ICSA Today, Vol. 13, No. 2, 2022, 27-28
Book Review: Sex Cult Nun: Breaking Away from the Children of God, a Wild, Radical Religious Cult
William Morrow, 2021. ISBN-10: 0062952455; ISBN-13: 978-0062952455. Hardcover, 400 pages, $20.96 (paperback, $21.64, Kindle, $14.99; also available as an Audiobook), Amazon.com
Reviewed by Nori Muster
Faith Jones grew up in the Mission Field1 of the Children of God. The home countries of the group were the United Kingdom and the United States of America. Jones spent her childhood in an austere neighborhood of Macau, China. Her parents purchased a run-down property and developed it into a flourishing enterprise with farm animals and gardens.
Sex Cult Nun… is a story beautifully told, and it is hard to put down. Jones writes in visceral metaphors. Her narrative about Macau begins with the outhouse on the property, which smelled of years of human waste, was covered with spider webs, and had snakes in its rafters. This image is a perfect metaphor for the greater part of her experience.
The Children of God founder, Moses David Berg (1919–1994), was Jones’s grandfather and was at the core of the World Services (WS), the secretive leadership of Children of God. Jones never met her grandfather or his wife and coleader, her grandmother, Karen Zerby (aka Maria Berg). Growing up, Jones never even saw photos of her grandparents. When she finally did see a photo of her grandmother, she felt disappointed and described her as plain looking because she had always imagined that Moses and Zerby would look like deities.
The Children of God group left a legacy of pain and suffering. In 1995, a British judge ruled that the group, including the leadership, had engaged in sexual abuse of minors.2 RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network), the founders of the National Sexual Assault Hotline, have described the long-term effects of sexual abuse: It can result in depression, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), disassociation, panic attacks, sleep disorders, and multiple other issues.3
Jones’s cohorts, the first generation of abused children, are now in their forties and fifties. The children of the Children of God, including Faith Jones, still live with the scars of abuse. However, Jones possessed an indomitable spirit that propelled her through the hostile environment of physical and sexual abuse. Several things worked in her favor. First, she was not separated from her family at an early age. Many cults remove children from their families to live in a communal situation. This did not happen to Jones. She grew up with her mother, father, siblings, and other extended family. As a child she was allowed to play with other children and, in the book, she describes the victories she remembers growing up. Like her brothers, she learned to jump off the dam wall into the water. She also was proud of her family’s part in advocating for a sewer system and garbage-removal services in their district of Macau. She recalls fond memories of the times she and her family would go out to sing and spread God’s word. She said she felt like a celebrity within the group because of her connection to the group’s leadership.
One of her good memories was the time her mother attempted to leave the organization and they went to the United States. For a few months, Jones lived with her maternal grandmother and attended public high school. The classroom experience ignited her genuine thirst for education.
Children of God required children to “share,” a euphemism for sex, and in some locations, children had to set out a “sharing schedule” that reflected when they would be available for sex with adults. This requirement was not the case in the outpost where Jones lived, but she still was wary as she was coming of age. When she was a preteen, she found out that the organization had circulated Liberty or Stumbling Block?, a statement to discourage sex with minor-aged children.4 The publication made her feel protected, but soon after she read it, a man forcefully kissed her against her will. She felt violated, wondering, “Does French kissing count?”
Although Jones remembers police raids and accusations of sexual abuse against the group, and although she had experienced that abuse firsthand, she didn’t make the connection at the time that what was happening to her was abuse. The theme of compliance with sexual molestation pervades the book, culminating in her brutal rape at a Children of God house in London, followed by a second brutal rape that made her decide to leave for good.
The couple of times she found a man she liked, things turned out badly for her. In one instance she accepted a timid but welcome kiss from a man who was a Systemite (the term the group used for a nonmember). Because of her allegiance to the rules against mixing with outsiders, she then turned herself in and accepted the punishment—isolation in a Victor house.5 In another instance, she found a man she loved and wanted to marry, but WS moved him to a different location. The leadership could move people around like chess pieces, and she accepted his move as a fact of life. (Jones herself lived multiple times in Macau and other locations in China, and also in Hong Kong, Thailand, the United States, and Kazakhstan before she settled in the United States after she left the group.)
