The Asheville Citizen Times
November 8, 1998
Twelve Tribes Community founder Elbert Spriggs’ controversial interpretation of slavery in the Scripture seems to provide ammunition for the anonymous fliers circulating around Asheville that criticize the Bible-based cult as racist.
But a community member now in Asheville says the teaching is easily misunderstood, taken out of its scriptural context.
In a 1988 teaching on “Unraveling the Races of Man,” Spriggs, also known as Yoneq, proclaimed: “Paul and Yahshua (Jesus) didn’t rebuke anyone who had slaves, so it is alright by principle to have slaves. Slavery is the only way for some people to be useful in society. They wouldn’t do anything productive without being forced to. They would be worthless fellows.”
The teaching was made public on the web site of the New England Institute for Religious Research, a watchdog group that has monitored Spriggs and the Twelve Tribes since 1994.
Spriggs points to “Simeon who was called Niger,” one of the early Christians mentioned in Acts 13:1. Spriggs said, “Niger means black. When people first started saying this word, it wasn’t bad, but it became a curse word, having a bad connotation. Before the civil rights, black men would say, ‘Yes, boss man’ in the South. Yes man. No man. This was respect. We need respect in people. We must beat respect into our children. Ham must get this respect in them. These blacks, during the pre-civil rights time, were really slaves – they had respect for people. They got along well because they were submissive – submissive in their suffering.”
Spriggs also said, “Striving for civil rights is of the world – it is a disorder to the established social order. In the social order in the world there is a distinction between black and white. We shouldn’t try to change it and mess it up. It is going against something fundamental. Ham should have been a slave all through history.”
According to Genesis, Noah was the father of Shem, Ham and Japheth, all of whom survived the Great Flood in the ark Noah built. After Noah drank too much wine and passed out naked in his tent, Ham went in and saw his father’s nakedness. For this disrespect, Noah angrily cursed Ham’s descendants to servitude. Southerners in the 19th century often used this theological argument trying to justify the institution of African-American slavery.
Dale Martin, a member of the Twelve Tribes for seven years, said he was unfamiliar with the Spriggs Ham teachings. At any rate, the community has members of all races, he said, and does not discriminate nor forbid interracial relationships.
Timothy Pendergrass, a Twelve Tribes teacher and a member of the community since 1975, said he had heard Spriggs’ teaching on Ham about 10 years ago.
“I understand how this could be offensive to a black person, taken out of the context of the Scripture,” he said.
Pendergrass said he interpreted Spriggs’ teaching to explain how the curse of Ham, and the resentment of slavery, keeps some people from becoming submissive and hearing the gospel.
Pendergrass pointed to Spriggs’ admonition “When you are in the world, don’t get upset trying to make the world a better place to live.”
Unlike some groups such as the Unification Church that encourage interracial marriages among their members, Pendergrass said Twelve Tribes members believe they honor God more when they have a diversity of races.
“If blacks and whites are able to live together in community, and love one another and care for each other, then we might be doing something right.”
Pendergrass also dismissed critics arguments that the community has an inner and outer doctrine. While the group doesn’t publicize all its teachings, neither do they attempt to hide anything, Pendergrass said.
And none of the Twelve Tribes members would agree with Pardon’s argument that Spriggs is the sole authority.
“That’s false, said Pendergrass. “Mr. Spriggs is a revered teacher in our community, but we hear from the least of our brethren, even the most newly baptized member.”
Doctrinal changes such as observing the Sabbath or taking up a kosher diet according to Old Testament Scripture were the result of long discussions among many of the group’s members, Pendergrass said.