Evening Standard: Evil Berg still leads cult from beyond the grave

From XFamily - Children of God

Evil Berg still leads cult from beyond the grave

Evening Standard/1995-11-24

By David Mcmillan and Gervase Webb

The Children of God have consistently fought claims that they abused children.

But Lord Justice Ward's judgment today is a damning indictment of a group in thrall to a charismatic and sinister figure who still leads them from beyond the grave.

David Berg, who died last year aged 75 was a depraved man obsessed with sex. "He might have idealised sex but he also perverted it," said the judge.

His judgment lays bare the sexual exploitation and corruption on which the cult, founded in California in the late Sixties, grew with its young females - branded "hookers for Jesus" - using sex to recruit new members.

Mr Justice Ward described how some cult houses had been "religious brothels" with the women practising what they called "flirty fishing" with the cult living off prostitution.

There were tales of brainwashing and "disgraceful" training camps where children had their spirits broken.

He said he had a feeling of "revulsion" as the evidence of child abuse, corruption of minors, incest, and torture, all in the name of love, unfolded. Berg was even guilty of the "barbaric and cruel" torture of his own granddaughter.

The religious fervour generated by Berg - also known as Moses or Father David - was based on his Law of Love, the general principle being "Now all things are lawful to us in love. Praise God. As long as it's done in love."

The Children of God have now changed their name and their tactics, he conceded, but added: "There are, however, deviant and damaged members of The Family who have perpetrated abuse, or have suffered abuse, and their personalities are warped accordingly."

David Berg formed the love-cult Children of God in 1968 in California on the back of the hippie movement.

Berg, a former Methodist pastor, turned the movement into an international moneyspinner, forcing each member to give one-tenth of all they had.

Berg, who styled himself the Endtime Prophet, preached sex of salvation and once predicted the world would end in 1993.

He had not been seen in public for more than 20 years before dying in 1994.

Throughout the Seventies, the Children of God spread around the world setting up communes in South America, Australia and Europe, but by the end of the decade even Berg realised the sex was getting out of hand.

He sacked his lieutenants and instituted a more sober regime even though it remained outrageously liberal by standards of traditional Christianity.

The group then split into communities calling themselves The Family, Family of Lover, Intimate Missionary and Families Unlimited.

Police in several countries including Argentina, Japan, America, France, Germany and Australia have carried out raids on his communes amid allegations of child abuse.

Since 1991, members have become concerned that the sect's internal workings and the identity of its personalties should be kept from the outside world.

In England, Scotland Yard carried out a three-year investigation into the Children of God, finding evidence that up to 1,000 British children had been recruited and lived in communes in the south of England, Leicestershire and Glasgow.

Investigators were concerned at the health risks in the communes after finding evidence that over a 10-year period at least 116 children had died.

In September 1994 the Criminal Injuries Board awarded Mrs Kristina Jones £5,000 compensation for being sexually abused by members of the cult since she was three.

Outside court, cult spokeswoman Rachael Scott, said: "This is a victory for the right of a parent to bring up a child according to their religious convictions. We hope now to place the past behind us."

My nightmare years as a child sex object

Maresha Spencer, daughter of one of the founder members of Fleetwood Mac, was born into the Children of God cult and lived a nightmare until she broke free aged 17.

Maresha grew up with the cult after her father Jeremy fell under their evil spell in 1971 when on tour with his band in America.

"They are pure evil," she revealed. "I was treated like a sex object from the age of four. I want everyone to know these people are not just religious nuts."

Maresha was born in a Brazilian commune five years after her father vanished from the streets of Los Angeles.

She holds horrific memories of her years in the cult, also known as The Family. When she was aged four Maresha was forced to perform a striptease, filmed for the cult's founder David Berg.

Maresha continues her harrowing story: "I've seen the film recently and it made me feel sick to the stomach. I remember from an early age being involved in these wild orgies they held. Everyone would be naked and the grown-ups would be groping each other and having sex in front of the kids.

"We were used to having big prayer meetings when suddenly the leader would shout: 'God wants everyone to take off all their clothes'. They'd start stripping and fondling each other."

Sect members were eager to put into action a child-pornography leaflet they produced called My Little Fish and when she was six Maresha was forced to perform a sex act with her 'teacher' Timothy.

'I remember he seemed so old to me, although he was probably in his late twenties. He was a big, tall American, an ex-Vietnam soldier,' she told the News of the World.

"We were having a kids party in our commune in Sri Lanka and I was told by one of the members that I had to go with this guy. I was told I had to 'share with him' as part of their law of love."

Maresha's ordeal with the Vietnam veteran meant she was 'initiated' and this led to further depravity - men would come into the room she shared with her brother and sister and take them back to their beds.

She said: "They didn't have to tell us how to do it, we'd already seen it for ourselves."

Older women, including Maresha's mother, Fiona, were not spared from victimisation. Maresha revealed most were forced into prostitution to help the cult.

"All the women had to sleep with strangers to get money to fund the cult," Maresha said. "The women believed it was their duty to sleep with loads of men and if they refused they were accused of being selfish and punished."

Four years ago, when she was 15, Maresha was separated from her family and went to live in Rugby in a house run by the cult's British leader Gideon Scott and his wife Rachel. At the house she was subjected to physical and mental torture.

"These were the worst ten months of my life - they used to hit us with a cricket bat, but they'd drilled holes in it so it would cut through the air faster and hurt more."

"I was put on a silence restriction, not allowed to speak for months and even locked in a caravan for a week and forced to live on just water," she said.

Maresha finally broke free from the cult in May 1993, but not before they promised disaster would befall her.

She said: "They told me that if I left God would make sure I was in accident which left me wheelchair-bound, but now I'm safer and happier than I ever was with the Children of God."