(Originally printed in the Spring 2004 Issue of the MCOI Journal beginning on page 12 )
You may have seen them in the mall in front of the local toy store or J.C. Penney’s. Friendly people, dressed as clowns, tying balloons, and telling dramatic stories of their missionary work around the world, complete with pictures and, of course, accepting donations to help with the on-going ministry. You may have volunteered alongside them at the Red Cross. Businesses in your community may be making large donations to them or one of their front organizations. Hotel chains allow them to stay for free. They may even have performed in a local church under the guise of being independent Christian missionaries raising support to get out on the field. Yet, these happy, smiling people are part of a destructive, sexually perverse, and theologically bankrupt religious group formerly known as the Children of God, who now simply call themselves The Family.
A Brief History
The Children of God, founded by David Brandt Berg, are an outgrowth of the 60’s counter-culture. Berg had deep roots in Christianity with both his mother and grandfather being traveling evangelists.1 Berg began his own ministry as an evangelist with the Christian and Missionary Alliance from which he was expelled in 1950. He migrated to youth ministry and became the leader of a Teen Challenge Chapter in 1967 (an Assembly of God ministry). A pivotal event occurred in 1968 when Berg broke from the national organization and founded his own ministry called “Light Club.” Very early in the formation of this new organization, Berg began to receive revelations supposedly from God. In 1969, he moved the group out of California in response to a revelation he received regarding a severe earthquake that was about to hit the area causing part of the state to slip into the ocean.2 The earthquake never materialized, but this didn’t stop the momentum of the new religious movement which took on the name Children of God. The group became communal in nature very early. This remains one of its most visible peculiarities to the present.
It was also during this time that Berg received his “Old Church, New Church” revelation.3 In this revelation, the word “church” contained a double meaning. Not only was God rejecting the established Church in favor of Berg’s movement, but Berg and others were free to reject their wives and take new ones. Berg did not divorce his current wife of over 30 years (Jane—aka Mama Eve), but he did make public an on-going affair and began a common-law relationship with Karen Zerby—aka Maria, aka Mama—the current leader of the movement.
Part of the appeal of the movement, both now and in the past, is the call to a radical discipleship—forsaking all to follow Christ. However, as in most cults of this nature, the group began to practice extreme forms of control. Members were rarely permitted to be alone. Members were to sever all ties with parents and other family members. Various forms of mind control were also employed though the group vehemently denies this. Names were changed making efforts to track children difficult. (This was the first issue that began to gain the movement significant negative attention.)
The situation in the Children of God continued to deteriorate through the 1970’s. It was during this time that Berg changed his name to Moses David believing himself to be the fulfillment of Deuteronomy 18:15 and began to issue the now infamous MO Letters—direct revelations from God. Typical of many doomsday cults, Berg prophesied the return of Christ. According to Berg, Jesus was to return in 1993.4 In 1973, he prophesied that the Kohoutek Comet would hit the United States and destroy it.5 The group fled the country. Once again, Berg proved to be a false prophet, but the gullible remained and grew. At this time, Berg made contact with a spirit guide named Abrahim. He would later receive more revelations from the dead, a practice that continues within The Family to this day.
In 1976, Moses began to issue some of his most controversial declarations which involved the practice of “flirty fishing or FFing.” This amounted to female members meeting and seducing men in order to demonstrate the love of Christ to them. (If the logic of this escapes you, praise God, you’re normal.) Later, the women would also receive money for services rendered, becoming full-fledged, sacred prostitutes. An account of this activity can be found in the book Heaven’s Harlot—the testimony of Miriam Williams—aka Jeshanah.6 God began to be described as a sexy god, and Heaven as a place of orgiastic activity. The Holy Spirit was believed to be female. MO letters began to contain pornographically explicit drawings.
A purge of Children of God leadership occurred in 1977, and the group reconstituted under the name “The Family of Love,” which has now been shortened to “The Family.”
Sexual practices in The Family continued to become more and more extreme until the end of Berg’s life (1994), ultimately involving sexual sharing within The Family, lesbianism, teen sex,
and even pedophilia, and incest. Today, the Family vehemently denies that pedophilia and incest were ever condoned, but the literature and the testimony of hundreds of witnesses speaks for itself.7 Ironically, male homosexuality was, and continues to be, forbidden, though Berg vacillated even here.8 As can be anticipated, all of these abuses led to a rampant outbreak of venereal disease among members, numbers of babies born out of wedlock (called “Jesus babies” by the cult), close governmental scrutiny including expulsion from some nations, and occasional prosecution for child abuse. “Flirty fishing” was discontinued in 1987, officially in order to give more time to other forms of evangelism, but it is certain that much of the decision was due to negative media coverage, venereal disease, and court cases.
