Note: This transcript is a preliminary uncorrected version and may contain errors. Corrections and suggestions for its improvement are welcome. Please see: Contributing Information
Narrator: It’s a sultry July weekend in Laurel, Maryland. On this day, 300 people from all over the world have come to remember old crusades and to introduce the next generation.
Unidentified Man 1: “Anybody want a special blessing from the Lord just gotta help with the dishes. Just over here, help me…”
Narrator: It’s an unlikely gathering. There are those who still fervently believe in the sect. And there are the ex-members who have been hurt by the group and who have come back for healing.
Unidentified Man 2: “Thank you Lord, for this time and we pray that you continue to unite us, continue to wash away hurt, wash away pain, wash away all that, Lord Jesus…”
Narrator: They call themselves The Family. They used to be known as the Children of God, before the trouble started. There’s one Family member who isn’t here, the group’s founder, David Berg. Berg’s teachings, especially those about sex, once inspired The Family and then later almost destroyed them.
Group in background: “Thank you Lord, thank you.”
Narrator: Until his death in 1994, Berg was seen as a prophet by tens of thousands. He was also seen as a fugitive by Interpol and as a seducer of young women by just about everybody. He saw himself as touched by the hand of God. The man who will found the Children of God, David Brandt Berg, is born in 1919 to a family of preachers going back two centuries. His early years are spent on the Gospel trail, accompanying his bible thumping parents on their holy crusades. His mother, Virginia, is one of the stars of the Southern circuit. Her signature sermon recounts a miracle that once brought her back from the dead. To young David, his mother is a living saint. The church is also the setting for early revelations in the boy’s life. Ones that Berg will later write about when he has become a prophet.
Aron Tager [off camera - David Berg's voice]: I will never forget that I was taught how to masturbate by an older boy who whispered it in my ear during one of my father’s Sunday morning sermons.
Narrator: Later, David’s mother catches him masturbating. She forces him to complete the deed in front of his father. This is the beginning of what will be the central conflict in Berg’s life: his love of sex and the Church’s teaching that sex for its own sake is a sin.
Narrator: Over the next two decades David Berg marries, has a family and tries to emulate his mother as a knock-em dead preacher. But the established churches have no room for David Berg. In desperation he even builds his own church. But after three years he’s kicked out. Something about sexual impropriety which is never proven. At home things aren’t going any better.
Jane Berg (David Berg's wife): “For many years David always said that a man could have two wives. That it was according to the Bible that it wasn’t wrong to have two wives. But I, in my mind I said, “Well, I hope it doesn’t happen to me.” I knew when he was traveling around, you know, that he wasn’t totally faithful to one wife, you know.”
(woman speaks, church)
Narrator: By the time he's 50, Berg has come to hate the established churches and has abandoned his dream of becoming a preacher. Not knowing what else to do, he organizes his four kids into a Gospel singing group and heads to California.
(guitar plays, two pairs of people dance wildly with other people around)
Narrator: It’s 1968, the Summer of Love, revolution is in the air. (band on stage by beach) Berg’s kids now called “Teens for Christ” evangelize on the beaches during the day, (front of nightclub) at night they pack them in at the local Christian hangout.
(people sing on stage, Berg watches by the side)
Once again, David Berg is relegated to the shadows.
Then one night, Berg’s mother, the preacher known as “the little woman with the big message” dies. (trees at side of road) Berg later describes his mother’s death as the moment when his bitterness was transformed a voice for revolution.
(Berg in religious robes)
David Berg: We are the revolution of God. We are the children of God.
Hap Wotila (ex-member): I can still remember David Berg walking into that nightclub and he's got on some kind of a kimona from the East but that was his version of a hippie Madras psychedelic shirt. He come in there (Berg in sunglasses and robe) and kind of trying to blend in and people would look at him and go, “Wow, you know, who are you?”
(people raise arms, look up)
Faith Berg Fischer, David Berg’s daughter: Here was his kind of teaching. These were the people that all those sermons had been priming him for. This was the crowd, this was the crowd for this message and they just ate it up and they just exploded with it. It was just so wonderful.”
Young Faith Berg (singing, playing guitar in crowd): Jesus Christ has set you free! Jesus Christ has set you free!
Narrator: Berg’s youngest daughter, Faithy, and the new recruits are soon on the streets evangelizing to the hippies. (hippies smokes) Berg’s message is tailor made for the counterculture: Forsake all for Jesus and to hell with the system.
(Faithy plays guitar with crowd around her)
(close up of woman singing)
(people raised hands)
Rebecca Newlove (member): The churches he felt weren’t doing the job that Christians are called by Jesus to do and that’s the great commission he gave us all is go and tell the world and preach the Gospel to every creature. So it's like he had the vision to train us to be the missionaries.
(people sit in circle with bowed heads, man sing in the background)
Stephen Ferguson: I think the unique thing about the children of God that really touched the kids was that you can serve God now. You didn’t have to go to four years of Bible school or the conventional route but that you could actually today forsake all you have and go and serve the Lord.
