GERMANY: Controversy Surrounding “Twelve Tribes” – Sociologist Warns against Targeted Misinformation by Sect Experts


GERMANY: Controversy Surrounding “Twelve Tribes” – Sociologist Warns against Targeted Misinformation by Sect Experts

How a Religious Community Gets Harassed by Authorities Spurred on by FECRISDo “Sect Experts” Use Controversial Deprogramming Methods to Turn Children against their own Parents?

FOREF Reports Exclusively


polizei-razzia bei 12 staemmen

Police raid at the religious community “Twelve Tribes” in Nördlingen, Bavaria.

MUNICH, 01.01.2015 (FOREF) – A good 20 years ago, a branch of the religious community “Twelve Tribes” was established in Germany. In August 2013, the community was prohibited from running a school of their own since they discipline their children corporally – although in a soft manner, as the community emphasizes. One month after that, in a controversial large-scale operation the police went and got 41 children out of the communities in Nördlingen-Klosterzimmern and Wörnitz. At this point after more than a year, 20 children are still in the custody of the Jugendamt (Youth Welfare Office). Susan J. Palmer, sociologist of religion, points out that after the police raids in September 2013, the doctors did not find any evidence of abuse. She criticizes the blind trust the German authorities put in the self-proclaimed sect experts who are running a targeted disinformation and demagoguery campaign against the community.

Note in advance: FOREF distances itself from the use of physical chastisement, even if moderate, and rejects the disproportionately harsh intervention of the authorities in this case as well, which have long term traumatizing consequences for the children. Cf. Art. 19 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child to be protected against the use of force, abuse, and neglect (see below). 

In late October 2014, the District Court of Ansbach decided upon a petition of the Jugendamt (Youth Welfare Office) to permanently withdraw custody from three sets of parents. The decisions are not final yet. The affected parents of six children aged 1-6 years have already filed complaints. Also at the District Court of Nördlingen, 12 more custody proceedings are currently pending, the court director Helmut Beyschlag told the news magazine Spiegel. There is no end in sight to the conflict between the German authorities and the Twelve Tribes.

As early as 1984 in the USA, the “Twelve Tribes” were accused of abusing their children whereupon 112 children were taken into state custody in a first police campaign. That same day Judge Frank Mahady strongly condemned this measure as grossly unconstitutional, whereupon the children were allowed to go home that same day. Since the allegations did not solidify even after further investigations, the charge was dropped after a short while.

History now repeats in Germany, although with the following difference: Next to individuals like “career” apostate Robert Pleyer, Focus reporter Axel Wolfsgruber, or RTL reporter Wolfram Kuhnigk who personally benefit from the media attention, it is mainly the controversial anti-cult organization FECRIS that is behind the demagoguery campaign targeted against the religious community and works through “sect experts” (such as Sabine Riede or Wolfgang Behnk) to stigmatize religious minority communities. By nurturing public fear of “sectarian deviations” (“dérives sectaires” in the original FECRIS slang), the anti-cult lobby legitimizes its own existence as a “pool of experts” and receives public funds for their “informative and advisory activity.”


1.      Chronology of a Scandal: Police Raids in Nördlingen and Wörnitz – 41 Children Hauled off, Search Warrant was “Faxed in Later”

On September 5th, 2013, in the early dawn, around 30 police emergency vehicles pulled into Klosterzimmern, the property of the “Twelve Tribes” in Nördlingen, Bavaria. Since on that day the community was keeping a holiday, the morning gathering, which usually would be at 6 o’clock, took place later and most community members were still sleeping. A 23-year-old brother in faith who was milking the cows shortly after 6 o’clock, was the first one to see the massive presence of police. He asked the officers what was going on and asked for a search warrant. Rather than showing it to him, they threatened to arrest him if he “continued to resist.” The police surrounded the entire property only to storm the celebration hall where they were suspecting the morning gathering. Instead they found an empty hall.


Shortly after, the inhabitants of every house on the property were woken from their sleep. The officers ordered the completely perplexed community members to gather in one of the living rooms. According to their own words the more than 100 officers equipped with battledress, truncheons, and pistols had a most threatening and blood-curdling effect on parents and children alike.

