The children of god’s sexual practices: brainwashing?

The Children of God’s Sexual Practices: Brainwashing? The Children of God is a controversial religious sect within the Jesus Movement, which originated as a counterreformation to the hippie movement in the late 1960’s. It is also known as COG, the Family of Love, and today as the Family International. Led by David Berg, who later became “ Moses David” or “ Dad”, the apocalyptic movement emphasized witnessing to outsiders and claimed that bringing them salvation could only be accomplished through love. This fundamental idea grew into a wide variety of liberal sexual practices within the community through the preaching of Mo Letters, Berg’s widely distributed writings that used direct bible verses as evidentiary support. One such practice, which developed into a ministry within the Family by 1977, is known as Flirty Fishing, a method devised by Berg to proselytize through engaging in sexual activities with potential converts (exFamily, 2009). Although this sexual exchange had no formal request from the Family for monetary value, non- member participants were expected to “ give thanks and appreciation”(exFamily, 2009). This practice, along with many other questionable sexual activities of the group, has been widely debated and taken to court several times under the accusation of prostitution. Although evidence shows support for some form of prostitution taking place, are participants “ brainwashed” through the group’s teaching methods, or merely religious fanatics living out their spiritual teachings? This paper defends that the members involved have been “ brainwashed” to believe they are setting the example for the life they have been taught will lead the world to salvation. This will be proven through in depth research of the Family’s sexual practices, Flirty Fishing in particular, their methods of promoting these sexual practices, and comparing such to the idea of what brainwashing entails. The basis of Berg’s liberal sexual views began with the Mo letter “ The Law of Love”, written in 1974, which argues that members must sacrifice all they have to offer, from physical possessions to personal relationships, as Jesus sacrificed himself for their salvation. In this document, Berg urges for members to separate themselves from society, what he calls “ the System”, by explicitly claiming that because the bible states liberty is achieved through the Holy Spirit, members have “ total and complete freedom from the bondage of law, [and gain] total and complete freedom of life and liberty through love”(Berg, 1974). This severance from law encompasses the desanctification of marriage; redefining the family unit so that once couples enter into the organization they no longer have a need for such personal relationships, as their loyalty is now to the Family. This accurately summarizes his requirement that members severe all ties with their past life, including not only laws set down by the state, but also friends and family, so that they may be wholly encompassed into the new way of life. During the height of this movement, most members lived out this spiritual teaching in religiously exclusive tight-knit communes where they engaged in daily community- oriented labor and reverent group prayer (Davis & Davis, 1984). This high group involvement and exclusivity from non-members contributed to intense group identity. One major sexual liberty known as Flirty Fishing has its’ roots in the claim made by “ The Law of Love” that “ real love” is achieved through the ultimate sacrification of yourself through sex for those who are starved for love, just as you must give food to those who are hungry (Berg, 1974). Flirty Fishing, also known as “ FFing”, was devised by Berg as a method of evangelism that incorporated sexual activity and sex appeal into witnessing to potential converts, drawing the idea from Jesus’ quote “ follow me and I will make you fisher’s of men” (Mathew 4: 19). Berg assures his members that because they have received salvation through Christ, they are “ dead to the law [of Moses]” (Romans 7: 4), and are therefore free of guilt to show their Christian love in a sexual manner. He proclaims that since God created human sexuality, sex is a manifestation of God himself, and as such, non-believers are receiving a physical parallel to love from God himself through this method of outreach (Berg, 1974). Flirty Fishing was practiced by the organization’s innermost circle since 1974, but was widespread among the organization by 1977, gaining momentum through the urging of many Mo Letters such as “ The Devil Hates Sex” and “ Flirty Little Fishies” (exFamily, 2009). Although numbers may be inflated due to overlapping clients, according to the Family, this practice reached 223, 989 people from 1974- 1987, resulting in over 300 “ Jesus Babies” (exFamily, 2009). Once publicized, the media attacked the practice heavily and labeled practitioners “ hookers for Jesus”. This can be substantiated by Berg’s urgings in “ Flirty Little Fishies” to not only target those who could best contribute to the organization financially, but to not do it for free, because while it was fun it did not pay the bills (Berg, 1974). The group was accused of prostitution by the public and was later tried in court in several places around the world. A court in Rome in 1991 found that even though Berg counseled in 1977 that practitioners of Flirty Fishing should receive something in exchange for their evangelism, members involved were not knowingly engaging in prostitution, but were victims of this radical proselytism and who saw the act as “ a personal contribution to the humanitarian aims that the sect always claimed to pursue” (Chancellor, 2000). Could this be interpreted as brainwashing? The idea of brainwashing within religious cults is extremely debated among scholars, because both what it entails and its’ existence are made difficult to prove through lack of scientific quantification. Many critics of the existence of brainwashing claim that it is merely a scapegoat for a perfectly autonomous person’s actions, and that yielding to coercion is a conscious decision- not