(group of people in black walking on sidewalk, man sings in the background)
Narrator: Within a few months the failed preacher has 90 devoted disciples. If only his mother could see now.
(Berg in sunglasses standing behind microphone)
Aron Tager [off camera - David Berg's voice]: We picketed churches, jail, and schools. We had sit-ins, march-ins, protests, and everything kids loved, everything that was radical. I was masterminding the whole thing behind the scenes with Jesus.
(people with streamer with the words “Revolutionaries for Jesus, the only solution”)
Narrator: Unfortunately for Berg, the forces of law and order don’t share his religious views no matter who’s pulling the strings.
(line of vehicles)
It isn’t long before Berg and his disciples feel the heat and hit the road. Their destination is the Promised Land, although just where that is, nobody not even Berg is all that sure.
(people inside moving bus clap and sing, man play guitar, side of road)
Stephen Ferguson: Well, you get out and you have 50 people using the bathroom, you know, gassing 29 vehicles with a credit card from some brother’s father. It's a stir wherever you go.
(man with long hair and mustache with other people, words “Children of God” on bus)
Narrator: In 1969, Stephen Ferguson is an acidhead going nowhere, then Berg and his entourage who now call themselves “The Children of God” come to town.
(moving bus, voices singing)
Stephen Ferguson: They thought the gypsies had landed. But this was different than the gypsies because these were a lot of long-haired teenagers, singing, praising the Lord, talking about Jesus, no cigarettes, no drugs, no alcohol, no sex outside of marriage or any of that stuff. It was very puritanical in its origins
Narrator: As the Berg road show moves east, the kids often stop to proselytize. At each town, disciples are recruited, then the caravan moves on. Berg soon whips the new recruits into disciplined missionaries. The kids wear sackcloth and smear their foreheads with ashes as a sign America is about to be destroyed.
Narrator: "Warning!" they cry, "the Endtime is coming."
(Still image of banner reading "40 DAYS AND AMERICA SHALL BE DESTROYED!")
Narrator; In the Endtime, the forces of good will battle it out with the Antichrist. When the dust settles, Berg assures, Jesus and the Children of God will rule the world.
Narrator: While waiting for the Endtime to arrive, the Children of God have a practical problem: where to live.
Faith Berg: It was exciting for the first month on the road but it got to be wearing; for one thing, we only had Hallelujah showers at Bear Creek Park and I mean you'd hear those people in there shouting Hallelujahs as if their life depended on it. That's where they got the name "Hallelujah showers" because the water was cold you'd just... (laughing)
Faith Berg: My father, he would go around at night and lay hands on the sick and pray for them. I remember one day he really prayed that the Lord would give us a home so that we could get all these people up off the ground and into warm quarters for the winter.
Narrator: Just when it seems they're truly lost, the Lord delivers. This time, it's 400 acres of badlands called the Texas Soul Clinic.
Unidentified man 3 singing: We're making rocket guns, church buildings and a new chamber of commerce, last week we went to school for the PTA but the teachers said this building was having some problems, the students are smoking marijuana today...
Narrator: Drugs are just one of the kids' problems. Many come from troubled families. Others are just plain lost. But, within months, because of Berg's teachings drawn from the Bible, all that changes.
Unidentified man 3 singing: They say that killing people is the only way but...
Narrator: Many now refer to Berg as Moses David for having led them out of the wilderness. Others call him simply Dad.
Unidentified man 4 (leading a group meeting): How many of guys here used to be on drugs? Come on, raise your hands.
(many people raise their hands)
Unidentified man 4 (leading a group meeting): How many guys have taken drugs? How many have found that Jesus is the only thing better?
(many people raise their hands, yelling "Yeah!" and "Amen!)
Unidentified man 4 (leading a group meeting): Now raise your hands if you still take drugs. What do you got that's better?
Audience members: Jesus!
Narrator: In 1970, Hap Wotila is a revolutionary for Jesus. He has been with Berg since the beginning and is one of his most loyal followers.
Unidentified man 4 (leading a group meeting): Give me something I can feel!
Audience members: Yeah!
Unidentified man 4 (leading a group meeting): Give me something I can live! Something I can live and die for!
Audience members (raising fists): Yeah!
Hap Wotila: Our minds were on the kingdom of God and preaching the gospel and the revolution for Jesus... This is the time of the end and Jesus is coming soon, the Antichrist is about to appear, the Tribulation... We didn't have time for this stuff of the flesh and these pleasures of life; we needed to stay focused on the revolution for Jesus.
Narrator: With the Lord in their hearts and Berg's warnings on their minds, the Children of God stock up on provisions and wait for the Endtime to come. The Endtime, however, doesn't arrive on schedule. The prophet sets new dates, these too are broken. But Berg's lessons more than make up for a couple of missed cataclysms.
Narrator: Sam Halbert, an ex-con, saw his life turned around by Berg.
