Where have all the Children of God gone?
Despite kidnappings, deprogrammings, investigations and a multimillion-dollar lawsuit, the Children of God are alive and well, raking in the money, brainwashing new "babes" every day and having a hell of a time
By Thomas Moore
Belte, short for Belteshazzar, has got his survival knapsack packed. In it he's got everything he'll need for the apocalypse: one tube of toothpaste, one toothbrush, one comb, one first-aid kit, one flashlight and extra set of batteries, one jackknife and sharpening stone, one piece of rope, a box of waterproof matches. a set of maps for the northeast United States, a transistor radio and extra set of batteries, a set of eating and cooking utensils, a fold-up fishing rod and reel, a packet of seeds, one bottle of water- purification tablets, two tins of sardines, a pair of pants, a shirt and one set of clean underwear. And for the soul, he's got a small Bible and a plastic case of his favorite Mo letters—the biweekly wisdom of his spiritual leader, one Moses David. It's all packed and ready to go.
Belte is a child of God, as in Children of God. He can hardly wait for The End. If only it would happen tomorrow, then bang, out to the woods, scrounging for berries and roots. Baby-faced with blond hair cut in a bowl shape, Belte is either 20 or 22, depending on when you ask him. He grew up in Athol, Mass. where he used to be the top local dealer— grass, uppers, downers, yellows, reds, you name it, he had it. That used to be a big thing where he came from – not as big as what he's into now, but big nevertheless. He used to drive to Worcester every two weeks in a reconditioned '59 Chevy he got for $100 and pick up a new shipment. Then he'd drive back out this place he'd set up in the woods – sort of like the refuge he's got in mind for The End – and he had it wired up for sound, stereo, tape decks, the whole bit. At night, his friends would filter out to his place, buy some grass, get stoned and party till dawn.
But see, that was all meaningless, Belte says. No purpose to it. Sure, he was bucking the system – no job, no college, no Army (his lottery number was 364), no parents to speak of – his father died when he was a kid and his mother and stepfather didn't care much what he did so long as he didn't bother them. He had money from the grass trade, all the beer he cared to drink, friends, status. But, what did it all add up to?
So, like a lot of other kids too young for the street-fighting politics of the '60s, Belte started to look around for something he could plug into, something that could make sense of all the chaos and nonsense going on around him. The Establishment? Forget it – light years behind him. The despairing politicos of the '60s? Everything's just a bummer to them. The drug culture? He'd already done that. Belte wanted something new, something radically different, something to lift him up, make him high on life and not on emptiness. He found it all right. The ultimate trip, the last trip: the Children of God.
And what irony. The Bible's only been around since the beginning of time. Just a simple book, passed down from one generation to another. Until it got lost in the shuffle of churches, money, intellectuals, systems, wars, economics, politics and drugs. "Once I was passing out Mo letters in Harvard Square," Belte says, "and let me tell you, it was rough. 'Get outta here,' they'd say. 'Who needs that? Get lost. Fuck you.' That's what they'd say. I gave a letter to this Harvard student and you know what he told me? He said the Bible is only one book on his shelf."
The oldest book in the world, totally dumped on by everybody, until now it's just one book stacked up on a long shelf along with I'm OK, Your'e OK and Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex.
Yes, Belte joined the Children of God and, yes, he admits to being brainwashed. Who isn't? He washed all those deceiving ideas, those hundreds of mind trips, phony values and thousands of words right out of his mind. And started over again from scratch. One book: the Bible. It's the whole truth and nothing but. And – here's the final irony – the ultimate confirmation – it was so easy. Just ask Jesus into your heart and It Is Done. You don't need money or qualifications or contacts or special skills. Right now, if you want. Just ask.
Pavlov and the Age of Reason
The Children of God (COG) are the hardliners, the Jesus People the media cast as a bunch of brainwashing, hypnotizing, pied-pipering, glassy-eyed zombies who in the last four year, ran off babbling 'bout "Jesus now" with a lot of nice kids. While most of the weekend Jesus freaks closed their coffee houses and blended back into schools, jobs, families and churches, the Children of God stayed with it. They are different. Unlike the Guru Maharaj Ji's beatific "premies" or Korean Sun Myung Moon's straight-laced "moonies," the Children of God are into it – until The End. They don't own things, take jobs on the side, go to school or live with their real families. All that has been forsaken.
