Twelve Tribes communities
||This article has an unclear citation style. (January 2011)|
|Classification||Messianic Judaism Christian Fundamentalism, New Religious Movement|
|Organizational structure||Apostolic Council|
|Geographical areas||North America, South America, Western Europe, India, Australia|
|Founder||Elbert "Gene" Spriggs|
Chattanooga, Tennessee, United States
The Twelve Tribes, formerly known as The Vine Christian Community Church, Northeast Kingdom Community Church, The Messianic Communities, and the Community Apostolic Order is an international confederation of religious communities founded by Gene Spriggs (now known as Yoneq) that sprang out of the Jesus Movement in 1972 in Chattanooga, Tennessee. The group is an attempt to recreate the 1st-century church in the Book of Acts; the name "Twelve Tribes" also derives from a quote of the Apostle Paul in Acts 26:7. The group has also been referred to as The Yellow Deli People and informally as The Community.
The origins of the Twelve Tribes movement can be traced to a ministry for teenagers called the "Light Brigade" in 1972. The ministry operated out of a small coffee shop called "The Lighthouse" within the home of Gene Spriggs and his wife Marsha. The Light Brigade began living communally and opened a restaurant called "The Yellow Deli" while attending several churches, before deciding on First Presbyterian Church. The Light Brigade, while at First Presbyterian, experienced friction with the establishment by bringing anyone who was willing to come with them, including different social classes and racial groups than the church normally experienced. On January 12, 1975, the group arrived at First Presbyterian to find the service had been cancelled for the Super Bowl; for the group, this was an intolerable act and led them to form The Vine Christian Community Church. During this time, the church planted churches, each with their own Yellow Delis, in Dalton and Trenton, Georgia, Mentone, Alabama, and Dayton, Tennessee.
Their withdrawal from the borders of the religious mainstream turned what had been a friction-filled relationship into an outcry against them. They began holding their own services in Warner Park calling it "Critical Mass", appointing elders and baptizing people outside of any denominational authority. The deteriorating relationship between the group and the religious and secular Chattanooga community attracted the attention of The Parents' Committee to Free Our Children from the Children of God and the Citizen's Freedom Foundation who labeled the church a "cult" and heavily attacked Spriggs as a Cult leader. This led to what the group refers to today as the "Cult Scare" in the late seventies. A series of deprogrammings starting in the summer of 1976 that were carried out by Ted Patrick. The group nevertheless largely ignored the negative press, the wider world in general, and continued their businesses opening the Areopagus and a second local Yellow Deli in downtown Chattanooga. In 1978 an invitation was received from a small church in Island Pond, Vermont for Spriggs to minister there; the offer was declined but the group began moving in stages to the small rural town, naming the church there The Northeast Kingdom Community Church. One of Patrick's last deprogramming cases in Chattanooga occurred in 1980; it involved a police detective who, according to Swantko, had his 27-year-old daughter arrested on a falsified warrant in order to facilitate her deprogramming, with the support of local judges. Kirsten Neilsen continued in the community of her own free will, with respect to her right not to be assaulted by so-called "deprogramming" to program a person into popular society. The group continued moving, closing down all the Yellow Delis and associated churches except for the one in Dalton. At one point, a leader conceded the group was deeply in debt before closing the Dalton church down and moving the last members to Vermont.
The move to Vermont, combined with an initial period of economic hardship, caused some members to leave. The Citizen's Freedom Foundation conducted several meetings in Barton to draw attention to the group. The Citizen's Freedom Foundation had made allegations of mind control in Chattanooga, but now made accusations of child abuse. In 1983, charges were brought against Charles "Eddie" Wiseman (an elder in the group) for misdemeanor simple assault; this, combined with multiple child custody cases, formed the basis of a search warrant. On June 22, 1984 Vermont State Police and Vermont Social Rehabilitation Services seized 112 children; all were released the same day while the raid was ruled unconstitutional. Due to what the group perceived as massive misunderstanding of the events and concerns leading up to and surrounding the raid, they began formal relationships with their neighbors. Two months after the raid, the case against Wiseman fell apart after the main witness recanted, saying he was under duress from the anticult movement. The case was later dropped in 1985 after a judge ruled that Wiseman had been denied his right to a speedy trial. Eddie Wiseman's public defender, Jean Swantko, who had been present during the raid, later joined and married Wiseman.
