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History of The Family International / Children of God

Founder David Berg

Berg's Heritage—a cultic legacy

David Brandt Berg (February 18, 1919—1994) was born in Oakland, California, to a family with strong Christian traditions. His mother Virginia Brandt, had came from a long line of notable pastors and evangelists. The Brandts were descendants of three brothers, Adam, Isaac, and Jacob Brandt, German Jews who had converted to Christianity and set sail for the new world from Stuttgart, Germany, in 1745. Living their new faith as peaceful Mennonite farmers, they settled in Pennsylvania and later moved to Ohio.

John Lincoln Brandt

David's maternal grandfather, John Lincoln Brandt, was a minister in a Methodist church, and later, leader of the Campbellite movement of the Disciples of Christ. He held the position of president of Virginia College, and became a millionaire through his writings and investments. He was personally responsible some fifty churches, and authored sixteen books in his lifetime. (Davis, D, 1984) He taught that Christians have an urgent duty to win souls for Christ. (Brandt, J.L., 1926)

Virginia Brandt and Hjalmer Berg

David's mother, Virginia Brandt, had grown up in wealth and luxury, traveling the world with her father, living in his shadow. After a crisis of faith and a bout of suicidal depression, Virginia decided to dedicate her life to God, and became Field Secretary for the National Florence Crittenton Mission. Virginia had been engaged to marry Bruce Bogart, the wealthy cousin of Humphrey Bogart, but met Hjalmer Emmanuel Berg, described as a "handsome Swedish tenor," and fell in love and eloped.

Under the influence of his new father-in-law, Hjalmer Berg enrolled in theological seminary in Des Moines, Iowa, and became an ordained minister of the Disciples of Christ. He was eventually expelled along with his wife Virginia Brandt Berg, because of claims they both made of her divine healing.

The Bergs began working on their own as itinerant evangelists, with their preaching centered on Virginia's testimony of her healing—she claimed to have been injured in an auto accident, that she was paralyzed and bedridden for 5 years as a result; that she was suddenly healed one day and walked into church on the next, literally "from deathbed to pulpit."

Members of Virginia's immediate family disputed her claims, explaining that she had in fact been injured through being dropped on a curb by her husband Hjalmer, as he slipped on an icy walkway to their house; that although she required an operation, she did not in fact suffer from paralysis; that her oldest daughter was born during the five years of her supposed invalidism.

From 1911 to 1917, the years she claimed to be paralyzed, Virginia had in fact led an active life in church affairs, had both conceived and given birth to a daughter, and attended graduate school at Texas Christian University. An article written in 1913 reported the arrival of the Rev. H. E. Berg and his wife in Weatherford, Texas, to pastor the Central Christian Church in 1913, describing her as "standing ready at any time to fill the pulpit." Regardless, Virginia used her testimony of healing throughout her life, to establish herself as a woman of God.

The couple settled in Miami, working with the Christian and Missionary Alliance and founding the Alliance Tabernacle, where Virginia preached regularly to audiences of thousands. They were eventually forced out of the Tabernacle, and went on to start the Central Alliance Church of the Open Door in Miami. Virginia then became a full-time traveling evangelist, lecturing, preaching, and holding revivals in churches throughout the United States.

The young David Berg

David Berg was raised, along with his older sister, and Virginia, and older brother Hjalmer Jr., in an environment of flamboyant evangelism, constantly on the move. As a young boy, David had learned to speak to large audiences, and preached at his mother's venues.

During David Berg's childhood, by his own accounts, he was sexually molested by adults of both sexes, had incestuous sex with a female cousin at age seven, and was obsessed with sex and masturbation by the time he was a teen—all of which conflicted with his strict moral upbringing.

In his parent's footsteps

In 1941, David Berg was drafted into the army, and sent to Fort Belvoir, Virginia, home of the US Army Engineers. Berg claimed to have had "double pneumonia" in 1942, and that while on his deathbed, he had promised God his lifetime service, "and was immediately and miraculously healed!" He claimed that Doctors had discharged him, giving him only one year to live, due to a heart condition.

In 1944, David Berg met Jane Miller at the Little Church of Sherman Oaks, California, where she was working as a Church Secretary and Youth Director. Without the blessings of Jane's tightly-knit Baptist family for their relationship, David and Jane eloped and married on July 22, 1944, in Glendale, California.

In 1948, following in the steps of his father, David Berg became an ordained minister of the Christian and Missionary Alliance, pastoring a small church in Valley Farms, Arizona.

The Bergs would eventually have four children together, all instrumental to the founding of the Children of God movement. Jane, who later came to be known as Mother Eve to members, and would eventually be discarded in favor of a young mistress named Karen Zerby, through a humiliating public ceremony and declaration. (see Old Church New Church Prophecy below)

Psychology, Socialism and Christianity

In 1950, David Berg had a falling-out with certain of the Missionary Alliance's leadership. He later claimed he was unjustly removed from that pastorate because of his strong sermons and integration policies. (Van Zandt, David E., 1991) Members of his personal family disagree, explaining that an adulterous affair with a member of the congregation was the cause. Whatever the reasons, Berg acquired a permanent distaste for organized religion through this episode in his life. The deep-seated hatred he developed toward established churches would later become one of the foundation doctrines of the Children of God.

"Embittered and sick of the whole hypocritical Church System, I nearly became a Communist! I returned to college on the GI Bill, determined to study philosophy, psychology, and political science, rather than religion, and became seriously involved in the study of Socialism and Communism." (David Berg, 1972)

During his "communist sabbatical", David Berg taught in Calvary Junior High School and drove a school bus for several years. However, never relinquishing his faith, he wanted to become a missionary in Israel, and attended a three-month "personal witnessing course" at the American Soul Clinic—an organization directed by Fred Jordan, with the purpose of training missionaries for foreign fields. David Berg later described himself as rabidly pro-Israel at that time, but did not travel to Israel until the 1970s. For the remaining years of the 1950s, Berg took his family on the road working as a preacher, generally outside the shelter of church denominations, relying on the kindness and charity of strangers they would meet.

Virginia's ultimate influence on David Berg

Virginia Brandt, who had endeavored to follow in the footsteps of her famous father, John L. Brandt, wished the same for her children. Her elder son Hjalmer Jr. had rejected his Christian upbringing and become agnostic; Virginia, her only daughter, had run away from home and eloped at age sixteen. Her youngest son David, who had chosen to live a life of service to God, remained her only hope.

She wrote that he had been "filled with the Holy Ghost since his mother's womb," like John the Baptist, whose life mission was to prepare the way for Jesus.

In 1965, Virginia Berg personally delivered to her son David, a Warning Prophecy she claimed to have received. In 1966 she delivered another prophecy declaring that David had received "the understanding of Daniel" "to know the number of the years unto the End of Desolations." These messages were pivotal in David's life, and the basis for his belief that his own life was inextricably linked to the last 7 years of world history. David shortly thereafter developed his belief that God had a special destiny and mission for him, and would eventually begin making personal claims as the "prophet for this generation." (See The Warning Prophecy below)

Fred Jordan and the Soul Clinic

From 1952-1967, David Berg worked for Fred Jordan of the Soul Clinic in Los Angeles, promoting his TV program called "Church in the Home." There he seemed to temporarily find his niche in Jordan's radical missionary/witnessing movement, gaining a quasi-military zeal for personal witnessing, an emphasis which remains a major part of the Children of God/Family International to this day.

Jordan would prove to be the second biggest influence in Berg's Life after his mother Virginia. Working with Jordan, Berg developed a philosophy of salesmanship for Jesus, believing that it was justifiable to present facts in a different light in order to achieve positive ratings and results. (Davis, D, 1984)

Modeling his ideas after Jordan, Berg founded a missionary training school in Miami, following in the same evangelical missionary tradition, calling it the Florida Soul Clinic.

Berg and his family were ejected from Miami by local authorities for using overly aggressive tactics for spreading the message, but returned, at least twice. Berg blamed his troubles on the Jews, explaining that they had rejected his message and used their influence to drive him out.

After one such ejection Berg and his family spent some time at the Soul Clinic Ranch in Mingus, Texas—property of his former employer Fred Jordan, then began living as traveling evangelists, generally operating outside the shelter of church denominations, soliciting donations from the public for their living expenses. Training his children to be involved in his ministry, they moved from town to town, and became evangelical singers calling themselves the Teens for Christ. (Bainbridge, William Sims, 1997)

Adulterous affairs - a precursor of more to come

By his own accounts, during this period, Berg was already in conflict with traditional church values regarding sex, infidelity and adultery. He later told his followers that he visited prostitutes and indulged in adulterous affairs while on the road away from his wife. According to Berg's immediate family, he also had affairs with housekeepers, live-ins and governesses.

Berg also began making sexual advances to his daughters Faithy and Linda (a.k.a. Deborah). At least six women, including members of his immediate family, would eventually come forward claiming that Berg molested them as children.

The Warning Prophecy

Returning again, in 1964, to the Texas ranch, Berg was visited in 1965 by his mother Virginia, who came to personally deliver a certain "Warning Prophecy" she claimed to have received, which spoke of the last days and the coming of the antichrist: "Even now the skies are RED, RED with WARNING, and BLACK, BLACK with clouds gathering for the GREAT CONFUSION which is ALMOST UPON YOU!"

