Family International

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Family International
Abbreviation TFI
Leader Karen Zerby
Founder David Berg
Other name(s) The Children of God, The Family of Love, The Family
Official website

The Family International, formed as the Children of God (COG), renamed Family of Love and later The Family, is a new religious movement started in 1968 in Huntington Beach, California, United States that is called a cult by academics such as Benjamin Beit-Hallahmi[1] and John Huxley.[2]


TFI initially spread a message of salvation, apocalypticism, and spiritual "revolution and happiness" against the outside world, which the members called "the System". In 1976,[3] it began a method of evangelism called Flirty Fishing, using sex to "show God's love and mercy" and win converts, resulting in controversy.[4] TFI's founder and prophetic leader, David Berg (who was first called "Moses David" in the Texas press), took the titles of "King", "The Last Endtime Prophet", "Moses", and "David". He communicated with his followers via Mo Letters— vital letters of instruction and counsel on myriad spiritual and practical subjects—until his death in late 1994.[5] After his death, his widow Karen Zerby became the leader of TFI, taking the title of "Queen" and "prophetess". She married Steve Kelly, an assistant of Berg's whom he had handpicked as her "consort". Kelly took the title of "King Peter" and became the public face of TFI, speaking in a more public capacity than either David Berg or Karen Zerby.


The Children of God (1968–1977)

Members of the Children of God founded communes, first called "colonies" (now referred to as "homes") in various cities. They would proselytize in the streets and distribute important pamphlets.

New converts memorized Bible verses known as the set card which contained over 300 bible verse and 10 chapters from the Bible, took Bible classes, and were expected to emulate the lives of early Christians while rejecting mainstream denominational Christianity. In common with converts to some other religions, most incoming members adopted a new "Bible" name.

The founder of the movement was a former Baptist and Christian and Missionary Alliance pastor, David Brandt Berg (1919–1994), also known within the group as Moses David, Mo, Father David, and Dad to adult group members, and eventually as Dear Grandpa to the group's youngest members.

Berg communicated with his followers through more than 3,000 published letters written over 24 years, referred to as "Mo Letters" by members of the group. By January 1972, Berg introduced through his letters that he was God's prophet for this time, further establishing his spiritual authority within the group. Despite this teaching, Berg freely and widely acknowledged his failings and weaknesses.[6]

By the end of 1972, COG members had printed and distributed approximately 42 million Christian tracts, mostly on God's salvation and America's doom. Street distribution of Berg's Letters (called "litnessing") became the COG's predominant method of both outreach and support for the next five years.

The Children of God ended as an organizational entity in February 1978. Berg reorganized the movement amid reports of serious misconduct, financial mismanagement, and established leaders having abused their positions (and others having opposed flirty fishing). He dismissed more than 300 of the movement's leaders, known as The Chain, and declared the general dissolution of the COG structure. This shift was known as the "Reorganization Nationalisation Revolution" (RNR). An eighth of the total membership left the movement, and those who remained became part of the reorganized movement, dubbed the Family of Love, and later the Family. Most of the group's beliefs, however, remained the same.[7]

The Family of Love (1978–1981)

The Family of Love era was characterized by expansion into more countries. Regular proselytizer methods included door-to-door distributing tracts and other gospel literature, and organized classes on various aspects of Christian life, with heavy use of TFI-created music.

In 1976,[3] David Berg introduced a new proselytizing method called Flirty Fishing (or FFing), encouraging female members to "show God's love" through sexual activity with potential converts. Flirty Fishing was practiced by members of Berg's inner circle starting in 1973, and was introduced to the general membership in 1976, when it became widely practiced by members of the group. In some areas, Flirty Fishers used escort agencies to meet people. According to TFI, as a result of Flirty Fishing, "over 100,000 received God's gift of salvation through Jesus, and some chose to live the life of a disciple and missionary".[7] According to data provided by TFI to researcher Bill Bainbridge, from 1974 until 1987, members had sexual contact with 223,989 people while practicing Flirty Fishing.[8] Flirty Fishing also resulted in the births of many children, including Karen Zerby's son, Ricky Rodriguez (a.k.a. Davidito), who later committed suicide. Children born as result of Flirty Fishing were referred to as "Jesus Babies" who were more happy and blissful. By the end of 1981, more than 300 "Jesus Babies" had been born.

