Secret letter claims Family International leader caused deadliest air crash in history
He praised God for the death of nearly 600 innocent people
by Perry Bulwer
In May 2011, a news report of a deranged person who committed a horrific murder caught my attention. I usually avoid such crime stories, put off by the sensationalism and gruesome details which often accompany those reports. This time, however, a provocative headline proved too much for me to resist. That headline was in the online edition of the British tabloid, The Daily Mail, and read: "Why was he on the streets? The 'prophet of God' who decapitated British woman in Tenerife was a violent character known for attacking passers-by"
It was not the gruesome decapitation that drew my attention, although I suspect the editors included that detail in the headline for exactly that reason. I scan newspaper headlines from around the world on a daily basis, so I frequently encounter similar articles, or hear about them on broadcast news, but rarely pay much attention to them. A common feature of many of these types of homicides or violent assaults committed by persons with severe mental disorders is the claim that they were acting on the directions of God. That link between psychosis and religious faith does interest me, however, so it was the juxtaposition of 'prophet of God' and 'Tenerife' in the headline that caught my curiosity as I recalled another psychotic foreigner living in Tenerife who claimed to be God's final prophet before Jesus' return in 1993.
Although that deluded cult leader, David Berg, did not actually kill anyone himself, death threats against his enemies are scattered throughout his writings, and he claimed in secret letters to his followers that his curses and prayers caused the deadliest aviation disaster in history. He praised God for killing nearly 600 innocent people and considered the disaster proof of his exclusive, direct connection to God. He even published a comic based on those letters for the specific purpose of indoctrinating the group's children with 'proof' that he was God's prophet. But despite the group's efforts to cover-up the ugly truths about Berg and his hateful extremism by attempting to destroy all copies of those letters, comics and many others just like them, I tracked down hard copies of some of those purged publications in order to further expose the morally degenerate mind of the man behind The Family International. (see the end of this article)
David Berg, who died in 1994, was the founder and self-proclaimed prophet of the Children of God, now known as The Family International. He fled the U.S., along with the group's current co-leader, Karen Zerby, in 1974 just as the New York Attorney General was about to release a damning report on his cult's activities there. While hiding in England, the corrupt couple experimented with new sexual doctrines, both as a means to justify their own licentiousness and to devise a new method of undercover or clandestine proselytizing, which would come in useful for the group in countries where evangelizing is forbidden or restricted. In this instance, 'under the covers' also has a literal meaning, because the new recruitment technique involved the sexual seduction of potential members and supporters. It became known as Flirty Fishing, a reference to Jesus' call to his disciples to be fishers of men (Matthew 4:19). Berg introduced the new doctrine to regular members very cautiously at first, suggesting it was the ultimate altruistic act to save souls, next to martyrdom, but it didn't take long to degenerate into religious prostitution.
After fine tuning Flirty Fishing in England, the demented duo set off for Tenerife in the Canary Islands and immediately began their sexual seductions in hotels and nightclubs. Flirty Fishing quickly became so lucrative that they called for dozens of God's Whores to join them. As a fugitive from justice, Berg had remained until this time a recluse even from most of his own followers, but in Tenerife he was emboldened by the success of Flirty Fishing. In England, Berg and Zerby had remained incognito while practising this perversion, but in Tenerife he behaved more like a flamboyant pimp, appearing in clubs every night surrounded by a harem of 'hookers for Jesus'. Berg mistakenly believed he was winning powerful friends who could support and protect them, but civic and church authorities soon became concerned with their flagrant behaviour. It didn't take long for journalists to discover the scandal. The German magazine Stern, Spain's Interviu, and Time all published articles that included a photo of Berg surrounded by a dozen or so of his Heaven's Harlots. It was the first time most of his followers had ever seen any photo of him, let alone a current one.
David Berg (Moses David) with a bevy of Flirty Fishers in Tenerife, 1977. This photo, possibly first published in the German magazine Stern, has also appeared in Time magazine, Rolling Stone, and Deborah Davis' book. Karen Zerby (Mama Maria), current leader of The Family, is holding Berg's left hand.
