London Times: Judge condemns cult's founder as perverted and malign influence

From XFamily - Children of God

Judge condemns cult's founder as perverted and malign influence

London Times/1995-11-25

By Emma Wilkins

The founder of the Children of God religious cult was a perverted and malign influence on his gullible followers, Lord Justice Ward said in his 314 page judgment.

The judge, who summoned witnesses from within the movement, former members and expert witnesses in child psychology, made clear that the child's mother and grandmother both wanted the best interests of the boy to be paramount. "Each has never flinched or contemplated surrender in this titanic struggle to secure the care and control of the much-loved child in question," the judge said.

The judge praised the grandmother, 58, who wanted to take the boy to Africa where she planned to employ a nanny and later arrange for his education in England. "The suggestion is made on behalf of The Family that the plaintiff is a mere tool and dupe of the anti-cult movement. I reject that submission," he said. "She is a remarkably strong and determined lady who, having embarked on this campaign, has carried it through when many lesser individuals would have folded under the strain."

Lord Justice Ward was severely critical of David "Moses" Berg, who founded the Children of God movement in 1968. "Berg was a man without judgment or moral scruple, and a malign corrupting influence on his susceptible followers," the judge said.

He heard evidence of Berg's perverted views on child sex. In one pamphlet, Berg wrote that young children should be encouraged to explore their naked bodies and play together.

They should be encouraged in nude mix bathing and nude mix play. They should also not be prohibited from mutual sexual examination, experimentation or interplay when playing or sleeping together, Berg wrote.

In what the judge described as pornographic literature, Berg illustrated his articles of faith with hand-drawings of naked women.

The judge described the Law of Love, which urges free love, as a "pernicious doctrine." He said: "In liberating the ordinary sexual inhibitions, the Law of Love empowers those with strong sexual urges but poor judgment to act indiscriminately and it puts pressure on the weak to succumb to that which does in fact harm them."

The judge condemned the practice of "flirty fishing", by which women members seduced new recruits to the cult, as nothing short of prostitution, the judge said, with Berg and his acolytes living off the proceeds. But he said: "I am satisfied that it has ceased and I judge there to be no substantial risk that it will be resumed."

While the boy's mother had slept with married men in the cult, the judge said he was confident that she was discreet. "Although she, like all members of the movement, exults in the glory of their sexual freedom so that she, like all others, proclaims there is nothing wrong with sex, I accept her protestation that she will not knowingly permit her son to be a witness to sexual activity." The judge condemned the practices of the 1970s and 1980s, when it was commonplace for children to witness adults having intercourse.

The judge said that the movement had now made determined and sustained attempts to eradicate child abuse, which had been widespread in the 70s and 80s.

"It was a deplorable period of their history. They have been rightly vilified by the media and pilloried by the press," he said, but he was convinced that the movement could accommodate change. The crucial event in this process was the death last year of Berg, the judge said. "The original one-man band' dictatorship has become more democratic, arriving at decisions after consultation and by consensus."

The judge expressed some doubts about the mother's ability to renounce Berg. "Her devotion to Berg is so total that it has drained her intellectual reserves and she, like most of those about her ... is blinded by love for him," he said.

However, when calling the mother before him earlier this month after a year's absence, the judge was impressed.

"This was not the sullen young woman of last year. She showed a readiness to admit past error that has been wholly lacking until now. More importantly she showed a certain insight that frankly surprised me."

"I find she is conscious of the dangers that zealots within The Family may sacrifice the rights of children on a false altar of misconceived service. I am satisfied that she will protect him from the excesses of the group."