In an official statement on its origins, TFI partly describes the practice of Flirty Fishing as follows:

In part as a response to the sexual liberality of the early '70s, Father David presented a more intimate and personal, voluntary form of evangelism, which became known as 'Flirty Fishing' or 'FFing.' ...Father David proposed that the boundaries of expressing God's love to others could at times go beyond just showing kindness and doing good deeds. He suggested that for those who were in dire need of physical love and affection, even sex could be used as evidence to them of the Lord's love. ... The motivation, guiding principle, and reasoning behind the FFing ministry was that through this sacrificial proof of love, some would better accept and understand God's great love for them. The goal was that they would come to believe in and receive God's own loving gift of salvation through His Son, Jesus, who gave His life for them. By this unorthodox method David felt many would find the Lord's love and salvation, who never would have otherwise.

In his judgment of a child custody court case in England in 1994–95, after extensively researching COG publications and hearing the testimony of numerous witnesses, Lord Justice Sir Alan Ward said the following about Flirty Fishing:

I am quite satisfied that most of the women who engaged in this activity and the subsequent refinement of ESing, (which was finding men through escort agencies), did so in the belief that they were spreading God's word. But I am also totally satisfied that that was not Berg's only purpose. He and his organization had another and more sordid reason. They were procuring women to become common prostitutes. They were knowingly living in part on the earnings of prostitution. That was criminal activity. Their attempts to deny this must be dismissed as cant and hypocrisy. To deny that the girls were acting as prostitutes because 'we are not charging but we expect people to show their thanks and their appreciation and they ought to give more for love than if we charged them' is an unacceptable form of special pleading. The 'FFers handbook' told the girls that fishing could be fun but fun did not pay the bills. 'You've got to catch a few to make the fun pay for itself. So don't do it for nothing'.[9]

A judge in Italy came to a different conclusion in 1991, deciding that Flirty Fishing was not prostitution (see Tribunale Penale di Roma (Criminal Court of Rome), 15 November 1991, re: Berg and others, and in the archives of the Criminal Court of Rome (RG 3841/84)). The judge concluded that it was only in "the last months of 1977 Berg started counseling the members that it was permissible for proselyting reasons to offer sexual contacts and services to perspective [sic] members, the more so when the latter were potentially good financial contributors to the cult". Among the Children of God, the judge argued, Flirty Fishing was not understood as prostitution but "as a personal contribution to the humanitarian aims that the sect always claimed to pursue".

Flirty Fishing was abandoned in 1987, though the principles and theory were retained, in favor of other witnessing methods and also to avoid contracting and spreading HIV within the group. In 1987, new rules banned, under penalty of excommunication, sexual contact with non-members. However, the new rules also stated that exceptions would be allowed. For example, one publication stated: "All sex with outsiders is banned!—Unless they are already close and well-known friends!"[10] Many of the Mo Letters also promoted sharing, including the sharing of one's physical body in love. Women believed that it was their duty to share with a man anytime he wanted. After some complaints from people who stated that they had been abused as children by adults, a new rule, that sexual interactions should not occur between an adult and a minor, was put in place.

The Family (1982–1994)

At the end of 1983, TF was reporting 10,000 full-time members living in 1,642 TF Homes. Additionally, TF's Music With Meaning radio club had by this time grown to almost 20,000 members. According to statistics by TF, at this time evangelistic efforts were resulting in an average of 200,000 conversions to Christ and distribution of nearly 30 million pages of literature per month.

