Children of God (The Family International)

A Christian sex-cult with numerous allegations of sexual abuse and pedophilia

1968 - present

Disclaimer: This page contains sexually explicit images

The countercultural movement of the 1960s and 1970s drew together hippies throughout the country to embrace a new way of living. While many pastors strongly condemned the sex, drugs, and rock n' roll lifestyle of many youths, other Christians saw this movement as an opportunity to share the countercultural message of Jesus. As a result, many communes and evangelists popped up throughout the country, sharing the love of Christ with other hippies. Overall, this movement has profoundly impacted Evangelical culture and helped shape it into the movement it is today.

One of the most prominent groups in the Jesus People movement was the Children of God, started by David Berg. Berg demonstrated a remarkable ability to draw together people committed to living for Christ, who loved communally and would zealously proselyte to others. However, as time went on, Berg commanded his followers to increasingly isolate themselves from the rest of the world and devote themselves to his teachings.

Separated from outside influences, Berg revealed that he was a prophet of God and that members should stop planning for the future because the world was about to end. Slowly, his teachings became more and more extreme until he revealed that members were expected to prostitute themselves for Jesus. Calling the practice "flirty fishing" members were told to have sex with strangers to open the door to tell them about Christ. As sex became more normalized in the cult, sexual abuse became rampant, with countless reports of sexual misconduct, including the sexual abuse of Children. Berg did little to stop this abuse but instead encouraged it, demanding his underage followers do sexual favors for him and even publishing a book describing in detail how to sexually abuse children, using his own son as an example.

Several members have since spoken out about the abuse they had endured in the cult, resulting in several arrests and prosecutions from cult members. However, the most prominent members, including David Berg and his wife Karen Zerby, the current leader of the cult, successfully avoided prosecution. The cult officially forbade sexual contact with children in 1986. However, many have argued that this was just a lie to avoid problems with law enforcement and that the abuse continued to be practiced and encouraged. Today, the cult claims to exist only as an online community of about 1,500 members.

Founder: David Berg

Founded: 1968 in Huntington Beach, CA, USA

Size: 15,000 at its peak

Also called: Teens for Christ; The Family of Love; The Family

Split from: Christian and Missionary Alliance

Notable members (current or former): River and Joaquin Phoenix (actors), Rose McGowan (actress) and Jeremy Spencer (guitarist, Fleetwood Mac)

David Berg with Merry Berg (left), Ricky Rodriguez (right) and an unknown infant.

Numerous members have accused this cult of child sexual abuse by leaders and various members, alleging that this behavior was normalized within the cult. There are far too many accusations to list here, so below is just a sampling of  the various allegations brought against the group.

Flyer distributed by the cult

Flyer distributed by the cult

It is unknown how many cult members have committed suicide. The cult officially recognizes at least ten suicides, although defectors had reported more than thirty by 2005, and the media have uncovered additional instances (source). Due to the large amount of information about these events, we have only presented a partial list of the information publicly available regarding these tragedies:

Founder David Berg with an unnamed woman

Other info:

Recommended Books:

Rose McGowan (2019)

Rose McGowan was born in one cult and came of age in another, more visible cult: Hollywood.

In a strange world where she was continually on display, stardom soon became a personal nightmare of constant exposure and sexualization. Rose escaped into the world of her mind, something she had done as a child, and into high-profile relationships. Every detail of her personal life became public, and the realities of an inherently sexist industry emerged with every script, role, public appearance, and magazine cover. The Hollywood machine packaged her as a sexualized bombshell, hijacking her image and identity and marketing them for profit.

Hollywood expected Rose to be silent and cooperative and to stay the path. Instead, she rebelled and asserted her true identity and voice. She reemerged unscripted, courageous, victorious, angry, smart, fierce, unapologetic, controversial, and real as f*ck.

(Order here)

Faith Jones was raised to be part of a religious army preparing for the End Times. Growing up on an isolated farm in Macau, she prayed for hours every day and read letters of prophecy written by her grandfather, the founder of the Children of God. Tens of thousands of members strong, the cult followers looked to Faith’s grandfather as their guiding light. As such, Faith was celebrated as special and then punished doubly to remind her that she was not. 

Over decades, the Children of God grew into an international organization that became notorious for its alarming sex practices and allegations of abuse and exploitation. But with indomitable grit, Faith survived, creating a world of her own - pilfering books and teaching herself high school curriculum. Finally, at age 23, thirsting for knowledge and freedom, she broke away, leaving behind everything she knew to forge her own path in America. 

A complicated family story mixed with a hauntingly intimate coming-of-age narrative, Faith Jones’ extraordinary memoir reflects our societal norms of oppression and abuse while providing a unique lens to explore spiritual manipulation and our rights in our bodies. Honest, eye-opening, uplifting, and intensely affecting, Sex Cult Nun brings to life a hidden world that’s hypnotically alien yet unexpectedly relatable.