Then in the living room an order written by the District Court which was not to be passed out, was read out loud by Mrs. Gudrun Hieble, the representative of the District Administration. The letter said that caregivers of the Jugendamt had already been appointed and that the minor children of the religious community must be taken. Besides, a leaflet was given to the parents informing them about which authorities were now responsible for their children. Later Mrs. Hieble made the claim to the community that she, too, received the District Court order surprisingly that same morning (!) along with the commission to summarize the court order in order to communicate it to the religious community. Since the members of the “Twelve Tribes” had insisted on seeing a search warrant, this was faxed in at 8 o’clock. After the children had been led away, the police was searching for evidence on site in order to subsequently justify the order to seize the children by the Jugendamt.

Yet to no avail. The doctors who medically examined the children that same day, did not find any evidence of acts of abuse.

The background of the large-scale operation: On August 16th, 2013, Sabine Riede, the “sect commissioner” of Sekten-Info NRW (a member organization of FECRIS, see also the comprehensive expert study about FECRIS) along with the RTL reporter Wolfram Kuhnigk got the District Court of Nördlingen involved in order to take action against the “Twelve Tribes.” Shortly before, a local head of a Jugendamt also was initiated into the operation. As early as two weeks later, on September 1st, the District Court decided to have the children of the religious community in Klosterzimmern and in Wörnitz taken by means of a police raid and put into state care.

sabine riede - sekteninfo nrw Sabine Riede – Protestant „Sect Expert“ and FECRIS Member.

Even though there was no evidence proving sustainable physical or psychological damage in the children of the religious community, interim custody was collectively transferred from the parents to the Jugendamt. After all, the authorities preferred to rely on an anonymous report of a supposed ex-member that Kuhnigk(!) mailed in August 2013 and which was published on the website of Sekten-Info NRW, rather than on careful sociological studies about the religious community of the “Twelve Tribes” (see literature *).

Synchronously to the raid in Klosterzimmern (near Nördlingen), there was also a police operation in Wörnitz. And thus, on the day of the raid, a total of 41 children were led off from both congregations. In Klosterzimmern twelve families with 29 children were affected, in Wörnitz it was five families with a total of 12 children.

Even the sons and daughters of guest families visiting with the Twelve Tribes at the time, were taken. That same day, 7 children of parents who were only visiting the religious community were returned. One mother from Israel would not let go of her child in the first place. She managed to show the officers her Israeli passport, not letting go of her child. After some verbal back and forth she finally was left in peace. By now the German authorities do have a certain inhibition about taking a child away from a Jewish woman, at least.

Some parents from Argentina that didn’t speak any German, were not that lucky. They tried for hours to contact the Argentinean consulate, yet to no avail. Their three-year-old child was finally taken to a host family that did not speak Spanish. Only 9 days later did the family receive their child back. The hearing found that in the preparations for the police raid, the District Court had acted very unprofessionally and hastily. This child as well as the other seven children of guest families should not have been taken in the first place.

A second raid took place in Dürrlauingen (Günzburg County) in the St. Nikolaus Mother-Child House. That is where three mothers of the “Twelve Tribes” were staying who were not supposed to be separated from their children in the first raid since they were still nursing their children. The authorities placed them under supervision demanding that they stop nursing.

In the morning of December 9th, 2013, at 7 o’clock the Jugendamt and the police knocked at the door. There was no advance notice. One observer of the raid was completely horrified at the piercing squeals he heard as the policemen went in to tear the children away from their mothers. One of the mothers, the 27-year-old Raissa Santos Reip, wanted to nurse her daughter one last time. She was not granted this wish – instead two officers twisted her arms backwards and took her girl from her. (A video report of the affected mother and her husband here.)

The police took all three babies and four older siblings away and led them off in a different car each. Every child was taken to a different foster family in order to prevent any communication among them. (Cf. also Mayr, Stefan: „Mit aller Gewalt“ (With All Force), Süddeutsche Zeitung, Nr. 11, 15.01.2014, p. 3)

Any contact of the children with their parents is strictly controlled and any contact with the siblings, friends, and relatives is hardly allowed, unless they clearly distance themselves from the community. Usually, the parents are granted a visitation of two hours maximum every two to three weeks. However, they are not allowed to leave the rooms where the visitation takes place without strict supervision. From a humane point of view it is doubtful whether this brutal approach of the state against the parents and the children of the “Twelve Tribes” is proportionate. At the moment, 20 children are still in the care of the Jugendamt after more than one year. Ten children were legally able to return home within five months. The Jugendamt monitors and discourages any contact between the foster parents, where children under 12 years have been placed, and the biological parents.