In March 1989, TF issued a statement that, in "early 1985" an urgent memorandum had been sent to all members "reminding them that any such activities [adult-child sexual contact] are strictly forbidden within our group".[11] (emphasis in original). In January 2005, Claire Borowik, a spokesperson for TFI, issued a statement stating that "[d]ue to the fact that our current zero-tolerance policy regarding sexual interaction between adults and underage minors was not in our literature published before 1986, we came to the realization that during a transitional stage of our movement, from 1978 until 1986, there were cases when some minors were subject to sexually inappropriate advances... This was corrected officially in 1986, when any contact between an adult and minor (any person under 21 years of age) was declared an excommunicable offense".[12]

During the 1990s, numerous allegations of child sexual abuse were brought against TF around the world, in locations including Argentina, Australia, Brazil, France, Italy, Japan, Norway, Peru, Spain, Sweden, the UK, the USA, and Venezuela. TFI leadership has maintained that they did not sanction or condone the sexual abuse of children. The UK's High Court of Justice found that not only did widespread sexual abuse occur but that publications printed by church leaders promoted such activities.[13] Berg published a document in which he said, in par. 69, "[T]here's nothing in the world at all wrong with sex as long as it's practised in love, whatever it is or whoever it's with, no matter who or what age or what relative or what manner! And you don't hardly even say these words in private!"[14](emphasis added) Some court documents can be found in the Court Cases section below.

Transformation in the 1990s

In the early 1990s, TF members took advantage of the newly opened Eastern Europe (following the fall of Communism) and expanded their evangelism campaigns eastward, alongside many other religious groups. The production and dissemination of millions of pieces of literature earned them the colloquial name "the poster people".

The Family (1995–2003)

After Berg's death in October 1994, Karen Zerby (known in the group as Mama Maria, Queen Maria, Maria David, or Maria Fontaine), took over leadership of the group. She married her longtime partner, Steven Douglas Kelly, an American known in the group as Peter Amsterdam or King Peter, who legally changed his name to Christopher Smith. He became her traveling representative due to Zerby's reclusive separation from most of her followers.

In February 1995, the group introduced the Love Charter,[15] which defined the rights and responsibilities of Charter members and Homes. The Charter also includes the "Fundamental Family Rules", a summary of rules and guidelines from past TF publications which were still in effect.

The Charter established a new way of living within the organization, allowing members greater freedom to choose and follow their pursuits. The rights referred to in the Charter were what a member could expect to receive from the group and how members were to be treated by leaders and fellow members. The responsibilities were what members were expected to give to the group if they wished to remain full-time members, including tithing 10% of their income to World Services, giving 3% to the "Family Aid Fund" set up to support needy field situations, and 1% to regional "common pots", used for local projects, activities, and fellowships. The Charter has been amended over the years according to changes within the group. TFI's 2010 policies state that all members must tithe (give 10% of their income) or give a monthly contribution in order to retain membership, as per Biblical instructions.

In the 1994-95 British court case, the Rt. Hon. Lord Justice Alan Ward decided that the group, including some of its top leaders, had engaged in abusive sexual practices involving minors and had also used severe corporal punishment and sequestration of minors. However, he found that TF had abandoned these practices and concluded that they were a safe environment for children. Nevertheless, he did require that the group cease all corporal punishment of children in the United Kingdom and denounce any of Berg's writings that were "responsible for children in TF having been subjected to sexually inappropriate behaviour".

The Family International (2004–present)

In 2004, the movement's name was changed to The Family International. However, TFI members were told that they could retain their former names so long as they do not conceal their affiliation with TFI.

In 2004, there were also major changes in the group. Internal publications spoke of arresting a general trend towards a less dedicated lifestyle, and the need for re-commitment to the group's mission of fervent evangelism. In the second half of 2004, a six-month period was held to help members refocus their priorities (known as The Renewal). The group was reorganized, with new levels of membership defined into the following categories: Family Disciples (FD), Missionary Members (MM), Fellow Members (FM), Active Members (AM), and General Members (GM).

The Love Charter governs FDs, while the Missionary Member Statutes and Fellow Member Statutes were written for the governance of TFI's Missionary member and Fellow Member circles, respectively. FD Homes were reviewed every six months against a published set of criteria.

