Rise of the Children of God

(I know this is rather confused presentation, given the footnotes, but be patient and the full story will come out.)

The first and only time I talked face to face with David “Moses”

Berg was when David Hoyt, Danny Sands, Rick Zacks, and I visited

Lonnie Frisbee at the House of Miracles in Costa Mesa, California.

We had come to discuss the pros and cons of Lonnie joining

forces with Chuck Smith and the beginnings of Calvary Chapel. After

that meeting, the five of us jumped into my 1964 blue Ford station

wagon and drove down to Newport Beach to a Christian nightclub

run by the Berg family. That was in 1969.

Little by little, word filtered through the Jesus People networks

that there was a new group operating and aggressively so. It was

known as COG, short for the Children of God.1 At some point it was

also known as The Love Family or just, The Family. This more attractive

designation began to be used around the year 1971, and it

emerged as the COG’s response to negative attention it received from

the media.

The COG targeted the Jesus freaks. Early on the attraction was that

Berg’s followers were really sold out to Jesus, unlike the “ordinary”

Jesus freak. Members of Berg’s group had left worldly possessions

behind (of course, if they had anything, it was given to the organization),

and they were on the road with the true gospel.

Many of the Jesus People had been hippies, or wanted to be hippies,

so the radical call to leave everything behind, including work,

school, parents, wives, or husbands was a real lure—an escape for the

bored and burdened.

I had been a disciple from afar of Jack Kerouac and tried to live out

1 Don Lattin has written an excellent account of the Children of God, the best

out there. The title is: Jesus Freaks: A true story of murder and madness on the Evangelical edge, published in 2008.

Rise of the Children of God 107

what I read in his books, On the Road and Dharma Bums, which celebrated

the “beat life.” The beat life melded into or helped spawn the

hip movement, at least as I see it. Now COG came along and provided

the perfect excuse to be wild and radical, and all for Jesus.

Sex was a big draw as well. I recall the “Mo” letter that Berg wrote

entitled, “Flirty Little Fishies,” which was a communication that came

directly from a spirit that Berg had in

him named Abram. It instructed the

pretty young ladies in COG to use their

bodies to bring in new converts.2 And

as you might guess, it worked.

That Berg was possessed by a spirit

that guided him was not as strange

as it might seem. Infused with Pentecostalism,

most of the Jesus People

thought that anything spiritual had to

be from God. Due to my Baptist background,

I did not share this view, not

even close. What I saw instead was a

doctrinal issue that contributed to the

confusion over Berg and others like

him. It was a propensity of many Christian leaders to strongly argue

against the possibility that a Christian can have a demonic spirit. The

rationale was: if you are filled with the Holy Spirit, there is no room

for anything else. And naturally, the Jesus People were “Full Gospel”

and filled “to the gills”3 with the Spirit; Berg fell into this category.4

A second point that led to confusion was the common presumption

among the Jesus People that anyone who claimed to be a Christian

must be one.5 There was virtually no understanding or discernment

2 This bit of engineering was essentially a mask for Berg’s own sexual perversions.

3 An expression we would use to describe someone who plainly had several


4 In my own deliverance ministry I attempt to avoid the controversy about

the vulnerability of Christians to demonic influences and set aside theological nitpicking,

in order to concentrate on the needs of the person in front of me.

5 This particular issue stayed with me for many years and in 1995 I wrote

a book on true and false conversion. The title is, Are You Really Born Again? and is

now in its second edition.

108 Chapter 32

that someone might be falsely converted. In my estimation, this was a

difficulty that would haunt the Jesus Movement and produce much of

what I call “the dark sides” of the awakening. After all, one’s Christianity

was judged on whether one could move and groove to the beat,

all the while speaking in tongues. This may be an exaggerated viewpoint,

but it is not far from actual practice. But more of this later.

With the news spreading around about the COG, most of the Jesus

People knew what was afoot. David Hoyt and I knew and actively

campaigned against Berg and his movement. We knew we would

encounter them at some point. Indeed, COG people showed up in the

Bay Area, but they had little or no chance of gaining a foothold here. A

few stragglers got picked off, but for the most part they left us alone.

There were better, easier pickings elsewhere.

Leave a Reply