I Grew Up in an Apocalyptic Christian Cult
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“Were you coerced to recruit members to your group?”
I thought about the trips I’d go on, during which I was taught to tell people about Jesus and his love. We called it “witnessing.” These recruiting trips were the only times I could go beyond our compound.
“Were you taught that the outside world was a forbidden place, and did you feel guilty for wanting to leave?”
The world outside was referred to as “the system.” It was a scary place filled with evil, corruption and devilish temptations and desires. Father David referred to anyone who was not part of the Children of God as “systemites.” He sent out comic books with illustrations of what these systemites looked like—ultra-cool boys with slicked-back hair and baggy pants, girls with dyed hair, dangling jewelry, painted fingernails and lots of make-up. They were lost and it was our job to save them. We were taught to be natural and wear our hair long with minimal fuss. Make-up and jewelry was forbidden. Boys kept their hair short and men were not allowed to grow facial hair. Father David shunned any attention to fashion or outer appearance. “Worldliness,” he called it, was a device of the Devil. I was told I was special because I was born into the Children of God. Over time, I learned to believe it.
Until I picked up that issue of “Seventeen,” I thought we were just part of a religious missionary group with strict rules. I followed my family and trusted them.
All of our lives, we had never been allowed to choose where to live, what clothes to wear or what food to eat. Everything had been decided for us.
For the next few weeks after taking the “Seventeen” quiz, the words ran like a manta through my mind: Oh my God ... I grew up in a cult ... Where do I go from here?
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The Children of God was founded on the shores of Huntington Beach, California, in 1968. David Berg was the youngest child of evangelist Virginia Lee Brandt and Hjalmer Berg. After several attempts at following his famous mother’s nationwide evangelical mission, Berg was kicked out of the Christian Missionary Alliance, a group his parents belonged to, for alleged sexual misconduct, although Berg claims he was expelled for trying to preach to Native Americans who came into the parish, as he put it, “dirty and barefoot,” eager to hear the gospel.
Berg partnered up with Fred Jordan, a television evangelist and founder of the American Soul Clinic in Los Angeles, an organization dedicated to training missionaries for the foreign field. Together they promoted a television program called “Church in the Home,” which broadcast sermons to people’s homes via a weekly television program. Their partnership lasted for 15 years. During that time, Berg developed a philosophy that any action was justified as long as it was done in the name of God’s work. This philosophy would be a founding principle of the Children of God.
Berg, along with his wife and four children, began offering assistance to a small group called Teen Challenge at the Light Club, a Christian coffeehouse near the Huntington Beach pier. Soon they were running the mission full time, keeping it open and alive seven days a week with songs about Jesus and a message of the end times.