However, sources very close to The Family have informed the author that “FFing” is rumored to have begun again in Europe and is involves minors. Also in 1987, incest was specifically banned.
Life After Berg
Berg died in 1994 at the age of approximately 75 and his common law wife, Karen Zerby (aka Maria), assumed leadership over the movement. Her new lover, Stephen Douglas Kelly (aka Peter Amsterdam, aka King Peter), is second in command and heir apparent to the throne. Under Maria, some token reforms have taken place. Sex with outsiders or those who have been in The Family for less than six months is forbidden. Sexual activity among teens must wait until 18 years of age, and then it is allowable only with those no more than seven years older than themselves until the age of 21—at which time all restraint is off.
Despite these efforts to clean up their soiled image, the root perversions persist. The communal nature of the group is still reinforced by sexual sharing among members. In fact, the blasphemous nature of the organization is worse than ever. The most disgusting is a recent series of Maria Letters entitled the Loving Jesus series. Common decency forbids the direct citation of this material in a newsletter such as this. However, the essence of this teaching is that believers can minister to the needs of Jesus by having sex with Him. This is accomplished by masturbation done while envisioning a sexual encounter with Christ. Men are encouraged to envision themselves as possessing a vagina in order to accomplish this activity. Words cannot describe the absolute horror and revulsion one feels when encountering this material. To see the sinless, spotless, Holy Son of God described as He is in this literature makes one sick.
Why This Article?
The basic point of this article is not to titillate or to disgust. The necessity of this article is due to the fact that many Christians are unwittingly supporting and funding these bizarre and blasphemous activities. The tactics The Family uses to accomplish this objective, as well as the rationale supporting these activities, will occupy the remainder of this article.
Deceptive By Design
One of the issues that makes dealing with The Family so difficult is the deceptive way information is disseminated to those outside the group. Literature from The Family comes in multiple layers. “GP” material is that which is deemed suitable for the general public. These materials hide or mask the group’s true beliefs. In general, this material deals with benign subjects such as prayer. The cult’s web site contains a statement of faith subtle enough, sadly, to slip by many Christians. Item number 12 briefly discusses receiving revelations from departed saints—a euphemism for necromancy, but it does so in the context of Saul’s encounter with Samuel during his visit with the witch at Endor and Jesus’ visit with Moses and Elijah on the Mount of Transfiguration.9 Considering the current cultural climate, one seriously wonders if many Christians would even find this alarming. Too many wouldn’t bother to read that far, and the vast majority of those who donate probably never check out the group at all.
The next level is “DO” (disciple only) material which is meant to be available only to those who have joined the group. Here is where the true doctrines of the group are taught. Here the convert finds out about the “Law of Love,” the female nature of the Holy Spirit, communication with the dead (the group receives revelations from such “saints” as Marilyn Monroe and Elvis Presley10), and a host of other perversions. Beyond even the DO is the “LO” (leader only) material which is to be read by the shepherds of the commune with parts being relayed verbally to the underlings. The final level being what is referred to as “BAR” (burn after reading) material which contains information the cult considers so potentially destructive, it is necessary to destroy the evidence.
The deception is carried out further in the way the cult represents itself. Rarely do members state outright that they are members of “The Family.” Solicitation in malls and in front of toy stores is carried out by members dressed as clowns. Businesses are approached over the phone and in person for contributions to help the underprivileged. Home owners and property owners of vacant structures are asked to allow the group to stay there in return for maintaining and improving the property. In each case, this work is accomplished by representatives who describe themselves as “independent Christian missionaries.” (See www.thefamily.org)
Additionally, a host of front organizations and pseudonyms have been established, as well as businesses owned by or affiliated with the cult. These include but are not limited to:11
- Activated magazine
- Aurora Productions
- World Services
- New Teens for Christ
- Helping Hand – Mexico
- Cheer Up Missions, USA
- Calico Charities, USA
- Family Missions
- Family Project Hope
- Lifeline Ministries
- Brookside Farm
- KidzVids International
- Family Care Foundation
- Sunny Side Up Entertainment
The Family has produced multiple series’ of award-winning videos aimed at children. The most famous of these are Treasure Attic and Cherub Wings. These videos have been widely acclaimed and well-received, at times in the past even selling at Wal-Mart. Today, most of these videos are peddled by cult members directly to local Christian bookstores. The doctrinal content of these videos, though minor, is directly from the MO Letters. Parents purchasing these materials have no idea that much of the proceeds are used to support the cult.