A 1978 Newsweek article on the Children of God reported that
... on the island of Tenerife, COG women were accused of taking prospective recruits to bed. When local prostitutes complained of the competition, Berg reportedly put a curse on the island-and shortly after that, the worst accident in airline history took 583 lives on the runway at Tenerife.While it is true that Berg did curse the island and several days later the air disaster occurred, complaints by local prostitutes were not the reason he cursed, then fled Tenerife. The Stern article, cited by Time, accurately reported the real reason Berg escaped the island: he was being investigated by judicial authorities. His own writings, which the group later attempted to completely destroy, prove that.
Berg did make an initial court appearance before he fled Tenerife, which was unusual since he preferred to hide from legal authorities and taught his followers to do the same. Here is an example of that in a letter he wrote to them in 1979 titled, Flee, which was later censored by the group as indicated by [deleted] in the text.
3. WHEN THE SYSTEM IS OUT TO GET YOU, YOU CANNOT FIGHT THEM. IT'S RIDICULOUS! ALL YOU CAN DO IS FLEE! The Lord Himself said so. (Mt.10:23.) He didn't say hang in there & fight it out & defend yourself, did He?
28. LET ME TELL YOU, I KNEW [DELETED] IN TENERIFE that they weren't going to quit, they weren't going to stop there, & I got out while the getting was good! [DELETED]
29. GOD HAD TO GIVE ME A DEFINITE WARNING TO MOVE & MOVE FAST! [DELETED] Now what do you want to do, just sit there & wait for them to come? Some of you are just sitting there waiting for trouble! That's how crazy people can get it they don't listen to the Lord! Once you reject the Truth of God's warnings & you don't repent, you don't confess your sin of disobedience & really repent & make things right by packing up & moving on like I've warned you, you're apt to go right off the deep end!
I think Berg only appeared in court because of his growing delusion that he was God's prophet and so would be protected. That court appearance quickly changed his mind, however, as the judge gave him a taste of his own medicine. A day later Berg, who was infamous for violent verbal, emotional and physical abuse of his followers and their children, complained: "I could hardly believe my ears when that Judge started spouting off and shouting at me. It shows it's all a religious controversy." (at par. 14) But earlier, right after that court appearance, his confidence in God's protection had already disappeared as he realized he might be in more trouble than he thought. "It might be better to get out before there is a court order making it impossible for me to leave." (par. 9) That is the real reason he fled Tenerife, not complaints from the local prostitutes.
Those quotations in the previous paragraph are from that secret letter I refer to in the title of this article. That letter was written for followers and associates and was intended, as I said, to demonstrate Berg's power as God's final endtime prophet. The letter's full title is The Wrath of God! On Tenerife and its System's Ugly Face of Tyranny! More Prayers Against Our Enemies and the Results! The picture on the pamphlet depicts God's hand smashing a sword against a passenger jet in a big explosion. The letter was eventually published in a volume of Berg's letters dealing specifically with Flirty Fishing. Neither that volume or the individual letter was meant for the general public. It was an internal letter, therefore secret, and made even more secret by the group's later attempts to purge all publications that contained incriminating evidence of wrong doing or extremists doctrines such as anti-Semitism.
Although most of the group's publications are archived online on two websites run by survivors, many dealing with Flirty Fishing are not, including The Wrath of God. However, I have posted the copy I obtained here at the end of this article. When you read the entire letter it becomes quite clear why the group would try to keep it secret. Here are some highlights from the letter, or I should say, lowlights.
The letter consists almost entirely of Berg praying against his enemies, with a bit of commentary thrown in here and there. It starts off with a transcript of the prayer Berg prayed just before going to court. He starts by cursing the judge, asking God to give him lots of sicknesses (in a later prayer he claims the judge is demon possessed; see par. 34). He then moves on to cursing entire cities, praying for their destruction and the destruction of all his enemies. He even asks God to let him watch the destruction of innocent people, citing Old Testament scriptures as authority for such hatred. But Berg was just getting warmed up with that prayer.
