The Children of God
by Deborah (Linda Berg) Davis with Bill Davis, 1984
In May 1968, I made a decision to join my father and his work among
the hippies of Huntington Beach. At the root of that decision was a
deep lack of spiritual self-acceptance; my motivation was the result
of false standards adopted in an attitude of self-rejection. In my own
life, I was endeavoring to conform to an outward standard of
acceptance, rather than seeking to conform to God's inward standard
mirrored in the character of Christ. Unfortunately, outward standards
of acceptance rule and govern the lives of many people, Christian and
At that time I was terribly unhappy with my state in life. I was
twenty-two years old, a mother of two children, and eight months
pregnant. My marriage had become a source of sorrow and frustration.
There were times when I would lock myself in the bathroom and cry for
hours. Boredom and loneliness consumed me. We did not have any
"outward" show of religious activity, something I greatly desired,
because I had, after all, grown up in a very religious family. So that
May we went to visit my family in Huntington Beach to see what "great things God was doing with Teens for
Christ". I sat in the car and talked privately with my father in front
of my grandmother Berg's house. Dad was offering me a chance to "get
busy for God!".
"Take a look at your life, honey," he charged."What are you really
doing for the Lord? You and John [Jethro] have been getting further
and further away from the Lord ever since you left me in Texas.
"Even your grandmother died very saddened at your spiritual state, the
fact you are doing nothing for God. This is your opportunity to get
back to the Lord. Don't worry about losing your husband. You'll lose
him anyway if you don't follow God, as high as the divorce rate is."
In my dad's eyes, and in mine as well, following God meant one had to
be doing something "for" Him, to be active, performing deeds—as if He
needed a helping hand.
"You've been raised on this life of self-sacrifice," he said."You'll
never be happy if you just live for yourself, living in your own
selfish little house, with your selfish little family."
He went on to explain the reason why my life was so empty, my marriage
on the rocks, and my relationship with God impoverished: I was not
following His leadership. Having a relationship with God presupposed
doing some ministry for Him. My father had the perfect solution, of
course: Follow him and his work among the hippies.
"Honey, we'll go on with or without you; that's what we've always done
before. The Lord will go on with or without you. But God is giving you
another chance." My dad's offer was nothing glorious at the time, but
it was nonetheless a way out, an escape from my present boredom and
People fall prey to the cultic lure for various reasons—perhaps
impatience, fear of responsibility, a lust for power or position, a desire
to leave home, boredom, or an unhappy marriage.. Regardless of the
"outward" reason, the cult victim exchanges his present state in life
for an alternative lifestyle; he sees in the cult a chance for opportunity,
change, relief, or escape. By contrast, a person who lives in a state of
contentment realizes that God has given him everything necessary for
total happiness. People grow
discontented because they begin judging themselves by outward
For me, getting back to God meant sacrificing and ministering—activities that were visible forms of religious work. However, it is
now painfully obvious to me that at some point "Christian service" can
actually be a form of escape, rebellion, and a rejection of God's will
in a person's life.
Consider that all my life I had been raised in the limelight of
Christian activities. First I was involved with my grandmother and her
work as a famous healing evangelist. Later came my father with his
"soul-winning" ministry. As a teenager I worked and sang with Youth
for Christ, and then sang in the public relations ministry of Miami
Christian School. In 1968, to suddenly find myself alone, without a
"ministry," a "mere housewife," did not fulfill my image of a
Christian winning the world to Jesus. Earlier I believed I had been
"called" to the mission field; life had certainly taken a wrong turn.
How ironic to think that I wanted to win the world to Jesus, when in
fact He had yet to win my stubborn will to Himself.
By accepting my dad's invitation to follow him and "do something for
God," I was actually rejecting God's highest plan in my life. Being a
housewife and the mother of three children was precisely the place He
wanted me to be, the perfect situation to make me the kind of
Christian He desires. It was the perfect place to learn patience,
meekness, unselfish love, faith, and the other fruit of the Spirit.
Well, I did not think it was the perfect place. I knew better, and
therefore I began to rebel in my heart against my station in life.
Unknowingly, I was rebelling against God and the biblical principles
governing the family structure. (These many years later I am once
again in the situation of a "mere housewife"; but this time thankful
to be here and learning these lessons joyfully.)
