Music played an important role in the cult of my youth (known as the Children of God or The Family). It was very effectively used for recruitment, it was a mainstay of fundraising (since members weren’t allowed to get regular jobs), and it was a source of shared culture. But on the inside, they banned all music that they didn’t produce themselves—even other Christian music.
When I mentioned this recently, a friend asked whether the cult made any actually good music, or whether it was all “chanting and stuff.”
No, it wasn’t chanting. They followed popular styles, though they were always at least a couple of years behind. Recall that even the cult’s musicians were technically not supposed to be listening to any “System music,” lest it negatively influence their faith or cause them to pick up evil “hitchhiking spirits.” For a long time, more modern genres of rock, hip hop, etc. were considered too “worldly” (an invective) or satanic, but they eventually came around even on those when more of their youth started leaving. And despite the constraints on musicians, the cult made a lot of music, mostly out of studios in Japan, Brazil, and the U.S. It all varied quite a bit in quality, but some was reasonably solid, and I still enjoy some of it in a nostalgic way.
Although the cult recorded plenty of music for the public, all of the songs in this post were intended to be listened to by members only.
A Digression on “Loving Jesus”
Essentially all of the cult’s internal music was, to one extent or another, about reinforcing their beliefs and practices. And since their beliefs were totally wack, so was a lot of their music. For example, there was a whole series of albums filled with love songs to Jesus. E.g., check out this power ballad of sexual desire for not-so-baby Jesus: Let’s Make Love. And this was just one out of well over a hundred songs with the same theme. Also note, the dude singing that song doesn’t want a gay relationship with his lord and savior, oh no. That would get you excommunicated. Rather, he’s imagining himself as a “woman in the spirit.” Spiritual transgenderism—although, because of their extreme homophobia, they never would have dared call it that. How it could be a massive sin to be male and gay (female bisexuality was condoned, though not full-throated lesbianism) yet it was totally righteous for an insatiably horny Husband Christ to want thousands of cult men to sacrificially visualize themselves as women so he could have sex with all of them is something I’ll never understand.
There was endless, endless “Loving Jesus” music like this in a variety of genres by both men and women. But the men were the best because their mental hoop-jumping could be unintentionally hilarious. To give another example, in a song titled Queen in the Sky, a middle-aged man sings about getting down on his knees to please Jesus, that he wants Jesus to transform him into a “queen in the sky,” and asks Jesus to “sock it to me, baby, sock it to me hard.” Yet I have no doubt this same man would have sworn he harbored no gay, trans, or otherwise queer thoughts/identity.
If you’ve seen the South Park episode where Eric Cartman starts a Christian rock band in order to win a bet and basically just does covers of love songs with religious double entendres thrown in… well, I want to say Cartman had nothing on The Family, but honestly this is a pretty good impression of your typical Loving Jesus song:
Okay, so the cult might have been off the rails, but I’ve definitely gotten off track. Let me return to what I meant to write about.
Music of the Counter-Rebellion
I’ve long been interested in the resistance movement against The Family. It’s an aspect of the cult’s history that hasn’t been written about much. One small but potentially interesting part of the story—which the conversation about cult music with my friend reminded me of—was The Family’s attempt to steel their youth against the rebellion via what I’ll call “persecution music.” These were songs written specifically to dismiss or attack siblings and friends who had left and were now speaking out about abuse within the cult. Perhaps a challenging topic for music, you might think, but here are some examples:
1. Religious Persecution relates the cult’s perception of investigations and raids against them by governments around the world. And oh the irony, one of the dudes in the song who mockingly impersonates a government agent arresting pure, innocent cult members without any evidence is none other than Jeremy Spencer, a well-known pedophile within the cult. I think he knows which witnesses to call on behalf of the prosecution.
2. Craving to Slake by Vas Myers was unusual for its nu metal style that imitated bands like Papa Roach, Linkin Park, and Limp Bizkit while yelling at second-generation members who’d gotten out, “Are you so deluded that you don’t know your story is full of holes?”, “Please stop complaining! […] The past, you can forget it!”, and “It’s dangerous when you poke your finger in God’s eye.” That last line was a well-understood threat that god could bring death, violence, or ruin against anyone who got in their way.
3. Yellow-Brick Road was another song by cult rock star and fervent bootlicker Vas Myers. (If he’s had his own journey to feeling differently these days, I’d respect that.) The title, which is of course a Wizard of Oz reference, seems to allude here to a commitment to following without question whatever path is set for you. The lyrics are an unsubtle rejection of accountability and empathy, with lyrics like the following: “I wish we could forget about what still makes some people scream and shout. The past is over; let’s focus on the future, and not waste precious time.” Also, the chorus: “So I don’t wanna talk about the problems anymore. I just wanna serve the Lord and leave the murmuring on the floor. And I don’t wanna hear the doubts you wanna send my way.”
There were other persecution songs, too, with names like We Can’t Recant and Speak for Yourself.
These songs and others targeted at teens are on XFamily.org because I was downloading them from the cult’s members-only website that I secretly had access to at the time. However, I limited how many songs I downloaded because I was worried about their server admins investigating leaks by checking their logs for large/irregular download patterns and shutting down my access. These days, a much larger chunk of the Family’s music is on cult-sympathizing site nubeat.org, but that came later.
This phenomenon of counter-resistance anthems by the indignant and confused fit well with the zeitgeist of the time. We also saw the Vandari prophecies (the revelation that everyone speaking out about abuse was, in fact, demon-possessed) and the founding of a website called MyConclusion where—for the benefit of the press—hundreds of cult members denounced their siblings, children, and former friends as liars. In hindsight, this all feels like it was a straw-grasping reach for whatever might work in light of the cult rapidly losing its second generation and gaining the realization that they were facing a new kind of threat. It was going to be a lot harder to dismiss this new enemy than they were used to. Their old-school, well-honed denials and attacks against a handful of “disgruntled apostates” just didn’t seem to cut it anymore when up against hundreds of young people publicly describing their own experiences as children.
Through it all, the resistance carried on—from the trenches and from out in the open. A power shift was underway, and the cult would never again recover momentum or the upper hand.
One of these days, I can only hope, someone will write a detailed history of the resistance. Its key events and actors spanned something like 15–20 years, from the early 90s onward (although there had been shots fired earlier). And although the cult’s leaders were never brought to justice, in the end, the resistance was broadly successful at deflating and defanging what was once a globally sprawling and life-consuming cult, and preventing them from totally whitewashing their past. Many books have been written, podcasts recorded, and documentaries aired about the cult, and more will come. But the stories of the resistance movement are still fragmented, little known (many people operated in secret), or largely missing outside the heads of those who were on the front lines. So until such a history is written, inshallah, I hope to continue contributing bits and pieces of the story here like this.
Vive la résistance! ✊🏻