Founded in 1968 as Teens for Christ, the group now known as The Family adopted the name Children of God (COG), the name by which it became well-known, the following year. COG grew up around David Berg, a former minister in the Christian and Missionary Alliance. With several of his teenage children he began evangelistic work in Huntington Beach, California. In 1969 several of the group received revelations concerning possible earthquakes, and the entire group left to wander across the United States. During this exodus, Berg became known as Moses David and the group as the Children of God.
The group adopted fundamental Christian belief with an emphasis on the endtime, and Berg was accepted as the prophet of the endtime. They attained some initial fame after conducting a series of demonstrations warning people of the evils of American society. They dressed in sackcloths and covered their faces with ashes. Opposition to the youth participation in the group began to grow from parents who called COG a cult, and from their actions against the group the term "cult" began to take on the negative connotations it has today.
The COG soon parted from the other Jesus People groups that had arisen contemporaneously along the West Coast of the United States. The Jesus People objected to the role assigned Berg, and to the fact that he claimed contact with several spirits. As early as 1970, for example, he let it be known that he had come into contact with someone he termed a "spirit helper," named Abrahim, who described himself as a Bulgarian Christian gypsy who had been killed by the Turks. Subsequently, usually in dreams, he spoke with spirit beings, usually under-stood to be angel messengers. Also, Berg offered prophecies of the future that were used to guide the group.
By the mid-1970s, COG had largely left the United States, the few who remained having taken a very low profile. In 1976 they instituted their most controversial practice, "flirty fishing," the use of sexual allure to attract potential converts. Some of the people the group was trying to convert would be offered sexual favors as a symbol of the love of the person trying to win them to God. Several years later, sharing, the free sexual contact of adult members of the group became widely practiced.
The sexual freedoms and practices of COG were sharply curtailed in 1983 (by which time the group had assumed its present name) and several years later, it became known that during this period of sexual freedom some adult-minor sex had occurred in the group. In 1987, very strict guidelines concerning sexual behavior were introduced with severe penalties for infractions. The Family continues to practice the law of love, which, as they interpret it, permits some freedom of sexual contact between adult members, but have adopted strong regulations against any involvement of minors in sexual activities. After hearing about several alleged incidents of sexual child abuse, different governments moved against The Family in separate actions during the early 1990s. While giving The Family much bad publicity, in the end, the investigations produced no evidence of any ongoing abuse in The Family homes and no subsequent actions were taken against the group or any of its members.
The Family lives communally. David Berg died in 1994, and the group is now headed by his widow, Maria. Homes are found in a number of countries with significant numbers in South America and continental Europe. There are approximately 5,000 adult members working in 60 countries and out of 1,000 centers or communities. Website: http://www.thefamily.org/.
The Family. http://www.thefamily.org/. March 8, 2000.
Lewis, James R., and J. Gordon Melton. Sex, Slander, and Salvation. Goleta, Calif.: Center for Academic Publication, 1994.
Pritchett, W. Douglas. The Children of God, Family of Love: An Annotated Bibliography. New York: Garland Publications, 1985.