Inside the "Heavenly Elite": The Children of God Today
by Dalva Lynch, with Paul Carden
(from the Christian Research Journal, Summer 1990, page 16. The Editor-in-Chief of the Christian Research Journal is Elliot Miller.)
The international cult known as the Children of God (COG), the Family of Love, or Heaven's Magic has become famous for its radical rejection of conventional social values while maintaining a "Christian" facade. Founded by "Moses" David Berg in the late 1960s as a deviant segment of the "Jesus People" movement, the group gradually sank into paranoid secrecy and nearly every known form of sexual excess. Despite receiving heavy publicity in years past, outside observers know little about the cult's present inner workings. The group's most sensitive literature and videos are hidden from the public and even from their external members; COG disciples keep a "fleebag" ready at all times in case their homes are raided by local authorities.
Though inside news of the COG has been lacking, the cult is far from dead. Recent internal statistics put total membership at nearly 13,000 worldwide.
Dalva Lynch spent some 15 years in the Children of God. She was a drug addict working as a free lance journalist in Rio de Janeiro when she joined in 1974. At one time she was a top leader in the Brazilian COG and worked for three years as a translator for World Services, the group's elite administrative branch. She married Robert Dennis Lynch in 1976, and for a time they served together at the top of the cult's leadership in Brazil -- later travelling to Egypt and the U.S., where she worked again as a World Services translator for a year. In December 1985 Dalva was thrown out of her own home in Dallas, Texas by local COG leaders who sent her, alone, to Brazil; she has not seen her children since. (Their father is presumed to be in the cult's leadership in either Japan or the Philippines.) In Brazil she rejoined the group and was made to marry a male companion, by whom she had two more children before being expelled for the last time in July 1988.
Dalva offers us a rare glimpse into the COG's shadowy world. David Berg's eldest daughter, Deborah Davis, left the cult in 1978; not since her explosive 1984 book has anyone detailed the inner workings of this cult...and the consequences of Moses David's perverted teachings on the lives of his followers.
The most dramatic controversy surrounding the group concerns its sexual dimension, from "sharing" oneself sexually with others in the group to open marriage and polygamy, from "Flirty Fishing" (or FFing) -- proselytizing and fund raising through prostitution -- to sexual activities among children and between children and adults. Despite belated attempts by some in the group's leadership to arrest the downward slide, the damage has been done. The COG is raising the next generation of members -- the offspring born in the cult -- and is apparently reaping the whirlwind because of its libertinism.
Much of what follows is shocking, sometimes painful reading. Our purpose in printing this material, however, is not to shock or sensationalize, but to expose the current situation in a pseudo-Christian cult that depends heavily on evangelical Christians for its sustenance. According to Dalva, the cult's missionaries are being supported financially by unsuspecting evangelicals in the United States and elsewhere, mocking the Word of God and destroying lives in the name of Jesus -- with church backing.
Because of the seriousness of her allegations, the JOURNAL has sought either documentation or independent confirmation of the events and doctrines she describes here. At one time, Dalva had all of the evidence in her possession, but when she and her companion left the COG they were frisked carefully and relieved of any literature considered a "breach of security." Some of the internal literature she cites is difficult, if not impossible, to obtain. Bear in mind also that the situation inside the cult is constantly changing, and that its perversions vary somewhat in degree from region to region.
The following is adapted from a manuscript, "A Elite Celestial" (The Heavenly Elite), which Dalva wrote for the Brazilian police and press in 1989, and which Paul Carden -- CRI's International Coordinator -- translated from the Portuguese.
For its friends and sympathizers, the COG is a paradise where righteousness, freedom, love, and peace become reality -- with beautiful, smiling children; young and handsome adults; and sumptuous, well-appointed mansions. But it was only through "white lies" and cruelty that Moses David and his disciples managed to build their Shangri-la. Its external members are oblivious to what goes on inside, and they promise their unconditional support and protection in the belief that their tithes are helping a marvelous organization. They don't know that the children's smiles hide a life of sex, prohibitions, and falsehoods; that vaccinations are forbidden; that they frequently spend months at a time confined to their lovely mansions due to epidemics of whooping cough, rubella, and mumps; and that they rarely have a mother and father who live together.
