Name: The Family (also The Family of Love); founded as The Children of God
Founder: David Brandt Berg; Berg was affectionately known as “Moses David,” “Mo,” “Father David,” and “Dad” to Family members.
Date of Birth and Death: 1919-1994
Birth Place: Oakland, California
Year Founded: 1968
David Brandt Berg was a third-generation evangelist. His grandfather, John Lincoln Brandt, was first a Methodist preacher and then a leader of the Campbellite movement of the Disciples of Christ. Brandt preached that Christians “have an urgent duty to win souls for Christ (217).”:
“Haste is essential, because men are under the sentence of death. Haste is essential, because our children are forming habits that are determining their character and destiny. Haste is essential because the devil is never idle. Haste is essential because our day is fast passing away, and we must sound the trumpet so that the blood of no man be upon our heads. Haste is essential because the day of judgement draweth nigh, when we shall be called upon to answer before the judgement seat of Christ for the deeds done in the body. Haste is essential because Jesus declares His Father’s business comes first” (Brandt 1926:18-19).
David’s father , Hjalmer Berg, was a preacher in the Disciples of Christ, but was eventually expelled, along with his wife, because of claims they made of divine healing. The two later joined the Christian and Missionary Alliance in Miami which, as a group, had numerous problems and tensions involved in its organizational history.
In 1944, David married Jane Miller. By the time that David followed in his father’s steps and became a minister in 1948, he too found much disagreement and discontent with the leadership and methods of the Christian and Missionary Alliance. Having been placed in a missionary position in Valley Farms, Arizona, Berg came into conflict with the denomination’s leaders, as they did not like his “integration policies and radical preaching that they should share more of their wealth with the poor (Van Zandt 32).” Thus, he was removed from the denomination and he, his wife, and their three children took to the road to preach.
In 1954, when he met Fred Jordan, who headed the Soul Clinic in Los Angeles, Berg saw an opportunity to model a similar group of his own in Miami which would be a branch organization practicing in the same evangelical missionary tradition. Along with his family, Berg established the missionary training school called the Florida Soul Clinic. As a result of practicing strong and aggressive tactics of spreading his message, he and his family were thrown out of town by local authorities, and subsequently returned, twice. During an intermediate period they spent some time at Jordan’s Soul Clinic Ranch in Mingus, Texas. After the second time of being run out of Miami, they were prepared to devote themselves to traveling around the country preaching the Word and relying on the kindness of donations from strangers that they met along the way. As his children grew older, they became more involved in the ministry, and eventually they came to be evangelical singers, calling themselves the Teens for Christ (Bainbridge 218).
Returning again, in 1964, to the Texas ranch, Berg was visited in 1965 on one occasion by his mother who claimed to have received the Warning Prophecy which spoke of the endtime 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!” David studied the parts of the Bible which spoke of the endtime, and was eventually convinced that it must be coming close upon us because man had the technology and means to destroy itself (Bainbridge 218).
In 1967, Berg and his family moved to Huntington Beach, California to be with his mother. In 1968, when she died, David made a commitment to reach what he considered the lost generation of the hippie counterculture youth. Taking action, he and his family took charge of the Light Club, a Pentecostal evangelical ministry coffeehouse run by the Teen Challenge organization (Melton 1986: 154). They used this for their primary recruitment strategies. Here, Berg declared war on the “hypocritical old bottles of the religious system” (Van Zandt 33). “Berg and his family had known many of the local dropout and counterculture youths, and it was these teenagers who he targeted, by ministering to them with his family along the beach, and attracted to his club through offering food and music and a place to gather which was organized in a nonchurch orientation.
In this setting, Berg conducted Bible lessons with those who became interested in the faith, which included focusing on the corruption of the evil “System” which surrounded them in the world everywhere. Berg also incorporated his own attitude toward established structures, particularly the church organization, and delivered a message to the youths which encouraged a total commitment to Jesus and a total withdrawal from worldly institutions (Melton 1986: 154).
Unlike many of the ministries which, at the time, were attempting to convert hippies into evangelical Protestants, Berg’s group incorporated the hippie lifestyle and the anti-establishment ideology of the larger counterculture rebellion into their organization and structure (Bainbridge 219). Berg believed that destruction was imminent, and he encouraged potential converts to become full time disciples and to move in with him and devote their lives completely to Christ.
By 1969, the group had grown to about fifty members. Berg concentrated on the religious development of the members and applied techniques he had learned from Fred Jordan in training the converts to evangelize. The group studied the Bible intensively. In the early days most of the doctrines were very strictly Biblical. Over time, some of the teachings incorporated more of Berg’s personal flavor and interpretation. Due to their lifestyle and openly aggressive proselytizing activities, the group received much negative public and media attention which eventually led them to leave Huntington Beach.
