"The Family" -- Vital Information
No Longer Children

Vital Information

This is vital information about the "new religious movement" known today as The Family ("A Fellowship of Independent Missionary Communities") or Children of God. (see pseudonyms) The purpose of this [article] is to fill in the gaps in The Family's own public statements about their history and beliefs so that you will be fully informed and able to make a choice about your support or involvement.

The Family's religious zeal makes up for their small numbers -- about 9,000 full-time members worldwide (3,000 adults and 6,000 children). They also have an undetermined number of fringe members known as "TSers" (those who tithe and support the movement but live and work independently of the communal homes of the group). In their missionary efforts, The Family targets students, middle-class workers and even Christian young people to join them -- also gaining support, protection and legal advice from businessmen, military officers, lawyers and politicians.

The Family practices a communal lifestyle with a highly organized pyramidical command structure based on unquestioning allegiance to their founder and "prophet" David Berg (also known as Moses David, Mo, Dad, and Grandpa) and his common-law wife Karen Zerby ("Maria or "Mama"). This -- together with their unconventional doctrines and practices -- has been cause for concern by the public and the media as well as officials in various countries around the world.

The Roots of The Family

The group's founder and leader, David Berg, was born in California in 1919. He was raised in a Christian environment with a heritage of service to God, as both his grandfather and mother were traveling evangelists. By Berg's own accounts, he was sexually molested as a child by adults of both sexes, had incestuous sex with a female cousin at age seven, and by the time he was a teen was obsessed with sex and masturbation -- all of which conflicted with his strict moral upbringing.

In 1944 Berg married. He and his wife Jane had four children, all of whom were given important roles in the founding of The Family. During the late 1940s, Berg was ordained as a minister, pastoring a small church for two years. He claims he was unjustly removed from that pastorate because of his strong sermons and integration policies; certain members of his personal family claim that an adulterous affair with a member of the congregation was the cause. Whatever the reasons, Berg later wrote that the whole incident made him so furious, embittered and sick of the whole "hypocritical church system" that he nearly became a communist.

During the 1950s, he seemed to temporarily find his niche with the "Soul Clinic", a radical missionary/witnessing movement founded by Fred Jordan, a former Baptist minister. It was there that Berg gained his quasi-military zeal for personal witnessing, an emphasis that remains a major part of The Family to this day. Despite his "serving God", Berg later told his followers how he visited prostitutes and indulged in adulterous affairs while on the road away from his wife. He also began making sexual advances to his daughters Faithy and Linda.

In the mid-'60s, Berg was leading his teenage children on witnessing forays and harshly condemning Christians who weren't doing the same. In 1968, they went to Huntington Beach, California and began witnessing to the hippies. There Berg's teenage children won many converts, bringing them to the coffeehouse where they listened to Berg's anti-church, anti-establishment sermons. Young people, many underage, were being helped and rescued from drugs and then indoctrinated by Berg's special brand of Christianity: that they must "forsake all" and leave parents and school or jobs behind. Fleeing the wrath of parents and the media in California, Berg's band of "revolutionaries for Jesus" went on the road in convoys of trailers, eventually settling at a ranch near Thurber, Texas in 1970 where they grew in numbers and began sending teams to other cities to start communes and win more converts and members. It was while "on the road" that a newspaper reporter dubbed them "The Children of God" and the name stuck.

In the early 1970s, young men and women by the hundreds forsook jobs, education, family and all their material possessions to join the COG across the United States and Canada as well as in London, England and other major cities of Europe, Australia and Latin America as the COG began to spread abroad.

From the beginning, Berg's religious and spiritual writings were inseparably interwoven with his sexual practices and beliefs. As early as 1969, he began taking as "wives" several young women in the group. One of them was a young new disciple named Karen Zerby (renamed "Maria" and now called "Mama" by Family members), claiming in "prophecy" that Maria was the young "new church" that God was raising up and that Jane, the wife and mother of his children, was the "old church" which God was abandoning as disobedient and outdated because God was doing a "new thing". This was the beginning of Berg's pattern of "sanctifying" and 'justifying" his actions and policies by means of "prophetic" utterances. Soon he was proclaiming himself "God's endtime prophet" speaking "God's words for today", using verses and examples from Scripture to justify his new doctrines which he elevated to the level of Scripture. As a result of Berg's example and at his urging, sexual promiscuity ("free sex" and "wife swapping") became rampant amongst COG leadership. This was hidden for a time from the general members.