On July 1st, 2014, the third police operation took place in Klosterzimmern (see photos here). Two girls (11 and 13 years old) who had fled in February and March of 2014 from their respective juvenile shelters, were supposed to be returned into the care of the Jugendamt. The family court was unable to get a comprehensive expert opinion designed to evaluate whether the parents were fit parents, since the parents of the affected children refused any conversation with the respective expert. In any case there were no indications for an endangerment of the welfare of the children. And still the court refused the children to stay with the religious community while the judges rejects to accept the “Twelve Tribes'” offer of evidence or to follow up on it. The almost 100 officers carrying out the raid in Klosterzimmern, were not able to find the girls on the premises of the “Twelve Tribes.”

Two families have officially distanced themselves from the “Twelve Tribes” due to the official harassment and the police raids against the religious community. The court proceedings in Ansbach and Nördlingen have not been closed yet.



2. Enormous Costs for the County: Financial Support Necessary – Deliberation?

One thing is clear – the controversial out-of-home care of the children causes enormous costs for the county of Donau-Ries. For 2014 the Department of Youth Welfare arrogates 700.000 € more than before in the county budget as is stated by the local newspaper Augsburger Allgemeine. Alfred Kanth, head of the Jugendamt, stated that the district administration will “ask for financial support from the region of Schwaben as well as the Bavarian Ministry for Social Affairs in Munich.”

The county chief of Donau-Ries county, Stefan Rößle, refuses any communication with the religious community. He supposedly had initiated the first raid on the Twelve Tribes community because of homeschooling as his first act in office.


3. Psychologists Draw Contradictory Results concerning Physical Discipline

In spite of controversial police actions the evidence for abuses by the community is still missing. Alfred Kanth, head of the Jugendamt Donau-Ries stated in April 2013 to the news magazine Spiegel that every 4–6 weeks workers of the Jugendamt visited on the farm. “We experience happy, well-raised children whose development is age-appropriate and who cling to their parents,” explained the head of the Jugendamt back then.

In a conversation with Süddeutsche Zeitung journalist Stefan Mayr a 37-year-old “Twelve Tribes” father explains that he sees a difference between a “loving correction without causing damage” and an uncontrolled emotional outbreak. The violent enforcement of the taking into custody through the government authorities was completely overblown and was a big psychological shock for the children. Actually, such a step of the Jugendamt is the last means if no other measures are effective to protect the children. However for ten out of twelve affected families the first contact with the Jugendamt took place during(!) the first police raid.

The often-stated opinion that it is part of the teachings and the practice of the “Twelve Tribes” to break the will of the children, was not true, stated Barak, a brother in faith of the “Twelve Tribes” to FOREF: “Instead the parents want to strengthen the will of the children so that they can grow up to be mature, firm personalities who have learned to distinguish between good and evil and to respect their neighbor.” This was also confirmed before the District Court in Ansbach by an ex-member from Belgium who has established two companies with about 20 employees within two years since his exit and does not have one bad word to say about the community. Numerous young people who have left the community go on to complete a college education without incident. However, since the slanted presentation of the community by RTL reporter Kuhnigk, mainly ex-members from Kuhnigk’s circle have been being summoned to court as “witnesses.”

Rüdiger Eisenhauer, a psychologist commissioned as expert by the Ansbach court, who examined the children of the “Twelve Tribes” from age 3 till age 5, came to the amazing conclusion that the moderate disciplining applied by the “Twelve Tribes” would lead to lasting psychological damage in the future such as “depression, drug abuse and phobia.” The psychologist confirmed upon request that his information did not come from direct sources but was just what he gleaned from hearsay. His unfounded and therefore unreliable statements were considered by the court as an expert opinion.

The local child psychologist from Nördlingen thinks though, “If I look at the youth of the religious community, then I can clearly tell right away that their children are not being abused.” This is also confirmed by a local pediatrician who could not find any signs of traumatization with the children of the community.

