Apparently there’s nothing that God has that the Devil doesn’t try to imitate!
IN FRONT OF THE ALLFORD Refrigerated Warehouses in Dallas, a willowy girl in a long dress seems to be swaying in the parking lot. Like most women of the Children of God, she keeps her smile hovering between spaciness and irony. It communicates nothing at all. She says her name is Deuteronomy, and that she loves me. I can think of no reason to doubt her, but even though she’s beautiful enough to break my heart back there in the carnal world, I really have no words like that to say back to her. I mumble hello and go inside with Mireh while Deuteronomy stays in the parking lot.
Mireh probably loves me too, but he knows uptightness when he sees it and he doesn’t seem much on high-pressure techniques anyway; in fact, he seems unusually reserved and tolerantly amused about everything, like a monk who has the key to the wine cellar. But there is no such thing as an unfriendly Child of God, and Mireh is cordial and articulate even though he seems to be repressing something everytime he speaks, laughing about the press version of the Children as a band of Jesus Freaks, kidnapping, drugging. hypnotizing the youth of America into a life of cretinoid worship and toil. It’s hard not to laugh along with him, in this meeting room of the refrigerated warehouse, where no doubt close by pigs and cows are hanging skinned and scalded by their hooves; hard not to laugh because there’s no discernible difference between the meeting that’s about to begin and a PTA assembly.
It’s the national meeting of THANK-COG, which stands more or less for “Thankful Parents of the Children of God,” a group which has recently sprung into existence as a counterweight to the much-publicized activities of FREE-COG, the organization of parents who claim the Children of God are a Manson-like cult preying on the gullibility and material resources of their off-spring, inducing visions and obedience with drugs and mind-control. But FREE-COG has its critics too, among them the ACLU and the Children of God themselves, whose current lawsuit against FREE-COG protests what they say is FREE-COG’s use of simple abduction to get their sons and daughters back.
But it’s FREE-COG’s view of the Children that for the most part has caught the attention of the media, and consequently the image of terrorism and fanaticism has been around a long time, has been dogging the Children since their beginnings on California beaches in 1968.
But whatever validity FREE-COG’s charges may have, they seem a little superfluous here, in view of these clean-living and well-dressed “young men and women.” The Children of God, at least the Dallas colonies, seem to have undergone a sort of transformation, and there’s a slickness about the room that would not be out of place at a Young Republican convention.
But true, it’s a slickness devoted to witnessing the soon-to-be-realized death of America, and it’s possible to catch the faint aura of apocolypse as it touches down now and then like pentecostal fire on the taut and earnest young men in sport coats and stylish hair lengths, on the women, invariably in long dresses, frequently pregnant, with the insouciance that women have who’ve spent formative time in the wilds of hippie-land.
But the apocolypse stops short of the parents, who are looking dazed or delighted, embarrassed probably at the gushiness of their children, the fathers with the same looks they may have worn to their daughters’ dance recitals. The parents are hard to figure out. There was a time when the Children of God came down hard on their parents, back in the repent-or-perish day when they were wearing sackcloth and trying to conjure up the image of hell in their street gazes.
Now the parents are being wooed back by their children who deserted them long before they found Jesus to take their place, they’re being told how much they’re loved and what a blessing they are at every opportunity. Welcome back Mom and Dad, since it turns out you’re the ones who’ve been away.
And the prodigal parents seem a little wary of the desperate love of their children. But they sit, dour and bee-hived and patient, on the folding chairs, waiting for the meeting to begin.
Meanwhile it’s not hard to find people to talk to. Genuinely affable people are everywhere. Secundus, a former medical student, is telling me about Armageddon and for no apparent reason I begin to feel a claustrophobia, a sense that there’s a point in conversation beyond which these people won’t go. Everything is visible, funnelled into Jesus at every opportunity, so that the threads of a conversation can lead only one place.
I ask Secundus what movies he’s seen lately, both to find out something about his range and to change the subject, because I find, disastrously late, that I don’t like to listen to people talking about Jesus.
“Well, I’ve seen Brother Sun, Sister Moon, and Man of La Mancha. Have you seen Brother Sun, Sister Moon?”
I tell him that I have, adding undiplomatically, since for some reason I’ve turned argumentative, that I thought it stunk.
In answer Secundus gives me a polite and concerned nod of the head, but it’s the kind of courtesy he might use if Satan were a guest in his house. It takes a while to extricate myself from my own bumbling: it’s obvious Zefferelli’s wimpy life of St. Francis is sacrosanct in these parts.
After Secundus retreats in annoyance or confusion, I’m adrift for awhile, then snagged by Lakum, an affable dark-haired and moustached man who seems in his late twenties, six or seven years older than the majority of the Children. Lakum has an easygoing anarchic charm that makes him immediately familiar: he could be anything from a retired campus radical to a bicycle