According to TFI statistics, at the beginning of 2005 there were 1,238 TFI Homes and 10,202 members worldwide. Of those, 266 Homes and 4,884 members were FD, 255 Homes and 1,769 members were MM, and 717 Homes and 3,549 members were FM. Statistics on AM and GM categories were unavailable.


TFI, like other "Christian cults",[16] attempts to identify itself with fundamentalist Christianity, but their beliefs and practices are regarded as heretical by virtually all Christians. TFI teaches that the Bible and "Mo letters" from leader David Berg, aka Moses David, are the inspired Word of God and revelation. Berg proclaimed himself to be the last and most anointed prophet of the end times,[17] predicted in the Old and New Testaments, specifically in the reference to "a prophet like Moses" (although Christians recognize that Simon Peter was referring to Christ in this passage, as was Moses in Deuteronomy).[18] Berg is regarded by TFI members as a prophet who passed on God's message, and his writings are seen by them as "filling in the gaps" (par.24)[19] in the Bible. Members claim that Berg's writings never contradict or are irreconcilable with Scripture, and that they only accentuate what is already in the Bible. However, if members think that his teachings contradict the Bible, they are urged to let The Bible take precedence over them. The group believes Berg's spiritual "mantle" passed to his wife, Karen Zerby, at his death. The couple's officially published writings are regarded as part of the "Word of God," nearly equal in weight and importance to the Bible as divine revelations. These beliefs have been re-addressed in recent publications[20] issued in 2010, which say they are no longer requirements of membership. However neither Berg's nor Zerby's prophetic status has been retracted.

TFI members believe that the Great Commission to evangelize the world is every Christian's duty, and that their lives should be dedicated to serving God and others. Among their several levels of membership, the most committed – "Family Disciples" (FD) – live communally. The group encourages having children. While birth control was at first sharply discouraged as ungodly, the choice is now left to the individual; the practice is not uncommon, though it was officially regarded as indicating lack of trust in God's plan. Birth-control views were among those re-addressed in 2010.

A central tenet of TFI theology is the "Law of Love" which, stated simply, claims that if a person's actions are motivated by unselfish, sacrificial love and are not intentionally hurtful, they are in accordance with Scripture and thus lawful in the eyes of God. Though the romantic and sexual implication of this principle is polyamory, the "Law of Love" emphasizes unselfishness, giving, caring, respect, honesty, and other essential Christian values that should be enacted in every facet of life (they use Matthew 22:37–40 and Galatians 5:14 as the ostensible bases for this belief). The members believe that this law supersedes all other Biblical laws, except those forbidding male homosexuality, which they believe is a sin. Female bisexuality is allowed, though a lesbian life that completely excludes men is not. TFI teaches that God created human sexuality, that it is a natural, emotional, and physical need, and that heterosexual relations between consenting adults constitute a pure and natural wonder of God's creation,[21] and are therefore permissible according to Scripture.

The re-statements issued in 2010 express the need for tolerance toward varying sexual choices. Since 2010, the age of consent in TFI is determined by local laws and regulations. Since 1986,[22] sex between minors and adults has been forbidden. 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". While TFI policy states that members should not be pressured into sex against their will, numerous former members have alleged they were coerced to "share" or cast as selfish or unloving if they did not. These issues were also re-addressed in 2010, reflecting a need to change this aspect of TFI culture to respect personal sexual decisions and become more inclusive of differing personal views.

TFI members believe they are living in the period the Bible calls the "Last Days" or the "Time of the End", the era immediately preceding Christ's return. Before that event, they believe, the Earth will be ruled for seven years by the Antichrist, who will create a world government. Halfway through his rule, he will be possessed by Satan, precipitating a time of troubles known as the Great Tribulation. This will bring intense persecution of Christians, as well as stupendous natural and unnatural disasters. Faithful Christians will be taken to heaven in an event known as the Rapture, shortly followed by a battle between Christ and the Antichrist commonly known as the "Battle of Armageddon", in which the Antichrist will be defeated. Then, they say, Christ will reign on Earth for 1,000 years, a period they call the Millennium.

