As a teenager I insisted to both myself and others around that I was an atheist. But I had wondered - was I really convinced that God never existed? Or to be more honest with myself, I was angry with a God who always demanded that I perform, perform, perform - or it's Hell. While at secondary school between 1964 and 1968, we as pupils were terrified of the cane-wielding Deputy Head, who nearly every morning called a pupil into his office for an offence such as talking, even briefly, during pre-lesson assembly. Furthermore I was particularly weary of the slipper-wielding P.E. master, Mr Kinch, nicknamed "Kipper" by us students, a combination of his name and his instrument of corporal punishment. These two men were visible representations of the invisible God who they, with the rest of the staff, worshipped every morning and whose judgement I would have to stand before sometime in the future. Little wonder too, that there were quite a number of boys of my age who took the same atheistic stance as I did.
Yet Jesus Christ was one person I wanted to know when I was younger, in my primary school days. The very thought of not only loving me but giving me attention was something I so aspired to. Instead, by 1968, the year I left school to go straight into the world of work, I made sure that religion was one thing I would put behind me for the rest of my life.
Also in 1968, some six thousand miles away, two ministers were co-operating to lead a Pentecostal Church in California. One of the ministers, Fred Jordan, was an aggressive Pentecostal evangelist, while the other, David Berg, in his early fifties, was his assistant until sometime in that year their relationship deteriorated until a bust-up caused these two guys to separate, with David Berg opening a coffee shop at Huntington Beach, home to the hippie community.
Many of these hippies were converted to Jesus Christ and accepted Berg as not only their leader but also a prophet. As the group grew in size, there were reports of instant healing among the hippies from their drug addiction, a miraculous plank which became the attraction for more converts. Berg encouraged his followers to "forsake all and follow Jesus" and live together in communes, better known as colonies. One prize convert to this movement was Jeremy Spencer, one of the founders of the pop band Fleetwood Mac. As he was already becoming disillusioned with the band, two of Berg's followers stopped Spencer while he was browsing at the Hollywood Boulevard. The rock musician concluded that it was Jesus he was looking for, and followed the two witnesses back to their local colony as a full fledged member. He is still a member of the movement to this day.
Berg established colonies in various cities throughout the United States, and this group became officially named the Children of God, sometimes shortened to COG. In 1971, Don McLean released his greatest hit, Bye bye Miss American Pie, a song dedicated to the death of rock singer Buddy Holly in a 'plane crash during the early hours of February 3rd, 1959 aged just 22. The theme of the song was the day the music died and America had lost its innocence on that day as well. Miss American Pie gave Berg the vision and the inspiration from God that the United States was about to undergo judgement, and Berg had to lead his group out of "Egypt" to settle in the "Promised land."
Buddy Holly - The day the music died, 1959 aged only 22.
So in 1971, Berg closed most of his colonies across the United States and he, along with his grown-up daughter and the closest of his followers flew to London, and established his main colony at a disused jam factory just a couple of blocks away from Bromley North Terminus Station. It was from this "exodus" that Berg acquired the name "Moses" and was hence known as Moses David, or Mo for short. From the factory colony, members fanned out into the streets of Central London, looking out for those who are alone, dejected or lacking in any direction. To these people the Children start witnessing to them with the intent of bringing them back to the colony as full time recruits, then known as "Babes in Christ."
1971 was also the year I had my first girlfriend, and we were together well into 1972. But one day during that year, I was dumped, and the months to follow I felt lost and without direction. During the autumn of 1972, by reading various tracts given out particularly at Trafalgar Square, I began to realise that there is a God, and my sins and weaknesses stood between him and myself. I had just turned twenty and my days of atheism were over. But during this state in life, perhaps doing more good works to cancel out my shortcomings may strike a deal with God. After all, that was the Roman Catholic sacrament of Penance was all about, in which I grew up in.
On this lone December evening, it was raining as I walked dejected along the Strand, my long hair hanging like a drowned rat. I had just been refused admission into a nearby ballroom, in those days, operated by Mecca Dancing, with the hope of finding a potential future girlfriend. As I got close to Charing Cross Station, I was stopped by these two young men who asked me what I thought about Jesus Christ, to me an incredible odd question to ask a stranger in the street. At first I resisted them, but eventually my loneliness caused me to relent, and I invited them into a pub across the street, where it would be warm and dry. Once inside, I bought three drinks, one for us each, and once sat down, one of them took out a Bible, and turned to the Gospel of John, and also to Revelation 3:20, and there and then bidded me to ask Jesus Christ into my heart, which I did.
