Austin American-Statesman: Teens part of group with roots in '60s

From XFamily - Children of God

Teens part of group with roots in '60s

Austin American-Statesman/1995-07-17

By Chuck Lindell

The teen-agers in Sunday's fatal accident in Southeast Austin belong to the Family, an international religious group begun by David Berg, a Californian who espoused a blending of Christian and sexual theology.

Formerly known as Children of God and dogged by accusations of sexual impropriety, the organization underwent a reformation in the late 1980s, changed its name to the Family and began advocating a wholesome image and almost Spartan lifestyle. "We are evangelical. We believe in the Bible," said Christie Richards of Houston, a two-decade member of the group. "We preach the Gospel. We help poor. We do a lot of ministries to the homeless."

The teen-agers in Sunday's accident were traveling from Louisiana to Laredo with an adult church member from New Orleans. In Laredo,they were to evangelize and spread the group's biblical message, Richards said.

Richards wasn't sure where the teens lived but said several were from Canada.

Founded in the free-love era of the late 1960s, Berg's religious organization became notorious for "flirty fishing," a practice in which women used seduction to gain new members. "Flirty fishing" proved a successful conversion tool, and the Children of God expanded into more than 70 countries. The practice was dropped in 1987.

"It was an experiment that worked for the time," Richards said.

Richards said the Family includes 9,000 members, 6,000 of whom are children and teen- agers.

Berg, who changed his name to Moses David, died in London in 1994 after two decades in seclusion. He had become a mystical figure, his movements tracked by women carrying tape recorders so his every utterance was saved. His second wife, Maria Berg, took over leadership of the Family.

Berg communicated with his followers through statements called "Mo Letters," oracles on a wide variety of subjects from sexual practices to the proper way to brush teeth.

In several missives, Berg advocated underage sex and advocated incest and intercourse between youngsters. These oracles led to arrests on sexual abuse charges of members in Australia, Spain, France and England -- though none of the cases was successfully prosecuted.

Most recently, Brazilian authorities in 1993 raided Family homes, detained 32 adults and placed 137 children in protective custody.