However, the expert opinions of the family doctors, of the aforementioned children psychologist, and of a school psychologist who were very familiar with the children of the “Twelve Tribes,” were not even considered by the District Court of Nördlingen.

The differences of opinion between the “Twelve Tribes” and the Jugendamt can be traced back to differing definitions of violence. The controversial police raids pose the question of the proportionality of the state-sanctioned use of psychological, verbal, and physical violence against the children and the parents of the religious community, especially since neither traces of beatings nor mental abnormalities were found with the children after extensive medical and psychological examinations. Ultimately, the welfare of the children has to be evaluated: are the children really better off psychologically in institutions where they are placed with children with behavioral problems or unknown foster parents than with their biological parents who consider “moderate disciplining” a legitimate child-rearing method?


4. Affidavit of Sociologist of Religion and Twelve Tribes Researcher: Statements of So-Called Sect Experts are Unobjective and Dubious – Judiciary Biased?

Sociologists and scholars of religious studies are intensely researching New Religious Movements and principally have the necessary professional competence to explain the world views, the ethical practices, and the social structures of such communities to the public. So it is even more astounding that the German courts use Protestant and Catholic sect experts as “professionals,” “witnesses,” and “experts” as counselors. The fictive and stereotypical descriptions by these unexamined laymen are automatically and without questioning valid as evidence in the German courts.

Susan J. Palmer, the recognized sociologist of religion (Affiliate Assistant Professor at Concordia University Montreal, Member of the Faculty of Religious Science of McGill University), has been studying the religious community “Twelve Tribes” since 1987 and has already written several statements for encyclopedias as well as chapters in books and peer-reviewed magazine articles about the Twelve Tribes (or the Messianic Communities or the Northeast Kingdom Community Church, as the community was formerly called). She visited different branches of the Twelve Tribes, among others in Vermont, Massachusetts (USA), in Winnipeg (Canada), in Sus (France), in Bavaria (Germany), and in the Czech Republic.

Palmer criticizes the lack of objectivity and the dubious approach of the so-called sect experts. These proceed “ignorantly, negligently, and irresponsibly” and spread “a prejudiced, biased, stereotypical picture” of New Religious Movements, such as the “Twelve Tribes,” Palmer explains in her affidavit to the courts (written in October 2014). Thus the claims of the Catholic Klaudia Hartmann, who testified in a court hearing on 13.09.2013 against the parents of the Twelve Tribes in Wörnitz, are marked by plain ignorance about the religious community. The “Twelve Tribes” do not have a dualistic world view, nor do they isolate themselves from the rest of the society, nor do they reject modern medicine. Palmer further indicates that the myth of the manipulative “sect” that exploits its trusting victims, completely contradicts the repeated observation that the “Tribes” are constructively engaged in society and cultivate cooperative relationships to the local secular communities around them. Also they practice charity with homeless or sick people who are not members and do not intend to become members.

The sociologist criticizes the collective withdrawal of parental custody over the children by the German authorities since the partly invented statements of the so-called sect experts present a “completely insufficient basis” for a court ruling. In her statement Palmer describes the way of life and essential beliefs of the “Twelve Tribes.” In the US the percentage of apostates among the members of the 2nd generation is relatively high at 50 – 80% temporarily. According to her impression apostates of the 2nd generation also describe relatively happy childhood experiences. As young adults, many decide to explore the world and to leave the community. Some make this decision after going through a crisis of faith whereas others just want to do a different kind of work.

Palmer also intensively studied the phenomenon of “career apostates”: these are ex-members who are able to draw media attention with their exit stories. Exaggerations and fiction are not an untypical pattern in such stories which cannot always be taken at face value.

Concerning the harsh approach of the German authorities in Nördlingen and Wörnitz Palmer criticizes the unnecessary violation of the rights of children and parents. It was wrong to violently separate the children from their parents “since the doctors did not find any evidence of abuse after the raids in September 2013.” From her own experience and research of similar cases of raids on other religious communities, Palmer knows the damage children sustain from such situations. She appeals to the courts to call in the scientific research of renowned experts.

A few more abnormalities in the court proceedings are pointed out by the lawyer of the community, Michael Langhans: the court allowed the disputable RTL reporter Kuhnigk to read his first testimony before he gave the second testimony so that he would not contradict himself. Kuhnigk was allowed to have the court retrospectively change his testimony in the protocol at least twice without the changes being marked in the protocol. The responsible judge, Mrs. Roser, does not want to say what persons she spoke with before the court hearings concerning the “Twelve Tribes” and denied having counseled with the “sect expert” Riede. Riede states the opposite, though.