By 1989, the church had become widely accepted in Island Pond and grew substantially during the 1980s and 1990s, opening branches in several different countries, including Canada, Australia, Brazil, Spain, Germany, Argentina, and the United Kingdom. During this expansion phase, the group used the name Messianic Communities, before deciding on The Twelve Tribes. Through the mid-2000s (decade), the group remained controversial, with accusations of child labor, custodial interference, and illegal Homeschooling. In 2006 the group held a reunion for members and friends of the Vine Christian Community Church and former Yellow Deli in Warner Park, announcing a new community in Chattanooga. The movement proceeded to open a new Yellow Deli in 2008, nearly thirty years after leaving Chattanooga.
Beliefs and practices
The Twelve Tribes' beliefs resemble those of Christian fundamentalism and Messianic Judaism; however the group believes that all denominations are fallen, and so refuse to align themselves with any denomination or movement. They do not identify as Christians, believing that Christianity is the whore of Babylon and the antichrist. They believe that in order for the messiah to return, the Church needs to be restored to its original form seen in the Acts 2:38–42 and Acts 4:32–37. This restoration is not merely the restoration of the 1st-century church, but of a new Israel consisting of Twelve Tribes in twelve geographic regions. Part of this restoration is the return to observing the sabbath, maintaining Mosaic law including dietary law, and Jewish feasts. This interpretation of the prophesied restoration of Israel, combined with the perceived immorality in the world leads the group to believe the end times have arrived, though no date has been set.
One noted aspect of the group is their insistence of using the pseudo-Hebrew name "Yahshua", opposed to the Jesus or even the more common Hebrew transliterated form Yeshua. As the name "Yahshua" represents the nature of Jesus, similarly they bestow Hebrew names upon members that are meant to reflect the personality of the individual.
The group rejects the traditional Christian duality of heaven and hell; instead believe in what they term the Three Eternal Destinies. They believe that after the Fall of Man every person is given a conscience; and that after dying every person goes to a state of being called death regardless of faith. Upon the second coming, believers will be brought back for the thousand years to reign with "Yahshua" before the last judgment. At the end of this thousand years, all the nonbelievers will be judged according to their deeds and be put into two groups: the righteous, filthy/unjust. The filthy and the unjust will be sent to the Lake of Fire while the righteous will go to heaven with the Twelve Tribes.
The leadership within is a structure is a series of Councils on the local, regional, and a global Apostolic Council; the group is also overseen within these councils by a fluid number of teachers, deacons, deaconesses, elders and apostles. Gene Spriggs is highly regarded as the first to open up his home to brothers and sisters, but is not regarded as a spiritual figurehead.
The Spriggs travel between the communities offering advice and inspiration but try to foster local autonomy. The group operates as a 501 (d) – a "for-profit organizations with a religious purpose and a common treasury" the community pays taxes on property and income and do not vote in elections.
Courtship within the Community involves a "waiting period" in the which the man asks the permission of the father to date his daughter. The couple then receives counseling while spending time together. The couple is only betrothed if the entire community approves of it; the couple is then permitted to hold hands. Weddings are dramatized preenactments of what the group believes will happen at the end of time when "Yahshua"returns to earth for his bride. Children have been noted to play a central role in the group's eschatological beliefs, as future generations of the group are to be the "pure and spotless bride" of Revelation. Most children within the group are born through a home birth with a midwife, though a hospital may sometimes be used. Children are homeschooled, by both parents and others within the group. Their curriculum includes learning to read, arithmetic, writing, history, religion and dance. Commercial toys are used sparingly, along with blocks, puzzles, and sewing kits. Within the group teenagers may take on apprenticeships in the group's cottage industries to be taught trades complementing their education. The group utilizes corporal punishment with a wet reed, balloon stick across the child's bottom or palm.
Spriggs has a number of more obscure teachings on issues such as food and air conditioning. In particular he warns against the consumption of cheese because "you can't get a good Jew to eat it" and "it constipates you".
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Since its inception, the group has ignited controversy and garnered unfavorable attention from the media, the anti-cult movement and governments. The Twelve Tribes has been cited by Stuart A. Wright as a group suffering from "Front-End/Back-End Disproportionality" in media coverage. According to Wright, the media often focuses on unsubstantiated charges against the group, but as charges are investigated and cases fall apart, the media cover them significantly less than at the beginning. Wright then asserts this leaves the public with the impression that the group was guilty of the disproven charges.
