The members of the yellow deli all live in one house on Oak Street.

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.”

29 Replies to “The mysterious Yellow Deli and its “cult” status”

  1. This is a very shallow article. To really understand the depths that the Twelve Tribes will sink to, you need to become a member. Yes, throw away your life, your family and all of your possessions! Give it 10 or 15 years, and you’ll see how trapped you’ve become…how suffocated.

    All of our hard-fought freedoms…freedom of speech, of thought, the pursuit of happiness? Oh, right…you traded them in to save your soul.

    Now, you no longer think for yourself, but unquestioningly obey the teachings, even though their source is corrupt. But that isn’t for you to judge, because you’re a lowly ‘sheep’ without the ability to do anything except follow…blindly.

    Soon decades have passed, but the prophecies never come true. They’re always just around the next corner. Meanwhile you languish. Your human needs aren’t met–unless you’re an elder, that is.

    Everyone in the Twelve Tribes is equal. Trouble is, some are more ‘equal’ than others. Sound familiar?

    Yes, in the Twelve Tribes the sheep and the wolves dwell harmoniously together. The sheep are well-fed…but the wolves are fed even better. Because every so often a sheep must be sacrificed to satisfy the appetites of a wolf or two.Or even the whole pack! Their souls are sucked dry in a humiliating Qahal. They’re surrounded by harsh, judgmental leaders who delight in pouring salt on wounds, adding insult to injury, causing pain and misery as they shred your individual identity for the good of the whole.

    They hate Communism, yet they are just that. A rose by any other name is still a rose. A serpent by any other name is still…you can fill in the blanks.

  2. Listen up!..everything the previous commenter said was absolutely true…and youve already been affected by thier subtley,beware..ALL THAT GLITTERS ISN’T GOLD..,esp. In this case..

  3. To fact check the rumors,your research should include speaking to both sides. Sometimes rumors are passed on by others without them having had first hand experience. My husband and I lived there for 20 years,…if you haven’t talked to both sides I encourage you to do so.

  4. I think your research would benefit from speaking to both sides. Also, if a rumor is passed on to you from someone who has only heard the rumor themselves and did not personally experience it, that may not be reliable and can probably be dismantled, partly because it may have been exaggerated. If you speak to those who have experienced the life there, several of those that have actually lived there, you may have a more balanced understanding.

  5. Oh that’s the house I lived in and slaved away in their deli there for several months working roughly 16 hour days. When I asked one day for a larger size pair of shoes because my current ones had become too small I was told to pray for them. I prayed and waited, prayed and waited, prayed and did some more waiting, meanwhile I was at the deli by 6 am and came home around 10pm every single day except Saturday. I performed many different jobs there, but when I served I was often left tips which I faithfully turned over into a big glass bowl. I have no idea where that money all went, but 6 months of faithfully praying went by and shoes that actually fit me had yet to be provided. My feet were constantly in pain and my toes were scrunched together for so long that I had developed permanent hammer toe on 2 toes. In order to straighten them I will need to see a specialist and they will have to be broken and a metal rod placed in them until they are fully healed. When I asked why I never received new shoes, my covering asked if I had been praying for them and I said yes all the time. She then said that I must be spiritually disconnected and therefore my prayers aren’t being answered. The quote “they all look out for each other and everyone is taken care of” is complete bullshit! I could tell you countless other stories but you’d end up reading a book, not a comment. Some people there, mostly elders are just simply more privileged than those they watch over.

    On Saturday, their rest day all I remember wanting to do was sleep for hours seeing I was exhausted from slaving away for 16 hour days the rest of the week. However I never really got to rest on that day because I needed to attend a 3 hour morning gathering, an afternoon teaching, preperation hour, a two hour evening gathering and a 3-4 hour breaking of the bread. What the second commenter has said is spot on!

  6. Ditto the above comments. There are two realities to the Twelve Tribes; that which they present to outsiders and that which is experienced by their members. If you believe nothing else, believe that you are an outsider unless you are born there or baptized into the group. You will be presented with a false picture in any other case, even if you think you know them well.

    Proceed with caution. The only reason I would be near them is to help people leave. There are many good people who are stuck there and need a way out.

    Peace to all.