Upon receiving this prophecy, Berg became convinced that he was the prophet of the end-time, and that his life would be inextricably intertwined with events of the last days before the return of Christ. Berg eventually went on to explain in "The 70 Years Prophecy" that Jesus would return no more than 3½ years after his death in 1989 (Note: Berg died in 1994).

For the remaining years of the mid-'60s, Berg led his teenage children on witnessing forays, harshly condemning Christians who did not do the same.

Teen Challenge at the Huntington Beach Light Club

By 1968, feeling rejected and defeated, Berg, with his wife and four children, moved to Huntington Beach, California to be with his mother. When she died that same year, Berg, who had a talent for reaching the youth, decided to minister what he considered the lost sheep of the counter culture, and began preaching to the hippies.

In the late 1960s, Huntington Beach was to Southern California what Haight-Ashbury was to the San Francisco area: the Counterculture pitted against the Establishment.

Berg won many converts, using his teenage children to bring them to the Huntington Beach Light Club—a Pentecostal evangelical ministry coffeehouse run by the Teen Challenge organization—where they listened to Berg's anti-church, anti-establishment sermons.

Attracted to a non-church setting where they were offered food, shelter and music, Berg gradually developed a small communal group of about thirty-five followers. Berg preached that the end was imminent, encouraging converts to move in with him and devote their lives to Christ, and for the time being, incorporated their hippie lifestyle into his new movement.

Early Children of God

Berg's fledgling movement began creating controversy with its ideas of apocalypticism and revolution against the outside world that they called "the System."

Applying some of the techniques he learned from Fred Jordan, Berg subjected his followers to intensive bible studies and the rote memorization of bible verses and references, training them to evangelize.

At this point, although given an inevitable twist of Berg's own favor, most of his teachings were bible-based, as Berg had not yet developed or revealed his true intentions/visions for his new movement.

Berg used verses from the bible to justify his teachings that true disciples of Christ must drop out and "forsake all" (Luke 14:33 KJV)—and that this literally meant abandoning all responsibilities and severing ties with any and all: job, school, family, friends. At the height of the hippie era, in the midst of sentiments against materialism and ownership, Berg made his followers return home to their parents to "spoil Egypt" (Exodus 12:36)—to claim all that they could as theirs, then sell everything they owned and hand over the entire proceeds to him.

By early in 1969, the movement had grown to about fifty followers. Due to their lifestyle and aggressive message, the group received negative public and media feedback, and was eventually ejected from Huntington Beach. Coincidentally, at this time Berg was convinced that a monstrous earthquake would soon destroy the coastal cities of California, and warned his members to leave.

Accordingly, Berg's band of "revolutionaries for Jesus" fled the wrath of parents and the media in California, going on the road in convoys of trailers. The group traveled in smaller groups down to Tucson, Arizona, where they were eventually expelled for staging demonstrations and disruptions to church services. Forced to move from town to town, the group wandered throughout much of the United States and Canada, staging demonstrations and urging others to join.

TSC and road trips

In February 1970, some 150 members of the group established a 425-acre colony a few miles from the ghost town of Thurber, in Erath County, Texas. This acreage, known as the Texas South Clinic Ranch (TSC), was owned by the American Soul Clinic group, a non-denominational missionary organization headed by television evangelist Fred Jordan, David Berg's former employer in the 1950s.

From the Texas Soul Clinic, teams were sent on road trips to other cities to win converts and establish new colonies, eventually regrouping in Laurentide, near Montreal, Canada, some three thousand miles away.

"Old Church New Church" Prophecy

From Camp Laurentide, near Montreal, Quebec, where some seventy members had settled, Berg implemented an organizational hierarchy with himself at the top. He then assembled the top leaders of the group for a meeting in Vienna, Virginia, where he proclaimed that he had received on August 26, 1969, "A Prophecy of God on the Old Church and the New Church." This publication became the very first official "Mo Letter," and set a precedent from the onset, to make Berg's writings inseparably interwoven with his personal sexual beliefs and practices.

In 1969, Berg had begun taking several young women in the group as "wives." One of them was a young new disciple named Karen Zerby, who took on the biblical name "Maria." Berg claimed 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 first Mo Letter marked the beginning of Berg's pattern of sanctifying and justifying his actions and policies to his followers, by means of "prophetic" utterances. He would soon proclaim 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 urging, sexual promiscuity—free sex and partner swapping—became rampant amongst the Children of God's leadership. For a time however, such practices remained hidden from general rank and file members, and were not introduced until the mid 1970s.

Sackcloth Demonstrations

In the fall of 1969, members began staging "sackcloth demonstrations"—dressed in sackcloth with ashes on their foreheads—first in Washington DC, then Philadelphia, Times Square in New York, and outside the U.N. Headquarters. The press called them "prophets of doom" for proclaiming the imminent fall and destruction of the US.

In Washington, DC the group staged what it called a "public vigil"—members wore large wooden yokes around their necks to symbolize their mourning for a falling nation. Many carried placards displaying excerpts of Virginia Berg's (David Berg's mother) Warning Prophecy, which Berg believed heralded his arrival as the "endtime prophet," inseparably linking his life to the last 7 years of world history. (Berg died in 1994).

On Moratorium Day, October 31, 1970, COG members from the Thurber group parked their bus next to the campus of the University of Texas at Austin and made a dramatic appearance wearing sackcloth and carrying Bibles, to "witness Christ" among university students. One-on-one, members targeted the counter-culture youth, stressing to potential recruits the imminent destruction of the world, and the return of Jesus.

Moses David and the Children of God

In a prophecy supposedly received by a member of the inner circle, Berg was called Moses. Berg then became referred to as Moses David, or "Mo." To the inner circle he was also called "Dad," "Father" or "King David," and was considered the group's main authority. Nevertheless, they lived for a time under the shelter of the American Soul Clinic Foundation.

During their travels and sackcloth demonstrations, the group was camped in a junkyard behind a truck stop in Camden, New Jersey. A journalist who found them dubbed them "Moses David and the Children of God," and the name stuck.

Back at TSC

In February 1970, the group had moved back to the TSC ranch, also known as the Thurber colony.

A Montessori school was set up for the colony's children. Rock music with religious lyrics was popular. Some members of the group had a history of drug use, and shared testimonies, claiming that they had conquered the drug habit through communion with God. Their main interest reportedly was in Bible study and discussions that often resembled those of nineteenth-century revivals.

Members now went only by new biblical first names and new tribal identities. They were divided into twelve tribes, inspired by the twelve tribes of Israel, with each tribe assigned different areas of responsibilities; working for several hours a day with camp maintenance, food preparation, procurement of food from neighboring towns, and care of livestock. Berg, at the top with the ultimate authority, assigned members of his immediate family as leaders to some of these tribes.

Strict rules were enforced regarding everything in a members life: the "2-sheets rule" decreed the maximum amount of toilet paper a member could use for visits to the latrines; the buddy system decreed that members could not go anywhere without a partner; outgoing mail was checked and censored for "security." Exhausted new members were subjected to relentless Bible classes and indoctrination, their "buddy" helping in the rote memorization of bible passages whenever possible, even during their toilet activities. There was no "idle time" where they could be allowed to gather their thoughts.

"The metaphor of an army was frequently and powerfully deployed. It served to reinforce the messages of the paramount need for obedience and loyalty and also the draconian penalties, always imposed for mutiny and desertion." (The Hon. Lord Justice Ward, 1995)

Although there seemed to be a steady income from new member's "forsake-alls" and from donations received through their solicitations through TV appearances, Berg's policy of extreme guarded secrecy regarding finances was already in force. (Herbert J. Wallenstein, Assistant Attorney General of New York, 1974) While Berg, his family and his immediate circle of leadership enjoyed special privileges, his other followers lived in austere conditions, relying on the charity of strangers, often eating rotting food or discarded animal feed from nearby farms.

The Children of God were featured on Fred Jordan's Los Angeles television program, "Church in the Home", soliciting funds from the viewing public. Brochures were printed and distributed, sporting attractive pictures of Jordan's Coachella Ranch, and advertising a 3-month course of intensive Basic Training Course and a 3-month Leadership Training Course.

At the end of the six months of intensive indoctrination, any converts wishing to serve in full-time ministry were then required to apply for a license through the Gospel Ministry, sponsored by the American Soul Clinic Inc., LA, California. Ministerial licenses were then issued and used for draft dodging.

New converts were taught complete subservience to the group and that all government "was of Satan." They were taught enmity to established society and established religion. There were reported cases of converts being required to confess their past criminal history on paper, which was then used to convince parents that their offspring were better off with the group. Disgruntled parents were labeled 10:36ers, after the bible verse Matthew 10:36. Converts with "10:36er" parents, or those dodging the draft, or in trouble with law enforcement agencies, were simply moved around to other colonies. (Herbert J. Wallenstein, Assistant Attorney General New York, 1974)

According to several former members in his immediate leadership circle, Berg often led discussions at the Thurber colony (TSC) which inevitably wound up on sexual topics, and sometimes orgies. For most rank and file members however, liberal sexual themes were not introduced until much later. They were taught to live in celibacy—promiscuity and fraternization with the opposite sex were punishable offenses.

Berg and Fred Jordan parted ways in November 1971, in dispute over Berg's handling of finances.

Living in hiding, leading from afar

By the end of 1970, in hiding from angry parents and in danger of being detained by law enforcement, Berg and his mistress Zerby (known as Maria) removed themselves from the group's colonies completely, making their whereabouts known only to top leaders.