From California they traveled in smaller groups down to Tucson, Arizona, where they recruited even more members. They then embarked on a long traveling journey throughout the United States and Canada, which served in establishing the group in terms of their identity and accepted practices. Berg and about seventy members eventually settled in Quebec where he then began putting an organizational structure into effect. Berg then called together all members of the group to meet in Vienna, Virginia, where he proclaimed that he had received a new prophecy called A Prophecy of God on the Old Church and the New Church which, as a result, marked a personal change in his life (Van Zandt 35). Berg claimed that his wife, Jane, and his secretary, Maria, were models of the church. “God had abandoned the old denominational church and had taken a new church (the revolutionary Jesus people), just as Berg had abandoned his wife, who, like the old church, had become a hindrance to God’s work, for his new love (Melton 1986: 155).
At this point in time began the many demonstrations in which members proclaimed the group’s message to the public. During a public vigil in Washington, D.C., they wore red sackcloth and large wooden yokes around their necks to symbolize their mourning for the nation which had forsaken the Lord. They carried Bibles and long staffs and had ash smeared on their foreheads. They also displayed large scrolls with portions of the Warning Prophecy written on them in large letters (Van Zandt 35). A local reporter calling the group the “Children of God” led to their adopting this name, and in one of the spoken prophecies by a member, he referred to Berg as Moses, which is how he took the names Moses, Moses David, and Mo (Melton 1986: 155).
One-on-one encounters with potential recruits showed the members stressing the fast approaching destruction of the world and the corruption of the System. Few converts were won, but Berg and his group continued to target the young hippie drug counterculture who were both in need of some direction as well as receptive to the message.
Soon the traveling group subdivided itself into “tribes” which each served a specific purpose for everyone such as food preparation or child care. Berg established strict rules regarding almost everything that was done. Money and resources became limited, but the ideological education and the Bible teaching went on despite austere living conditions. Berg established his central leadership and appointed each member of his family as leader of one of the tribes. At this time, he made himself less visible, to both the public as well as group members, and was not a part of public demonstrations anymore. However, his charismatic authority had reached a high point.
In February 1970, the group’s membership had reached 200 members. It was now time to settle, and Berg secured the use of the land that was formerly the Texas Soul Clinic as well as the Soul Clinic mission building in Los Angeles (Van Zandt 37). At this time, being that the group was no longer on the move and therefore more prone to public attacks, the religious press openly criticized their methods and requirements of membership. In April 1971, Berg and Maria relocated to London and developed communication lines to the group leaders in America through letters. At this time started the tradition of the Mo Letters. Berg insisted that the group branch out and develop new colonies in other parts of the country.
A strong emphasis was now placed on the act of witnessing and recruitment instead of proclamation through demonstration. A new set of strategies was developed and, at this time, musical groups were formed with the intent of preaching the message. The approach and initiation of conversation was also recognized as an effective means of witnessing interaction. Building upon the old message of the corrupt System, a new attack was slated against all forms of secular activity, education, jobs, and even church activity (Van Zandt 38). Strong language and personal criticisms were voiced during these witnessing events, and the message was clear: one must receive Jesus in one’s heart and make a total commitment to Jesus and the group. Following this period of the group’s history, membership grew enormously to over 1400 members.
At the same time that this all was going on, some parents of the children who were joining, or had been in the group for a little while, began voicing their discontent with the group’s practices and beliefs. In August 1971, a group of parents, headed by William Rambur, whose children had joined the group formed FREECOG, otherwise known as “Free Our Children from the Children of God,” led an organization which aimed to get children returned to their parents (Melton 1993: 1011). Their claims were that the group was a destructive cult, and had kidnapped, drugged, hypnotized, and even brainwashed their children. The parents wanted their children back, and attempted to kidnap and, with the help of deprogrammer Ted Patrick, “deprogram” them so as to reverse this brainwashing process which made them join and profess their faith to the group (Van Zandt 37). At this time, and after having being deprogrammed, some ex-members became hostile towards the group and told detailed accounts of the group’s practices and lifestyle, which presented them in a negative light.
Despite these claims and efforts made by the parents to get their children back, membership continued to grow and the group received more and more attention from the press. Colonies of members were established all across the United States in many areas. In Berg’s physical absence, local leadership became more authoritarian and the group’s organizational structure became increasingly hierarchical. Chief leaders, some of who were Berg’s extended family, came to be called “Directors,” under them were “Regional Shepherds” who were the supervisors of all the colonies in their geographical region, and finally there were “Shepherds” who were leaders of individual colonies (Van Zandt 40).
