In’73, River Phoenix's family joins a controversial Christian movement: The Children of God (COG). The movement starts in ’Huntington Beach, CA in ’68 as Teens for Christ. The family settles in Caracas, Venezuela as COG missionaries. Phoenix rarely speaks of the cult. His mother quotes him in a ’94 “Esquire” article as having said, "They're disgusting, they're ruining people's lives.” An earlier interview in “Details” magazine, Phoenix himself states that he lost his virginity at age four while in the Children of God… "but I've blocked it out.” When Phoenix resumes having sex at 15, the act takes place in a tent in the family’s backyard decorated by his parents. COG encourages members to imagine Jesus joining them during sexual intercourse and masturbation. Male members are cautioned to visualize themselves as women, in order to avoid a homosexual relationship with Jesus. Makes total sense, right?
Phoenix's parents grow disillusioned with the Children of God, opposing to the group's practice of "Flirty Fishing.” COG is being distorted by their leader, David Berg, who is becoming powerful and wealthy. Berg seeks to attract rich disciples through sex. He is accused of leading a cult which promotes the sexual abuse of women and children. Berg is also accused of pedophilia - he later recalls in his letters how he is taught to masturbate in church by another boy his age. When his mother caught Berg, he is forced to masturbate in front of his father. Oftentimes Berg will explicitly describe his sexual preferences and says that the one thing he regrets is… “Never sleeping with my mother.”
During the first 25 years, Children of God share their message with over 260 million people in over 100 countries. According to The Family International, 18 million of those people became followers of Christ. All religions are cults and all cults are dangerous
In the late 70s, Phoenix’s family leaves the movement, moving to LA. Phoenix is the eldest of 5 children. The family officially changes their name to Phoenix, after the mythical bird that rises from its own ashes, symbolizing a new beginning.