Trusting God to bring joy and fulfillment into my marriage and life
was not at all within my understanding of the will and ways of God.
Such simple faith and trust were beyond me. The fact is, commitment to
my situation would have involved suffering—truly godly suffering. I
was willing to sacrifice—to kill myself, as it were—with religious
works, but I was not willing to stay in my situation alone with God
and give Him the opportunity to
develop a Christ-like character within me. I didn't care to suffer
like that. I preferred an outward show of religion as opposed to the
reality of Christ within. I have learned the hard way that it is a
great deal more difficult to allow Christ to develop character with-
in than it is to work sacrificially "without"; but in the long run,
any other path will only bring sorrow. There is but one road to
follow: to be conformed to the image of God's Son.
David said, "The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; A broken and
a contrite heart, O God, Thou wilt not despise." (Psalm 51:17 NASB).
A broken heart and spirit I did not have. I violated one of God's
greatest principles, and it led me into a ten-year nightmare of sin
and sorrow. I was not willing to accept myself in His plan, to place
myself behind His will, to make His will my will. This is the basis of
self-acceptance in a divine perspective. The result of such acceptance
is a state of personal contentment and peace, and of harmony with the
plan of God.
In the years following my departure from the Children of God I began
to wonder, What is the specific reason for more than five thousand
cults with five to ten million members on the North American
continent? That is no small number, and it is growing every day; cults
are obviously filling a great need, and people are finding something
quite attractive in them. But if the cults are wrong, if they are
built upon a lie and the people are flocking to them, then there must
be something wrong with the people. What is the weakness of character
that renders these people susceptible? Why did I join? Why did I
follow? The obvious or general answer is "sin"; I knew that rebellion
is one of the root causes of all sin, and that people are drawn into
sin by their lusts. Yet I wondered if there was something I was
missing, a principle or truth I could teach my children that would
strengthen them from falling prey to deception. If the cults are
indicative of character weakness in people, what is the cause of that
character weakness and, even more important, what is the cure?
I have come to believe that the problem of spiritual self-acceptance
is the cause of that character weakness, and lies at the root of the
cult experience—that is, why people join cults.
Cults offer a counterfeit version of self-acceptance. When an
individual fails to realize self-worth through the inward qualities
that reflect the divine character, he is left to seek a sense of
acceptance based upon outward qualities and values. Cults are but one
of many options available in current society. When I refer to the
concept of self-acceptance, I am not speaking of viewing oneself
positively as taught by psychologists and motivational speakers.
Rather, it is how one views himself before God: Self-acceptance in a
divine perspective. Spiritual self-acceptance.
The Institute in Basic Youth Conflicts wisely teaches, "One of the major areas of conflict in both youth and adults is that of
having wrong attitudes about ourselves. These attitudes affect every
other relationship in our life."
God's fundamental reason for creating us is that we might have
fellowship with Him through Jesus Christ, and that the full expression
of Christ's love might be experienced in our lives.
The key to this objective is the realization that God has created each
of us perfectly to fulfill His purpose. Conflict and confusion over
this truth arise when we begin to place a value on ourselves according
to false standards, when we compare ourselves with the outward
standards of those around us (whatever they happen to be) to gain
approval. In so doing, we develop inner conflict. Concern over outward
appearances or conditions will often bring varying degrees of
self-rejection. When we begin to reject ourselves, it will manifest
itself in our actions and attitudes. Evidences of self-rejection are
seen in the values and priorities people set for themselves: trying to
"impress" others; being highly competitive; selfishness; abnormal love
of self; bitterness, inability to face the truth about ourselves;
moral impurity; love of money; and the like.
There are many indications of self-rejection, but the end result is
the adoption of false values. When we examine ourselves against the
false standards society has erected, we always feel inferior. Who can
measure up to them? Even those who have seemingly attained, when
questioned, feel as if they have failed in a multitude of ways.
Society teaches us that there is a universal standard by which social
position, financial status, and physical appearance can be measured.