My children are still there on the inside. My oldest boy is now twelve, the next is eleven, and my girl recently turned seven. In the photographs, they are handsome, smiling, and gracious. But the photos say nothing about the sex sessions, the lies, the frustrations, the injustices.
Some COG disciples have kept quiet for fear of losing their children, as I did; others, for fear of losing a husband or wife; still others, for fear of losing their position or their support. There are also those who, believing that the Children of God are truly the Heavenly Elite, are afraid of being cast out of Jesus Christ's own inner circle and from the company of the saints -- and therefore subject themselves to every sort of barbarity in order to belong.
In describing the cult's incredible beliefs and perversions, I am actually describing a part of my own life, for I myself participated in such aberrations and practiced many of the abominations I now condemn: I broke up families through adultery, lied "in the name of God," and practiced "FFing." By the grace of God, I lacked the nerve to practice incest and homosexuality -- but of the rest I am as guilty as any of the others.
I write, therefore, not out of self-righteousness, but as one of the guilty who seeks to somehow make things right and avoid even greater harm being done by omission.
My purpose here is simply to show the real facts of life in the cult -- all of them carefully hidden and vehemently denied before the public -- and the impact of Moses David's theories on the day-to-day lives of his followers.
THE TREE AND ITS FRUIT
The guitars ring out happily as the young, smiling musicians play songs so the others can dance. Most of them are young, too, and a bit inhibited.
The music builds, faster and faster, in a rock rhythm. The blood begins to warm up, and inhibitions begin to fade. "Free, eternally free, every day, free, free through Jesus!" they sing in unison, more and more strongly.
Inhibitions finally evaporate as the loud, rhythmic singing continues. One girl starts to take off her blouse. Another follows suit. Everyone dances, their arms raised as they shout, "Hallelujah, Jesus, we're free!" As their clothing falls to the ground they begin caressing each other's bodies.
And so, this special night of the new disciples' "Basic Course" at the "Babe's Ranch" ends in success. Couples and threesomes lie on the ground, or divide themselves among the rooms, in fulfillment of the law of God to "love one another" (John 15:12) and begin at last to be "like the angels of God in heaven," who "neither marry, nor are given in marriage" (Matt. 22:30). They have finally reached the "glorious liberty of the children of God" (Rom. 8:21) and can now be truly considered...Children of God.
What characterizes the COG? Sex.
From earliest infancy, the cult's children are taught the basic principle of sexual freedom. Children are encouraged to stimulate each other sexually and to take part in sexual acts with adults. In the past Moses David has vehemently denied that incest is practiced among them on the pretext that, legally, the word requires actual penetration (which is not permitted in the Children of God, since this could hurt the little girls). But everything else is permitted, and the fathers are free to lie with their little daughters to "play," and the mothers to maintain sexual relations with their little boys.
This kind of perversion permeates COG literature. One of Moses David's recent children's books -- Heaven's Children -- depicts him making love with his "wife" Maria and his stepdaughter Techi in the same bed. (We also have the testimony of his eldest daughter, Deborah, who wrote of his advances toward her, and of his incestuous relationship with another daughter, Faithy.)
The COG also published a book, The Story of Davidito, which features photographs and descriptions of Moses David's stepson, Davidito (then three-and-a-half), engaging in a variety of sexual acts with little girls and adult women. It is noteworthy that the "education" given this boy is offered as an example to all the members of the group.
I know these things by grim experience. In my own home, all the upbringing I gave to my children was cut off when the new leadership arrived. "They're not yours anymore, honey," my Shepherdess told me.
My little ones were introduced to the "delights of sex." At our COG home in Dallas, the bedroom where my husband and I had slept was vacated and turned into a children's dormitory. At night, under the supervision of an obliging adult, the children between three and ten years old said their prayers and were separated into their beds by pairs -- to make love before going to sleep.
Once I found my oldest son all alone, crying. "The girls don't want to make love to me," he sobbed. I started to talk to him, but the Shepherdess brusquely swept me aside, knelt beside him, and explained: "You have to be more aggressive, David, and take the initiative! Then they'll like it and want to make love with you!" My poor seven-year-old -- so shy and withdrawn.
I pity the poor parents who dare to rebel against these practices, because rebellion against the group's thinking, or against the leadership's decisions, is considered a dangerous act of treason -- and is severely punished.