In that first prayer, Berg quotes II Chronicles 36:16, and then repeats that in a prayer the day after his court appearance, when he began making plans to flee. "For they have mocked the messengers of God and despised His words, and misused His prophets, until the wrath of the Lord arose against his people till there was no remedy." When I first read that in preparation for this article, I thought it was a reference to a different biblical event, the one where Elisha, the prophet of God, cursed 42 children for mocking him and a bear came out of the woods and killed them all, which is described in II Kings 2: 23,24. Cult leaders like Elisha and Berg are obviously psychopaths with narcissistic personality disorder. Berg is upset because the people of Tenerife are not taking him and his message seriously, so he curses them all to death. In Berg's second prayer he reiterates his requests for death and destruction of those who opposed his group and their message. This prayer also contains claims of previously answered prayers against Nixon, Reagan, New York City, and California for supposedly persecuting him and his group (see paragraphs 25 to 28). Berg directs those claims at his followers to help convince them of his prophetic powers and links to God, but those claims are ludicrous, not supported by fact, and merely reveal the bruised ego of a rejected narcissist.
Berg's prayers get more vile the deeper into the letter you read. At paragraphs 39 to 44 Berg gets specific, asking God to kill priests, a bishop, a judge and a maid. Paragraph 40 also includes a parenthetic note inserted after the air crash praising God for answering Berg's calls for vengence: "And He did!--The Crash, The Floods, etc. PTL!" There are similar notes scattered through the remaining letter. For example, just five days before the crash Berg prays the same prayers again. He asks God to destroy his enemies before his eyes not only so he could see the destruction, but so the world would know he was a prophet, and to do it soon. The parenthetic note in paragraph 55 reads: "The great air crash occurred only five days later!" Over and over again similar gleeful notes reinforce the notion that Berg's prayers and curses directly caused the worst air crash in history. "I want to see it. I want to hear about it," Berg prays at paragraph 57 in a chilling display of bloodlust.
As I mentioned earlier, this letter and the children's comic based on it were used by Berg and Zerby to reinforce the notion that Berg was God's final endtime prophet. In it Berg repeatedly prays for God to prove that to this followers by answering his prayers. The coincidence of the air crash occurring shortly after Berg's prayers was seen by Berg and Zerby as an opportunity to hammer home the point, so the letter repeats over and over again that the crash was God's answer to prayer. However, there is one element of Berg's prayers that God apparently over looked, though Berg and Zerby were not too concerned about that part. At paragraph 63, Berg prays: "Spare thy children, Lord, and spare the innocent, spare the guiltless." But God didn't spare the innocent, so if God answered Berg's prayers pleading for the destruction of his enemies, why didn't God also answer his prayer to spare innocent, guiltless people? That does not make any sense on any level, whether theological or rational, especially when that God is supposedly loving, compassionate and just. Why would a loving God who answers prayers not answer a prayer to save innocent lives? That kind of critical thinking is just too deep for fundamentalist believers like Berg, Zerby and their followers because it requires doubting and asking the right questions, which they never do. Here is the only comment Berg and Zerby had to say about the deaths of hundreds innocent people in that crash, in a note between paragraphs 76 and 77: "We are sorry for the victims and their families, but who can deny it was the will of God!"