Shepherds were appointed to lead individual colonies, and Regional Shepherds were appointed to supervise colonies in their geographical region. These were in turn supervised by members of his immediate family, who were given positions of Director. Berg continued exercising leadership and control of the group through this hierarchy, and by issuing directives directly to his flock in the form of his Mo Letters.

In April 1971, Berg and Zerby fled the country for Europe, moving to London. With their financial operations offshore, for a while they had managed to evade the scrutiny of US authorities looking into the Children of God's activities.

The Mo Letters

In a Mo Letter titled "I Gotta Split," Berg likened himself to Jesus, explaining that he had to go away in body, in order to be with them in spirit, and that his Mo Letters would link his followers directly with the Lord. He later declared, "the pen is mightier than the sword!"

Setting up his permanent headquarters in England, Berg published several books, a monthly periodical, and a series of Mo Letters that his followers considered equal in authority to the Bible. Other mainstream Christian denominations however, criticized Berg's writings as being doctrinally vague with no clear statement of belief, often contradictory, and lacking contextual scriptural support. This did not swerve his followers, who began looking forward to every new publication impatiently.

On June 20, 1971, Berg had written the letter "David" (ML#77) in which he stated he was a long-awaited Endtime Prophet named "David." Since he was also now called Moses, Berg’s official title became Moses David.

In February 1972, Berg declared in "The Laws of Moses" that his letters were the very "Voice of God Himself."

"The Letters are the Leaders"

As the Mo Letters began to be available not just to the leadership, but to rank and file members, they served as directives in the personal lives of his followers. Berg's writings were now elevated to that of scripture. As Berg continued to teach that Jesus' return was imminent, that the last 7 years of world history would be inseparably intertwined with his life, and that he would die in 1989 (Berg died in 1994), his followers invariably made life choices with short-term thinking—the proper schooling and education of their children was deemed pointless and de-emphasized.

The movement flourishes

From London, Berg insisted that the group spread out and establish new colonies throughout the USA. He emphasized personal one-on-one witnessing. By 1972, the Children of God had quietly drawn back from staging public proclamations and demonstrations. Bands were formed and music was emphasized as a method of outreach. Elements of their doomsday message remained the same—the corruption of the system, the imminent fall of America, the end of the world—and were put in music alongside simple songs of salvation.

The emphasis was now on direct proselytizing activities. Initiating conversations, many members told cookie-cutter testimonies about how they were lost without Jesus, on drugs, etc., until they met the group and had their lives changed. They marketed one-on-one, the idea that they were living like the early church. They decried the Godless "system," and called those who did drop out and serve God as they did "Systemites." They spoke against any and all secular activity such as education, jobs. Churches of all denominations were declared selfish and disobedient to God's will, and church members enemies of God's highest calling, to live as they did.

This personal witnessing strategy, along with an influx of members from the Jesus People Army, led to a rapid increase in membership. By 1972, The Children of God claimed to have swelled to 1400 in number, with members from every state of the Union, mostly in their teens and early twenties.

The FreeCOG anti-cult movement

The Children of God marketed themselves as a primitive or fundamentalist Christian organization run along the same lines as the Jesus People, the God Squad, or Teen Challenge. However, many outraged parents claimed that their children were brainwashed or hypnotized by leaders of the group and forcibly separated from their families. The group did after all, teach complete estrangement from parents with their "forsake all" doctrine, and enmity with them in their "10:36" teachings.

Reports had begun to come in by members who had left the group, telling tales of coercion, rape, orgies, forced alienation from families, manipulation, defrauding the public for donations, the lying to and evasion of law enforcement, etc.

In August 1971, several concerned parents headed by William Rambur whose children had joined the Children of God, formed a counter-cult movement called FREECOG, or "Free Our Children from the Children of God." Their mission was to free, by intervention if necessary, their children from what they called a destructive cult.

FreeCOG enlisted the help of a well-known deprogrammer Ted Patrick, reportedly experienced in the successful "reverse-brainwashing" of members from several cults. Patrick, an African-American, was known to members of the Children of God as "Black Lightning."

Patrick's controversial methodology involved kidnapping cult members, placing them in isolation, and the use of shock, to attack the mechanisms he believed were used in the control of their minds. He was also known for using the bible to argue with subjects who joined bible-based cults. Patrick was charged with kidnapping on several counts but found innocent. Although he discontinued participation in actual kidnappings, only contributing to deprogramming sessions, he was later charged and found guilty, for one count of conspiracy to kidnap, and for false imprisonment.

Despite FreeCOG's efforts and the efforts of other parents to retrieve their children from the Children of God, the movement's membership continued to grow.

One Wife—Redefining the Family Unit

In 1972, Berg redefined the family unit declaring in the Mo Letter "One Wife!" that God was "in the business of breaking up little selfish private worldly families to make of their yielded broken pieces a larger unit--one family!" He taught that the breaking up families to extract disciples for the movement was justifiable in God's eyes; communal interests were to be prioritized above private interests, including the private interest of marriage and children.

"And when the private marriage ties interfere with our Family and God ties, they can be readily abandoned for the glory of God and the good of The Family!"

Marriages were put together at will by leadership, in ceremonies called betrothals. Conversely, marriages were broken up in situations where the relationship was deemed unmatched or unapproved, or when only one of the partners was required for service in another location.

Monogamy was not necessarily the norm—couples in leadership positions occasionally took on a third partner, with one husband and two wives being the norm in these cases.

Children were to be considered the children of the movement—they began to be placed in the care of other adults than the parents, and herded into nurseries. There were reports of children being forcibly removed from their parents to be placed in the care of others, sometimes across international borders.

The Great Escape

Through the Mo Letter "The Great Escape," Berg directed his followers to leave the US and Canada and start up new colonies in other parts of the world. He reinforced the urgency of their emigration, by predicting the destruction of America could come in 1973, coinciding with the appearance of the comet Kohutek in the skies. (see "The Christmas Monster") As a result, 1972 marked the year the movement embarked on a big fund-raising push for the purchase of tickets and landing funds, and exited en mass from North America.

Kohutek came and went without much fanfare—it was invisible to the naked eye—and Berg gave alternative explanations for his failed prophecy. Few members were disquieted enough to leave.

Berg ordered the reduction of colony sizes, forcing members to constantly "pioneer" new "fields," thus ensuring the movement would continue to spread into more and more places in the world.

In Europe, members were advised to make an effort at a different approach for winning converts. They did not stage demonstrations, and toned down their anti-establishment rhetoric. While continuing to target disillusioned youth, they focused more on messages of salvation and love. This forestalled any negative media reaction for a while.

"Go ye into all the world"

By the end of 1973, the group claimed a total of 2400 full-time members, living in 140 colonies in 40 different countries.

On the surface, the change in demographics served to change the image of the group, from that of a rigidly controlled Californian-based hippie movement of Jesus-revolutionaries with Moses David at the top; to that of a somewhat democratic, eclectic, decentralized missionary movement.

Beneath the veneer, the group remained a high-control high-demand group. The prerequisite for being a full-time member was the acknowledgment that Mo (Berg) was the endtime prophet, with the ultimate central authority in all matters. Purgings in the ranks occurred from time to time, where leaders were made an example out of, demoted or dismissed for not following Berg.

While colonies from time to time enjoyed a measure of independence, they were under predominantly American leadership appointed by Berg, from his inner circle. While Berg talked about training indigenous leadership, Americans continued to dominate leadership positions, and the default culture in all Children of God colonies around the world was rooted in American customs. While integration was achieved, genuine decentralized indigenous leadership was never established, and may never have been their true goal.


In 1973, Berg ordered a shift away from one-on-one direct proselytizing activities they called "witnessing." The Children of God began selling Mo Letters on the streets, calling this form of outreach "litnessing"—witnessing through literature.

Apart from forsake-alls, literature sales became the movement's main source of income for the next few years, until it was replaced by FFing in 1976.

Layered truths

As Mo Letters on more and more radical and controversial subjects were published, they were divided into categories: GP for the general public; DO for disciples only; and DFO, a category in between, for disciples and friends only; and LT for leadership training. This ensured that the more controversial or difficult to understand material would not land in the hands of the general public. Only GP Mo Letters were distributed on the streets. Converts and interested parties would be gradually introduced to DFO material, and DO material only after they joined.

As a matter of policy, members were advised to feed "babes" (new recruits) with "milk" i.e. GP material, and not introduce them to "strong meat" i.e. controversial DO material in the beginning, less they choke on it. (The expressions of "milk" and "meat" are derived from interpretations of 1Cor. 3:2, KJV.) Knowingly or unwittingly, members were fine-tuning themselves in the art of deception—winning disciples by drawing them in, without revealing all at once, avoiding confrontations about what they really believed in and practiced on the inside.

Inaccurate statistics on Literature Outreach

For each piece of literature distributed, their statistical logs recorded that one person had been reached with God's message. The public generally bought Mo Letters believing they were donating to charity. As cities began to be saturated with literature, the group began using overlapping statistics to make claims of reaching millions with God's message, often with numbers reaching several times that of the entire local populations in their geographic area—even apart from junkmail distribution, Berg had made no provision for repeat buyers, or disinterested buyers, who habitually bought the literature believing they were donating to a charity. (see Bloated Statistical Data)

Internal Purges and Cosmetic Changes

Berg kept the movement on its toes, explaining to his followers that the only thing they could be certain of was continual change, and that revolution meant cyclic change.