Losing their kids to such a fanatical group, even in the name of Jesus Christ, naturally came as a shock to some parents. Others were simply amused when their kids hooked up with COG – after all, it was just another trip. the kids were doing their own thing. But then they realized it was hard to keep in touch. Letters they sent would come back unanswered. And what letters they did receive would sound childlike, silly, not the work of their own sons or daughters: "With love to Mommy on Mother's Day. The river of life and love pour freely through every open heart. So let God's glory be your song of praise. Happy Mother's day, Mommy. Cephas." This from a boy who attended St. George's prep school and went to Stanford.
Several parents filed missing persons reports and, with the help of the FBI and police, tried to track down their children. If they were lucky enough to find them — many COG kids were hidden or moved secretly to another place and some colonies were guarded by an elaborate network of sentries carrying guns and walkie-talkies – it turned out that the "leaders" spoke for them. Their kids seemed to be in a daze, they spoke haltingly and showed no emotion except fear. Some screamed at their parents, calling them "devils." And when a father said he'd had enough and tried to pull his son out to the car, the son recoiled, moaning that he'd go to hell if he left, that he'd bleed to death.
And that was when the talk of brainwashing began, and hypnotism, and drugs – even hints of a dark, communist conspiracy. How else to explain this total transformation of their kids, this trip of trips? Certainly not just an old-fashioned religious conversion. These are the 1970s! Post-Nazi Germany, post-Korean War, post-Chinese torture and brainwashed prisoners of war – in short, post-Pavlov and his yelping, pain-conditioned dogs.
Enter Ted Patrick, kidnapper of kids, deprogrammer of Jesus freaks. Black Lightening, as he likes to be called. His technique sounded a little heavy: getting parents to abduct their kid from a colony, locking the kid in a motel room for three days, berating the kid to "think for himself" until – sometimes – "the fever broke."
The kids Patrick worked on often went through "relapses" and escpaed back to the Children of God. But, the parents contend, at least he was doing something. At least he realized what was happening, that young kids' minds were being brainwashed, taken over and maybe damaged for the rest of their lives.
From a legal standpoint, the problem for the parents is that our present laws don't really take into account the possibility of brainwashing. Our legal system, inherited from the British and the Age of Reason, is based on the assumption of rationality.. Only if someone commits an actual crime or is judged to be mentally incompetent, can the law touch them. But, even if we admit that people can be conditioned by psychological methods, who is to judge if someone has been brainwashed, willingly or unwillingly, or is simply choosing a new way of life>
Stuart Beck, a young attorney representing a group of parents who recently filed a multi-million-dollar lawsuit against COG in New York's Southern District, admits he had to dig deep into the law books to build his case. The lawsuit charges, among other things, an incident of rape at a former COG colony in Ellenville, N.Y,, the coercive detention of several of the parents' kids and, in general, that COG engages in "a conspiracy to frighten, harass, intimidate and damage children."
"There is no doubt," Beck says, "that our legal system has a built-in distrust of psychiatry. It has a lot of trouble with claims based on psychological coercion as opposed to physical coercion. Nevertheless, enticement, coercion and duress, whether physical or psychological, have been held to be actionable in both civil and criminal contexts repeatedly. In the recent Houston homosexual murders case, the jury had a chance to look at a case where a kid claimed his part in the murders was a result of brainwashing by someone else. The jury didn't buy it. But there was a case in New York a while back where a circus was held liable for luring away a sixteen-year-old."
Regardless, politically sensitive government agencies have been scared off from investigating COG or moving against them legally, largely because the American Civil Liberties Union has argued effectively on COG's behalf against the extreme measures of people like Ted Patrick (Patrick was recently convicted of kidnapping in Denver). As of this writing, only New York State has conducted any sort of thorough investigation into COG. While the final report will not be released until later this fall, an interim report was issued, find among other things: 1) that the purpose of COG propaganda is to alienate a new disciple from family, school, church and society; 2) that COG condones premarital sex; 3) that new members must sign over all possessions and money to COG; 4) that obedience to Leaders is required to the point, as some former COG members testified, "that if their Leaders were to command to kill, they would do so unquestioningly"; 5) that they engage in "deceitful public relations"; 6) that ex-COG members testified that they were given indoctrination classes that constitute a "very subtle brainwashing"; and 7) they are taught to "spoil Egypt" and "rip off the system."
