Twelve Tribes Archive

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Controversy continues to brew over Twelve Tribes sect cafe

Controversy continues to brew over sect cafe

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.

Twelve Tribes
Theologically, the Twelve Tribes movement is a cult of Christianity. It does not represent historical, orthodox Christianity.
Sociologically, the group has cultic elements as well.

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“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.

– Source: Controversy continues to brew over sect cafe, Shane Desiatnik, Blue Mountains Gazette, Australia, Aug. 6, 2008 — Summarized by Religion News Blog

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.

1984 Vermont sect raid had similar judicial conclusion as Texas case

MONTPELIER — Before dawn on June 22, 1984, 90 Vermont State Police troopers and 50 social workers descended on the Island Pond homes of about 400 people belonging to the Northeast Kingdom Community Church to investigate allegations of child abuse.

Authorities had received reports children were being beaten, sometimes with sticks, as part of the strict discipline imposed by church parents. The 112 children taken into custody were to be examined for abuse and if none were found they were to be returned to their parents — if the parents agreed to cooperate with the state.

But within hours a judge returned the children to their parents, calling the state’s effort a “grossly unlawful scheme.”

While there are many differences between the Vermont raid on Island Pond and the decision by Texas officials to take into custody 430 children amid allegations underage girls were being forced to marry older men, there are many similarities, said one of the former officials involved in the Vermont case. “It’s very apparent from these two cases that at least two courts are looking for specific, direct information regarding each family unit,” said Washington attorney John Easton, who in 1984 was the Vermont attorney general and involved in the decision to launch the Island Pond raid. “To remove a child from a family is a high burden. The courts are going to be looking for a substantial amount of proof” of abuse.

On April 3, Texas Child Protective Services removed all the children from the Yearning For Zion Ranch run by the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints after a 16-year-old mother claimed she was being abused by her middle-age husband. The state charged all the children were at risk because church teachings pushed underage girls into marriage and sex.

Last month, The Texas Third Court of Appeals said the state went too far. The Texas Supreme Court has since upheld the decision and almost all the children have been returned to their parents. Church leaders are promising not to sanction underage marriages.

Vermont law school Professor Peter Teachout said he’d read the Texas court decisions and the 1984 Vermont rulings, which reached the same conclusions:

“Lawyers who practice family law will know to say the burden is on the state in these cases,” Teachout said. “The underlying principle is whenever you take a child away from his parents, that you do so when there is serious risk of abuse.”

Twelve Tribes
Theologically, the Twelve Tribes movement is a cult of Christianity. It does not represent historical, orthodox Christianity.
Sociologically, the group has cultic elements as well.

Commentary/resources by

The Northeast Kingdom Community Church took root in Island Pond, a small, rural community in northern Vermont, in the summer of 1978 after a resident invited a church leader to town. Almost immediately, the Island Pond group tripled in size from its 20 original members to 60. The church is now known as the Twelve Tribes, which has 50 communities in nine countries and about 3,500 members.

From the beginning the relationship between Island Pond in a part of Vermont called the Northeast Kingdom and the bearded men and their women in kerchiefs was uneasy. In some circles the word “cult” was used to describe it and state officials began to hear reports of physical abuse of children.

So the state decided to act, got an order from a judge to seize the children and secretly assembled the police and social workers, said Easton, the former attorney general.

After they were taken, Judge Frank Mahady, who has since died, interviewed them and sent them home. His scathing opinion is still available on the church’s Web site.

James Richardson, a sociologist at the University of Nevada, Reno, who has studied efforts by governments to control minority faiths, said the Texas and Vermont cases were among almost two dozen similar cases scholars have identified around the world.

He said in many cases organizations get caught up in investigating allegations of child abuse and they overreach. In Vermont and Texas the efforts were stopped by the judge.

“Concern about children trumps all other considerations in most western nations, and usually overcomes even religious freedom concerns,” Richardson said in an e-mail.

Even from the perspective of 24 years, Easton said there wasn’t much he would have done differently.

“We were put in a difficult position. We had rather serious allegations from people who had directly observed activities inside the church,” Easton said. “To not act would have been irresponsible.”

In 1984, Jean Swantko was a public defender assigned to represent the people of the Island Pond church. Now she’s a member.

“Maybe a lot of people don’t realize the 1st Amendment protects freedom of association. You don’t find groups guilty, you find people guilty,” said Swantko, who splits her time between Twelve Tribes communities in Vermont and Tennessee.

She said many of the children seized in 1984 are now adults raising their own children in the church.

“Now, 24 years after the raid they are between 24 and 32. Most of them are still in the community. They are taking on the faith of their parents,” Swantko said. “You can judge a tree by its fruit.”