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David Brandt Berg
February 18, 1919
|Died||October 1, 1994 (aged 75)|
|Other names||Moses David, King David|
|Occupation||Founder, Children of God|
(m. 1944; div. 1970)
David Brandt Berg (February 18, 1919 – October 1, 1994), also known as King David, Mo, Moses David, Father David, Dad, or Grandpa to followers, was the founder and leader of the new religious movement currently known as The Family International. Berg's group, founded in 1968 among the counterculture youth in Southern California, gained notoriety for incorporating sexuality into its spiritual message and recruitment methods. Berg and his organization have subsequently been accused of a broad range of sexual misconduct, including child sexual abuse.
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Berg often said that his rich heritage played a key role in shaping his character and religious convictions. Many of his forefathers, as well as both of his parents, were deeply committed Christians. Some of them were members of the Dunkards, a conservative offshoot of the Church of the Brethren. State persecution of the sect drove the Brandt family from Germany to America, where they settled in Pennsylvania and Ohio around 1750.
His maternal grandfather was Rev. John Lincoln Brandt (1860–1946), a Disciples of Christ minister, author, and lecturer of Muskogee, Oklahoma. John Lincoln Brandt, Berg's grandfather, had a dramatic conversion in his mid-twenties and immediately entered full-time Christian service. For years he was a Methodist circuit rider. He later became a leader of the Alexander Campbell movement of the Disciples of Christ, a restoration movement that developed into the current Protestant denomination Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).
Early years (1919–1969)
Berg was born on February 18, 1919 in Oakland, California. He was the youngest of three children of Hjalmer Emmanuel Berg and Rev. Virginia Lee Brandt, both parents were Christian evangelists. His father was Swedish. David Berg's mother Virginia Brandt Berg, is the individual whom he credited for influencing him the most. Although raised in a Christian home, Virginia became an atheist and wild society girl during her college years. However, shortly after the birth of her first child, she broke her back in an accident and spent the next five years disabled and bedridden, often hovering near death. Eventually she recovered and spent the rest of her life with her husband, Hjalmer, in active Christian service as a pastor and evangelist. Virginia and Hjalmer were no strangers to controversy. They were expelled from the Disciples of Christ after publicly testifying of her "divine healing", which was contrary to church doctrine. They subsequently joined a new denomination, the Christian and Missionary Alliance, shortly before David Berg's birth. In later years, their missionary zeal and disdain for denominational politicking often set them at variance with the conservative faction of that church's hierarchy, causing them to work largely as independent pastors and evangelists.
David Berg spent his early years traveling with his parents, who pursued their evangelical mission with a passion. In 1924, they settled in Miami, Florida, after Virginia successfully led a series of large revivals at the Miami Gospel Tabernacle. This became Berg's home for the next 14 years, while his mother and father were pastors at a number of Miami churches. As is the case with many pastors and their dependents, the Berg family depended entirely on the generosity of their parishioners for their support, and often had difficulty making ends meet. This instilled in Berg a lifelong habit of frugality, which he encouraged his followers to adopt.
In the late 1930s, Virginia Berg returned to her favorite ministry, that of a traveling evangelist. David Berg accompanied her, and for most of the next 10 years acted as her chauffeur, song leader, and general assistant.
Like his father, Berg became a minister in the Christian and Missionary Alliance, and was placed at Valley Farms, Arizona.[when?] Berg was eventually expelled from the organization for differences in teachings and for alleged sexual misconduct with a church employee. In Berg's writings he claimed the expulsion was due to his support for greater racial diversity among his congregation.
Fred Jordan, Berg's friend and boss, allowed Berg and his personal family to open and run a branch of his Soul Clinic in Miami, Florida as a missionary training school. After running into trouble with local authorities for his aggressive disapproval with evolution being taught as fact in public schools, Berg moved his family to Fred Jordan's Texas Soul Clinic, in Western Texas.
The Children of God/The Family (1968–1994)
David Berg, along with his wife and children, founded the organization known as the Teens for Christ in Huntington Beach, California in 1968.
While in California, after receiving strong resistance from local churches due to his followers picketing them, he took the whole group of about 40 people "on the road".
It was while they were camped in Louis and Clark Park that a news reporter first called them "The Children of God".
In January of 1970, Berg went to his former employer, Fred Jordan, to beg for the use of his training camp near Thurber, Texas, about 100 miles west of Dallas.
News stations reported the activity and many came to the camp to see the spectacle. From this point on, the group grew and began to spread.
In the mid-70's, Berg began preparing his followers for a "revelation" he had about "Flirty Fishing" or winning important, influential men through sex appeal.
