By Madison Witt, Staff Writer —
Year after year, incoming students hear rumors about the Yellow Deli restaurant and those who work there mostly without ever attempting to know the truth.
“My first week here I was told the Yellow Deli was a cult, but that they had good food. So, we went anyways,” said Delaynee Contella, a sophomore from White House, Tennessee.
The first thing that should be understood is the definition of the word “cult.”
“A cult is a system of religious veneration and devotion directed toward a particular figure or object,” according to Merriam-Webster Dictionary.
In 1973, Eugene Spriggs formed the Vine Christian Community Church, now known as the Twelve Tribes community, in Chattanooga. Spriggs and his wife, Marsha, were looking for a church that put God first before everything. Not satisfied with the options they found, they decided to form their own community that focuses on restoring the apostolic church of Jewish disciples who surrounded Yahshua, the Hebrew name for Jesus.
Prior to joining, all of your belongings must be turned over to the community. Members live together, sharing everything, just as the first disciples did in the first century.
In 1979, the group moved their practices from Chattanooga to Vermont. According to members, this was after facing discrimination from other churches in Chattanooga. They said they returned 30 years later because the Heavenly Father was leading them back.
This new way of worship flourished across the world. There are new communities in countries like Brazil, Australia, Spain and Canada.
Caleb (all members of the Twelve Tribes go by only one name), current member of the Twelve Tribes, had planned to visit the community for a week to get a better understanding of it. However, one week turned into eight years. He was intrigued by the unanswered questions that came to him after many years of following Christianity, yet the love shown through the community is what kept him there.
“You come here to love others,” he said. “Our life is full of joy and happiness.”
Margaret Dempsey, a junior from Chattanooga, is attempting to rid the prejudices of the Twelve Tribes for a project through the Ralph W. Hood Jr. Psychology of Religion Lab. She said she had always heard the rumors about the deli and those who worked there, but after attending gatherings and speaking personally with members, those rumors didn’t seem to add up.
“They look out for each other, and no one is focused on themselves,” she said. “If everyone is worrying about others instead of themselves, then they’re all taken care of.”
The community members are open to questions and curious minds. Every Friday at 6 p.m. they open their home to all. There’s food, music, and circle dancing to celebrate love and the word of God.
The Twelve Tribes provide more to communities than just good food at a few delis. They have farms, soap shops, maté cafés and bakeries all over the world. Although, Caleb said the best way for them to connect with people and allow others to get to know them is through delis.
“We have nothing to hide and we want people to understand that and know they can ask us questions,” Caleb said. “We have our delis open to anyone 24 hours a day, so that anyone can ask us anything at any time.”