The consequences of such practices have been disastrous. Because one third of the COG's second generation is now between 12 and 18 years of age, promiscuity has become rampant, along with the problems which obviously follow. That is why they have created the "Teen Ranches" -- which are, in truth, simply centers for psychological recovery and indoctrination.
Another tragic consequence of total permissiveness, and of idolizing physical beauty, is the rejection of the girls who are less-endowed, fat, or ugly. Despised by the boys and taunted by their girlfriends, they become so shy and withdrawn that the adults accuse them of harboring evil spirits and punish them severely.
Girls are taught from the time they are little to submit to anyone who imposes himself on them sexually, to dress and behave provocatively, and are instructed in all the techniques of how to satisfy a man. (I am speaking here of little children between the ages of three and twelve years old, not of women or teenagers.) The little girls are encouraged to dress and act "sexy." From the time they are small they perform strip-teases and dance nude for the men, receiving applause, whistles, caresses, and kisses. They are also invited to sit on the men's laps and "play" with them.
Two or three nights a week, in homes with many children between eight and eighteen, there is "sharing time" -- that is, the leaders organize who will have sex with whom, just as it is among the adults. Moses David tried to eliminate this practice for children of reproductive age due to the danger of early pregnancies, but without success: the snowball grew as it rolled down the mountain, and the only means they found to get around the problem was to marry these kids legally in order to avoid problems with the authorities in the worldly "System."
The situation became so serious that at one point almost all nonmoneymaking activities were halted so they could dedicate themselves full time to reeducating their young people, who were so engrossed in sex that they had lost any notion of reality.
New literature was prepared exclusively for the indoctrination of this second generation raised in the "Family," and thoroughly saturated with its practices. Intensive teen recovery courses were given, the so-called "Teens' Training Camps," or TTCs, during which the young people answered extensive questionnaires that revealed weak points in their education and indoctrination.
The girls responded almost unanimously that their greatest trauma was that of sexual sessions with their own fathers, or with other older male members, who physically imposed themselves on the girls with threats that if they refused they would be considered rebellious. Pressured by their fathers, by their Shepherds, or by other influential members, these poor little girls (many of them between five and ten years old) submitted themselves to various kinds of sexual relations, including group sex, for fear of being punished and reprimanded -- or at least ostracized. Only after these questionnaires was sex with the children discouraged, though not forbidden outright.
Nevertheless, nearly all the educational literature for children and young people is still sexually oriented. (Heaven's Girl, for example, is about the adventures of a teenage girl with supernatural powers, and of her FFing [i.e., sexual] conquests and adventures.) In fact, a large section of one of the books most read to children tells of the adventures of "Grandpa" (Moses David) in heaven and in the spirit world, parts of which are little more than breathless descriptions of his sexual activities with deceased girls from the group.
Maria, Moses David's consort and the group's de facto leader, is quite concerned about the children's educational situation, and it was thanks to her that certain sexual excesses practiced among the little ones were cut off. Maria encouraged the formation of schools and homes specializing in child care, and was the "brains" behind both the recovery centers for teenagers and the prohibition against unrestrained sex with outsiders.
After a virtual epidemic of incurable herpes, various homes for herpes carriers were founded so the illness wouldn't spread any further. The use of condoms -- forbidden as a means of birth control -- was permitted, and FFing was brought under greater control. With the advent of AIDS, sex was further restricted to internal members, with the important exception of "fishing" for influential men and women. The use of condoms eventually became mandatory, as did AIDS testing for all internal members every six months.
Rescue — and Retribution
One ex-COG disciple, Vivian Shillander, succeeded in rescuing her children from the cult in Thailand against incredible odds. Moses David reacted by writing a harsh letter to the Family cursing Vivian and advising members to be prepared to give their lives to defend the group's "rights" and its children from "the Devil's system." He counselled Vivian's husband -- still a member of the cult -- to move near his ex-wife's residence in South Dakota, infiltrate her home, convince her that he had repented, and then steal the children and disappear with them. The letter's content is extremely violent, and it specifically instructs members not to give in to law-enforcement officials who knock on their doors -- and to be willing to die in defense of their homes.
The adventures -- and misadventures -- of the COG in various "mission fields" around the world is a story in itself. Due to space limitations, I will limit my focus to two nations that have been strongly influenced by the cult: Brazil and the Philippines.