Sam Halbert (ex-member): All these buildings that you see were full of revolutionaries for Jesus. It was like a completely different lifestyle than anything I’d ever experienced. I mean, I’m one day, I’m sitting in my apartment talking to my friends, going to work, taking drugs, listening to rock music. The next day I’m memorizing five, ten scriptures a day, playing songs, praising God, praying. I mean it was an incredible change, like from dark to daylight. Sort of like a missionary boot camp.
Narrator: Until this point, David Berg is the charismatic leader of a group of fundamentalist Christians. Then something extraordinary happens that changes everything.
Hap Wotila: One day I was teaching a class, so I said turn over Ezekiel 34. And it came down to verse 23 where it says, “And I will set up one shepherd over them, even my servant David. And he shall feed them and be their shepherd.” When I read that, everybody just kind of burst into tongues, and praising God, and some people got down on their knees. It was just one of those electric, heavy things. This letter comes out from Dad and says one of us had written to him recently suggesting that maybe he was the David of Ezekiel 34. And he said that as he was musing over that, that the Lord spoke to him and said “Why do you deny your name, David?” According to him he was shocked and said “What do you mean, Lord?” And then he began getting the revelation that he was the David of Ezekiel 34.
Narrator: According to some scholars, the David of Ezekiel is the harbinger, the fiery end of the world. David Berg now proclaims that he is in fact, this biblical prophet. How does he know? God told him so.
Hap Wotila: He was more than head and shoulders above all the rest of us. He was Moses up on the mountain and we were the children. And we so appreciated him and the revolution that he gave to us and so appreciated what it was accomplishing, and the lives that were being touched and…that our loyalty was him, to him was like unquestioned.
Aron Tager (David Berg's voice): I was lying between two naked women in our camper, when I first received the gift of tongues. The one I was making love to would suddenly turn into one of these beautiful goddesses and I would immediately explode in an orgasm of tremendous spiritual power while at the same time, prophesying violently in some foreign tongue.
Narrator: Imbued with the spirit of the Lord, Berg emerges noisily from his camper. He is wrapped in chains.
Sam Halbert: So he stands in front of everybody. Stops. Comes to a stop. And he goes… Looks at everybody very seriously and goes “this is what the system marriage will do to you.” And then he says something like “but Jesus is gonna set us free!” And he throws the chains off. So everybody goes, “Halleluiah! Thank you Lord!”
Narrator: Newly liberated, Berg receives another revelation: out with the old, in with the new. He drops his ever-faithful wife Jane and takes up wife his 19-year-old secretary, Maria.
Hap Wotila: At this particular time, Mo had not only taken on this new wife but he had also accumulated a number of other wives. That he called wives.
Narrator: In letters to his disciples, Berg’s burgeoning pride is amply illustrated. His Mo Letters become the guiding light for the Children of God. Berg portrays himself as Moses David, king of the jungle. And he creates a doctrine that is uniquely his, the Law of Love.
Hap Wotila: When I went to visit him in this apartment in Dallas, he was…he and Maria were in one bed and one of his wives was in another bed. And he said, “why don’t you go over and love...” whatever her name was... So I’m there making love to this one girl who was one of Mo’s wives, and he’s in the bed making love with Maria.
Narrator: Berg’s new insights about sex, his Law of Love, he says comes directly from the Lord. To the pure, all things are pure as long as they are done in love. He will use this rationale to do just about anything he desires.
Hap Wotila: Why didn't I at that time, stand up and say “Wait a minute, Dad, this is off the wall, this is crazy, how can you say this, this is false doctrines...” and you know why I didn't? It was simple. Because I had an interest in believing that. In my heart I was dedicated to the Lord but also in my heart I wished that we could all share...
(FreeCOG members picketing on sidewalk with signs, one reading “Save Our Church From The Children of God” and another reading “Stop Support of Children of God” )
Unidentified TV reporter 1: Is your daughter in the Children of God?
Unidentified Man 6: Yes.
(holding a sign on which the text “Attorney General Mitchell -” is visible, the rest of the text is not seen)
Unidentified TV reporter 1: Do you consider that she's being held against her will?
Unidentified Man 6: Yes. When I talked to her all by myself she said that she would go home with me. As soon as we were confronted by the elders from the Children of God, they... she started to scream that she could not leave, that she would die if she left the gate and I believe that actually she was very terrified..
Unidentified TV reporter: Your father has indicated that you are being kept against your will.
Unidentified woman: That's not true. Because the only thing... When I met the Children of God, they showed me in the Bible a few scriptures and I believed it and I knew that's what I wanted to do and I'm here because I want to be here and I want to stay and I want to continue.
Narrator: Under considerable pressure from parents, Berg flees to England with Maria. He leaves the Children of God behind to face the music.
(large group of Children of God members, several playing guitars, singing “Glory Hallelujah”)
Narrator: A concert is arranged in Texas to convince skeptical parents there is nothing to be afraid of. The parents don't buy it.
