Children of God was a cult formed in the late 1960s by evangelist David Berg, who preached about love, scriptures, and his own teachings. The organization grew throughout the years, forming small communities in different countries around the world. Eventually, in the 1990s, Children of God communities were raided, and it was revealed that sexual abuse of minors and incest was rampant in the cult. Per Britannica, former members of the cult — even David Berg’s own daughter — have come out to reveal the abuse they witnessed or endured during their time with the organization. One of its former members, actor Joaquin Phoenix, has also talked about his experience with Children of God in several interviews.
Phoenix’s parents joined the Children of God in its early years. Together with his siblings — River, Rain, Liberty, and Summer — he spent some of his childhood in Venezuela and Trinidad, as his parents were “archbishops” of the group and were sent there to preach. According to Joaquin, his parents thought that they had found a community within Children of God that shared their principles and ideals, per ET Online. “Cults rarely advertise themselves as such. It’s usually someone saying, ‘We’re like-minded people. This is a community,'” he shared.
Leaving the cult
According to Joaquin Phoenix, his parents were deeply religious people who wanted to do their part in spreading the good word, which is why they traveled as missionaries to different parts of the world. In fact, Phoenix was born into the cult as Joaquin Rafael Bottom in San Juan, Puerto Rico. As children, he and his siblings would go out on the streets singing about God and his teachings, Us Magazine reported.
Eventually, reports about the cult’s illicit activities involving children started to emerge, and letters from David Berg that contained his beliefs were no longer in line with the Bottoms’ values. It was then that the family decided that it was time to leave Children of God, as it wasn’t the organization that they thought it was. In 1977, when Phoenix was just 3 years old, he and his family boarded a ship from Venezuela to Miami to begin their new life away from the cult, according to Vanity Fair. In 1979, the entire family decided to move to Hollywood, and they changed their name from Bottom to Phoenix.
Phoenix said that his parents never neglected them as children. His mother also claimed to be so heartbroken after finding out the truth about the Children of God that it took several years for the pain to go away.
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