In 1968, David Berg founded the Children of God cult in California. Berg was an evangelist who traveled to different churches spreading the word of his movement and singing hymns together with his followers — mostly vulnerable, rebellious youth. In just a couple of years, Children of God grew to about 200 members, with families and children living together in communes (via Timeline). In the public eye, Children of God seemed like a regular Christian group, with members preaching about Jesus and spreading the good word. As for Berg, he lived away from his followers, often communicating with them through letters, per Oregon Live.
In one letter Berg wrote (via Timeline), he described members of Children of God as protectors of “little lambs” who “laugh and sing and dance and play and f*** and bear lots of little lambs! And the shepherds like it!” Within the group, Berg was operating a sex ring involving Children of God members, including his own children. Berg, who was called Moses David by the group, ingrained “sexual sharing” in his followers. He even said that children were created by God to copulate and have children at 12 years old.
Activities in the Children of God cult
Over time, David Berg’s letters to his followers became more explicit, encouraging sexual activities regardless of age and relation to one another. By the early 1970s, Children of God members spread to different parts of the world to preach Berg’s message. In 1977, Berg came up with a new mandate that he called “Flirty Fishing” wherein women were ordered to use their charm and sexuality to lure male followers to join the cult. Per Timeline, hundreds of babies were conceived as a result of the mandate. However, Flirty Fishing was stopped in 1981 with the spread of AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases among Children of God members.
By the early 1990s, authorities were investigating the group’s activities. Children of God groups were present in approximately 70 countries with around 12,000 members, and reports of child prostitution were spreading. In Argentina, hundreds of children were taken into custody and their parents — consisting of different nationalities — faced charges of children’s rights, kidnapping, and racketeering, per The Washington Post. Arrests were also made in Australia, the United States, and other countries.
Berg’s own daughter, Deborah, was part of the cult and revealed that her father attempted to do sexual acts with her several times. “It was religious prostitution,” she said, per Timeline.
Where was David Berg during investigations?
Reports of illicit activities happening within Children of God were spreading, and in 1978, the cult was said to be dissolved. But this was just a facade — the name was dropped and changed to The Family of Love, and eventually just The Family, according to ATI.
David Berg went into hiding in 1971. Not much is known about where he went and what he did, but he continued to communicate with Children of God members through his letters. By the early 1990s, both Interpol and the FBI were after Berg. At that point, Berg was said to be in hiding in Argentina (via The Guardian). In 1994, per The Buffalo News, Berg was reported dead at 75 years old while still in hiding in Portugal.
After Berg’s passing, his second wife, Maria Fontaine — also known as Karen Zerby — assumed the leadership position of the organization. Per DavidBerg.org, he spent several years teaching Fontaine how to lead the group. The organization is still alive to this day, now operating under the name The Family International. However, it claims to no longer follow Berg’s teachings and takes a zero-tolerance approach to the sexual abuse of children.
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