(parents watch as Children of God members sing, camera zooms in several of them)
Narrator: The parents' next tactic is to pressure the Texas Soul Clinic into evicting the Children of God. Frightened phone calls are made to the prophet in England. Far from being dismayed, Berg tells them it's God's will; they will colonize the world for Jesus.
Narrator: The Children of God disperse en masse throughout Europe and South America where they continue spreading the word for Jesus.
Narrator: Berg's daughter, Faithy, ends up evangelizing in Libya. While explaining the love of Jesus to a devout Muslim, she somehow ends up in bed with the man.
Faith Berg: Of course I had never ever had sex with anybody that I wasn't married to. I had never had sex with anybody that was what I would consider a heathen.
Narrator: Guilt-ridden, Faithy immediately calls her father, who has already been in touch with the Almighty.
Faith Berg: And then my father said, “Why, it's exactly the same day we got this prophecy called “The Flirty Fish.” He said, “Why, it's amazing. This is exactly what God is revealing to us, there would be instances in which we would have to portray God's love in a physical way and that there was nothing wrong with it.
Narrator: Berg's vision seems divinely inspired. What else but sex could save souls and feel so good all at the same time?
Narrator: Flirty Fishing is the name Berg gives this new path to salvation. Later, Berg will call this missionary work simply FFing.
Aron Tager (David Berg's voice): My pretty little fishes, would you do anything for Jesus to help your fisherman catch souls? Even suffer the crucifixion of the hook, of the trap? Think it over. How far would you go?
Peter Amsterdam, former secretary to David Berg (wearing a wig and false beard): One night in the night Dad had a revelation. Across the... in front of his eyes were these letters that said Tenerife. He went and he got an atlas and he looked and it was in the Canary Islands and he knew the Lord wanted him to...and while they were at the hotel, there were different waiters and different people there they were getting close to and Dad felt that he wanted to witness to them and they had been FFing in London so they started FFing some of these guys.
Peter Amsterdam: In time, they needed some help so they started bringing other couples to help out. I think there was about 20 or 25 girls there and they would go out with Dad every night. They were there I guess about a year, and it started to become a pretty big news. This particular club starting to have a lot of people come to who have heard about it, (group of people sit side by side inside a club) Scandinavians, Germans... and people are flying there to see about these girls who made love to men and told them about Jesus.
(people inside a printing press, process of printing a document)
Narrator: Anxious to spread the good news of FFing, Berg began publishing his Mo Letters. These instructed disciples on everything from his obsession with cleanliness to how to make love to a fish. They also chart an unambiguous trail into the inner workings of the prophet’s mind.
Hap Wotila: I think he believe whatever he felt, whatever he thought, whatever his inclination was that that was God. Even if he was drunk at the time that that was the Lord, “Well, I did it so it much be the Lord.” I don’t think he left the door open to the fact that the devil could be speaking to him and leading him into any of these areas at all.
Aron Tager (David Berg's voice): Much of the deep revelations that I have received from the Lord was so in the Spirit that I was not even conscious of what was happening and afterwards, I had to be told what had been said. All I know is this is the way God speak to me and has from the beginning and I am only a messenger boy who delivers his telegrams and I am not responsible for what is being said or revealed. You'll have blame God for that, or thank Him.
Eden Lieberman, member: Dad started to teach us about the Law of Love and how far... what that meant like where do you stop when you're talking about love. There's no boundary, there's no limit. You go all the way with love.
Kay Spain, member: That might be sort of a mind blower for most mainstream people but at the time it was not difficult because you really felt like that was needed and that was really the Lord’s love for them and you didn’t feel like there was anything wrong with it. You felt like that was like the ultimate in showing them how much God loved them.
Woodie Terrell, ex-member: When all the FFing started, I thought, “Well, maybe I'm just being close-minded. Maybe I've taken on a religious point of view. I tried to see it from the point of view that “Well, maybe there... if this is God’s prophet and he's got this big word from God, maybe he knows a little more. This man had studied the Word for years. His mother was an evangelist. He must know more than I do.”
(man strumming the guitar, people around him, people singing “You Gotta Be A Baby”)
Narrator: Woodie and the rest of the sect used the world’s streets as their church. They are now calling themselves “The Family of Love”.
(man sits on the ground, somebody dances)
During the day, they witness to lost souls. Hundreds sign on.
(young woman talks to a person, people bow their heads)
During the night, the women flirty fish.
(People dance, focus on man seated on the ground)
If it's a good time for the children of God, it's anything but for their parents who begin to organize the world’s first anti-cult movement.
Unidentified Woman 2: The deceit that is in this group is unbelievable. What it is doing to our youth is just unreal.
Unidentified Woman 3: Now, I think any person who preaches the word of God would not teach and preach something like this with such dirty language.
(image of photocopied page from “America The Whore!“ Mo Letter)
(David Berg in bathrobe)
Narrator: In Tenerife, word reaches the prophet that the cops are on his trail.
