Cultic practices are not new to society. Cults have been around for millennia, including the emperor worship cults of the Roman Empire and the sexual cults which comprised the first century pagan religious scene. There are several well-known cults in existence today such as the Church of Scientology, Jehovah’s Witnesses, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, and so on. There are also countless smaller, lesser known, perhaps more dangerous cultic organizations. One such cult will be examined in this paper; and it is known as “The Family International.”
Before we examine The Family International (TFI hereafter), we must be aware of several distinguishing factors which separate a cult from any other heretical religious organization. These include, but are not limited to, a human leader who is seen as divine and infallible, radical close-mindedness, extremely irrational dogmatism, antagonism toward those outside of the cult, compartmentalization and an ability to overlook contradictions, ideology dependent upon strong inter-group relationships which demand devout, unquestioning commitment, and etc. Perhaps the most distinguishing mark of a cult is the level of psychological damage it deals. The belief systems themselves occupy the mind in a way that is toxic to the believer:
… [T]he belief systems of cults are characterized by closed-mindedness. They are not interested in a rational, cognitive evaluation of the facts. The organizational structure interprets the facts to the cultist, generally invoking the Bible and/ or its respective founder as the ultimate source of its pronouncements. Such belief systems are in isolation; they never shift to logical consistency. They exist in what we might describe as separate compartments in the cultist’s mind and are almost incapable of penetration or disruption if the individual cultist is completely committed to the authority pattern of his organization (Martin 36).
Thus, a cultic belief can lead men and women to engage in dangerous means to justify their respected, but psychologically manipulated ideal end. Such is what adherents of TFI are most well-known for doing.
Founder and Backstory
Before we examine in detail the beliefs and practices of TFI, it is expedient to examine their founder and longtime leader, David Brandt Berg (1919-1994). TFI was founded by Berg under the name “Teens for Christ.” This movement grew out of the “Jesus People Movement” which was popular amongst hippies and other counter-cultural groups during the hippie heydays of the mid to late 60’s (“The Family”). Berg was a former Pastor for the Christian and Missionary Alliance and founded the group in Huntington Beach, California in 1668 (“Family International”). Berg’s emphasis for his group was on a rejection of denominational Christianity and an attempt at a communal (communistic) society which he thought reflected the lifestyle of early Christians. The group went by many different names throughout its existence including “Revolution for Jesus,” “Children of God,” and “Family of Love,” before settling with “The Family International” (“The Family”). Berg likewise went by many names including Moses David, Moses David Berg, Father David, King David, Dad, or simply “Mo.”
God’s End Time Prophet?
To be a charter member of TFI, one must recognize David berg as “God’s Endtime Prophet” (HomeARC ML 3197). Berg saw himself as a prophet, even as the “prophet like me” described by Moses in Deuteronomy 18:15-22 (HomeARC ML 1642). Berg wrote over 3,000 letters in his lifetime called “Mo letters,” which are viewed as inspired revelation by His followers (“The Family”). Berg’s heretical letters teach a multitude of damnable doctrines, many of which are sexually explicit in content: “Berg described God as a ‘sexy, naked god in a wild orgy of the Spirit’ and as ‘[a] Pimp’” (“The Family”). As is clear, Berg was a false prophet. Berg “prophesied” that California would be utterly destroyed by an earthquake, and that America “the whore” was to be destroyed by the comet Kohoutek in 1972 (“The Family”). His “prophesies” even led a large portion of his American following to migrate to Europe and Latin America—thus establish TFI “colonies” in five continents (“The Family”).
Doctrines of Demons
Next, we will examine the damnable teachings and practices of TFI. While today they emphasize their worldwide charitable works, such work is done on the foundation of years of human rights violations and Scripture twisting. First, TFI notoriously engaged in and sanctioned sexual sins including homosexual behavior, fornication, adultery, orgies, etc.:
Female bisexuality is sanctioned, though female homosexuality at the complete exclusion of men is not permitted … Adult members may have sex with any other adult member of the opposite sex, and are encouraged to do so, regardless of marital status, as a way to foster unity and combat loneliness of those “in need.” This is commonly called “sharing” or “sacrificial sex“… numerous former members have alleged being coerced to “share” and subsequently cast as selfish or unloving when they did not (Stewart emp. added).
Likewise, TFI is known for their “evangelism” techniques. While such techniques have and still do consist of the publication of literature and door-knocking, they have included some much more sinister techniques in the past. Such includes the practice of blending fornication and proselyting:
… [I]n a practice called “flirty fishing,” [Berg] encouraged female members to use their feminine charms while witnessing God’s love to lonely men, a tactic that often led to sexual activity. He also encouraged sexual “sharing” among the adults in The Family … herpes spread among Family members, and pedophiles within the group preyed upon the children. In 1983 and over the next several years, the group began to curtail this sexual activity. Child protection rules were instituted, and in 1987 flirty fishing was discontinued. The sharing of adult partners within the group continues and remains … (Melton emp. added).
This gross misconception of God’s love and evangelism is a disturbing insight into this “pseudo-Christian cult” (“The Family”).
Besides egregious sexual sin and following a false prophet, TFI also holds several heretical doctrines. TFI claims that the Holy Spirit contains “the feminine and maternal elements of the Trinity of God.” Likewise, TFI teaches that miracles are still being performed today (cf. 1 Cor. 13:8-12), nobody will spend eternity in hell (cf. Mt. 7:13-14; 2 Thes. 1:6-9; Rev. 21:8), salvation by faith alone (cf. Acts 2:38), and that angels and the departed souls of believers are still delivering messages to TFI members ([cf. Heb. 1:1-2] “What We Believe”). TFI has in many respects transformed itself since the 70s and 80s. It was able to rid itself of “flirty fishing” practices and pedophilia, now emphasizing the tolerance of others, worldwide humanitarian works, and the spiritual fellowship of believers.