After a dispute with Jordan, the group left his properties and began worldwide expansion. Colony sizes reduced, as many were settling in many parts of the world. 1972 marked the exodus of many from America. During this period, proselytization emphasized witnessing almost exclusively, and the objective was to lead as many souls to Christ as possible, and attract new members(Van Zandt 41). Techniques included passing out much literature at this time. The European message was that God would have everlasting love for those who converted, and those who were being targeted were dissatisfied Christian youths. In America, however, the same anti-System message was being presented to the same dropouts of society. Thus, the group was receiving a much warmer welcome in Europe, where negative press had not already condemned them.
As more non-Americans were being recruited and changing the faces of members, the group itself was going through a change of face. As Stuart Wright suggests, “The influences of indigenous cultures and new converts began to transform the movement from a California-based, hippie, fundamentalist group, rigidly and centrally structured under the authority of Moses David Berg to a more eclectic, multi-ethnic, decentralized missionary movement of relatively independent communities dispersed all over the globe” (Lewis and Melton 123). It was precisely this mode of adaptation which created a pluralistic diversity that marked a valuable technique of survival for the group.
Much discussion of the end-time took place, and the revolutionaries believed that the coming of the end was near. Mo Letters were more operational than ever, serving to provide an organizational link between all of the small and dispersed colonies. In February 1972, Berg announced through the letter The Laws of Moses that his letters were the very “Voice of God Himself,” and that he, David Berg, was his prophet, Moses David (Van Zandt 42). Thus, the Mo Letters became more sacred to the group, and all members, not just the leaders, received them.
By 1973, the membership had increased to 2,400 full time members, with 140 colonies in 40 different countries around the world. At this time, Berg shifted the groups’ activities away from direct proselytizing activities to a more generally applicable approach. Litnessing, as it was called involved spreading the group’s message through the distribution of literature, specifically the Mo Letters. This technique proved to be a more effective way of reaching people with the message as well as gaining financial support.
Berg’s birthday in February 1975 marked a time when more radical changes were made to the group’s organization and structure. The “New Revolution” placed a “renewed emphasis on recruitment and personal proselytization and sought to reorganize and democratize local colony life” (Van Zandt 44). This had the effect of limiting the size of colonies and the rate at which they could admit new members. By the end of the year, numbers indicated that there were 725 colonies in 70 countries with 4,215 full-time members (Van Zandt 44). Recruitment techniques, at this time, were now focused more on educated people who were both more receptive to the message than dropouts as well as brought along fewer personal problems to deal with and solve. Younger potential converts were also being admitted, and a new designation of “catacomb member” was given to them. The New Revolution also established new leadership positions in the hierarchical chain which were open to election by the people.
In 1976, Berg introduced in a series of Mo Letters entitled “King Arthur’s Nights” a new method of recruitment which he called Flirty Fishing. His experimentation with this dates back to 1974 when Berg began to realize that there were many potential recruits who were lonely people that had been virtually unproselytized and were not interested in becoming churchgoers. Having seen Maria charm a young man named Arthur into joining by flirting with him, Berg realized that this would be a powerful way of witnessing to people who had previously been unapproachable. Traveling to the island of Tenerife to try out this new form of ministry, a number of women with Berg built emotional channels of communication with outsiders by offering them erotic experiences up to and including sexual intercourse (Bainbridge, 222).
After announcing and putting to effect this method with the group, Berg and Maria continued to practice Flirty Fishing until February 1977, when they received a summons to appear before investigators that were looking into the group on behalf of Catholic authorities (Van Zandt 47). Through the Mo Letters though, members were given explicit instructions of how to go about the process. Many of the top members who were close to Berg would go to a discotheque and dance with men. Later they would sit down to talk, which is when the woman would get around to the topic of God’s love. If the potential recruit was at all receptive, he would be invited to come to a meeting for more information. God’s love was the message, and Flirty Fishing was just the new way of witnessing for the group. At this time, older professionals were the main targets.
Berg gave the ideological justification for Flirty Fishing in a number of Mo Letters immediately following the period marked by the Reorganization Nationalization Revolution. According to him, in the words of Bainbridge, “Jesus was a fisher of men, and this new method of fishing employed flirting, so it came to be called Flirty Fishing” (Bainbridge, 223). Until it was abolished in 1987 due to the widespread dangers of sexually transmitted diseases, the group estimated that over one million people had been reached with the salvation message with this form of ministry, and, of those, over 200,000 had been a part of some kind of physical love.
