Chilling reminders of "free love": an Argentine incest bust stirs gruesome memories in Alberta
Red Deer teenager Lorinda Stewart saw the scruffy group that had come to live with her family as revolutionaries of peace
The year was 1972, and the visitors called
themselves the Children of God. Twenty-one years later -- a harrowing six of
which were spent with the secretive sect -- Lorinda is still trying to
rebuild her life.
Three weeks ago, 18 adult COG members -- including several Canadians --
and 143 children were detained by Argentine
authorities following a slew
of child sex abuse and prostitution allegations.
In fact it is rumoured that two of the cult's top
people are formerly
from Alberta, and police believe others may still be
Founded in the late '60s by aging California
- based preacher David Berg, a former Alliance
Church pastor, COG drew thousands of youths in the
early '70s, when bummed-out acidheads
discovered they could get high on religion.
Berg's new gospel presented Christ as a fun-loving,
who would free people's minds and bodies -- and give
them an eternal
Hawking pamphlets written by "Moses David" (Berg),
evangelists took to the streets.
Often setting up around high schools and youth
centres, COG competed
for recruits with Hare Krishnas and others.
In 1972, 16-year-old Lorinda Stewart was introduced to
a cousin who had joined a fledgling eight-member
commune on the edge
of Red Deer.
Her Lutheran parents, Larry and Jean, approved of the
commune's drug -
free, guitar - playing caring and sharing lifestyle.
They supplied the
colony with milk and Mr. Stewart--a
mechanic--sometimes fixed their
Communications between founder Berg and his followers
While it is now reported the cult had a telephone
directives system, most
contact then appeared to be through the "Mo letters"
as Berg's general
epistles became known.
Early ones were a hodgepodge of Berg's impulsive
interpretations and end-times predictions.
The instruction, however, was clear.
He told his faithful to give up all their possessions
to the group and
go out into the world to spread his message.
That year, Lorinda moved to the Seattle COG outpost to
street-vend Mo letters and beg, keeping detailed reports on their
success and failure and turning over proceeds to the head "shepherd." Like
all cult members she got a new name, hers was "Peninnah." About the same time, their reclusive guru began
focusing on sex as an essential component of God's love.
In 1975, Lorinda - now living in Japan - married a
fellow cult member
and had her first child.
That was when she was introduced to Berg's new
"flirty fishing" -- having sex with people to recruit them or get money from them.
For several years the Mo letters had been increasingly fixated with sexual liberation. In one, Berg's common - law wife "Maria" told how she
flirty-fished a man named "Arthur" into God's kingdom.
Sex was a need, she explained, and good members were
supposed to supply people's needs, which in turn would strengthen the COG
family. It was a line Lorinda, now pregnant in a foreign country, found troubling.
Her husband didn't. He began with sect "sisters" and
then went on to bar pick-ups in a sexual odyssey. "He
would go to northern Japan," she recalls, "and come
back telling me how he shared God's love" with other
It made me sicker than I already was." Occasionally he
into their bed and made love to them beside her.
Lorinda says pressure from the other women for her to
share her body
"I would try to," she says.
"We would go out to bars, 'FFing' as we called it, but
Then I started making any kind of excuse to stay home
As the friction increased, her first child became
deathly ill. "They
told me," says Lorinda, "that God was punishing me for
refusing to share
Afterwards I cried all day and night."
The child recovered, but hours after giving birth in
to her second son, the baby died.
More condemnation followed. Within a month she began
was scared God was going to take my other child," she
She says the group required members to file detailed
"We had to tell how many guys we picked up, which ones
we slept with,
how many 'brothers' we slept with, how many
Berg, she says, "had written a letter saying that
lesbianism was okay."
In November, 1978, a crisis struck. Guyana cult leader
Jim Jones led 907 of his followers to commit mass
suicide in the South American jungle.
Jones had no association with COG, but the scale of
ignited anti-cult sentiment around the world.
From hiding, Berg told his faithful to return home,
partly to reassure
kin, but also to secure more money.
In January of 1979 Lorinda and her son were back
living in familiar
Alberta while her American husband went to the U.S.
She decided to sever
"The fact he had slept with other women, and coerced
me into 'FFing,' ended the marriage.
It was like he had been my pimp."
Today Berg is either dead or still hiding -- possibly
in Eastern Europe
where Interpol can't track him.
Ms. Stewart is living in Sylvan Lake and writing about
A second marriage in the '80s produced two more
children but also ended
"Nobody," she notes, "realized how much damage had
been done to us."
The Argentine allegations of mass incestuous ritual
pedophilia do not
shock her either. Berg, she says, was dismantling one
Before she left he had begun writing about the
beauties of adult-child sex.
University of Alberta sociology professor Stephen Kent reports that the
COG outposts in Edmonton, Red Deer, Calgary and even
like Morinville appear to be long gone.
But occasionally he comes across evidence that some
may still exist.
In 1991, while picking up a pizza near the
Edmonton campus, he was
astonished to see one of the group's cartoon posters
on a fridge.
Someone begging food had left it there.
RCMP cult specialist Corporal Reed Leary says known
survive in Toronto, Vancouver and Victoria, and he
believes the group
retains a furtive Alberta presence. Though there have
accusations levelled against it from time to time,
most recently in Vancouver, none has been proven.