Though controversial for various reasons, in the media, the movement has become known as the "Sex Cult," a reflection of the fact that - under Berg's guidance - the Children of God developed a fixation with sex and sensuality resulting in deviant practices.
In the late seventies, Berg instituted the practice of "Flirty Fishing," in which women were encouraged to use their bodies in order to "fish for men."
The movement's publications, including some Mo Letters, books, and videos - later removed from circulation - appeared to approve of pedophilia and incest. More current publications continue to demonstrate a liberal attitude toward sexual relations that is not shared by orthodox Christians.
The group's current policy (as of 1995) forbids, under penalty of full excommunication, sexual contact with minors, and the group has not accepted any responsibility for abuses that occurred during the more permissive period created by Berg's writings. It maintains, rather, that any abuses were the work of individual members. According to Eileen Barker's book An Introduction to New Religious Movements, the group has been acquitted of all charges of sexual abuse of children. The Rt. Hon. Lord Justice Ward ruled in a 1995 court case that the group, including its top leadership had engaged in abusive sexual practices involving minors, that they had also engaged in severe corporal punishment and sequestration of minor children. However, in a last minute turn around, he said that The Family had abandoned these former practices and that they were a safe environment for children, with some reservations: he required that the group cease all corporal punishment of children in the United Kingdom, improve the education of members' children, denounce Berg's writings, and "acknowledge that through his writings Berg was personally responsible for children in The Family having been subjected to sexually inappropriate behaviour" [...].
Although the group has publicly renounced former policies and doctrines that condoned or encouraged sex between adults and minors, in their internal publications there has been no such renunciation. Evidence of this is represented by the following quote from Family leader Karen Zerby:
"This [sexual contact between adults and minors] is about the only subject where we're really going along with the System, we're playing along with them, we're acting like we believe what we did was wrong, because we have changed, and stopped doing it . . . We need to somehow explain to our [teenagers] that love and loving affection is not wrong. As it says in [Berg's writings], if it's not hurtful, if it's loving, then it's okay. Of course, having actual intercourse with a child wouldn't be okay as it wouldn't be loving, but a little fondling and sweet affection is not wrong in the eyes of God, and if they have experienced the same in the past they weren't 'abused.' . . . We need to explain to our [children] that any experience they may have had along these lines, if it was loving and if it was desired, was not wrong. We need to show them that even if in some case the experience for them wasn't so great, that by comparison to what goes on in the System, it still wasn't 'abuse.'" --[Karen Zerby], Summit '93, Mama Jewels #2, 1992. p.19.
Source: The Children of God Entry in Wikipedia, the free Encyclopedia. Last accessed, Mar. 22, 2005. Hyperlinks by Apologetics Index.
Currently, the controversial aspect of The Family's attitude to sex is 'sharing' - the practice of having a sexual relationship with another member (other than one's spouse) of the home in which one resides. Again, there are rules governing this practice. All spouses must agree; 'sharing' can only be practised within one home, and not between different homes or with outsiders; one cannot 'share' with more than one member in any one month. It also needs the permission of the 'Home Mother' and is only done after 'much discussion and prayer'. (I am not endorsing these policies, I should emphasize, only describing what they are.)
Christian history is replete with movements inspired by self-proclaimed prophets - messianic leaders who claim they are the mouthpiece for God.
Few of those prophets, however, were as obsessed with sex as David Berg.
"We have a sexy God and a sexy religion with a very sexy leader with an extremely sexy young following," Berg wrote. "So if you don't like sex, you better get out while you can."
Berg also made it clear that his word was God's word.
"I am God's man for this hour, and I am the prophet of God for you," he said. "You had better believe it or you are in serious spiritual trouble."
Berg died in 1994, but his movement lives on today as "The Family."
Other survivors of the Children of God include hundreds - perhaps thousands - of "Jesus babies" born in the 1970s and '80s. Their mothers were young missionaries who followed Berg's call to share sexual favors in order to bring young men to Christ.
One of the the most detailed examinations of Berg's prophecies and sexual practices is contained in a voluminous 1995 court judgment in a British child custody case.
In his conclusion, Lord Justice Alan Ward wrote that, at least until 1986, there was widespread child-to-child sex and sexual abuse of minors by adult members of the Children of God.
"I am completely satisfied that he was obsessed with sex and that he became a perverted man who recklessly corrupted his flock," Ward wrote.
Citing the prophet's explicit writings depicting young children as "sexual beings," the judge ruled that Berg "bears responsibility for propagating the doctrine which so grievously misled his flock and injured the children within it."
Another independent observer who has studied the Children of God, Steve Kent, agreed with Ward's conclusion that the Family has now stopped most of its past excesses.
But both men say the current leaders, including the founder's widow, the "prophetess" Maria Berg, must address the continuing psychological damage upon the descendants of the Children of God.
"What about the long-term effect on the children from that period," said Kent, a professor of sociology at the University of Alberta. "These kids got very little schooling, and grew up in a highly sexualized environment. Some have been able to pull themselves up, but many of them wound up in the sex trade."
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