By Ed Priebe
March 2002


  During the 1970's and 1980's—and on into the 1990's—The Family (also known as the Family of Love or Children of God), were famous for their use of FFing to convert outsiders and win favor and disciples. FFing stands for "Flirty Fishing" and Berg took the term "fishing" from Matthew 4:19 in the Bible, where Jesus told his disciples, "Follow me and I will make you fishers of men." In the case of "flirty" fishing, Berg told his followers that the hook was the Word of God and sex was the irresistible bait on the hook that would help them catch some big fish.

Religious Protitution?
We should resolve one question at the beginning, and that is: was FFing merely a radical way of witnessing Christ's Gospel, as Berg said, "using soft, beautiful, irresistible feminine flesh as the bait" to hook souls for Christ, or was it, as Family critics insist, prostitution. Or was it a bizarre mixture of both that eventually descended into cash-for-sex prostitution plain and simple? To begin to answer this question, let's quote David Berg. On Aug.23, 1977, in "How to Take it!", Letter 597, paragraphs 3, 4, 52, 53, 62, he said:

      "TIME Magazine was historical when it said that we had added to the Playboy Philosophy "the ancient practice of religious prostitution". Well, if you want to be real honest about it, that's what they think it amounts to. So don't be afraid to be called a "whore". I wrote a whole Letter about "God's Whores? For God's sake, let's be honest!
    "For God's sake, why should you be ashamed to be called 'God's whores' or 'religious prostitutes!' Don't be afraid ... because they call you a few names! Turn right around and say, "Yes, I'm a prostitute for God!" Now, if you're not willing to do that and be called that for God, then you better get out while you can save your virginity!"

In "God's Whores?", Letter 560, paragraphs 27 and 31 - Apr.26, 1976, Berg explained:

      "GOD IS A PIMP! How about that! He's the biggest one there is-He uses His Church all the time to ... win hearts to Him to attract them to Him. Pretty shocking religion—God's Whorehouse—the loving whores of God!"

Getting Family disciples to accept the fact that they were "whores for Christ" was one thing. Explaining their new religion of divine prostitution to the public was another matter. In 1977, when Children of God (Family) leader, Rachel was questioned by "TIME" Magazine about the group's use of Flirty Fishing, she asked, "So what's wrong with a sexy conversion?" Down through the years, the Family would continue to defend themselves with this same line of thinking.

    Berg has constantly referred to FFing as a "radical way of witnessing and winning souls", leaving the impression that Family women are going to bed with members of the general public with nothing but the love of Jesus in their hearts, only because they want to see them saved and in heaven. After all, they were giving away all that sex for free, so what else could their motives have been?

    Well, they didn't give away free sex for long! Not far into FFing, Berg realised that it would be a lucrative way of earning cash. He had already sold Family women on the fact that they were whores for Christ; now, on Sept. 6, 1977, in "Does FFing Pay?", Letter 652, Berg advised Family women to make it clear to the men they went to bed with that they needed gifts for their services, preferably cash gifts. In paragraphs 31, 32, 44, 52, 55 he said:

      "We have told the kids and we have told the magazines and we've told the authorities, "Our girls are forbidden to accept a penny, they have never received anything for their sexual services".—And that's the truth as far as I'm concerned. Whatever the man donated was for the Work (cause). One of our girls was wise when she told her fish, "I'd rather not receive this money for myself, but if you want to donate something to the Work, we certainly could use it.
    "Not a direct payment to the woman just for a f—k, which coarsens and makes it crude and about as low as you can get. But if they can feel like they're not just paying a prostitute but that they are actually giving it to the Lord and the Work, this I think we would all feel very acceptable.
    "It has got to come to this sooner or later. We can't afford to just continue supporting some kind of a religious brothel, ministering to men who don't pay their way.
    This is quite a bomb that's going to have repercussions all over the Earth! It's the beginning of a whole i of the FF Ministry. Happy Hookin'!—But make it pay!"

On Mar.13, 1978, in "Make It Pay!", Letter 684, paragraphs 6, 7, 9, 11, Berg elaborated:

      "Now what do they say to those guys? "No, we don't accept money, blah, blah." When don't we accept money? If you're to be God's whore you can't have much pride! Let me tell you, I never went to a whore yet that hesitated to ask for the money in advance. My Lord, you're providing enough FF service and getting laid, it's about time you got paid!"

