Brisbane, Australia -- A bizarre bible cult, which advocates beating children before they are old enough to walk, is recruiting in Queensland. Sources say it plans to set up at Maleny on the Sunshine Coast. Twelve Tribes mission, also called Messianic Communities, runs a catering at the annual Woodford Folk Festival. Promoting a stress-free lifestyle, the group is attractive to teenagers and young adults.
But the parent cult has a lengthy court history of child abuse and abduction in the United States. In one high profile case, Darlyn Church, 13 claimed she was stripped to her underwear and given a seven hour "scourging" with a cane. Defecting senior members Michael Painter and James Howell have claimed some have been beaten almost to the point of death. US authorities have discovered infants who died at childbirth, buried on cult property. Child deaths, often through negligence, go unreported.
Their treatment of children makes Twelve Tribes a favorite subject for US documentary makers. Cult children are not allowed toys, pets, or bicycles and are schooled on site. They can be beaten for showing emotion, imagination, for playing make-believe, for not responding on the first command and even crying. Children are taught to love their beatings and neglecting to discipline a child is regarded as an act of hatred.
"It (the discipline) was from people who wanted to cleanse me from what I had done and wanted to forgive me for it," one American child says on film. "I see now it totally changed my whole personality."
The Sunday Mail was told the cult was planning communities at Maleny, Sydney, Melbourne and in northern NSW. It recently began building on a 9 acre site at Picton, about 70 km southwest of and it owns 445 acres at Bigga, west of Sydney. Cult expert Jan Groeveld said the Australian group had almost doubled in a year. He has heard of at least two Queensland families who are involved and he suspects there are more.
A visitor to the Picton community said toddlers were taught to hold their hands out to be beaten and were hit more if they cried. "David," a visitor to the Picton community who did not want to be identified, said children were lashed up to six times with a 1 m cane. In some cases the beatings were repeated 20 times a day - even for a two year old. "The rod is forceful enough to cause pain. But I think what hurts me more is that the child's spirit is broken," David said.
The cult is based on strict Old Testament teachings and is led by Elbert Eugene Spriggs, a former American school counselor who claims a special relationship with God. The four times married Spriggs is called Yoneq- Hebrew for "young sapling or sprout." His teachings promote anti-Semitism and racist views about black people.
Spriggs cult began in Tennessee in the 1970s and now has more than 28 communities in the USA, Canada, France, Germany, Spain, Brazil, Argentina, Great Britain and Australia.
TV, newspapers, radio, magazines, caffeine, alcohol and tobacco are banned. Births are at home, children are not inoculated and followers are told to avoid medication and hospitals. They attend prayer meetings morning and night, sing and dance, and eat organic food. They make money through cottage industries. Members sell their homes, leave their jobs and sign over their life savings. Followers strictly obey elders and women strictly obey men. But they are all free to lie to non believers because they are not "obligated to tell the devil the truth."
Bob Pardon, director of the US based New England Institute of Religious Research, has studied the cult for five years and has visited the US community. Children cannot use their imagination and they can be disciplined if they are doing that. They cannot fantasize. "So a little girl would never have a doll to play with because that is a fantasy world. Little boys wouldn't have a truck to run around in the dirt because they have to stay 'rooted in reality.' "
"A parent usually does the whippings but because this is a communal group, other adults can discipline children." He said Spriggs proclaimed the Christian church died in the first century and there was no true church until he came on the scene in 1972. "They have to replant geographically the twelve tribes of Israel on the earth or Yahshua (Christ) cannot come back," Pardon said.
The 70 member group at Picton runs cottage industries - including candle making, a mobile cafe, specialty bread, house painting, plumbing, demolition, landscaping and electrical work - at the Peppercorn Creek Farm.
"When they do the big festivals, everyone works 20 hours a day up to five weeks straight, there's a lot of sleep deprivation and that helps control them, David said. "They do the Woodford Folk Festival at Maleny, the Easter Show and the cafe is catering for a trial at the Olympics. (Sydney Olympics could not conform this), the cafes don't really make money. It's more evangelism. If they bring back one disciple they're happy. A lot of young people - 18, 19, and 20 year olds -- are joining up." David said Spriggs was expected to visit Australia soon. "They're keen to have something up around Maleney." The Picton group would not comment.
Some quotes from leader Elbert Eugene Spriggs