The understaffed Bureau of Charity Frauds, which carried out the investigation under the New York State Attorney General's Office, has so far refused to release the testimony or evidence it has gathered, "for reasons of confidentiality." The parents who cooperated with the investigation are now disgusted with what they consider to be its feeble results and have started to petition Congress for definitive hearings on COG.
All of this legal wrangling must bring a smile to the unphotographed face of Moses David, the elusive founder and prophet of the Children of God who, since the parents organized FREECOG against him, unincorporated his religious organization and fled to an unnamed mountaintop in Europe. He is unavailable, unsubpoenable and untouchable. But, like some fundamentalist General Giap, he finds it easier and less risky to run his worldwide network of about 300 colonies – they say they have 4,000 to 5,000 members today and are growing fast – by sending out his biweekly Mo (for Moses) letters from seclusion. Like the Viet Cong, the Children of God struck once and, after a counterattack by enraged parents, retreated to wait for a more opportune moment. Which, they tell me, is now, just before The End. So today they are readying a Tet Offensive of the spirit. The plan is to work from within, picking off society's stragglers one by one, snatching bodies and, just as in the movie, replacing them with smiley, dedicated soldiers of Jesus. The last harvest is at hand. The big bumper crop of lost souls is ready for reaping.
Litnessing for the Lord
"Thank you, Lord. God morning," intones and "undershepherd" named Napthali, leading the morning devotions at a colony of the Children of God, a white clapboard house hidden in a wooded area of Staten Island. It used to be a hunting lodge, but now the owner, an Italian real-estate man who believes in Jesus, has turned it over to the Children of God rent free. The "teams" are about to take off to "litness," which means witnessing by handing out Mo's literature.
On the surface, there is nothing particularly heavy about these kids. Contrary to the slightly paranoid warning of FREECOG parents, there are no drugs in the tea, no frightening "isolation chambers" where kids are reduced to mumbling vegetables, no intimidating attempts to force on-the-spot conversions. And yet, there is still something slightly scary about the group: maybe it's the way the house is cut off from the rest of New York City by an improbable woods; the way they have hundreds of pins porcupined over a global map, representing their worldwide network of colonies; the month's supply of dry goods they have stacked up in the basement. But mostly what is scary is the way these seemingly normal American kids shelter powerful fears and suspicions of supposed "enemies and devils," of the Unknown, percolating just beneath their cheery facades.
All 20 members of the commune hold hands in a circle, everybody smiling – you gotta be happy with Jesus.
"You guys all want to get out early today?" Napthali shouts.
Voices: "Yeah! We need to!"
Napthali: "There's a lot of hungry people out there!"
Voices: "Yeah! Thank you, Jesus!"
Napthali: "So Lord, really help us to be bright, alive and peppy this morning. Really help us to fulfill, Lord God. You've given it into our hands to feed your sheep, Lord, and we said if we love you, Lord God, we'll feed your sheep."
Voices: "Thank you, Jesus. Praise God!"
Belte: "Just be with us out there, Father God (Amen!), help us Lord to die today, Father God, to really get out there and to just get us so flipped out on your love and just love the people, Lord God. (Hallelujah! Thank you, Lord!) Jee-e-sus. Lord God. just help us to be happy newsboys for thy kingdom, Father God (Amen!). Lord, do miracles, we pray Father God, In Jesus' name (Thank you, Jesus! Hallelujah! Praise God! Tongues)."
At 14th Street and 4th Avenue, Union Square, Manhattan, Napthali and Freedom, recently married, he from Michigan City, Ind., and she from Watertown, Mass., ask me to hold hands with them around a concrete waste container while they pray to God as to which street corner will be the most fruitful.
In a moment they are on a corner, getting out the "lit" to: young Puerto Rican kids in platforms and spangled T-shirts, retired Jews with time to kill, a couple of Arabs, old women with shopping bags, hippies in VW vans stopped at a light, a Long Island couple in an air-conditioned car. And surprisingly, the people reach into their pockets or onto their dashboards and quarters and dimes, sometimes even dollars, start to come forth. Nobody seems to care what the literature is, just give the kids a quarter and get rid of them. God provides. Particularly through the blacks; particularly through the poor or hardworking, particularly through the teenagers. But your average godless late-20s hippy or young professional won't touch the stuff. Just another street hustle – like the Rev. Sun Myung Moon folks down the street with their neat cardboard tables, or the Socialist Workers Party girls with their petitions, or the Seventh-Day Adventists, or the National Labor Caucus crazies.