I was then shown photographs of "the Family" as they referred, and eventually I agreed to take them back to Bromley, paying their train tickets for them as for myself. This was part of their mission: not to take anything of their own but to trust entirely on Jesus to meet all their needs, as recorded in Matthew 10:9-10. As I sat with them in the train as it pulled out of Charing Cross Station, I actually believed that being refused entry into the ballroom that evening was an act of God to bring me into contact with the Children - men and women of my own age and therefore perfectly compatible with each other.
After arriving back to the factory, we passed what was the reception, through the deserted shop floor, empty of all the machinery which made and packaged the jam. Through an alleyway which led to a large room, possibly the old canteen, with tables, chairs and a carpeted floor. At one corner, a couple of hippies were lying on the floor, deep in sleep. The walls of the room were decorated with painted murals, making the canteen look more like a nursery. One mural was of the Pied Piper leading children as he played his flute. A warning, perhaps?
We had some refreshment, which was followed by a time of praise and worship to Jesus Christ. I was almost flabbergasted! Instead of the organ, guitars were strummed, and instead of the dirge of Roman Catholic liturgy, we all raised our hands in genuine admiration.
After this, it was agreed that I can "crash for the night." Among others, a mat was placed on the floor along a row of mats on which each member slept. As the lights went out, I couldn't help think back to the events in the last few hours. At the pub I was shown various verses of Scripture from the Gospel of John, and attention was given to Revelation 3:20 - about Jesus inviting members of the church in Laodicea to come in to their midst and dine with them. According to them, that evening I became "a babe in Christ" and for that matter, learned about Eternal Security of the Believer for the first time in my life, as the Children of God were firm believers in this, unlike any other cult. Yet little did I know, that while I was lying on the floor mat looking up into the darkened factory canteen, the leader, Moses David, away from the colony, was having a incestuous relationship with his own daughter! It was something I'll not know about until many years later.
Next morning, after breakfast, while the rest were getting ready for the day, I decided to leave and go home. This was against COG's policy, as I was earmarked to be a recruit of the Children. But living at home with my parents brought many problems with the idea of recruitment. Sure, my parents were used to me staying out overnight at weekends. I had several sleepovers at my girlfriend's home. In addition, there were a number of times I missed the last train or bus back to my home town, after a night at a dance hall, and I spent the night walking across London, for example, from Hammersmith to Waterloo before boarding the first train out on a Sunday morning.
But failure to arrive home the next day, or several days for that matter, could have put my parents on alert, perhaps on the Missing Person's list or even calling the Police. Yet back in those days it was very common for young men and women to fly the nest, find work and accommodation, normally several people sharing a tenement. Had I been one of those people, allowing myself to remain at the colony and be recruited would have been straightforward. Therefore, through reading their many pieces of literature, including their well known Mo Letters, I found myself to have been in the same boat as the rich ruler who walked away sad, after being challenged by Jesus to sell everything, give the money to the poor and follow him, and he would have had treasure in Heaven.
However, I did make trips to Bromley after Christmas 1972, and in January 1973 I saw the outside of the factory in broad daylight for the first time. Across the front was a large plaque bearing the words of John 3:16, and a much smaller sign over the door were the words "Children of God" in different coloured lettering, as if about to enter a nursery school. It was then that I learned the creed of this particular cult.
They firmly believed that America and all its churches were about to be destroyed by God, and they were led, Exodus style, into the UK for their own survival. They were absolutely against all churches as being part of the capitalist system, as they called it. Instead they wanted to practise and preach exactly what Jesus taught in the Gospels and live out the book of Acts, particularly Acts 2:44-47 where every recruit forsook all, handed everything he owned, including the contents of his bank account, and lay them at the feet of the COG leaders. They insisted that only the Authorised Version (KJV) of the Bible was valid, all other translations were inaccurate. It was later that I found out why this was so.
The validity of the Authorised Version was based on just one Old Testament verse - Hosea 8:14, which read:
For Israel hath forgotten his Maker, and buildeth temples; and Judah hath multiplied fenced cities: but I will send a fire upon his cities, and shall devour the palaces thereof.
Moses David saw these "temples" built by apostate Israel as the thousands of churches built across America, an antagonism he bore as a direct result of his dispute with Fred Jordan. All his followers carried forth this dispute, subconsciously spreading it as they went out into the streets to witness. I too became infected and began to dislike all churches as believing that this was part of God's will for my life. This also had a close link with Don McLean's song American Pie, which Berg saw as divine revelation to exodus from the States, as God was about to send a fire upon that land and devour all its "temples" and its wealth.
