|"The Family" -- Vital Information
No Longer Children
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 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
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
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":
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
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:
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.
- 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,
- 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.
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