In Brazil the COG found an oasis. Despite the bad publicity generated by the media around ten years ago, the cult has flourished. Members expelled by other countries flee to Brazil, and here the group extends liberties not granted anywhere else -- thanks not only to Brazil's highly permissive society, but also (and principally) to the unrestrictive laws on freedom of worship.
Though the AIDS epidemic caused the cult to cut back on some of its extreme sexual practices elsewhere in the world, in Brazil things continued unabated. One example would be the famous GAFMs (Greater Area Family Meetings), which were nothing more than gigantic bacchanals, with three days of wine, group sex, erotic dances, strip-teases, and every sort of debauchery, in which all COG disciples of all the greater area homes participated. These orgies were prohibited in all other countries of the world around 1983, but in Brazil the practice was only recently abolished. Because of the AIDS epidemic, orgies are now held only in the privacy of one's home, but the videos of the GAFMs remain as a reminder of the "good times."
Rio de Janeiro is the center for the cult's lucrative audio and video cassette recording and duplicating operation in Brazil. Tapes destined for Brazil and the rest of South America are produced in a music studio under the direction of Billy Blanco, Jr., the son of a famous Brazilian musician (who is himself well known, having even worked with Yoko Ono). The tapes are duplicated by professional studios like RCA and GEL and then sold as though they were legal, even though the cult pays no taxes and gives the materials fictitious numbering. The cult is currently enjoying great success in selling its literature, videos, and audio tapes to unsuspecting Christian churches and schools -- at exorbitant prices -- in many parts of Brazil.
In Sao Paulo the group's members go "provisioning" among businesses to acquire donated goods to supply the material needs of members in outlying regions. Belo Horizonte, capital of the state of Minas Gerais, is the cult's operational center for all of Latin America. There, the elite "World Services" teams -- hand-picked by Peter Amsterdam, Moses David's personal advisor -- translate restricted-access "DO" (Disciples Only) literature from English into Spanish and Portuguese. The material is then printed, packaged, and shipped to each of the cult's homes in South America.
The exact location of the enormous mansions from which the highly-sensitive World Services homes operate is not known to average members or even to the lower leaders, since their discovery could lead to the group's expulsion from almost every country in Latin America. This is because the cult maintains computerized lists there of all the names, addresses, and telephone numbers of every member of every home, plus detailed files on its many supporters and friends.
Smuggling and other clandestine shipments are a key part of the homes' operations. Computer, printing, and photographic equipment are brought into the country by special couriers or by external members with diplomatic privileges. Reproduction masters for some of the cult's more controversial literature (e.g., those portraying child sexual activities) often enter Brazil in the form of microfilm.
As noted earlier, Brazil is also a key destination for members in other countries who flee when their activities are threatened or banned. With the closing of the cult's work in almost all of the Asian countries several years ago, a great majority of COG members were sent to Brazil. This could have led to a dangerous level of overcrowding, since the group already had some 900 followers there. The solution chosen by COG leadership was to simply throw out all the members considered "problem cases" -- namely, those without special financial means who had legal, family, or personal problems. And as this category fit the majority of the poorer Brazilians in the cult (who also had families with many young children), these unfortunate members suddenly found themselves homeless, jobless, and penniless. In virtually all cases the mother was also pregnant at the time of eviction. In no case whatsoever was any mercy shown those who were cast away. ("We're not a hospital," says Moses David.)
One of the cult's most successful subversive operations is described in several letters known as "The Jumbo Series." Armed with music and inspirational tapes, very well-dressed young women from the group infiltrated military barracks and offices, presenting themselves to the secretaries and asking to speak with colonels and generals, saying: "Tell him that two pretty young girls want to talk to him about love." Not surprisingly, most of the time they were welcomed into the most closed of offices. When the official in question was known to be moral (and the girls would be careful to inquire about this beforehand), the approach was more circumspect.
In just a few months, the COG had thoroughly infiltrated the military, using their anti-Communist literature, their sexual favors, and their music to win the highest officials in the nation. Even the Philippine army's anthem, We Give Our Lives, is said to be written by COG disciples! During the entire infiltration operation, Moses David and his wife, Maria, directed the work and counseled their teams through letters and phone calls, and nothing was done without their express permission.
