The practices of messianic Christian sect The Twelve Tribes continue to divide opinion in the Blue Mountains, with an ex-member and a potential new member throwing another log into the fire of debate.
The group established a small community in Katoomba in February to run the popular Common Ground Cafe.
In April the letters section of the Gazette was peppered with expressions of support and concern about the sect, sparked by allegations in a Sydney Morning Herald article by ex-members from Picton that child beatings and slave-like working conditions occurred.
These claims were immediately rejected by Katoomba members Campbell Macklow and Peter Baker as “a load of rubbish” in a story in the Gazette.
An ex-member quoted in the Herald article, Winmalee resident Matthew Klein, is sounding another warning to Mountains residents to recognise the Twelve Tribes as a potentially destructive cult.
“The Twelve Tribes is up there with a textbook cult,” Mr Klein said.
“They can dismiss me as a disgruntled former member, but I’ve seen what goes on.”
The Winmalee father of three lived in the Picton community with his then wife from 1999 to 2001, but was separated from her and sent to a community in Canada with one of his sons, he claims as punishment for his parents “making too many noises and asking too many questions.
“If you don’t tow the line, you get cut off from your family.
“I have all three kids now because I demanded that when I left, but their mother hasn’t spoken to them for six years.”
Mr Klein said while members like to say there are no barbed wire fences restricting them, he maintains members are trapped not by their surrounds, but by mind and financial control.
“You are not paid wages, super or any worker’s compensation, you work long hours six days per week, sometimes doing dangerous work you’re not qualified to do.”
Mr Klein, a qualified teacher, describes the education provided to Twelve Tribes children as abysmal.
“They don’t want to expose children to anything outside of the cult, they don’t get taught critical analysis and are disciplined for using their imagination.
“Their Child Discipline Manual is not handed out anymore, but they still tell you how to follow it.
“The manual says stripes or marks from disciplining shows love — the stripes are from hitting with a bamboo stick that leaves welts.
Another qualified teacher, Katoomba resident Bruce Stevenson, joined the Twelve Tribes on a trial basis in June and describes allegations made against it as “just nonsense”.
“I was hearing negative things about the Twelve Tribes around town and the only way to find out about it was to spend time there,” Mr Stevenson said.
“I’m mightily impressed, I intend to stay and I’m very open to the idea of joining.
“The kids here are happy and well-adjusted, I feel so at home and cared for.
“Speaking for myself, it is an incredibly worthwhile life and cause.
“As a high school teacher for 15 years and a widely travelled cultural explorer, I am yet to see a better example than the Twelve Tribes community anywhere in the world.”
Mr Stevenson acknowledged members work very long days and don’t have an easy life.
It should be noted that Matthew Klein spent two years with the Twelve Tribes. Bruce Stevenson has been with the group for less than two months.