In February 1975, Berg launched a "New Revolution" and restructured what he called "the chain" of command he had created, thereby opening up new leadership positions and the possibility of some amount of voting and elections.

Berg returned the emphasis to recruitment and personal proselytization, set limits on colony sizes, and implementing quotas which forced members to leave and "pioneer" new colonies.

With his Mo Letters established as a means of direct leadership and control in the lives of each member, Berg was now correctly confident that his followers would spread out, start up new colonies on their own, and still maintain allegiance to him and the movement.

By 1976, the group claimed to have 725 colonies in 70 countries with 4,215 full-time members, all operating under a hierarchical leadership, reporting and tithing upwards, in order to receive Mo Letters.

Sensing a change of era, with the hippie movement losing its steam after the Vietnam War, Berg ordered his members to focus more on recruiting the educated and privileged classes, and less on the dropouts of society.

As new younger converts (still attending school) were won, rather than risk additional backlashes from parents, a new category of Catacomb membership was created. Catacombers were part-time and associate members, often living at home, below legal age and unable to drop out.

Reshaping Sexual Conduct

In the earliest days of the movement, while Berg's inner circle had known about and participated in liberal sexual activities such as orgies and partner swapping, unmarried rank and file members were required to lead celibate lives, and fraternization with the opposite sex was punished.

In his very first Mo Letter, "Old Church, New Church--A Prophecy of God" where Berg justified his abandonment of his wife Jane and his taking on of a mistress, he had already set a precedent for introducing progressively liberal attitudes about sex and marriage.

In 1972, "One Wife" had redefined the family unit, placing marriage, children and all relationships below the bigger interests of the movement and "God's will."

By 1973, Berg had written a number of Mo Letters on this theme, such as "Revolutionary Sex," "Revolutionary Marriage!", "Revolutionary Love Making!" "Lovelight" and "The Goddesses." On receipt of the Mo Letter "Come On Ma! Burn Your Bra" there were reports of leaders demanding that all female members go without their bras, or risk having them forcibly torn off.

"The Law of Love" was written in 1974, and taught members to sacrifice anything and everything in the name of love. Berg declared that "total and complete freedom from the bondage of the law" was reserved for the spiritually worthy.

While a few members did leave on the introduction of more and more radical sexual themes, those who remained were expected to comply with his teachings wholeheartedly. Berg had succeeded in gradually sexualizing the movement, in preparation for his ultimate teachings on sex and sacrifice.

Flirty Fishing (FFing)

In 1974 David Berg introduced a new method of proselytization called Flirty Fishing (or FFing), in which members were encouraged to initiate sexual relations with non-members in order to win converts, supporters, and influential friends.

The island of Tenerife became his playground, where he experimented with the FFing concept, and fine-tuned its methodology. It was first practiced by members of Berg's inner circle starting in 1974 and later introduced to the general membership in 1976, through a series of Mo Letters titled "King Arthur's Nights."

When members who found these and other practices unacceptable left, the movement was purged—those remaining were expected to endorse FFing by default. By 1978, due to Berg's success at using the RNR (see below) to implement FFing, it was widely practiced by female members of the group.

The Family describes the practice of Flirty Fishing as follows: "In the latter part of the '70s and early '80s, [David Berg], responding in part to the sexual liberality of that time period, presented the possibility of trying out a more personal and intimate form of witnessing which became known as 'Flirty Fishing' or 'FFing'. In his Letters at that time, he offered the challenging proposal that since 'God is Love' (1 John 4:8), and His Son, Jesus, is the physical manifestation and embodiment of God's Love for humanity, then we as Christian recipients of that Love are in turn responsible to be living samples to others of God's great all-encompassing Love. Taking the Apostle Paul's writings literally, that saved Christians are 'dead to the Law [of Moses]' (Romans 7:4), through faith in Jesus, [Berg] arrived at the rather shocking conclusion that Christians were therefore free through God's grace to go to great lengths to show the Love of God to others, even as far as meeting their sexual needs."

Berg and his inner circle attracted considerable media attention to FFing, and appeared in the Newsweek magazine in 1977. He was subsequently wanted for questioning in relation to running prostitution rings and had to flee Spain.

Eventually, many female members began working for escort agencies to meet people, and this often led to sex being sold to generate sizable incomes. According to The Family, from 1974 until 1987, members had sexual contact with 223,989 people while practicing Flirty Fishing. Note: the groups official statistics are puffed due to overlapping—there were no provisions for repeat "fish"/clients. (see Bloated Statistical Data)

Flirty Fishing resulted in the birth of many children, including Karen Zerby's son, Davidito (a.k.a. Rick Rodriguez). Children born as result of Flirty Fishing were referred to as "Jesus Babies". According to data by The Family, by 1981, over 300 "Jesus Babies" had been born.

In his judgment of a child custody court case in England in 1994, after extensive research of Family publications and the testimony of many witnesses, the Lord Justice Ward had this to say about FFing:

"I am quite satisfied that most of the women who engaged in this activity and the subsequent refinement of ESing [sic], (which was finding men through escort agencies), did so in the belief that they were spreading God's word. But I am also totally satisfied that that was not Berg's only purpose. He and his organization had another and more sordid reason. They were procuring women to become common prostitutes. They were knowingly living in part on the earnings of prostitution. That was criminal activity. Their attempts to deny this must be dismissed as cant and hypocrisy. To deny that the girls were acting as prostitutes because "we are not charging but we expect people to show their thanks and their appreciation and they ought to give more for love than if we charged them" is an unacceptable form of special pleading. The "FFers [sic] handbook" told the girls that fishing could be fun but fun did not pay the bills. "You've got to catch a few to make the fun pay for itself. So don't do it for nothing."

FFing proved to be lucrative and a major source of income for Berg, as tithes were sent upwards to him. In countries where litnessing was banned, entire colonies were supported through sending out female members on regular FFing excursions. A certain female member who was part of the Tenerife team of women Berg used to pioneer FFing, testified to having seen a suitcase filled with cash estimated to be at $1 million, stashed under Berg's bed.

The practice of Flirty Fishing would be officially abandoned by 1987 in fear of the AIDS epidemic. New rules would be introduced, that banned under penalty of excommunication, sexual contact with nonmembers. However, the new rules also stated that exceptions to the rule would be allowed in certain cases: "All sex with outsiders is banned!--Unless they are already close and well-known friends!"

"Although we no longer practice FFing, we believe the scriptural principles behind the ministry remain sound." - official statement from The Family International

Several members are known to have contracted HIV and died of AIDS. (see below)

Another internal purging: the RNR

In January 1978, Berg restructured the movement's hierarchical system of leadership to that of centralized command hubs, and removed leaders at the top who opposed the practice of Flirty Fishing and who, according to him, had abused their authority. This shift was called the "Reorganization Nationalization Revolution" or RNR.

New definitions for colony sizes were created, allowing as few as 2 or 3 members to form a colony. New leadership couples called Visiting Servants (VS) supervised the scattered colonies, now called "homes," in their geographical area, and reported directly to Berg. In addition, King and Queen Servants (KQS), appointed representatives of Berg, ran errands and moved between geographical regions freely.

Although Berg supposedly dismissed over 300 of the movement's leaders, declaring the general dissolution of the Children of God structure, most ex-leaders remained the movement.

Homegoing II

By 1979, all members, with the exception of World Services (WS) personnel and a small group of select leadership, had been told to return home to their parents, and announce that the group had disbanded. They were advised to take on jobs, look respectable, and "invade the system," and even "invade the churches." During their furlough, they were expected to stay in touch through the mail, by leaving their contact addresses with their KQS.

"It's a whole different kettle of fish now: Our average member today is now one of a young couple with small children & some kind of a home... If you are therefore settled down in a community with a job, home & family, in some ways the community will respect you much more & say, 'Well, now you have come to your senses!'..." ("The Maturation of a Movement!--NRS 14", ML 770, Jan.5, 1979)

"...go some place else and open a totally new underground unknown selah [secret] Home that they don't know anything about, and get jobs and go to work to support yourselves in order to survive." ("Where to Now?--NRS 3" ML 749, Dec.14, 1978)

For a period of time, Berg was uncertain about the loyalties of his followers. The dispersion of adherents made solidarity difficult to achieve. He sent out feelers in the form of surveys, and asked for help to gather his scattered flock, through a "Dear Friend or Foe" Mo Letter.

Members now received the Mo Letters mailed directly to their homes, and were encouraged to send written correspondence to Berg himself if they felt their rights or the rights of other members were being infringed upon.


This period in the movement's history may have marked the height of the its democratization—members were allowed to choose their level of involvement, with little or no supervision. A democratic form of association was created—members could opt to be TRFers, send in a Tither's report Form together with 10% of their pre-tax income, to a P.O. box address in Switzerland, and receive full mailings of uncensored DO Mo Letters. Alternatively, they could choose to be IRFers, send in an Independent Report Form together with a minimal flat fee of $10 per month, and receive only DFO and GP mailings.

IRFers were considered part-timers. Members were discouraged from being IRFers through a series of Mo letters condemning their lack of obedience to God, the strongest of which was the "IRFers Beware" Mo Letter, where Berg told his followers that an IRFer who was brutally murdered, had been punished by God. (see "IRFers Beware" section below)

Name Change: The Family of Love

Faked disbanding

In conjunction with the RNR of 1978, in the wake of the Jonestown suicides and backlashes against cults, Berg orchestrated a fake disbanding and changed the group's name to the Family of Love.