In an interview with the New York Post, she explained where she got the title of her book. She said that she went to Sri Lanka for a Buddhist meditation retreat after she left the group, and she felt at home there with the Buddhist monks and nuns. She told the reporter, “And then it hit me. I grew up like this! I grew up like a little nun, except there was a lot of sex involved!”6
The subtitle of the book is Breaking Away from the Children of God, so it’s not inappropriate to give away the ending. However, throughout the book, the reader wants Jones to leave, but she remains dedicated well into her twenties. Several times it seems as if she has left for good, but like a homing pigeon she returns to the group.
When she finally leaves, she soars ahead in her education, psychological recovery, and career as an attorney. The reader might doubt Jones’s claim that she has recovered, especially considering the abuse she endured. Rape does not just go away. Beatings as a child do not just go away. They leave permanent scars. However, it’s clear Jones has reached a level of acceptance, putting her past to rest. After all, she has had the courage to relive her experiences, and the strength to stand behind what she wrote in this memoir.
Professor Stephen Joseph, quoted in a Psychology Today post, confirms that trauma can become a source of strength. He said that if trauma victims can come to terms with what happened, not suppress or deny their experience, they will have new energy to focus on what’s important in life. He also said that trauma survivors often realize they are stronger than they thought and develop self-confidence and a sense of gratitude. He has offered the following metaphor for healing:
You’re rushing around your house and you accidentally knock a precious vase to the floor. It smashes into pieces immediately. What do you do next? Do you see the vase as garbage now and throw it in the bin? Do you collect the pieces and try to put them together exactly as it was? Or do you pick up your favourite pieces from the pile and use them to create something new, like a colourful mosaic?7
I believe Faith Jones picked up the pieces and used them to create something new in writing her book. Her story is inspiring and offers hope for others who grew up in abusive cults.
 Mission Field refers to outposts the group established to spread the word.
 The Rt. Hon. Lord Justice Alan Ward’s judgment of child abuse in the Children of God is noted at Wikipedia (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Family_International). Former members elaborated on the judgment in a statement, Another Cosmetic Apology?, published on the former-member website (see http://www.exfamily.org/art/exmem/peter_amsterdams_admission.shtml).
 RAINN [Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network], Effects of Sexual Violence (see https://www.rainn.org/effects-sexual-violence).
 “Liberty or Stumbling Block?,” by Sara Davidito, November 1986, a memo to all Children of God leaders to discourage sex with minors (see https://www.xfamily.org/index.php/Liberty_or_Stumbling_Block).
 Refers to a program used by The Family (formerly known as The Children of God) during the late 1980s and early 1990s to provide spiritual training to second-generation members. See https://www.xfamily.org/index.php/Victor_Program for more information.
 New York Post, December 4, 2021. ‘I grew up like a nun—but with a lot more sex,’ by Raquel Laneri (https://nypost.com/2021/12/04/i-grew-up-like-a-nun-but-with-a-lot-more-sex/).
 As quoted in Psychology Today blog, How Trauma Can Lead to Positive Change: The science of post-traumatic growth demystified, by Susanna Newsonen, June 13, 2016. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-path-passionate-happiness/201606/how-trauma-can-lead-positive-change
About the Reviewer
Nori Muster, MS, is the author of Betrayal of the Spirit: My Life Behind the Headlines of the Hare Krishna Movement (University of Illinois Press, 1997), Cult Survivors Handbook: Seven Paths to an Authentic Life (2010), and Child of the Cult (2012). She was an ISKCON member from 1978 to 1988, then she earned her Master of Science degree at Western Oregon University in 1991 doing art therapy with juvenile sex offenders. She is currently a freelance writer and adjunct professor based in Arizona. Her website for cultic studies information is norimuster.com/writing/culticstudies.html