In January 1978, Berg made a radical change in the hierarchical make-up of the group. After hearing many reports of abusive treatment perpetrated by leaders of the chain of command, he announced the “Reorganization Nationalization Revolution” which destroyed the hierarchical chain of command that previously existed. Berg’s feeling was that the existing bureaucracy had been exploiting members by demanding more money than the expected tithe from homes, and using this money for their own personal life style rather than for the benefit of the members and the movement (Bainbridge 222). Many people who held authoritative positions, including some of Berg’s extended family, were shocked at the change that this would bring about. Some of these people, in light of the loss of their power, left the group. Each commune democratically elected their leadership and a push was made to include national members in every leadership team. Massive changes occurred at all levels concerning witnessing and litnessing activities, which, in turn, reduced the recruitment rate drastically.
For the first time there was an overall decline in group membership, but these short-term costs were easily offset by the long-term survival ability that was achieved by the group through the Reorganization Nationalization Revolution plan (Lewis and Melton 124). As Stuart Wright suggests, these organizational changes, despite the fact that adaptation was difficult because leaders were forced to relinquish authority, were significant because “the survival of COG and its success in foreign cultures, it seems safe to say, was contingent upon this pluralistic thrust. Such adaptation will likely fare well for the Family’s success in the future, both here and abroad, as societies become more pluralistic and each continues to chart a new course in the shifting political structures and boundaries of the new world order” (Lewis and Melton 127).
All group members now received the Mo Letters directly and were encouraged to send written correspondence to Berg himself if they felt their rights or the rights of others were being infringed in any way. Therefore, the Reorganization Nationalization Revolution served in removing all of the old rules which restricted freedom within the group. A new sense of liberty was enjoyed by all.
In 1979, still playing out the effects of the Reorganization Nationalization Revolution Berg sent out a Mo Letter entitled “Dear Friend or Foe” which asked those members who had left the group to return. A new designation was created for those noncommunal members who wanted to make a small monthly donation to receive the literature. Thus, there became a distinction made between those who were part-time and those who were full-time members.
With the recent Jonestown publicity in mind a series of Mo Letters entitled the “Nationalise Re-organise Security-wise Revolution” encouraged members to lay low for a little while so as not to receive the media attention that Berg felt was imminently due. Members were encouraged to take a furlough and visit their relatives, if they felt they needed a time of rest and recuperation. After a little while, Berg encouraged members, where appropriate, to travel around in campers and witness.
Dispersion of members made solidarity hard to achieve. The strong group ties that had been built in the first ten years of the group’s life had grown weak due to the Nationalise Re-organise Security-wise Revolution. Furthermore, the organizational changes made litnessing and other proselytization activities decline (Van Zandt 52).
In 1980, with a fear of America being destroyed by nuclear war, Berg urged members to leave the country and move to either Latin America or Europe. At this same time, he became disgusted with the IRF (part-time membership) program and insisted that from then on he only wanted “110% members” who would be working full-time for the Lord (Van Zandt 53). During this time of large geographical separation between Family homes, members had only the Family News Magazine and Mo Letters to keep linked organizationally with one another.
Sexual activity was at its peak in the early ’80s, with Berg encouraging sexual freedom. Some of Berg’s more extreme speculations on the moral limits of sexuality were expressed during this time, though later the group was to expunge such ruminations from their literature. Van Zandt stated that in Berg’s opinion, “neither incest nor sex with capable children was prohibited by God and that there should be no age or relationship limitations on sexual activity”(54). Berg speculated that God had made children able to marry and reproduce at a young age because it was not inherently wrong and suggested that the traditional “child bride” marriages performed in many past cultures was not a deviant practice. Such speculations did not become policy in the Family, though it became apparent in later years that inappropriate sexual encounters had occurred to some degree with minors in the early ’80’s.The Family responded by laying out stringent policies in this regard in the mid ’80’s, rendering any kind of sexual encounter with a minor an excommunicable offence.
In 1981, Berg was beginning to see that the lack of a single overarching organizational structure was proving to be a problem. To remedy the problem of low morale and cooperation among the members, Berg issued the “Fellowship Revolution,” which would create fellowship amongst local homes through Area Fellowship settings as well as bring homes in an area together for a “weekly fellowship meeting” (World Services 1995:35). A new hierarchical structure was now created, however Berg’s charismatic authority remained the most powerful force guiding the thoughts and action of the group. This organizational structure, with a hierarchical formal structure and Berg’s ultimate authority due to his prophetic nature, is the way the group had settled at this time.
Due to migrations over the past years, the Family had a very multicultural and ethnically diverse composition by 1982. Full time membership now spanned across 88 nationalities across 69 different countries (World Services 1995: 44). Flirty Fishing and litnessing remained important modes of witnessing, but personal witnessing and mail ministry were providing outreach as well. At this time musical performing, both live and on tape, was also being used quite effectively to reach potential converts. The Music with Meaning international radio program ministry, which had been developed in 1980, had now become very popular.