After consolidating his losses and gains from the RNR and securing a loyal base of followers, Berg regained enough confidence to begin issuing abrasive comments to the media. In a GP Mo Letter titled "To the Media—From a Guru" Berg set about to perpetuate the myth that his group had disbanded.

Escaping the law

Although most rank and file members were not aware of it, David Berg and the Children of God had been tried in absentia and ordered by a US court to pay $1 million in damages to a plaintiff. (see Krounapple v. Children of God, David Brandt Berg, et. al. 77CV-11-4706)

Berg was also wanted for questioning in Spain in suspicion of running a prostitution ring, and had to flee the country. On encounters with authorities, Berg advised his followers to deny that they were part of the Children of God, explaining that they were not technically lying, since they now went by a new name. They were told they could lie under oath in a court of law, if necessary.

Going Underground

In the wake of negative media attention and law enforcement investigations into the group's prostitution activities, Berg advised his followers to go underground:

"it means you have to go underground... close it up and go some place else and open a totally new underground unknown selah [secret] Home that they don't know anything about, and get jobs and go to work to support yourselves in order to survive." ("Where to Now?--NRS 3" ML 749, Dec.14, 1978)

Dive underground totally out of the picture into some unknown place & destroy or carry with you any high-security materials, such as mailing lists, files, financial records, etc. Grab'm & run for the nearest hide out!" ("Going Underground!--NRS 4", Letter 750, paras.47,48; December 14, 1978)

"There's only one way to get them off your back, & that's just to make it impossible for them to find you." ("Why the Family?--NRS 5", ML 752, Dec.1978)

"Once this storm is over & the heat's off & the persecution dies down &/or disappears, the public quickly forgets & maybe you can return to the streets again." ("The IRF!--NRS 7", ML 757, Jan.1979)

"Semantic Posturing"

Members of the Children of God retained their beliefs as they morphed into a "different" organization called the Family of Love. In what amounted a charade and little more than a name change, there was some new local leadership, but the group's beliefs remained essentially the same. Those who remained were expected to endorse Flirty Fishing.

"There has been much semantic posturing, much muddying the waters, and much waste of time over the issue of whether or not the Children of God still exist. These diversionary tactics were deployed to obfuscate the real issue which is whether or not the current leadership are responsible for what happened during the period up to the RNR ... I am totally satisfied that there was a continuous line of top leadership with David Berg and [Karen Zerby] at the helm regulating the affairs of the group which despite changes of name and shape, remained one and the same. The Mo letters relevant in the early days of the Children of God remained as relevant after the RNR and they continue to be relevant today. The name may have changed; various echelons of the leadership chain may have altered; but the command remained with Berg, [Karen Zerby], and his inner cabinet. I find that it was a disingenuous attempt to distance them from their responsibility both for what is and for what was." -- The Rt. Hon. Lord Justice Ward

Editor's note: From here on this page refers to the Children of God as The Family of Love or The Family.


Ministries in the Family of Love era

More covert methods of outreach were now emphasized. The group was no longer high-profiled. Staging sackcloth demonstrations were long a thing of the past. Open street litnessing in many countries was no longer feasible due to bad publicity and official bannings by governments in several countries. Berg and his entourage of FFers were no longer visible in Tenerife, and they had faked a disbanding.

Berg now emphasized the promotion of a radio show called Music With Meaning, advised his members to go door-to-door, to busk and sing on the streets as independent missionary families, to drop their hippie image completely; to be hidden revolutionaries, in short.

Members were also expected to pursue FFing, but warned not to let it mix with other more acceptable ministries—FFing was a to be a very covert activity, a closely guarded secret.

Mass Media: Music With Meaning

In 1980, a radio program called Music With Meaning (MWM) was created and DJ'd by a member calling himself "Simon Peter," and broadcast in Sri Lanka. He was called to Greece to start a new music show together with returning prodigal musicans. Former celebrity musician Jeremy Spencer of the Fleetwood Mac, who had joined the group in 1972, was made one of its main attractions.

Members around the world were sent lo-fi cassettes of the show, and encouraged to promote them in their local radio stations. They were largely unsuccessful due to the low quality and untrendiness of the music.

Jingles plugged for listeners to join the MWM club. Those who wrote in were greeted with fan publications, including testimonies of their stars, all of whom had "found happiness through Jesus." Persistent writers were encouraged to meet up with representatives of the show, and those who were attracted to the group's message, were to be drawn into the group in stages.

MWM was franchised and a Spanish equivalent or Musica Con Vida was created, along with other language versions of the show. Berg sent his daughter Faithy to re-recruit musicians on the outskirts of the "new" Family of Love, and many of them began working on the Spanish version of MWM called Musica Con Vida.
MWM Greece—regularly scheduled orgies and pedophilia

MWM marked the groups first mass media fronting and facade. Promoting a free youth radio program about love, made by volunteers, was intended to lend respectability to the group. Unbeknown to the general public however, the MWM team based in Greece, was the location spearheading free sexual practices, such as pedophilia, orgies and partner swapping. They were officially a WS unit under direct supervision from Berg, and expected to implement Berg's teachings abut how to raise and sexualize children.

False Statistics

Although the MWM show made no overt message of Christ other than a few occasional mentions in a few songs, Berg began publishing overlapping statistics on the millions of people reached with God's message. Soon, the numbers totaled several times that of the populations in a geographical area—Berg had made no provision for actual listeners tuning in to the right channel at the right time, or repeat listeners, but simply multiplied the entire general population within range of the antennas, by the number of shows aired. (see Bloated Statistical Data)

Area Fellowships—the loose-knit fraternity image

In the early 1980s, with the population at about 12,000 members, the group was organized and sub-divided into Regions, National Areas, Local Areas.

With the Mo Letter, "The Fellowship Revolution," while seeming to promote more fellowship for isolated Homes, Berg began tightening the rules and re-instituting the chain of command.

Homes were clustered into units called Local Area Fellowships (LAF), which were in turn made a part of Greater Area Fellowships (GAF), National Area Fellowships (NAF), Regional Area Fellowships, etc. Members would hold regular gatherings: LAF meetings every week or two, GAF meetings every few months, etc.

The group used this new organizational structure to promote the image of a loose-knit fraternity of independent free-lance Christian missionaries, while remaining a high-demand high-control organization beneath the surface. In later years when democracy was decreased or abolished, members would still continue to project the loose-knit fraternity image in their public relations.

Despite the RNR, the Homegoing II and the democratization of his movement, Berg expected his followers to continue pursuing FFing activities. Several directives were issued in 1977 and 1978, warning members to "Make It Pay!"—FFers were to charge for their sexual services.

IRFers Beware

On the NRS moves of 1978-1979, many members who had been asked to return home to take up jobs without employable skills and any job experience, now faced mounting financial difficulties. They opted for being IRFers by sending in the required minimal $10 monthly fee, and receiving only DFO mailings.

Berg, who had counted on his followers to use FFing to generate sizeable incomes, was outraged when too many members preferred IRF membership. He criticized them for not obeying the Letters (FFing), and further deduced that they didn't love the Word of God (his DO category of Mo Letters which mandated FFing among other things) enough because they had no interest in obeying it.

In early 1980 an IRFer, mother of three, was brutally murdered. Another IRFer wrote to Berg asking for help for the widowed husband and the children. Berg however, had no sympathies for IRFers, whom he deemed to be selfishly withholding their money from God.

More sympathies expressed for the murderer

Berg's response was a Mo Letter titled "IRFers Beware! If you fail to tithe, God will take a collection!" in which he took great liberties at speaking authoritatively about the circumstances surrounding the murder. He elaborated on a scenario built on his assumptions, and announced his conclusions with confidence and absolute certainty. His comments were to end up irreparably traumatizing the widowed husband and his family to this day.

More than twenty years later, was able to piece together the true facts surrounding the murder, through contact with the widowed husband and a neighbor. Berg was completely mistaken in all his assessments: he had accused the victim of withholding sex in a rape attempt, when in fact the murderer was a gay man who was jealous about his lover 's comments about the victim's homemaking abilities—there was no sexual assault involved. (See eyewitness details, commentary and paragraph by paragraph analysis: IRFers Beware! If you fail to tithe, God will take a collection!)

Berg displayed more sympathy for the murderer than he did the victim or her family, accusing her of being a bad FFer, disobeying God and refusing to sacrifice her body to a man in need of sex. He refused to send her surviving family any aid, and instead used the opportunity to send a clear message: God had punished her for being an IRFer, for withholding her money from God.

By August 1980, IRF mailings were discontinued—all members had to tithe 10% or they were excommunicated. Berg had succeeded once again in consolidating his scattered flock. The IRFers Beware Mo Letter marks one of Berg's most calloused episodes of using fear for the stated motivation of obtaining more money from his followers.

The Great Escape 2

Berg had warned of a major stock market and financial crash in 1979—when this did not come to pass, he emphasized its imminence saying that it was an overdue event.

In 1980, Berg began warning of the imminent destruction of America and Europe by nuclear war, and advised members to move to eastern countries as well as countries in the southern hemisphere. 1982 marked the mass exodus of members from the north.

