|Photo by A. Stahl|
Today I wanted to take time and discuss a recent breaking news story coming out of Germany about a cult that is three hours to our east. If you haven't heard the news, well, stay tuned as I'll help get you caught up to speed.
Today's post is about the Twelve Tribes, or Zwölf Stämmen group that is based out of Klosterzimmern in the municipality of Deiningen, and Ansbach, Bavaria. Twelve Tribes is a very difficult group to pin down, theologically speaking. They take elements of fundamentalist beliefs (mostly Independent Fundamentalist Baptist), Messianic Judaism, Hebrew Roots, Sacred Name and World Wide Church of God beliefs. Where they diverge, is that they believe and teach that they are the only group that has truth and will be going to the afterlife.
Twelve Tribes also is extremely patriarchal, racist, antisemitic, somewhat communist (they live in communes and everyone works), and engages in child labor. In Germany, Zwölf Stämmen is known more for their push for homeschooling which ended somewhat amicably with them creating their own private school that did not have to teach any sex education or evolution theory or anything else that they believe is contrary to "biblical" beliefs. The agreement with the government included that there would be state oversight so that the community would not be fully removing itself or the children from society at large.
Contrary to the painting by the HSLDA, Germany does not retain Nazi-era laws where it pertains to homeschoolers. I love all of you, but Hitler was not the one who made school compulsory in Germany. I've discussed that before, just a little bit and about our educational system when I blogged about the homeschooling Romeike family.
With the Zwölf Stämmen, there have been many concerns of child labor laws being broken before. It is not uncommon with this group that every person gives and puts in work with their fields, and also with their money-making ventures. What hadn't been well known until recently, was how abusive and systemically so, their child rearing practices were. There were suspicions, but people cannot be investigated solely based on suspicions here.
There have been teenagers and 20-somethings that have left the cult, but they, for the most part, had been getting psychological help and then moving on with their lives, rather than assisting others in leaving the cult. They have mentioned the abuse, but the onus was on others to go in and prove it was happening other than "he and she said". I find this heartbreaking for all people who have been put through abuse like this.
From what I understand from an acquaintance that had gotten in with the group in Vermont; Twelve Tribes is extremely difficult to get into, and that much harder to get out of. The abuse is not just with children, but also with those who come into the group. There are enforcers, and if you question anything, you are starved of food and sleep until you comply with the group leaders. Also, the oversight committee is only very loosely associated with each Twelve Tribe community. This means any appeals for assistance in leaving will have to be done through loving family members and possibly the local police departments.
From what I can gather, punitive parenting books are quite the rage in the Zwölf Stämmen. Interviews with the reporter who came out proving the abuse, and with some of the survivors of the group have mentioned practices that are inconsistent with child-rearing in Germany and Biblical practice. The abuses this cult has carried out were well hidden from the German government, because these methods are illegal.
If you're new to the blog and don't know much about Gentle Grace Based Discipline, what I am discussing here is the systemic belief that all children are born horrible sinners (or easily influenced by the Devil) that need to be physically and emotionally abused from birth. What parents want to result from this is first time obedience, unquestioning obedience, and no talking back. What they receive? Abused children that are terrified to do anything that would ever cross their parents, or the leaders involved in the community. Grace is not for children in this belief system. Grace is for adults who have found some sort of agreement with the leaders of the community that they are living "Biblically" and for them alone.
What hasn't much been discussed in the German case is the propensity for sometimes sexual predatory action in communities such as these. When you have children that are too terrified to speak out against systemic abuse methods such as whipping for doing anything the parents or community leaders do not like, they also will not speak out when they are being sexually abused, because surely that wasn't something they were not supposed to do, as someone in authority forced themselves onto them. I am praying that beyond all hopes, this is not something that was happening at this Twelve Tribes compound.
The news that has come out of the community is that children as young as six months were taken away from their parents to be punitively disciplined by select members of the community. Babies that cried or were otherwise deemed "sinful" were held very tightly so that they would cry until they could cry no more.