With the fall of the Marcos government these same officials rose to power, and with them, the Children of God. When Cardinal Jaime Sin stirred up public opinion against the cult and demanded its expulsion from the country, the military quietly came to its defense. After the cult sent its American and European members to Thailand and other countries (from which they were later expelled), the armed forces enabled it to continue "underground."
Moses David wrote a pamphlet entitled The Red Menace which was distributed among all the military in the Philippines. This pamphlet was printed by the Aquino government's own military leaders and distributed, not by the Children of God, but by the soldiers themselves on orders from the military leadership. In this pamphlet, Moses David sounds a "call to arms" for the soldiers to rise up against "the Red Beast." But in secret letters to his disciples Moses David declared his true intention: to awaken the military to the "danger" of the supposedly pro-Communist government of Corazon Aquino.
Today the cult is going strong with the full protection of Corazon Aquino's military -- a protection guaranteed on the perfumed beds of its women. The layer of military protection is so great that a round-the-clock military armed guard has been provided at "Jumbo" -- the cult's mansion in Manila -- as though it were one of the official buildings of the American government. Such is the power of sex!
With the lessons learned among the Philippine military, the COG in Brazil began a literal frontal assault, seeking to win the support and sympathy of Brazil's high civil and military officials. Some of its women have flown over Brazilian skies in official aircraft, accompanied by the generals who protect them.
I ask myself what would happen if the military returned to power in Brazil. Would the Children of God's mansions there be graced with an armed guard, too? And would we, too, have the Heavenly Elite as the gurus of our government, as in the Philippines?
An Interview With Dalva Lynch
Dalva comments on subjects mentioned in her manuscript and on other important developments in the Children of God. (From an interview conducted in Sao Paulo, Brazil on March 9, 1990.)
"Heaven's Girl" — and Paranormal Vengeance
Lynch: There's a series called Heaven's Girl. This is a whole new concept of Children of God. They are not Children of God, they're "Heaven's Girls" and "Heaven's Boys." And they claim that they have superhuman powers; they can make a building collapse, or people get burned. Do you remember the movie Firestarter?
JOURNAL: I read about it.
Lynch: Everybody is required to see Firestarter, because those are the powers they are supposed to have. They are required to pray for these powers. They don't think, they're convinced that by faith they can destroy someone.
There is one book that's essential reading for the whole Family; it's the Basic Training Handbook. It's required reading for all teenagers. It talks about how the teenagers in the Ranches, and those teenager camps, should begin building out what they call the "Heaven's Girl vision" -- to give the children the vision of their power. So the children are raised to build up their power.
JOURNAL: What convinces them that they can really do that?
Lynch: I'm going to give you just a few examples. One of them is Tenerife. When Moses David escaped from Tenerife, in the Canary Islands, he cursed it, and about a month later those jetliners collided. The economy was ruined for one or two years because people were afraid to fly there.
Then, a few months ago, after the newspapers in Sao Paulo printed my story and gave their addresses and all, they did a cursing session. They told [CRI researcher] Joaquim they had "prayed for us." And that night all the warehouses of the Estado de S. Paulo burned to the ground -- they were cursed. I could give other examples.
JOURNAL: And these coincidences, or whatever, convince them that it works?
Lynch: Well, it always happens.
JOURNAL: Let's talk about principal changes in the group -- what are the main ones that people don't know?
Lynch: The first big change is that there's no more families. No more families at all.
JOURNAL: And the nuclear family -- all gone? What is there?
Lynch: It's like that. This is very recent. When I left they were institutionalizing this in Brazil, but in other countries there are no more families. They can deny this, because they have a very broad definition of "family" -- threesomes, foursomes, nine or ten kids -- anybody who's in a home is part of a family. And the leaders match them up and break them apart as they like. Anything else is "selfishness." There's no more marriage as you know it; a father, a mother, and children are just an accident. It's like, whoever is in my bed is "daddy." The children get horribly confused.
The thing is that Maria began writing several letters about emotions and feelings, and they were finally ruled out as being devilish. So there's no more feelings --
JOURNAL: No more romance or parent/child affection --
Lynch: Nothing. This is "against the Lord," because this is a feeling that is before the Lord. You have a tendency to make a god of the one you love, so this is ruled out.
Lynch: If you begin having a feeling, you have to get it out. Now, because of this, sex is made by schedule.
