Members offer rare look inside the world of the Twelve Tribes

Tara Giles
April 19, 2017
Lancaster, NH – The group that owns and operates Simon the Tanner in Lancaster is known as the Twelve Tribes, and some of its members extended a rare invitation to the Democrat last week, opening themselves to questions about the organization.
The organization came to town after a fire destroyed the old Butcher Block that was located on Main Street in 1987.  Members decided to rehabilitate the building and turn it into a thriving business.  In the late 1990s, the group operated the building as a bakery and a candle shop.  After further renovations, the current day Simon the Tanner has been instrumental in changing the aesthetics of downtown Lancaster.
Tourists and residents can tell that the folks who operate the business; are different, however, most are too intimidated to ask questions.  If they do, they keep them brief.  Most people in town know them as the Island Ponders, or The Community, and often refer to them as members of a religious cult.
Members of the Twelve Tribes also own a home on High Street in Lancaster, and are often categorized as nice people who keep to themselves.  A simple Google search of The Community will supply anyone willing to ease curiosities with a plethora of information both positive and negative.
A former guidance counselor named Elbert Eugene Spriggs founded The Twelve Tribes in Chattanooga, Tenn in 1972.  While many of the teachings they embrace are loosely based on the Bible, a large portion come from Spriggs himself.  The Twelve Tribes consists of more than 3,000 members located all across the globe, including Spain, France, the Czech Republic, England, Argentina, Brazil, the U.S.A., Canada and Australia.  American Scott Sczarnecki and William Nunnally established the Australian tribe in the early 1990’s.  Sczarnecki has since left the group.
The group seeks to re-create the 12 tribes of Israel in hopes that Yahshua (the name given to the Son of God in ancient Hebrew) will return.  The group models their lives after the Old Testament and the first church of Jerusalem, which preaches communal living, hard work and harsh child discipline.  Many ex-members say that child abuse is rampant.  In the mid 1980’s, state troopers and social workers raided The Community in Island Pond, Vt. and questioned 112 children.  In that case, the judge found no evidence and returned the children to their parents.  In 2013, 40 children living in a Twelve Tribes community in Germany were placed in foster care after a hidden camera caught the abuse first hand.  Members are quick to point out, however, that these cases were isolated, and do not reflect the organization as a whole.
Modern medicine is shunned, as is most modern technology.  Wives must submit to their husbands in accordance with Scripture, and couples are encouraged to produce as many children as possible, around one every 2 years.
Each community has an elder who is in charge, and only men can become elders.
Last Friday afternoon in Lancaster, an elder, Joseph (as he is known to the English world) willingly answered several questions.
When asked what he wanted people in Lancaster to know, he replied, “We believe in the Bible and want to return to the early roots.  We pattern our lives after the book of Acts, where they talk about the beginning of the early church.  All the disciples are together, they lived together and shared what they had in common out of simple obedience to what Jesus commanded.  Loving your neighbor as you would yourself.”
When asked if The Community should be considered a cult, Joseph responded with “It depends on how you define ‘cult.’  We are not weird or scary religious.”
“We try not to be too flashy and live very modestly,” Joseph explained.
Men must keep their hair long, he said, explaining that “In the Old Testament, a priest wore his hair long enough to bind in a ponytail but not as long as a woman.”
When asked what separates their religious beliefs to that of a member of the outside world who attends church, Joseph said, “We actually had to come out of the way we were living before we came into a new culture.  We don’t think people are bad if they don’t believe the same way we do.  We believe that God judges everyone according to their own conscience.  Of course each person’s conscience is different because each person is brought up in a different place.”
The state recognizes marriages within the Community.  When asked if there were occurrences of wife sharing, Joseph replied, “Absolutely not.”
In several articles about the Twelve Tribes, ex-members have described life as regimented and extremely sheltered.  One ex-member described that wake up time at six a.m. followed by a morning meeting at 7 a.m., then a full 12 hours of work.  Each member is assigned a duty each day.
Members are discouraged from communicating with their friends or families from the outside world.  In one case in Australia, a woman explained that she was so brainwashed that she was afraid to leave.  When elders learned that her family was coming to visit, the woman and her family were hidden and eventually moved to another community.
During each meeting, members must come up with a sin to publicly confess in the hopes that they will renew their minds.  This has caused some ex-members to judge themselves in a negative way since the group says one can only truly obey God through them (the Community).
Each member is assigned a Shepherd who they must turn to in times of strife.  An Australian couple who left the group told an interesting story.  The husband was deemed worthless because he sought worth through other things such as performing music.  The wife thought his music was beautiful but over time saw it as a sign of weakness.
Asked, in view of such reports, whether members of The Community here in Lancaster live in the community of their own accord?  Joseph answered, “Many people come and go, but we don’t hold anybody here.  Our members are here because they want to give their whole heart to it.”
The group travels to events such as large-scale music festivals to recruit and find more members.
Joseph said, “We look for people who are like hearted and we don’t force anyone into the mold of our life.  Our communal life and sense of community inspires people.  The Bible really talks about this.”
Joseph said that some people are asked to leave the group if they do not follow the values of the Twelve Tribes.
A typical day according to Joseph tends to be pretty flexible.
“We meet each others needs and live to love one another,” he explained.  “The needs of the day vary depending on what’s going on.  Some of us will teach children and some of us will cook.”
When asked whether he has ever been bored, Joseph replied with “I have been here for 20 years, and haven’t been bored once.”
Joseph said that each community is different, and that members aren’t treated like prisoners.  He said that members are allowed to go for walks alone.
“We enjoy doing things together, such as play games and go for walks or hikes,” he added.
Addressing another prevalent myth about the group’s reluctance to embrace modern technology, Joseph said “We do use cell phones, mostly for business purposes.  We want to live fo the common good, so what we have is for the good of the community.  I might not need a car, but maybe based on what I do in order to support the community, maybe I do.”
As far as children, Joseph said, “We do give our children things they can work with, but we don’t want to put them in the realm of fantasy.  Their goals must be educational and constructive.  They can play but it’s not with comics and things that don’t have to deal with real life.”
When asked whether baby dolls are acceptable, Joseph said, “We involve our children in what we’re doing.”
Joseph joined The Community after he was picked up at a Christian rally.
Commenting on the group’s connection to the town of Lancaster, Joseph said, “We like to support local businesses, as well as to be an asset.”