In 1975, after letting everyone know via one of his letters that his mistress, Maria, gave birth to a Jesus baby, Berg changed the name to "The Family of Love" or "The Family". Eventually, this was changed to, "The Family International".
Berg called on his followers to devote their full-time to spreading the message of Jesus' love and salvation as far and wide as possible, unfettered by convention or tradition, and to teach others to do the same.
In the early 1970s, he sent out a letter saying all members should tithe. His reasoning was that all pastors receive tithes from their church and since he was providing them with his "Wonder Working Words", that group members were obligated to read, that they should tithe to his office.
Berg, though himself sexually compromised, decried the deadness of America's churches and decay of moral values in Western society. He viewed the trend towards a New World Order as setting the stage for the rise of the Antichrist.
Berg lived in seclusion, communicating with his followers and the public via nearly 3,000 "Mo Letters" ("Mo" from his pseudonym "Moses David") that he wrote on a wide variety of subjects. These typically covered spiritual or practical subjects and were used as a way of disseminating and introducing policy and religious doctrine to his followers.
His writings were often extreme and uncompromising in their denunciation of what he believed to be evil, such as mainstream churches, pedophilia laws, capitalism, and Jews, yet he always admonished the reader to "love the sinner but hate the sin".
A core message to The Family's doctrine of sexual sharing was expressed in a 1980 Mo Letter - "The Devil Hates Sex! - But God Loves It!". This attitude was supported and made easier to digest by the counterculture and sexual liberation of the time, but was defined in The Family by Berg's pedophilia.
He espoused doctrines that mainstream Christians denounce as heretical, including encouraging adultery as being what he called "revolutionary". However, many of his present-day followers argue that his writings are permeated with the love of God.
Death and legacy
After his death in 1994, his wife Karen Zerby (aka Maria Berg) led The Family, and there were 6,000 adults and 3,000 children as members of The Family worldwide, in 50 countries. There were investigations of The Family for child abuse, and prostitution in Argentina, France, Spain, Australia, Venezuela, and Peru.
David Berg has been accused of leading a cult which promoted assaults on children and sexual abuse of women and children for decades. Former members have told their stories in widely disseminated media reports, though official inquiries at the time found no evidence of child abuse. Berg was also personally accused of pedophilia. He recalled in his letters how he was taught to masturbate in church by another boy his age. When his mother caught him, he was forced to masturbate in front of his father. Oftentimes Berg would explicitly describe his sexual preferences and recalled that one thing he regretted was that he never slept with his mother.
In a child custody case in the United Kingdom Berg's granddaughter, Merry Berg, testified that Berg sexually molested her when she was a young teenager. Another of Berg's granddaughters, Joyanne Treadwell Berg, spoke on American television about being sexually abused by David Berg. Berg's adopted son, Ricky Rodriguez, wrote an article on the web site MovingOn.org in which he describes Berg's sexual activity involving a number of women and children. Davida Kelley, the daughter of Rodriguez's nanny, Sarah Kelley, accused Berg of molesting her in a June 2005 Rolling Stone article. In the same article, a woman identified as Armendria alleged that David Berg sexually abused her when she was 13 years old. Berg's pedophillic actions extended beyond his personal victims, affecting many children in The Family as child sexual abuse became organised with child sexual abuse material (child pornography) created in alignment with Berg's instructions.
Berg's institutionalisation of pedophilia and sexual abuse was also described in Not Without My Sister, an autobiographical recount of the sexual abuse of three sisters who eventually escaped The Family. The book describes videos being taken of very young children engaging in sexually explicit activities for Berg's consumption, even as a method for his choosing of child brides. Serena Kelley was one of Berg's child brides and was presented by her mother at age 3 to be selected.
His distant Jewish ancestry notwithstanding—in 1745, one of his mother's forebears, Jewish by birth but a Christian convert, moved to the American colonies and lived as a Mennonite—David Berg was outspokenly anti-Semitic, believing that the Jews were responsible for the death of Jesus, as well as all persecution of Christians in the world. In support of his views of an international Jewish conspiracy, he cited the forged Protocols of the Elders of Zion, but disclaimed the label "anti-Semitic".
Berg predicted several apocalyptic events that did not occur. His best-known prediction was that the comet Kohoutek (1974) would wreak havoc and possible destruction. This prediction was shared by others outside The Family, such as Joseph F. Goodavage in the January 1974 issue of SAGA magazine. He also predicted that California would imminently fall into the ocean, the Great Tribulation would begin in 1989, and the Second Coming of Jesus would happen in 1993.