The ministry New England Institute of Religious Research's Executive Director the Rev. Bob Pardon warns in his report that "Messianic Communities, under the leadership of Spriggs, has tended towards an extreme authoritarianism and a "Galatian heresy." The Tribes have responded with a line-by-line response to the report and continue to contend its large "errors, distortions, misunderstandings, and misjudgments", while criticizing the heavy use of apostates in his report. In France, the group was listed on the 1995 Governmental Report by the Parliamentary Commission on Cults in France under the name "Ordre apostolique – Therapeutic healing environment."
Twelve Tribes members Jean Swantko and husband Eddie Wiseman have made effort to combat social control and anti-cult movement by engaging in dialogue with hostile ex-members, the media and government authorities. Swantko has presented at scholarly conferences including CESNUR Communal Studies Association and Society for the Scientific Study of Religion as well as chapter in James T. Richardson's Regulating Religion: Case Studies from Around the Globe.
Commentary on the Island Pond raid
The Island Pond raid has remained prominent in Vermont legal history; it was the subject of a Vermont Bar Association seminar in 2006. The group held anniversary events in both 1994 and 2000; and produced a 75-minute documentary. The Vermont Chapter of the ACLU also criticized the raid, calling it "frightening" and "the greatest deprivation of civil liberties to have occurred in recent Vermont history." The then-Governor of Vermont, Richard Snelling, who had authorized the raid, reportedly drew the "hottest political fire of his career" in the weeks after Vermont Attorney General John J. Easton, Jr. attributed the raid to assisting his campaign for governorship. In 1992, John Burchard, who had been the State Commissioner of Social and Rehabilitation Services, and Vanessa L. Malcarne, published an article in Behavioral Sciences and the Law, encouraging changes in the law that would have allowed the raid to succeed.
Twelve Tribes and race controversies
The Twelve Tribes religious movement has been criticized for its teachings and practices regarding race. It teaches that Jews are still cursed for the murder of Christ, and has criticized the Pope for his "request for forgiveness" asking Jews to forgive the treatment they have suffered at the hands of the Christian church throughout history. The movement advocates racial segregation, arguing that "multiculturalism increases murder, crime and prejudice", and discourages interracial marriages; however, non-white families are welcome, and interracial marriages have been tolerated in exceptional cases.
Spriggs has harshly criticized Martin Luther King Jr., saying that he was "filled with every evil spirit there is" to deny the Curse of Ham, which Spriggs believes still applies to blacks today and makes them natural-born slaves. He also thinks it was tragic that Abraham Lincoln freed the slaves.
Child labor and homeschooling controversies
In 2001, The New York Post ran an article accusing the group of child labor violations; and later attributed itself as having prompted the Investigation. The Twelve Tribes responded with a press conference at the "Commonsense Farm" where the alleged child labor had taken place. The Twelve Tribes reported that during a random inspection by Estée Lauder Companies the company found several fourteen-year-olds had been found assisting their fathers in their cottage industry; this report was later confirmed by Estée Lauder who terminated their contract with Common Sense products. The Group's official statement at the press conference stated that they believed that it was a family owned business, and children ought to be able to help their parents in the business while making "no apology" for it. The New York State Department of Labor stated they intended to visit all five of the Twelve Tribes' businesses. State Attorney General Eliot Spitzer asserted that apprenticeships amounted to indentured servitude and were illegal. Robert Redford's Sundance Catalog, who had contracted with Common Wealth Woodworks (another of the group's cottage industries that made furniture), also terminated their contract as a response to the allegations. The Labor Department later fined the group two thousand dollars for a fifteen-year-old pushing a wheelbarrow and another fifteen-year-old changing a lightbulb, according to senior tribespeople.
In Europe, the controversies centered on the issues of homeschooling, health, and religious freedom. The group has several times been in conflict with authorities in Germany and France over homeschooling their children, with a particularly long and protracted dispute between the community in Klosterzimmern, in the municipality of Deiningen, Bavaria, and Bavarian education authorities. Homeschooling is illegal in Germany. When fines and arrests failed to have an effect on the community, authorities granted the group the right to operate a private school on the commune's premises, under state supervision. The agreement entailed that the school would not teach sex education and evolution.
The Twelve Tribes utilizes mobile operations and as vehicles to evangelize at various events.