Recent teachings

TFI's recent teachings center around beliefs they term the "new [spiritual] weapons". TFI members believe that they are soldiers in the spiritual war of good versus evil for the souls and hearts of men. Although some of the following beliefs are not new to TFI, they have assumed more importance in recent years.


In TFI jargon, the popular definition of prophecy has been expanded to refer to any message received from the "spirit world" – from Jesus, deceased founder David Berg, or another "spirit helper" (see below). Great emphasis is placed on members using prophecy to guide their daily lives. Although prophecy, also referred to as channeling, has been a part of the movement from the beginning, it has assumed greater significance under Zerby's leadership.

Spirit Helpers

These include angels, departed humans, other religious and mythical figures, and even celebrities; for example the goddess Aphrodite, the Snowman, Merlin, the Sphinx, Elvis,[23] Marilyn Monroe, Audrey Hepburn,[24] Nixon, and Winston Churchill. Spirit helpers are sent to give instruction and to help fight the spiritual warfare going on alongside the physical world. TFI members believe that beseeching spirit helpers by name, or naming demons when rebuking or cursing them, makes their prayers more powerful. As a result, TFI regularly publishes names of individual helpers and demons, as well groups of them, noting their respective areas of power. TFI members of all ages are encouraged to "channel" their spirit helpers, to be possessed by and communicate with them frequently, and receive spirit stories from them.

The Keys of the Kingdom

TFI believes that the Biblical passage "I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatsoever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatsoever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven" (Matthew 16:19), refers to an increased spiritual authority given to Peter and the early disciples. These keys were hidden and unused in the centuries that followed, but were revealed again through Karen Zerby as additional power for praying and obtaining miracles. TFI members call on the various Keys of the Kingdom for extra effect during prayer. The Keys are also believed to power various spiritual spacecraft[citation needed] (known as Key Craft); and they can transform into spiritual swords for fighting demons. The Keys, like most TFI beliefs, were digested in comic-book magazines to help teach them to children.[25] These beliefs are still generally held and practiced, even after the "reboot" documents of 2010.

Loving Jesus

This is a term TFI members use to describe their intimate, sexual relationship with Jesus. TFI describes its "Loving Jesus" teaching as a radical form of bridal theology.[26] Like Christians, they believe the church of followers is Christ's bride, called to love and serve him with wifely fervor. But they take bridal theology farther, encouraging members to imagine Jesus is joining them during sexual intercourse and masturbation. Male members are cautioned to visualize themselves as women, in order to avoid a homosexual relationship with Jesus. Many TFI publications, and spirit messages claimed to be from Jesus himself, elaborate this intimate, sexual relation they believe Jesus desires and needs. TFI imagines itself as his special "bride" in graphic poetry, guided visualizations, artwork,[27] and songs.[28] Some TFI literature is not brought into conservative countries for fear it may be classified at customs as pornography.[29] The literature outlining this view of Jesus and his desire for a sexual relationship with believers was edited for younger teens,[30] then further edited for children.[31]

TFI continues to stress the imminent Second Coming of Christ, preceded by the rise of a worldwide government led by the "Antichrist". Doctrines of the "end times" influence virtually all long-term decision-making. However, documents issued in 2010 have changed this view to reflect a need for long-term plans and projects.


Child abduction

Since the late 1970s, there have been reports of ex-members' children being abducted to other countries to hide them from their parents, law enforcement authorities and child welfare agencies. In the early 1990s, one investigation—seeking the four children of Ruth Frouman,[32] who was expelled in July 1987 after being diagnosed with breast cancer and died four years later—resulted in police raids[33] on 10 TFI homes in Buenos Aires, Argentina. After holding a large number of TFI children in custody and conducting physical and psychological tests, the court returned them to their parents, citing lack of evidence.[34] Two of the Frouman children were returned to their father that year, and the others were brought to him four years later.

