It is not uncommon for a cult to go through various phases of development. Since the beliefs and practices of a cult are usually based on the teachings of the founder/leader, these can change on the whims of the leader himself. This group is a perfect example of this tendency. The group was originally called the Children of God, then it became The Family of Love, then The Family, and now it is called The Family International (TFI). Along with the name changes have come several changes in doctrine and practice.
The Children of God grew out of the popular youth revival of the 1960’s and 70’s known as the Jesus Movement. It was founded by David Berg around 1968. It was one of first groups to identify themselves as being “Jesus People.” Berg was born in 1919, the son of a pastor and had a background in the Christian and Missionary Alliance Church. However, Berg developed the idea that true Christianity was only to be found by leaving the traditional church. He became actively involved with Teen Challenge in the 1960’s, and then branched out with his own disciples—forming the Children of God. The COG were noted in the 60’s and 70’s for interrupting church services to proclaim the true message of God—as revealed to Berg.
Two of the central tenets of the Children of God were a fervent commitment to personal evangelism, and a passionate belief in the soon-to-occur Second Coming of Christ. There was also an emphasis on the Antichrist. These teachings compelled COG followers into a dedicated and often fanatical pursuit of proclaiming their gospel. Originally identified as a sect of fundamentalist Christianity, the COG quickly left the evangelical camp and became a heretical cult. This largely occurred because the teachings of Berg came to be viewed as inspired, on par with the Scriptures. Thus, the false teachings of Berg came to be viewed as truth of God. Along with the evolving doctrine was a evolving understanding of who Berg was. For example, Berg changed his name from David to Moses, believing that he was a fulfillment of the prophecy that God would send a prophet “like unto Moses” (cf. Deuteronomy 18:15). Berg was variously known as “Moses Berg,” “Moses David,” or “Mo.”
Berg issued numerous directives called Mo Letters which expounded his peculiar doctrines. Among these was the idea that all churches were wrong, and only the COG was the true church of God. He also developed a principle called the “Law of Love.” The Law of Love essentially says that anything done for the love of God is pure and righteousness, including acts that otherwise would be considered sinful. Based on this, he developed perverted views of sex and spirituality. The COG/The Family became famous for its “holy hookers,” female members of the group who raised money for the cult through prostitution. This practice was called “Flirty Fishing” and encouraged women to use sex as a means of evangelism, as well as fund raising. Officially Flirty Fishing was discontinued in 1987. However, the focus on sex has remained a core value in their belief system.
In the early 1970’s Berg faced many legal problems due to income tax evasion. He fled to Europe, where he reorganized the group as “The Family of God.” Though he returned to the U.S. briefly some years later, he spent most of the rest of his life overseas. The COG/Family spread around the world, especially becoming popular in Latin America and the Philippines. With the expansion of the group internationally there developed further legal problems—especially regarding the sexual abuse of children and child abduction. Berg died in 1994, with the leadership passing to his wife, “Mama Maria” (aka “Mother Eve” or “Queen Maria”) and then to her second husband, Steve Douglas Kelly.
Even after Berg’s death, his influence continued. TFI believes that Mo still gives instruction to The Family. Indeed, in recent years that has been an emphasis on Mo and other “Spirit Helpers” who bring messages from God to the group’s members. These “helpers” include a wide range of spirit beings—angels, Moses David himself, dead celebrities, even mythic figures and pagan deities, e.g., Aphrodite. Thus, in addition to the perverted sexual morals of the group, spiritualism has become another dangerous addition to their belief system.
Although the roots of the COG/Family were originally within evangelical Christianity, they have come very far from biblical Christianity. Berg denied the Trinity. He taught that Jesus was divine, and was the physical offspring of the sexual union of God with Mary. He believed that Jesus expressed his love for his women followers by having sex with them. Today the church teaches that as the Bride of Christ the group’s followers can experience sex with Christ during their own personal sexual intercourse. Rejecting the Trinity, the Holy Spirit is not viewed as divine, or even as a person. There is still a strong emphasis on evangelism. However, TFI teaches that although hell and the Lake of Fire are real, they are only temporary. Eventually everyone will be saved. But for now, salvation is only available to members of the Family.
Essentially, COG/The Family is a cult which has promoted the personal ambitions and sexual perversions of David Berg (“Mo”). Mo’s writings are replete with references to sex, and making sex a spiritual practice. Any type of sexual expression is permissible, even with children. The only prohibition is against male homosexuality. Thankfully, this cult has declined over the years, although it still exists and its perverted “gospel” does still win converts. Currently the world headquarters of the group is in Zurich, Switzerland, with a probable membership worldwide of about 10,000.
Summary of Beliefs
God: There is one God, but He is not a Trinity.
Jesus: Christ is “divine,” but was born through God’s having sexual intercourse with Mary.
Salvation: A personal acceptance of Christ is required. Only the members of The Family can be saved now. Universalism will come later.
Human nature: Man is created in God’s image but fallen.
Sin: Man is sinful and needs redemption through Christ.
Scripture: The Bible is authoritative, but so are teachings of Berg and the church leadership.
Truth: Is revealed and interpreted by the leadership of the group.