Another tactic that should cause Christians not only to rage at the audacity of the cult but weep at the lack of discernment in the pulpit is “church invasion.” In this activity, the cultists call local churches—focusing particularly on Pentecostal and charismatic, “Spirit-led” churches. The independent Christian missionaries introduce themselves by stating that they are traveling locally to raise support to enter the mission field in a particular country. They ask the pastor if he would be willing to meet with them and consider allowing them to “minister” in a service for a love offering. If the pastor accepts the meeting, the cultists visit his office scrubbed and shined. They are masters at Christian-speak and frequently are able to disarm the pastor who allows them to sing and bring the message in an evening service without ever checking references or doctrinal positions. In this way, the group is afforded the opportunity not only to raise significant funds, but they also encounter spiritually weak members of the church to whom they can continue to “minister” through “Bible studies” on an on-going basis. Instructions for carrying out this work can be found in some of the group’s undated writings like How to Invade Churches!”
It might be interesting to note how The Family really views the Church. In The Fruitful But Dangerous Ministry of “Invading the Churches!” the anonymous author states:
“THE LORD HAS ACTUALLY GIVEN US A TRUE LOVE for many of these “mentally handicapped Christians.” (emphasis in the original)
Another publication of The Family, written by Maria in December of 1985, contains this warning:
Beware of Church Christians!12
Of course, all of this lying has to be justified somehow. The key text employed is “… as deceivers, and [yet] true” (2 Corinthians 6:8). When the full text is studied, it becomes obvious that Paul is dealing with accusations and sufferings that have come upon him for the cause of Christ, not with his methodology in dealing with society at large. But groups like The Family never let an insignificant thing like context stop them.
The Law of Love
It is impossible to understand the past and current activities of The Family without understanding their most foundational belief (second only to the prophet status of Berg and now Maria), the “Law of Love.” This belief is a perversion of Jesus’ teaching regarding the second great commandment—to “love your neighbor as yourself”—coupled with an extreme antinomianism. Roughly stated, The Family believes and teaches nothing done in “love” can be sin.
This gets translated into a cover for a variety of aberrant practices within The Family. The distorted logic that follows is that to really love your neighbor as yourself is to meet their “needs”. Intercourse is determined to be a “need,” not a desire. Therefore, members of the cult are commanded to share sexually with one another in order to meet each other’s “needs.” Of course, one must never consider that one might be harming a brother or sister by enticing and assisting them to sin. Sin is impossible in “love” and besides, we are no longer under law but under grace, so those old requirements for such silly issues as sexual purity are gone with the temple and the animal sacrifices. Admonitions against fornication and adultery found within the epistles are dismissed as The Apostles still having “legalistic hang-ups.”
Naturally, this escape from all law doesn’t apply to issues like murder, theft, or even homosexuality. But one struggles in vain to find any rationale for how a member of The Family can determine right from wrong without reference to the MO Letters or Maria Letters. When asked, members of the cult will state that these activities are wrong because the Bible forbids them. When asked about the Biblical prohibitions on fornication and adultery, these same cultists will state that they are too busy doing the critical work of evangelism to banter over petty issues such as doctrine. They will simply ask you to agree to disagree. The same can be said for their belief in communication with the dead.
Adding Up the Numbers
The Family proudly touts its accomplishments in the face of the “do nothing” Church and professional clergy. The group’s web site, for instance, proclaims:
The Family sees its prime task as that of bringing the message of God’s love to all. How successful have we been at this? As of yet we have personally shared the Gospel message with over 237 million individuals, while billions have heard our message through the mass media. As a result, over 23.3 million people have personally prayed with our members to receive God’s love, forgiveness and salvation. We have distributed over 850 million pieces of Gospel literature in 61 languages. A total of over 1.4 million videos and eight million audio tapes in more than 20 languages have also been distributed.13
In spite of this apparent evangelistic success, The Family only claims 12,000 members. One simply must ask where the rest of the 23.3-million people who “have personally prayed … to receive God’s love, forgiveness and salvation” have gone. It needs to be understood that The Family maintains an extreme form of easy believism. In order to be saved, one simply needs to repeat the words of a prayer. It is not even essential that a person have any foundational understanding of who Jesus is. No commitment to follow Christ is necessary. Biblical doctrines such as repentance are absent in the literature used for witnessing. Jesus is presented as the cure for loneliness, longing, depression, etc. Additionally, according to Miriam Williams, many of these converts prayed the “sinner’s prayer” while lying next to a cult prostitute presumably in order to be able to move on with other business or to encourage future encounters of a similar nature.
But in Scripture, Christ commands the Church to “make disciples” not converts. Biblical salvation requires a commitment to Christ, not merely the recitation of a prayer, and certainly not one made under such dubious circumstances.
The Eclectic Cult
In addition to all of the aforementioned issues, the cult has become, over the years, a repository of a variety of other heretical doctrines. This occurred because Berg developed few unique doctrines outside of the sexual arena but simply borrowed from other cult groups—particularly Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses (JWs).
