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Cults I Have Known, Part II

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SheWhoMustBeObeyed Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Sep-18-06 03:19 AM
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Cults I Have Known, Part II
Last year a tragic event prompted a lot of high-profile reports about the Children of God, aka The Family, so you may already be familiar with their history. Here I offer what I know about this bizarre psuedo-Christian group, its degenerate founder, and its impact on my own family. It's a very long post made longer by a final piece about cult recruitment techniques. My apologies for the length; feel free to skip around to whatever interests you. Or skip the whole thing. I wrote this mostly for myself.

The Children of God was founded by David Brandt Berg, aka Moses David, Mo, Dad, Grandpa and the Prophet, a charismatic evangelical minister who in 1968 began a ministry to hippies in Huntington Beach, California. Berg's rejection of American society and radical message of God's love was perfectly crafted to appeal to idealistic young people. In just a few short years COG colonies had sprung up across the country and then around the world, thanks to a growing army of zealous missionaries who considered themselves God's revolutionaries. They rejected their families, gave all they owned to Berg, and went anywhere Berg sent them, doing anything he commanded.

David Berg may or may not have loved God, but there is no question that he worshiped sex. His mother, herself an itinerant evangelist, was said to have beaten him regularly for compulsive masturbation. He was expelled as pastor of an Arizona church for allegedly sleeping with a member's wife. His wife and children were scarred by his rampant infidelity and incestuous lust.

Berg justified it all by teaching his flock that sex was God's greatest gift to man. In fact, to spurn sex was to spurn the salvation of Christ's sacrifice.

As COG's influence grew, Berg's ego skyrocketed and he proclaimed himself a prophet. In 1969 he announced a revelation that he was to put aside his wife and take a new partner (Karen Zerby, aka Mama Maria, who shared his authority and became the cult's leader after his death). It was God's will.

Free love was only the first of the practices that began in Berg's inner circle and then spread to the rank and file, who till then had been compelled to remain celibate outside of marriage. Berg started pimping Zerby to wealthy men in order to gain access to their bank accounts, a ploy so successful that eventually many female disciples were required to lure new members with sex. "Flirty fishing" was nothing less than prostitution: women who didn't earn their quota were sometimes locked out of their colonies until they had. Members who resisted wife swapping and flirty fishing were disciplined or threatened with expulsion from the cult and separation from their spouses and children.

In general, women were expected to submit willingly and even eagerly to the sexual needs of prospects and fellow cultists alike. In Berg's view, rape was one of man's flawed laws; its victims were the jailed rapists, its perpetrators the women who didn't lie back and let it happen the way God intended.

But women weren't the only ones required to spread on demand. David Berg was a pedophile; among the many recipients of his attentions were a daughter and a 12-year-old granddaughter. Throughout the 80s, in missives to his followers, Berg sang the praises of adult-child sex and encouraged his membership to share this special form of God's love. Videotapes show six-year-old girls in see-through clothing dancing for Berg's pleasure. His own infant son - rather, Mama Maria's son conceived during a weeklong orgy - was sexually stimulated and gratified by his nannies and began engaging in intercourse at age five as documented in internal publications.

Legal prosecution in several countries and the advent of AIDS forced the COG to change its sexual policies. They changed their name to The Family and tried to whitewash their past. By now Berg was a raging alcoholic, spouting prophecies calling for the destruction of America (which he fled in 1972 to avoid charges of tax evasion and kidnapping) and the start of the end times, in which he fervently believed. He despised "homos" but liked to watch females together. He rabidly hated Jews, who he blamed for Communism; though a Holocaust denier he yearned for another Hitler who would finish off the Jews once and for all. As for theology, his fanciful descriptions of the spirit world are too numerous to list and too stupid not to laugh at.

