Review of Children of Doom by John W. Drakeford

Children of Doom, A sobering look at the commune movement by John W. Drakeford, Nashville: Broadman, 1972, 143 pp.
The “Children of God” run “an apocalyptically-minded youth commune” and “Training Center” near the West Texas ghost town of Thurber. It is a place where, for protection against Cowboy-types who have harassed them in the past, they have developed a “comprehensive security system” with fences, walls, gates, padlocks, and surveillance cameras.
For John W. Drakeford, the author of Children of Doom, the colony at Thurber “stands as a unique sociological phenomenon”; an “enclave in the midst of a materialist world,” and a place where a group of people were hoping to recreate the religious experience of the early church—especially the perceived socialism of Acts chapter 2. One of 30,000 communes said to exist at the time this book was written in 1972, the Children of God emphasize—or overemphasize—the family aspect of communal living. Thurber is only one of the forty or so colonies of the 2,500 member group. In his “sobering look” Drakeford is largely impartial and has “not tried either to glamorize or vilify the ‘Children of God,’” for he is “both attracted and repelled.” (p. viii)
A 19 year-old member named Jethro explains their attitude to the Bible: “We are the super-fundamentalists.” All members of the commune, one finds out, have been given new, Biblical names. And use of the King James Bible is exclusive, of course. For them, “Bible study is synonymous with memorization.” They are, in Drakeford’s words, “a strange shotgun marriage of conservative religion and a rebellious counterculture.” Certain of an impending apocalyptic doom, the Children of God are aptly called by Drakeford the Children of Doom.
Drakeford explains that these communes are not a new phenomenon in American history. The search for Utopia started as early as 1680 and many socialistic experiments have come and gone. Some have succeeded for a time,;most fail rather quickly.
At the Children of God commune everyone is divided up into tribes names after each of the twelve tribes of Israel. The living quarters are quite haphazard with people staying in overcrowded cabins, others in old trailers. With in-house midwives, the community promotes natural childbirth. They have an extensive training program too, and not only in the Bible but in various trades. But Drakeford sees “a barn that looks like a haunted house” and “no evidence of any efforts to produce crops.” They have a detailed daily schedule, but everyone is sleeping in on this day. Drakeford is told that God runs the show, but when he presses the issue he is told there is a “multitude of counselors.” This group of counselors proves to be 7 elders with a man named Ezekiel (of course) really in control of the show. Drakeford is welcomed as the journalistic article on the commune he is researching for is expected to bring beneficial publicity.
At the community there is a preponderance of men. Members are, in theory, monogamous and children are encouraged following marriages. At their school house they use the Montesorri method.
“Jehoshaphat” was hooked on drugs for five years before “finding deliverance” with the Children of God. And he is by no means the only one there who has overcome drug addiction. They call drug abuse sin and insist on complete renunciation of all drugs and stimulants. They are even a “no smoking” community. But in the whole facility there is only one communal shower and only two faucets. Interestingly the neighbors (minus the raucous cowboys) are verbal defenders of the commune. But parents have formed organizations against the Children of God and pressed the attorney general to investigate them. “Many parents are set to wondering whether the change over of their children from drugs to religion is for better or for worse.” Parents complain of hypnosis and their children being turned against them. But others praise the organization saying that while there were some things they did not like they were much closer to their children than ever before.
The Children of God often witness and provide food at rock festivals.
Throughout the book, Drakeford compares and contrasts the Children of God with other movements including the early American utopian communities, the Children’s Crusade, and the Israeli Kibbutzim. His questions frequently center around the sustainability of communal life.
Because of their apocalypticism, or just counter-culture hippiness, the Children of God are missing a central element from their otherwise Protestant worldview; a work ethic. They spend most of their time memorizing Scripture and witnessing to others; doing little work beyond the necessary. Financially the organization is a sinkhole; it consumes wealth rather than creating it.
In the final chapter the Children of God are evicted from their Thurber residence and 400 men, women, and children scatter to other communes.