CHILDREN OF GOD
CHILDREN OF GOD. The Children of God movement was started in the late 1960s by David Brandt Berg, a former Christian and Missionary Alliance pastor. Berg, a native of Oakland, California, had followed in his father's footsteps as a minister in that denomination, gaining his first pastorate in Arizona in 1949. In 1950, however, he had a falling-out with certain of the church's leadership and resigned. That experience left him embittered and with a permanent distaste for organized religion. Berg's belief that God had a special destiny and mission for him developed shortly thereafter, and he began making personal claims as a "prophet for this generation." In 1968 with his wife Jane and four children, he moved to Huntington Beach, California, where he developed a small communal group of thirty-five charter members, basically from the youth counterculture. Early in 1969 he was convinced that a monstrous earthquake would soon destroy the California coastal cities; accordingly he and some fifty followers left for Arizona, where their disruption of church services and condemnation of organized churches soon resulted in their expulsion. Afterward, members of the rapidly increasing group wandered throughout much of the United States and Canada staging demonstrations and urging others to join. They adopted the name "Children of God," and their founder took the name Moses David, or "Mo." Many of his followers addressed Berg as "Father" Moses or "King" David and considered him their cult's main authority.
Toward the end of 1969, some 200 members of the COG established a 425-acre colony a few miles from the ghost town of Thurber, in Erath County, Texas. This acreage, known as the Texas South Clinic Ranch, was owned by the American Soul Clinic group, a nondenominational missionary organization headed by television evangelist Fred Jordan. Based on Berg's preachments, members used only biblical first names, gave to their commune their personal possessions, and divided themselves into twelve tribes (inspired by the twelve tribes of Israel), with each tribe responsible for certain work several hours a day, including camp maintenance, food preparation, procurement of food from neighboring towns, and care of livestock. Their main interest reportedly was in Bible study and discussions that often resembled those of nineteenth-century revivals. There was a Montessori school there for the colony's children. Rock music with religious lyrics was popular. Most members of the group had a history of drug use and claimed that they had conquered the drug habit through communion with God.
On Moratorium Day, October 31, 1970, COG members from the Thurber group parked their bus next to the campus of the University of Texas at Austin and made a dramatic appearance wearing sackcloth and carrying Bibles, to "witness Christ" among university students. By 1971 the Children of God claimed a membership of 4,000 in every state in the Union, mostly teen-agers and people in their early twenties. Although they saw themselves as a primitive or fundamentalist Christian organization run along the same lines as the Jesus People, the God Squad, Teen Challenge, and others, many outraged parents claimed that their children were brainwashed or hypnotized by leaders of the group and forcibly alienated from their families; indeed, Berg had often placed revolutionary emphasis on "forsaking all," including material possessions and allegiance to families. What was more, the COG allegedly became increasingly preoccupied with liberal, often permissive, sexual mores. According to several former COG members, Berg often led in discussions at the Thurber colony that always ended up on sexual subjects and often with mass lovemaking sessions. Even mate-swapping was sometimes allowed by the cult's leadership, who reportedly used the term "flirty fishing," or "f-fing," in reference to their practice of using sex to entice people to join or contribute to their organization.
Such charges may have been a major factor in the closing of the COG's Thurber colony. In November 1971 the colony was evicted from the property after a major disagreement with Fred Jordan and other American Soul Clinic associates. Subsequently, many members sought to join COG communes in other states and in foreign countries, particularly England, where in 1972 many such groups had been formed. David Berg set up his permanent headquarters in Europe, from which he published several books, a monthly periodical, and a series of "MO" letters that his followers considered equal in authority to the Bible. Most mainline evangelical groups and denominations criticized Berg's writings as being often vague and contradictory, with no clear statement of belief.
Amid reports of misconduct and abuse of authority by some of the group’s leaders, Berg dissolved the organization of COG and dismissed all of its leadership in February 1978. He reorganized the movement and established the Family, which later became known as the Family International. It was still in existence and conducting missionary work worldwide in the 2010s. Berg died in 1994 .
Deborah Davis, The Children of God: The Inside Story (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1984). Deborah Cecil Edwards, An Analysis of Some Contemporary Alternatives to Denominational Christianity (M.A. thesis, University of Texas at Austin, 1976). San Antonio Express, February 22, August 19, 1972. David E. Van Zandt, Living in the Children of God (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1991).
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The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.Handbook of Texas Online, "Children of God," accessed March 22, 2017, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/irc01.
Uploaded on June 12, 2010. Modified on October 14, 2014. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.