JOURNAL: It's all programmed in advance. Who schedules sex?
Lynch: The leadership.
JOURNAL: The local leadership?
Lynch: Well, some homes were starting to do it themselves, but since there were so many problems with people -- you know, choosing someone -- everything began to be programmed by the leadership again.
JOURNAL: Back to the children. What about institutionalizing the children?
Lynch: Because of these attachments, they are so afraid that the attachment between parent and child will lead to something that they separate the kids from their parents.
JOURNAL: And put them where?
Lynch: In schools. You cannot have any love relationship; it's all about schedules. But the kids come to be rocks. You wouldn't believe it. They don't have love anymore. It's just rocks.
JOURNAL: And, of course, the point of this is that they have no personal loyalties, no ties -- you can control them.
Lynch: Exactly. Just little robots. That's why I'm so desperate to get my kids, because they're still in there. The adults can't just make love with the kids anymore. Maria wrote a letter -- we were required to read the letter and burn it. It had no title, nothing. We were required to get together, two people together -- not everybody, two-by-two -- read it and then burn it. And this letter stated that anybody who made love with a kid under eighteen without the permission of the Shepherd would be immediately excommunicated. There was so much rampant sex with children that Maria wrote several letters trying to calm things down, because now they have to cope with the results of their lasciviousness with the children. And the children are badly hurt -- I mean badly hurt.
Lynch: Another change: there are practically no new disciples.
JOURNAL: No more internal member recruiting?
Lynch: No. If you recruit a member right away, you are excommunicated. When I left, it was a slow, difficult, two-or-three year process to become a disciple. Very few people make it.
JOURNAL: So what are they doing? Just maintaining?
Lynch: They are just learning to fight spiritually -- that's the biggest change; they are studying and they are evolving their big powers. Do you ever see them standing and preaching the gospel in the street? No. They are selling posters and tapes. Why? To get money. Why? To support themselves. They are "spoiling Egypt."
The COG in the U.S.
JOURNAL: Tell me about the Children of God in the United States.
Lynch: No Children of God in the United States, really; just little tiny homes, like where I was in Fort Worth, with two families. They are just there to raise money.
JOURNAL: What do they call themselves there?
Lynch: Well, when I was there we used several names, like the "Christian Children's Mission" -- all names were very near to some very known charity, so when you come to the stoplights, they just say: "Would you help the Christian Children's Mission?" You would think they were talking about the Christian Children's Fund, and you would give them money.
JOURNAL: So this is the role of the members in the United States?
Lynch: Yes. People who are there are unable to go to the field for little problems, for sickness, or things like that.
JOURNAL: How extensive is support for Children of God missionaries in the United States? Are many of them being supported by normal, Christian people? Normal, Christian churches who don't know what they are doing?
Lynch: All of them. My first husband's mother is a practicing Lutheran. I mean, she's a churchgoing, Bible-study Lutheran -- totally deceived.
JOURNAL: Because if that support were ended, they would be in big trouble?
Lynch: If the States would cut all their help, they would be dead!...If we just could convince those churches in the States of who they are -- that would be it!
- Basic Training Handbook, p. 408.
- "Worldwide Stats!" in Family News, August 1988, 6.
- Deborah Davis, The Children of God: The Inside Story (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1984).
- Heaven's Children (Zurich: World Services, April 1987), 391.
- Davis, 204.
- The Story of Davidito (Zurich: World Services, January 1982).
- See Basic Training Handbook (Zurich: World Services, February 1987), 293-96, 451-59.
- See, e.g., "Make it Work!," ML ["MO Letter"]#2433, 6/88 (reprinted in Good News #331, September 88, 1ff).
- Heaven's Children, 233-35, 300.
- Moses David is nearly incapacitated by old age and ill health (including the effects of alcoholism). He is believed to be living in Brazil.
- The U.S. watched her story on the ABC television program "20/20" in July 1988.
- For one of his earlier tirades on child custody and the threat of legal action taken because of the child sex issue, see "Guard Your Children," ML #1698, 12/83 (abridged in Daily Bread, vol. 2 [Zurich: World Services, June 1985], 180-88).
- A version appears in Treasures (Zurich: World Services, July 1987), 664-72.
Copyright 1994 by the Christian Research Institute.
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