Such heartless arrogance, empty sympathy and bible-based immorality. According to leaders of The Family International, the death of hundreds of innocent people, including children, was God's will because somehow that all-powerful, prayer-answering God was unable to differentiate between the guilty and the innocent on those two airplanes. And what about the 61 people on board the Pan Am plane that survived the disaster? If God spared them, why not spare all the other innocents? I can think of a dozen other related questions, but Christian fundamentalists and evangelicals never ask questions like that, because in their world doubting and questioning God are sins. But believing in biblical literalism always leads to irrational conclusions such as the belief that mass killings and genocides are justified when God commands or causes them. And it also leads to irrational explanations such as the claim that even if innocent children are killed along with their guilty parents, God is actually doing those kids a favour by taking them straight to heaven, or some nonsense like that. Here are two Berg quotations that illustrate that point. The first refers to famines in Africa and the second refers to the genocide of Canaanites in the Old Testament, where Joshua's army slaughters everyone in Jericho, including children: Joshua 6:21
55. I FEEL SORRY FOR ALL THE WOMEN & CHILDREN OVER IN THOSE COUNTRIES THAT ARE STARVING TO DEATH, BUT WHOSE FAULT DO YOU SUPPOSE IT IS? It's probably their men's fault to begin with, & probably the women's fault as well, because they worship false gods & idols & images & the dead & the Devil & are into all kinds of evil practices & cruelty & horrors that the mothers are just as guilty of as the fathers! The only innocent ones in those crowds are their poor little children, & they're better off dead than to live in societies like that with mothers & fathers like that! Maybe that's why the Lord lets them starve to death & it seems to hit the children the hardest & they die the quickest. That's merciful! Thank God! I told you time & again, don't fear death! Don't fear starvation, it's the easiest way in the World to die! It only takes a little while, & you may wish you could die quick. http://www.exfamily.org/pubs/ml/b5/ml2138.shtml
10. AFTER THE WALLS HAD FALLEN DOWN, JOSHUA PUT THE ENTIRE POPULATION TO DEATH, as God's Word had commanded--because they were wicked, filthy, vile people! Some people say, "Oh, my! What a cruel God He must have been in those days!" Well, God knows the earth needed to be cleansed of the horror of those people! If you knew some of the sins that they had--sodomy & so on, which is one of the vilest sins known to mankind ... ,
YOU CAN UNDERSTAND WHY GOD HAD TO COMPLETELY WIPE OUT THE POPULATION! Everybody except who? Rahab! Compared to these men of Jericho, even a harlot was a saint! http://www.exfamily.org/pubs/ml/b5/ml1153.shtml
David Berg was referred to by some as the Love Prophet. He created the immoral doctrines called the Law of Love and Loving Jesus. He insisted, as the Bible does, that God is love, and he changed the name of his group to Family of Love at one point. He claimed that his biblically-based moral system was superior to all others, and yet he has no qualms about celebrating the mass murder or mass starvation of children. And neither do other more mainstream evangelical leaders. For example, Pat Robertson takes great joy in claiming that natural disasters, such as Hurricane Katrina and the Haiti earthquake, that killed thousands of people including children, are God's punishments against evil doers. And here is how another Christian apologist, William Lane Craig, echoes Berg by justifying the slaughter of innocent Canaanite children in Jericho in a recent talk at Oxford that he hoped would be a debate with Richard Dawkins, who "... has consistently refused to debate Craig and branded him a 'deplorable apologist for Genocide' in his Guardian column...." Here is what Craig wrote about biblical genocide prior to his Oxford talk, as cited by Dawkins:
"But why take the lives of innocent children? The terrible totality of the destruction was undoubtedly related to the prohibition of assimilation to pagan nations on Israel's part. In commanding complete destruction of the Canaanites, the Lord says, 'You shall not intermarry with them, giving your daughters to their sons, or taking their daughters for your sons, for they would turn away your sons from following me, to serve other gods' (Deut 7.3-4). […] God knew that if these Canaanite children were allowed to live, they would spell the undoing of Israel. […] Moreover, if we believe, as I do, that God's grace is extended to those who die in infancy or as small children, the death of these children was actually their salvation. We are so wedded to an earthly, naturalistic perspective that we forget that those who die are happy to quit this earth for heaven's incomparable joy. Therefore, God does these children no wrong in taking their lives."And here is what Craig said at that talk, as reported by the Oxford student newspaper:
“However, in a question and answer session near the end of the debate, Craig’s response to the accusation that he approves of Biblical genocide provoked murmurs of disapproval from parts of the audience, and a loud boo from the upper wings.That is exactly what David Berg taught and The Family International believes, that a just, loving, merciful God kills innocent children in order to save them. That kind of morality is truly immoral.
“There was no racial war here, no command to kill them all,” he initially said, referring to extermination of the Canaanites in the Old Testament, “the command was to drive them out.”
Then Craig said: “But, how could God command that the children be killed, as they are innocent?”