Peter Amsterdam: In the middle of the night one night, the Lord woke Dad up and said, “You've got to leave today. Get out of the country today.” So he did, he got up. I mean when the Lord told Dad to do something, he did it. So they got up, they packed their stuff, and they got on the train, and they found out just after they crossed the border into France--they took the train--they found out that the borders, the order had gone out to close the borders to Dad, to arrest him and they were trying to charge him with debauchery or some crazy thing or just some sort of trumped up charges.
Narrator: While in hiding, Berg experiments with another method of communication, the video camera.
(bee on a flower, lovers in park, man walks and looks at the two)
(Jeremy Spencer on video)
Simon Peter (Christopher Jones) narrating: And if you shine forth with enough love, others will reflect it. Love wasn't put in your heart to stay. Love isn’t love until you give it away.
(music, man gestures to man, woman approach other man)
Narrator: His inspirational videos often accompanied the illustrated Mo letters. These seductive packages are send weekly to over 700 colonies in 70 countries. Certainly, the number seem to indicate Berg is on to something, membership in the Children of God is growing rapidly, and Flirty Fishing not unexpectedly is proving to be a recruitment boom. By 1982, close to half a million souls have been FFed. One in eight accepts the Lord.
Aron Tager [off camera - David Berg's voice]: My sexy little fishes are doing their job. They tease them, flirt with them, then screw them until they drop. That’s the way to bring them to the Lord. Forget all that old-fashioned gospel preaching. We’re six times more effective than Billy Graham. Praise the Lord!
Eden Lieberman: He would teach the women to be extra-loving with their husbands to help compensate for the sacrifices they were making. Or he would teach them that... to try to provide somebody for them to be with, to have that companionship, while they’re gone.
Peter Amsterdam: He told about his... how difficult it was, the jealousy. He had a letter called “The Man Who Played God” and he likened it to how God, when he sent Jesus to the world, he missed him. And when he saw his own son being nailed to the cross, that it was painful for him. And he said that’s how we men feel about our women who are being nailed, basically.
John D., ex-member: I remember nights when my wife was out FFing and out with other brothers. Not actually other brothers in the Home, but she was mainly out FFing in town, in Manila. I remember this one night when she was sharing with someone else. One of the other shepherds came along and said, “Would you like to share with me?” And I couldn’t. All I did was I sat there and I just shared my heart with her. I spoke to her, I talked with her the entire evening while my wife was away.
Narrator: The Children of God started their war with the Anti-Christ in the Texas desert. Ten years later, they're pursuing the war in nightclubs and bars, from Athens to Rangoon: anywhere needy fish swim.
(Family video with some faces blurred out)
Unidentified woman narrating Family video: There’s Faithy there in the foreground with this sweet gentleman, the ambassador of France. She was able to really witness to him and he really fell in love that night. We had sweet... David, dancing with one of his little sheep to the song, “Some Enchanted Evening.” Here, you see Faithy as she witnesses to the vice-president of an [bleep] company from Sweden. And he’s asking her at this time, “Do you think I’ll go to heaven?” Very, very sweet man who really enjoyed their contact that night.
Narrator: By 1984, Berg is once again disguised and on the run. Interpol, not impressed with Flirty Fishing’s phenomenal success, has issued a warrant for his arrest on charges of running a prostitution ring.
Hap Wotila: He was so security-conscious. He always sat with his back to the walls and say, “I want my back to the wall when I’m talking to my troops. I don’t want them to get me in the back like they did Anastasia.” And he just seemed so obsessed with thing of... almost paranoid.
Narrator: Berg is soon so fearful that he permits no undoctored photographs of himself. There are people all over the world who would love to get their hands on the elusive Berg.
Peter Amsterdam: Dad had found out early on that somebody had taken a contract out on his life. There were people who had said they would definitely do him some physical damage. I know of somebody who said they would blow his head off with a shotgun if he could. That if he saw him, he would. So he had real reason to stay behind the scenes.
(image of cover of “Does FFing Pay?” Mo Letter)
John D.: It turned out in Hong Kong, from what I can speak of from my own personal experience, that The Family had a friend in an escort agency who made it possible for the Family girls to meet people at hotels on an invitation basis. There was a situation with my wife where she accompanied businesspeople for a whole weekend for several thousand dollars.
Woodie Terrell: I went to one of my overseers and I just poured out my heart. I said, “I feel like a whore.” He said, “that’s part of being crucified for Christ. That’s part of the burden you bear.” It’s hard to understand why I could be so dumb, but I wanted so badly to believe that this was God’s will because it had some flash of being exceptional. But somewhere in the middle of it, your heart just goes, “This can’t be right. There’s something wrong.” But you’ve got yourself locked into a concept that he can’t be wrong. Is that stupid or what?
Peter Amsterdam: Hundreds of thousands of people met the Lord that way. And I’m pretty convinced that when we get to Heaven and those people are in Heaven, we’re not going to be hanging our heads in shame that we FFed those people into Heaven. I think those people are going to come and kneel down and say, “Thank you for doing it.”
