From The Journal of Psychohistory 21 (4) Spring 1994

The Children of God

By Robert McFarland, MD

On October 31, 1993, River Phoenix, a popular young movie star, died of heroin and cocaine use on the streets of Los Angeles. Not only were his fans surprised at his use of drugs -he had a reputation as a vegetarian and ecologist- but they were even more startled when they learned from the People magazine article on his death that he had "lost his virginity" when he was four years old. What People didn't elaborate on, however, was that his parents belonged to a cult called The Children of God since he was a boy, and that this cult openly believed in using children for sexual purposes.

The Children of God began in the Sixties when David Berg, a minister in the Christian and Missionary Alliance, started a group called Teens for Christ. The group was like other Jesus People groups in its communal life style, but far more ascetic and apocalyptic, emphasizing the cutting of family ties, discipline and commitment to cult beliefs, which included total devotion to cult activities on the part of children of members. The group moved from California to various other locations in 1968, and Berg took the name of Moses David, proclaiming a new sexual ethic that included group love-making sessions. The group's activities proliferated to such a point that, by 1974, the Attorney General of New York issued a report after 18 months of investigation at request of Governor Nelson Rockefeller that alleged that they were engaged in kidnapping, imprisonment, virtual enslavement, prostitution, polygamy, rape and sexual abuse of children and incest. They recruited new members by using female members as "bait" -essentially religious prostitution- the women so deeply believing in Berg's teachings that God wanted them to serve sexually for Him that they agreed to become "hookers for Jesus." Berg himself published a book, My Little Fish, that members used as "a blueprint requiring adults to introduce their children to sexual experiences," according to the group's historian, David Van Zandt, who lived with the group in order to conduct sociological research. "During the early 1980s there was experimentation with small child sex including incest."

By 1981, the group, known as The Family or The Family of Love, had grown into a movement claiming over 2,000 homes in 76 Countries. Although they were skillful at public relations (they sang Christmas carols for Barbara Bush at the White House in 1992), everywhere they went legal problems arose from their sexual beliefs. A police raid in Australia in May 1992 placed 40 children in protective custody because of abuse; a month later, French police raided 12 group houses near Lyons, putting 40 children into custody; later a similar raid in Barcelona, Spain placed 22 children in protective custody. The most recent arrest was in Buenos Aires, Argentina, where 180 police raided a Family home and found 268 underfed and poorly clothed children along with literature promoting sex between adults and children and videotapes showing parents having sex with their children. The judge said the raid was based on "very strong...evidence of abuse of children [who lived] in the virtual state of servitude" plus sworn testimony of ex-members that children were separated from their parents and were encouraged to engage in sex with adults.

I recently spoke to an ex-member who was in the process of writing a book on the physical and sexual abuse of children in The Family. Mary Jones (a pseudonym) described how children were taught from birth that God wanted them to allow parents and other adults to use them sexually. "Parents were instructed how to sexually abuse their children and it was required," she told me. Gang-rape, incest and sodomy were quite common, she said, and children were sent to certain homes as "schools" where they were sexually abused. Children were also locked in isolation and horrendous punishments were inflicted upon them. If anyone refused to have sex, she said, they were caged, with no water and no toilet facilities, until they changed their mind. According to Jones, Berg preached that infants should be initiated into sex right after birth, so most children thought this was part of growing up. The result, she said, was that they constantly acted out sexually; the children that were rescued from the group in Spain, for instance, soon had to be isolated in a separate school because they kept on trying to initiate sexual intercourse with other children and adults in the regular school into which they were first put.

It is difficult to understand why critics of those who claim cult abuse of children is real do not bother to look at the extensive court and other evidence of the myriad cults that have been proven to exist and to abuse children. Excellent summaries on these groups can be found in such periodicals as Cultic Studies Journal, Family Violence & Sexual Assault Bulletin, and the publications and conferences of such groups as Believe the Children (PO Box 268462, Chicago IL 60626) Repeating the myth that "there is no real evidence" for cult abuse of children other than tainted reports of hypnotized patients is similar to those who deny the reports of Holocaust victims. Evidence abounds in such books as Larry Kahaner's Cults that Kill, and in the many conferences and publications of such groups as Believe the Children, International Cult Education Program and the Cult Awareness Network. It is our own disbelief of that evidence that is questionable.

People, November 15, 1993 and January 17, 1994.

2 David E. Van Zandt, Living in The Children of God. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1991.

3 W. douglas Pritchett, The Children of God: Family of Love.New York: Garland Publishing, 1985, Also see Marcia Rudin, "Women, Elderly, and Children in Religious Cults." Cultic Studies Journal, May 1984, pp 8-26.

4 Pritchett, p. xxl.

5 Ibid, p. xxv.

6 Va Zandt, Living in the Children of God, p. 170.

7 Ibid, p. xxvii.

8 The New York Times, September 3, 1993, p. A23

9 Ibid