After a couple of hours on the street, 400 letters out and $40 in, we take a lunch break at Tad's Steak House. And I listen to the inevitable testimonial – the bleak and empty former life, the drugs and alcohol, the non-caring, status-seeking, money-hungry parents, and then, the overnight conversion.
"I couldn't understand why there was no love in the world," Freedom tells me. "I had this thing about you would just try to love people and it just wouldn't work out. You just got more lost, nobody wants to give anything, everybody's taking."
Yes, and the drugs, and the psychiatrist, and the heavy movie, the handful of pills, the suicidal moment – when, suddenly, comes the voice of God, saying: Put them away and tomorrow when you wake up everything will be fine, you will find what you're looking for." And then, of course, the next day's encounter with a beautiful, carefree angel from the Children of God: "It was a Sunday morning and she was walking up the street, and she had long hair and it was flowing in the breeze and she looked really free, she really looked happy, her face looked different." And then: "I prayed and asked Jesus into my heart and he just changed my whole life that day."
That's how it happens. Bingo, and you're in. Bingo, and then you're back out on the street, "getting out the lit." Freedom has stopped the archetypal New Yorker, the good-natured guy from Queens, maybe 55 or 60, with a grease spot on his shirt.
Freedom: "if you ask Him into your heart, He can place the Kingdom of God in your heart and teach you how to love."
Guy: "Those are very nice words but..."
Freedom: "It's true, though. I tried it and it works. All you gotta do is ask. God will supply all your needs for ya."
Guy: "God wouldn't supply all my needs. God doesn't have that much."
Freedom: "He luvs ya!"
Guy: "Aw c'mon. C'mon! Listen. I had a prayer book in my hands for years and it didn't do me any good. The harder I prayed, the worse my luck.. You figure it out."
Freedom: "He just wants you to receive it. You have to become like a little child to receive God, you gotta be a baby to receive love, you know."
Guy: "To receive love? After years of praying with all my heart and soul. He didn't want to help me. That proves He didn't love me. He hates me!"
Of Fornication and False Prophets
Back at the colony a young Jewish kid from Brooklyn named Dana knocks at the locked doors. Only a month has gone by since Dana asked Jesus into his heart and started dropping in with "the family" on weekends to take Bible lessons. He has been on the brink of joining, forsaking everything – his clothes, his stereo, his plan to go to business school this fall, his rabbi, his parents. He has found a certain peace. He has said, "Yes, Jesus, I'm yours." and it has made him happy.
But today, everything is different. Dana is troubled. He sits nervously on the edge of the sofa, looking no one in the eye. Today, Dana has come on a mission: to denounce Moses David as false prophet. Mo has this thing about sex and it doesn't sit quite right with Dana. He thought he had put all that behind him – dark impulses, masturbation, guilt, feeling his blood pound at the sight of bulging nipples under girl's T-shirts. He though keeping his mind on Jesus might spare him those bewildering urges. He'd asked Jesus to save him, risked his parents wrath, his rabbi's scorn. He was trying to cope, on his own. But now, it turns out this guy Moses David is actually fomenting sex! This guy Mo is saying to women, "C'mon, Ma, burn your bra!"
In the last week, Dana has made a new friend, Richard, a leader in a Pentecostal sect. And Richard, who eyes the Children of God like the Jewish Defense League eyes the Soviet Embassy, has suggested to Dana that Mo comes on an awful lot like the devil himself. For the past week Dana hasn't slept. He has been going over passages in the Bible, noting down chapter and verse, stocking up on ammunition for the battle.
"Have you read any of these letters?" Dana asks me after we are introduced. "Like Revolutionary Sex. Mountain Maid. It's dealing really heavy with sex. It seems to me this Moses David has a sex hang-up.'
There are only a few colony members on hand and they busy themselves cleaning up the paper plates from a late brunch, looking natural, like nothing's happening, and mostly pretending the heretic on the couch is not there.
