This website contains the journals I wrote while I was in the Church of Bible Understanding (COBU). These pages are also part of the source material for my book, Captive Congregation, which is available as a Kindle book or in paperback. (Captive Congregation is also available in the UK, Germany, Canada, Australia, Netherlands, France, Spain, Mexico, Italy, India, Brazil, and Japan.)
My second book, The Tangled Web: Letters from the Cult is also now available as an ebook.
Introduction to A Day in the Life of a Cult Member
The pages are a record of my life in COBU from 1990 through 1993, which were my last four years there. (I became a member of the church in 1980 when I was 22 years old. I left 14 years later at 36.) For a description of life in COBU and how the COBU system worked, it is best to start reading these journals from 1993 onward.
Before 1993, most my writing was self-condemning. At that time I believed the negative things our leader, Stewart Traill, said about us, and I didn’t have the power or resources to reason my way out of it. Later, when I began to study about cults and manipulation to try to understand the system I was living under, I began looking at my surroundings with a more critical eye.
That being said:
“The rule I set for myself long ago that I should never destroy anything from this record: the principle value of these jottings for later use will be as a guide to reactions of the moment and I cannot help it if they remind me and embarrass me.”
This is from John Hersey’s novel The Wall. Somehow, despite our busy schedule that contained long workdays in the church-owned businesses, long meetings and time spent managing and training new converts, I managed to read a lot. And The Wall was one of the many books I read. The main character in this story kept a journal in which he recorded events, conversations and meetings during the last months of the Warsaw Ghetto before it was destroyed by the Nazis.
I wanted to do the same thing with my journals. I thought I might want to know what I was thinking at the time and that there might be some use for these journals later. I wrote down my thoughts, the conversations of others and about what went on in the meetings.
Where I mentioned books I was reading, I have provided links you can click on if you want to know more about some of the materials I had access to at the time which helped me to form a different viewpoint about the world I was living in than what I was supposed to believe about it.
There are different ways to read these journals:
Or read from 1993 onward, when I began to understand things more.
And by the end of May 1993, I was providing detailed descriptions of dialogs and the kind of manipulation that went on.
Any of these points would be a good place to start. There also is a link at the bottom of every page which takes you to the next part of the diary.
Two other good pages to read are the ones below, which are from my COBU Essays website:
My writing was highly subjective, though it is an accurate view from a rank and file member of a cult. I was subjected to many forces, some of which I understand now and some of which I don’t fully understand and can only speculate about.
One of those forces was that the words that Stewart Traill, the leader of our cult, told us were often reinforced by inward and outward means. Peer pressure and the confines of a communal society in which we were isolated from outward influences was like an echo chamber that magnified Stewart’s voice.
I also thought I heard God talking to me, in agreement with what Stewart was telling us. (I often recorded this in my journal as “a voice,” since I was not sure and I didn’t want to say that I knew for sure that it was God speaking to me.) I often had dreams that supported Stewart’s claims that we were all going to hell. The broken down and tired condition I was in seemed to support Stewart’s claims that I was not faithful to Jesus.
Also, there were influences, it seemed, from outside the cult. During a period when Stewart was preaching heavily about hell and how we’re going there, I was on a subway in New York City and a man burst into the car, screaming desperately about how we’re all going to hell. Now, there were often street preachers who came through the subway cars. But this was different. This man looked like he was running from a burning building. In a strident voice, he was saying that we’re all going to hell and that the devil has many distractions to take our mind off it, like television, cigarettes and sports. Then he went on to the next car, with the same message. And he wasn’t offering any solutions, like if you turn your life to God, you can be saved. No, just assurance of our eternal ruin.
On a less shocking level, when Stewart was introducing his new teaching that repentance means “making a U turn,” which is really not such a bad teaching in and of itself, I was resisting it, not because of the message, but because of the messenger. Stewart had an obnoxious and insulting style of relating to us, and he started any lesson, no matter how Christian in content by first lining us all up and exposing how bad we were. So, I was out walking to get a van that was parked some distance away from the church and a guy stopped his car alongside me and said, “Hey, where can I make a U turn? I’m trying to get to the highway” That and seeing a poster in a customer apartment that said, “If you’re going the wrong way, don’t worry. God allows U turns” helped me to accept Stewart’s teaching, at least on this subject.
Begin reading at December 1990.
Begin reading at May 1992.
Begin reading at January 1993.
Begin reading at May 1993.
More of my COBU Diary Pages: