Children of God
A critique of The Family of LoveIntroduction
Sectarian groups come and go. Some last longer than others, but usually a generation sees them out. Their moment of greatness parallels the life of their founder. Once dead, the group slowly fades away with their strange beliefs. In 1996 I was amazed to strike some aged ex hippies giving out literature on a main street in Sydney Australia. The style was very familiar, and amongst it all was a gospel tract I knew very well, "You gotta be a baby". They were members of the 70's Jesus revolution youth movement sect, The Children of God. There they were, still hanging in there, selling their Mo letters, no longer calling themselves the Children of God, a little older and hopefully a little wiser. Who are these fundamentalist Christians and what do they believe?
The group was founded by David Brandt Berg. His parents served with the Christian Missionary Alliance, and later David himself was involved in full-time ministry. He fell out with the leadership of C.M.A. and lost his position. It was a bitter experience and was to leave its mark.
In 1967, the Jesus Revolution burst out in San Francisco and soon spread throughout the Western World. There was a great lack of leadership and Berg found it easy to become involved in the revival movement. In 1968 he was given control of a coffee shop in San Francisco by Teen Challenge, a Pentecostal youth outreach. He was 49 years old. He soon formed a band of dedicated followers whom he named "Teens for Christ" - "Revolutionaries for Christ". They set out evangelizing local kids at the beach, on the streets, at school etc. It was up-front evangelism with a big emphasis on love - a warm caring attitude toward anyone they contacted. The group then moved on the local churches and persuaded interested young Christians to leave the church and join their coffee shop group. Naturally local churches reacted by barring Berg, but he responded by sending 50 strong raiding parties to specific church services. On one occasion the group was ejected bodily from the Garden Grove Community Church.
Berg claimed to have a prophecy from his ailing mother that California was about to slip into the sea from an earthquake and so the group set about warning everyone to repent for the end was near. He then broke with Teen Challenge and accepted an invitation from Rev. Ted Were to set up a teen centre in Tucson, San Raphael, and so the group left San Francisco. Berg's personal style soon caused division in the church. Two accidental deaths at the youth centre brought in the police and so Berg and his family fled to Canada. John Treadwell was left in charge, but further troubles with the police forced the group to flee to Fort Worth, Texas, literally pursued by the local police.
Treadwell set about giving the group some respectability. The girls were made to wear simple long frocks, manners taught, etc. By these methods the group gained acceptance and began to grow. Locals saw them as a positive counter to the growing drug and delinquency problems in the town. Communal life was now the norm for the group.
Berg, meanwhile, was unhappy with developments as they were not in line with his revolutionary views. He announced a new prophecy that "the great confusion" would soon fall on the U.S. His children must warn their fellow countrymen. In November 1969, he called a meeting of the group in Illinois, appointed 12 elders, married them off, gave every one Biblical names, and sent the 12 groups (tribes) throughout the U.S. warning of the coming doom. This generated quite a bit of publicity from which the group was given the tag "Children of God". T.V. evangelist, Fred Jordan, jumped on the bandwagon and gave the group the use of his farms in return for T.V. appearances of the glowing new Christian converts gained by the Children of God. The increased publicity brought 1000's of young people to the farms. Other "Jesus revolution" youth organizations joined the Children of God. The group soon numbered close to 4,000 young people.
In 1971 problems started to develop. Berg, now called Moses or David, was having trouble with his wife, Mother Eve. After a prophecy, he took a second wife Maria and also a concubine. Internal questioning concerning his teachings, actions and use of money, as well as external pressure from concerned parents, promoted a siege mentality. Guards were appointed at the farm to stop intruders, kidnappers and also to dissuade the young people from running away. Members of the group were forced to go everywhere two by two. Heavy indoctrination was employed to keep the group together and to protect individuals from themselves and outsiders. Everything outside the group was painted as Satanic, and this therefore justified their actions.
With the growing concern of parents, an organization was formed called "Free our Children from the Children of God" (FREECOG). Demonstrations by this organization brought in the Federal Government and naturally gave Rev. Fred Jordan cold feet. He soon moved to evict Berg and his followers from his farms.
Once evicted, Berg and his family moved to Europe. The large communes split up and moved to Europe, Australia, N.Z., Central & South America, while some groups remained in the U.S.A.
In 1974, the U.S. Attorney General, Louis J. Lefkowitz, issued his report on the C.O.G. claiming the leaders had mentally and sexually abused young converts. In 1975 there was a move into Catholic countries after a restructuring of leadership and communes. Each commune was to be no larger than 12 and would be controlled by a Shepherd. By 1977 C.O.G. literature claimed a membership of 8,000 with 800 communes throughout the world.
Around 1978 Berg moved to sack 300 leaders. By 1980 troubles within the leadership had caused a number of the leaders to leave, along with a drop in membership of some 50%. The group also changed its name to "The Family of Love". In 1981 Berg prophesied a nuclear holocaust and so commanded all members to go to Southern Hemisphere, but only half went. The membership in 1981 was about 10,000. The group claimed to distribute 400 million pieces of literature in 1982 with some 34,000 converts by "flerty fishing" (prostitution evangelism). By this stage little information coming out of the group could be believed.
From around 1985 the group went underground as it waited out the tribulation. Small communities continued throughout the world. They tended to keep to themselves. Father David ended the liberal sexual era in 1986 although "flerty fishing" (sexual witnessing, love bombing) was still used, especially by younger members. The group still had a sexual liberation slant to it, seeing sex as a free gift of God for the purpose of expressing love.
In Australia, the group found itself in trouble with the Victorian authorities. Communes were raided in 1992 and children of the Family removed. Claims of sexual molestation were unproved and the children soon returned to their parents. The Victorian authorities were later sued and found guilty. The book "The story of Davidito", the raising of David Berg's son, illustrates rather strange views on sex. It was such writings that stirred up the authorities.
In 1994 Father David died and Peter Amsterdam took over leadership of the group. They claimed a continuing membership of 10,000, still living in communal homes (about 3 families per home) and living off welfare and hand-outs. Peter, then the groups prophet, claimed that Flerty Fishing was sin in 1995. He proclaimed that members should be brides for Christ. This entails making love to Christ via masturbation. This again is part of their view that sex is not dirty. They don't separate sex from spirituality.
Around the mid 90's street evangelism was again undertaken by commune members. The literature was little changed, the street workers were just a little older, although now their children were being trained for the work. Up till the present they claim 20 million converts. ie. the converts have prayed a prayer asking Jesus into their heart.
Initially David Berg was In total charge. The next level of leadership was the Royal Family made up of Berg's children and their wives. They are the rulers of the New Nations.
World wide control comes from the Council of Ministers which was made up of the Royal Family and other close associates of Berg. A Prime Minister oversees this group. Next there was 12 bishops who governed 12 major world areas. Then Regional Shepherds, District Shepherds and finally Shepherds who rule an individual colony of approximately 12 disciples. New converts are classed as Babes for 3 months. The present situation is unclear.
Berg controlled the group mainly through his Mo letters. These are pamphlets outlining his prophecies, visions, commands etc. They come out in 3 versions: a) For Elders and Shepherds, b) Disciples, c) Babes and the rest. By 1978 approximately 600 Mo letters had been produced. Selected editions are still used today. Absurd editions are denied.
Commune life is strictly controlled, so much so that the group has been charged with brainwashing. New converts are encouraged to cut all ties and depend only on the group. Mo letters and Biblical passages are learnt off by heart. Discipline and regimentation is strictly enforced. Thus the "Babe" is quickly brought into line.
Running expenses, food, clothing, etc. is gained by begging, exploiting parents, social security or selling "Mo papers". "Procurers" have the job of pestering shopkeepers and others for food etc. This is described as "spoiling Egypt". They are part of the evil "system" of things and so can be exploited to serve a useful purpose. Communes are not self sufficient as work is seen as part of the evil "system" - "The Great Whore of Babylon". Money raised is used to meet communal costs.
The Mo Papers
These papers demonstrate the psychotic nature of Berg. Versions not for public consumption contain erotic visions and vulgarities and in many cases contradict the version for Babes. Mo's sex letters are quite famous, they contained some lurid illustrations. Titles included "Sex Works", "Sex". In his opinion, we have a "Sexy God".
Quite a few of his Mo Papers have contained failed prophecies; e.g. In 1973, he predicted that the Kohoutek Comet would destroy the U.S. Most subjects are covered by the Mo papers with a strong emphasis on Politics and the coming end.
The Mo Papers develop a particular view of the world, behavior and religious faith. This is accepted without question by the disciples and tends to alienate them from the wider community. A particular terminology is also used through the Mo papers so that communication is confined within the group; eg.:-
"Systemite" - A person of the world, Churchie, Servant of Satan.
"Litnessing" - Witnessing by giving people Mo papers.
"Murmur" - To question or doubt Mo.
"Shiners" - Those who litness well.
"Shamers" - Those who don't litness well.
Although there is heavy indoctrination and strict discipline, there is no evidence of brutality. The group demonstrates a real loving care toward commune members. Sexual license is frowned upon, marriage encouraged, alcohol is allowed in moderation, but no drugs. The life-style is simple - second hand clothing is used etc. All commune work is shared. A daily life pattern involves - mornings: prayer, bible study, breakfast, Bible and Mo memory work, housework, Lunch. After lunch: "litnessing". Tea, followed by Bible and Mo discussion. Lights out, all to bed. There is usually one day off a week. As long as you're not a questioning person, it can be a great way to live. Communes tend to be in or close to population centres.
i] Basic gospel message
a) "You gotta be a Babe". This is a fairly straight, "believe in Jesus" gospel message, no worse or no better than most mainline church gospel tracts. The usual "no more problems" line is a worry, but then most Christians tend to develop this angle anyway. So it is a "receive Jesus" and God will "forgive you" message. The problem lies with the extras.
b) Forsake all, "the whore of Babylon", "The evil system of things" and join with God's Children.
c) Suffer persecution.
d) Seek to gather the lost - preaching the message throughout the world. Mainly to young people because " Old bottles can't hold new wine, they burst".
e) Train for the "Great Confusion", "The Tribulation" that is soon to come. This will be a time of great troubles when God's children must flee to the mountains and fight to survive until Christ's return.
Berg's teaching was highly apocalyptic. He, as Moses, was leading the children of Israel out of the U.S. and the world (Egypt) to the promised land. In 1985 "the great tribulation" will begin, and after 7 yeas of distress, Christ will return in 1993 to set up the Millennial Kingdom.
iii] The world
Satan's realm, government, business, education, politics and religion are all evil - "The Great Whore of Babylon". All this is to be abandoned completely. This includes one's family - it too is satanic. Berg's view of the church in his Mo letter titled, " Survival.... and the church?' "Ha. The so called church is just a ridiculous laugh - a little holier-than-thou, do-gooder, social club and status symbol for the self-righteous, sanctimonious, pharisaical, weak and ludicrous, dead and dying, paganistic hangover from the superstitious past". Mo had a way with words!
iv] The Messiah
Berg, Moses was the messianic King David referred to in passages such as Psalm 89, Ezekiel 34,37, Hosea 3, Revelation 3:7. He was inspired by the Holy Spirit. All his writings and instructions were to be regarded as scripture.
v] The Bible
They believe in the verbal inspiration of the Bible.
Only members of the Children of God are in "The Lamb's Book of Life".
vii] Old Testament prophecy
The Old Testament is interpreted in the light of current events predicting the imminence of the tribulation.
viii] The church
The true pattern of the church on earth is the Jerusalem church as described in Acts 2. Only the Children of God follow this pattern.
On other points of doctrine they take a fundamentalist line.
The Children of God have a warped Biblical view derived from the poor teachings of Mo. This has affected their overall view of the world, the coming end, their place in the scheme of things, and the authority of Mo himself.
This can easily be seen in the following:
i] Monastic rather than radical. They have opted out of the world and seek to get others out by whatever means, fair or foul. They bleed the society they are part of, rather than help it. "It's al'right to lie, cheat, steal and perhaps even to commit violence in the name of Jesus, as long as it's good for the cause".
ii] Brainwashing. They have a neurotic fear of everything outside their group. It is evil and Satanic. They seek a mind-bending control over the convert so that he won't "fall away". They use most of the methods used in China as listed by William Sargent:
a] Isolation from family and friends.
c] Memorizing a great amount of theoretical material within a new terminology.
e] Vicious language.
f] No humour.
Complete group dependence, an abandonment of everything in the past life, a new view of life reinforced with a heavy learning programme and regimentation and discipline, all remove and possibility for an individual to arrive at God's will for them. Parents in the U.S. have had to go so far as to kidnap their children and hire professional deprogrammers.
iii] Fraudulent fund raising. Again their view that the world and everything in it is evil, has allowed the C.O.G. to bleed parents and raise funds on false pretences eg. Raising money for youth drug programmes that never existed. The Mo letter "Public Relations" gives instructions on how to get the most from someone. ie. how to be a "Shiner".
iv] Anti family. Parents are of the world and therefore disciples must be protected from them. Contact is kept to a minimum, mainly only letters. Parents seeking their children are given the runaround, the "selah" treatment. Says Mo, "Stall, evade and lead them off the track". Biblical support. Lk.14:26, Matt.10:36, 8:22. "The Bible talks about obeying your parents in the Lord (which is your leadership not your ungodly fleshly parents). It says obey them in all things even if they are wrong."
v] Handle the truth lightly. Moses David continually made contradictory statements in his Mo papers.
Fundamental errors in Biblical interpretation are the root cause of the strange beliefs and behavior of the C.O.G. A literalist approach to the Bible, unfounded prophetic interpretations and the identification of Moses David as the Messiah, give the C.O.G. little chance of reflecting the truth.
Are they a cult?
There are 5 characteristics of a cult and the C.O.G. fit the pattern:-
i] Extra Scriptural authority - Mo letters.
ii] Denial of salvation by faith alone. Although members hold a "by faith alone" position, membership in the C.O.G. is regarded as essential to salvation, for to remain in the "system" only means death.
iii] An exclusive community - yes.
iv] Devaluation of the central place of Christ - Mo is seen as the Davidic Messiah, although many members deny this.
v] Their group holds the central role in eschatology - yes.
Are they Christians?
Many probably are, but they have been caught up in an organization that undermines the unity we have in Christ, our witness to Christ and our love for all men and women in our broken world. Its strange teachings frustrate the gospel of Christ.
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