1983 marked the peak of popularity for the Music with Meaning radio show. Some members in Asia and Latin America began organizing large public evangelistic meetings which featured their performances which served the purpose of communicating a mass ministry and reached many people (World Services 1995: 47). Berg did not encourage this form of witnessing, as he felt that mass evangelism was overall a less effective mode of leading people to salvation, as compared to the one on one method. He also indicated the potential of drawing negative attention from hostile church officials with these high profile events. Also of note this year was the return to a tendency of communal living arrangements. During this time period, the average number of occupants in a Family home rose to seven, whereas it had been as low as four per household in 1980 after the RNR(World Services 1995: 49).
1984 continued this trend with the development of “combos,” which were large homes that were combinations of smaller ones. The average number of members in a home now rose to ten people. Migration to the East was continually encouraged. Of great importance, though, was some controversy that was stirred up this year. Six years after leaving the Children of God, former members Deborah and Bill Davis wrote a book that attacked the group entitled The Children of God: The Inside Story. Deborah was Berg’s daughter, and the picture she presented was very ugly. This book became the impetus of many public attacks on the Family by both ex-members, parents of ex-members and current members, as well as anti-cultists in the US.
Child education and rearing became more and more centered around a spiritual upbringing (World Services 1995: 54). Many parents were avoiding the local public and private schools and choosing to teach their children at home where it was felt they would be taught in a much safer and wholesome environment. At this time, both Berg and Maria issued many publications to families with both the intent of providing helpful teaching techniques as well as to specify the curriculum which was felt to be suitable for learning. Concerning sexual practices within the group, restrictions and policies began to tighten at this time. Rules of conduct were issued which made it clear what was acceptable and what was not.
In 1987, Maria released 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 officers through simple fellowship and conversation about the Bible. The “spiritual nourishment” that these officers, as well as many others, were receiving was the word of the Lord and came to be called “Daily Food” by the Family (World Services 1995: 65). As Maria explained, “[The] girls found to their amazement that they were able to easily win these men directly to the Lord, and connect them to His Word without getting so personally involved with each one of them, taking them to bed, etc. – which enabled them to spread themselves out much further and have a much broader scope of influence (“The FFing/DFing Revolution,” Maria Letter #2313, 3/87). With emphasis now being placed on this new practice, as well as the growing threat of sexually transmitted diseases, Flirty Fishing was effectively put to an end in the Family practices. As Berg says in a memo to members, “All sex with outsiders is banned!- Unless they are already close and well-known friends!- We are now DFing instead!” (World Services 1995: 66).
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 children, as “Kiddie Viddies” which were music videos of children singing inspirational songs were distributed to the general public and very well-received. This time period also marked a reverse migration back from the East to the West. Some families were now returning to Europe and North America and settling. As this happened and as membership grew, it soon became apparent that some members were more committed and sincere than others. A new designation of member was developed called the TRF Supporter. These members support the Family by sending a monthly tithe. This program was mainly created for those who believed in the teachings and the way of life, but did not have the conviction or resolve to be 100 percent members who lived by all the rules and lived in the communal lifestyle. TRF status made it possible for a family to live outside of the commune, in their own house, and to be free to engage in more worldly activities than full-time D.O. (Disciples Only) members. The introduction of this program marked the time when the group was interested in “Tightening Up Our Family” (World Services 1995: 79).
In 1991, having discovered that the schooling was not enough to properly raise the children, the Discipleship Training Program was initiated. This program was aimed at teens and the problems of life that were specific to them, as well as to parents who needed help in raising these teens. Under this program, some specific changes that were made to Family policy included: childcare as a teamwork obligation in the homes, weekly Home childcare or parenting meetings, one hour daily of family time, one hour weekly of personal time, and “Weekly Family Day” (World Services 1995: 88).
1992 was marked by a tragedy that fell upon the group. In Australia, Family homes were subjected to a police and social welfare worker raid on six communities in Sydney and Melbourne, Australia. The officers, along with a media crew to cover the event, seized 142 Family children, ages two to sixteen, from their parents and took them into custody. After a week of intense examination and evaluation for either psychological or physical abuse, no confirmation was found to prove these accusations. The children were immediately returned to their homes and no charges were filed against the families. The Family was now under a watchful eye from the public, and at this time elected to issue a policy statement to the public to explain their beliefs, doctrines, and practices. In 1999, the Family children involved in the raids reached a generous settlement with the government after taking the government to court for damages. 2BL Radio news reported, “The long running legal battle against the State of New South Wales by children from the religious group the Family has ended in the Supreme Court in Sydney. Fiona Halloran reports more than 60 children sought damages after they were taken from their Sydney homes in coordinated dawn raids in 1992. Justice John Dunford ruled that police and community services department workers acted unlawfully when they raided three Sydney homes back in 1992 and temporarily removed 72 children involved with the Family. The decision prompted their solicitor Greg Walsh to call for the state to settle the case. After four days of mediation the state and 62 of the 72 children have agreed to a confidential settlement avoiding a lengthy trial.”