This is entirely false. Living by such standards always causes us to
reject ourselves. At that point we can see why self-rejection is a
sin. When we reject ourselves, we are
ultimately rejecting God. He is the One responsible for our physical
appearance, our parents, our race, and our nationality; all the
unchangeable features are His responsibility. Hence, if through
comparison we fall short of our desired self-image, and develop
subsequent feelings of inferiority, we must either consciously or
unconsciously blame the One responsible; a rejection of self and all
that "self" represents is a rejection of God.
True spiritual self-acceptance is the kind demonstrated and
experienced by a young missionary martyred in Vietnam. She was a
person who radiated the love of God; and during her time in Vietnam,
she became known as the "Belle of Da Nang." She had such a beautiful
spirit, that before long, she was the sought-after prize of the
American soldiers. However, she felt her duty to God and the people of
Vietnam came before her personal life; she graciously declined the
romantic gesturing of her many suitors, chose to date no one, and
dedicated her time fully to God.
She was captured by the Viet Cong. With another prisoner, she was
forced to march a great distance. They were given little food for the
journey. Toward the end, she gave her small portion to her fellow
captive that he might live. Soon she died, but he lived to tell the
story. What a marvelous person she was—bringing life and joy to many,
and finally giving her life completely to the cause of Christ and the
glory of God. Ironically, her background was the antithesis of her
Before the war, and before coming to faith in Christ, she had two
great weaknesses that led her to the brink of destruction. She was
deeply involved in immorality, and she had never found true
self-acceptance. She had never accepted herself for what she was; a
person created in the image of God. This caused her to rebel against
life, against God, against His moral standards. She rejected herself
as a young girl, and threw her life into a downward spiral of physical
and spiritual destruction. She filled her life with false values,
wrong priorities, evil passions, and bitterness.
When this young woman finally came to Christ, a new world opened up
within her—the world of inward beauty and truth. Her life took on new
meaning, new perspective, new truth. It was a natural step to accept
herself as a wonderful creation of God, with an unlimited potential
for knowing and fellowshipping with
an eternal God and sharing that love and truth with others; even to
the point of death. Consequently she turned from her immorality and
When, amid self-rejection, we come to see ourselves from God's
perspective, life changes drastically. The key is the awareness that
nothing we achieve outwardly has significance if we haven't developed
the character of the Lord Jesus Christ inwardly. God's ideal is a
person empowered by the qualities of humility, meekness, piety, mercy,
purity, peace, and spiritual hunger.
In the book All Gods Children, Carroll Stoner and Jo Anne Parke
analyze the cultic phenomenon, and survey the kinds of people who join
a cult. Are they rich or poor? Talented or inferior? Religious or
irreligious? Their basic finding is that there is no stereotype, no
predictable category. I agree. Cults fill an inward need; and this
cannot be detected readily by outward characteristics. A person who
has rejected himself inwardly may keep it very well hidden until the
day he finds an avenue that will lead to acceptance and fulfillment.
Then he surprises everyone and joins a cult.
Yet Stoner and Parke did find a common denominator; and it is related
to self-acceptance. This common characteristic was perceived by a
psychiatric social worker, as related by Stoner and Parke.
A young psychiatric social worker from Boston who has worked with
scores of ex-cult members and their families, helping to put lives
back together after a cult experience, says that the whole generation
is afflicted with copious narcissism, but that those who are lured
into the cults seem even more narcissistic than their peers. The cults
appeal to inflated egos with their recruiting techniques: "Gee, you
are wonderful. We need someone with your special talent to help us
change the world." Cult recruiters are trained to flatter, to give
false confidence to those without confidence.82
This observation seems to me to be very significant. Narcissism is
"excessive love or admiration of oneself." Copious implies abundance. The result is an abnormal love of self that in cult members
exceeds that of their peers.
How does this abnormal condition occur? As I began to look at myself
and at people I know in the COG, the pieces of the puzzle fell into
place. The problem of copious narcissism is really a problem of
inferiority and points directly to self-rejection and broken
fellowship with God. This condition follows a predictable sequence:
An individual, for various specific reasons, becomes a victim of
self-rejection. Perhaps he rejects his position in life, his alco-
holic father, or his physical appearance. This state of self-rejec-
tion will cause bitterness. The self-rejection and bitterness will
eventually lead to a rejection of God, his Creator, the One ulti-
mately responsible for his state in life. When a person rejects God,
inwardly he places himself in a position of rebellion to God and God's
Spirit. Consequently, one cannot take pleasure in the things of God,
and must therefore seek things contrary to Truth. Self-acceptance will
be sought apart from the standards of God, and this condition will
ultimately lead to a false sense of acceptance and a fallen ego.