Dana continues, loudly: And the Bible's definitely against it. The Bible says you shouldn't fornicate. In Matthew it says: "But I say unto you that whosover shall put away his wife, saving for fornication, causeth her to commit adultery; and whosoever shall marry her that is divorced committeth adultery."
No one responds.
"I ask then," Dana queries the neat-empty room, "what does this mean?"
One member exits quickly upstairs to warn Leviticus, the colony shepherd.
"Moses David," Dana goes on, also seems to condone premarital sex and lesbianism – he definitely does not condemn it. I'm saying, as I loved you, I have come to talk to you, one to one, and to show you how your teachings are so wrong, how you're devoting your life to Jesus and how Moses David is a false prophet and there's no doubt about that."
Dana is accompanied out the door. He had tangled with the devil and while he didn't come out clearly on top, he didn't come out on the bottom either. But he had touched upon a sticky question for these Children of God on Staten Island. Like Dana, before I went there for a weekend stay, I had read Mo's "sex letters" wherein he extolls the female breast as God's most beautiful creation, wherein he says sex is good, just what God had in mind for us, wherein he exhorts his followers to be "hookers for Jesus," wherein he says in so many words that fucking is like receiving Jesus. Naturally, I expected a lot of sexy people – maybe even an orgy. That's how it might be in the upper echelons, with Mo and his immediate court. But on Staten Island I found only a group of sweet, bubbly, unsexy, repressed adolescents who sleep in boys' and girls' dormitory rooms ("I guess I was always a wallflower," one girl told me.). Only the married couples, all of them leaders, sleep upstairs in separate rooms and have any opportunity to get it on. But the "babes," the new disciples who form the majority, lead a puritanical existence, mostly work, and have very little free time for getting to know each other, much less sex.
"If you think there's something wrong with sex," a colony member, reading from a Mo letter, sermonizes, "that you should be ashamed of your body, then there's something wrong with God... We have a sexy God, a sexy religion, and a very sexy leader with an extremely sexy young following. So, if you don't like sex, you better get out while you can."
The Story of Mo
As it turns out, Mo, if not really a sexy leader, has been at least very much into sex. About 55 today, Moses David Berg, the son of two evangelists, started his own "soul winning ministry" back in the 1950s. A slight, dark man with a weak heart and drawling voice, Berg moved from city to city, from Miami to Louisville to Houston, witnessing to whomever he could find to listen. God provided for his prophet David Berg by lending him the good services of people like Mary Glassford. Sometimes these people gave David Berg food and lodging, sometimes it was a trailer for transportation, sometimes it was just money – but in Mary Glassford's case, it was more than money. She lent David Berg her own daughter Sarah. To Mary Glassford, David Berg seemed an upstanding man with a good wife, Jane, and four fine young children – Paul, Jonathan, Linda and Faith. Traveling with the Bergs would be a good missionary upbringing for her daughter.
During the '50s and early '60s, David Berg proved to be very small-time. Certainly no Oral Roberts or Billy Graham. And it troubled him mightily. If God had anointed him as his prophet, why hadn't his harvest of souls been greater? In the mid-'60s, however, he found an angle: youth, the demigods of the decade. Berg set up shop in Huntington Beach, Calif., called his group Teens for Christ and started working the campuses. His kids were enthusiastic, young Christian people. They came on like Pat Boone.
As the mood of the '60s turned sour, more radical, Berg kept in tune. Pat Boone's days were over. Jerry Rubin was in. Berg started to encourage militant acts – like having his son Paul (an unpredictable, somber kid who was killed last year in a mysterious mountain-climbing accident in Switzerland) throw "Warning Tracts" over the floor of Congress. Berg picked up on the political rhetoric of the '60s, giving it a fundamentalist twist, and started to preach strongly against the churches and the building and the system and America. He told his small following to go where the hippies go, into the streets and parks. They encountered children, some only five years old, and chanted at them like "hate the system, hate the church, damn the system, damn the church." Berg's kids encouraged other teenagers to avoid the draft, rip off the System, "spoil Egypt."
Still, it didn't seem to catch on. In 1967 they traveled up to the Expo in Montreal where they were given free tickets to sing songs inside. But, at one point, Berg couldn't abide the indifference any long and grabbed the microphone. As Mary Glassford tells it, he "started blasting America, blasting Canada, blasting the system, and, of course, the authorities just cut him off and put him out right away."
