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The Family International has undergone more name changes than most pop artists. Here's what we know about the cult.

Is The Family International one of the creepiest modern cults?

The Family International has undergone more name changes than most pop artists. Founded in Huntington Beach, California in 1968 as Teens for Christ, the cult donned the titles Children of God, The Family of Love, and The Family before settling on The Family International – or TFI for short.

TFI is the brainchild of former evangelical Protestant minister David Berg. Inspired by his unique interpretation of Christianity, Berg decided to start his own movement. Berg also gave himself various titles over the years, including King, Moses, David, and The Last Endtime Prophet.

Despite what David Berg and his wife Karen Zerby have said over the decades, TFI is no doubt a cult. It hides its dogmatism & abuses behind a message of Christian-based salvation, free love, and spiritual healing.

Mo letters

David Berg died in 1994, but as leader of TFI, he communicated with his followers by writing letters of spiritual and pragmatic advice, which he coined “Mo Letters.” Berg wrote more than 3,000 of these letters over his lifetime, waxing poetic about his status as God’s latest prophet in order to maintain his authority.

When the cult was called Children of God, more than 130 communes dedicated to David Berg’s belief system popped up all over the world. Berg rebranded Children of God as The Family of Love in 1976, hoping to capitalize on the hippie movement. During this time, Berg experimented with many forms of proselytizing.

Flirty fishing

Starting in 1973, David Berg encouraged female members in The Family of Love to spread the message of God’s love by having sex with potential convents. Instead of in the streets, Berg wanted his followers in the sheets.

A lover of clever monikers, David Berg identified this activity as “Flirty Fishing.” The practice became common within the cult. In one letter, the group boasted that “over 100,000 received God’s gift of salvation through Jesus” as a result of Flirty Fishing. Yes, that’s right: followers were told to have sex with 100,000 people in order to spread the “gospel.”

Loving Jesus

When David Berg died in 1994, his wife Karen Derby took over the organization, by that time called The Family, with her new husband Steve Kelly. Prophetess and King Peter, their preferred titles, took Berg’s philosophy to the next level.

To this day, TFI followers are advised to develop sexual relationships with Jesus. Instead of viewing their relationship with their messiah as a chaste & holy one, members are incentivized to enjoy the sensual aspects of their special communion. 

Followers are guided through personalized sexual fantasies with Jesus. Since Prophetess and King Peter frown upon homosexuality, male members are told to pretend they are women in these scenarios. 

The practice of Loving Jesus also involves graphic & elaborate poetry, visual art, and music. TFI publications abound, and quite a few are geared toward children & young adults.

Survivors tell the truth

Since the beginning, both members and those born into TFI have come out of the woodwork, to tell the truth about the cult. Cases of child sexual abuse are plentiful, as well as allegations of financial fraud.

In addition to the Phoenix family – including Joaquin, River, and Summer – actor Rose McGowan was also born into TFI. They have all spoken out against the cult in public. Before he died of a drug overdose in 1993, River Phoenix accused TFI of “ruining people’s lives.”

Thanks to the Internet, TFI’s reach remains huge. Its website brags about member networks in over 80 countries. Karen Zerby & Steve Kelly still run TFI, framing it as an international Christian community. Those who endured assault, bullying, and coercion under the guise of the Christian community look at it much differently.

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  • Except the name is Karen Zerby not Derby.

    May 30, 2020
  • I was born into TFI if anyone has any questions

    August 11, 2020
    • how’s it like partaking in this cult?

      October 7, 2020
    • I was too…. I’m wondering if anyone’s finally going after Zerby? After all…. there’s plenty of evidence still floating around that would get her jailed for life. She’s gotta go. One way or another.

      October 12, 2020
    • do they ask people to do bad things ? and do they make children do bad things so that later in life they dont tell on the abusers ? is it all about secrets ? for instance showing you how they could control a fly but not showing the technique as well as many other things ? are they also in london ?

      November 24, 2020
  • They’re not just “creepy” they’re criminals. It is both shocking and unbelievable that the founder, Karen Zerby, is not in prison when there is literally photographic evidence of her sexually abusing her late son. I was born into this cult and the fact they are emboldened enough to not only have a site advertising themselves but the founder has a site of her own…. is the most disgusting and filthy, vile and horrific thing you’ll see all day. She WILL eventually be tracked down and brought to justice. Make no mistake about it.

    October 12, 2020
  • I have 0 memories of this but ive been controlled by them my whole life l just watched the episode about the children of god on cults and beliefs am very shook up but i need to know more please im desperate can anyone help

    March 1, 2021
  • I was in a 7 year relationship with the ex-wife of the cult leader’s son, Jonathan Berg (aka John Lee) from 2007-2013. John Lee disappeared with my ex-stepkids in 2014 and no one has ever heard from them again. I believe he took them to an overseas lair of The Family. If, T, T, T, and H see this message, I’ve been looking for you for close to 9 years now. Reach out. I left your mom because she was literally going to kill me some day, like Jodi Arias. I stayed in that abusive relationship for years becuase I felt something like this would happen if I left :-/ I actually would have let her kill me if I knew you’d be disappeared :-/

    August 29, 2023

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