This cult has been described by the Daily Telegraph (24 March), as ‘a British-based sex cult’, but at present it could be causing problems in East Africa. In late March, Kenyan government officials placed all government-run schools and children’s homes on alert. The reason? Members of the ‘Family of Love’ were believed to be actively recruiting members in Uganda and Kenya.
Sammy Kwallah, director of children’s services in Kenya’s Home Ministry, explained that an unexpected visit by two suspected members of ‘The Family’ had been made to a Barnardo’s home in the Nairobi suburb of Langata. They may also have visited other children’s homes.
While there is no firm evidence of any abuse, Mr Kwallah explains that ‘their motives are highly suspect. Their target is children in Kenyan institutions’. The British High Commission in Kenya announced that it would be contacting the Kenyan government concerning the possibility that cult members are active in the country.
Is the Kenyan government over-reacting? Many observers agree that the official acted responsibly and that children are indeed at risk from members of the Family of Love. One UK source (www. netcentral. co.uk) claims that ‘it is difficult to find a cult with a worse reputation’.
In October 1994, for example, a teenage girl received £5,000 from the British Criminal Injuries Compensation Board for having been abused from the age of three by members of this cult.
Of nearly twelve thousand current members of the Family of Love, it is estimated that two-thirds are children. These are the result of the cult’s ‘Hookers for Christ’ campaign in the 1970s and 1980s, in which female members seduced potential converts and bore their children.
As communal living became a prominent feature of the cult, members ‘shared’ wives and husbands, sex with children was condoned, and immoral practices were used by women members to attract men to the cult.
How did this cult begin? The cult’s own website traces its origins to 1968 and Huntingdon Beach, California, where David Berg and his wife commenced ‘a ministry to the counter culture youth who flocked to that seaside town’.
Berg’s parents were active Christians, and his father was an evangelist working with the Christian and Missionary Alliance in the United States. Berg himself had felt God’s call to preach, and eventually served as pastor of an Alliance church in Arizona. Then, for a brief period, he assisted a Pentecostal pastor in radio work until he moved to Huntingdon Beach with his family.
Here, Berg was involved in evangelising young people and was responsible for coffee-bar work. Increasingly he became part of the ‘Jesus Movement’ with its characteristics of intensive evangelism (employing new and questionable methods), community living, authoritarian leadership, and the criticism and rejection of other churches.
Berg’s group emerged as a strong and popular subdivision of the Jesus Movement in the late 1970s.
Teens for Christ
At this time, Berg established an organisation called ‘Teens for Christ’. Converts were encouraged to leave their homes, jobs and churches, to settle into one of his many communal groups.
Berg tended to attract restless and alienated young people from the middle class. It was a journalist who, in 1969, renamed the early members as ‘The Children of God’. As these young members travelled to different American states, so the movement gained momentum and quickly spread overseas.
By 1972 they had 130 communities scattered throughout the world. Six years later in 1978, the cult was formally dissolved and a new group, now called The Family of Love, was established with a different organisational structure. Today, the cult is more often referred to simply as ‘The Family’. Their founder and leader, David Brandt Berg, died in 1994 at the age of 75.
How strong is this cult today? Their official answer is that there are ‘approximately 12,000 full-time and associate adult’ members working in ‘over 1400 centres or communities, situated in over 100 countries’.
These members are drawn from more than ninety nationalities ‘and when possible are joined in their ministries by their children’. And how successful have they been? They inform us that they have shared the gospel message ‘with over 237 million individuals, while billions have heard’ it through the mass media.
They further claim that ‘over 23.3 million people have personally prayed with our members to receive God’s love, forgiveness and salvation’. In addition, 850 million pieces of gospel literature have been distributed in 61 languages and 8 million audio tapes in more than twenty languages have been given away.
One must be sceptical with regard to some of these official statistics. For example, they wrongly assume that the 23 million who made professions of faith with their workers were actually converted.
What is important is an inward, supernatural and radical work of new birth by the Holy Spirit in the individual. Sadly, some who profess faith in the Lord Jesus do so without this prior, divine work of new birth having taken place.
Anyway, if 23 million people had prayed with their members and received forgiveness, why is their membership only 12,000? The statistics must clearly be treated with considerable caution.
However, even after making appropriate allowances, these statistics do highlight the influence which the cult exercises in many countries. 1400 communities in over 100 countries, together with the distribution of 850 million pieces of literature and 8 million audio tapes, must have made a significant impact on many individuals. And this should concern us deeply.
What methods do they use for recruiting members? In addition to publications and audio and video tapes, their members ‘also regularly perform at musical benefits’ and are involved in humanitarian work.
They also ‘minister’ in night-clubs where young people predominate, and use musical groups and street theatre in an attempt to win converts. Over the years, many of their methods have been criticised as being unbiblical and even immoral. In fact, Berg’s writings were often pornographic in content and obsessed with sex.
Women members were instructed to ‘crucify the flesh’ by giving themselves physically to men in order to attract them to the cult and to Christ. This was regarded as an expression of God’s love which, according to Berg, is only properly experienced in sexual intercourse.
Such methods are far removed from those taught and used in the New Testament. The apostle Paul could say of his evangelism: ‘You are witnesses, and God also, how devoutly and justly and blamelessly we behaved ourselves’, and later adds: ‘For God did not call us to uncleanness, but in holiness'(1 Thessalonians 2:10; 4:7) . Our holy, sin-hating God does not allow his people to use immoral behaviour, not even for purposes of evangelism.
‘The Family’ sets out, carefully and in detail, its ‘fundamental beliefs and essential doctrines’. In general theological terms, the cult is Arminian, charismatic, pre-millen-nialist and separatist.
To be fair, there are positive features in their doctrinal statement. For example, they are Trinitarian and hold strongly to the deity of Christ. Salvation, too, ‘is wholly by grace’ through the ‘substitutionary sacrifice and death of the Just for the unjust’. It is appropriated by personal faith in Jesus Christ, and ‘once saved, the believer shall be kept saved for ever’ by God’s power. These emphases are welcomed.
What then is wrong with this cult? The major problem here is common to a number of other cults, namely, inconsistency. While this cult acknowledges the Bible’s supreme authority, in practice Berg’s writings are given greater prominence.
After Berg withdrew in the early 1970s from daily involvement in the group’s activities, he became known as ‘Moses’ and communicated with followers through his ‘MO letters’, many of which were published.
He claimed that the Bible is God’s ‘inspired word for yesterday’ but the ‘Moses letters’ are God’s inspired word for today and the only valid interpretation of the Bible.
That is gross error for ‘the word of the Lord endures forever’ (1 Peter 1:25). Quite often Berg has been ‘teaching as doctrines the commandments of men’ and ‘making the word of God of no effect’ (Mark 7:7,13). These errors will be examined in next month’s article.