  7. Why does not anyone ask who the Twelve Tribes really are? Ter leader is Elbert Eugene Spriggs. Members are not rewarded for their work. The children are beaten with the rod. Everywhere in the world, they open cafes and run farms. Why does the press not warn that the mission of the Twelve Tribes can be dangerous for the people?

  8. The first few years they were somewhat descent but something changed. Then Gene Sprigs/Elbert/Yoneq needed intrigue to compensate for something he lost so he began calling them the 12 tribes. It’s not enough that Sprigs is an apostle, started the community. Sprigs is now as apostle to all 12 tribes in a position equal to Moses with Israel and Jesus with the Church.

    Moses and Jesus were approved by God by miracles. I was told that the unity of the community is the miracle. Many people including Jim Jones have started communities, some good and some not like Jim Jones. Unity miracle is fine but they consider themselves to be the only true church they have met in their over 40 years. Anyone who was part of the true church would have joined them.

    So their questionable miracle of unity is not really a miracle but common.

    This is from their notes on their teaching called “The Execution of Justice” that outsiders are not supposed to see because as an outsider you don’t have the Holy Spirit to discern truth.


    I don’t believe Isaac was terrified at any time. I do believe Elbert Gene Sprigs/Yoneq terrified the child, got pleasure out of that, and knew he was lying and is using the story of Abraham and Isaac to justify himself.
    When I was in the community after the Jim Jones mass suicide Sprigs told a group of us at a teaching we needed to give our bodies as a sacrifice. He could have used the scripture he took it from but chose to leave out the part as a LIVING sacrifice TO DO HIS 9God’s)WILL but he gets a pleasure out of creating controversy and fear. He said something to a guest about the Bible and the guest said as a reaction Sprigs “I might as well burn it” and handed it to Sprigs who threw it in the fire.

    Someone prayed in one of their meetings that the big church leaders would fall into sin so they would be exposed. He and his wife were judging other harshly for any hint of sexual immorality (I have no problem with that) while she was seducing young men in. the community. Her punishment was the shame of it but others had been kicked out of the community for less. I have a problem with the hypocrisy.

    Sprigs is a wonderful person when he is not being sadistic but I guess getting people to hypnotically follow you by shocking them is justified by the end of having a community and being an apostle equal to Moses and Jesus minus the true miracles.

  9. What does the author of the article say about the sect warning about this sect? Is it ok that the Twelve Tribes settle down everywhere to open cafes ect …? Will the author once again research and recognize who are the “Twelve Tribes Community “behind the facades?

  10. Why didn’t you speak with the multitudes of former TT members who have been spiritually raped and psychologically injured (mind control) while in the grips of this atrocious group?Your “piece” is not balanced! Cheryl Lewczyk Former TT Member

  11. You should be careful and not naive. Remember, stranger danger. Even people who appear to be nice can be just as dangerous as unbalanced people.

    They already have a motive in talking to people, and they want you to feel comfortable because they want new members, don’t be deceived or led astray.

    Have you ever lived there. It’s a different story when u see everything versus going to a deli or a gathering and seeing them in their element. But i have seen and heard children getting hit repeatedly with a rod. I counted 46 lashings. What should I say as a guest living in their home. I have witnessed child whippings.

    Don’t be so naive in letting yourself be deceived.

  12. These college professors students that did An investigation have not realized that they’ve all been lied to. This community is no good! They collect people salaries and income and distributed amongst the communities who profits the owner! These people are brainwashed and utilized as modern-day slaves.

  13. Wow. Have you interviewd a wife, or a child that was left by their father to join this cult? Have you interviewd a mother or a father that no longer have communication with their son or daughter because of their blind allegiance to this group? Did you interview anyone that was a former member and talk to them about their expierience? Have you looked into the teachings of its founder Eugene Spriggs? Have you ever read Lifton’s criteria for a cult? Have you ever studied mind control? The lack of depth and critical analysis in this artical is embarrassing.

  14. That ending is hilarious. He says, “We have nothing to hide”. Isn’t that just a perfect picture of who they are. When you join you will see that they have everything to hide. Everything is a secret. False realities are constantly around you. They control everything you see, hear and think, while running you off to “serve” elsewhere when someone or something comes around that you’re not supposed to see. “We have nothing to hide” yet they will lie to your face quicker than you can blink. “We have nothing to hide” but they taught us new disciples to become pathological liars just like them. These people are full blown occultists. They practice mental magic and sorcery daily but you won’t recognize it unless you have a background in it. The only thing you’ll recognize is the mental pressure and confusion that sets in. This is spiritual filth.

