David Brandt Berg (February 18, 1919 – October 1, 1994), frequently known by the pseudonym Moses David, was the founder and leader of the new religious movement formerly called Children of God, now called The Family International. Berg founded this movement in 1968 among the counterculture youth in southern California. He came from a long line of non-conformist ministers and evangelists, so he also decided to spend his life dedicated to Christian service. Initially the group was filled with hippies and unchurched youth, but later drew in followers from many other places. This is when the Children of God expanded and became known as the Family International. To communicate with his followers, he began writing letters, and continued this practice for thirty years. His legacy is not without controversy, however, as his writings are generally at odds with mainstream society, and detractors have accused him of sexual misconduct.
In Berg's lifetime, he disapproved of mainstream Christians because he thought that they failed to follow the teachings of Christ. He believed that all Christians should model their lives after the first century church, living a simple life, and devoting their life, time, and money to sharing the Gospel of Christ with as many people as possible. During the first 25 years of this movement, the Family International shared their message with over 260 million people in over 100 countries. According to The Family International, 18 million of those people became followers of Christ.
Early years (1919–1969)
Berg was born in Oakland, California, the youngest of three children of Hjalmer Emmanuel Berg and Rev. Virginia Lee Brandt, Christian evangelists. His father was Swedish. His maternal grandfather was Rev. John Lincoln Brandt (1860–1946), a Disciples of Christ minister, author, and lecturer of Muskogee, Oklahoma. David Berg graduated from Monterey High School (in California) in 1935 and later attended Elliott School of Business Administration
Berg often said that his rich heritage played a key role in shaping his character and religious convictions. Many of his forefathers, as well as both of his parents, were deeply committed Christians. Some of them were members of the Dunkards, a conservative offshoot of the Church of the Brethren. State persecution of the sect drove the Brandt family to America, where they settled in Pennsylvania and Ohio around 1750.
Dr. John Lincoln Brandt, Berg's grandfather, had a dramatic conversion in his mid-twenties and immediately entered full-time Christian service. For years he was a Methodist circuit rider. He later became a leader of the Alexander Campbell movement of the Disciples of Christ, a restoration movement that developed into the current Protestant denomination Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).
Virginia Brandt Berg, David Berg's mother, is the individual whom he credited for influencing him the most. Although raised in a Christian home, Virginia became an atheist and wild society girl during her college years. However, shortly after the birth of her first child, she broke her back in an accident and spent the next five years as a bedridden invalid, often hovering near death. Eventually she recovered and spent the rest of her life with her husband, Hjalmer, in active Christian service as a pastor and evangelist. Virginia and Hjalmer were no strangers to controversy. They were expelled from the Disciples of Christ after publicly testifying of her "divine healing", which was contrary to church doctrine. They subsequently joined a new denomination, the Christian and Missionary Alliance, shortly before David Berg's birth. In later years, their missionary zeal and disdain for denominational politicking often set them at variance with the conservative faction of that church's hierarchy, causing them to work largely as independent pastors and evangelists.
David Berg spent his early years traveling with his parents, who pursued their evangelical mission with a passion. In 1924, they settled in Miami, Florida, after Virginia successfully led a series of large revivals at the Miami Gospel Tabernacle. This became Berg's home for the next 14 years, while his mother and father were pastors at a number of Miami churches.
As is the case with many pastors and their dependents, the Berg family depended entirely on the generosity of their parishioners for their support, and often had difficulty making ends meet. This instilled in Berg a lifelong habit of frugality, which he encouraged his followers to adopt.
In the late 1930s, Virginia Berg returned to her favorite ministry, that of a traveling evangelist. David Berg accompanied her, and for most of the next 10 years acted as her chauffeur, song leader, and general assistant.
Like his father, Berg became a minister in the Christian and Missionary Alliance, and was placed at Valley Farms, Arizona. Berg was eventually expelled from the organization for differences in teachings and for alleged sexual misconduct with a church employee. In Berg's writings he claimed the expulsion was due to his support for greater racial diversity among his congregation.
Fred Jordan, Berg's friend and boss, allowed Berg and his personal family to open and run a branch of his Soul Clinic in Miami, Florida as a missionary training school. After running into trouble with local authorities for his aggressive disapproval with evolution being taught as fact in public schools, Berg moved his family to Fred Jordan's Texas Soul Clinic, in Western Texas.