5. The Big Business of the “Sect Experts”

Church or state-funded sect experts do not feel obligated to get an impression of a certain community on site – as professional researchers like sociologists or religious scholars do. Nevertheless, in Germany’s courts those lay people are consulted as experts and consultants who have mostly insufficient scholarly or methodological qualifications and above all represent the interests of their denomination.

FOREF has put together a list of controversial “sect experts” who stood out negatively in the case of the “Twelve Tribes” by spreading typical “sect stereotypes” and unsubstantial blanket condemnations of New Religious Movements:

  • Dr. Michael Utsch, Protestant theologian and psychotherapist, since 1997 the speaker of the Protestant Center for Religious and Ideological Issues (Evangelische Zentralstelle für Weltanschauungsfragen).
  • Klaudia Hartmann, Catholic director of the Department for Religious and Ideological Issues of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Augsburg (Referat für Religions- und Weltanschauungsfragen der römisch-katholischen Diözese Augsburg).

A considerable number of those “sect experts” who are close to FECRIS have already been sentenced. Inter alia the charges include: hate speech or the violently enforced de-conversion by means of kidnapping and deprogramming. One of those cases was Heide-Marie Cammans, founder of Sekten-Info Essen (since 2007 called Sekten-Info NRW). She was finally sentenced on 19th December, 2001, by the Land Court of Munich (Landgericht München) for hate speech and defamation of the Hindu group Singh Takhar (file reference 9 O 8726/99, Landgericht München I). Since Sekten-Info Essen e.V. spread biased representations, the Federal Administrative Court in Berlin also sentenced their financing with public funds on March 27, 1992 (file reference BVerwG 7 C 28/90).

Cammans writes in January 2003 in memory of her career as a “sect expert” with Sekten-Info Essen e.V. that the years after the judgment of the Federal Administrative Court “were consistently characterized by constant financial problems.” Thus, along with Sabine Riede, the current Managing Director of Sekten-Info NRW e.V., she went looking for sponsors: “And at least we had enough success [with raising funds] that somehow we always could continue,” writes Cammans. “I would like to mention especially those Protestant and Catholic churches that helped us with annual donations or by transferring a collection and which – if I may I please add my request – will hopefully continue to contribute to our cause.”

Alone in virtue of this kind of denominational financing the objectivity of this information center is to be questioned. According to their own statements the institution that was renamed into Sekten-Info NRW e.V. is now again being sponsored by the State of North Rhine-Westphalia.  


6. Are the Children, Who Were Taken into State Custody, Being Deprogrammed by “Sect Experts”?

On July 19, 2014, the Jugendamt arranged a three-hour meeting for the foster parents and institutional educators of the “Twelve Tribes”-children along with those children in state custody at an undisclosed location, to be taught by “sect experts” on “dealing with sect children.” The affected parents were not allowed to participate and objected to this meeting. Their objection was declined immediately. In fact, on that occasion the parents of the “Twelve Tribes” were criticized for things they did not do and the foster parents were given biased “information” regarding the beliefs of the community.

The Jugendamt again massively neglected the protection of the parent-child relationship and injured grossly the right of freedom of conscience and religion of the parents and the children of the “Twelve Tribes”, a right which is firmly anchored in the German Constitution (Art. 4). In addition, the Jugendamt blindly trusts self-proclaimed experts, who neither engaged with the relevant faith community in a scientific and systematic manner nor have the skills to do so. The opponents of new religious movements influence the children with their black-and-white view of the world, so that they could possibly testify against their parents. Thus, an attempt is made to retrospectively legitimize the controversial regulatory action against the community and the dubious expertise of the advisors.

However, Mrs. Kundinger from the District Office Donau-Ries denies the allegation of indoctrination and would like that the instruction of the foster parents by the sect experts is known only as “foster parent training”, as explained in her letter to the District Court of Nördlingen of July 18, 2014.

The parents of the minority group are by legal means powerless against the practices of Sektenexperten who claim a monopoly on truth and exert mind control, in combination with those of the Jugendamt, which isolates children from their families of origin, restricts contact between parents and children and bans criticism.



