The Children of God (COG) was started in 1968 in Huntington Beach, California, USA. Many early converts were drawn from the hippie era and Jesus Movement of the late 1960s and early 1970s. The group later changed its name to the Family of Love, The Family and recently The Family International. It has also used a significant number pseudonyms and front organizations for its activities. After a number of image makeovers, The Family International now refers to itself as a church, and prefers to be known as a wholesome, family-values New Religious Movement (NRM), albeit with alternative views and counter culture. It is however, still widely referred to as a cult in the media, often as the ...view middle of the document...
e. education past a basic secondary or grade-school level. Major reforms were forced upon the group, and a charter of responsibilities and rights was published as a result.
Family leadership, admitting only that some children were abused from 1978 until 1986, created policies prohibiting excessive discipline and sexual contact between adults and minors. Those found to have abused children after December 1988 are supposedly excommunicated, but their crimes are also allegedly often left unreported to the police. In a now-exposed secret directive, current leader Karen Zerby declared in 1993 that child-adult sex is not inherently wrong. She explained that although they were forced to show outsiders they were complying with the law, members should not lose sight of what they truly believe on the inside. To deny culpability and uphold its image makeover, The Family requires members to leave the group if they wish to report child abuse to a law enforcement agency, or pursue legal action against an alleged abuser within the group—as a result they can technically say that no members have reported any sexual crimes as of late.
Founder David Berg, who initially lived with the first colonies (their early name for Communities or Homes), moved away to live in secret locations known only to top ranking leaders of the group. He communicated with his followers via Mo Letters—directives on a myriad of spiritual and practical subjects—until his death in late 1994, when his mistress Karen Zerby took over leadership of the Family.
The January 2005 murder-suicide of heir apparent Ricky Rodriguez led to considerable renewed media attention on the group and its treatment of children growing up in their environments.
In 1974, David Berg introduced a new proselytization method called Flirty Fishing (or FFing), in which members were encouraged to initiate sexual relations with non-members in order to win converts, supporters, and influential friends. FFing was first practiced by members of Berg's inner circle starting in 1973 and later introduced to the general membership. As many members who found these and other practices questionable left, the movement was purged—those who remained were expected to endorse FFing. By 1978, due to Berg's success at using the RNR (see below) to implement FFing, it was widely practiced by female e members of the group.
The Family describes the practice of Flirty Fishing as follows: "In the latter part of the '70s and early '80s, [David Berg], responding in part to the sexual liberality of that time period, presented the possibility of trying out a more personal and intimate form of witnessing which became known as 'Flirty Fishing' or 'FFing'. In his Letters at that time, he offered the challenging proposal that since 'God is Love' (1 John 4:8), and [what some believe to be] His Son, Jesus, is the physical manifestation and embodiment of God's Love for humanity,...