The 2,000-3,000 members of the Twelve Tribes, one of the few surviving groups of the Jesus movement of the 1960s and 1970s, seek to obey God’s will as revealed in the Old and New Testaments . They take Hebrew names, live in community, homeschool their children and try to keep to themselves.
But privacy may be hard to find now that Colorado officials are investigating allegations that a small fire Dec. 30 on the group’s rural property sparked two major blazes south of Boulder, which, fanned by winds of 100 miles per hour, destroyed more than 900 homes and forced the evacuation of 35,000 people.
A local resident posted videos showing a fire he says started on Twelve Tribes property that day.
As one news headline put it, “Set fire to eyes ‘worship’ land as cause of devastating Colorado fire.”
About 30 members of the Twelve Tribes lived on the property before evacuating, many of whom worked at their Yellow Deli cafe in Boulder. Three dozen additional members live in community in Manitou Springs, near Colorado Springs, where they operate Mate Factor Cafe.
A man who answered the phone for one of the Colorado Springs members said the group had no comment but was working with the Boulder County Sheriff’s Office. The band’s website was taken down on Tuesday morning.
Federal officials are involved in the investigation, which could take months. Early claims that the fire was caused by downed power lines have not been confirmed.
The members of Twelve Tribes trace their origins to the New Testament book of Acts: “Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a strong wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. … All were filled with the Holy Spirit. … All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold goods and possessions to give to anyone who needed them.
They believe they are gathering the biblical 12 tribes described in the book of Revelation in preparation for Christ’s return. They don’t proselytize, but are more than willing to talk about their faith. They spread their message through their Freepaper, which is distributed in their cafes and restaurants, which are their main means of financial support and community outreach.
Members do not receive any remuneration as they work as volunteers. And because of their joint treasury, the IRS classifies the group as a 501(d) “religious and apostolic association or society,” similar to monasteries.
They include more than two dozen communities in the United States, as well as Canada, Argentina, Australia, England, France, Japan, Brazil (where they harvest mate used for drinks) and Spain. (where they make olive oil). They look like Amish or Mennonite believers, with the men wearing simple beards and their hair tied back, and the women dressed in simple, homemade clothing.
At the Manitou Springs community, which is led by three male “shepherds,” members gather for worship every morning and evening and welcome guests to their Friday evening services. During the day, some work in the café while others homeschool the children or perform other tasks. They don’t watch TV or read the news. “Sensationalism,” said one member.
They follow strict morals that some see as family values on steroids and practice corporal punishment on disobedient children. Communities of the Twelve Tribes have often been accused – and sometimes convicted – of child abuse and labor rights violations, and have been punished for forcing children to perform adult labor in agriculture and forestry. ‘Arts and crafts.
Members of Twelve Tribes deny being part of a cult and say members are free to communicate with family members and other strangers. They generally avoid the media, even in good times, but gave The Gazette access to do a story in 2020 because a member had been introduced to the group by a Gazette story years earlier.
They teach that community life is essential for salvation. A disciple’s life is “a tribal life”, said a Freepaper article, “of families, clans and tribes, in stark contrast to the suburban loneliness of the world”. But they say members are free to leave the group if they wish.
Asked about the spiritual status of the millions of Christians who do not live in community, Hushai, one of the Manitou Springs shepherds, quoted 1 John 5:19: “We know that we are children of God, and that the whole world is under the control of the evil one.
“We believe very sincere people” are part of the flawed mainstream “religious system,” Hushai said. “We hope we can learn to love one another, obey his commandments and recognize the leaven of injustice that comes to separate us.”
Sometimes their beliefs and behaviors have raised criticism. A Vice story about the group carried this title: “The idyllic restaurant chain owned by a homophobic, racist and pedophile cult”.
The members largely turn their backs on the world, but show no hatred for the sinners of the world. And they say the criticism they receive is part of the persecution they face for faithfully following Christ. “You can’t put us in a box,” said a shepherd named Zaccai.
Such criticism may grow if investigators find that the group’s negligence led to the devastation of the Marshall Fire.