Berg lived in seclusion and apart from the main body of his followers. Due to his obsession with secrecy, until his death, any photos of him appearing in the group's publications had his face covered with pencil drawings, often depicting him as an anthropomorphic lion.
Berg married his first wife, Jane Miller (known as "Mother Eve" in the Children of God), on July 22, 1944 in Glendale, California. They had four children together: Linda (known as "Deborah" in the Children of God); Paul, d. April 1973 (known as "Aaron" in the Children of God); Jonathan Emanuel (known as "Hosea" in the Children of God); and Faith.
Berg informally adopted Ricky Rodriguez, the son of his second wife (and present leader of The Family) Karen Zerby. In the 1970s and 1980s, sexually suggestive photographic depictions of Rodriguez (aka "Davidito") with adult caretakers were disseminated throughout the group by Berg and Zerby in a childrearing handbook known as The Story of Davidito. In January 2005, Ricky Rodriguez murdered one of the female caretakers shown in the handbook before taking his own life several hours later.
Media featuring Berg
- Children of God, Documentary, Directed by John Smithson, 1994
- Cult Killer, documentary on Ricky Rodriguez and child abuse within The Family International
- A&E's Cults and Extreme Belief, episode 3 (2018) is about David Berg, the Children of God, its victims, and the survivors.
- Zandt, David E. Van (July 14, 2014). Living in the Children of God. Princeton University Press. pp. 19, 31. ISBN 978-1-4008-6215-3.
- Eskridge, Larry (May 31, 2013). God's Forever Family: The Jesus People Movement in America. Oxford University Press. p. 79. ISBN 978-0-19-931523-9.
- Lattin, Don (October 13, 2009). Jesus Freaks: A True Story of Murder and Madness on the Evangelical Edge. Harper Collins. ISBN 9780061745911. Retrieved February 1, 2018 – via Google Books.
- Berg, David (1978). My Childhood Sex!—Doin' What Comes Naturally.
Adelle Grondoerf, the big German woman whom I hated, the one that pinched me .. I was in love with that little Mexican girl, she was wonderful, she really made me happy! She used to suck me to sleep my for my nap every afternoon .. before I had this baby-sitter I never wanted to take my nap! But after Maria the Mexican came along I was always wanting to know if it was time
- xFamily.org Publications Database — contains many of the "Mo Letters" written by David Berg
- "XFamily - Children of God". www.xfamily.org. Retrieved February 1, 2018.
- "David Berg; Leader of Controversial Sect". Newspapers.com. Hartford Courant, Associated Press. November 25, 1994. p. 32. Retrieved November 26, 2020.
- "Sex cult survivors come out of the shadows". cbc.ca. Retrieved February 1, 2018.
- Bromley, David G.; Newton, Sidney H. (2001). "The Family (Children of God)". In Lewis, James R. (ed.). Odd Gods: New Religions and the Cult Controversy. Prometheus Books. pp. 160–164. ISBN 1-57392-842-9.
- Berg and Anti-Semitism on xFamily.org
- "Berg on Pedophilia - XFamily - Children of God". xfamily.org. Retrieved February 1, 2018.
- "David Berg - XFamily - Children of God". xfamily.org. Retrieved February 1, 2018.
- Kent, Stephen A. (2000). "Lustful Prophet: A Psychosexual Historical Study of the Children of God's Leader, David Berg". Stephen A. Kent, Department of Sociology, University of Alberta. Retrieved June 20, 2008.
- "Moving On - Children of the Children of God". archive.xfamily.org.
- "Rolling Stone: The Life and Death of the Chosen One - XFamily - Children of God". www.xfamily.org. Retrieved February 1, 2018.
- "One ring to rule them all...my child bride cult ring". Serena Kelley. Retrieved April 8, 2021.
- Berg, David (December 20, 1973). "The Comet Comes". Children of God.
- "Prophecy". xFamily.org.
- Goodstein, Laurie (January 15, 2005). "Murder and Suicide Reviving Claims of Child Abuse in Cult (Published 2005)". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved November 26, 2020.
- Story of Davidito on xFamily.org
- Kaye, Randi (December 4, 2007). "Young man's suicide blamed on mother's cult". CNN. Retrieved November 26, 2020.
- Robbins, Thomas. Charisma in the Encyclopedia of Religion and Society edited by William H. Swatos (February 1998) ISBN 0-7619-8956-0
- Cults and Extreme Belief S1E3, aired June 5, 2018. Retrieved June 13, 2018.