Berg wrote "The Crash is Here!" simultaneously giving advice on living as survivalists on remote farms, and/or staying mobile in trailers. A large portion of members began moving into motor homes and farms. Six months later, when members began living in isolation as survivalists and moving into remote regions to reach the natives, Berg reversed this directive and ordered his followers to "Go to the Cities!--Where most of 'All the World' are!"

Sexual Freedoms

Sexual freedoms in the group had reached a peak in the early '80s.

After redefining the family unit in 1972, and ordering the desanctification of marriage, Berg declared through the Law of Love doctrine that anything, including taking sexual liberties, would not be wrong in the eyes of God if done in the name of love. Jealousy was outlawed in the movement.

Berg redefined communion ceremonies as "come-union"—sexual sharing sessions, in 1978. FFing had been accepted by default since 1977.

Birth control was not allowed, and the issue of illegitimate children resulting from unprotected sex was not to be a concern—Berg had taught in 1976 that they were "Jesus' Babies!"

Sexually transmitted diseases were not to faze members—in the letter "Afflictions!" Berg taught that Jesus himself suffered from venereal diseases and that it was a part of the sacrifice a disciple endures in order to show love.

Monthly communion ceremonies were now followed with partner swapping and orgies. During bigger gatherings such as LAF or GAF meetings, many members looked forward to the after hours opportunity to "share" sexually with each other.

Pedophilia and incest

In the 80s, suspicions arose about the movement's care of their children, and their policies regarding child-adult sex. Several members had left that group and began talking to the media. Berg's writings displayed an interest in, and lack of concern regarding sexual contact with children. Berg claimed to be challenging modern-day taboos about adult/child sexuality, ignoring society's laws and boundaries.

"The only way to get free of (the devil) and his lies and his prohibitions and guilt complexes about sex is to get rid of his lies and his lying propaganda, his anti-sex propaganda, and believe the Lord and his word and his creation and God's love and his freedom! - that there is nothing in the world at all wrong with sex as long as it's practised in love, whatever it is or whoever it's with, no matter who or what age or what relative or what manner -- and you don't hardly dare even say these words in private. If the law ever got a hold of this, they would try to string me up! They would probably lynch me before I got to the jail! When Paul said "All things are lawful unto me, but all things are not expedient" (1 COR 6: 12), he was as good as saying, "I can indulge in any kind of sex I want to, but I've got to watch out for the System because it's against the law!" (Maria/Zerby: At least not let'em find out if you do it!)... We are free in privacy, and that's about all, and we mightn't be free if they discovered what we do in private!... There are no relationship restrictions or age limitations in his law of love.... If you hate sex you are one of the devil's crowd! If you think it's evil, then God and love are evil, for he created it! Come on, let's love and enjoy it like God does! He loves it.!" ("The Devil Hates Sex -- But God Loves It!" David Berg, May 1980)

Berg would later describe his dreams of having sex with pre-pubescent girls (The Little Girl Dream) as well as his fantasies of having sex with his own mother (ML#1535 Sex with Grandmother).

At least six women, including his daughter(s), his daughter-in-law and two of his granddaughters, would eventually publicly allege that Berg had sexually abused them when they were children.

The Story of Davidito

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, a series of chapters were published about Davidito (Ricky Rodriguez), the adoptive son of Berg's mistress Karen Zerby. Written by his nanny who called herself "Sara Davidito," they detailed his education, home life and care. They were endorsed by Berg and Zerby, and released as Mo Letter-styled publications along with regular Mo Letter mailings.

Some "Davidito letters" such as one titled "My Flirty Fish" contained some very graphic imagery of child-adult sexual activites and children in a clear sexual context, although the faces of the adults were whited-out and drawn over to protect their anonymity. This publication, along with several others were watered down somewhat, and republished in a book called The Story of Davidito in 1982. The 762-page book, intended as an example of child rearing, included photographs depicting the child engaged in sexual play with his governesses.

This Davidito book, along with all other publications approving pedophilia and incest, were later sanitized and eventually reprinted in sanitized form in the 1990s. (Some pages from the original edition have been posted online: Story Of Davidito.)

Renouncement or Censorship? Recalling or Evading?

The Family has removed many of its controversial publications on sexual issues from circulation, explaining that these publications were recalled.

It should be noted that The Family's "recalling" of publications does not necessarily mean their renouncement of these teachings. The Family's spokespersons have not addressed the differences between renouncement and retraction vs. censorship and sanitization. Unlike the usage of "recall" by corporations or entities, The Family maintains it is not a legal entity, and its recalls have not been accompanied by damage compensation or an acceptance of legal liability or responsibility for issuing a harmful product.

While the group's policy as of 1995 forbids, under penalty of full excommunication, sexual contact with minors, The Family International has not accepted any responsibility for abuses that occurred during the more permissive period created by Berg's writings. It maintains rather, that any abuses were the work of individual members.

Although the group has publicly renounced policies and doctrines that condoned or encouraged adult-child sex, in their internal publications there has been no such renunciation. Current leader Karen Zerby, is on record stating that while they do not believe it to be inherently wrong, they have had to play along with authorities on the issue of child-adult sex:

"This [sexual contact between adults and minors] is about the only subject where we're really going along with the System, we're playing along with them, we're acting like we believe what we did was wrong, because we have changed, and stopped doing it . . . We need to somehow explain to our [teenagers] that love and loving affection is not wrong. As it says in [Berg's writings], if it's not hurtful, if it's loving, then it's okay. Of course, having actual intercourse with a child wouldn't be okay as it wouldn't be loving, but a little fondling and sweet affection is not wrong in the eyes of God, and if they have experienced the same in the past they weren't 'abused.' . . . We need to explain to our [children] that any experience they may have had along these lines, if it was loving and if it was desired, was not wrong. We need to show them that even if in some case the experience for them wasn't so great, that by comparison to what goes on in the System, it still wasn't 'abuse.'" (Current leader Karen Zerby, "Summit '93, Mama Jewels #2", 1992. p.19.)

In January 2005, in the face of rising allegations by second generation members coming of age, Claire Borowik, spokesperson for the Family International, issued a statement conceding, "Due to the fact that our current zero-tolerance policy regarding sexual interaction between adults and underage minors was not clearly stated in our literature published before 1986, we came to the realization that during a transitional stage of our movement, from 1978 until 1986, there were cases when some minors were subject to sexually inappropriate advances... This was corrected officially in 1986, when any contact between an adult and minor was declared an excommunicable offense."

Berg's daughter Deborah speaks out

In 1984, six years after leaving the Children of God (now called the Family of Love), the daughter of the founder, Deborah, and her husband Bill Davis, co-authored a tell-all book titled "The Children of God The Inside Story."

They detailed among other things, Berg's attempts at molestation and incest with Deborah, his incestuous activities with his other daughter Faithy, the faked story of the miracle healing of Virginia Berg (David Berg's mother), and the circumstances around the suicide of one of Berg's sons Aaron, and Berg's coercion and manipulation in his followers' lives.

Deborah had decided to leave the group and was excommunicated. Having institutionalized the "One Wife" a policy for some years, Berg had fully expected Deborah to comply with his wishes when he forbade her to see her husband Bill and teamed her up with her former husband Jethro. However the breaking point for Deborah came when Berg described Bill as the devil and wrote a Mo Letter declaring that he would rather see her, Deborah, dead than disobeying him.

Written from a Christian point of view, the book examined David Berg's departure from Christian principals, and the difficulties of post cult reintegration into society. It gave the public a first detailed look inside the secretive organization, revealing Berg's identity and name, and attracted the support of Christian organizations and anti-cultists in the US.


In 1984, large communes were created in countries where there was less fear of attracting attention and negative publicity, moving members away from independent home units into large themed dwelling units.

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Superficial change? Rules concerning sexual practices

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Childcare revolution

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Tapes and Posters

A new drive was made for the publication and distribution of posters such as the .... which came in local languages.... and were sold door-to-door or on the street.
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Photo-op refugee work

On a number of occasions, in countries such as Thailand, contacts were made with officials of the millitary... Family members collected clothes from factory outlets and redistributed goods which were already designated for charity.... Bewildered refugees looked on, not understanding ... they filmed and photographed the events... these were touted as examples of ongoing work for following years, even though events of this type were never duplicated...

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AIDS terminates FFing ministry

The practice of Flirty Fishing was officially abandoned in 1987 in fear of AIDS epidemic spreading amongst its members, who did not believe in birth control but exercised sexual freedoms such as partner swapping.

Sexual contact with nonmembers was forbidden, under penalty of excommunication. However, the new rules also stated that exceptions to the rule would be allowed in certain cases: "All sex with outsiders is banned!--Unless they are already close and well-known friends!"

"Although we no longer practice FFing, we believe the scriptural principles behind the ministry remain sound." - official statement from The Family International

Members who knew about the existence of AIDS victims in their midst were forbidden to talk about it, and threatened with excommunication if they did.

Despite the lack of official information from The Family, has discovered that several members contracted HIV and eventually died of AIDS. During their tenure in the group, they were shunned and emarginated: A female member is known to have contracted HIV from a blood transfusion and eventually dying of AIDS. A Canadian bi-sexual male member died from AIDS in 1992. A young Italian male from Milano died of AIDS in the 1990s.

Victor camps

A growing number of second generation members reached puberty by the mid-1980s and began questioning their life in The Family, some rebelling against the strict living conditions under which they were required to live. When regular methods of already harsh discipline did not adequately deter them, The Family responded by creating detention centers called Victor Camps, usually housing more than a dozen teenagers.

