Chapter 34, of Memoirs of a Jesus Freak, “The COG Moves on Atlanta

The JPM was largely, but not completely, a youth movement.

Many leaders had no theological training but were self-taught.

It would not be an exaggeration to say that formal education,

theological or otherwise, was demeaned by a large segment of the

Jesus People. It was considered preferable to be “taught by the Spirit.”

Over a short period of time, a rather extensive vocabulary grew

up that represented the insider language of the Jesus People. It was

a mixture of hippie talk and Jesus talk. It reflected a fundamentalist

mindset, and some of it was useful in shutting down negative ideas.

I find myself still reverting to some of the phrases today. One that

comes to mind is, “If it isn’t in the Word, I don’t want to hear it.” Of

course, what was “in the Word” was carefully and narrowly defined.

The JPM base theology was either Pentecostal in nature or Dispensational

and anti-Pentecostal, but in either case, it was thoroughly

fundamentalistic, literalistic, and certain that Jesus was coming

tomorrow. The “authorized” King James Version was the only acceptable

translation, and alongside their pocket-sized copy of the KJV

New Testament, some also carried a copy of Hal Lindsay’s, The Late

Great Planet Earth.

Jesus People Leadership

Many leaders had little experience in coping with a large number

of brand new converts, especially ones from dysfunctional homes who

often exhibited serious mental and emotional illnesses, chief among

them being drug and sexual addictions. After all, the real attraction to

the hippie life, maybe not for all but for most, was the lure of dope and

sex. After even a genuine conversion, and even after a space of time

when the addictions receded, temptations would re-emerge. Many

intrigues and crazy rationales were concocted to fulfill perverted

drives, but they were now under some kind of spiritual cloak. For

many young converts, it was not a quick or simple process to move

from being cloaked in self-righteousness to being clothed in the righteousness

of Christ.

The youth and immaturity of most JPM leaders meant they were

utterly unprepared to deal with heavy responsibility—and I include

myself here. No group of Jesus People elected their leaders; the most

charismatic, aggressive, and outspoken grabbed for or were shoved

into leadership roles. Another view is that, due to the number of

youth coming to Christ, someone had to manage the situation. I recall

that few of the leaders in those early days lasted in those positions for

very long. It was as though God had gifted them, undergirded them,

and inspired them, and then when the JPM faded, so did they.

The COG in Atlanta

David and I often discussed the COG, and we were both aware of

the danger this radical mob of zealots posed. The few “Mo Letters”

already written were not yet widely distributed, so no one really

knew what the group was up to. We did know that the COG targeted

Jesus People gatherings and attempted to persuade people that they

and they alone were the really committed followers of Jesus.

We had a faint awareness of the cultic tactics the COG used. The

media unwittingly helped Jesus freaks here. At first, most secular and

Christian journalists could not distinguish between the good, the

bad, and the ugly. But as time went on, and the bizarre stories began

to appear in both print and television, most Jesus People had their

antennae up.

Despite the threat of the COG, David secretly visited their compound

in Texas to check out what they were doing. After David’s identity

was revealed, he was corralled and courted, and to make it a short

story, David invited a COG band to visit the Atlanta ministry. At least

he thought he was only inviting a band. The COG had planned things

well. Suddenly they burst on the scene, isolated the leaders through

one-on-one conversation—divide and conquer—and in a relatively

brief time, kids were getting on buses heading for Texas. They had

managed to isolate David, making it impossible for him to cope with

the situation.

Before that point, Berg and The Family’s excesses were not apparent,

and certainly David was not aware of their tactics. The circumstances

David faced in Atlanta and the responsibility of keeping track

of all the other houses in the various states was becoming unmanageable.

David was understandably stressed to the breaking point;

and raising a family in that environment was virtually impossible. My

thinking is that David viewed a melding into COG as a rescue of sorts.

He had no idea what he was really getting into.

Ed Sweeny and a Red-Eye to Atlanta

Late one evening I received a phone call from Ed Sweeny, the

Catholic priest I had met in Atlanta some months earlier. He told me

about the buses that showed up at David’s headquarters in Atlanta

and about the dozens of kids getting on board. I called an airline and

I was quickly on my way east.

Ed picked me up, and we drove straight to the former French

embassy. I jumped out of the car, rushed up the steps to the front

door, and encountered a young man who had been in the COG only

six months. I was way too late; the bus was on its way to other states

to pick up unsuspecting folk at the other houses David had founded.

I was highly agitated, though dead tired, and for an hour the young

COG zealot preached the philosophy and mission of The Family to me.

In a way I do not understand, I was ready to join up, right there and

then. All thoughts of my own family and ministry back in Marin fled

from my consciousness, as though I was hypnotized. Just at the point

I was going to walk into the house and become a member of The Family,

Ed suddenly appeared, grabbed me by the arm, and said, “Into the

car, get into the car, we are leaving now.” He literally pulled me off the

porch, across the lawn, and into his car.

Ed is gone now, but I love that man to this day.

The dimensions of the take-over, and that is how I viewed it then

and still do, was far greater than I thought. It was some years before I

realized the scope of the operation, a realization that came via some of

those who had boarded the buses heading for the “Texas Soul Clinic.”

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