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'Victims gradually lose their ability to make independent decisions and exercise informed consent.'
- Dr Margaret Singer


Life in 'The Children Of God' - Able's Story
(Name withheld)

Who are the Children of God

The Children of God, The Family of Love, was founded in California in 1968. Many Jesus People joined its ranks and its ministry was mainly to the young & hippie types. It was founded by David Berg (Moses David) an ex pastor of the ‘Christian Missionary Alliance’ who claimed to be the end time prophet ‘David’ spoken of in Ezekiel 34:23. The group became quite fanatical and had lots of media coverage as ‘the sex cult’, and more recently the raids on the Family homes by D.O.C.S., with allegations of child abuse made the headlines.

My life before

I grew up in a utopian seaside town learned to surf and completed a trade as a motor mechanic. I had no sooner completed my trade at the age of 20 when my mother passed away. A sequence of events was put in motion from that point that was to mould my life in many significant ways.

My father decided to travel back to his homeland in northern Europe for a visit and invited my sister and I to come along and make it a family experience. Feeling that this was the opportunity of a lifetime I made the decision to go along. I had a girl friend at the time I was quite serious with, but felt I was too immature for marriage. She agreed to wait for me for one year but six months into my journey she broke it off and married someone else. In my desire to learn about myself and grow emotionally most of my traveling was experienced alone which resulted in my feeling down and depressed. I also had a strong sense of destiny coupled with an ever-increasing dread of going back to Australia where I felt a life of nothingness awaited me. My girlfriend was gone, my father stayed on in Europe and my sister would live in Sydney. I also wanted experience and adventure not another secular job!

Recruited, vulnerable or something in between?

I met the Children of God (The Family) in Amsterdam while hitch hiking through Europe. At the time I was vulnerable to anything on offer, and quite disillusioned with life. It was then that I met the most wonderful people. Their happiness, zeal, and apparent freedom from the norms of society really took me in. They told me that they lived ‘by faith’ simply trusting in God to supply their needs. I visited their commune and felt such unity and love. This was refreshing after my bout with loneliness and depression in the real world. However the experience of meeting the group did set off a conflict within myself that lasted for months after I joined them and it never really went away. It was a strange nagging feeling that something was wrong, yet not being able to pinpoint exactly what it was. It was a bit like the movie “Stepford wives” where I had stepped into a surreal world of perfection. In this world there was no outside frame of reference to compare to. This was coupled with the fact that I was kept completely occupied with the group’s ideology and times of contemplation were seen to be listening to the devils doubts.

It was pointed out to me from the Bible that the ‘true church’ in the book of acts lived communally, and shared all their possessions. Families and former friends were renounced because, “a mans foes shall be they of his own household. He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me...” (Matt 10:36 ,37 linked with 2 Tim 3:12) “and all that live Godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution”. It was with these teachings that we learned that our families and friends were our greatest potential enemies. I then changed my name to Abel and wrote a letter to my father telling him that as a father he had become redundant. I had only one father now, and that was God. It broke his heart.

Life in the group

For the first 3 months I had a ‘buddy’ with me continually and never went any where on my own. This was to protect me from listening to the devils doubts supposedly, but in reality to isolate me from anyone else’s opinion, in fact we never listened to the radio or watched TV and the only movies watched were ones specifically recommended by the group.

As I grew in ‘the faith’ I was gradually introduced to the more controversial beliefs of the group in metered doses. Little things like ‘the end justifies the means”. Basically anything that benefits the cause is OK. This line of thinking was applied to everything from collecting unemployment benefits, to bribing officials for visas. In my time in the group I smuggled goods across borders, exchanged currency on the black market, and misrepresented myself to businesses and churches in order to gain their support. If ever I baulked in my deceptive practices I was asked, “Don’t you have the faith for it?” Prior to joining I used to pride myself on my honesty, now my values were becoming the group’s values.

Sin was considered to be “Whatever is not of faith” so according to our interpretation, if we believed that we could do something unethical or immoral then it was not sin to us. So sin became a totally subjective thing and a very confusing issue.

After about a year in the group I married my wife, and since birth control was seen to show a lack of faith our first baby was born nine months later. It was then that ‘Flirty Fishing’ was introduced. This was the practice of religious prostitution in order to win males to the group. This “prostitution” was not practiced for monetary gain but in the conviction that if people saw first hand an expression of radical selfless love in action they would see reflected the sacrifice that Christ made on the cross for the sins of mankind. It was also justified with the thinking, that since men have such a high sex drive, it must be a physical need rather than a desire, and we as Christians have a responsibility to provide people with their needs. After all Jesus laid down his life for us, so it is no great thing for us to lay down our wives for him. I have never known greater emotional pain and have never made a greater sacrifice.