(Order here)

Uncultured: A Memoir
Daniella Mestyanek Young (2022)

In the vein of Educated and The Glass Castle, Daniella Mestyanek Young's Uncultured is more than a memoir about an exceptional upbringing, but about a woman who, no matter the lack of tools given to her, is determined to overcome.

Behind the tall, foreboding gates of a commune in Brazil, Daniella Mestyanek Young was raised in the religious cult The Children of God, also known as The Family, as the daughter of high-ranking members. Her great-grandmother donated land for one of The Family’s first communes in Texas. Her mother, at thirteen, was forced to marry the leader and served as his secretary for many years. Beholden to The Family’s strict rules, Daniella suffers physical, emotional, and sexual abuse—masked as godly discipline and divine love—and is forbidden from getting a traditional education.

At fifteen years old, fed up with The Family and determined to build a better and freer life for herself, Daniella escapes to Texas. There, she bravely enrolls herself in high school and excels, later graduating as valedictorian of her college class, then electing to join the military to begin a career as an intelligence officer, where she believes she will finally belong.

But she soon learns that her new world—surrounded by men on the sands of Afghanistan—looks remarkably similar to the one she desperately tried to leave behind.

Told in a beautiful, propulsive voice and with clear-eyed honesty, Uncultured explores the dangers unleashed when harmful group mentality goes unrecognized, and is emblematic of the many ways women have to contort themselves to survive. 

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Miriam Williams was an idealistic child of the sixties who, at seventeen, accepted an invitation from a "Jesus person" to visit a commune in upstate New York. She would soon be prostituting herself for a perverse cult that used sex to lure sinners to the Lord -- and this is her shocking, searingly honest account of a fifteen-year spiritual odyssey gone haywire.

The Children of God turned its female devotees into Heaven's Harlots, leading strangers to the love of God by enticing them with the pleasures of the flesh. At its height, the cult boasted 19,000 members around the world: In such places as France and Monte Carlo, young women, Miriam among them, mingled with the rich and famous to save their souls, and in this unsparing, unnerving autobiography, she'll identify some of her high-profile "clients." She left this bizarre world in an attempt to protect her son, born through an arranged marriage and kidnapped by his father.

Now, in a clear, compelling, cautionary tale, she shares both her extraordinary existence as a holy whore and the daunting experience of rebuilding a normal life -- an ordeal that led her to found a group dedicated to helping other cult survivors reclaim their souls as well.

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Natacha Tormey was born into the infamous religious cult known as The Children of God. Abused, exploited, and brainwashed by ‘The Family’, Natacha’s childhood was stolen.

Born to French hippy parents attracted to the religious movement by the unusual mix of evangelical Christianity, free love and rejection of the mainstream, from an early age Natacha was brainwashed to believe she had a special destiny – that she was part of an elite children’s army bestowed with superpowers that would one day save the world from the Anti-Christ.

Torn away from their parents, Natacha and her siblings were beaten on a daily basis and forced to sing and dance for entertainment in prisons and malls. Natacha never expected to live to adulthood.

At the age of 18 Natacha escaped, but quickly found herself hurtling through a world she had no understanding of. Alone, and grappling to come to terms with an unbelievable sense of betrayal, she was stuck in a kind of limbo – confused and unable to feel part of either way of life.

Natacha is one of the lucky ones; not all of her family survived the battle to shed the shame and pain of their past. To date over 40 ex-Children of God members of Natacha’s generation have committed suicide.

All Natacha ever wanted was to feel normal, but escaping the cult was only the beginning. Shocking, moving, but ultimately inspiring, this is Natacha’s full story; it is both a personal tale of trauma and recovery, and an exposé of the secret world of abuse hidden behind commune walls.

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My name is Faith Morgan and I was born into the infamous Children of God cult, or 'The Family' as it came to be known. At age 19 I managed to escape and entered a world in which I had to learn how to live again. Rebel is my story.

My teenage diary helps piece the story of my travels in Costa Rica, India, Greece, Mexico, and London together. Of the communes, the 'missions', the friendships and the relationships. And of course, my enduring faith: in Jesus, in the Prophet (cult leader David Berg), and in the inevitability of the coming end times, which I fully believed would arrive.

But beyond the brainwashing and mistreatment is the extraordinary story of my family and the adventures of my early life which help me understand what happened and why, so it doesn't happen to others. The spirit of that defiant girl who escaped is still in there somewhere, and through telling my story I wish to look into the eyes of 'evil', with its many faces so I can send it on its way. 

(Order here)

Bexy Cameron was in her late twenties then the dark events of her past finally caught up with her.

Bexy was born into the Children of God, one of the world's most notorious cults. She was 9 years old when she experienced her first exorcism, held in a secret commune deep in the British countryside. At 10, she was placed on Silence Restriction, forced to be silent for a whole year. Even from an early age, she knew what was happening was not right. At the age of 15, she escaped, leaving behind her parents and 11 siblings.