Later this year, another similar case, which occurred in 1990 in Barcelona, Spain, and involved authorities removing 21 children from a Family Home after accusations of child abuse, was settled. The Family was exonerated of all charges because no evidence was found to support the claims. The judge ruled that the children be returned to their homes and that the group would cease to be harassed concerning such matters, and compared the tactics involved to the “Inquisition.” While both of these terrible events were absolutely horrifying for all Family members involved, from the initial raids to the courtroom hearing which led to reuniting parents and children, they were, nevertheless, battles that strengthened the faith and conviction of the group.
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 more attention and were regarded more and more for what they hoped for, desired, and needed out of life. Teamwork and leadership were encouraged values for the youths, and programs were established which reinforced these goals and ambitions. But, as was the past year, instances of tragedy were soon to strike. In two large homes in Lyon and Aix-en-Provence, France, police raids occurred in which officers stormed the house with automatic weapons and seized 90 children from their parents as well as some adult members who were both verbally and physically abused in the process (World Services 1995: 101). While the adults were released from police custody within 48 hours, the children in Lyon were held for a week and those in Aix-en-Provence remained in custody for 51 days (World Services 1995: 101).
Later that year, all charges against the families that were filed in Lyon were dropped. In February 1994, charges in Aix-en-Provence were dropped as well. In both cases the courts found that claims by officials were unproven and, on the contrary, the children showed all the signs of a healthy upbringing, both mentally and physically. Anti-cultists from the French organization ADFI (Association for the Defense of the Family and the Individual) appealed the ruling of the courts in this case, which dismissed all charges. To their dismay, despite the efforts they had made in inciting the authorities against the Family, which led to the original raids and their subsequent actions to have the case re-opened, the higher courts definitively dismissed the case in February 2000).
More of the same occurred in 1993. In Los Angeles, several disgruntled ex-members of the Family harassed the group by falsely informing authorities that child abuse was occurring in a local Family home (World Services 1995: 101). Much investigation on the part of local officials proved that their claims were unsubstantiated and made-up. On September 1st, five Family Homes in Buenos Aires, Argentina were subjected to a night raid by local police officials in which 137 children were taken from their parents and put through exhaustive physical examinations to determine whether or not child abuse was taking place in these homes. Twenty-one adults were imprisoned for nearly four months, while over a hundred children were held in custody for four months. Adult women were physically mistreated. An international media campaign ensued which proved to be in cahoots with both anti-cultist as well as ex-members who provided both the impetus as well as the accusations which fueled the raids. As in all the other cases, the charges proved to be without merit. The children exhibited no signs of abuse and an Appeals Court judge berated the lower courts for the treatment children and adults received and the broaching of their constitutional rights in the proceedings.
Press coverage of these events spanned worldwide. With the Waco, Texas events happening just prior to all of this, the news media was hot on the topic of new religious movements, sexual issues, and alleged child abuse. The Cult Awareness Network, at the time the main anti-cult organization, helped organize the media attack on the Family as well. Media coverage of the Family included a story in the Washington Post, a Larry King Live exclusive with members of the Cult Awareness Network, and the NBC program NOW which did an expose on the Family which was done with their help under the premise that the group would be presented in a positive light. The absolute reverse was the outcome.
In 1994, things settled down, and the Family was able to return to the peace that they previously enjoyed. Previous actions within the group resumed where they had left off before all of the tragedies and the media attention. 1994’s most significant event was the death, at age 75, of the Family’s founder and leader, David Brandt Berg. Preparation had been made for the group, by Berg himself, so that this event did not mark the fall of the group. On the contrary, Berg had taken steps to insure the fact that his successor, Maria, would be recognized as the next prophet for the group. She later married her first lieutenant, so to speak, Peter Amsterdam, who also assumed an important role of leadership in the Family structure (Bainbridge, 225).
In 1995, the Family adopted a governing charter entitled the “Love Charter” which was the work of the World Services organization of the Family. This document was composed of two parts; the Charter of Responsibilities and Rights and the Fundamental Family Rules (World Services 1995: 113). The purpose of this document was to provide a written compilation of the group’s goals, beliefs, and methods. All members of the Family received this publication.