“I would say that God has the right to give and take life as he sees fit. Children die all the time! If you believe in the salvation, as I do, of children, who die, what that meant is that the death of these children meant their salvation. People look at this [genocide] and think life ends at the grave but in fact this was the salvation of these children, who were far better dead…than being raised in this Canaanite culture. “
By the way, in case you are wondering about Flirty Fishing, and whether or not The Family International still practices that form of religious prostitution, it all depends on who you ask. If you ask group leaders and members, they will insist that they formally stopped that years ago. However, you cannot trust anything they say on the matter because they have a well-documented, deeply ingrained habit of lying to outsiders, including to government and legal authorities. (see this article and the section Deceivers Yet True in this article)
When they claim to have abandoned a doctrine or practice, it usually means that they will take those underground and no longer publicize what they actually believe and do. For example, Berg's writings are extremely anti-Semitic, with bigoted references to Jews being anti-Christ scattered throughout. In all of the censored versions of Berg's letters, all occurrences of the word 'anti-Christ' that do not refer to that specific character described in Revelation are references to Jews and have been [deleted] from the text. However, the current leader of the Family International, Karen Zerby, wrote in 1992 at the height of negative publicity the group was receiving around the world that prompted them to censor their publications: “Of course we’re being a little quiet about the Jews now, but we’re going to come to the place where we’re going to come right out and tell the truth about them.”
I am certain that they have the same attitude towards Flirty Fishing (FFing). Although they claim to no longer practice religious prostitution, it is only because of the negative publicity they received, not because of the various excuses they give or because they no longer believe the practice is scriptural. Here is an official statement from the group's leaders:
In 1987 the Family discontinued FFing to emphasize other means of ministering the Word of God to others, as well as to take advantage of opportunities to reach more people than the very personalized ministry of FFing allowed. At that time as well, the plague of AIDS had begun its rampage through the world—another indication that it was time to reconsider Family policy of allowing sexual interaction outside our communities. Although we no longer practice FFing, we believe the scriptural principles behind the ministry remain sound.
In James Chancellor's, Life in the Family: an oral history of the Children of God, which I critique in this journal article, Chancellor examines that practice in chapter four. Footnote 8 of that chapter refers to a series of Berg letters that initiated the whole Flirty Fishing (FFing) doctrine and quotes a group spokesperson:
8. These Letters are known as "The King Arthur Series." They are no longer available and cannot be found in any Family home. Noah explained: "We don't do it anymore, so we pulled the King Arthur Letters out of the homes. To be honest, they make such a strong and compelling case for FFing, Father David was afraid if he left them in the homes, people would have a strong desire to continue or begin the FFing ministry again."And here are some quotations from a Berg letter emphasizing the effectiveness of Flirty Fishing and describing it as likely the only ministry that will still be available to them during the dark days leading up to the return of Jesus, which he predicted would happen in 1993. Since that obviously never happened they have pushed the rapture up by 50 years, leaving plenty of time for Flirty Fishing to be resurrected.
87. JUST BECAUSE IT HASN'T BEEN THE HEADLINE NEWS IN THE FAMILY MAGAZINE & you haven't heard as much about it as you did during the incipient stages of '76--I always remember '76 because that's the year Family of Love got famous in Tenerife, ha! When we finally hit the jackpot & made the headlines FFing with the FOL, we had to leave Tenerife. That's how effective it was! We were winning too many converts--the police, the Guardia Civil, the mayor, the police chiefs, the top representatives of the Bishop, the young people, the college students, the Mafia!
88. WE WERE GETTING EVERYBODY!--AND THE BISHOP WAS GETTING SCARED STIFF! I doubt if he could get stiff at his age, but anyway, he was getting scared & he decided it was time to put a stop to it. It was being too effective, too fruitful & we were getting too many souls, winning too many hearts, winning too many friends as well! So that was when it got started back in those days.
89. YOU HEARD MORE ABOUT IT THEN, WE WROTE MORE LETTERS ABOUT IT, IT WAS MORE IN THE NEWS & maybe you thought since then maybe it's kind of cooled off, maybe so many girls aren't FFing. Maybe some of you girls thought, "Well, maybe I'm a rare exception now, there aren't so many FFing girls anymore & not many FF Homes, maybe FFing is sort of going down the drain & maybe we're not FFing so much anymore, maybe it's not as popular anymore, maybe we're not getting as much results that way, maybe it didn't work out after all!"--You're mistaken!
