'Original hippie' preached the law of love

Cult ruling: Judge refuses custody claim for three-year-old after assurances that sect's links with sex abuse have been broken
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The Independent Online
David Berg, the maverick founder of the Children of God dubbed the "original hippie", first took his anti-establishment from of Christianity to California in the Sixties, writes Rebecca Fowler.

It was here that the son of preachers began to build his worldwide empire, creating the movement's first communes.

Mr Berg built up his communal movement among followers who called him Moses David or Dad, and obeyed every order he gave. His endless writings, known as the Mo Letters, became the basis of their regime, and they would read them tirelessly.

They included gaudy pamphlets and the notorious "Law of Love" which encouraged members to share husbands and wives, invited women to prostitute themselves for new members, and condoned sex among children.

Among the most infamous images is a picture of a naked woman sitting astride a man, with the caption: "Receiving God is like sexually going all the way."

The basic tenet of his law was that, with the exception of sodomy, there was nothing wrong with sex, "whoever it's with, no matter what age or what relative or what manner", so long as it was done in love and not lust.

The movement spread across 50 countries from Europe to America, India and Australasia. As investigations into the practices of the Family gathered apace from London to Argentina, focusing on the treatment of the sect's children, Mr Berg went into hiding.

He still ruled over his flock of 9,000 members, including 3,000 children, with complete authority.

When he died last year, aged 75, the Family wrote adoring eulogies to his memory, and the Mo Letters still form the basis of their faith.

But Mr Berg's teachings were already being curbed by his flock in the Eighties. As the movement fell into deeper disrepute, it dropped prostitution in 1987 and banned encouraging sexual intercourse with or among children.

Mr Berg, who went into hiding in 1971, left the movement in the hands of his widow Maria, also in hiding. She delivered a prophecy from him last year apologising for any actions that might have hurt members of the cult, especially children. This weekend, members of the Family said publicly for the first time that they denounced the most salacious teachings from Mr Berg.

However, they have retained the spirit of his letters on open sexual relationships.

"He himself was wrong to have written in that way, and we do renounce his teachings," Gideon Scott, a spokesman for the Family, said.

"We have rules that say you cannot have any sexual contact with anybody outside. But we believe that loving relationships are covered by God's injunction to do unto others as you would have them do unto you."