Although TFI has rarely made public statements about specific child abduction cases, the group's policies and practices on child custody were re-defined in the February 1995 "Love Charter", TFI's governing document after the death of its founder. Section 60, Permanent Marital Separation Rules, states that couples with children must come to a mutual written agreement about the separation and the custody of their children, but that obtaining a legal divorce and custody order is optional.[35] Amendments published in June 2003 state that if the parties cannot agree and "opt to use the court system", they must "relinquish Charter membership until the matter is settled".[36] This clause was revoked by TFI's 2010 policy re-statement, and members now may retain membership while seeking a court divorce.

One TFI member, Peter Bevan Riddell, is known to have been convicted of crimes relating to child abduction. In 1984, the Australian government canceled Riddell's passport and he was extradited from Japan and convicted of committing forgery and making false statements to facilitate unlawful abduction. He later returned to Japan, where he continued working on behalf of Berg and Zerby in World Services.[37] Another TFI member, Brian Edward Pickus, has been wanted for decades on an Interpol warrant issued by the United States and the state of Hawaii for kidnapping, burglary and unlawful flight to avoid prosecution.[38]

The second generation

Second-generation adults (known as "SGAs") are adults born or reared in TFI. Most of them have assumed many leadership positions in the organization, including chairmanships of international, regional, and national boards.

However, a small number of second-generation members have left to pursue secular careers or higher education, and to rear their children in a different environment. There is little anti-TFI sentiment among those who have left (examples include Rose McGowan, as well as sisters Celeste Jones, Kristina Jones, and Julianna Buhring, who wrote a book[39] on their lives in TFI).[40] Several former members have legally pursued alleged physical and sexual abusers, who, they say, are shielded by the group's leaders.

Some former Missionary Kids have returned to the country of their citizenship, where they are Third Culture Kids (TCKs). Many have kept in communication with each other. A notable example of this is the site, created by a former second-generation member in 2001 (closed down as of February 2009).

Some SGAs who remained in the group were vocal defenders of TFI's lifestyle. One outlet for their views was,[41] a site opened shortly after the 2005 murder-suicide of SGA Rick Rodriguez and Angela Smith. Yet in subsequent years, some of those same second-generation adults left and became just as vocal, or more so, in opposing TFI. This seems to illustrate the effects of mental conditioning and group-think on TFI youth, including the rejection of (and by) the group upon their exit.

Members are encouraged to remain friendly with relatives who have left. However, they are discouraged from associating with anyone considered enemies of TFI, including ex-members who appear on television programs or publish books and articles denouncing the group.

Several former SGAs have reported alleged crimes to law enforcement, testified against TFI in court, and publicly criticized the group's members and practices. In the past, TFI used the term apostate for such former members, and argued that their testimony was unreliable. Some TFI members have claimed that SGAs who alleged abuse were mentally unstable, demonically possessed, or paid by anti-cult movements. Former SGAs often resent the "apostate" label, noting they never chose to join the group. Since 2009, TFI documents have discouraged using pejorative terms for former members. They express the need to understand and respect the decisions of former members, and to support them in establishing themselves outside the group. TFI's past literature, however, and its general culture, continue to make life difficult for second- and third-generation members who leave.


TFI members are expected to respect legal and civil authorities where they live. Members have typically cooperated with appointed authorities, even during the police and social-service raids of their communities in the early 1990s.[42] However, a controversial belief taught and practiced by a small number of members holds that it is right to lie to non-members (or "unbelievers") to protect God's work. This belief is commonly referred to as "deceivers yet true".[43]

Extreme secrecy surrounding leadership and finances, and aversion to government oversight, have been consistent throughout TFI's history. World Services (WS), its central administrative wing, operates in seclusion, very few members even knowing its whereabouts. Since 2010, workers' families have been told the location of specific WS centers, but the information is not otherwise available.

It is not uncommon for senior leaders to legally change their names. There have been allegations that members—including senior leaders—use forged or fraudulently obtained passports from Australia, Canada, the United States, and other countries. Senior leaders typically try not to publish their legal names; this has become more difficult because of legal action in many countries. In particular, a major court case in England brought to light many formerly guarded names of senior members.