The Children of God/The Family (1968–1994)
David Berg (also known as King David, Mo, Moses David, Father David, Dad, or Grandpa to followers) founded the organization known as the Children of God in 1968. It was later known as "The Family of Love" or "The Family," and is currently "The Family International".
Berg called on his followers to devote their full-time to spreading the message of Jesus' love and salvation as far and wide as possible, unfettered by convention or tradition, and to teach others to do the same.
Berg also decried the de-Christianization and decay in moral values of Western society. He viewed the trend towards a New World Order as setting the stage for the rise of the Antichrist.
Berg lived in seclusion, communicating with his followers and the public via nearly 3,000 "Mo Letters" ("Mo" from his pseudonym "Moses David") that he wrote on a wide variety of subjects. These typically covered spiritual or practical subjects and were used as a way of disseminating and introducing policy and religious doctrine to his followers. His writings were often extreme and uncompromising in their denunciation of what he believed to be evil, such as mainstream churches, pedophilia laws, capitalism, and Jews, yet he always admonished the reader to "love the sinner but hate the sin". He espoused doctrines that mainstream Christians denounce as heretical. However, his followers argue that his writings are permeated with a love of God.
Berg died in 1994 in Portugal and was buried in Costa de Caparica there. His remains have since been cremated.
David Berg has been accused of leading a cult which promoted horrific assaults on children and sexual abuse of women and children for decades. Former members of his group tell their stories in widely read news items and media reports, though official inquiries at the time found no evidence of child abuse. Berg was also personally accused of pedophilia. He recalled in his letters how he was taught to masturbate in church by another boy his age. When his mother caught him, he was forced to masturbate in front of his father. Oftentimes Berg would explicitly describe his sexual preferences and recalled that one thing he regretted was that he never slept with his mother.
In a child custody case in the United Kingdom Berg's granddaughter, Merry Berg, testified that Berg sexually molested her when she was a young teenager. Another of Berg's granddaughters, Joyanne Treadwell Berg, spoke on American television about being sexually abused by David Berg. Berg's adopted son, Ricky Rodriguez, wrote an article on the web site MovingOn.org in which he describes Berg's sexual activity involving a number of women and children. Davida Kelley, the daughter of Rodriguez's nanny, Sarah Kelley, accused Berg of molesting her in a June 2005 Rolling Stone article. In the same article, a woman identified as Armendria alleged that David Berg sexually abused her when she was thirteen years old.
Despite his own Jewish ancestry, David Berg was outspokenly anti-Semitic, believing that the Jews were responsible for the death of Jesus, as well as all persecution of Christians in the world. In support of his views of an international Jewish conspiracy, he cited the forged Protocols of the Elders of Zion, but disclaimed the label "anti-Semitic". Berg was also known to attack black people in his letters, as he believed the Curse of Ham applied to them. He also claimed that black people were being used by a group referred to by him as the AC's (antichrists) in order to bring about the new world order.
Berg predicted several apocalyptic events that did not occur. His best-known prediction was that comet Kohoutek (1974) would wreak havoc and possible destruction. This prediction was shared by others outside The Family, such as Joseph F. Goodavage in the January 1974 issue of SAGA magazine. He also predicted that California would imminently fall into the ocean, the tribulation would begin in 1989, and the second coming of Jesus would happen in 1993.
Berg lived in seclusion and apart from his followers. Due to his obsession with secrecy, until his death, any photos of him appearing in the group's publications had his face covered with pencil drawings, often depicting him as an anthropomorphic lion.
Berg married his first wife, Jane Miller (known as "Mother Eve" in the Children of God), on July 22, 1944 in Glendale, California. They had four children together: Linda (known as "Deborah" in the Children of God); Paul, d. April 1973 (known as "Aaron" in the Children of God); Jonathan Emanuel (known as "Hosea" in the Children of God); and Faith.
Berg also informally adopted Ricky Rodriguez, the son of his second wife (and present leader of The Family) Karen Zerby. In the 1970s and 1980s, sexually suggestive photographic depictions of Rodriguez (aka "Davidito") with adult caretakers were disseminated throughout the group by Berg and Zerby in a childrearing handbook known as "The Story of Davidito". In January 2005, Ricky Rodriguez murdered one of the female caretakers shown in the handbook before taking his own life several hours later.
The sociologist Dr. Thomas Robbins argued that Berg's leadership of the Children of God was based on charismatic authority.