Not long after, a Family publication came out giving  testimonies  of Family women who worked in Escort Agencies. Not long after, scores of Family women joined such agencies, selling their bodies and giving sex in exchange for cold, hard cash. For most Family women, putting in their hours at an Escort Agency, so-called "FFing" had become nothing more than a job, a way to earn money. "Winning souls", if it happened, was now a mere incidental sideline. That is an entire study which can be fully documented both with testimonials of ex-members, as well as Berg's own writings and Family documents such as "Heavenly Helpers" Volume 4. But for right now, we wish to investigate the third reason for FFing. As Berg himself declared in no uncertain terms, this was the most important reason of all:

      "I don't think you can possibly underestimate ... the value & the effectiveness, the influence & the importance of FFing!—It is much more than for mere support, or even for souls."

What was this other vitally important reason, much more important than "mere support, or even souls"? And exactly who would they be FFing?

FFing Government Officials
In the very first Letter in his "FF series", entitled "The Night Crawlers!", Letter 501, paragraph 21 (written April 29, 1976), Berg made it clear that they should have sex with government officials in return for political favour and protection:

      "Our message can no longer be limited to merely the poor young hippies but must now be spread also amongst their rich elders and influential businessmen, politicians and government leaders if we are to obtain their favour and protection and to continue to have opportunities to reach their young."

On Nov.25, 1976, in "Winning the System!", Letter 571, paras.15, 16, 28, 34 Berg further clarified their motives for giving sex to men of power and influence:

      "Here we are reaching the city fathers, the leaders, the important men who are influential and essential to our stay here, is that clear? I don't want the girls dragging in little cotton pickers or poor students.
    "I'm after the top brass here, and I mean it! Our major outreach here is to try to at least take some of the heat off us from the System. If we can't make friends out of them or convert them, at least we can make them tolerate us and try to keep them happy so they'll defend us. We need to get in touch with the guys who are running things, because we're very controversial and we need their friendship. So is that clear? "

In "The FF Explosion!" (Apr.6, 1977), Letter 576, paragraphs 11, 12, 16, 17, 116 Berg boasted about the success of FFing in Tenerife, Spain:

      "FFing is really worth the price! We won owners of hotel chains, government officials, top police ... the rich and the powerful! We were reaching the leaders of the System. Do you understand? The head of the Mafia for all the [Canary] islands and Morocco was saved and would come here just to see me! Two of the top leaders of the Mafia!—Both of them two top policemen, police officials of the Island. We had such important people, such important men!
    "Scores and scores of professionals, policemen and local officials were won! That's why locally there in Puerto they never bothered us. They loved us!—From the police chief, the mayor, and everybody on down the loved us!—And they wouldn't do anything against us."

In Feb. 1985, in "Seed Corn, Hot Cakes & Beggars!", Letter 1885, paragraphs 64-66, Berg said:

      "A French paper in Paris came out with this kind of a story, can you believe it? They said that all our girls are whores trying to influence French officials to be friendly to Godahfi, & that they lure them into their homes & apartments & there they have secret video tapes made of them while they're making love so that they can blackmail them & threaten to reveal those things if they don't help Godahfi & if they don't do things politically the way we want them to do.
    "Well, I must admit that might be a very good idea, but I never thought about it!—Ha! I never really thought about getting politicians to do things like that [help Godahfi] through the influence of our girls, & we certainly never thought about blackmailing anybody!
    "Anyway, we don't have to do that sort of thing! We don't have to blackmail politicians to do political stunts, that's ridiculous! But that's what the newspapers are accusing us of now, that we're blackmailing politicians to vote our way & influencing them to do things for us, blah, blah, as well as extort big sums of money out of them!"

In 1984, the Children of God/Family were deported from Indonesia, and in a talk in March, of that year, entitled "Esther—the Queen of FFers!", Letter 1755, paragraphs 1-3, 5, 6, 18, 20, Berg rebuked the Family for not having used the art of political seduction as effectively as they should have:

      "I've been thinking about the country (Indonesia) where we've been getting so much persecution. I'm just wondering how successful their FFing was with top government officials? In other countries they FFed top government officials who have in turn defended & protected us, but somehow they failed to reach the right people in that field where we're being persecuted.
    "See, once they have FFed some of these government officials, they not only win them, but they also win their favour & their influence & protection & defense. But also in a way the government officials have to defend us to defend themselves for fear of exposure! Once they have done it they have done it, & they can't very well accuse us when they were involved.
    "So that shows you what one of the most important effects ... of FFing is, it can protect the whole Family in a whole country. I don't think you can possibly underestimate, or you shouldn't, the value & the effectiveness, the influence & the importance of FFing!—It is much more than for mere support, or even for souls, but for defense, protection & giving us freedom & liberty to operate within a country.
    "Our FFers are our most powerful lobbyists! They literally lobby for the Family with government officials & men of influence. They had better get up to the top where men of influence can defend us & protect us when there is trouble, & trouble always comes!—at least they are on the inside & can warn us! "

Note that in Letter 1885, Berg denied that they blackmailed officials and politicians to get political favours, although he admitted "that might be a very good idea". But he was somewhat more candid in Letter 1755. Re-read the following statement by David Berg slowly and carefully:

      "But also in a way the government officials have to defend us to defend themselves for fear of exposure! Once they have done it they have done it, & they can't very well accuse us when they were involved."

