The Children of God, now known as The Family International was one of the vilest of all cults and certainly the worst of the Christian cults. Often times called the sex cult, it was also, with reason, called the Church of Pedophilia. The Founder, David Berg, also known as “Moses David” or “Dad” and later “Grandpa”, combined hard core fundamentalist Christianity, with liberal sexual ethics along with his own, sick, sexual fantasies.
As Berg’s followers grew, Berg dubbed them the “Children of God” in 1968. The name was changed to “Family of Love” in 1978 and later to its present “Family International,” often called “The Family” or TF. It has adherents in many countries, often living in communes that were originally called “colonies” but are now called “homes.”
Berg taught that Christians must follow the Bible but asserted he was the Christian prophet for this era. His writings, called “Mo Letters,” informed his followers of new divine revelations. When he died in 1994, his widow, Karen Zerby, succeeded him as leader and remains so to this day.
In classic counter-culture language, Berg declared himself against “the System” which he believed hypocritically distorted God’s Word into a sexually repressive message. In Mo Letters, he denounced “System” teachings against masturbation, writing, “Enjoy yourself and sex and what God has given you to enjoy, without fear or condemnation! For ‘perfect love casts out all fear,’ for ‘fear hath torment,’ particularly sexual fears [which] can be physical torture!” He did not want his followers to suffer as he did “the horrors of such sexual frustrations and condemnations.”
Berg encouraged female followers to abandon bras and even publicly expose their breasts. His 1970 poem “Mountin’ Maid!” declared, “I am for the mini-blouse/Or the see-through at my house . . . Let those mountains be more visible/And their clothing more divisible.”
In 1974, Berg introduced a controversial conversion method called “Flirty Fishing” or “FFing.” Writer Stephen A. Kent observed that Berg advocated, “COG members practice recruitment and resource acquisition through sexual activities.” Berg urged females to become “hookers for Jesus.”
One of Berg’s many ‘Flirty Fishing’ publications. James T. Richardson reports, “‘Flirty fishing’ involved witnessing to outsiders in such a way that it might even involve sex between female members” and potential converts. Richardson notes, “The women had to be willing (as did their husbands [if married]) for them to ‘go all the way’ if it was deemed necessary in order to ‘reach someone for Christ.’” The practice outraged traditional Christians who believed the Bible forbids non-marital sex. Some people left the organization because of FFing. Babies born as a result of sexual proselytizing were called “Jesus Babies” in the organization. Missions in Europe sometimes opened discotheques as a creative way to proselytize. A disco in Italy was raided in 1979 and some members were charged with prostitution.
Some of Berg’s most alarming teachings appeared to condone pedophilia and incest. Mo Letters from the 1970s discuss a babysitter who masturbated and fellated Berg when he was only three years old. Berg asserted her actions did not do him “any harm.” In 1973, he wrote, “Incest, or certain forms of sex with certain specified close relatives was not made illegal until the Mosaic Law 2600 years after Creation.” He also wrote, “Marriages of brothers and sisters, mothers and sons and even fathers and daughters were very common in ancient times and were not even considered incestuous, much less illegal.”
Karen Zerby gave birth to a “Jesus Baby” in 1975. The product of FFing and stepson of David Berg was named David Moses Zerby. Later, his name was legally changed to Richard Peter Smith and still later to Richard Rodriguez. As a child, he was nicknamed “Davidito.” Berg and Zerby believed Rick was a “divine prince,” destined to take over the ministry. Raised without hypocritical “System” sexual inhibitions, he would grow into a mighty religious leader.
Another of Berg’s many ‘Flirty Fishing’ publications. In 1982, the Family International published a book entitled The Story of Davidito. It purports to be the story of his early childhood as told by one of his nannies. That nanny, Sara, writes that she hopes the rearing of Davidito will begin a “Childcare Revolution” and exclaims, “Thank You Jesus! A new example was set before us.” She writes that she and other nannies fellated Davidito to “clean” his penis. He was also allowed to watch adults having sex. Sara writes that readers learning about “Davidito’s sexy experiences” should “prayerfully” learn from them and “follow the Lord’s leadings.” The book is heavily illustrated with photographs, some of which show the boy and an adult woman cuddling, both naked. In a Mo Letter, Berg proclaimed, “You can throw a lot of that old stuff out! We’re writing a whole new childcare series called The Davidito Series. . . . Davidito was to become an example to the world and inspire lots of childcare material! Thank God!”
Former sect members say Berg encouraged adult-child sex. More often than not, they say, the chosen child was Rodriguez, the son of Karen Zerby, who Berg called his queen. Zerby became the leader of the sect when Berg died in 1994.”Jesus Freaks” author Don Lattin says Berg “wanted his child to embrace sexuality, to be a sexual being as an infant and growing up.” Former members say Berg and Zerby wrote about their beliefs in papers distributed to members. In Berg and Zerby’s manifesto, Rodriguez was the main character. Former member Davida Kelley said, “I actually witnessed Karen Zerby having intercourse with her own son, Rick Rodriguez, at age 11.” Kelley says she, too, had been abused by Berg, starting at age 5. “You were only required to have actual intimate intercourse with David Berg once you were, like, the mature age of, like, 12,” she says sarcastically.
It is estimated that during Bergs reign, at least a thousand children were sexually molested. Although the “church” maintains that none of this goes on at present, Zerby remains in charge of the cult, although in hiding. It must be said that not only did she condone these rites, she willingly participated in them. She has never come forward to apologize. Many of the second generation members have committed suicide or gone on to lead self destructive lives. One of the saddest cases was that of the “crown prince”, Ricky Rodriguez. Rodriguez, who escaped from “The Family International” in 2001, apparently was so deeply scarred that he was making plans to kill his mother. On January 7, 2005, Ricky made a video tape describing his plans to go after his mother, and others that had abused him as a child. On January 8, he found his childhood nanny, Angela Smith, and invited her back to his apartment in Tucson. Former member Kelley says “she was one of the many female adults that had intercourse with Rick Rodriguez.” Unable to get the location of his mother from Angela, he stabbed he and then cut her throat. Later that night, he drove to Blythe, CA, and killed himself with a bullet to the head.
The pain that he lived with is audible in the video below. I will leave you with the statement released by his “church”: “Our prayers are that Ricky’s actions and the pursuant attention from the media won’t whip up a new reaction at the behest of our detractors, which will once again cause harm, trauma and abuse to the innocent.”