A House Built on the Sand
Regardless of how shiny the image of TFI might be today, their house is built on the sand. First, they were originally founded by a fleshly minded false prophet, David Berg. Berg saw himself as the prophet Moses foresaw in Deuteronomy 18, but he must have neglected to read the rest of the chapter where God discusses false prophets:
But the prophet who presumes to speak a word in my name which I have not commanded him to speak, or who speaks in the name of other gods, that same prophet shall die.’ And if you say in your heart, ‘How may we know the word which the Lord has not spoken?’ — when a prophet speaks in the name of the Lord, if the word does not come to pass or come true, that is a word which the Lord has not spoken; the prophet has spoken it presumptuously, you need not be afraid of him (Dt. 18:20-22).
If David Berg was explicitly a false prophet by the Lord’s standards, then certainly he was not the prophesied prophet to come. Beyond this, the New Testament clearly reveals that the prophet foreseen by Moses was Christ (Acts 3:17-26). Berg once wrote in one of his “prophetic” letters that “[he] certainly felt [he] was certainly anointed of the Lord” (HomeARC ML 1642). It will always be a problem when we “feel” our way to what is religiously right, rather than test what is religiously right: “Test all things; hold fast what is good” (1 Thes. 5:21 NKJ).
Berg was similar to the false prophets descried by the apostle Peter—those who would teach sensual, destructive doctrines leading to blasphemy:
But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction. And many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed. And in their greed they will exploit you with false words. Their condemnation from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep (2 Pet. 2:1-3 emp. added).
As with any religious organization with a man at its helm, TFI is built on the wrong foundation, “For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 3:11). Thus, all of TFI’s deeds flow from a faulty spiritual source. What we do religiously can only come from one of two sources: God or man. TFI’s religion undoubtedly comes from the latter.
It is impossible to ignore TFI’s previous and ongoing sexual misconduct. Their emphasis on “sexual freedom” stems from a fundamental mindset which is preoccupied with the flesh rather than the Spirit. Such a mindset is hostile to God and makes it impossible to please Him. The Bible is clear that “those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh,” and “to set the mind on the flesh is death … For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. For is you live according to the flesh you will die…” (Rom. 8:5-7, 13). What does it mean to set the mind on the flesh and live according to the flesh? This is when an individual meditates on and acts out the works of the flesh. Paul defined the works of the flesh in Galatians 5:19f: “Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness …and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God (Gal. 5:19, 22 NKJ emp. added).
TFI’s practices are explicit works of the flesh, and therefore not of God. God’s Word states, “Marriage is honourable in all, and the bed undefiled: but whoremongers and adulterers God will judge” (Heb. 11:4 KJV). TFI both historically and actively has no respect for marriage, encouraging members to engage in open adultery and whoremongering. Since the Bible teaches that God will judge and condemn those who unrepentantly practice such things, then TFI cannot be of God (cf. 1 Cor. 6:9-10; Eph. 5:5; Rev. 21:8; 22:15).
The Family International showcases how dangerous it can be when the words of men are taken above the Words of God. The Word of God cannot fail (Isa. 55:10-11), it is eternal (Isa. 40:8; Mt. 24:35), and it is one-hundred percent truth (Ps. 119:160; Jn. 17:17). The words of men are not so. They fallible, faulty, and often false. The Family International is one of many examples of false religion, fleshly minds, and sensual desires culminating in a dangerous mix of religious, physical, and psychological abuse. The family of God exists, but it is not led by a blasphemous, fleshly minded false prophet. It is led by God the Father—and all can be added thereunto because of Christ’s death through baptism:
[F]or in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise (Gal. 3:27-29).
False religion is fleshly, manipulative, or manmade like The Family International. True religion is pure, undefiled, benevolent, and God given (cf. Jas. 1:27). TFI is a cult consisting of historical atrocities and contemporary falsehoods. Let us all endeavor to “Follow the pattern of the sound words that you have heard … in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus” (2 Tim. 1:13) and leave the flesh and its desires (no matter how religious they may appear) behind.
All Scripture quoted from the English Standard Version unless otherwise noted
“Family International.” Wikipedia.org. Wikimedia foundation Inc., 13 March 2016. Web. 6 April 2016.
“HomeARC ML 1642.” Xfamily.org. 27 July 2016. Web. 6 April 2016.
“HomeARC ML 3197.” Xfamily.org. 27 July 2016. Web. 6 April 2016.
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The Holy Bible: King James Version. Electronic Edition of the 1900 Authorized Version. Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2009. Print.
Martin, Walter. The Kingdom of the Cults. Ed. Ravi Zacharias. 5th ed. Bloomington, MN: Bethany House Publishers, 2003. Print.
Melton, John Gordon. “The Family International.” EncyclopediaBritannica.com. Encyclopædia Britannica Inc., 2016. Web. 06 Apr. 2016.
The New King James Version. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1982. Print.
Stewart, David J. “The Family International Sex Cult Exposed.” JesusIsSavior.com., n. d. Web. 6 April 2016.
“The Family International.” Apologeticsindex.org. Apologetics Index, n. d. Web. 5 April 2016.
“What We Believe.” TheFamilyInternational.org. The Family International, 2016. Web. 6 April 2016.