Children of God was one of the names given to a cult originally led by David Berg that became popular with Hollywood types in the 1970s. Rose McGowan and River Phoenix spent part of their childhoods as members and soon there were communes all over the world, including in Australia. But behind all the peace and love, a dark side lurked. Here, in an edited extract from her new book Zealot, Jo Thornely describes cult leader Berg’s twisted perversions.
One of Berg’s repeated lessons was God gave us flesh so flesh should be exposed and celebrated, and followers — or at least female followers — should glorify God via dancing. He instructed that videos of women dancing should be sent back to him.
In true Mo (Berg nicknamed himself Mo as his cult name was Moses David) style, in 1981, he first sent a detailed list of instructions for the dance videos, dictating that dancers should wear veils that they gradually removed. Berg described how he liked the dancers to fondle themselves. He instructed dancers to start slow and then get faster and insisted that anyone too pregnant or with sagging breasts should cover up.
Reading the list of instructions, it’s obvious that 62-year-old Berg was essentially directing porn for himself.
Unsettlingly, videos of both adult women and girls were made, as children were encouraged to learn as much about sex as possible, as early as possible.
According to Children of God, sex was one part of God’s love, so sharing love was good and pure, and withholding love was selfish, proud and often punishable.
The Children of God “law of love” dictates that free expression of love — and therefore sex — is holy.
Berg figured since the only sex act God specifically seemed to find distasteful in the Bible was sodomy, then everything else glorified God. There’s only one hole that ain’t holy, according to Mo.
Berg, who was totally fine with being sent a videotape of a child performing a striptease just for him, called male homosexuality a disgusting perversion, most likely caused by female demons.
It would be a terrific relief if that was where it stopped with Berg and his uncanny talent for perversion, but we haven’t even started on wanking yet. Followers were encouraged to imagine Jesus was always present when they were having sex, including when they were masturbating.
A Mo Letter, his version of a cult newsletter, was even distributed containing a list of suggested sexy things you could say to Jesus while you’re pretending you’re making love to him, just in case you run out of ideas when you’re dirty-talking with the Messiah.
At the less-erotic end of the list are suggestions like telling Jesus you’re in love with him, you’re open for him, and a mildly ambiguous request that Jesus “fill you”, if he’s not too busy with other things. Things get way more freaky at the more erotic end of the list, with increasingly urgent ejaculations such as “I receive your love, Lord, with open arms and open legs!”, “Flood me with your seeds!” and the utterly unambiguous “My pussy is excited for you, Jesus!”
Apparently, despite a busy schedule, Jesus always has time for imaginary commune quickies with multiple partners. Truly a miracle.
Men indulging in the wank arts were politely requested to adopt a female persona for themselves in their sex-with-Jesus fantasies so as not to make it a gay thing. See, in Berg’s mind, men pretending they’re women while they gratify themselves and imagine they’re having sex with Jesus is way, way more normal behaviour than just being gay.
Female homosexuality was A-OK with Berg, though, because hypocrisy has no place in an old man’s inconsistent erections. It’s a shame the internet hadn’t been invented when Berg was just getting his start, otherwise he might have been too busy looking at porn to even think about starting a cult.
Another icky practice that generated a lot of attention — barely any supportive — for the Children of God seems undeniably gross.
Women — whether they felt like it or not — were required to share themselves sexually with other men in the Children of God homes. It was considered a duty, and a duty that was only required of women.
Within the Children of God, adult men only had sex when they wanted to, but very frequently, adult women had sex when they didn’t want to and with people they did not want to have sex with.
“Sharing” was so commonplace the word became a euphemism for sex, and some homes drew up “sharing schedules” to really get organised about coercing people into a swinger lifestyle.
A passionate Mo Letter entitled “One Wife!” claimed that to become stronger, sometimes selfish little exclusionary twosomes should be abandoned for the greater good of the larger communal family. It was a fancy way of saying, “Can the rest of us sleep with your wife, please?”
Thanks to his love of sexism and exploitation, Berg taught his followers that women were made for men. They’re God’s way of saying, “Here, I love you, so I made you a thing with boobs on it.”
Furthermore, he both believed and taught the best way to celebrate that God loves you is to have sex with his gift to you. The cool thing is, gifts aren’t supposed to say no. Any gift that does say no is selfish, self-righteous and possibly affected by demons. Those demons are such cockblockers sometimes.
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