Promoted at last

Around this time we had moved to Australia and became District Shepherds (middle leadership). This was a real eye opener for me as from one day to the next the people under us offered total unquestioning obedience. It was about this time that a new direction of the family was introduced, a push into SE Asia. We took up the challenge and went to India where we stayed for four years. During this time I had a lot of job satisfaction. We constantly performed in schools and colleges taught Religious Education in schools and colleges and did a lot of what I thought missionary work was all about. We were sponsored (mostly by mainstream Christians) while we were there, and much of our time was un-supervised by leaders. This meant that we were able to focus more on what we deemed important and not so much on the group’s idiosycracies. This came to an end, after three challenging years.

Re Training and Leaving

It was then a new phase in the family began called the ‘Re-training Revolution’, and all current leadership were demoted and brought into larger centres for supervision. Thus began the worst year of our lives. For one year we were belittled, scrutinised, criticised, put down and exorcised, sadly we were willing participants in our own torture. We really believed that this was making us better people. It did finally start to take its toll though and we started asking some questions. The catch phrase of the day was “ Love is discipline”. We started asking, “but isn’t love other things as well?” This turned the heat up even hotter and we were threatened with ex-communication. It was during this time that I was forced to pray against my father’s Christian influence in my life. I loved and admired my Dads unwavering faith so this was a betrayal of someone I really cared about. To this day I am ashamed of the weakness of that moment capitulating to save my own skin. In my frustration I turned more and more to my Bible and less and less to the writings of the group for comfort. This caused me to question the group more, this in turn brought more pressure to bear and we were kicked out of the group in Bombay India with no where to go. We now had five children and one on the way.

We were able to borrow money from our families to return to Australia, and the painstaking recovery process had begun. This was a relief for my older children as they had suffered extremely harsh physical discipline and emotional manipulation while in the group. Any breaches of discipline or minor problems the children had, even a runny nose was seen as a reflection of the parents spiritual state. So what was seen by the outside world as wonderful obedient polite children was the result of intense control and discipline, to the point where even a look was enough to pull them into line.

Back From the Moon

Re entering mainstream society with an eleven year gap wasn’t easy. We were out of touch with news, sports, current affairs, music and pretty much everything that ‘normal’ people do or talk about. I had work colleagues ask; “Have you been on the moon?” We had just been removed from everything in our lives that mattered, career, friends, and dignity as we slowly began to realise that we had been duped into living a lie. We felt stupid ashamed and alienated. Our trust in people was shattered to the point that we could not trust anyone to help us either.

I had other problems too as I tried to come to grips with the enormity of my exit from the group. I was drinking heavily about a litre of red wine a night, my marriage was on the brink of disaster and I was in such an emotional state that whenever we would sing hymns at church I would cry uncontrollably. Of course the Pentecostals interpreted this as “super spiritual” which gave me even higher standing in their eyes. The truth of the matter was of course that I was having an emotional breakdown.

Sadly we found that it was the exceptional churches that had any understanding whatsoever of religious abuse, varying from the sublime to the ridiculous. Either they wanted to cast demons out (we were sick of that from the group as exorcisms were common place) or they held the view that we had left one church and joined another and that it was just a matter of changing doctrinal beliefs. We finally found a church that was warm and accepting for our healing, and it was with great trepidation that we shared our story with selected individuals.

We met zealous Christians along the way who immediately after hearing where we had been felt it their God given right to put us straight regarding doctrine. While I don’t for a minute doubt the genuine concern intended, it wasn’t what we needed. We needed lots of loving acceptance. We needed friends, not standards. The greatest relief was to find out that cult groups have an identifiable pattern. Also to gain some understanding from reading on the subject what had actually happened to us in the way of manipulation and control.

20 years of hindsight

Time has passed and it is now some 20 years since we left the group. Our children have grown into adulthood and though they are all model citizens they still all feel the group has adversely affected them. We have witnessed many fragmented families leaving the COG and often the fallout in their lives is horrendous. Due to the free sex policy children and teens are often the result of mixed families, have left a parent or relatives behind in the group and have had a harshly disciplined childhood. They have had no formal study though they are usually very bright intelligent people and the morality which they have been taught from birth is pretty much counter culture. Where does this leave them? Often with little other option than to turn to alcohol or drugs for comfort, and to more dubious means of supporting themselves. If and when they do learn the skills necessary there is a knowing that they will never really fit in. They feel robbed of a childhood, robbed of education and robbed of opportunity. With all of this in mind my family has escaped relatively unscathed for which I am truly thankful. There are a number of websites dedicated to ex “children of god”, which testify graphically to the damage done.

Disclaimer: This page is about groups, organisations or movements, which may have been called "cults" and/or "cult-like" in some way, shape or form.  But not all groups called either "cults" or "cult-like" are harmful.  Instead, they may be benign and generally defined as simply people intensely devoted to a person, place or thing.  An account from one person must be read as that; ideas could have been taken out of context or have been misunderstood.  Also, practices may change over time, or between one centre and another.  CIFS encourages readers to research widely before forming an opinion.  Information from one single source would need to be judged against other sources and one's own personal experience.  Therefore, the discussion or mention of a group, organisation or person on this page is not necessarily meant pejoratively. 
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