Problem teens were separated from their families and other children, placed under constant supervision, locked in their quarters at night, sometimes tied to their beds, assigned to long days of hard labour seven days a week, and subjected to unusually cruel disciplinary actions: public beatings on bare backs and buttocks, silence restriction, strict diet and forced fasting, sleep deprivation, seclusion and solitary confinement, and rigourous physical exercises. Expected to exhibit a constant state of happiness, they were made to wear "smile machines"—a crude elastic divice attached to the ears and mouth corners to create a "smile."

Initially, these extreme measures were reserved for the worst cases. Eventually however, the criteria for inclusion in Victor Programs became less restrictive, and just about anyone with a "bad attitude" could end up in one of these programs.

An early group of these children and teens were called Detention Teens (or DTs) and were sent to a special center in Macau (Hac Sa village on the island of Coloane). Among these DTs was Merry Berg, granddaughter of David Berg. Around the late 1980s, these DTs became known as "Victors" and were sent to Victor Camps in locations around the world, such as Macau, Japan, Peru, Hungary, Brazil and Switzerland.

Strange fiction: Heaven's Girl

section incomplete


The Filipino ministry

In 1987, a letter entitled "The FFing/DFing Revolution" which was modeled after the activities of members who had much success witnessing to a group of Filipino military ...

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The new generation

1988 and 1989 saw the conception and realization of a Family school system for the children. Education was now quite organized. Outreach and ministry also came to include the younger ....

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Legislating righteousness

In 1991, having discovered that the schooling was not alone enough to properly raise the children, the Discipleship Training Program was initiated. This program was aimed at ....

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Worldwide legal problems

Back in the 1970s, the group had already been the subject of investigations by several judicial bodies. (see the 1974 Findings of the New York Attorney General Investigation)

Back in 1979 The Children of God/The Family had been ordered to pay the sum of US$1 million in damages to a plaintiff. To date, The Children of God/The Family has not paid up the amount, which would be considerably larger by now with added interest. David Berg who fled the US, made light of the judgment on several occasions, saying that he would never be caught.
(Krounapple v. Children of God, David Brandt Berg, et. al. 77CV-11-4706)

By the 1980s, the group had been officially banned from several countries and its members deported and barred from return, on the orders of local magistrates responding to charges of immigration fraud and other undesirable activities. There were mass exoduses from Hong Kong, Indonesia, the Philippines, India, etc, as a result of what The Family of Love called "persecutions."

In the 1990s numerous allegations of pedophilia and sexual abuse were laid against The Family in different locations worldwide, including Argentina, Australia, Brazil, France, Italy, Japan, Norway, Peru, Spain, Sweden, the United Kingdom(UK), the United States (USA), and Venezuela (see links below). The Family leadership have maintained that they did not sanction or condone the sexual abuse of children. An outline of each court case and excerpts of rulings of the courts can be found at:

The Family claims that government-led investigations and court cases did not convict Family members nor communities, and that no evidence of abuse was found in the 750 plus children examined by state authorities. However, at least one member has been found guilty for contributing to the delinquency of minors.

By 2003, several 2nd generation members, now adults who had left the group, admitted to having lied and being instructed to lie to investigators in order to suppress evidence of their abuse, which they were taught was not abuse.

Contrary to their statements, The Family has not always been cleared of all charges in courts of law—very few (if any) of the child abuse cases that were prosecuted against Family adults resulted in an acquittal or complete exoneration of the defendants. Most cases of child abuse were dismissed on legal technicalities or defendants tried in absentia, and several cases were settled out of court—there was never a full hearing of the evidence by an impartial jury.



1992 was marked by a tragedy that fell upon the group. In Australia, Family homes were subjected to a police and social

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Later this year, another similar case, which occurred in 1990 in Barcelona, Spain, and involved

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1993 was similar to the previous two years in that it combined an increased awareness of teens with more cases of the Family being persecuted. Young adults received

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More of the same occurred in 1993. In Los Angeles, several disgruntled ex-members of the Family harassed the ....

Press coverage of these events spanned worldwide. With the Waco, Texas events happening just prior to all of this, the new media was hot on the topic of new religious movements, ....
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Legal Problems: UK—a landmark court case

In a custody case in 1995, The Rt. Hon. Lord Justice Ward ruled that the group, including its top leadership had engaged in abusive sexual practices involving minors, and in severe corporal punishment and sequestration of minor children.

Based on the leadership's reassurances that they had changed, the court was later satisfied that The Family had abandoned these practices and become a safer environment for children.

As a condition for granting custody to the mother who was a member of the group, the judge voiced his reservations and stipulated the following: he required that the group cease all corporal punishment of children in the United Kingdom, improve the education of members' children, denounce Berg's writings, and "acknowledge that through his writings Berg was personally responsible for children in The Family having been subjected to sexually inappropriate behavior."

The Family began touting this event as an example of how they had won the landmark court case. However, the mother in question did not win custodial rights—it was the court that had custody of the child. The child was with the mother who remained a member of the group, but she did not technically have legal custody.

If there was any "victory" at all, it would more accruately be described as a pyrrhic victory—in one single court case, the judge investigating The Family:

  • found them to be overtly responsible for promoting child-adult sex;
  • cited numerous instances of members lying in court under oath;
  • forced major reforms on the entire movement in order to ensure the safety and the simple basic human rights of its adherents, especially those born into the group.

Post David Berg Era

New Leadership

After Berg's death in October of 1994, his long-time mistress Karen Zerby, from Tucson, Arizona in the USA, known in the group as Mama, Maria Fontaine, or Queen Maria, took over leadership of the group.

Zerby then partnered with her longtime lover, Steven Douglas Kelly, an American also known as Christopher Smith, Peter Amsterdam, or King Peter. He became her traveling representative due to Zerby's hermitic separation from her followers.

Name Change: The Family

In a move to distance themselves from their past reputation with FFing.... to appear more conservative ....
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The Love Charter—consolidating gains

In a 1995 court case, the Rt. Hon. Lord Justice Alan Ward decided that the group, including some of its top leadership, had engaged in abusive sexual practices involving minors and that they had also engaged in severe corporal punishment and sequestration of minors. However, in a last minute turn around, he concluded that the Family had abandoned these practices and that they were a safe environment for children. Nevertheless, he required that the group cease all corporal punishment of children and denounce any of Berg's writings that were "responsible for children in the Family having been subjected to sexually inappropriate behavior."

The group introduced a Charter of Rights and Responsibilities, also known as the Love Charter, setting forth a new way of living within the organization, allowing members more freedom to choose and follow their own pursuits. The rights referred to were what a member could expect to receive from the group and how members were to be treated by leadership and fellow members. The responsibilities referred to were what a member was expected to give to the group if he or she wished to remain a full-time member in the inner circle. However, it also provided that any of the rights could be revoked at any time by Zerby and Kelly, and more responsibilities could be added.

Full-time members are required to tithe up to fourteen percent of their income (ten percent to World Services; three percent to a "Family Aid Fund" supposedly set up to support needy field situations, regional services and projects; and one percent to regional "common pots" supposedly for local projects, activities, and fellowships, and typically to regional literature publishing).

The implementation of the Charter brought about vast changes to the group's communities around the world. Prior to the Charter, the average home size was 35 to 40 people, whereas the charter had specified...


--- section incomplete --- show that the Family endorsed.... members were also given rights to choose... as part of the Charter, members must swear allegiance to Maria (Karen Zerby) as the ......

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Second Generation Adult and older members

The Family faced challenges with maintaining the integrity of its movement among its second-generation members. Second-generation adults, who did not choose to join but were born into and/or raised in the Family International, are known in the group as "SGAs."

Of the SGAs remaining in the group, many have assumed leadership positions in the organization, including chairmanships of international, regional, and national boards.

Of those that have departed, most return to the country of their citizenship to seek help and adjust to life outside the group. Many keep in communication with each other through sites such as, established by a former second-generation member in 2001. A large percentage of these choose to pursue secular careers and higher education, and raise their children in environments radically different from the one in which they were raised. Anti-Family sentiments prevail, with many pursuing or preparing to seek legal recourse for alleged physical and sexual abuse, by abusers allegedly shielded from prosecution by the group's leadership.

The Family International has argued that SGAs who alleged they were abused in the group are mentally unstable, demon-possessed, or highly paid by the anti-cult movement to lie about The Family. The Family International's spokespersons claim that the anecdotal evidence suggests most former SGAs are publicly silent about their experiences in the group because they have cordial relations with those still in it. Former members assert however, what many studies support: victims of abuse typically require long recovery periods in dealing with complex traumatic disorders associated with long-term abuse, and are thus not adequately equipped to face the ordeals of pursuing justice until many years later; at which time, matters of jurisdiction and statutes of limitation can severely hamper or nullify legal proceedings.

SGAs remaining in the group have been vocal in their defense of the Family's lifestyle, countering the site with their, established in the wake of negative publicity, after the January 2005 murder-suicide of Rick Rodriguez and Angela Smith.

Non-profit fronts and umbrella organizations

In the early 1990s, inspired by the photo-op regugee work of the 1980s, "Consider the Poor" (CTP) ministries were launched. In the face of bad publicity, Berg had urged members to create tangible good works to show the world they were doing some good.