    They are servants of the father of lies, Satan. This is why they lie so much and have to teach their new members to lie just the same.

    When you are a customer/guest, they say you can’t know God and can’t be saved by his Messiah unless you join their cult. So you join and then they say you can’t be saved until you come to know their “father”, so you are quarantined and treated like a leper and treated like a retard. Then, the months turn into a year and the second year is approaching when the leaders tell you that it is not possible to tell if someone is saved because they could leave after 30 years and have never been sincere to begin with. Then these assholes in the highest positions look you in the eyes and say “I might not be saved”. They claim to be the people of the living God, yet their regional leaders (tribal leaders) stand before their gatherings saying things like “The Bible is the most evil book ever written” and “I’m sorry but our Father is not the good of this Earth. Our Father does not have authority on this planet”.

    Full blown lost souls who get off on breaking people. Trauma based mind control is being practiced here. It splits a person’s psyche and creates a new personality that can be programmed. The new personality will let people treat them in ways the person has never allowed before, talk about things in ways they have never thought before, act in ways they have never acted before and be willing to believe the stupidest things that they would have never in a million years believed before. When you hear one of the Twelve Tribers say they are happy or that they are loved, what they’re really saying is “If I don’t say this then I am going to be mentally/emotionally/spiritually/phycologically tortured and I don’t want that”. And this is what mind control is all about… getting a person to mentally break so that they can preserve themselves from the onslaught which would otherwise come.

  15. Gene Spriggs bludgeons you with his spiritual knowledge…then he comes to lick your wounds..he’s your savior…he loves that power…he loves the ability to be God in his temple…stay far far away from this bloodsucking devoured our souls…

  16. Nothing affiliated with UTC should in any way encourage students to go to the Yellow Deli and fund the well documented (allot done by the cult themselves) abuse and just heinous teachings and beliefs. UTC should spread the truth about the 12 tribes cult and not downplay it. It is terrifying to think how much money UTC students have contributed to the cult over the years not knowing what they were funding. UTC should come out against the organization’s beliefs and practices, or at minimum not encourage students to go there and not give the cult any good free press.

  17. Any chance of a Yellow Deli returning to Chickamauga? I loved the food and atmosphere.I was a lot younger back then— feeling nostalgic for the good things in life.

  18. Explain to us about the money that comes in from the free labor. Tell us about the money. I could have written this article with no research.

  19. I’m not fooled by Gene Spriggs! Everyone needs to pull back the damn curtain. Gene Sprigs was a part of The Jesus Movement and Children of God (cult) back in the 70s! He got his degree in Psychology at UTC–if that doesn’t tell you something!! Marsha is his 4th wife!! He owns a multitude of businesses not just Yellow Deli! He owns BOJ Construction, 3 Organic Farms, Yerba Mate Farm in South America, and various others institutions. He likes the South because it offers him religious protections and many exemptions!
    The people who have bought into this kind of crap existence is who I feel sorry for– they are stuck in physical slave labor and they are both mentally and physically abused. I cannot fathom what how tortured they must feel. They own zip, zilch, zero and Gene Spriggs (him and his elders) holds them to the fire!
    I spoke to an elderly man who was working at one of their Deli’s and his face was that of agony. I kept talking to him and he answered me in these weird “peaceful phrases”(why yes friend… oh friends have you heard about our community?) Etc.. Then we had various other people coming over to us as well when we were invited to some gathering by another guy. The old man shook his head and looked away as if warning us not to go. Those are the people my heart breaks for the people who feel they are stuck and without options! I pray they find lights to guide them to roads of freedom.

  20. I’m absolutely amazed, and not in a good way, that a college level journalist has written such a one-sided piece. Is this truly journalistic investigating and writing? It’s more like an advertisement or recruiting attempt. Horrific endorsement of such a dangerous group. Shameful.

    I’d love to see a response from the author attempting to justify this piece.

  21. Anonymous

    It seems that the people who have negative things to say have failed to see that the things Eugene Spriggs says are the same things that the Son of God said. Those who are bitter are really those who have exposed themselves for refusing to simply obey His requirements for following Him. It’s an attack against authority and a failure to be honest and that person is really hiding from the truth about themself.

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