Rebellion—the devil's sin—forces the person into spiritual pride to
support this fallen ego.
Spiritual pride is a lie, a false perspective of reality, and will
therefore lead a person into worshiping something other than the
"Truth," which has long since been rejected. Hence, a cult offers the
person the perfect solution to his dilemma. A cult is full of
counterfeit truths—self-righteous, world-saving, outward man-
ifestations of religion. A cult, like any false religion, masks the
real problem of rebellion, self-rejection, and spiritual pride. The
mask is the carefully adorned counterfeit of religious works.
What the Boston psychiatrist had encountered over and over again
were those people who had not found their self-acceptance in God,
consequently rejected themselves and, instead of developing a healthy
love of God and others, turned this void into an unnatural and
abnormal love and concern for self. It seems that rebellion causes one
to love self and desire the worship of others. That need to be accepted
is basic and demanding. Yet if we know that God has accepted us,
"self"-acceptance falls naturally into place.
The Bible demonstrates that happiness and self-acceptance are not
found in outward appearances or conditions, but in a personal
relationship with God. Scripture records that Lucifer was not
satisfied or content with his place. He didn't care to be just the
"bearer of the Light"; he wanted to be the Light itself. He desired to
be like the Most High; he desired to be something he was not. Yet
Lucifer was the most beautiful of all the angels.
This is an amazing truth. Even with the angelic beings of heaven, we
see that happiness and peace have nothing to do with outward
appearance, but only with a personal relationship with God, and the
humility to accept ourselves the way God created us—be it beautiful
or ugly. Hence, the ugliest person in the world, or a person without
legs, or a person whose father is a false prophet and sexual deviant,
or a person born blind, each possesses as great a potential for joy
and happiness as the most beautiful angel in heaven. If a person, or
even an angel, rejects what God has done or allowed in his life, he
places himself out of harmony with God's sovereign purpose, and cannot
find true peace and fulfillment. When we fall prey to self-rejection
and rebellion against God's purpose for life, we are left with seeking
a counterfeit. And cults offer that counterfeit.
When I came out of the Children of God, I was confronted with a double
measure of self-rejection because of my father. To come to accept myself
before God was a tremendous struggle and required a calculated,
terrifying leap of faith. Three years had passed, and my life still lay in
fragments. I bore the guilt of helping to found the cult, of immorality, of
a divorce and a broken home.
I thought back to 1968 when I was faced with accepting an unhappy
marriage and a little boredom. It seemed like nothing in comparison to
what I was now facing. After thirteen years, things were fifty times
as bad. God had brought me back to point zero; I was once again in the
very same place facing the very same choice. Would I cop out this time
as I did when I chose to run with my father in Huntington Beach? No, I
would not do that again.
This time I threw myself, my life, and all my unbearable circumstances
on God's altar and said, "Please, Lord, use my circumstances to build
Christ's character within me." It was a prayer of hope. My situation
was so desperate that I knew only God could
mend it. So I gave Him the bits and pieces of my life and heart,
knowing it was up to Him to bring meaning out of my failures.
That is the way it has to be with God. A person who sets about to find
acceptance in Him must put "all" of self on the altar. It is then
God's business to purify the sacrifice. The key to virtue lies not in
the purity of one's past, but in the present direction of life—that
is, the influence God is having on others through one's life
regardless of past failures. Given my past and my parentage, only God
could purify the sacrifice and bring peace and harmony.
I can now say that He has made me a whole person inside. I no longer
feel fragmented, torn in pieces. I still live with the consequences of
my mistakes, divorce, the effects of the cult on some of my children,
and the pain of a divided home. I cannot change these outward
circumstances. My responsibility now is to respond to them with the
God is showing me the inward beauty and peace of Christian character.
Certainly the mercies of God endure forever.
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Last response dated:
Dec 3, 2004
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