Forty children were removed from the compound outside of Deiningen, and placed into child protective services while being interviewed by authorities who are trying to find ways to assist them, deprogram them and get them into schools and families that can help them detox from this lifestyle.
I cannot begin to tell you how much agony I have been in since the news broke, as several methods mentioned that were employed in the compound are methods I am having PTSD-reactions about from my own childhood.
What has angered me beyond all reason is how quickly Michael Farris, head of the HSLDA was to pick up this story and stand behind the Zwölf Stämmen and say that there was no abuse happening. Because we know the HSLDA is all about systemic abuses and hiding those from authorities. It bothers me how little the HSLDA respects other country's laws and rights to live according to their belief systems and instead do not focus on the abuses that are endemic in their own back yard.
For those who think that is quite the thing for such a blogger as myself to say, I too was a HSLDA child. I didn't trust them as far as I could throw something at them as a homeschooler, and I trust them even less now that I've an adult and living outside of the US. They are a terrible representation for Christians and of Christianity when it comes to how they treat others. Where's the grace there guys? really. Where's the love?
So, after the news breaks as to how the information came to the police and to raid the compound, Michael Farris is notified of the abuses. All he says is "I said something in that nature, but I see now that my sources were wrong." [He said and implied there were no abuses.]
So, all we get is a "my bad." Not an apology.
The best news source at the moment, that has discussed what happened comes by way of The UK's Independent Newspaper.
The film shows how children are made to get up at 5am and stand though an hour-long prayer session. They are obliged to labour with adults in the community’s farm plots and workshops...
“It’s normal to be beaten every day,” said Christian...
The film also shows... a baby boy being forcefully gripped by the back of the head in a practice referred to by sect members as “restraining.”
In Germany's Twelve Tribes sect, cameras catch ‘cold and systematic’ child-beating
The remainder of the news stories I will be quoting are from German news sources. I will translate them and share them here with the original sources. I would suggest using Google Translate to read them if you do not have German language knowledge. It will not be a perfect translation, but it will help you know what is going on. Just plop the link in the translate area and set the translation from German to English (or your language of choice). It will do the rest of the work for you.
There is video here from RTL, where two former members, Christian and Jael (or Yael?) explain how children are mishandled in the sect. I have to admit that I did big giant ugly cries when I listened to them and saw the video attached.
There is also video here from RTL where a former member, Klaus F., discusses his feelings and knowledge about the revelations from the Zwölf Stämmen, after having lived for many years in the sect, leaving with his four children but without his wife; who chose to stay behind.
Over and over again, in both videos, a current member of the sect says they "do not call it spanking or hitting, we just call it disciplining." and goes into detail about how they pick rods to hit the children with. I do not see how this can be deniable when it was recorded and the members are known.
On top of this, the reporter asked the authorities, and they knew that the children were being spanked, but they didn't know how badly or how many. (This is cleared up in the second video at about minute seven.)
What angers me is that the members of the group say that they have frequently had doctors come in and they have proof that their children were not abused.
The exclusive 45 minute long news exclusive is now available in RTL's iTunes app. (they move it off site after 7 days)
The Ansbach Youth Office has maintained in regular contact since the influx of children in 2010. Their visits would present concerns and worries that could not be dissuaded, but were also "not sufficient evidence for the initiation of family law measures" to be submitted. Only now the Family Court and the Youth Office of Nördlingen districts in the Donau-Ries region received "credible, concrete and actionable information," showing that the "physical and emotional welfare of the children could be permanently compromised."
Der Spiegel: "Twelve Tribes": Police take 40 children from Christian sect in Bavaria
There are 150 German members of the international community of '12 tribes' faith - in their own words "Bible in the tradition of early Christianity." ...The children are taught early on that Africans, Blacks and homosexuals are cursed; and women belong to an inferior race.
RTL: Raid on sect '12 tribes' - RTL reporter provides evidence of child abuse
...the children would be "cleansed" by the blows and "freed from the devil." Strikes would constantly be administered due to varied reasons. It is enough already to be struck, if a child does not pay attention in class...