Narrator: Berg is finding fewer and fewer places to hide. He is drinking heavily and his Mo Letters, written at a furious pace, are becoming increasingly bizarre and revealing.
[pictures of various Mo Letters, including text and art]
Aron Tager [off camera - David Berg's voice]: ...Your goddamn churches and all that theoretical... a 17th century French soldier raping the Queen of England... it was the goddamn Jews, those anti-Christ...
Narrator: He sees conspiracies everywhere, especially amongst the Jews and the blacks. He counsels mothers to masturbate their young sons to sleep.
Aron Tager [off camera - David Berg's voice]: ...boys to sleep, this is both healthy and...
Narrator: He constantly berates the churches for being bastions of hypocrisy.
Aron Tager [off camera - David Berg's voice]: We must put our faith...
Narrator: He chronicles his many sexual adventures in lurid detail, including being seduced by ancient spirit goddess who look surprisingly contemporary.
Aron Tager [off camera - David Berg's voice]: I say what's wrong... French cabarnet savignon...
Narrator: One of Berg’s few regrets, he says, is that he never slept with his mother.
Unidentified Family members singing at meeting: I may never march in the infantry, ride in the calvary, shoot the artillery, I may never fly over the enemy... but I'm in the Lord's army.
Hap Wotila: The moment that someone actually did take issue with almost anything, they were taken aside and talked to. And if they held onto that position, it was contrary to what Mo had said and the way the group was going, they began to be not just talked to, but dealt with. This was considered a problem, like they were listening to the Devil or something.
Unidentified Family members singing at meeting: ...but I'm in the Lord's army.
Unidentified Family members (saluting and then raising their arms): Yes, Sir! Praise the Lord! Thank you, Lord!
Hap Wotila: There was very little room for a person to hold an opinion different from Mo, different from leadership, and still be able to function in The Family. You either got with the program or you left.
Narrator: Hap Wotila is one of the first to be excommunicated for questioning Berg’s program. Soon, other outspoken disciples are also forced to leave. As Berg tightens his grip on the Children of God, he no longer looks for earthly advice. As a bona fide prophet, David Berg gets all his counsel directly from above.
(images from Heaven's Children book including one showing Berg in bed with Techi and Maria)
Peter Amsterdam: Now, Dad personally was a sexy guy. And he would hug the girls and kiss them, and he would have sex with them. It wasn’t just sex for sex. It was love. What he did, he did in love, and the girls wanted to be with him.
(video showing a woman doing strip tease dance for the camera, face blurred out)
Peter Amsterdam: And Dad said, “Well, look. Why don’t you try to do some erotic sort of dances? Let’s try that out and see what it’s like?” And they did some. And it was sweet. I mean, they did them for Dad and he sort of coached them on how to do it. He said, “Well, have the sarong on and towards the end you can let it down and raise your hands up and praise to God.” And he wrote some letters like “Glorify God In The Dance.”
(video showing another woman doing a strip tease dance for the camera, face blurred out)
Shelley H. (ex-member): He was very, very explicit. He wanted three songs: one slow, get faster, then fade out. He didn’t want you to be totally naked, he wanted you to have something. He was more into the Grecian thing: make it beautiful. But he made it very... instructions from A to Z, how to do it.
Peter Amsterdam: For Dad, it was very sweet. But Dad didn’t go and see The Family. Dad didn’t go visit Homes, and didn’t have a lot of visitors to the Home, so this was a way for him to see Family members. But he was very appreciative. I admire the girls for doing that. When you look around and you’ve got video lights and a video camera and you’ve got to get up there and dance like that, it takes a bit of humility, I’d say.
(video showing yet another woman doing a strip tease dance for the camera, face blurred out)
Paul Peloquin [on video]: Joan came to me and she said, “Well, Dad suggested that I make love to him in the latest comment tape. Do you think I should masturbate?” And I said, “Of course. I think that sounds beautiful.”“Joan” [on video]: And on the first take I was masturbating to you and when I came, I broke out in strong tongues. I couldn’t control it. And the last two words were “Father, I love you.”
Shelley H. (ex-member): Why did he need it so bad? Like I said, I think he had a lot of unreconciled sexual issues himself and absolute power corrupts absolutely. I think he just couldn’t get enough of it, you know?
(Video of two pre-pubescent female children doing pornographic strip-tease dances for the camera, faces pixellated out)
Peter Amsterdam: We didn't look at it as any kind of sexual thing. Not with the little kids for sure, Dad certainly didn't. And... it was like dress-up... they saw their moms putting on beads and putting on a sarong and putting their hair up, and they wanted to do the same thing, and they did.
(Video of third pre-pubescent female child dancing for the camera)
Peter Amsterdam: Mene, who was Dad's granddaughter, came to live with us when she was about 12. And I remember very clearly Dad talking to us about her coming. And he said 'Look, this is my granddaughter, and I haven't seen her since she was, I don't know, one or two years old. And I want to take care of her'.
Narrator: Mene lives with Berg for four years, during which time she suffers several mental breakdowns. Not knowing how to handle her, The Family tries non-traditional means.