Haunted by her past, Bexy set off on a road trip across America, embedding herself in the underbelly of religious cults, living with children who, like her, are born into the worlds their parents and cult leaders have created for them.

It is a journey of meth cooks, monks, Jesus Freaks, soap-making Armageddonists, surveillance vans and finally, confronting her parents and herself. 

(Order here)

This is the remarkable story of a young woman's harrowing experience in a religious sect and how she overcame the devastating effects that sought to take control of her life. August, 1977, Faye Thomas was the fortunate recipient of a full scholarship to study abroad in Madrid, Spain. Anticipating the opportunity to soak up the culture and pursue her studies, Faye was unprepared for the two years of manipulation and mind control forced upon her and dozens of other women caught in the deceptive and destructive web of the Children of God. Today, many young adults will be introduced to religious cults. Cult members approach their victim by highlighting the supposed attributes of their organization, such as communal living, shared financial responsibilities and the freedom to dedicate one's life one hundred per cent to God by dropping out of school or society. Written from personal experience, this book will empower ex-cult members as they work to rebuild their life while educating the Christian believer to have a greater awareness of the signs of cultic activity within a religious organization. Compelling, informative, and thoughtfully written, The Children of God is a must read for anyone in need of a guiding light.

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The bestselling, devastating account of three sisters torn apart, abused and exploited at the hands of a community that robbed them of their childhood. It reveals three lives, separate but entwined, that have experienced unspeakable horror, unrelenting loyalty and unforgettable courage.

From as early as three years old, Juliana, Celeste and Kristina were separated from their parents and physically and sexually abused by their ‘guardians’ in the infamous religious cult known as the Children of God. They were made to watch and mimic orgies, received love letters and sexual advances from men old enough to be their grandfather, and were forced into abusive relationships. They were denied access to formal schooling and medical care, had to busk on the streets, beg for money, and were mercilessly beaten for 'crimes' as unpredictable as reading an encyclopaedia.

Finally, unable to live with the guilt of what had happened to her children, their mother escaped with Kristina and her younger siblings, cutting herself off from Celeste in a bid to save her remaining children. Desperate to save her sister, Kristina eventually began a search to find Celeste, but it would be many years until Celeste found the courage to escape, wanting freedom and a different future for the child she was carrying. The suicide of one of their sisters drove Juliana to exit the group a couple of years later.

Now the three sisters have finally come together to reveal in full and horrific detail their existence within the Children of God cult. Their stories reveal a community spread throughout the world and its legacy of anorexia, depression, drug abuse, suicide and even murder. Lives are ripped apart and painstakingly mended with a shared strength that finally enabled the sisters to free themselves from the shadows of their past.

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Something Somebody Stole
Ray Connolly (2011)

"The Children of God" were one of the most radical groups of Jesus Freaks spawned during the sixties. They later morphed into a headline grabbing cult known as "The Family" known for strange mixture of evangelism, doomsday prophecies and unusual sexual practices taught by their founder, David Berg. This book is the story of one person's journey into the movement, several decades of life within the movement, and the struggle to find a path to recovery in the decades since. The author spent over 20 years in the group (much of it in leadership positions), living in over 20 countries, while parenting 17 children with 2 remarkable women. Through personal reflection and reference to a great deal of research into thought reform and spiritual abuse, the author offers insight into the world of cults, and sheds light on the issues encountered upon leaving a totalistic group. There is a particular effort made to examine issues of personal responsibility and spiritual recovery. One reader comments "informative and entertaining, refreshing in its honesty... not what one comes to expect from a former cult member, and ultimately a message of hope in the midst of difficulty and tragedy. Rich spiritual wisdom available regardless of whether readers have been involved in a cult or not."

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For the first thirteen years of her life, Flor Edwards grew up in the Children of God. The group's nomadic existence was based on the belief that, as God's chosen people, they would be saved in the impending apocalypse that would envelop the rest of the world in 1993. Flor would be thirteen years old. The group's charismatic leader, Father David, kept the family on the move, from Los Angeles to Bangkok to Chicago, where they would eventually disband, leaving Flor to make sense of the foreign world of mainstream society around her. Apocalypse Child is a cathartic journey through Flor's memories of growing up within a group with unconventional views on education, religion, and sex. Whimsically referring to herself as a real life Kimmy Schmidt, Edwards's clear-eyed memoir is a story of survival in a childhood lived on the fringes.

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Primetime Live report on the cult (2005)

20/20 report on the cult (1988)

Final video of Ricky Rodriguez before his murder/suicide. Rodriguez was the son of David Berg and Karen Zerby, whose repeated sexual abuse was published in a book and distributed to the cult to teach members to do the same to their children. Rodriguez murdered one of his abusers and committed suicide shortly after this video was made.