lack of free will (Robbins & Anthony, 1980). This debate stems from a lack of an agreed upon definition of brainwashing, although the phenomenon it seeks to explain has a fairly agreed upon sequential list (Zablocki, 1997). It begins with affiliation, which usually leads to a major lifestyle change due to severance with one’s outside roles and relationships, eventually leading to possible disaffiliation and, later, disenchantment with the group (Zablocki, 1997). For the purpose of this paper I am arguing that although many models of coercion exist to explain this, brainwashing, as scholar Benjamin Zablocki defines it, means that “ under certain circumstances, an individual can be subject to persuasive influences so overwhelming that they actually restructure one’s core beliefs and world-view and profoundly modify one’s self-conception”(Zablocki, 1997). Proponents of brainwashing suggest that this shift in self-identity within religious movements is in response to high social control and misattribution (Kent, 1994). As previously defined, although brainwashing as a model of coercion does not necessarily strip one of his or her free will, it forcibly (although not strictly in a physical sense) compels people to ideologically conform to the pressures they are being subjected to. In this case, members of the Children of God participating in Flirty Fishing were brainwashed to subject to David Berg’s radical sexual ideals by the need to conform to surrounding social pressures, misattribution, and the promise of their eternal salvation. These social pressures were heightened by their communal lifestyle and the strong sense of identity within the group, enforced by the aforementioned requirement of members to sever ties with former roles and relations, such as their jobs, family, and friends. Such social pressures not only led to lower skepticism of the religious teachings out of fear of expulsion, but also strengthened them through a similarity in lifestyle and feeling of community (Kent, 1994). The eternal benefits promised to those who conformed heavily impacted member’s choice. As previously detailed, Berg used direct bible passages as “ evidence” of his claims. This reinforced his sexual ideals, leading to member’s full belief in his teachings, which led to the widespread engagement of such practices. Member’s misattribution of divine qualities onto Berg also heavily influenced the effectiveness of this form of social control (Kent, 1994). Berg’s ever-escalating hierarchical position as prophet and head of the family, strengthened by nicknames such as “ Dad” and “ Moses David”, reinforced these supposed divine qualities along with the idea that he was personally ordained by God to lead the world to salvation. This idea stemmed from self-proclamation of divine insight in Mo Letters such as “ The Birthday Warning”, where Berg is speaking as God and states “ Even the excreta of his vomit, and the tears of his eyes, and the offal of his bowels, and the piss of his penis, can give life unto them which are athirst” (Berg, 1973). Members’ belief in such claims gave him absolute spiritual authority over them. This along with their high exaltation of Mo Letters, placing their teachings to be equal with the bible itself, equates Berg to God himself. Therefore, although it is true members of the Children of God who engaged in Flirty Fishing through the teachings of Mo Letters and the urgings of David Berg were living the life they believed would lead them to salvation, that was not all that was taking place. Through the group’s promotion of misattributing divine qualities to Berg, participants were fully committed to strictly adhering to his teachings. This was reinforced through a sharing of intense communal identity, explicitly coercing members to put the ideals of the group above personal needs and desires. Overall, resulting in the brainwashing of members involved to engage in prostitution for an increase in both the organization’s and David Berg’s personal revenue and obtaining an influx of members. Bibliography Berg, David. (1973). The birthday warning. ” ALL THINGS”!– MO, Retrieved from http://pubs. xfamily. org/text. php? t= 215 Berg, David. (1974). The law of love. ” ALL THINGS”!–MO, Retrieved from http://pubs. xfamily. org/text. php? t= 302C Berg, David. (1974). The little flirty fishy. ” ALL THINGS”!–MO, Retrieved from http://pubs. xfamily. org/text. php? t= 293 Chancellor, James D. (2000). Life in the family: an oral history of the children of god. Syracuse University Press. Retrieved from http://books. google. com/books? id= 5FXHyOwK9IEC&printsec= frontcover&source= gbs_ge_summary_r&cad= 0 Davis, Deborah, & Davis, Bill. (1984). The children of god the inside story by the daughter of the founder, moses david berg. Zondervan Publishing Company. Retrieved from http://www. exfamily. org/cgibin/gf. pl? fmt= dyn&t= articles&m= 1&s=&r= art/exmem/debdavis/the_cog. htm exFamily. (2009). Ex COG family. Retrieved from http://www. exfamily. org/hist/ Kent, Steven A. (1994). Misattribution and social control in the children of god. Retrieved from http://www. jstor. org. libproxy. txstate. edu/stable/27510773? seq= 2&Search= yes&searchText= god&searchText= brainwashing&searchText= children&list= hide&searchUri=/action/doAdvancedSearch? q0= children+of+god&f0= all&c1= AND&q1= brainwashing&f1= all&acc= on&wc= on&Search= Search&sd=&ed=&la=&jo=&prevSearch=&item= 8&ttl= 732&returnArticleService= showFullText&resultsServiceName= null& Robbins, Thomas. , & Anthony, Dick, (1980). Brainwashing and the persecution of ” cults”. Journal of Religion and Health, 19(1), Retrieved from http://www. jstor. org. libproxy. txstate. edu/stable/pdfplus/27505547. pdf? acceptTC= true The Family International (2012). David berg. Retrieved from http://www. davidberg. org/flirty-fishing Zablocki, Benjamin. (1997). The blacklisting of a concept: The strange history of the brainwashing conjecture in the sociology of religion. Nova Religio: The Journal of Alternative and Emergent Religions, 1(1), 96-121. Retrieved from http://www. jstor. org. libproxy. txstate. edu/stable/pdfplus/10. 1525/nr. 1997. 1. 1. 96. pdf? acceptTC= true