David Berg's debasement of Christian teachings drove his eldest son to suicide. It led to his elder daughter's estrangement and a revealing book about her life in the cult, which you can read in its entirety here. It triggered his granddaughter's descent into prostitution and meth addiction. It caused his anointed heir - Zerby's son, now 29 - to reject the cult and seek vengeance for his abuse by killing his mother's former secretary and then himself. (The night before the murder-suicide he explained his motives in a video you can view here. I haven't been able to watch it; use your own discretion.)

There is more, much more; but in the words of Kelly Bundy, the mind wobbles. Suffice to say that when drunken child molester and America-hating racist David Berg died in 1994, the world became a little cleaner.

NOTE: I know that many Family members were either unware of, or refused to participate in, the degeneracies promoted by the Prophet. Those close to the top lived more extreme lives, but the majority of members have never met Berg nor any of the other leaders. My brother joined COG before the advent of promiscuity and flirty fishing. His involvement declined around the time that Berg sanctioned sex with minors, and he was back with us by the time the abuses peaked.


I will skip the examination of my family's dynamics and why it should not have been a shock to us when the only "normal" child, the one who excelled in math and science, never got in serious trouble and was indifferent to religion, turned out to be highly susceptible to recruitment by the COG. But it was a shock - a big one. By the time we learned of his involvement, he had already been associating with them for several years. His mind was made up to leave us and join them. We were going to hell, he said. He was going to God.

Turned out it wasn't that easy. My parents had co-signed his savings account, so they froze it. Without that money the cult wouldn't let him "receive the Spirit" or live in the colony. He left several times, each time returning sick and gaunt from living on the street. When he finally got hold of his savings, he left for good.

COG sent him to a number of locations within the country and then overseas. He returned once after the Jonestown massacre, saying he had left the cult. (That was a lie. He and many others were following a directive from Berg, who feared that Jonestown would spur an investigation of COG.) He took off again after a few months.

This time, though, he stayed in touch more regularly. He was still in COG but his attitude was changing and his ambition was asserting itself. While many members earned money selling pamphlets and begging for contributions, he held a job that brought him into contact with wealthy Systemites (COG's pejorative for nonmembers). He met a woman who was a devout Christian but not a fellow disciple. They married and had a child.

Not long after that he finally came home to stay, bringing his family with him. He got a job, returned to school, had more kids, earned his MBA, bought a home. His wife is a wonderful woman and their children, now grown, are beautiful in form and spirit, smart and independent. He is loving towards his family and stays involved with all of us. Everything appears to be normal, except for this ten-year hole in our lives.

Cult experts would say my parents used the wrong approach with my brother: screaming, threatening, reasoning, pleading, and more screaming. But there weren't any cult experts back then. So they looked for legal ways to keep him home (the frozen bank account), sought help from our parish priest (useless), and threatened some more. We were all mortified and angry over what we considered, to put it bluntly, a really stupid move. The angrier we got, the more stubborn he became.

We helped drive him right into COG's hands.


"Come spend a decade under the complete control of a megalomaniac who will provide you with only bare sustenance while he uses your earnings to fund his sick, fucked-up lifestyle."

A smart, rational person would never agree to such a proposal. That's why cult recruiters don't use it.

Instead they rely on an arsenal of weapons designed to break down resistance and prepare a clean slate where a new story can be written in a young, idealistic mind.

The first is a form of instant companionship and unconditional acceptance known as love-bombing. Love-bombing has a druglike effect on the mind, releasing endorphins that leave you feeling euphoric. You become part of a brand-new community full of people who really care about everything you say and think and do. You've never experienced anything like it.

Soon you are ready to receive an amazing revelation: God has guided you to your new friends to help them save the world. Ordinary people wouldn't understand; only someone as special as you could be chosen for this divine revolution. (Because you're a teen, you've long suspected that you were more special than anyone knew. You've dreamed of recognition, and now you're getting it from God himself.)

How do your friends know all this? They learned it from the kindly old man/blessed woman who leads them. Their teacher speaks with God and knows his will. You're given the leader's writings to study. But only a few. You're still an outsider, and there are many beautiful, life-giving secrets that only insiders can know. If you follow God's will you will learn them all.

