Also want to reverse negative misconceptions about the religious community, members say
ONEONTA — A local man says his family was banned from church because of a friendship with members of the Twelve Tribes, a religious community with enclaves in Ithaca and Albany.
Twelve Tribes members said a forum tonight in Oneonta, prompted in part by the family’s experience, is to set the record straight about their faith. The 7 p.m. public meeting will be at the Telecenter at 254 Main St.
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“Whenever it gets into what someone believes, it’s always going to create some sort of stir,” Yediydyah Jedd, a Twelve Tribes member, said Wednesday.
The Oneonta Christian banned from church requested he and the church be unidentified to prevent repercussions to his family and the congregation. His family hasn’t joined a Twelve Tribes community, he said.
The minister of the family’s former church didn’t return a message left at the church telephone number Wednesday.
Twelve Tribes member Sholom Reuben Lavin said the forum, the second this month, also is to reverse what he said have been negative comments from some churches in the local Christian community.
“We’re considered heretical,” Lavin said. “A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth gets its boots on.”
Twelve Tribes estimates it has about 2,000 members in communities across the United States, in Canada and abroad, according to its website. Twelve Tribes regard the Old and New Testaments as God’s Word, the site said, and that “our beliefs are the truth, our practices are the way, and our culture is the life that the Creator wants to fill the earth.”
The Twelve Tribes was founded in the United States in 1972, according to the Religious Movements Homepage Project at the University of Virginia. The Twelve Tribes await the coming of the Messiah, whom they call Yahshua. Members renounce all possessions in the spirit of living communally and sharing all goods as did early Christian disciples, said the site, http://religiousmovements.lib.virginia.edu/.
The Rev. Eric Santamont, pastor of Southside Wesleyan Church in Oneonta, said the Twelve Tribes attended a meeting this month of the Evangelical Ministers Association, a local group representing Baptist, Assemblies of God and other Christian congregations.
But rather than clear up misconceptions, the meeting reinforced the differences in doctrine, he said. However, the ministers reached no consensus to speak against the Twelve Tribes.
“The point of contention was the theological teaching of the Bible,” he said Wednesday. “They aren’t teaching what we hold to be the truth.”
Santamont said he told his congregation during a service that the Twelve Tribes didn’t teach Christian doctrine.
Lisle Dalton, assistant professor of religious studies at Hartwick College in Oneonta, said, “America has a long history of new and controversial religious groups.”
Quakers, Presbyterians, Baptists, Methodists and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or Mormons, were at one time considered upstarts, he said.
“Innovation always is a little unsettling,” Dalton said Wednesday.
Lavin said the traditional Christian belief system is for an afterlife of heaven for believers and hell for nonbelievers.
The Twelve Tribes belief is in three destinies — one for the wicked, another for good people and a third for the holy people devoted to their Creator as disciples of Messiah Yahshua, the Twelve Tribes site said.
[NOTE: it appears a paragraph is missing here in the original article. From what follows, it looks like there must have been a reference to the website of the New England Institute of Religious Research, which includes an extended section on the Twelve Tribes – RNB editor]
The site describes the Twelve Tribes as a cult of Christianity with cultic elements including a high level of control over followers and child abuse.
The Twelve Tribes website has an extensive response to NEIRR and other critics.
In my eyes, they are not a cult,” said the Oneonta Christian. After study, visits to communities, and praying, he said, his skepticism about Twelve Tribes subsided. Twelve Tribes members live their faith daily and don’t limit it to Sundays, he said.
“I saw so many good things we could learn from them,” he said. The religious conflict has made his family grow closer, he said.
“The best thing I’ve seen is a change in my own life,” he said. “When it comes to God, I don’t want to be halfway.”