Rose McGowan recently opened up to People magazine about her childhood spent in the Italian sect of a religious cult called Children of God (now called The Family International.) But she isn’t the only star to have been part of this strange cult, Joaquin and his deceased brother River Phoenix also spent part of their childhood with the Children of God, and former Fleetwood Mac guitarist Jeremy Spencer quit the band to join the cult and raise his children in the closed-off community.
Although it has gone through many changes, over the years, at one point it appears to have been a communal-style sex cult based on the Christian religion. Rose’s dad got her out when she was nine because he feared Rose would be forced to participate in child-adult sex that was being practiced at the time. Her artist dad, Daniel McGowan was the one who got turned on by the David Brandt Berg organization. According to Rose, Daniel suddenly became “really passionate about Jesus” and, no doubt, by the free-love attitude they had about sex. Daniel took a second wife named Rebecca in addition to Rose’s mother Terry (Terry was also the mom to Rose’s siblings Nat and Daisy.)
The group was founded in 1968, the free-love decade, and no doubt looked attractive to Christians interested in a hippie-type lifestyle. Instead of proselyting abstinence and sexual purity, The Children of God advocated promiscuity. They handed out illustrated pamphlets adorned with naked women (Rose’s dad got a job illustrating many of these,) written by Berg, who liked to call himself Moses David.
Although the group was very open about having multiple partners, group sex, “prostituting” women out for Jesus, and even pedophilia, they were very strict in other ways. According to Rose’s experience, children were often segregated by age from their other siblings and their parents, and they weren’t allowed to listen to any secular music, or participate at all in the outside culture.
Moses David advocated men taking multiple wives, but he also advocated men allowing their wives to become “flirty fish” and “hookers for Jesus.” They would be asked to become God’s wh0res, and sleep with men they picked up in bars to bring them to Jesus. A good number of pregnancies resulted from these random hookups, and the resulting generation were known as “Jesus babies.” A comic book called “Life with Grandpa: Real Fathers” was made to help explain to the Jesus babies that they were conceived through Flirty Fishing.
Rose’s dad decided to smuggle Rose and her siblings away from the CoG in the middle of a stormy night after he received instructions to illustrate a story advocating pedophilia. One of the sentences that scared him into fleeing: “God made children able to enjoy sex, so he must’ve expected them to!”
Thankfully Rose was able to escape, but her whole family was used to living a very closed-off existence, and had a hard time adjusting to the outside world. Rose’s mom stayed behind a little while longer, but she eventually defected as well. Rose lived for a while with her dad and his second wife Rebecca (he divorced Rose’s mom.) She also ran away from home at the age of 13, and lived with an “amazing” drag queen in Portland, OR.
Joaquin Phoenix, his deceased brother River, their parents, and three other siblings were also caught up in the wacky, early world of Children of God. The family’s last name was originally Bottom, and they joined when father John Bottom discovered the group in 1972 while in South America (the group has communal sects all over the world,) and the family settled in a CoG section in Venezuela.
When The Bottoms left CoG in 1977, they changed their last name to Phoenix to symbolize a rebirth, and encouraged their children to develop their creativity and go into the arts.
Joaquin maintained in 2001 to Uncut Magazine that Children of God was not a cult, or at least it wasn’t when their family was involved.
“It might have become a cult, but when we were there it was a really religious community,” he argues. “It was a time when people were questioning the nuclear family of the Fifties, people were saying they weren’t satisfied with the upbringing their parents had, is there another way? My parents were just searching for an alternative way of raising their children, they didn’t want to raise us in the Bronx. My mom was raised in the Bronx, and she was scared every day coming home from school.”
“My parents have never been blind followers,” says Joaquin. “In fact, they recognized that it was shifting and the ideas behind it wasn’t what they wanted, so we left. The awful stuff I’ve heard about the group in the Eighties, that wasn’t our experience. We were trying to figure out how to make alternative societies, and a lot of them fell to the same mistakes that our larger society has made, in which people’s egos and greed took over. I think that’s what happened to that community. But it wasn’t the picture people paint.”
Their mother Arlyn (also known as Heart Pheonix) also came out against the CoG’s practice of Flirty Fishing:
“The group was being distorted by the leader, David Berg, who was getting powerful and wealthy. He sought to attract rich disciples through sex. No way.”
Berg died in 1994, and the group has tried to revamp it’s image an style. It’s thought to currently have 10,000 followers in 100 countries.
Claire Borowik of The Family Internaitonal, responded to Rose McGowan’s claims, telling The Christian Post that Rose’s account in People magazine is “suspect at best and at times absurd, seemingly based on wild speculations and imperfect childhood memories, crafted for the sake of sensational publicity.”