7. Raid and Juvenile Shelter: Traumatic Experiences for the Children

“I thought that this intervention in our private lives was very brutal and aggressive,” described Eva, at that time 17-year-old, in a letter dated 09.23.2013 to Chancellor Angela Merkel. “I love my life in the community and would never wish for anything else, at least not for now.”

The then 14-year-old Besorah said, “Another terrible experience was when I was interrogated by the CID (Kriminalpolizei) for three hours. I was pressured to lie and to blame my mother.” Her letters to the Jugendamt and the judge in charge were not answered.

Only nine days after she was taken to a juvenile shelter, Debecca (at that time 16 years old) was allowed to speak to her parents on the phone for ten minutes. After five weeks, she was allowed to see her parents again for the first time and three months later, she was allowed to return home. 14-year-old Helez wrote: “I do not understand why they believe the lies that are being told about my parents. Those witnesses, who spread all these lies, should stop and not destroy happy families.” Prior to the first raid, “sect expert” Mrs. Riede mobilized six drop-outs of the religious Community get the District Court into the mood for undertaking such an operation.

12-year-old Chaninah said that the Jugendamt would try to persuade her that she is doing much better in the juvenile shelter than at home. In a letter to the County Commissioner (Landrat) of Donau-Ries, Stefan Rößle, she wrote, that “something in her soul is being broken” when she is not allowed to be with her parents.

Nechonah, the 12-year-old friend of Chaninah, wrote to Mr. Manfred Prexl, judge of the Court of Appeal, that her parents would not break her will. She describes her view of things: “The Jugendamt are those who break my personal will. They even send the criminal investigation department (Kriminalpolizei) to get me out of here. (…) I am a simple 12-year-old child, one who has an opinion and expresses it: Namely that I WANT TO STAY AT HOME! “


8. Refusal of Media Bullying

“The Secrets of Sects: Brainwashing or True Happiness” (broadcasted on 11/22/2013) and “When Faith becomes Dangerous: The Power of Sects”  (broadcasted on 11/11/2014) were the titles of talk shows by Mrs Sandra Maischberger on ARD. In both broadcasts the self-proclaimed “sect expert” Mrs Riede (a member of FECRIS) was allowed to express her black-and-white world view and her polemical blanket judgments against religious minorities. Personally, she has never visited the community of the “Twelve Tribes “, let alone talked with any active representative.

The “Twelve Tribes” were invited as well to the latter talk show. The community set a condition though to Mrs Maischberger: The representative of the community wanted to participate personally and did not just want to be interviewed via Skype. Mrs Maischberger refused this request with the argument that “it would burden the ex-member too much.” Michael Langhans, the lawyer of the Community of Believers, had been invited as well to a Skype interview that the community refused since their demand to have a self-presentation was denied.

Immediately after the show, Mrs Maischberger released a statement on Twitter, in which she claimed that the “Twelve Tribes” would be responsible for a mental disorder of a former member (that in fact exists from birth on).

The worn out sect cliché and the intolerance against believers of religious minorities stubbornly persists in the German media. For in Germany there is no lobby for freedom of religion, faith and conscience.


Cartoon: “They behave different from us”, “They dress different from us”, “They don’t buy the same stuff we do”, “They raise their kids differently”, “They are simply a CULT!”.

UN Convention on the Rights of the Child – Article 14

  1. States Parties shall respect the right of the child to freedom of thought, conscience and religion.
  2. States Parties shall respect the rights and duties of the parents and, when applicable, legal guardians, to provide direction to the child in the exercise of his or her right in a manner consistent with the evolving capacities of the child.
  3. Freedom to manifest one’s religion or beliefs may be subject only to such limitations as are prescribed by law and are necessary to protect public safety, order, health or morals, or the fundamental rights and freedoms of others.

UN Convention on the Rights of the Child – Article 19

  1. States Parties shall take all appropriate legislative, administrative, social and educational measures to protect the child from all forms of physical or mental violence, injury or abuse, neglect or negligent treatment, maltreatment or exploitation, including sexual abuse, while in the care of parent(s), legal guardian(s) or any other person who has the care of the child.


