipermeable systems. Each category designates a stereotypical way in which semipermeable family systems maintain themselves and achieve their aims, and none of the three models are considered "healthy" or pathological alone. Rather, they are different styles which can be more or less functional from one family system example to another.
The Family best fits the Closed type of homeostatic family model, and it appears to do so with good effect. According to Kantor and Lehr (1975), closed family systems maintain and rely upon stable structures of space (fixed and bounded), time (regular), and energy (steady) as reference points for change and order. In the ideal prototypical closed family system, (a) affect involves stable intimacy and nurturance, (b) power is stable and organized vertically with clear rules, and (c) meaning has a stable identity (i.e., the familys aim is to be integrated).
The goal of this study was neither to evaluate the costs and benefits associated with children raised in religious communal settings, nor to state that the exposure to and rearing with unconventional practices is beneficial. While it is possible that children reared in The Family benefited from the enduring and uniquely positive theological frame placed on human sexuality, there is nothing specific in the data to support this. The uniquely unconventional environment inherent in one group that may have had an overall positive effect on its progenys psycho-social-spiritual development does not negate the benefits associated with many traditional values and parenting practices. The Family has consistently bestowed what it considers sexual responsibility versus prohibition, whereby strengthened feelings of both personal worth and attachment to the purposes of the group (Shepherd & Lilliston, 1994) appear to have been effective, as is evidenced in other studies (Vogt, 1998).
Future studies on The Family could have participants complete scales which collect more specifics concerning the content of their beliefs, from which one might surmise how closely Family members faith resembles that of more conventional Christian church members. Such data would certainly provide a different and valuable overview on what members of The Family actually believe and consider most fundamental to their personal creed. Future research results obtained from such a survey could then be juxtaposed to what their formal doctrine (i.e., as written down and accepted by The Family leadership) spells out. Future research might also have The Family participants complete SASB Intrex scales measured more relationship ratings (particularly parents, siblings, and chief figures concerned with child rearing and education) than just introjects. This would provide more information about the nature of members interpersonal relationships, and thus provide a more complete picture of what effect child rearing has had upon the personality development of current members.
Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Douglas M. Sell, Department of Education and Child Development, Munroe-Meyer Institute (MMI), University of Nebraska Medical Center (UNMC), 985450 Nebraska Medical Center, Omaha, Nebraska, 68198-5450, USA. Electronic mail may be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.
This presentation was developed from a study conducted under the direction of Richard L. Gorsuch, H. Newton Malony, and Hendrika Vande Kemp; all three are Professors of Psychology in the Graduate School of Psychology, Fuller Theological Seminary, in Pasadena, California, USA.
Persons interested in considerably more depth and breadth concerning this study may obtain a copy of the authors doctoral dissertation through Bell & Howell Information and Learning; their contact information is listed immediately below:
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Prologue to the Tables
This prologue is an addendum to the presentation prose delivered above. Tables and some additional study details are included here in an attempt to better illustrate certain study outcomes which received only brief attention during the presentation.
Religious Attitudes, Worship Frequency, and Nature of Membership
Responses to one-item religiousness scales (rated importance of religion and spirituality, and frequency of worship) are listed in Tables 1 and 2. In general, participants reported frequent worship practice and endorsed high personal value for both religion and spirituality on the single item measures. Tables 3 through 6 summarize participants' amount of education completed in Family Home schools, years lived in Charter Family Homes, total years of membership, and age when joined The Family, respectively. Participant responses (N = 150) on the Family History questionnaire were quite homogenous: most participants reported being born into this group, raised within the Family communal system, and educated in Family home schools.
Mean scores (sample and population), standard deviations, and significance tests for the 16PF response style scales are located in the first section of Table 7. On the 16PF, response style (i.e., validity) scale scores remain raw, while Primary Factor and Global Factor scale scores are converted to STEN (standardized ten) scores. Means, standard deviations, and significance tests for the 16PF scales can be found in Table 7. After overall Hotelling's T2 Tests performed on both the Primary and the Global Factors were found to be significant, each factor score was tested for significance against the norm score by protected F tests. The 16PF Criterion scale scores generally differed little from the normative scores; the means, standard deviations, and significance tests are located in Table 8. The only Criterion scales found to be significant (at better than the p < 0.01 level) were SE (Social Expressivity), LP (Leadership Potential), CP (Creative Potential), and CA (Creative Achievement).
