Relative of member saw truth

The Chattanooga Times/January 9, 1980
By Bill Castell

Naomi Kelly spent several weeks as a member of the Vine Christian Community Church [now known as "Twelve Tribes], living in one of the church-owned houses in Dalton. Her sister, Sarah Mosley, visited her frequently in her repeated effort to persuade her to leave the church.

What she saw in the home made her only more determined to, get her sister out of that environment, she said. She spoke of improper diets, inhibited children, cluttered nurseries and "half way" presentable living conditions, while relating her experiences inside the communal home. "When they knew we were coming, they served something like hamburgers." "When we visited unexpectedly, they served collards, black beans and corn bread. They received only two meals a day, one at 5 in the morning and another at 4:30 in the afternoon."

Mrs. Mosley, who, along with her mother and two sisters, tried in vain to stop Miss Kelly from joining the church group and then spent weeks pleading for her to leave. They described living quarters at the church home as half way presentable "if they knew we were coming. When they didn't know, it was pretty rough. Three or four cribs occupied one room. It just didn't appear clean, and it was very cluttered."

These conditions, she said, bothered her greatly. "The children were so shy and inhibited. They weren't playful like normal children. There was a couple in this group who had a little boy about 20 months old. He was extremely inhibited and wouldn't talk. When they finally left the church, the child was the first one to snap back to reality. After being out of that environment for about three days, he turned back into a normal child and started talking. When the parents saw this, they snapped back. The change in their child brought them around." It really upsets her, she added "that they are messing up the minds of little children."

Mrs. Mosley said her sister drifted toward the church shortly after their father died. Miss Kelly earned degrees in psychology and sociology and was a Baptist missionary for two summers. Then she became youth director for the Baptist Church in Gadsden, Alabama. "She became upset and disillusioned with the church because they wouldn't let her do what she felt needed to be done. Our father suggested that she quit the job. Shortly after that, father died. He was a very good father, and very wise. Naomi always looked to him for decisions. When he died, she no, longer could turn to him for advice."

Naomi Kelly and some other young people in the area decided to start a Bible study group. "Some of the Vine Church group was sent down here to have Bible study with them. Naomi reached the point where she couldn't even take meals with us. She slept at her mother's home but spent the rest of the time with the church group," Mrs. Mosley said.

"Within a month, her whole personality changed. One day she'd say one thing and then say something differently the next day after conversation with church officials." Mrs. Mosley said. When Naomi told family members that "God was telling them they needed to go to, Chattanooga," Mrs. Mosley and her family "talked to Naomi non-stop for about six hours."

"We seemed to make progress with her," she said, "until a community member came in." It was as if Naomi received a shot of adrenalin. Before, she couldn't answer our questions. But when this girl came in, Naomi started popping back with answers." We begged her to wait one day and asked her to talk with Melinda Horton (a former group member). She agreed to speak with Melinda only if I would speak with Gene Spriggs. I agreed to that, but then she said no and that she needed to leave that night.

When Naomi left, she was highly confused and crying. "She was pulled emotionally between us and the church." In a letter, Miss Kelly later told her mother that they could never be as close as before unless she joined the group. I asked her what if my husband didn't want to join and she suggested that I should leave him, and bring the children with me." Naomi remained in the church a short period of time because "we were on it right away. I started the day after she left home."

Mrs. Mosley began her own investigation of Spriggs. She said court records showed that Spriggs had three unsuccessful marriages. When she told Naomi of Spriggs' divorces, she didn't believe it." So I came to Chattanooga to check the divorce records. Naomi said that didn't mean anything because the divorces occurred before he became a Christian and that those wives didn't count."

The family contacted [cult deprogrammer] Ted Patrick after learning that Miss Kelly was scheduled to transfer to the church operation in Vermont. "We knew," Mrs. Mosley said, "That if she moved to Vermont we wouldn't have much chance of ever getting her out." The "rescue" came after Miss Kelly arrived at a Chattanooga restaurant thinking she was going to a birthday party for her sister. "Deprogramming" took about two weeks, Mrs. Mosley said.

"She snapped after three or four days, but more time was needed for the rehabilitation. It takes longer for some people If a person is very emotional and has strong ties with the family they come out much quicker, but Naomi is not emotional. We reached her through facts about the inconsistencies of the doctrines and practices in the church."

Mrs. Mosley is in possession of books containing some of the teachings so Spriggs. She said she picked up the books, thinking they were part of her sister's belongings when they went to the church home to collect Miss Kelly's personal possessions. "The messages emphasized communal living and being submissive to the elders. The child rearing teaching says you should begin disciplining a child at 6 months of age, with a rod."

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