Controversial Children of God Sect 'Matures'
Linked to World Council of Churches
Mansfield News Journal/1976-03-20
The Los Angeles Times
The Children of God, regarded as the most radical and flamboyant ot the "Jesus freak" groups a few years back, has matured into a "rationally organized," international sect with links to the World Council of Churches.
The mysterious "Moses," David Berg, who founded the group in Huntington Beach, Calif., in 1968, has become something of an "honorary chairman of the board" for the sect now based in Europe. This picture of the controversial Children of God was drawn in a scholarly study by sociologist James T. Richardson of the University of Nevada at Reno and Rex Davis, a World Council of Churches official in Geneva.
Davis, whose office explores experimental ministries, visited 30 colonies of the sect in a dozen countries. He established a permanent liaison with the Children ot God in 1974 by hiring a staff person from the sect. The little-known liaison is an odd one inasmuch as the World Council of Churches usually is considered an evil, ecumenical monster by fundamentalist-oriented Christian churches and sects.
Richardson, who has studied the youthful Jesus movement in general, visited Children of God colonies in this country and in England. The study was presented at the last meeting of the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion. Davis and Richardson say the Children of God (often called simply COG) has become one of the most "democratic and unauthoritarian" groups to spring out of the now-dispersed Jesus movement. The public was misled by early descriptions of COG's "zombie-like followers" obtained from defectors and casual contacts with the organization, the two men claimed.
The New York State attorney general's office reported in October 1974, that the sect engaged in numerous illegal acts, including sexual abuse ot young'members, rape, kidnaping, tax evasion, draft dodging, brainwashing and virtual enslavement of converts.
The report followed an 18 month investigation and testimony, including that of Sarah Berg, the former daughter-in-law of David Berg. The New York attorney general said, however, that First Amendment protection of religious groups could prevent prosecution. The Children of God a month later formally denied as false the accounts of incest, rape and sexual promiscuity. As for brainwashing, it said. "No one is forced into submission to our beliefs."
Richardson said he and Davis have not tried to systematically prove or disprove various allegations. At the same time, the sociologist said, they never uncovered evidence of sexual misbehavior. "They definitely believe in the sanctity of marriage," Richardson said. Whatever the assessments ot the Children of God's early years, it is generally agreed that they set in motion a U.S. phenomenon that has yet to peak -- angry campaigns by parents who say certain religious sects "psychologically kidnap" their offspring.
Some parents arrange to recapture their sons and daughters (even those in their 20s) and have them "deprogrammed" in intensive sessions with interrogators such as Ted Patrick of San Diego.
The heat in recent years has been felt mainly by the Rev. Sun Myung Moon's Unification Church, the Hare Krishna movement and such local groups as Tony and Susan Alamo's Christian Foundation -- all of which, like COG, encourage living the faith full-time and giving personal property to the organization.