Peter Amsterdam: We believe in exorcism], we believe in laying hands and praying for people, and we did that for her sometimes. And there were times when we did pray for her, and for a few months she was doing fine, but then she would relapse into...
Narrator: Later, Mene will accuse her grandfather of sexual abuse.
David Berg [singing]: Yes, we will gather at the river. The beautiful, the beautiful river. Gather with you saints at the river, that flows by the throne of God.
David Berg [speaking]: You know, there's a beautiful river that flows right out of the throne of God in the heavenly city, right through the center of the city, like a park with a park on both sides and trees and grass...
Narrator: By 1992, David Berg is suffering from shingles and impotence. His mind turns once again to the End Times--this time his own. The prophet's vision of heaven is a pyramid 1500 miles on each side. With singing water, dancing colors, people will be able to walk through walls and fly.
(Images of religious iconography, including a picture of the pyramid in the sky)
David Berg [fading in]: Aren't you glad you're gonna be there?
(Police cars waiting by the side of the road; muffled police radio sounds heard)
Narrator: On the night of May 15, 1992, police tactical squads are on the move in Melbourne and Sydney. At dawn, the raids begin.
Unidentified female television news reporter: It was the biggest police operation of its kind ever in this country. Synchronised raids in two states against a religious sect known as the Children of God.
Unidentified female Australian television news reporter (voice over) : By the raid's end, 144 children had been taken from six homes.
(Helicopter shots of Family Homes and images of reporters filming children and adults being taken from their homes)
Narrator: As allegations of child abuse mount, several family homes are also raided in Europe and South America. Dozens of family members are thrown in jail. Hundreds of children are taken into custody and given gynecological examinations.
Unidentified Man 7 [speaking to reporters]: Five days for Jesus! And I couldn't see my wife, I couldn't contact my parents. They don't even know where I am.
Narrator: Berg's whereabouts remain unknown. Once again, he leaves his disciples to fend for themselves.
Unidentified Man 8 [speaking to reporters]: [in Spanish] There is religious persecution in Argentina...[unintelligible]
Alejandro Emilio Trevisan [speaking to reporters]: [in Spanish]There is no religious liberty in Argentina...[in English] There is religious persecution in Argentina, tell the whole world. [in Spanish] No, that's a lie. Our children are healthy and sane.
(Newspaper Headline: Sex cult revelations horrify Argentina. Officials fear global trade in children. Black and white photographs of children in bunk beds)
(Photographs of a young David Berg)
Narrator: Sometime in 1994, while the family's legal case is still before the courts, David Berg, also known as Moses David, Mo, and Dad, dies.
Unidentified female British television news reporter: A senior judge is under attack tonight after giving permission for a three-year-old boy to be brought up by his mother in a notorious religious sect with a history of child abuse. Lord Justice Ward accepted assurances from the mother and the leaders of the family cult that they had turned their back on the teachings of their late founder. The judge branded him a sex-obsessed child molester and pornographer.
Unidentified female British television news reporter #2 (voice over): In a damning 135,000-word report, Lord Justice Ward said in the past children had been harmed by the sect's 'Law of Love', which he described as 'a pernicious doctrine, robbing children of their innocence'.
(Newspaper Headline - Herald Sun: Sect Victory 'A Sign From God')
(Newspaper Headline: Court Grants Parents Custody)
Narrator: Despite clear evidence of past transgressions, courts throughout the world ruled that sexual acts involving children are no longer being practiced.
(Newspaper Headline: Celebration As Family Case Ends)
(Newspaper Headline: Home Safe)
Narrator: The family is acquitted of all charges.
(Shot of road speeding by, taken from a car window).
[countryside, guitar playing, people singing inside a moving RV with black text “The Family Singers – Making The World A Better Place” painted on the outside ]
Group of people [singing]: Oh, happy days, oh, happy days. Oh, happy days, oh, happy days, where Peter walk, where Peter walk.
Narrator: Today there's a new ark sailing the unchartered waters of religious fundamentalism. The Family now includes the children of the original founders.
(group of women singing, bridge with vehicles)
(group of Family members, some on matching outfits, standing around while one of them, a young girl, shows a photo album to an older man)
Unidentified female teen 1 (Family member): This is what we do in DC, everything from distributing food and clothing to performing at the White House for different benefits. This is some pictures of our food and clothing distribution. [flipping through the album] And all of us are actually children of missionaries, we've grown up in different countries. For example, I was in Argentina. This is performing at the White House for Christmas...
Unidentified Man 9: Oh, wow.
(pointing at a picture)
Unidentified female teen 1: This is for different radio stations
Narrator: Some things haven’t changed. Family members still witness and they still ask others to provide their needs.
Unidentified female teen: So we came here today and a few of the farmers were able to donate some produce for us.
(woman handing over a plastic bag with something in it to the young girls)
Unidentified woman 3: There's 30 dozen...
Narrator: Now with the White House on their CV, The Family is moving more mainstream.
