David Berg, founder of '60s `Jesus freaks,' dies in seclusion at 75
OBITUARY: David Brandt Berg, also known as Moses David, founder of the Children of God movement - the original "Jesus freaks" of the 1960s -has died at the age of 75, a spokesman for the movement announced Friday. Mr. Berg died peacefully in his sleep "several days ago" after a brief illness.
By Gayle White
David Brandt Berg, also known as Moses David, founder of the Children of God movement - the original "Jesus freaks" of the 1960s - has died at the age of 75, a spokesman for the movement announced Friday.
"As Christians, we can only rejoice that after a long and fruitful life, our beloved pastor has been called to his heavenly reward," said Michael Anthony, who spoke for the group now known as The Family.
Mr. Berg died peacefully in his sleep "several days ago" after a brief illness, Anthony said in a written statement. The group is not making the exact date and location of his death public, according to Anthony.
Mr. Berg had lived in seclusion for several years.
In the glory days of the movement, Mr. Berg's followers traveled on psychedelically painted buses. They wore sackcloth and ashes to the trial of the Chicago Seven charged with inciting riots at the 1968 Democratic National Convention. And they were known for their advocacy of free love.
In a doctrine generally referred to as "The Law of Love," Mr. Berg maintained that heterosexual relationships between consenting adults is not a sin in the eyes of God, regardless of the bonds of marriage.
In the late 1970s and early 1980s, he introduced his followers to a type of evangelism known as "flirty fishing," which usually consisted of young women approaching and attempting to convert men through sexual favors.
An even more controversial practice - sex by and with children - was advocated in some of the movement's literature.
Flirty fishing was prohibited in 1987 because of public criticism and the risk of AIDS, according to Family members, and sex with minors became an excommunicable offense.
Mr. Berg was an itinerant preacher who blended evangelical Christianity with the bell-bottoms and love-beads culture of California in the 1960s.
In 1971, an NBC television documentary, "The Ultimate Trip," about Mr. Berg and his followers gained both converts and critics.
In the mid-1970s, Mr. Berg, who by then regarded himself as "the voice of God," urged his followers to scatter around the world. His orders coincided with a New York crime commission investigation that raised questions of fraud and child molestation. No one was indicted.
But in the 1990s, after encountering controversy in several other countries, followers started to drift back to the United States. Several dozen live in the Atlanta area, in group homes of 20 to 40, spending much of their time proselytizing and collecting donations.
In recent years, some former members also have surfaced, recounting experiences with the group they say was sexually abusive.
In Atlanta, two women have formed a support group for people who left the movement.
The '90s version of the movement is anti-abortion and oppposed to birth control, but continues the belief that sex between consenting heterosexual adults is fine inside, outside and in spite of marital bonds.
The movement now claims about 9,000 followers worldwide.