In TFI's older publications, printed photographs of WS members were typically censored by means of a rudimentary pencil drawing over the person's face. In TFI-produced art, Berg's head was often replaced with that of a lion.

After Berg's death in 1994, members and the public were finally allowed to see photographs of him. In 2005, several current photos of Karen Zerby, Steven Kelly, and leading WS members were leaked online.[44] This marked the first time in nearly 30 years that images of Zerby were publicly available. Since the TFI policy changes of 2009-10, the level of secrecy has changed somewhat. Pictures of Zerby and Kelly can now be found online,[45] and[when?] Kelly carries pictures of Zerby with him to show members. But Zerby's and Kelly's whereabouts are still heavily guarded secrets, and TFI's structure and organization remain closed to any public accounting or government oversight.


TFI finances are based on a system of tithing. All members are required to donate 10% of their income to World Services. A further 3% is required for regional offices of locally administered projects and a community lending program, and a final 1% is demanded for regional literature publishing. Supplementary giving to TFI offices and leadership, beyond the 14% is encouraged and fairly common.

Additional income comes from marketing products such as children's videos and music (under varied names such as Treasure Attic and Kiddy Viddy) and selling posters on the street. In recent years, many TFI members have established associations and foundations subject to the accounting and auditing regulations where they live; since 2008, TFI documents have emphasized the need for members' charity works to be transparent and sustainable.

How TFI channels its funds around the world depends largely on the trust of carefully placed, non-senior members, who typically manage bank accounts that contain organization funds in their own names. Despite this practice, TFI says it has experienced very little graft; the publicized cases have involved insubstantial amounts of money.

In TFI's literature, impending global financial doom is a common theme. Accordingly, the group has gone to considerable lengths to avoid investments it deems unstable in the event of a crash. Typically, its reserves are stored in Japanese yen, Swiss francs, and gold. TFI has consistently avoided investing in real estate, stocks or bonds. Since many members are now creating businesses and charitable enterprises, and the group's end-time beliefs have been modified, long-term planning and investments are more common.


The group has been criticized by the press and the anti-cult movement. In 1971, an organization called FREECOG was founded by concerned family members and followers, including deprogrammer Ted Patrick, to "free" them from their involvement in the group.

Frequently, critics cite Berg's writings, and incidents of alleged criminal behavior by individuals. TFI members, meanwhile, argue that not all of Berg's writings reflect the group's fundamental beliefs (contained in the "Statement of Faith") or policies (contained in the 1995 "Love Charter"). They also reject judging the entire group for the wrongdoing of individuals, even when those individuals are at the highest leadership levels.

Due to the high commitment nature of the group and its controversial beliefs, the movement tends to generate strong feelings of faith or anger in both current and former members.

Programs, projects, and productions

TFI has numerous programs, local foundations, and projects through which it operates around the world. The largest of these are the "Family Care Foundation" (FCF), "Aurora Production AG", and "Activated Ministries", a California-based nonprofit organization that heavily supports TFI projects.

Leadership and management

The leadership of TFI is headed by:

  • Karen Elva Zerby
    • Spiritual leader of TFI
    • American
    • Legally changed her name to Katherine Rianna Smith, 4 November 1997
    • Aliases:
      • Karen Elva Zerby
      • Katherine Rianna Smith
      • Maria David
      • Maria Berg
      • Maria Fontaine
      • Mama Maria
      • Queen Maria
  • Steven Douglas Kelly
    • Head leader of TFI
    • American
    • Legally changed his name to Christopher Smith
    • Aliases:
      • Steven Douglas Kelly
      • Christopher Smith
      • Peter Amsterdam
      • King Peter

Under them, management is divided into World Services, Creations, and a Family Care Foundation. Each region is managed by a team of Continental Officers (COs), usually having five to seven members. Management structures beneath the CO team are more variable, change members frequently.