It leaves one wondering whether the act of deliberately sexually compromising government officials is indeed a subtle form of blackmail. It is, without question, a very political act. As Berg admitted:

      "Our FFers are our most powerful lobbyists! They literally lobby for the Family with government officials & men of influence."

In "The Future Is Here!", Letter 1200, para.78, Berg boasted:

      "And some of these city fathers who are f—king our girls are going to be a little loathe & reluctant to clamp down on us even though their wives may be screaming & tearing their hair to do it because they're jealous."

The Family was no longer using sex to "preach the Gospel". Nor were they wholesale involved in prostitution and Escort Agencies like they once were. After all, why should a Family woman risk contracting the HIV virus? Although sex was still used extensively to bring in finances ("love gifts") from wealthy benefactors, a main purpose of FFing now became to gain governmental favour.

    FFing stopped? It would be naive to imagine that, having gained political power and favour through FFing, the Family would now relinquish it. The minor inconvenience of carrying a few condoms in their purses won't stop the Family's unique brand of religious prostitution from reaching men of power and influence.

The Price: Venereal Disease
When Berg first began promoting FFing, he assured the Family that God was with them and would protect them from contracting either a "sperm or a germ." But when one Family woman after another began contracting venereal disease and passing it on to their husbands and their other sexual partners in the group, Berg was forced to revamp his thinking. He then declared that Family women were "partaking of the sufferings of Christ", who Himself had had sex with the ex-harlot, Mary Magdalene—as well as others amongst His female followers—and had contracted venereal disease in the process.

    According to Berg, part of Christ's agony on the cross was because He was suffering from VD. On Nov.25, 1976, in "Afflictions!", Letter 569, paragraphs 52, 74, 183, Berg declared:

      "I already told you that the Lord showed me that the Lord had sex with Mary and Martha and probably Mary Magdalene the harlot! Who knows but what he caught something from her?
    "That's a shocking doctrine, isn't it! One of these days they are probably going to say, "Well, they even believe that Jesus had venereal disease!" Whew! Well, if He suffered every other human frailty, illness, sickness, pain, etc., why not?
    "What a doctrine! Oh my God, what a doctrine! Wait'll they hear this one! If they thought the others were strong, wait till they hear this one! "

Convinced that they were "partaking of the sufferings of Christ", sacrificially contracting venereal diseases to win the world, the Family pushed full steam ahead in their FFing. When herpes came on the scene and entire communities of Family disciples began having outbreaks, they took it in stride. It was, after all, just part of the price they had to pay to win the world with sex.

    But what about the possibility of infecting outsiders with their venereal diseases? In a letter much earlier "Wonderful Wave of Worldwide Witnessing," Berg had warned his followers that the nation was in the throes of a VD epidemic, and that if they had love—the true love of God—they would be considerate of others and not pass on VD to them. Berg's advice now changed drastically. On Aug.8, 1977 in "Pill?—Or Pilgrimage!", Letter 599, paragraphs 198-218, when Maria (Karen Zerby) had VD and was wondering whether to have sex with her doctor or not, he answered:

      "You just ought to trust the Lord and go ahead! He doesn't have to catch it! (Maria: Well, naturally he has to catch it ...) Well Honey, he's a doctor, and he's supposed to know how to get rid of it! (Maria: I'm not worried about him, I mean, but I don't like to give it to his wife.) Why don't you just go ahead by faith and trust the Lord he won't catch it?
    "(Maria: If his wife got something, he'd know I gave it to her, and then he'd think it wasn't a good sample.) So what if he gets a little fungus or itch? He'll probably figure he got it from one of his other patients.
    "Look at it this way, what's more important, his penis or his soul? (Maria: His soul of course!) Well then, why worry about his penis? It's better to "turn his body over for the destruction of his flesh that his soul might be saved"! (1Cor.5:5)
    "What's more important, his penis or his soul? (Maria: You mean, is it more important that his soul is saved than his penis is lost?) His soul is more important than his penis!
    "That ought to encourage all of our FFers! (Maria: Well, if they had VD and could do it any other way, I wouldn't suggest that they f—k them.) I suggest that salvation is worth it! (Maria: Does this mean we're going to advise all our kids with infections: ... "Why don't you just go ahead and expect a miracle?)
    "Yes! Why not? I'm sure the whores don't stop working just because they've got a little something! How would they ever earn a living?"

