Children of God Cult Practices and Brainwashing

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The Children of God’s Sexual Practices: Brainwashing?

The Children of God is a controversial religious sect within the Jesus Movement, which originated as a counterreformation to the hippie movement in the late 1960’s. It is also known as COG, the Family of Love, and today as the Family International. Led by David Berg, who later became “Moses David” or “Dad”, the apocalyptic movement emphasized witnessing to outsiders and claimed that bringing them salvation could only be accomplished through love. This fundamental idea grew into a wide variety of liberal sexual practices within the community through the preaching of Mo Letters, Berg’s widely distributed writings that used direct bible verses as evidentiary support. One such practice, which developed into a ministry within the Family by 1977, is known as Flirty Fishing, a method devised by Berg to proselytize through engaging in sexual activities with potential converts (exFamily, 2009). Although this sexual exchange had no formal request from the Family for monetary value, non- member participants were expected to “give thanks and appreciation”(exFamily, 2009). This practice, along with many other questionable sexual activities of the group, has been widely debated and taken to court several times under the accusation of prostitution. Although evidence shows support for some form of prostitution taking place, are participants “brainwashed” through the group’s teaching methods, or merely religious fanatics living out their spiritual teachings? This paper defends that the members involved have been “brainwashed” to believe they are setting the example for the life they have been taught will lead the world to salvation. This will be proven through in depth research of the Family’s sexual practices, Flirty Fishing in particular, their methods of promoting these sexual practices, and comparing such to the idea of what brainwashing entails.

The basis of Berg’s liberal sexual views began with the Mo letter “The Law of Love”, written in 1974, which argues that members must sacrifice all they have to offer, from physical possessions to personal relationships, as Jesus sacrificed himself for their salvation. In this document, Berg urges for members to separate themselves from society, what he calls “the System”, by explicitly claiming that because the bible states liberty is achieved through the Holy Spirit, members have “total and complete freedom from the bondage of law, [and gain] total and complete freedom of life and liberty through love”(Berg, 1974). This severance from law encompasses the desanctification of marriage; redefining the family unit so that once couples enter into the organization they no longer have a need for such personal relationships, as their loyalty is now to the Family. This accurately summarizes his requirement that members severe all ties with their past life, including not only laws set down by the state, but also friends and family, so that they may be wholly encompassed into the new way of life. During the height of this movement, most members lived out this spiritual teaching in religiously exclusive tight-knit communes where they engaged in daily community- oriented labor and reverent group prayer (Davis & Davis, 1984). This high group involvement and exclusivity from non-members contributed to intense group identity. One major sexual liberty known as Flirty Fishing has its’ roots in the claim made by “ The Law of Love” that “real love” is achieved through the ultimate sacrification of yourself through sex for those who are starved for love, just as you must give food to those who are hungry (Berg, 1974). Flirty Fishing, also known as “FFing”, was devised by Berg as a method of evangelism that incorporated sexual activity and sex appeal into witnessing to potential converts, drawing the idea from Jesus’ quote “follow me and I will make you fisher’s of men” (Mathew 4:19). Berg assures his members that because they have received salvation...
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