- Peacemaker Marine — a Class-A Sailing Barquentine Ship bought and restored by the group sailing on the Eastern coast of the United States. The Group now gives tours and Evangelizing at ports.
- Peacemaker I&II Buses
- A First Aid Tent is set up at various events by the group.
- Palmer, Susan J. Apostates and Their Role in the Construction of Grievance Claims Against the Northeast Kingdom/Messianic Communities article in the book The Politics of Religious Apostasy: The Role of Apostates in the Transformation of Religious Movements edited by David G. Bromley Westport, CT, Praeger Publishers, (1998). ISBN 0-275-95508-7
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- Barna, Mark (2009-7-29). "Twelve Tribes living as one". Colorado Spring Gazette (Freedom Communications). Retrieved 2009-11-04.
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- Legere, Christine (2009-6-4). "Sect to increase holdings Plan would link harbor, downtown". Boston Globe (Globe Newspaper Company). p. 2. Retrieved 2009-11-04.
- "Church to sell Yellow Delis, other properties and relocate". Chattanooga Times (WEHCO Media). 1979-3-26.
- Palmer, Susan J. (1999-6-1). Children in New Religions. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press. pp. 153–171. ISBN 978-0-8135-2620-1.
- Chiaramida, Angeljean (2009-7-29). "Tall Ships tie up in Salisbury for weekend festival". Newbury port Daily News (Eagle Tribune Publishing Company). Retrieved 2009-11-04.
- Twelve Tribes (2004-Summer). "Our Twelve Tribes: a Manifesto". The Voice: Call to Restoration (Parchment Press). p. 2. Retrieved 2009-12-06.
- Shultz, Wes (2008-05-07). "Remembering the Yellow Deli People". Chattanoogan (Chattanooga Publishing Company, Inc.). Retrieved 2009-12-06.
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- "Fundamentalist Christian Group Gets School of Their Own". Deutsche Welle (Deutsche Welle). 2006-08-31. Retrieved 2009-11-17.
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- "Chloe's Dilemma".
- "Who Will Play the Part?".
- Warth, Gary (10-4-2009). "VALLEY CENTER: Twelve Tribes Christian community lives as an example of its faith". North County Times (Lee Enterprise). Retrieved 2009-12-13.
- Twelve Tribes (2004-fall). "If the Foundations Are Destroyed, What Can the Righteous Do?". Love is a Many Splendored thing (Parchment Press). pp. 9–12. Retrieved 2009-12-12.
- Folstad, Kim (2000-12-02). "Life on the Farm". Palm Beach Post (Cox Enterprises). pp. 9–12.
- Twelve Tribes (2001-06). "Three eternal Destinies of Man". The Three Eternal Destinies (Parchment Press). pp. 9–22. Retrieved 2009-12-07.
- Twelve Tribes (2004-Spring). "The Passion of the Christ The Rest of the Story". The Passion of the Christ : The Rest of the Story (Parchment Press). p. 7. Retrieved 2009-12-12.
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- "Our Response to the NEIRR Analysis". Twelve Tribes: Controversies. Retrieved 2009-10-29.
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- "Cham and Servitude".
- Moeller, Katy (2001-4-15). "Worshippers of Yahshua as savior weather storm – Cambridge farm counters criticism". Daily Gazette (John E.N. Hume III). pp. A–01.
- Associated Press (2001-4-14). "Twelve Tribes sect opens farm to Press group Denies Charges of Child Labor, Racism". Watertown Daily Times (Watertown Daily Times inc.). p. 29.
- MacIntosh, Jeane (2001-4-9). "State probes cult in Child Labor Scandal on heels of post report". New York Post (News Corporation). Retrieved 2010-01-03.
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- Jean A. Swantko (2004). "The Twelve Tribes Communities, the Anti-Cult Movement, and Governmental Response". In James T. Richardson. Regulating religion: case studies from around the globe. Springer. pp. 197–199. ISBN 978-0-306-47886-4. Retrieved 27 August 2011.
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to: Twelve Tribes Communities|
- Movement Links
- Twelve Tribes official website
- "Children of the Island Pond Raid: An Emerging Culture" Documentary on the Island Pond Raid at the Twelve Tribes YouTube Channel
- "Cult Scare: The Shocking Kidnappings of Kirsten Nielsen"
- Critical of Twelve Tribes