But to follow God's will, you have to protect yourself from evil influences. That's why it's crucial you leave your friends and family and stay with the group. Outsiders don't get it. They'll poison you. That's because they're filled with demons. They hate God's love and want to tear it out of your heart. That's why Jesus said to leave your family and follow him. You'll be happier with your new friends anyway. They all love you!

So it's time to give up your old life. Old bottles can't hold new wine. Get rid of everything you own. Better yet, give it all to your new friends to help them serve the Lord.

You're really doing well and soon you'll be ready to receive the Spirit. But first you have to get right with God. It's time to confess all your sins. If you can't think of any don't worry, your friends will stay with you no matter how long it takes to remember them all. They know how to drive out devils. You may wind up feeling sick and hopeless and broken, but that's just to prepare you for God's healing.

And keep reading the texts. It's one of the rules. There are rules about studying and working and sleeping and eating. There are even rules about looking happy and not complaining. In fact the longer you stay the more rules you'll discover. If you disagree with even the smallest one it's because demons still infest your soul. God demands your obedience; to reject the rules is to reject God and lose eternal life. You don't want to do that, do you? Not after your friends have been so good to you, giving you a place to sleep and food to eat. So keep reading and praying and obeying. You don't need sleep, you need salvation.

You may start to have doubts. Some of the leader's teachings don't make sense to you; maybe they don't jibe with Scripture, or they're just too weird to take seriously. But that's because the devil is making you rebel and resist God's word. For the good of the mission you will have to accept discipline or be cast out of the group. And where will you go? You're penniless. You have nothing but the clothes on your back. You're hundreds or even thousands of miles from the unloving family you left behind - and they don't even want you anymore, or so you're told. If you leave the group you will be devoured by Satan and burn in everlasting fire. That's what happens to those who reject God's love, so you better learn to submit.

And just remember: You chose this life. It was your decision. Nobody forced you, nobody kidnapped you. "Mind control" is just what outsiders call the grace of God. They don't understand. Nobody understands you anymore, except your special friends.

Cults I Have Known, Part I
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Tace Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Sep-18-06 04:00 AM
Response to Original message
1. And A Kick For This One, Too
: )
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Random_Australian Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Sep-18-06 04:20 AM
Response to Original message
2. An excellent piece. Recommended!
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Berry Cool Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Sep-18-06 06:12 AM
Response to Reply #2
3. What great insight.
Thanks for posting this!
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Random_Australian Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Sep-18-06 06:20 AM
Response to Reply #3
4. Hey hey hey hey, no need to snark!
Some of us prefer to dwell on what we have read, before returning. However, I wanted to let the OP know that this piece is valuable and good, which I have done.

Therefore, while my post was not intellectually stimulating, it served enough purpose for it to exist.
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SheWhoMustBeObeyed Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Sep-19-06 02:57 PM
Response to Reply #4
6. I think he meant to respond to the OP
Thank you both for your nice comments. :hi:
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Random_Australian Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Sep-19-06 03:43 PM
Response to Reply #6
8. I hadn't thought of that! Great explanation. Thanks!
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hunter Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Sep-19-06 12:35 AM
Response to Original message
5. BBC just did a story...

Abuse within "The Family"

Also, we find out about a controversial religious group called "The Family International", also once known as "Children of God". It was created in the 1960s by David Berg. Though he died in 1994, the group still has thousands of members on several continents. A documentary recently shown on British television investigates the story of Ricky Rodriguez, once seen as David Berg's chosen successor and tries to explain why he killed himself after murdering another member of The Family. Two former members of the group, Sarah and Don, tell Outlook why they think what they claim is institutionalised sexual abuse is the reason behind Ricky's actions. A spokeswoman for the group finally tells us why they deny these allegations.
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SheWhoMustBeObeyed Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Sep-19-06 03:11 PM
Response to Reply #5
7. Thanks for posting this link
I found references to the BBC documentary while researching but figured I would not get to see it. I look forward to hearing the radio program. Excellent find, thanks!

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