1992, 06/19-27 and 07/11-17. Red Hook Ramblings

These journal pages form the background of my book, Captive Congregation: My Fourteen Years in the Church of Bible Understanding, which is available as a Kindle book or in paperback.

Just some notes for the month of June 1992, when I lived at the Red Hook Warehouse.

June 19

In Red Hook in night meeting with Kevin. Is it really for healing? It would be great to have a session to get healing. To feel free, openness. I would never come to the light here. I am no good. I guess it is all or partly my fault, but I wish it could be so.

[Kevin B., acting on the behalf of Stewart Traill (and acting just like him, in his mannerisms, voice and how he treated us), was sent over to Red Hook to have a meeting to discuss why we “hold outs” continued to stay at the Red Hook warehouse, rather than urgently volunteering to rejoin the efforts at Woodruff to be united with the brothers in training new the disciples. This way of life he was urging us to rejoin was an endless treadmill of work during the day and meetings until at least 2 in the morning. Not only that, at every Sunday meeting Stewart always declared the hardworking brothers at Woodruff to be unfaithful, under whatever flavor-of-the-week accusation he used, such as, “cheating,” or “trying to have it both ways,” or “just going through the motions.”

I was not motivated to rejoin this chain gang and get whipped and punished as a reward for all my hard work, self denial and sleep deprivation. But we were not allowed to say anything like that. We could not negotiate the terms and conditions of our service to COBU, as a counselor in some rehab center or Christian school might have, with days off, a salary, and time for a family. And besides, I had been at Woodruff not long ago, doing this work, and I was one of those separated out and put in the Red Hook warehouse because we were considered not good enough. That rude treatment, and whether it had been right or wrong was not going to get discussed – and besides, once I got to Red Hook, I found out that I greatly preferred living there to living at Woodruff, and I finally never had to go back there again.

And as far as a meeting, in this case with Kevin, to be open and freely “come to the light” and to explain my struggles and to get healing, that would be great. But that was not going to happen in COBU. We were being urged, in a certain way, to “come to the light,” but this was in terms of fessing up about why we were being such hold-outs, and these were the terms and conditions of the meeting and no other topics were going to be discussed.]

We have to explain why we stay here in Red Hook. What is the point? To warn the new disciples? Kevin keeps asking and we only answer because we have our strings pulled. He is doing a lot of chiding.

[I and several other older brothers had been separated from the rest of the brothers (who were living at Woodruff Avenue) and sent to live in the Red Hook warehouse. We were considered to not be in “right fellowship” with the rest of the brothers. During this time, older brothers like Kevin and Joe came over at night to lead our meetings in the same abusive and inquisitional spirit that Stewart Traill led meetings with, although Joe sometimes seemed like he was genuinely trying to help us. (But of course, he was doing that under the terms and conditions set forth.) Their roles were that of the inquistor and we were the interrogated. We were supposed to prove that we were changing and that we were trying to get back into this “right fellowship” and that we were “escaping Red Hook.”

Red Hook meaning more than just the physical location. It meant the “wrong spirit” and the desperate trouble we were in. We were supposed to be “escaping hell” and somehow, those of us in Red Hook were in more danger of going to hell than the ones in Woodruff – though as I mentioned, every Sunday without fail, Stewart declared every brother in the church as being equally unfaithful to Christ, no matter where they were living and no matter what category they were in. After the recommitment speeches by the brothers that inevitably followed Stewart’s accusation of their unfaithfulness, the whole cycle started over again on Monday, with the tension between the in group (those who were “united and in right fellowship”) and the out group (those who were apart, and “not in right fellowship”) and with those at Woodruff admonishing and getting on the case of those at Red Hook.

There were many useful features of this set up. Stewart got the brothers to be at enmity with one another, and those who had been plagued by the good ones all week could have a sense of revenge on Sunday when the faithful category brothers got exposed as really being as unfaithful as we were. A lot of this was just to keep us busy and occupied. One of characteristics of cults is constant activity and social drama (add to that sleep deprivation, being centered around a single leader who has the absolute truth, and certainty of going to hell if we left the group, and you’ve got a full-blown cult alive and well and in operation).

I preferred life at Red Hook to returning to Woodruff. But at the same time, I felt the pressure to “escape”  and to prove myself to be in “right fellowship.” I kept my thoughts to myself, though at the same time, I wished that it would be possible to be fully honest about myself and receive any healing that might be available this way.