Family members took advantage of the newly opened Eastern Europe, following the fall of communism (which should not have happened according to Berg's prophecies), and expanded their evangelistic campaigns eastward. The production and dissemination of millions of pieces of literature earned them the colloquial name "the poster people."

In 1996, Family leadership was exploring ways in which The Family could become a tax-exempt legal entity in the US. This would enable them to solicit large donations and broaden their base of financial support, as well as mass-market their publications and videos, spreading the message and obtaining income. It would also provide legitimacy and credibility for those Family members who were becoming active in charitable activities but could not attract tax-exempt donations.

While it is clear that some amount of genuine charity work has taken place, whether each of The Family's charitable organizations qualify as a bona fide has been brought under scrutiny. Recently exited ex-members have described their continued use of photo-ops, very little genuine aid work taking place, and most of the donations going to their own living expenses.

Family Care Foundation (FCF)

By 1997, the Family Care Foundation (FCF) and a network of charitable sub-organizations were registered around the world. Family members joined the FCF by becoming “project managers” of a squeaky-clean foundation, raising funds under a tax-exempt umbrella.

Using the FCF to lend to the idea that The Family's numerous charities and front organizations were affiliated with a large, legitimate, credible organization, the group expanded their operations, entering countries as NGOs, and even and re-entering countries they were previously barred from. In some instances, outreach went beyond proselytization, with members providing material aid to the poor and disadvantaged.

While soliciting donations for charity work through the FCF, Family members actively promoted their new charity work image: disaster relief efforts, the provision and distribution of humanitarian aid, musical benefit programs for refugees, and visitation to hospitals.

The FCF has come under attack for being inextricably linked to The Family, and for being created primarily to launder funds within the group and abusing its tax-exempt status. Although the FCF claims to technically stand alone as a separate entity from The Family/The Family International, it was founded by top leaders of The Family to advance their goals and interests, and almost exclusively promotes Family products and assists Family members. Members were allowed to send a donation to the FCF in lieu of tithing to World Services (WS), the administrative arm of The Family. Substantial tax-exempt funds could, with a little creative bookkeeping, potentially, if not already, be used to finance ventures that Zerby and Smith controlled through WS.

Legal firewalls between the foundation and The Family could blunt potential lawsuits and criminal charges against The Family for the time being. Whether or not a legal a connection can be made between the FCF and The Family's controversial practices, its current leaders Zerby, Smith, and other Family leadership continue to operate under the assumption they are outside the zone of any third party scrutiny and accountability.

Other front organizations

Aurora Production AG, based in Zug, is the copyright holder and owner of all of The Family International's revenue-producing productions. These include publications, music, and videos (i.e. ''Countdown to Armageddon'' and ''Treasure Attic''). Although ultimate control over this company is in Steven Kelly's hands, on paper the other members are listed as running the company. (

Family Missions Foundation, based in Zug, Switzerland, receives and processes the tithes of members. The board has many of the same names as for Aurora Production AG, and two of the key people, Chris Smith and Thomas Mestyanek, top leaders of The Family International. Chris Smith is a.k.a. Steven Kelly and is the second highest ranking member of The Family International. Thomas Mestyanek is the Finance Manager of The Family International.

Activated Ministries (EIN 33-0857142) is a Family International operated 501(c)3 non-profit organization based in Escondido, California. All the Directors are Family International members. Its President, Thomas Hack, is a high-ranking Family International officer and former director of the FCF. Activated Ministries is a licensed distributor of Aurora products worldwide, including the magazines ''Activated'' and ''The Wine Press'', both of which promote Family International beliefs and practices. It is The Family International's largest outreach operation, openly acknowledges its support of The Family International, and links to The Family International website. Activated Ministries has also made at least one cash donation to FCF.

Other Non-profit organizations related to The Family include: TEAM Foundation, Brookside Farm, Cheer Up Missions, Ton-A-Month Club, Donate Car For Charity, Donate a Car 2 Charity, New York Family Mission, The Extra Mile Ministries, Change The World (Based in Australia).

Some businesses related to the COG/The Family include: Countdown to Armageddon, Sunny-Side Up Entertainment, Cherub Wings, Beart Communications, KidzVids.

New ministries and drives

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The Internet

In 1997, a number of sites appeared such as the .... these became points of communication for current members and ex-members....

Many members have benefited from such information .... In an attempt to thwart the inevitable influence of such interaction, Maria banned....
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The Loving Jesus Revolution

Of the teachings Zerby has propagated, her encouragement to followers to engage in a spiritual sexual relationship with Jesus stands out as the most unusual. All members, including male members of the group are encouraged to visualize themselves as women "in the spirit" during masturbation or intercourse in order to accommodate this practice. This doctrine is explained in the Family publications Loving Jesus Part 1 and 2. (see The Loving Jesus Revelation)

Practiced since 1995 by members of the Children of God/Family International — both male and female members as young as 12, but more fully from the age of 14, are taught that Jesus literally desires to have sex with them.

The "Loving Jesus revelation" calls on Family members to do three things:

  1. They are to visualise their sexual activity as happening with Jesus;
  2. They are called on to masturbate to Jesus — men are instructed to visualise themselves as women so that Jesus can make love to them; and
  3. They are told to say "love words," or talk dirty, to Jesus as they are having sex. Karen Zerby has published a list of sexually explicit expressions that her followers could use when making love to Jesus.

Zerby's declining health

In response to recent legal problems in .... a ... page document was introduced as the solution to... it was a cosmetic change designed to show that the Family endorsed.... members were also given rights to choose... as part of the Charter, members must swear allegiance to Maria (Karen Zerby) as the ......
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Berg's legacy

Current demographics ... 2 thirds are children... SGA... many of whom are the fruits of FFing called Jesus babies.... A total of ___ converts are said to have been .... the community of ex-members coming together and sharing information grows.... Most original members expected the end of the world to happen by 1993 and thus did not make contingencies for.... SGAs often lack educational skills in the areas of ...
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The Family International (2004-present)

In 2004, the movement changed its name to the Family International. Internal changes and upheavals were once again implemented. Secret directives addressed members' trends towards a less dedicated lifestyle, and once again implored recommitment to the group's mission of fervent proselytization. In the second half of 2004, a six-month "renewal period" was held, to help members refocus their priorities. Membership was reorganized and new levels of membership were introduced%#151;members now fall into the following categories: Family Disciples (FD), Missionary Members (MM), Fellow Members (FM), Active Members (AM), and General Members (GM).

The Charter now governs Family Disciples, but new Missionary Member Statutes and Fellow Member Statutes were written for the governance of the Family's Missionary member and Fellow Member circles, respectively. Family Disciple homes are reviewed every six months against a set of criteria.

According to Family statistics, at the beginning of 2005 there were 1,238 Family homes and 10,202 members worldwide. Of those, 266 Homes and 4884 members were FD, 255 Homes and 1,769 members were MM, and 717 Homes and 3,549 members were FM. Statistics on AM and GM categories are currently unavailable.

The Ricky Rodriguez Murder-Suicide (2005)

In 2005, the murder-suicide of The Family's heir apparent Ricky Rodriguez shocked the world and brought considerable renewed media attention on the group, especially regarding their child-rearing policies and child sexual abuse.

Ricky, first known to members as Davidito, was the natural son of Karen Zerby and a Spanish hotel employee whom she "FFed." Davidito's legal name was Richard Peter Rodriguez (also Richard Peter Smith and David Moses Zerby), and he was considered to be the adopted son of David Berg although no official adoption ever took place.

As Davidito grew up he developed a deep seated resentment towards Berg and Zerby because of the sexual abuse he had suffered as a child due to their policies and because of the unnatural way in which he was raised. He would later state that he and his sister were never allowed to be "just children"—that they always had to perform and demonstrate their supposed natural superiority to other children in the group.

In 2002, Ricky, now an adult, left the group, married and tried to live a normal life, working as an electrician. In October 2004, he moved to Tucson, Arizona. According to accounts by his friends and relatives, he moved there because he heard his mother had visited and he wanted to find her.

In January 2005, he arranged a meeting with Angela Smith (formerly Susan Joy Kauten), who was a close associate of his mother and one of his former abusers, and stabbed her to death in his apartment. He then drove to Blythe, Arizona where he shot himself in the head.

In a 57 minute suicide video made for friends, family and former members, he talked of his intense pain, and the actions he had decided to embark upon. He explained that saw himself as a vigilante avenging children like him and his sisters, who had been subject to rapes and beatings. "There's this need that I have," he said. "It's not a want. It's a need for revenge. It's a need for justice, because I can't go on like this."
["Murder and Suicide Reviving Claims of Child Abuse in Cult, Laurie Goodstein, New York Times, January 15, 2005. pg. A-1].


Current ministries

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Activated magazines are a series of monthly magazines which are sold door-to-door and office-to-office. Through selling $15 subscriptions for Activated magazines, The Family claims that its numbers are growing. Subscribers are invited to seminars and meetings where potential disciples and contacts are followed up on. However, on a closer look the "growth" is not really what it seems to be.

Most Activated members of The Family around the world have only once had a personal contact with someone from the Family, and that was when they bought their subscription to the mag. (Note: many activated subscriptions are sponsored by Family homes in richer countries to support Family students in Africa, India, E. Europe.)
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Bloated Statistical Data

Statistics released by The Children of God / The Family International are generally bloated and unreliable, due to anything from the lack of provisions for the collection overlapping data, to outright misuse. (see Bloated Statistical Data)




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