The 2,000 to 3,000 members of the Twelve Tribes, one of the few surviving groups of 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, home school their children, and try to stay together.
But confidentiality can be hard to come by now that Colorado officials are investigating allegations that a small Dec. 30 fire on the group’s rural property sparked two major fires south of Boulder, which, fueled by winds of 100 miles an hour, destroyed more than 900 homes and forced the evacuation of 35,000 people.
A resident posted videos showing a fire which he said started on the property of the Twelve Tribes that day.
As a news headline put it, “Set fire to ‘cult’ land believed to be the cause of devastating Colorado fire. “
Some 30 members of the Twelve Tribes lived on the property before they evacuated, many of whom worked at their Yellow Deli cafe in Boulder. Three dozen more members live in community in Manitou Springs, near Colorado Springs, where they operate The Maté Factor Café.
A man who answered one of a Colorado Springs member’s phones said the group made no comment but were working with the Boulder County Sheriff’s Office. The group’s website was shut down on Tuesday morning.
Federal officials are contributing to the investigation, which could take months. Early claims that the blaze was caused by downed power lines have not been confirmed.
The members of Twelve Tribes find their origins in the book of Acts of the New Testament: “Suddenly a sound like the blast of a strong wind came from the sky 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 them to anyone who needed them. “
They believe they are bringing together the 12 biblical tribes described in the book of Revelation for the return of Christ. They do not 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 is their main vehicle for financial support and community outreach.
Members do not receive any compensation for working as volunteers. And because of their shared treasury, the IRS classifies the group in the 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 in Canada, Argentina, Australia, England, France, Japan, Brazil (where they harvest the mate used for drinks) and Spain. (where they make olive oil). They look like Amish or Mennonite believers, with men wearing simple beards and tied hair, and women dressed in simple, homemade clothes.
At the Manitou Springs community, which is led by three male “shepherds,” members meet for worship each morning and evening and welcome guests to their Friday night services. During the day, some work in the cafe while others home school the children or do other chores. They don’t watch TV or read the news. “Sensationalism,” said one member.
They follow strict morals that some consider family values on steroids and practice corporal punishment on disobedient children. Twelve tribal communities have often been accused – and sometimes found guilty – of child abuse and labor violations, and have faced penalties for forcing children to perform adult labor by farming and of craftsmanship.
Members of twelve tribes deny being part of a cult and claim that members are free to communicate with family members and other outsiders. They generally avoid the media, even in good times, but gave The Gazette access to make 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. The life of a disciple is “a tribal life,” said a Freepaper article, “of families, clans and tribes, in stark contrast to the loneliness of the suburbs 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 shepherds of Manitou Springs, 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 that very sincere people” are part of the imperfect dominant “religious system”, Hushai said. “We hope that we can learn to love one another, obey His commandments, and recognize the leaven of injustice that comes between us. “
Sometimes their beliefs and behaviors have drawn criticism. A Vice story about the group had the headline, “The Idyllic Restaurant Chain Owned by a Homophobic, Racist, Kid-Beating Sect.”
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 neglect led to the devastation of the Marshall Fire.