91. SO JUST BECAUSE YOU HAVEN'T HEARD AS MUCH ABOUT IT LATELY DOESN'T MEAN IT HASN'T BEEN GOING ON! In fact, it's been going on more than ever & getting more results than ever as the most effective, efficient & fruitful--there's the 3 FFs!--Effective, efficient & fruitful!--Of all the means of witnessing & winning souls that we are practicing! ...
100. SO I THINK I'D LIKE TO DECLARE 1982 OUR GREATEST FF YEAR! I believe we're going to have more FFing & greater FFing & more success at FFing now in the coming year & the coming years than ever before as the other doors are closed & you can no longer openly litness anymore, you can no longer openly busk & cafe & park & street sing, etc., anymore, you'll be run off the streets, & the only place you're going to be able to really effectively witness is undercover, under the covers! Amen?
101. I BELIEVE IT IS GOING TO BECOME--IT HAS BECOME ALREADY--OUR MOST EFFUCKTIVE, EFFECTIVE, EFFICIENT & FRUITFUL FORM OF WITNESSING! But I believe it is going to become our greatest form of witnessing, probably almost the most numerous form of witnessing as all other doors are closed & you cannot hit the streets anymore, maybe you can't even dare go door-to-door anymore.--There's three doors closed of the 7 Supporters! Out of the 7 Supporters only five are ministries, right? What are they again?--Litnessing, busking--that's all forms of public witness--door-to-door--that's getting more private all the time--Mail Ministry & FFing. That's five witnessing & supporting ministries.
106. BUT THERE WILL STILL BE ONE OUTSTANDING POSSIBLE VERY EFFUCKTIVE, EFFECTIVE, EFFICIENT & FRUITFUL SUPPORTIVE MINISTRY LEFT, particularly for you girls! You may be the last witnesses! Revelation 11 didn't say what the sex of those last Two Witnesses was, did it? Maybe all our last witnesses will be women! It didn't say what the sex of all those people were who were caught up in the Rapture, did it? Maybe it will be mostly our girls! Maybe they'll have gotten rid of most of us boys by that time, who knows? Oh, there'll be a lot of powerful rich women who'll want boys too, so I think there'll be some of both sexes, boys--don't worry!
So, just because you have not heard about Flirty Fishing recently, and just because they say they don't do it anymore, does not mean they stopped it. I do not believe that Flirty Fishing was ever completely abandoned. It was simply too lucrative and useful in certain situations. Certainly, they stopped the most overt, flagrant practices, and probably only certain leaders and trusted members continued to practice it far more discreetly so that it could never be discovered by outsiders, but I think Flirty Fishing is like their hatred of Jews. They've learned to stay quiet about what they really believe and do. Furthermore, there are recent signs that Flirty Fishing has been renewed by at least some members. The conditions that Berg describes above that prevent overt public witnessing exist today in many countries. The group's leaders have always lived in luxury from the tithes of members, while many regular members struggle to survive financially. Recent organizational changes have made that scenario even worse, and I have no doubt that some will resurrect Flirty Fishing as a means of support. In fact, I think some have already done that if recent reports are accurate.
UPDATE: November 8, 2011
The text of "The Wrath of God" has now been placed in the archive on exfamily.org at http://www.exfamily.org/pubs/ml/b4/ml0577.shtml The text is much easier to read there than here, but it does not include the cover illustration. I have removed the text pages here, but have kept the cover illustration. I have also kept the True Komix version here and added the cover page. That page clearly explains that these comics were specifically intended for indoctrinating children. You will notice that the message from Berg and Zerby, who is called Maria in the group, claims that love will solve all the world's problems, including yours. Apparently, they ignored that claim in "The Wrath of God", which teaches the opposite lesson, namely that when authorities try to hold you accountable to society for your actions the best recourse is not to love your enemies but to curse your enemies and God will destroy them.
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