David Berg was born on February 18th, 1919 in Oakland, California the son of Virginia Brandt Berg a successful evangelist. He was drafted into the US Army in 1941 but was discharged on medical grounds and was ordained by the British-American Ministerial Federation. He married Jane Miller in 1944. In 1968 after an unsuccesful career in many denominations and church organisations he and his wife and four children moved in with his retired mother at her home in Huntington Beach.
There, in a coffee house run by Teen Challenge, he began preaching to some of the residue of Timothy Leary's social experiment of turn on, tune in and drop out. He preached the creation of a commune of believers who shared all possessions and lived as the early Christians separate from the hypocrisy of the Church and the evils of society. When some rich kids joined, donating their inherited wealth he went into seclusion and controlled the organisation through publications. Only the early growth of the Children of God was due to his presence and public preaching, thereafter his followers used a set modus operandi, most of his followers never saw him. He renamed himself "Moses David" and became a modern "prophet" and absolute ruler of the "Children of God".
New followers were usually gathered amongst the confused, drug-taking young of major cities by face to face "witnessing". Anybody showing sympathy was invited to a "commune" where they were isolated from all family and social contacts and given 24 hour a day attention. They were fed inadequately (members did not work but begged to get enough resources to support the community), slept too little and spent all their time attending classes, memorising bible passages, "witnessing" to others, dancing and singing in religious services or doing their set chores with no romantic or sexual contact allowed, marriages controlled by leaders and all their possessions given to the group on entry.
For the young, confused and idealistic this messianic, millenialist, perfectionist milieu could be very rewarding especially as drug use was forbidden. Like the Hare Krishnas their public preaching activities soon degenerated into sleazy attempts to get the most money possible and financial quotas were set for all members but the elite leaders.
By 1976 Berg began to alter his doctrine to suit his desires, a not uncommon practice in the history of Christian Cults. While marriage amongst the members (who after all were quite young) had become common he now set about controverting the historical Christian attitudes towards sex. Sexual freedom by Berg and the cult leadership group, including his children, had become common, Berg had left his first wife and taken a much younger woman, Maria, as his new consort. He propagated the doctrine of "Flirty Fishing" - having his female followers attract new members by giving them sex and in a series of detailed letters to followers Berg instructed them in the sexual techniques that he enjoyed via his "Mo Letters". This developed into a doctrine of multiple marriages amongst members and then "One Family" where all women should be shared amongst all men and then into paedophilia with cult children and incest and "flirty fishing" became outright prostitution.
Berg with flirty followers in a disco in Tenerife with Maria, his second wife, at his right.
Berg continued in this direction, despite the fact that new membership numbers fell dramatically as prostitutes are not ordinarily considered credible witnesses for a Christian religious cult by their clients. In 1987 the cult claimed membership of 12,162, number of children 6,470, people witnessed to 900,080, number "saved" 92,750 and number "loved" 218,722 though whether this was clients or "tricks" was not specified. Certainly the days when the guitarist of Fleetwood Mac could go down the stret in LA and be accosted by one of the ubiquitous pamphlet wielding children of God and never seen again are long gone, hopefully never to retun.
Berg died in 1994 and control of the group went to his second wife, Maria. The group had been "officially" renamed 'The Family of Love' in 1978 and this later became 'The Family'. They have a home page where they present a picture of themselves very different to the viewpoint presented here. Cult apologists, J. Gordon Melton and James R. Lewis have white-washed the Family.
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