6 Comments On “Members offer rare look inside the world of the Twelve Tribes”

  1. Joseph twisted the truth with circular logic.this group is indeed a cult ranking number 2 on the cult awareness most dangerous cults in america.i have known and been a off and on member of these people since that time i was ba ptized.baptism in this cult is immersion even in the winter into cold ocean water.or lakes etc. They say you are dying when you get baptized and in actuality you could.their stand on that is that its all up to the will of Yashua.and to the elder eugene spriggs,founder.he claims to have a pipeline to Yashua.christians are declared evil by the twelve tribes.i will say i believe there is no wife swapping but there is muc h wife cheating.there are many young submissive single women in this cult and its not uncommon for men with older wives to claim one.i believe the wife likely knows but under the groups command must never question her fwd. To a real day in the tt. I was in the hyannis mass sect. Up at 6:am to attend mencha….basically a daily boggle your brain before it may wake up and have reality.mencha consists of teachings,singing worship and public repentance of sin,as small as a frown or taking a,peice of bread without permission.during the mencha children as young as age one are constantly led to restrooms fot their morning corporal punishment.the screams are horrid to hear.yes,i have reported them to childrens services. After mencha the breakfast line begins at 7. Millet is the usual fare with a glass of vinegar water. By 8 am members rush to tidy their rooms.the single women in hyannis leave for the common ground cafe where they will slave without pay from 9am to 10 pm.the single men who cant do the work for forest keepers work the cafe as well.the other men head out to hard labor from 8 to 6.often later.the two ” teachers” eliana.and savah teach in a small cabin .mostly monday through thursday.they are not registered with the state.the children frequently spend school time doing dishes and other labor,rcvg a scant lunch.protein is a rarity and there is no milk for them.they are done by 3 and come to the main house where the moms and older single women have been nonstop slaving all day.evening mencha starts,again at 6 pm and is a repeat performance of the day along with prayers to recruit more people to work the cafe, 7 dinner is again allowed and scant.children in most peoples opinion are severly abused,used and neglected.zahav the house head sits all day in the office on the computer. They do not allow medical care and admit to detesting the ama.scarey. yet they accept medicaid and the elders children get braces,and the wives,implants. Bed comes by 9.and on to another day. Thursday is massive cleaning as what they call the friday night festival and feast begins at sundown friday to observe the sabbath and have guests in to see the prettys.dancing candles and a real meal…fish.mackeral each friday.saturday is the sabbath and they sleep much of day.the brainwashing is hard and heavy each day.i will add more…i left in april.please stay away from this your research and call cult awareness.blessings….

  2. Add on..ask if you can visit their rented in the world home.there you will find fifty shades of grey,coffee makers,big screen tv and more.this house is used for couples asnniversarys or when one of the elders wives need a break.i also hear they rush members over there if they get a unannounced guest that zahav or elidad will not allow them to order to be in this group the first thing you must do is give them all you own.this binds you there and goes into what they call the community much to say.i should add i left in 93 but for yrs wondered if i was going to go to what they call..the lake of fire,for family stayed in constant communication mutually with me.the sage family whose children,all but one have thankfully left and are doing very well in the world.Amen for this. I was very down and went back this past yr in november.j wasnt brainwashable this time and saved money and left in april pre planned,esp.after being told if i sought med care i was out in the street.57 years old,no money that they knew of,and out in the street? Wow….and they say its all about love……..

  3. In closing,please feel free to contact me at for any further questions you have or if you are a member desperate to leave this cult and cannot because they brainwashed you into giving all you have to them and are now trapped.i can and will help you.noone need suffer at the twisted minds of these coniving,calculating cult con artists.that,i promise

  4. Another man who is currently in the tt under wraps rep orted that the community in boulder is working people badly and a couple im their late 60s were found sleeping on a thin mat in the cafe basement,having worked a hard 14 hours with more to go.

  5. Erin..aka basmot in hyanniś,we challenge you and your husband to do whats right for your are not fully brainwashed and protect your family as best as you can in your situation.we will help you 200%. Contact anybody number is 5089017096.praying you see kim

  6. Ty todd in boulder for telling the truth in what you are seeing.we apprec iate you

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