by Matt Peterson ("Ithaca Times," November 25, 2003)
Those curious in finding out more about the controversial religious group known as the Twelve Tribes attended en masse a public forum held by the group last week.
Last Thursday, more than 80 people attended the forum at the Holiday Inn, which allowed members of the public to ask questions about the local Twelve Tribes branch, which has close to 30 local members and has established a strong presence in Ithaca in recent years, and their beliefs.
The feeling of the meeting was fairly low-key as Tribes members talked about their faith, which combines elements of many other faiths, their belief in disciplining children, which they state includes mild physical reinforcement, and their feelings about being labelled a cult. On this last point, group members alluded to the fact that because Tribes members work and live in a collective and give their material wealth to the religious group, they are often targeted by anti-cult experts.
A hot button topic at the forum revolved around the Twelve Tribes' stance on homosexuality and whether they would be civil to homosexuals who chose to visit their soon-to-open café on the Commons.
Matthew Roller, a member of the group, explained that while the Twelve Tribes' religious beliefs prohibit homosexuality, they are tolerant of others' chosen lifestyles.
"We are not anti-anything, but we do believe in the value of a man/woman family structure," Roller said. "People do all kinds of things and live all types of lifestyles and we are not interested in stopping them."
One member of the public, Terry Mayhew, expressed her displeasure at the fact that a forum needed to be held at all.
"I am extremely embarrassed that you have to hold an open forum at all," Mayhew said, adding that with Ithaca's reputation for being diverse and open-minded, their differences in beliefs should be celebrated. "
Others in the audience were not won over by the Twelve Tribes explanations of their stances on different issues or their claims that Internet sources that call them a radical cult that abuses children and bilks people's money.
Joyce Muchan, a member of the Tompkins County Human Rights Commission,
said that she has conducted interviews with members of the public
who have come into contact with the local Tribes members and said
that she is not convinced of their claims of tolerance.