The Charter documents the individual rights of members, families and children. It also serves to crystallize the goals and methods and ministry of the members. This document gives the individual members full freedom in decisions regarding their work, place of service and medical decisions, while outlining statutes that protect the basic nature and ideals of the movement. This work included the participation of members from every strata of Family life, from leadership to witnessers, childcare people and members from countries around the world.
According to Bainbridge, “This document appears to rest on a considerable body of practical experiences handling past problems, and it is evidence that The Family has achieved a considerable degree of institutionalization” (Bainbridge, 225).
The implementation of the Charter brought about a period of vast changes to Family communities around the world. Prior to the Charter, the average home size was 35 to 40 people, whereas the Charter limits membership to a maximum of 35 members per home. Since its implementation, the average community size has fallen to 14 members (including children). In 1998 and 1999, the Family instituted efforts to encourage the migration of members from Western countries back to traditional mission fields around the world, which has led to a large decrease in Family populations in western countries such as the U.S., Canada and Western Europe.
The Family also has faced challenges with maintaining the integrity of its movement among its second-generation members and older members who had somewhat settled down into western cultures. An effort has been made to restore the integrity of Family policies outlined in the Charter and members unwilling to uphold that standard have been encouraged to serve on the FM (Fellow Member) level, where they can freely implement the Charter to the degree they feel comfortable with.
Efforts have also been made to include second generation members in Family leadership spheres and currently second generation members are represented in every level of leadership. Dr. Gary Shepherd claims that “[Family] young people dominate one’s initial perceptions by their sheer numbers, appealing interpersonal qualities, and the overwhelming degree in which they are involved in virtually all aspects of Home functioning,” and along with Dr. Charlotte Hardman, conclude that Family members have been successful in incorporating their more youthful younger generation (Hardman, 1999). Their literature denotes that they have made substantial efforts to provide them with the challenges and opportunities they need, as well as the opportunity to inject their youthful verve and input. Charlotte Hardman comments in her recent work on the Family that, “The Family children have wholeheartedly adopted the meaning system of their parents and feel empowered thereby” (Palmer and Hardman, 1999).
World Services publication, The History of the Family, puts closure on the group’s history with this passage that ends their story:
“In the Family’s brief 26-year history, in addition to weathering the countless ups and downs involved in establishing an international worldwide cooperative missionary work from scratch, as well as bearing, raising and schooling our thousands of children, maturing as individuals and as a movement, and enduring numerous persecutions, we have managed to individually witness to over 200 million people, leading over 18 million of them to receive Jesus as their Savior. We have distributed over 780 million pieces (3.9 billion pages) of Gospel literature, as we follow Jesus’ commandment to “Go into all the world and preach the Gospel to every creature” (Mark 16:15).
Our members have personally taken our message to no less than 163 nations of the world, and most have criss-crossed the globe from West to East and North to South and back again. We have on average personally witnessed to nearly 650,000 people a month for 26 years. During that time we have led an average of over 57,000 people in prayer to receive Jesus as their Savior each month-or one person every 45 seconds for 26 years!
In telling us how to judge whether a prophet is good or bad, Jesus said, “Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them” (Matthew 7:20). We feel that much of what the Family has accomplished over the past quarter-century is the fruit of David Brandt Berg’s wise and loving leadership and following the Word of the Lord as revealed to him. Ultimately, we give the credit and glory to Jesus for the good we have accomplished, as it is only by His grace, love and power that we came into being, or that we carry on today as a vibrant missionary movement. Praise the Lord!” (115)
The Family’s core beliefs are very similar to those of fundamentalist Christians, in that they believe the Bible to be the inspired Word of God, they believe in the Trinity, the Virgin birth, salvation by faith in Christ and most of the basic doctrines of fundamentalist Christians.
They depart from the mainstream however, in their sacralization of sexuality and their belief that sexuality between consenting adults is admissible independent of marital relations, and communication with departed spirits amongst other doctrines. James Richardson defines these beliefs as follows: “Although the group espouses a Christian fundamentalist belief system, its sexual ethics are remarkably flexible and justified through the founding prophet’s theological innovations (Richardson and Davis, 1983). The group sanctions sex between single heterosexual members and sex outside the bonds of matrimony, and for a few years the COG sanctioned the use of sex as a recruitment tool, an Evangelical ministry referred to as “flirty fishing” (Richardson and Davis 1983: Wallis 1979).
The Family has a very articulate set of eschatological beliefs, which they have articulated in a wide array of posters, tracts, booklets and videos for the general public. They believe that mankind is on the precipice of the final events spelled out in the Bible which will lead to Jesus Christ’s imminent return. Much of their outreach centers on this theme, as well as the message of salvation through the acceptance of Christ as one’s savior.