The door to the occult was thrown open when Berg received a "spirit helper", a supposed Gypsy king from the 1200s named "Abrahim" whom Berg claims was sent by God to be his guardian angel or spirit guide.

With his sexual practices now "sanctified" and "justified" and occult powers to guide him, Berg directed the COG to expand worldwide, first into Europe in 1971 and touching every continent by the mid-1970s. Actually, missionary zeal was not the sole motivation behind the worldwide push, but also Berg's need to escape the hounding of both angry parents of converts and the legal authorities in some cities and countries. His "gloom and doom" message of America's imminent destruction compelled many members to leave the U.S.

The Family in the 1970s and 1980s

In 1973, while based secretly in London, England, Berg ordered his followers to stop emphasizing personal witnessing on the street and instead to concentrate on distributing "Mo Letters", his writings on a variety of subjects, and ask for donations to support themselves in what became known as "litnessing". His political stance (anti-American, anti-Israel, pro-Arab) and his sexually explicit poems incurred the wrath of the public and media. Confusion occurred in COG ranks around the world when his prophecy regarding a time of great upheaval at the appearance of the Comet Kohoutek did not come to pass. The prophecy was taken to mean that America's destruction was imminent and Berg did nothing to discourage this interpretation until after it didn't happen. He then chastised those who had "misinterpreted" his prophetic utterance.

The "Family of Love":
In 1976, Berg "dropped the bomb" that would make them both aberrant and abhorrent to the Christian community and to society in general. After a year or two of personal experimentation with his consort Maria, Berg ordered all female members to begin "flirty fishing" (FFing) -- that is, using sex to gain members and win the favor of government officials and men of power in countries around the world. In a lengthy and sexually explicit series of missives claiming that God had now sanctified extra-marital sex and prostitution as long as they were "done in love" and "for the glory of God", he instructed his followers how to go about FFing as well as to ask for monetary gifts. Soon scores of COG members became outright prostitutes, leading hundreds to become infected with sexually transmitted diseases such as herpes (which reached near-epidemic proportions in some areas). With the FFing "Revolution", the COG began calling themselves the "Family of Love".

The sexual excesses inevitably spilled over into child/adult sex. True to his personal history, Berg now claimed that incest and child sex were permissible. Soon there were cases of mothers and fathers becoming sexually intimate with their sons and daughters, and of young children having intercourse with other children or other adult members. Despite the fact that numerous people who were members of the group at the time have reported witnessing cases of child-adult sex or of being abused themselves, The Family today vehemently denies any such abuse was sanctioned, maintaining that any such incidents were isolated.

Mixing his sexual practices and beliefs with the occult, Berg claimed to have sexual intercourse with a whole pantheon of pagan goddesses which he named and vividly described and illustrated in writings to the membership. Berg's fascination with the occult led him to promote spiritism, consulting of mediums, astrology and necromancy. He wrote to his followers that they all have "spirit helpers" (so-called departed Christian saints which the Bible labels as "familiar spirits") and urged them to find out who they were.

Another departure from orthodox Christianity occurred during this time period: In an unstudied interpretation of Luke 1:28 (see the King James Version), Berg claimed that Jesus' birth was the result of the angel Gabriel having "come in unto" Mary and having sex with her (known as "the Gabriel doctrine") -- in effect denying the virgin birth. Family spokespersons state this is not a hard and fast doctrine but merely "speculation" and not something that is emphasized. However, a former Family editor of the Mo Letters has testified that he was severely rebuked for questioning it at the time.

Compounding the sexual and occult leaning to Berg's writings was his increasing problem with alcohol (he once wrote that he prophesied better when under the influence). Calls to fasting and prayer for his health went out numerous times in the late '70s and '80s due to effects of alcohol.