...there is "ubiquitous, mutual supervision, built on intimidation, by this spying totalitarian system" which makes it impossible to live differently at all, says Kuhnigk.
Der Spiegel: Suspected abuse at Christian Sect: "They live with their children in their own world"
"[In Germany] Every child has the " right to a violence-free education ". And "despite many calls and offers of help" the community members would continue to be "disciplined and mentally abusing towards" their children...
... "Mental abuse and isolation has only occurred when the authorities have taken away our children," says a father."
Süddeutsche Zeitung: Those who wish to play are beaten
Kuhnigk: The children do not have close ties to their parents because they can not protect them. If the parents refuse to,the elders deemed necessary to punish pressure them to give their children over to others to mete it out. The children may not develop individuality. There are no children playing in the yard, fantasy play and free play are prohibited. The children are broken.
Augsburger Allgemeine: Hidden reporter: "I almost cried."
...The violence done to the children is "so quiet, so systemic, and planned," such as torture...
...Also shown is the "Restraining" of the babies with one arm, where a tightly wrapped baby with a black head of hair that can hardly move...
Augsburger Allgemeine: Children of the Twelve Tribes: nearly 100 floggings in two days
...The RTL reporter also was able to procure the special "educational book" of the sect. Here, it refers specifically to physical pain as an integral part of education. Especially for strong-willed children, beating their tails for instruction is recommended.
Augsburger Allgemeine: Spanking as an educational system: Undercover in the Twelve Tribes
"The whole procedure is such that the adult relies on a chair. The child must present themselves to adults then. Either he or she puts their pants down, or it can be pulled down. Then the adults look for a suitable rod with appropriate length and begin to beat the children...
The children are beaten until they say what adults want to hear... Not a single child has struggled in any form. Anyone who turns away from adults while being beaten, is returned to the 'right position' and additionally punished, "said Kuhnigk.
Focus: Incognito reporter in the "Twelve tribes" describes perverse whipping system of the sect
...a lecture by the cult leader Gene Spriggs in 2000 is documented, among other things. "Our children were brought up with the rod of correction, we do not argue that," says the gray-haired, bearded man who has tied his shoulder-length hair into a ponytail, in English. "And when we are put in jail for it, then we go to jail, because we know that we are doing right and discipline our children in love."
Süddeutsche Zeitung: He who spares his rod, hates his son
Against asylum seekers and protesters, the authorities in place practice vigorous crackdowns. But when it comes to the children, when the most vulnerable of society are in danger, the Bavarian courts exhibit boundless patience...
Süddeutsche Zeitung: Embarrassing Failure
I cannot begin to tell you how this breaks my heart. I know that this is systemic elsewhere, especially in parts of the US... but in a country where children are usually protected?? So many checks and balances broke down in protecting these children. In a land where spanking and other punitive forms of discipline that include striking a child are outlawed, it's just unbelievable. To hear in other people's words what I lived as a child, it just completely validates how I feel about punitive parenting, and how it simply cannot, and does not have a biblical basis whatsoever.
I have sat and written this entire blog post while shaking and having flashbacks of my own childhood and all I can say is that I hope and pray that these parents are given more early childhood education and that their children are not given to them in unsupervised visits until they have proven their mentality and hearts have changed for the better towards their children.
I just cannot imagine giving my children over to someone else to do anything to them. Then again, I am a very protective mother bear, and I never allowed my spirit to be completely broken by my family or their beliefs in punitive discipline.
If there is one thing I could ask tonight, I would ask that you pray for all the children of the Twelve Tribes and do what you can to support the survivors of this awful abuse.
UPDATE: Homeschoolers Anonymous has a wonderful article on what is happening and how American Homeschoolers have helped to fund these abuses. How American Homeschoolers Enabled and Funded German Child Abuse: The Real Story Behind the Religious Right and the Twelve Tribes
Love, Joy, Feminism also has an article, which is entitled: "The Twelve Tribes, Child Abuse, and Michael Farris"
You can also read more here: part 2 , part 3, part 4, part 5 and part 6, part 7, part 8 and part 9