For more information, please click on the links below that go directly to detailed write-ups of The Family’s “Policy Statements” on line:
Christ-centered Bible-Based Education (June ’92)
Our Stance Against Physical Violence (March ’93)
Our Statement of Faith (April ’92)
Our Support (October ’92)
Socialisation (August ’92)
The Heritage and Home Life of our Children (April ’92)
Our Response to Allegations of Mind Control and Brainwashing (March ’93)
Communicating with Heavenly Messengers
Women in The Family
Bainbridge, William Sims. 1997. The Sociology of Religious Movements. New York: Routledge.
Berg, David (Mo). 1972. The True Story of Moses and the Children of God. Children of God.
Berg, David (Moses). 1976. The Basic Mo Letters. HK: Gold Lion Publishers.
Chancellor, James D. 2000. Life in the Family: An Oral History of the Children of God. Syracuse University Press. 291 pp.
Davis, Rex and James T. Richardson. 1976. “The Organization and Function of the Children of God.” Sociological Analysis 37: 321-339.
Lewis, James R. and Melton, J. Gordon eds. 1994. Sex, Slander, and Salvation: Investigating The Family/Children of God. Stanford, California: Center For Academic Publication.
Many of the chapters of Sex, Slander, and Salvation: Investigating The Family are available on-line and may be accessed directly from the contents listing below:
Chapter 1: Heaven’s Children: The Children of God’s Second Generation. (Susan J. Palmer) http://www.thefamily.org/dossier/books/book1/chapter1.htm
Chapter 2: Update on “The Family”: Organizational Change and Development in a Controversial New Religious Group. (James T. Richardson) http://www.thefamily.org/dossier/books/book1/chapter2.htm
Chapter 3: The Family: History, Organization and Ideology. (David G. Bromley and Sidney H. Newton) http://www.thefamily.org/dossier/books/book1/chapter3.htm
Chapter 4: Psychological Assessment of Children in the Family. (Lawrence Lilliston and Gary Shepherd) http://www.thefamily.org/dossier/books/book1/chapter4.htm
Chapter 5: Field Observations of Young People’s Experiences and Role in The Family. (Gary Shepherd and Lawrence Lilliston) http://www.thefamily.org/dossier/books/book1/chapter5.htm
Chapter 6 : Keeping the Faith and Leaving the Army: TRF Supporters of the Lord’s Endtime Family.(Charlotte Hardman) http://www.thefamily.org/dossier/books/book1/chapter6.htm
Chapter 7: The Children of God and The Family in Italy. (Massimo Introvigne) http://www.thefamily.org/dossier/books/book1/chapter7.htm
Chapter 8: From “Children of God” to “The Family”: Movement Adaptation and Survival. (Stuart A. Wright) http://www.thefamily.org/dossier/books/book1/chapter8.htm
Chapter 9 The Children of God, Family of Love, The Family. (David Millikan) http://www.thefamily.org/dossier/books/book1/chapter9.htm
Afterword: The Family: Where Does it Fit? (J. Gordon Melton)
Melton, J. Gordon. 1986. Encyclopedic Handbook of Cults in America. New York: Garland Publishing Inc.
Melton, J. Gordon. 1993. Encyclopedia of American Religions (5th edition). Detroit: Gale Research Inc.
Palmer, Susan J. and Charlotte E. Hardman (eds). 1999. Children in New Religions. Piscataway, NJ: Rutgers University Press. (Volume contains chapter on The Family children).
Pritchett, Douglas. 1985. The Children of God, Family of Love: An Annotated Bibliography. New York: Garland Publishing.
Stark, Rodney, and William Sims Bainbridge. 1987. A Theory of Religion. New York: Peter Land. [Reprinted, 1996 by Rutgers University Press]
Van Zandt, David E. 1991. Living in the Children of God. New Jersey: Princeton University Press.
Wallis, Roy. 1976. “Observations on the Children of God.” Sociological Review 24: 807-829.
Wallis, Roy. 1979. “Sex, Marriage, and the Children of God.” Salvation and Protest: Studies of Social and Religious Movements (Roy Wallis ed.). New York: St. Martin Press.
Wallis, Roy. 1981. “Yesterday’s Children: Culture and Structural Change in a New Religious Movement.” The Social Impact of New Religious Movements (Bryan Wilson ed.). New York: Rose of Sharon Press.
World Services. 1995. The History of the Family. Zurich, Switzerland.
Created by Paul Jones
For Soc 257: New Religious Movements
University of Virginia
Spring Term, 1998.
Photo credits: Courtesy of The Family
Last modified: 12/26/01