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The Case of the Children of God/Family of Love - Åke V. Ström

The Children of God: The Inside Story by Deborah Davis (Zondervan, 1984). Reviewed by Dr. Åke Ström, professor emeritus of the history of religion at Lund University in Sweden.

At a conference in 1982 in Santa Barbara, California, where I was a visiting professor at the University of California, I happened to hear Deborah Davis (nee Linda Berg), the eldest daughter of the Children of God prophet Moses, or Father, David In a short report at the conference she movingly told the public about her terrible time in the movement, her great difficulties in getting out, and her final success in doing so. That was the very first time she spoke publicly after leaving the Children of God. Some days later I had the delight of receiving Deborah and her husband in my residence. We had luncheon and dinner together and at once became real friends. The whole day we had an informal but intense chat about things in and around the Children of God/Family of Love.

During our talk the youthful looking, charming, and kind Deborah told us that she, with the assistance of her husband, was occupied in writing a book on the subject, uncovering her father in all his wickedness. My wife and I could hardly believe our ears, but that book appeared last year and reached this reviewer in spring 1985. It is a marvelous book!

We get to know many details about the inside story of the sect in Davis’s book. It starts directly with the solemn coronation of Queen Deborah, »crowned Queen of God's New Nation by Archbishop Joshua in an extremely dramatic and colorful ceremony on September 21, 1972« (p. 4). A few days later Moses David (Mo) again repeated his proposal of marriage (offered Deborah when she was seven and twelve years old) that father and daughter should form an incestuous couple (p.193). In that connection Mo wrote his letter One Wife, which declares that »God is the greatest Destroyer of home and family of anybody«, From chapter 2 on the author follows the history of the sect from Valley Farms, Arizona, in 1949 to Huntington Beach, California, in 1968. David Berg claimed to be kicked out of his church because he let red Indians in, but another version speaks of a sexual scandal. In either case the result was Berg's hatred towards the established church and his collaboration with the Pentecostal evangelist Fred Jordan at the American Soul Clinic in Los Angeles from 1952 to 1967. Around New Year 1968 Berg took over a coffee house in Huntington Beach founded by Teens for Christ, the beginning of the Children of God.

Although we know those facts already from Enroth, Ericson, and Peter's The Jesus People, Ms. Davis gives us, as an eyewitness, the inside story. And it goes on. From Huntington Beach to Tucson, Arizona, in spring 1969 where Mo started to sleep with his »second wife« Karen Zerby, called Maria. To Laurentides, California, where the new people were organized with bishops and elders, with Maria, the new bride, a symbol of the new church. The Family moved to New Jersey where the name Children of God (Matthew 5:9) was used for the first time and the people were organized into branches

April 1970 started the now well-known phase of the movement wherein Mo began to speak in tongues, with Maria as his only interpreter, and was possessed by Abraham and the black goddess Mocumba. The Mo Letters began to be used as a second Bible, but the moral was still the Christian one. For all except Mo himself. Ms Davis tells us about eight breaking points when her loyalty to her father was shaken, but each time she was more and more convinced that she lacked faith and was a sinner. At the time of her first questioning (1970), some honest Bible readers began to leave the movement.

History rolls along. In spring 1972 Mo moved to England, where the coronation took place. The Mo Letters were now written for worldwide distribution through »litnessing«--selling in the streets. Flirty-fishing (mission through prostitution) started in December 1973. The family flew to Tenerife in March 1974 where the names Family of Love and Father David were adopted. (Mo made contact with Muammar Qaddafi during 1971-75, at one point visiting him in Libya for six months.) Father David stayed in Tenerife until 1977. Meanwhile, his son Aron committed suicide in the Alps in 1974, and in that same year, Deborah chose to hue with Bill Davis, her present husband. Her father wrote a Mo Letter depicting Bill as Alexander. Deborah asked me in Santa Barbara about the possible meaning, and I suggested it could be an allusion to 2 Timothy 4:14--»Alexander the coppersmith did me much evil: the Lord reward him according to his works.« That interpretation is adopted in the book on page 137.

Queen Deborah, as she was once called, saw her father for the last time in Switzerland in 1975. She and Bill left the movement in 1978 and were delivered from all connections with the cult after three years and through their participation in a Basic Youth Conflicts seminar held m April 1981.

The picture Ms Davis gives us of her father is quite horrible, a real Satanic image The man is perverted by sex and occultism, by a voracious appetite for power, and he teaches people to lie and neglect all the other commandments of God. In 1980 he publicly declared that he himself did not need to keep God's law. Nevertheless, his daughter writes and means it »I still love David Berg and pray for his soul.«

The author has learned a great deal from the fanatic Richard Wurmbrand, but her opinions are mostly sober and well-balanced. She states clearly that the only way to get rid of the bad indoctrinations and terrifying memories is to confess the sin of being involved and let that repentance lead to Christ. We have to be grateful to Ms Davis for giving us so many details and so great an understanding of the very shape of the Family of Love. She has the opinion that every person entering a cult does so of his/her own free will--not as a result of deceit or a plot--and must face his/her own responsibility. »The true and ultimate purpose of cultic brainwashing is to deaden the voice of conscience... No one ever joins a cult against his will« (p. 179). But that does not exclude that »the degenerate condition of society is largely responsible for the cultic phenomenon« (p. 175)

Perhaps it is natural and excusable that Father David's daughter, in her present position, sometimes falls into a habit of preaching and moralizing. But strong and sound is her opinion that she and her husband, who have led so awfully many young people into the cult, have to do their utmost to show them the sin of membership and try to lead them out. The author answers the book’s closing question, where is God in all the struggles and the perversion, that he is even in this suffering, »for it places us face to face with God.« Ms. Davis enters proceedings against the cult before God and lets us hear his sentence of guilty.