In light of the controversial proceedings against the Christian “Twelve Tribes” community, FOREF addresses following questions to the German authorities and the media:

  •  At what point is the state entitled to use the executive to intervene and to deprive the parents that are members of a religious community collectively of their children, without consideration of the particular case?
  • Norbert Ziegler from the Jugendamt Donau-Ries said referring to the community’s ban on the consumption of pork: “Well, but if the children like it…” The children in foster care were not allowed to participate in major holidays of the “Twelve Tribes” as they desired. Is the state allowed – even in cases of its interference with custody – to ignore the beliefs of the parents and guide the children to act against their faith’s tenets?
  • According to school psychologists, sociologists of religion, and most former members the communal environment of the “Twelve Tribes” is considered to be basically child-friendly. Is the forced removal of children and sending them into custody by the Jugendamt, the separation from their parents, and the children’s psychological isolation a proportionate alternative?
  • Who monitors the massive verbal violence and downright hatred expressed in the media reports about the “Twelve Tribes”?
  • Medical doctors did not find any traces of abuse on the children after the raids on the premises of the “Twelve Tribes” in September and December 2013 and July 2014. The statements of denominational “sect experts” count as basically biased and polemical. What justifies the violent separation of the children from their parents as well as the withdrawal of the parents’ custody in the case of the “Twelve Tribes”?
  • Do prejudices turn into facts through repeating them in a mantra-like fashion? It’s about time that this widespread practice of repeating biased stereotypes in anti-cult organizations is exposed and substituted by professional, impartial and fact-oriented approaches.


FOREF’s Demands to the Authorities

  • To the County Commissioner, Stefan Rößle: You can safely rely on professional mediation and de-escalation approaches in order to prevent an artificial polarization and aggravation of the conflict! Please dispense with financial funding for the county gained at the expense of the criminalization and defamation of a religious community.
  • To the District Court of Nördlingen and the District Court of Ansbach: Question the disproportion of the measures taken and set as the first priority the physical and psychological well-being of the children! Avoid the arbitrary decisions that are influenced by biased reports from self-appointed experts and turn to lawyers, school psychologist, sociologists, and scholars of religious studies for professional consulting.
  • To the Bavarian Jugendamt: Avoid stigmatization and bullying of the children in juvenile shelters (Jugendheimen) and schools through education on religious diversity, tolerance and respect! Find creative solution processes through constructive dialog with the affected parents.
  • To the Free State of Bavaria (Freistaat) and the Federal Republic of Germany (Bundesrepublik Deutschland): Initiate an official inquiry about the improper proceedings of the so-called sect experts (namely Sabine Riede, Klaudia Hartmann, Rev. Dr. Wolfgang Behnk) and the media representatives (including RTL-reporter Wolfram Kuhnigk and Focus-Reporter Axel Wolfsgruber) involved the case of the “Twelve Tribes”. Moreover the disputed agenda of the “sect experts” as well as their occasional application of psycho-manipulative methods such as deprogramming is to be examined. If in future there are any controversies about religious communities, get the expert opinions of trained sociologists and scholars of religious studies!


FOREF’s Advice for the “Twelve Tribes”

  • Even slight corporal disciplining, which evidently does not leave any physical or psychological damage, is stigmatized as “child abuse” in the public and criminalized as an educational method! You can expect the German authorities to be ready to intervene with irrational violence if there is any suspicion of physical chastisement – even if it is done in a controlled manner and moderately – to supposedly protect the well-being of the children by taking away the children forcefully and without advance notice. There will be no consideration that such actions by the Jugendamt are done at the cost of the psychological and mental health of the children by breaking their will and by undermining the trusting relationship with their parents. The question whether the remedy is proportional to the alleged harm is asked at best in retrospect, only long after the artificially produced media hysteria has waned.
  • Publish an explicit description of your educational model. Consult a professional psychological and sociological opinion that will help the authorities to distinguish between moderate educational discipline and corporal abuse.


