Houston Chronicle: Elusive "father' of cult has held a following for 25 years

From XFamily - Children of God

Elusive "father' of cult has held a following for 25 years

Houston Chronicle/1993-10-10

By Evan Moore

They affectionately call him "Dad." His every utterance is held in reverence. Thousands have forsaken former lives and families to follow him, but only a few of these have ever seen, much less met, the elusive David Brant Berg.

The 74-year-old Berg's appeal for his followers may seem as baffling to outsiders as do his teachings, but for more than 25 years he has kept the reins of his scattered group despite internal strife and external disapproval.

Berg came by religion naturally. He was born in Oakland, Calif., in 1919, the son of a Disciples of Christ minister and a mother who was a radio evangelist.

He eventually found his way into the Missionary Alliance Church in Arizona. In 1950, for reasons lost to obscurity, Berg was forced out of that church and began wandering the country. He married along the way and, in 1964, began working for Los Angeles evangelist J. Fred Jordan as a radio preacher with a "Church in the Home" broadcast.

By that time California had begun to see its first hippies and there was a chemistry between them and the 45-year-old evangelist. Berg moved his wife, Jane, and his four children to Huntington Beach, a Los Angeles suburb, and began a ministry at "The Light Club."

There, he gathered about 50 followers. That number soon grew to 500 and he moved them to an old ranch near Mineral Wells, Texas, and named it the "Texas Soul Clinic." He adopted the name "Moses David" and dictated to his followers through "Mo Letters," which his artists illustrated with cartoons depicting Berg as a lion and Christ as a leering debaucher in paradise, usually accompanied by scantily clad women.

Those depictions reflected Berg's view of Christ, but, by his own statement, he only saw a vision of Jesus once, when Berg and his lover, Maria, were having sex in the back of a car in a roadside park. He most often saw visions of "Abrahim," an ancient Gypsy he first saw in Houston in 1970, but he only saw Abrahim after consuming large quantities of wine.

He also made several prophecies of doom, and in 1971 he dispatched a number of his followers to Europe and Asia and set up his own headquarters in London. He took Maria as a full-time lover there and gave his wife, Jane, a younger man as compensation.

The group had grown to about 6,000 by 1974, when Berg revealed his doctrine of "flirty fishing" and began expounding his iconoclastic views of sex. He believed sex was a proper tool to use to win souls. He believed sex should begin in infancy. The prophet himself wrote that he had his first sexual encounter with an older male relative when he was 7.

"Flirty fishing" was a success. Soon, The Children of God were taking converts to bed in more than 70 different countries around the world. They began to move into Latin America, where they formed a popular musical group, called "Musica Con Vida" and traveled extensively.

As the group spread around the world, Berg became an even more mystical figure to most of his followers. He had groups of young women following him with tape recorders, saving his every utterance for posterity. He had a crew of artists illustrating his "Mo Letters" and pamphlets and he had a cadre of a dozen or more he dubbed "The Royal Family" running the daily operation of The Children of God.

The cult also began making musical videos and videos for children, combining animation and music. Those videos, which are professional and well-edited, are still produced, now at a studio in Japan.

In 1978 the first great upheaval occurred in the group and Berg excommunicated 300 of his leaders for assorted disloyalties.

Those included his daughter, Deborah Davis. Davis left the group, but wrote a book in which she accused Berg of raping her when she was a child. Her accusations were dismissed in some circles, but Berg's own writings about incest and sex with children convinced others she was telling the truth.

Later, both of Berg's granddaughters, Merry Berg and Joyanne Treadwell, accused him of molesting them as children.

Those accusations, even though they were bolstered by videotapes showing Merry Berg in sexual poses as a child, did little to shake the loyalty of Berg's followers. The "Mo Letters" continued to circulate and were as avidly read as before.

Those letters are about the only communication most of The Children of God have had with Berg in years. After leaving America he lived in London, Japan, Switzerland, even in Libya, where he formed an alliance with Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi.

His whereabouts are a mystery today. A few who have seen him in recent years say his health is failing, but his philosophy remains the same and it still deals with sex.

The "Mo Letters" continue to emanate and the last reportedly was titled, "Death, The Ultimate Orgasm."