(two young girls receiving a large paper bag from from someone who is not seen on camera)
Unidentified female teen 2: Oh, thanks so much. God bless you.
Unidentified female teen 1: Thank you.
(crowded area near a beach)
Narrator: Today Flirty Fishing is no longer used to woo converts. Though free love is still practiced among family members, their witnessing has moved back to the streets and boardwalks.
(Two young girls on roller-skates distribute leaflets)
(two people followed by the camera enter a bedroom with triple-deck bunk beds)
Narrator: There are 9,000 family members left. There used to be 38,000 full time adherents and hundreds of thousands more who were in some way touched by the family.
(woman about to feed a toddler)
Narrator: But with two-thirds of the members under 21, The Family is growing again.
Unidentified woman 4: Bless this snack…
Unidentified toddler: Bless this snack…
Unidentified woman 4: …in Jesus’ name, amen.
Unidentified toddler: …in Jesus’ name, amen.
Unidentified woman 4: Here you go.
(person coming down the stairs, another cleaning while another is walking about)
Narrator: They still believe the end time is just around the corner and despite his checkered past, David Berg is still what holds them together.
Unidentified woman 5 (holding a mop): Prophecies are a real thing. The Spirit is a real thing. If he could get a prophecy when he was here, he can give it to us now too. He gives prophecies and he speaks to us just like when he was here. He's a little more... he's all healthy and I'm sure he's much happier. He speaks to us in the spirit.
(shots of David Berg, some alone and others with children; eerie music playing in the background)
Narrator: Until David Berg’s death, only a handful of his disciples had ever seen him. Now, selected pictures of the prophet are displayed on the wall next to that of Jesus. Berg’s more revolutionary writings especially those about sex have been heavily sanitized or remove from circulation.
Peter Amsterdam: Father David is a departed saint, guiding you, and helping to guide The Family from beyond, for sure, the same as Jesus guide us from beyond. He does give counsel.
(Peter Amsterdam walking and enters a building in slow motion)
Narrator: Since Berg’s death, Peter Amsterdam chats daily with the beloved prophet. Berg’s first directive was for Peter to become King Peter, another was for him to marry Berg’s still powerful widow, Maria.
(photograph of Maria)
Peter Amsterdam: He spoke to me and he said, “Son, when I'm gone, you have to help her carry the crown. You have to help Maria carry the crown. You have to be with her and take care of her.” He said, “You're a real king and you'll be King Peter and she’ll be Queen Maria.” You know it was sort of this whole prophecy, sort of.
(at an outdoor camping area; people sitting at tables clapping and singing; woman carries a child while talking to another woman)
Narrator: With a new king to lead them and a queen that they revered, the family rejoices in its remarkable come back.
(man puts arm over another man, people clapping sitting in tables at a park)
Large group of unidentified people (singing): Alleluia, praise the Lord.
Narrator: The sect is now open enough to admit some of its past errors, but the healing process is just beginning.
Sharon Wilson (ex-member): I do know young people who were introduced to sex at a very young age, at a very young age by adults.
(group of people smiling, people with cameras on rooftop)
And I realized that maybe that only happened in The Family for a few years. But to say that it didn’t happen, when they hear The Family say these things, how does that make them feel? What does that do to them? They're sitting there going, “I know that happened.” It's giving them all kinds of turmoil and problem.
(group of children in an audience in front of stage, unseen man on unseen stage shouting)
Man on stage: One, two, three!
Children (shouting): Jesus!
David Rugely (aka Simon Black): (singing on a stage in front of a group of people): I've been told this lie before, good education is all you need. You choose the number and you'll be free.
(David Rugely playing guitar and singing along with unidentified woman on an outdoor stage)
Hap Wotila: I am convinced after memorizing 5000 verses word for word from the Bible and after reading and studying it constantly for all those 7 years that you can justify almost anything if you know enough scripture verses.
(Hap Wotila in the audience with Jane Miller Berg. There are a lot of people singing and dancing. )
(Close-up of Rugely and unidentified woman singing on stage. People in the audience clapping and dancing.)
(Slow motion. Eerie music starts again)
David Berg: And all you have to is open the door. All you have to is pray with me and say: "Jesus, please come into my heart. I believe you're the son of God. I believe you died for me... Forgive me of my sins and come into my heart, Lord Jesus."
(music and screen fades to black, credits start)
DLI Productions in association with TVOntario, CFCF 12 and Knowledge Network
directed by: Abbey Jack Neidik
produced by: Abbey Jack Neidik, Irene Angelico
commissioning editor: TVOntario, Rudy Buttignol
narrator: Rick Book
voice of David Berg: Aron Tager
written by: Paul Cowan
edited by: Torben Schioler, Abbey Jack Neidik
associate producers: Kate Kung, Susan Palmer, Amy Webb
director of photography: Nash Read
sound: Gilles Corbeil
original music: Normand Roger, Denis Chartrand
research: Susan Palmer
distribution: Films Transit