By the late 1970s, when the COG (who were calling themselves The Family of Love) received worldwide negative media coverage for their FFing and then the Jonestown massacre focused media attention on cults Berg instructed his followers to tell the public that the group had disbanded. Far from disbanding, as their PR statements of 1992 claim happened, they merely became more secretive in their locations and evasive when confronted, to give the appearance of having "disbanded". At the same time, Berg demoted and replaced much of the rank and file leadership around the world, leading to a closure of some communal homes. As far as the public in North America was concerned, they practically disappeared. However, the group didn't disappear and never disbanded. Throughout the 1980s they continued as a cohesive and highly organized entity whose top leadership and basic beliefs and practices did not change. Going by various pseudonyms in various locations in an attempt to make it appear that they were not the "infamous" COG/FOL, they continued to proselytize, concentrating their efforts on the Third World as well as forays into the East Bloc and Soviet Union, where they were not previously known.

From "Revolution" to "Regime":
By the mid to late 1980s, with Berg's health deteriorating, "Maria" (or "Mama") began taking the reins of power in overseeing The Family's pyramidical leadership structure and setting of policy. It was she who pushed to rid the group of the most blatant sexual excesses by forbidding incest, child/adult and teen/adult sex in order to keep the movement from self-destructing. According to former members, this came in the form of a directive in 1986 that was to be read and then destroyed. FFing was officially terminated in the late 1980s because of the AIDS scare and only after a female member in Japan died of AIDS-related pneumonia. These changes were implemented, as stated, for se1f-preservation. The group's basic structure has not changed, as an internal directive of 1993 clearly states.

Another phenomenon that occurred in the late 1980s and continued into the early '90s was what became known as "victor camps" or the "victor program". Beginning with the group's' older children and teenagers and eventually spreading to use with adult, certain communal homes and methods were set aside for dealing with "problem cases". Using such tactics as solitary confinement, reading lists of appropriate Mo Letters, "exorcisms", corporal punishment, hard labor, written confessions, and public humiliation, teens and adults were monitored for various periods of time (weeks or even months) until they either "got the victory" or left the group. The excesses in this approach have been documented by both adult and minor ex-members and have been great cause for concern by the authorities and the public. The Family has not denounced this program except to say it is no longer in use. Close monitoring of members' thoughts continues to occur through the requirement of "open heart reports" to be written on a regular basis by all members.

The Family in the 1990s

David Berg reportedly died in 1992, and the group is now being led by Maria (Karen Zerby) All of Berg's writings and doctrines including goddesses and spirit helpers, the "Garbriel doctrine", etc. remain intact. And despite the fact that hundreds of Family members are infected with sexual diseases such as herpes, they continue to practice extra-marital sex between "consenting" adult members. Even child/adult sex, although no longer sanctioned, has not been renounced.

Investigations of The Family have occurred frequently in the last several years with major media and/or government campaigns against them in a variety of countries: Most recently and damaging to the group, in Spain (1990), Australia (1992), France (1993) and Argentina (1993) where authorities raided Family Homes and took hundreds of children into temporary protective custody with allegations of sexual, mental and physical abuse. Due to technicalities or out-of-court settlement, no court convictions resulted from these investigations.

With doors being closed to the group in many countries, members are returning in great numbers to their home countries in North America and Western Europe where The Family is busy with its public relations campaign to convince the public that they have "changed". With the openness to religion in the former East Bloc and Soviet Union, The Family has been flooding these countries, setting up permanent homes, winning converts and attempting to gain the favor of Christian leaders.

From Regime to Respectability?
Because of these "persecutions", the group has reversed its long-standing hit-and-run tactics and has begun to aggressively try to defend themselves, using lawyers and issuing press releases and restraining orders. The giant Scientology organization has lent their legal and PR expertise to the group, so that now The Family has become skillful at deflecting attacks against them. It was in 1992 that they officially began to call themselves "The Family", when it became obvious they could no longer hide behind pseudonyms, and their claim that the COG had disbanded was exposed as untrue. In the mid-1990s they desperately want to appear "respectable". The excesses of "the Revolution" and the abuses of "the Regime" are ignored in their slick campaign to gain respectability, With the same leadership and ideology intact, will history repeat itself? Some social scientists, ignorant of the group's history, give The Family glowing reports based on observation of one or two model homes -- hardly a thorough, scientific methodology.