Overview of the Emergence, Beliefs, and Practices of the “Twelve Tribes”

  • The religious community goes back to the American Elbert Eugene Spriggs, a former teacher and member of the Jesus People Movement. Spriggs founded the “Light Brigade” in Chattanooga, Tennessee, which became the “Vine Christian Community Church” in 1975 and “The Northeast Kingdom Community Church” in Island Pond, Vermont, in 1978. The community grew steadily during the 1980s and 1990s, and several branches were founded in North America and Europe by the name “Messianic Communities” before the community eventually called itself “The Twelve Tribes.” According to their own statement there are about 2,000 members, the majority living in the USA.
  • In 1994 the first German branch of the “Twelve Tribes” formed in Pennigbüttel near Osterholz-Scharmbeck in the state of Lower Saxony. Since 2001 a commune of the “Twelve Tribes” has been living in Klosterzimmern near Nördlingen (Donau-Ries County, Bavaria). About 20 families and several single members are a part of the community in Germany, who besides Klosterzimmern also live in nearby Wörnitz (Ansbach County, Bavaria).
  • The congregations of the “Twelve Tribes” are organized as commonwealth communities (c.f. “…all the believers were together and had all things in common.” Acts 2:44). Possessions are shared, the manual and agricultural work is handled in a collective manner and meals are taken together. Individual families each have their own private area in the community house.
  • The foundation of the community life is the obedience to the Old Testament and the words of the Messiah Yahshua (Jesus) according to the New Testament.
  • The group prepares for the return of the Messiah. The community is supposed to restore the pattern of the original church communities before the Son of God returns to the Earth and begins the millennial age.
  • Every day there is a morning gathering at 6 am, as well as an evening gathering at 6 pm. The Shabbat is celebrated every Friday evening.
  • The community in Klosterzimmern near Nordlingen makes efforts to cultivate friendly relationships with the local neighbors and invites the inhabitants of the village every year to a big Hoffest, where they offer children games and self-made food.  Several thousands of visitors came to these events to visit their farm in Klosterzimmern over the past years.
  • Children are considered as a gift from God, who they love more than anything. The goal of child rearing is to accompany them on their way in life and teach them to be attentive to the conscience, to practice brotherly love, honor one’s parents and respect adults. The task of the parents is to give the children love and care. This also includes setting boundaries and in case they are being transgressed physical disciplining can follow, which happens – as the community emphasizes – moderately and followed by forgiveness. (Injuries are definitely not inflicted to children.)
  • The Twelve Tribes prefer homeschooling to keep the children from negative influences of society (explicitly named are sex education or the Darwinist theory of evolution). Since the Twelve Tribes settled in Germany in the year 1994 the community encountered several conflicts with the state authorities.
  • From 2006 until 2013 the Twelve Tribes operated a state-authorized “private supplementary school” (Ergänzungsschule). The permission for the school was withdrawn from the community in summer 2013 due to lack of teachers and allegations of disciplining (biasedly coined as “systematic abuse”). Since homeschooling is not allowed in Germany, some families of the community have already left the country in order not to expose their children to the “moral decay in public state schools”. (On the current debate concerning the planned extension of sex education in public schools in Germany, see e.g. Voigt, Martin: „Aufklärung oder Anleitung zum Sex?“, FAZ, 23.10.2014 and Schmelcher, Antje: „Unter dem Deckmantel der Vielfalt“, FAZ, 14.10.2014.)




Background information from the viewpoint of the „Twelve Tribes“ (in German)


Notes by the Lawyer of the „Twelve Tribes“ (in German)


Background information on the European Anti-Cult Network FECRIS:

Besier, G. / Seiwert H. (Hrsg.): Freedom of Religion or Belief Anti-Sect Movements and State Neutrality A Case Study: FECRIS (2012).


*Sociological studies by Susan J. Palmer on the „Twelve Tribes“ (selection):

  • Palmer, Susan J. (February 2010). “The Twelve Tribes: Preparing a Bride for Yahshua’s Return”. Nova Religio 13 (3): 59–80.
  • Palmer, Susan J. (2005). “Twelve Tribes”. In Lindsay Jones. Encyclopedia of Religion 14 (2 ed.). New York: Macmillan Reference USA. p. 9409.

Dr. Craig Knapp (1994), licensed psychologist: Assessment of the Potential Impact of the Messianic Community on the Welfare and Best Interest of the Children.

Frank G. Mahady (1984), district judge: Opinion Paper referring to the detention of 112 children (Vermont Raid).


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9 Responses to GERMANY: Controversy Surrounding “Twelve Tribes” – Sociologist Warns against Targeted Misinformation by Sect Experts

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