The mean SASB Intrex scores for both Best Self' and Worst Self' on the Introject surface (Tables 9 and 10, respectively) shared some patterns observed in the norm group, with some significant differences. Two pattern coefficients (ATK and CFL) and seven cluster scores (Free, Affirm, Love, Control, Blame, Attack, Neglect) were significantly different given the self scenario. While vector scores for Autonomy (AUT) and Affiliation (AFL) were also calculated and placed in Tables 9 and 10, these were not included in the analysis because the more recently developed pattern coefficients are thought to offer a better account of all observed variance (Benjamin, 1996b). Centroid figures for the mean sample and normative group SASB Intrex scores (Introject Surface) are presented on the final page of this document.
The RSI mean Dimension and Factor subscale scores, normative group means, and results of the analysis, can be found in Tables 11 and 12, respectively. The Family participant's significantly higher mean Dimension and Factor scores for overall Religious Maturity (Dimensions and Factors Total) suggested that the sample was, as expected, more mature in this domain.
Mean sample scores, standard deviations, normative group means, and significance tests on the I/E-R scale can be found in Table 13. Again, the observed sample scores found The Family participants to have religious motivation considerably more intrinsic than that of the normative group.
Means, Standard Deviations, and Range for The Family Sample on the One-Item Religious Attitude Scales
Note. N = 150.
Ratings were made along a 5-point Likert scale (1 = Not at all to 5 = extremely important).
Worship Frequency in The Family
Note. N = 150.
Amount of Education Completed in The Family Home Schools
Note. N = 150.
Amount of Time Lived in The Family Homes
Note. N = 150.
Length of Membership in The Family
Note. N = 150.
Age When Joined The Family
Note. N = 150.
Means, Standard Deviations, and Significance Tests for 16PF Validity Scales, and Primary and Global Factors
Note. Mean scores tested against norms from 16PF Administrators Manual by M. Russell & D. Karol, 1995. Overall Hotelling's T2 Test for the Primary Factors was 292.87, F(16, 156) = 16.70, p < .0001. Overall Hotelling's T2 Test for the Global Factors was 30.04, F(5, 167) = 5.87, p < .0005.
*p < .005 **p < .001 ***p < .0005 ****p < .0001
Means, Standard Deviations, and Significance Tests for 16PF Criterion Scoresa
Note. Overall Hotelling's T2 Test for Criterion Scores was 103.57, F(13, 159) = 7.41, p < .0001.
a All scores were compared to the same theoretical average score (STEN = 5.5) since there are no individual normative scores for these scales.
*p < .005 **p < .001 ***p < .0005 ****p < .0001
Statistics for Cluster Scores, Pattern Coefficients, and Vectors for the SASB Intrex--Introject Surface (Best)
Note. Mean scores tested against norms from SASB Intrex Short Form Users Manual by L. S. Benjamin, 1995. Overall Hotelling's T2 Test for Cluster scores was 592.00, F(8, 157) = 70.84, p < .0001. Overall Hotelling's T2 Test for the Pattern Coefficients was 90.56, F(3, 162) = 29.82, p < .0001.
*p < .005 **p < .001 ***p < .0005 ****p < .0001
Statistics for Cluster Scores, Pattern Coefficients, and Vectors for the SASB Intrex--Introject Surface (Worst)
Note. Mean scores tested against norms from SASB Intrex Short Form Users Manual by L. S. Benjamin, 1995. Overall Hotelling's T2 Test for Cluster Scores was 202.31, F(8, 157) = 24.21, p < .0001. Overall Hotelling's T2 Test for the Primary Factors was 42.30, F(3, 162) = 13.93, p < .0001.
*p < .005 **p < .001 ***p < .0005 ****p < .0001
Means, Standard Deviations, and Significance Tests for Dimension Scores on the Religious Status Inventory
Note. Scores were compared to norms from "Religious diagnosis in evaluations of mental health," by H. N. Malony, 1992. Overall Hotelling's T2 Test for the Dimension scores was 235.94, F(8, 161) = 28.26, p < .0001.
*p < .005 **p < .001 ***p < .0005 ****p < .0001
Means, Standard Deviations, and Significance Tests for Factor Scores on the Religious Status Inventory
Note. Scores were compared to norms from "Factor Analysis of the Religious Status Inventory," by C. L. Jackson, 1992. Dashes indicate that no statistical relationships were explored because no norm scores were available. Overall Hotelling's T2 Test for the Factor scores was 510.69, F(6, 163) = 82.58, p < .0001.
*p < .005 **p < .001 ***p < .0005 ****p < .0001
Means, Standard Deviations, and Significance Tests for the Intrinsic-Extrinsic Religiousness Scale--Revised
Note. Mean scores tested against norms from "Intrinsic-extrinsic measurement: I/E-Revised and single-item scales," by R. L. Gorsuch & S. E. McPherson, 1989. Overall Hotelling's T2 Test for the I/E-R subscales was 1942.04, F(3, 164) = 639.55, p < .0001.
*p < .005 **p < .001 ***p < .0005 ****p < .0001