Cults and Secret Societies: Children of God
David Brandt Berg, frequently known by the pseudonym Moses David, was the founder and leader of the new religious movement formerly called Children of God, now called "The Family International"
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Hookers For Jesus
Cult leader David Berg actively encouraged his female followers to become “hookers for Jesus” by having sex with strangers to raise funds for his Children of God organization.
The disturbing form of evangelistic religious prostitution was known as “Flirty Fishing” – a reference to Matthew 4:19 from the New Testament in which Jesus tells two fishermen that he will make them “fishers of men.”
To Berg, mere flirting wasn’t enough; he insisted that intercourse was the most effective method of proselytizing his twisted beliefs to men and to show them “God’s love and mercy.”
Hookers For Jesus
Taking It Further
Women members who objected were reminded that their bodies didn’t really belong to them but to God and that they should not “let self and pride enter in.”
Taking the “FFing”, as it was known, an even more repugnant step further, Berg became so greedy for the funds the prostitution provided that he promoted an even more wanton method of raising cash with “Escort Servicing” in which female cult members worked as call girls for escort agencies.
All the cash they made was seized by the cult and most members lived around the world in relative poverty.
As the cult discouraged birth control, more than 300 babies were born as a direct result of “Flirty Fishing.”
Statistics Of The Flirty Fishing
The practice, which began in 1974, was officially abandoned in 1987 because of the AIDS outbreak.
The women “bait” were told to document their sexual evangelism and statistics compiled in 1988 put the number of men who had been “fished” at an astounding 223,000. As the cult discouraged birth control, more than 300 babies were born as a direct result of “Flirty Fishing.”
Berg, a former Baptist minister known to his followers as “Moses David”, founded the Children of God in Huntington Beach, California in 1968 and communicated with his followers via more than 3,000 published tracts written over nearly a quarter of a century which were referred to as “Mo’s Letters.”
Entering The Cult
New converts were expected to memorize a “set card” that contained over 300 verses and 10 chapters from the Bible. In what would become a habit for the cult, Berg switched its name to The Family of Love in 1978 amid claims of financial irregularities and the introduction of “Flirty Fishing” that alienated some of his original supporters.
Showing Them The Love
In presenting his new approach to soul-saving to his cult, Berg insisted:
“What better way to show them the Love of God than to do your best to supply their desperately hungry needs for love, fellowship, companionship, mental and spiritual communication, and physical needs such as food, clothing, shelter, warmth, affection, a tender loving kiss, a soft warm embrace, the healing touch of your loving hands, the comforting feeling of your body next to theirs—and yes, even sex if need be!”
Allegations Of Child Abuse
The specter of child abuse also hung over the cult, with some former members claiming they had been molested as children growing up in the free love culture.
Allegations of child sexual abuse emerged in the 1990s in a number of countries where the group, by then calling itself The Family, had communities. They included the UK and the US as well as Venezuela, Argentina, Australia, Brazil, France, Italy, Japan, Peru, Norway, Spain and Sweden.
Presenting The Evidence
Cult leaders maintained sexual behavior involving children was never encouraged but evidence was presented in London’s High Courts that Berg published a letter in which he allegedly wrote:
“There's nothing in the world at all wrong with sex as long as it's practiced in love, whatever it is or whoever it's with, no matter who or what age or what relative or what manner! And you don't hardly even say these words in private!”
Members were expected to donate at least 14% of their income to the cult.
Moving back to the more traditional leafleting to spread the word, the group continued to grow even after Berg’s death in October 1994, when his wife, Karen Zerby – known as “Mama Maria” – took over.
She wed one of Berg’s lieutenants, an American called Steven Kelly, who was known in the group as “King Peter.”
In 2004, the group changed its name again, this time to The Family International. At that time, there were about 10,000 members worldwide, all of whom were expected to donate at least 14% of their income to the cult.
Actress Rose McGowan, who starred in the TV series ‘Charmed’, was raised in the group’s communes in Italy and Europe, where her parents ran an Italian chapter of Children of God.
She told Howard Stern in an interview that she wasn’t sexually active as a child, adding, “I waited until I was 14.” She described “Flirty Fishing” as “creepy.”
Joaquin Phoenix and his late brother, River, also spent part of their childhoods as part of the cult. The ‘Gladiator’ star says he never witnessed any bizarre sexual behavior.
"I think my parents thought they’d found a community that shared their ideals,” he told Playboy.
“Cults rarely advertise themselves as such. It’s usually someone saying, 'We’re like-minded people. This is a community,' but I think the moment my parents realized there was something more to it, they got out."
Juliana Buhring, the fastest woman to ride around the world on a bicycle, wrote a best seller, ‘Not Without My Sister’, about her life growing up with the cult. She was abandoned by her parents when she was three and was moved around more than 30 countries during her childhood by guardians in the group.
With her two sisters, she co-founded an international group to help children born and raised in religious or extremist sects.
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