The David Brandt Berg Story
The Story of the Founder of 'The Family' Religious Cult
Can Free Sexual Expression Ever Be a Vital Part of the Activity of any Christian Group?
It is Time for a Biblical Answer to this Question
David Brandt Berg (1919-1994).
David Brandt Berg (1919-1994) often known by the pseudonym 'Moses David,' and by his friends as 'Mo,' was the founder and first leader of the religious movement originally known as "The Children of God" (now officially known as "The Family International").
Berg was born to Hjalmer Emmanuel Berg and Virginia Lee Brandt, and he was the youngest of three children. Virginia Brandt, a Christian evangelist, was the daughter of Rev. John Lincoln Brandt (1860 - 1946), a Disciples of Christ minister and writer from Muskogee, Oklahoma.
Interestingly, Dr. John Lincoln Brandt, Berg's grandfather, had experienced a dramatic conversion in his twenties, and entered full-time Christian service shortly afterwards. Starting out as a Methodist travelling preacher, he eventually became a leader in the somewhat controversial Alexander Campbell movement of the Disciples of Christ; this group had a separatist approach and were frequently at odds with the more established mainstream denominations.
The Berg family depended entirely on the generosity of their church members for their support, and often had extreme difficulties in clothing and feeding their family. Without doubt, this set a lifelong habit of frugality and financial caution in Berg, and he advocated such an approach to all of his followers.
The original 'Children of God' claimed a 1968 founding by David Berg at Huntington Beach, California and very early pictures seem to depict a hippy-like beach-frequenting group. Disturbingly, at least 6 former female members of David Berg's group later claimed that he sexually molested them while they were still children. This is not entirely surprising since Berg taught that free sexual love was a most beautiful thing and something which should be used to win converts. He advocated that his followers adopted somewhat kibbutz-like family cells and that free sex should be practised within these cells. Berg's eldest daughter, Deborah Davis, eventually wrote a book in which she accused her father of sexually molesting both her and her sister when they were children, and attempting to have full sex with her as an adult. Her sister, Faith Berg, corroborated these claims, but described them in a positive way.
There is no doubt that those with a tendency towards sexual deviancy, especially paedophilia, later became attracted to this group as reports of their "freedoms" spread. For a while, the sexual abuse of children seemed to be looked upon with some sympathy within the group (indeed, this could be greatly understating it), however, the modern post-Berg 'The Family International' now warns that sexual abusers of children will be immediately disfellowshipped. That said, sexual freedom between heterosexual adults within the group continues to be looked upon with favour.
Berg loosely stood in the theological line of the Adventist-type apocalyptic preachers, who substantially rejected mainstream Christianity. He sometimes predicted future events, though his predictions invariably failed, of course. His most well-known "prophecy" was probably his claim that the 1974 comet 'kohoutek' would cause much havoc and possible destruction across the earth ('Mo' Letter No.283), and this view (in the typical adventist fashion), was soon shared by many other 'children of God' people (since it had come from their 'divinely-appointed' leader, of course).
Berg also believed that the 'great tribulation' would commence in 1989, with the Second Coming of the Lord Jesus on course for 1992-4. The Lord, of course, did not return then although Berg himself certainly died in 1994: A salutary lesson for his deluded followers?
As leader, Berg wrote or dictated over 3,000 pamphlets and booklets, usually known as "Mo Letters" ("Mo" being abbreviated from his pseudonym "Moses David"), which typically covered spiritual or practical subjects and were used as a way of disseminating and introducing policy and religious doctrine to his followers. One interesting aspect of his approach was that any photos of him appearing in the group's publications had to show his face covered with pencil drawings, often depicting him as a lion. Without any doubt this seems to have been a vain and foolish attempt to associate Berg with Christ, 'The Lion of the Tribe of Judah,' plus a possible attempt to associate him with Moses (who had to cover his face after being in the company of God), but it could also reveal a conceited Berg's wish not to allow members to see how he was ageing.
On 'The Family International' website, under their 'Statement of Faith' one finds 'Perspective on Sexuality.' It is unusual to find such an inclusion since established Christianity - plus most of the sub-Christian sects - do not usually differ here, but this organisation obviously feels that such an inclusion is necessary. This is what they state:
'We believe that God created human sexuality, and we consider it a natural emotional and physical need. As evidenced by Genesis 1:28, sexual relationships between men and women were designed, ordained, and commanded by God. Long before Adam and Eve sinned, God told them, "Be fruitful and multiply and replenish the earth." Later in verse 31 of the same chapter it says that God "saw everything that He had made"--which clearly included the first man and woman as well as their bodies and sexuality--"and behold, it was very good."
Thus, it is our belief that heterosexual relations, when practiced as God ordained, designed, and intended between consenting adults of legal age, is a pure and natural wonder of God's creation, and permissible according to Scripture.'
Interestingly there is not a single word anywhere here about marriage, nor about the dangers of sexual promiscuity, and - inline with their advocacy of 'free sex' - that probably should not surprise us. Moreover, while it may be reassuring that they now only advocate sexual activity between "consenting adults of legal age" it remains a great worry that any impressionable young people looking at their very attractive website would not know that free heterosexual expression is, in actual practice, what is frequently encouraged.
The unusually large 'Family' 32-point 'Statement of Faith' (http://www.thefamily.org/en/about/our-beliefs/) shows support for several very dubious teachings. Their 'Time of the End' teaching (http://www.thefamily.org/en/about/our-beliefs/time-end/) is strangely included in this general statement; it is very, very long and - at first glance - it appears to be a mixture of Jehovah's Witnesses, Dispensationalist and Adventist theology. The more established Christian denominations have often refrained from such voluminous 'Statements of Faith' because great length in such a statements is invariably a recipe for division. A more simple 'statement' of perhaps 9-12 points, pointing to the essentials of the Christian Gospel, leaves room for private personal opinions in the more peripheral areas and shows a willingness to avoid division wherever possible. A 32 point 'Statement of Faith' strongly suggests a dictatorial, manipulative and legalistic group.
So what of 'The Family' today? UK Apologetics do not consider the group as authentically Christian; while some doctrinal areas seem to have been tidied up, much remains to be done. Very seriously, their teaching on 'heterosexual expression' does not square up with the apostle Paul's warnings against sexual immorality (Acts 21:25; 1 Cor. 5:1; 1 Cor. 6:13-20; 2 Cor. 12:21; Galatians 5:19; 1 Thess. 4:3, for example).
Robin A. Brace, August, 2008.
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