For instance, like JWs, The Family believes that Jesus was the first creation of God. Berg further felt that Witnesses were very nearly right in their eschatology and felt that blood transfusions were forbidden in the prohibitions against drinking blood. Mormons have been an even bigger influence. Berg, like Mormons, taught that God has plural wives, marriage continues in eternity, the Incarnation was the result of sexual intercourse between God the Father and Mary (on another occasion, Berg taught that Gabriel impregnated Mary), Jesus had intercourse with Mary and Martha (Berg adds that Jesus was probably infected with V.D.), and salvation can occur after death.14
Mixed in with all of this is a healthy dose of New Age teaching. Berg had numerous spirit guides. The group believes that speaking in tongues is the result of a departed spirit helper speaking an ancient language (channeling). Members of the group regularly receive direct words from deceased individuals.
Does anyone have a map for all of this???
The Call for Discernment
Like many other cults, The Family finds fertile recruiting soil among those who have become disillusioned with the modern Church. The Family points at the Church’s seeming obsession with lavish buildings and ministers who receive excessive salaries as examples of the Church’s departure from the sacrifice and commitment to which Christ has called believers in order to reach the lost. They accuse the average church member of being inactive in vital ministry. Sadly, in many cases, the church has made itself an easy target. Christians must, once again, take seriously the call of Christ upon their lives. We must live with mission and purpose.
Additionally, Christians who find that they are being solicited for funds must learn to ask probing questions. The fact that a person claims to be a Christian missionary proves nothing. As with any cult, one must scale the language barrier. What Jesus are we speaking about? Is Jesus the Holy, Eternal Son of God, possessing all the attributes of Deity, the Second Person of the Trinity born of the Virgin Mary in His Incarnation; or is He the first creation of God, needy, sinful, disease ridden, and the product of a physical cohabitation? The answer is critical. The Jesus of The Family cannot save. Believers must be careful to know that their dollars are not supporting those who pervert the name of Christ and preach a powerless gospel.Ω
© 2016, Midwest Christian Outreach, Inc. All rights reserved. Excerpts and links may be used if full and clear credit is given with specific direction to the original content.
- “The Family” Children of God/Family of Love Vital Information. Internet article by Ed Priebe. Sword of the Lord Ministries. www.swordofthelord.officehiway.com/vital.html ↩
- Children of God-Family of Love-The Family. Internet article which is, on the whole, positive toward The Family. www.religioustolerance.org/fam_love.htm ↩
- The Old Church and the New Church, David Berg. August 26, 1969. Published in London, England. ↩
- 70 years prophecy of the end! written by David Berg, March 1, 1972 MO #156. ↩
- A series of writings were published including, The Great Comet: Warning! 40 Days! And Ninevah shall be Destroyed, Kohoutek! What will the Christmas Monster Bring? and The 3rd Letter of Moses on the Comet! All of these were written by David Berg in the month of November 1973. ↩
- There are too many The Family publications on this activity to site them all. Examples would include, God’s Whores? DO #560, God’s Love Slave! DO #537 and The Ministry of Love! DO #538. All written by David Berg. Current leadership of The Family both acknowledges and defends this practice. An extensive article entitled Women in The Family contains information on this practice and can be found at www.thefamily.org/dossier/statements/women.htm ↩
- The now infamous “Davidito” material is widely available on the internet and was the basis for the Justice Ward decision that clearly found The Family endorsed the practice of pedophilia. Another example is a deeply disturbing undated publication entitled The Little Girl Dream which boldly states: “Of course, as there are no longer any such thing as Man’s legalistic laws against incest in the loving kingdom of God.” ↩
- Homos! A Question of Sodomy MO-DO #719, July 1978, by David Berg. This article endorses mutual masturbation and fellatio between men. ↩
- “Our Statement of Faith” which can be found at www.thefamily.org/dossier/statements/faith.htm ↩
- One example, a World Services newsletter, Good News! dated August 1996, written by WS staff contains a column entitled, “Sex in Heaven! By Marilyn Monroe.” A statement in parenthesis underneath the titles says: “This message from beyond was received through Valerie Bright.” ↩
- A much more complete list can be found at www.exfamily.org/list/pseudonyms.shtml. This site is maintained by former members of the cult. ↩
- Beware of Church Christians! by Maria, 12/85. Maria Letter 69. ↩
- Found at The Family web site, www.thefamily.org/about/history.php ↩
- A complete discussion of this subject can be found in an excellent article by former member, Ed Priebe, in an article entitled Hodgepodge of Heresy at www.swordofthelord.officehiway.com/ed/heresy.htm ↩