The Montreal trip was a turning point for Berg. Embittered and frustrated, he added another twist to his teachings — sex. According to the transcription of a tape-recorded statement by Mary Glassford's daughter Sarah, whom Berg married off to his son Paul at the age of 15, Berg practiced what he preached. (Sarah's statement was given to Aaron F. Klein, a New York attorney who in the past represented several FREECOG parents.)
Sarah: "David, at times, would try to get away with things with his own daughters and he tried it with me when I was a little girl, but I was too young to really know what was going on. And I guess this always made me afraid to be, I was always frightened to be alone with him... At times, David Berg, three or four years before my teens, he tried to have intercourse. Of course, I jumped up and ran and things like this... He's never push it very far because I guess he was afraid I'd squeal. But once or twice he did make the attempt."
Q: "How far?"
Sarah: "To the point where he had his pants down."
Q: "Did he expose himself to you?"
Sarah: "Yes, but it was in the dark. And after I had married Paul there were several times when he tried to get me – he'd ask me–to go to bed with him. He said if I'd have his son's children, why couldn't I have his."
Q: "Where did this take place?"
Sarah: "All over the country, anywhere we were after Paul and I were married. Many, many times he told me that nobody would know the difference if it was his or Paul's."
Q: "What was your response?"
Sarah: One time I slapped his face. The other times I would just wiggle away from him and just get out. Just try to stay away from him as much as I could. But there were many times when he said it would just be our little secret."
Q: "You never told this to your husband Paul?"
Sarah: "No, I had enough trouble with him as it was. He wouldn't have believed me anyway. Anything I'd tell him that was on a shaded side of anything, he would say I was lying and beat the living daylights out me..."
After the Expo, David Berg changed the name of his band to Revolutionaries for Jesus and led them on a three-year traveling crusade around the U.S. ending up in 1970 on a dirt farm in Texas owned by a former associate of his, a minor league California evangelist named Fred Jordan. The two evangelists, according to an associate of theirs, struck a deal: Berg would lend some of his kids, portraying them as saved drug freaks, to Jordan's television show in Southern California and Jordan would sponsor Berg's group under his organization, let them stay on his land in Texas and give Berg a certain sum of money.
The agreement proved profitable for both men. Berg's group, which set up headquarters at Jordan's Texas Soul Clinic on the farm, soon started to open up new colonies in other cities around the country. They attracted headlines wherever they went and the media dubbed them the Children of God. Berg thought the name had a predetermined ring to it, and it stuck. Their peak in popularity came soon after NBC ran a prime-time First Tuesday takeout on COG in 1970, praising them for turning kids off drugs and onto Jesus.
Despite the good publicity for COG, Jordan ended up making most of the money. The dramatic television testimonials by Berg's kids brought in sizable contributions to Jordan's program. Berg wanted a larger cut. Having made a futile attempt to set up a world headquarters in Israel – he was thrown out immediately – Berg wrote Jordan, according to their associate, that "he wanted to return and go on nationwide and worldwide television... eliminate Fred Jordan's wife and all others, and split the take down the middle."
Jordan balked at Berg's proposal. Moreover, by this time, 1970-71, the media coverage of COG turned against them. Their agreement was dissolved and Berg hid out in Europe, "retiring from active service" because of heart problems and promising the second coming of the Children of God. Which, he said just before Kohoutek, is Right Now, 1974-1975. And so, the Children of God are on the move again. They've opened up discotheques in Houston, Toronto, London and Paris – just for starters. Their rock group, led by former Fleetwood Mac guitarist Jeremy Spencer, has cut a record, Jeremy Spencer and the Children. Outside the U.S., COG claims to have befriended the likes of the president of Costa Rica and his wife, and Libya's Col. Qaddafi. And they say they are taking Europe by storm, pioneering new colonies every day.
For the moment, however, "getting out the lit" seems to be the Children of God's principal activity and financial mainstay. Litnessing team members have quotas to meet each week – 2,000 letters at an average of 10 cents each – and spend at least an hour every day adding up their "stats": how many letters they got out, how much money they take in (every penny must be accounted for down to subway fare), how many new converts and so on. If they reach their quota or do better than the others, they are listed as "shiners"and get their name and stats published in an intercolony gazette. If they fall below the quota, they are to feel ashamed, "convicted by God" for the poor showing.