So much for using FFing to win souls with the "pure, sacrificial, love of Jesus". So much for safe sex. Family members continued FFing, and as they did, they continued getting venereal diseases-herpes, NSU, genital warts, etc. All these they took in stride. Then, something happened that changed things. In 1987, a Family FFer in Japan, an American woman named "Ruth", died of pneumonia. When her parents came from the States for the body, they had an autopsy done and discovered that their daughter had died of a full-blown case of AIDS.

    The discovery sent shock waves through the Family. As much as they believed God was blessing them, as much as they felt that He would spare them from the "plagues of the Egyptians", they had to come face to face with grim reality: they weren't immune to AIDS. What made it so serious was that the woman had had sex with members of Berg's personal household. Berg himself might have been exposed to the HIV virus. That hit too close to home. Not only was Berg in danger, but Family disciples "shared" (had sex) freely amongst themselves, and it didn't take much to figure out that once the HIV virus found its way inside the group, it could spread like wildfire and untold numbers of people would become infected.

    Fearful that unless they took sweeping measures, they would all die of AIDS, Berg restricted their use of FFing: HIV tests became mandatory for all Family disciples. The "Condom Revolution" was instituted. Sex with outsiders could continue, but it was mandatory to wear condoms (although exceptions were made with the most faithful, wealthy friends). From this point on, Family women would only FF outsiders whose sexual history they were intimately familiar with.

    Was this the end of FFing? No, by now, Family women around the world already had a massive amount of regulars on the line—many of them wealthy and influential benefactors of the group—so, armed with condoms, they continued FFing.

No more sex for souls
In his early FF Letters, Berg declared that, per man-hours invested, FFing was more economical and won more souls than any other witnessing method. From a purely financial perspective, he declared, FFing was more cost-effective than a Billy Graham rally. He insisted that sex had enabled them to win difficult people to Christ who would not have responded to any other method.

    In 1986, Berg's rationale began to unravel. Family women had long ago realised that although it was easy enough to lead outsiders in a "sinner's prayer" after having intercourse with them, in the long run FFing was definitely not a time-economical way of winning souls. Men who converted after being shown "the love of God" through sex weren't satisfied with a one-night stand. They wanted more sex, and they wanted it on a continual basis.

    To further complicate matters, after having been told how much the women loved them, many men became very jealous and possessive when they found out that their lovers were sleeping around with several other men. FFing was a very time-consuming method of "witnessing" that tied up Family women.

    In May, 1987, Berg's wife, Maria (Karen Zerby) came out with the solution: In "The Word Witnessing Revolution" in FSM ("Family Specials New Magazine") 62, Letter 2313, she said:

      "By playing a little "hard to get", the girls found to their amazement, that they were able to easily win these men directly to the Lord ... without getting so personally involved with each one of them, taking them to bed.—Which enabled them to spread themselves out much further ... without worrying about hurting their "fish" (lover), who, as most FFers well know, often become jealous, possessive, etc. after having gotten intimately involved with our girls."

Although Family women still went out FFing, it was now reserved mostly for important outsiders who could be a benefactor to the group in some way, either financially, by giving regular gifts, or politically, by offering protection. Sex with Family women was now a special reward only for men who could give substantial favours to the group in return. While this admittedly removed the motive of "pure, unselfish love of God" from FFing, it was, after all, more practical.

    As we have seen from this study, Berg instituted FFing for three main reasons:

  • (a) to win converts
  • (b) to earn money and, most importantly of all,
  • (c) to gain political favour and protection.
In closing, the question should be asked: is The Family still FFing? This is difficult to determine, since they no longer publish magazines full of statistics on how many men they take to bed. However, at latest report, the Family is still "sharing sexually with outside friends"—select friends whose sexual histories they know. For the record, the Family has publicly stated that "FFing was a radical witnessing method which they have since abandoned", but in early 1993, when asked about FFing, Family spokesmen admitted that, yes, they would still FF in extenuating circumstances.—Meaning, whenever they felt it was necessary.

To this day the Family have never renounced FFing as a mistake.

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