The Twelve Tribes, an international confederation of religious communities, is widely regarded as a cult. It was founded in 1971 by Gene Spriggs in Chattanooga, Tennessee on the principle that Christianity has become an abomination. The Twelve Tribes believe that Christians should return to their 1st century state as possession-less apostles living in communes, as described in the Book of Acts, in order for Jesus to return; a return they believe to be imminent. The hippy-Jesus styled commune equate themselves to a beehive, believing that the only pure way to live is through “oneness” and the giving up of individuality and free will.
Their free(!) literature states that modern Christianity has led its followers to a lack of “distinctive culture that sets them apart from the world, their children embrace the fashions, music and immortality of the world.” They combat this by raising their families in communes across the country where members are forced to give up their possessions and submit to the will of the group. The words ‘I’, ‘me’, ‘my’ and ‘mine’ are forbidden. Once in the group, spouses are chosen by group consensus with everybody, including your future kids, belonging to everybody. The group has been dogged by allegations from authorities, follower’s family members and the general public of suppressing women’s rights, racism, brainwashing, child abuse and child labor(a man I end up speaking with tells me he strongly objects to the term ‘child labor’, contending he had just gotten done working with his industrious little fella after he had begged to be with him in the fields).
Those who are cynical might call it a “front” for a “cult.” Harsh words, friend. Usually I don’t support this kind of thing. But I like to give people the benefit of the doubt and am willing to overlook just about anything short of genocide for a good sandwich. So I went.
At Yellow Deli, the ambiance is only rivaled by the decor. The place has the quaint aesthetic of the Shire if Bilbo Baggins decided to take an edible. It has a rustic feel of reclaimed wood and thatched roofs set against yellow submarine styled religious murals of people toiling in crop fields. Melodic folk music of rolling hills fills the room as a man-bunned-sandal-wearing host greets me with an “all are welcome, brother.” Dammit, from a very young age I’ve always wanted the approval of my brother. You very well could be a monster but you’ve hit a soft spot. Well played. Damn you and your hospitality. With my love of approval and sandwiches getting the better of me, I immediately want in. I ask about job openings. They tell me that to work in the deli, I must join the Twelve Tribes. They invite me to undergo a trial period where I work and stay in their home for a week. This must be that middle of the country hospitality I’ve heard so much about. While there I’ll have to obey every command as the hive mind wills it or face exile. Strict house rules but I respect it. Better than a “take your shoes off before entering” request (how about getting a door mat and calling it a day?). Although interested in joining, I want to try the food before committing.
I’m seated and given a menu with the front reading “we serve the fruit of the spirit…why not ask?” So I ask for spirits and am told by my server that they don’t have any. Although disappointed, I settle on asking for a beer. He gives me a confused look and tells me they don’t serve beer here. They must call it ale. Desperately wanting approval from my potential future family and not wanting to feel out of place, I move on and order food. After much deliberation (for an organization that prides itself on its hive mind their sandwich selection doesn’t lack in diversity), I settle on ordering a Reuben.
I peruse some of their free literature they’ve handed me as I wait. As I read about modern society bringing on the coming AntiChrist and the eternal hellfire that is to come, I get a whiff of the wood fire oven my Reuben’s being toasted in.
I wait for over forty- five minutes. I read the literature front to back to front again and repeat. With the end times approaching you’d think there’d be a little pep in their step. But when the food gets here, its well worth the wait. It’s the best Reuben I’ve ever had. It’s served on delicious rye bread made in house. And if the bread’s made by child labor, keep these kids out of school because it’s what Jesus would want them doing. Often times in a Reuben you’ll find the corned beef is too dry. But here they didn’t skimp out on the cheese and sauerkraut, giving it a creamy center. By the time I’ve called over the chef to compliment him on his work, I’m in too deep. I’m being invited back to the commune and restaurant etiquette tells me it’s too late to turn back. I ask for the check and a couple of mints along with the contract to hand over my soul.