The money, they are told, is essential for the maintenance of their needs and particularly the needs of the colonies abroad. AT present, the Children of God print Mo letters in just about every language and distribute them on street corners around the world. Contrary to the common assumption of most FREECOG parents, COG derives most of its money from litnessing and not from kids who forsake their few possessions.
To be sure, there are cases of large contributions, such as an Italian count who deeded over his vineyard just outside of Florence, Italy. There are some parents who, either out of genuine charity or a kind of blackmail by their kids, send money to COG. But when you add up the take from litnessing, you realize it's more than enough to support in style the most corrupt of false prophets. On an average, from what I saw, each member gets out his or her quota of 2,000 pieces of literature at an average of 10 cents each. That's about $200 a week – more than a lot of kids their age earn as mechanics or secretaries or even reporters. The Staten Island colony, one of the most profitable for litnessing, gets out up to 40,000 Mo letters a week, taking in about $4,000. That adds up to $200,000 a year. To be conservative, about half that goes for printing costs and colony support, such as food and clothing. The other half, or $100,00, goes abroad, where the leadership decides how to spend it. If all the 300 colonies around the world did as well as the one on Staten Island, that would mean the total take going abroad into central headquarters would amount to about $30 million annually. A more realistic appraisal, however, would put the European headquarters' net at about half that, or $15 million a year.
That's a lot of untaxable spare change. And only God – and maybe Moses david – knows where it all goes.
After my weekend on Staten Island, Belte and Lena, a young French Canadian girl from a small rural village in Ontario, spend a week at my apartment. They get up at 8:00 each morning to litness and come back around 9:00 in the evening. They have good days and then, like anyone else, they have bad days. They both eat well, drink some wine, play guitar, talk Jesus, add up their stats for the day. When we question them too hard, Lena retreats into her room to read the Bible. One night Lena shows us some pictures of her family, but then the next day she comes back to tell us it was a bad idea to do that. All day she has not been able to stop thinking about her family, and such thoughts are obviously the work of the devil. Nevertheless, it is clear on some nights when they return exhausted after their long hours and thousand approaches to indifferent New Yorkers, that what they do is not too much fun. In fact, the more they laugh at "systemites and their nine-to-five jobs," the more their strict nine-to-nine litnessing seems patently absurd.
"God puts us through tests sometimes," Belte explains, evincing a strained cheerfulness. "We'll go through maybe a half hour without getting out one piece of literature. Then I pray to God and ask Him why, if we're doing His work, He won't make people listen. God could just zap everyone if He wanted to, just save everybody all at once. But He wants to test us. So I ask Him to do a miracle. And then, bing, bing, bing, all of a sudden I hit ten people in a row. God always does that."
What happens, I ask Belte, if the world doesn't end tomorrow or next year? "Oh, it's going to happen," he says. "It's gotta happen. There've been too many signs."
And Mo apparently hasn't missed a one. The second nation of Israel, as prophesied, has been created – 1948, right? And many world leaders have fallen — deGaulle, Brandt, Meir, Ho Chi Minh and now, finally, Nixon. Right in the middle of August, just as Mo said. Kohoutek, right? A blazing comet would come to warn us. Earthquakes — there have been more in the last 20 years than in the rest of time combined. The collapse of the economy, right? The stock market has dropped below 700. Drought. Famine. Revolutions and reactionary coups.
Just around the corner, as Belte tells it – he's not saying tomorrow, although it could be tomorrow – in the next few years, God's final judgement, his wrath, his seven angels with seven plagues, will be visited down upon us. The ball game will be over and Belte's here to tell us there won't be another one.
"Still," I press Belte again, "how long can you go on doing this? What if you become 35 and the world's just going a long in its same bumbling way?"
Belte obviously does not like to think about this question. His face, already drawn from a hard day, takes on a tiredness beyond his 20 or 22 years. He looks, for a moment, as if he were already 35. He has committed the little he had in the way of possessions and all he has in the way of energy, which seems boundless. But when a gambler puts his last chips down on odd at the roulette table and ponders the possibility of even, it can be a sobering moment.
"Well," he answers quietly, "then I'd have to say we were wrong."
He smiles quizzically at me, "But it's going to happen alright."
Tom Moore is an associate editor of NEW TIMES.