The fact that all other versions translate "temples" as "palaces" indicate a rebuke to Israel for their obsession with wealth without giving consideration for God's goodness. It had nothing to do with worship - a small fact that would have blown a large hole in Mo's dispute and rob the cult of any justification for its existence.
Forsaking all was central to their practise. This including leaving behind all family members to join the commune. For example, Matthew 10 reads:
Think not that I have come to send peace on earth: I come not to send peace but a sword. For I have come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law.
And a man's foes shall be of his own household.
He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.
And he that taketh not his cross, and followeth not after me, is not worthy of me. vs.34-38.
COG leaders had used this Scripture to justify their member's severance from their parents and the forbidding of contact, even by letter. Therefore because I felt concern for my parent's welfare on that December morning, I had failed the test and had the feeling that Jesus' verdict was, Not fit for the Kingdom of God.
Other Scriptures widely used in their publications included Luke 14:25-33:
And there were great multitudes with him: and he turned, and said unto them,
If any man came to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple. And anyone who does not bear his cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple...
So likewise, whosoever he be of you that forsaketh not all that he hath, he cannot be my disciple.
Luke 14:33 was considered to be the most unpopular verse in the entire Bible, and Moses David made sure that this little fact was not overlooked. With this in mind, he got the whole of the colony to chant Acts 2:44-45 without reading the context:
And all that believed were together and had all things common; and sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man has need.
At home, however, I would not allow Jesus Christ to leave my mind. Alone in my bedroom, in January 1973, I called upon him to save me, but I still felt that by not joining the commune when I had the chance, I have missed out on being in his Kingdom. Now one would suppose that there is a contradiction here? First I was told in the pub that I was saved from Hell and now have eternal life. Then next I was considered not worthy of his Kingdom. In fact, by having a long talk with one member over at Bromley, I found that salvation had two tiers, eternal life for all believers, and entry into the New Jerusalem, described in Revelation 21 and 22 being reserved for disciples only - those who had forsaken all to follow him. I was told plainly that although I will live, I will also be shut out from the heavenly New Jerusalem.
That revelation had a profound shock on me! As a result, I tried to join COG as a permanent member. Telling my parents, even reading Luke 14 to them, brought tears from my mother, who was aware of the Children of God movement. I too felt like crying. This was the exact fulfilment of what Jesus said in Matthew 10. I knew that I was not worthy of him. During Spring of 1973, I spent the day with them, and boarded their converted L.T. double-decker bus they had bought and spruced up.
By the Summer of 1973, the colony moved to an empty house at Portobello Road, at the Notting Hill area of West London. After spending two days and a night there, the colony leader, a burly Englishman who I had not seen before, booted me out with a verdict that I was not suited to this kind of life. My time with COG was about to end. However, a few weeks later, as they were handing out tracts (as opposed to aggressive witnessing as they did before,) they directed me to a colony recently set up at Railton Road, at a South London district of Brixton. So I took the tube train and alighted at Brixton Underground Station and it did not take me long to find Railton Road, a drab and run-down housing estate. As I was searching for the Children of God placard erected outside the house, yet I failed to find it, instead I spotted some young people milling about outside a primary school at the Herne Hill end of Railton Road, and I politely asked one if they were aware of the Children of God colony around here.
Instead I was invited into the school, in which what looks like a youth club was being held. On one free chair I was directed to, a magazine was lying about unread. On the front cover was a photo of two beautiful young women, one was saying to the other:
Psalm 89 is a prophecy about my father.
Underneath was a message, The truth about Moses David Berg and the Children of God movement.
The magazine here was the Christian magazine Buzz, published by the Church of England, and the group I found myself in were members of St. Judes Anglican Church, who were just as keen on Jesus Christ as COG members, but without the aggressive proselyting attitude. Instead they showed a far more genuine love than any of the Children of God members ever did, and they too believed in Eternal Security of the Believer.
Eventually I renounced all COG's activities, but I have kept up with some of their later activities, including Flirty Fishing. This is when female COG members demonstrating God's love by having sex with potential male recruits, to win them into the colonies.
Eventually, when these female COG members began to ask for donations for sex offered, it became prostitution all by name only.
After Moses David died in 1994, his wife took over as head of the cult. Its name was changed to The Family International, and Flirty Fishing was done away with, as attempts to clean up the organisation were made to carry on with passing on the message of Christ's love continues to this day.