Using such tools and tactics, they approach people on the street, in their businesses, even churches and Christian bookstores in an effort to raise funds through the sale of their videos and music cassettes. They generally have no permits to collect donations, are not registered as a charity, and do not pay taxes. In most cases, if asked if they belong to the Children of God or Family of Love, they will declare that these groups no longer exist and that "some" former members of the COG/FOL now have joined together to call themselves "The Family". This tactic is designed to make the public think that the abuses, excesses and aberrance's of the past no longer exist. It does appear that FFing (prostitution) and child/adult sex have been banned by the group and have virtually ceased. Nevertheless, in internal publications they declare that these two practices are not intrinsically morally wrong and they have not denounced these practices, merely discontinued them due to outside pressure, for self-preservation. Their "prophet" and founder David Berg is still staunchly defended and exonerated of all blame for any child/adult sexual abuse that happened in the group, despite the fact that he espoused the glories of such "freedoms" and approved childcare material that explicitly showed it in action.

In actual fact, The Family of today has the same leadership, doctrines and tight authoritarian structure that the COG of the '70s and the FOL of the '80s had. A Mo Letter directive of 1993 called "Go To The Churches" instructs members to take their converts to churches for follow-up and to exert influence on churches to "witness" and "be on fire". Upon request, they will present their public statement of faith which resembles that of other evangelical organizations. What it doesn't say is what they mean by "the Holy Spirit": a sexy mother figure, and that in fact there are many "holy spirits", departed "saints" of the past who speak to and lead and guide them as individuals. Or that Jesus was conceived as the Son of God by the angel Gabriel having intercourse with Mary. Or that David Berg firmly believes Jesus had sexual intercourse with Mary Magdalene and others and even suffered venereal disease. Speaking in tongues is explained as a "departed spirit helper" who speaks an ancient language (commonly known as "channeling"). They also won't readily tell you that they believe and practice extra-marital sex amongst "consenting adults" within their ranks. When confronted with these practices, they will politely invite you to "agree to disagree".

Because the group talks about Jesus and salvation and teaches Bible studies, the potential member or supporter may think he's never met such sincere Christians who know their Bibles so well. But should a person be induced to join them, he will be put through an intense training program to be indoctrinated with David Berg's interpretations of the Bible. This process of indoctrination will be so strong that once a person is under it, it may keep him in their ranks for years after he longs to leave.

How to relate to The Family:
Many members are sincere Christians who love Jesus; have serious, long-standing doubts about Berg and his teachings; are disillusioned by his many false predictions and have had enough of mental abuse and control. They want to leave, but years of reading only "Mo Letters" makes them afraid to do so. Thus, Family members -- while trying to quell their own doubts -- continue to promote Berg's teachings and persuade others into the group. If you are approached on the street, in your school, church or place of business, look for colorful posters with a written message on the back (they often feature a post office address in Zurich, Switzerland that says "World Services" or "Home Services") and colorfully packaged music and "Kiddy Viddy" video cassettes; there will probably be one or more cute, winsome children or well-trained teens present. * Ask them questions such as these that describe controlling groups:
  • Does The Family value loyalty to one's conscience and God's call more than loyalty to their organization and leadership?
  • Does The Family make everything they believe public, rather than foster an atmosphere of secrecy and privileged knowledge within the group?
  • Does The Family respect each member's privacy? Are wayward members confronted about their sin privately and lovingly rather than subjected to physical punishment and public humiliation?
  • Does The Family control members' sexuality and marriage, either by forbidding it or encouraging incest, extra-marital sex, arranged marriages, etc.
  • Does The Family encourage members to give money and time to the group as God leads them, rather than setting strict demanding rules? Do the leaders set godly examples by shunning self-indulgent extravagance?
  • Does The Family serve and interact with the larger Christian community?
  • Are members encouraged to think critically and voice doubts or objections?
  • Does The Family encourage members to build healthy relationships with friends and family members who are not part of the group?
  • Are members allowed to leave The Family without being made to feel guilty or fearful?

    * Informed Christians and leaders of churches who are approached by Family members can lovingly point out the unorthodox doctrines that The Family adheres to, as described in this tract. Family members are taught to respect God's Word. The skillful use of Scripture in lovingly and humbly pointing out error may be one way to reach individual Family members.
This information has been compiled by ex-members of The Children of God/Family and distributed by "No Larger Children", a support group for and by ex-COG/Family and their families.

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