In 1972, the Children of God reported 130 communes or "colonies" in 15 countries. In 1993, 7,000 of TFI's 10,000 members were under 18 years of age. Recent changes have resulted in a small number of members leaving.

Notable members (past and present)

Raised in COG as children

Media featuring the group

See also


  1. Beit-Hallahmi, Benjamin (1993). The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Active New Religions, Sects, and Cults. Rosen Publishing Group. ISBN 978-0-8239-1505-7.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. Huxley J (1992). "Sunday Times: Sex-cult children held – Children of God". The Sunday Times (Sydney) 1992-05-17.
  3. 3.0 3.1
  4. Niebuhr, Gustav (2 June 1993). "'The Family' and Final Harvest". The Washington Post. p. A01. Retrieved 2008-04-27. Sure, Alexander concedes, plenty of people object that The Family's 'Law of Love' permits sex outside marriage and that the group once used (and still espouses the concept and beliefs about) a practice known as 'flirty fishing' – the use of free sex to win converts<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. Publications Database – contains the entire text of "Mo Letters"
  6. Chancellor, James (2000). Life in The Family: An Oral History of the Children of God. Syracuse, NY: University of Syracuse Press. pp. 64–67.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. 7.0 7.1 The Origins of a Movement: From "The Children of God" to "The Family International", found on the official website
  8. Bainbridge, William Sims (1996). "The Sociology of Religious Movements". Routledge. ISBN 0-415-91202-4. pg 223
  9. Judgment of the Rt. Hon. Lord Justice Ward – 1995 judgment resulting from major UK custody case involving TF
  10. The Family: D.O. Is for DOers of the Word! (James 1:22)-Requirements for Receiving DO Mailings!
  11. Child Abuse?! (March 1989) (Hosted by
  12. Claire Borowik
  15. An Overview of Our Governing Charter
  21. The Devil Hates Sex! But God Loves It!, by David Berg, May 1980
  22. Liberty or Stumblingblock?, by Sara Kelley, November 1986
  26. The "Loving Jesus" Revelation
  32. Ruth Frouman – XFamily – Children of God
  33. Legal Case Argentina, 1993 – XFamily – Children of God
  34. Tribunal de Menores de Mercedes – Cause number 32.202 – XFamily – Children of God
  36. Charter Amendments, June 2003, hosted by
  37. Peter Bevan Riddell – XFamily – Children of God
  38. Brian Edward Pickus – Argentina Extradition Case – XFamily – Children of God
  39. Jones, K., Jones, C. & Buhring, J. 2007 "Not Without My Sister", Harper Collins Publishing, London
  41. – Opinions and responses by current second-generation members with positive viewpoints about TFI
  42. Bainbridge, William Sims (2002). "The Endtime Family: Children of God". State University of New York Press, Albany, NY.
  43. Deceivers yet true – XFamily – Children of God
  44. Photos of TFI leaders
  46. Classic Rock magazine interview
  47. Pitchfork interview, September 2011
  50. Moreton, Cole (22 December 2012). "Juliana Buhring becomes first woman to cycle round the world as she pedals into Naples after 152 days on the road". The Daily Telegraph. London.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  51. "Howard Stern radio broadcast". Archived from Transcript the original Check |url= value (help) on August 19, 2000.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  52. Interview with Interview magazine Rose McGowan
  53. "Rose McGowan: How She Survived and Escaped a Cult". People. Retrieved February 15, 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  54. Friend, Tad (March 1994). "River, with love and anger". Esquire. 121 (3): 108–117. ISSN 0014-0791. Retrieved 22 March 2009.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  55. "Young man's suicide blamed on mother's cult". CNN. 5 December 2007.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  56. Children of God: Lost and Found on IMDb

Further reading


Journalistic and popular

Court cases

External links

  • xFamily – Wiki detailing TFI; includes large collections of multimedia, press coverage, and internal TFI publications.
  • xFamily PubsDB – a near complete database of all writings by David Berg and Karen Zerby.
  • – information, forums, links, etc. about TFI by former first-generation members.