The Twelve Tribes: Religion or Child Abuse?


By Kattie Shumaker-Ellis

 This is an expose on some child abuse that occurred  in the original founding of the Twelve Tribes, a religious group in 50 countries with a well-defined lifestyle which includes community living. They began in 1972, coming from the Jesus movement in Chattanooga, TN. They can be seen in many farmers’ markets and run the Yellow Deli chain of natural food restaurants and cafes.

In describing themselves, their website says they are a tribal people. “We believe in the God of Israel and follow in the steps of a man who had faith, who burned with a passion for something more than what he saw existing in the world around him. He walked away from the confined, leveled mentality of the society in which he lived, in the hope of finding a new beginning. He looked forward to the start of a new nation of people who were connected to their Creator and to one another. His name was Abraham. Most people know him as the father of the nation of Israel.”

They leave everything behind, all of their former lives and possessions in order to follow Yahshua (Jesus) and form “a new nation.”

Removed from mainstream religion, the founder Gene Spriggs, was later attacked as a cult leader. They began holding their own services called, “Critical Mass,” baptizing people and appointing elders on their own.


In an interview with former members Michael Painter (for 15 years) and Jame Howell, they say part of Spriggs teachings was that no one on earth has a valid viewpoint except for members of his church. They also emphasized that, though very charismatic, he controlled everything and everyone.

In 1983 in Vermont, Eddie Wiseman, elder, was accused of child abuse which resulted in a raid by the police in 1984 where 112 children were seized. The charges were dropped, having been ruled unconstitutional.

In an article entitled “Yoneq and the Twelve Tribes,” it explains how Spriggs stole two-year-old Lydia Mattattall from her parents and kept her as his own and his barren wife. Spriggs took the child to Europe where he later beat her until she was blue and showed the brand marks of Yahshua” This was done since she refused to present her thumb to be cut off because she was sucking it. This is one interpretation of “discipline.”

From Spriggs’ Execution of Justice Teaching:
“Unless your son has blue wounds, by this standard, you know what kind of a standard is in you — it is the spirit that hates your son. If one is overly concerned about his son receiving blue marks you know that he hates his son and hates the word of God.” No date – Execution of Justice – Page 1

 This article says Eddie Wiseman beat a 13 year old girl for seven hours, while her father was forced to watch. Another incident is when Michael Painter was forced to have his wife beat their 18 month old daughter until she “broke.” Her entire body and even the bottom of her feet were black and blue while her eyes were red. Painter said she was close to death

In another video with these two, Michael Painter explained further that in this messianic religion, as they called it, a child could be beaten for refusing to eat any more cereal, even if they were full or they had an “attitude.”

The belief and peer pressure was that the children have to be broken by the time they were four years old.

The practice of “scourging” is the only acceptable method of discipline in this religion, claiming verbal or hand punishment is of no use and will not force the child to obey. In their book called, “Our Child Training Teachings,” in the chapter called “Chastisement,” it goes on for eight pages repeating the same refrain over and over with little else to add, describing how to train their children. What is striking is that their “training” consists exclusively of beating them with rods until they submit to obeying their parents. Here is a quote from the book:

 “The only way to stop the

sting of the rod is to submit. That is exactly

what the child will do — submit to his

parents’ will and end his rebellion. Parents

should teach their child about God’s design of

the rod as the symbol of their right to rule.”

 Although the book stresses that the beatings should not cause harm, it’s easy to see Spriggs, Wiseman and others got a little too enthusiastic.

twelve-tribes-6On Sept 5, 2013, there was another raid in Germany where children were taken into custody but only because they were being home-schooled. There was no evidence of child abuse. As of Jan 2014, 23 children are still in custody. In Germany, it is against the law to physically punish children.

In Dec 2013, there was another raid there and seven babies were seized and taken to several locations. Parents were not allowed to see their children and some were mistreated. Other younger children were separated for so long, they were forgetting their parents.

It appears that the gross abuse of children under this religion seems to have occurred mostly under the influence of its founder, Gene Spriggs. On the other hand, the German seizing of their children, including nursing babies, with no proof of abuse is just as cruel and inhumane.

The real point here is that this particular philosophy on how to raise and train children as well as the unfair seizure of children by the state both bear a clear and disturbing resemblance to a totalitarian state where you are forced to obey. In either case, the child loses his sense of self.

Child Training teaching and cover(4)

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