(It would have been foolish to be fully honest about myself. No “healing” would have been available, and I was wise to keep my thoughts to myself. But I still, to some degree, believed in the ideals of the fellowship – the ones that sounded great on paper, but were not true in practice. In this case, the concept that I could be “fully in the light” about myself and be healed.)

But by this time, I realized that there would be no healing available by being truthful about myself. I would only receive further abuse and condemnation if I tried it. No one in their right mind would lay their cards on the table. In a church where truth and honesty were supposedly valued, actually living that way was highly dangerous. Maybe it would be safe if you were one of those completely bought into the system. If you were one of those striving for and caring for nothing else than living this way and promoting it to others. In that case, you would probably accept the abuse that was shoveled on your head as “correction” spoken in love by those who were ganging up on you. I suppose if this was your real self and there was nothing in you that was contrary to this way of life to be honest about, then you’d have it made. But to have doubts about the COBU way of life and our leader, to desire to rest or have time to yourself or to desire anything, other than complete devotion to this way, put you at odds with life there – even if you believed in a lot of it. To be anything less than 100% in agreement with the COBU way of life, was to be standing outside of it.]

Jun 25

Stewart says, “God will kill as soon as he sees you.” Is this the voice of the destroyer? Brother Stewart himself has told us many times that condemning voices are the voice of the devil. All those meetings where Brother Stewart said, “Isn’t your problem that you listen to the voice of the destroyer?” And everybody would say, “Oh, yes, that’s my problem.”

[In earlier years in the fellowship, Stewart told us that the condemning voice we hear in our heads was the devil, the destroyer. A “Faith Lesson” we had back then said, “The devil will cause you to hear a voice, condemning you.” Stewart used to tell us that such voices and thoughts were contrary to faith and did not come from God. But now, it seemed that Stewart himself had taken up the role of the condemning voice. Now, instead of condemnation coming from our doubts or from the devil, condemnation was coming from our so-called pastor in the role of accuser of the brethren.]

I am under a lot of pressure today. Sometimes I wish I could break down and crash. How come I don’t?

TIO: Turn it off.

[This is an example of how I was trying to cancel out these thoughts about Stewart and life in COBU. I was still sometimes trying to put these thoughts away and to not have to deal with them.]

Jun 26

I need a wife. Dateline: Rescue Mission days, when relationships were allowed briefly. There were one or two sisters who expressed an interest in me, but I didn’t think they were pretty. But really, I looked like a little kid back then and most of the sisters were not interested in me.

I had a lot on my mind. I couldn’t just turn the radio on and tune out. I was in a heavy funk about the Rescue Mission days and the whole dating scene there and mistakes I made.

This is the worse time in the fellowship for relationships. There was an open door back then. It is shut tightly now.

Jun 27

In a meeting with Stewart Traill. Anything in quotation marks was Stewart speaking. (Anything else in parenthesis are my thoughts and observations.) :

“Look for better and you shouldn’t be living on a baby level. I can’t do that until I am doing my training.”

(Kevin is just saying the right stuff. Who then can be saved? Stewart says that hiding out equals death. Yet, I don’t really believe Stewart. There must be some other way than this. Older brothers are making feverish, frenzied speeches.)

Stewart: “What are you sowing among the middle nrothers right now, weird?”

(Yet, my own opinion, yes, this outfit* is really weird! Joe is trying and trying to make the right speech. One thing I get out of this, is that if I draw near to God and live the real me – well, at least it would be a relief, if only for me.)

[* “The Outfit” was one of Stewart Traill’s words for the church, in the sense of a military unit.]

Stewart: “If any man’s work is burned up, he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.”

(Maybe I can’t get all this teaching, but can I still be saved? I just wish I knew I was saved. Some weird thoughts: I feel like standing up and screaming. I wish there was some other life than this. I have been trying to get back into summer again, enjoying it wherever I can. Even if only for ten minutes. These pressure meetings, I guess I just have to look beyond them.)

July 11

These were some of my thoughts about life in COBU and what I needed to do about it:

The unencumbered life, spiritual agility. Be free and awake. Not weighed down. The feeling of being fit and trim and ready for what is coming. I need to be awake, aware of what is going on around me.

[I needed to be alert to what was going on here, and to keep my wits about me. I did not trust what we were being told to do.]

COBU, a slavish Catholic system with Stewart as Pope? Marriage, in present day American society, there is no need for it anymore, at least not economically.

[And no marriage in COBU, as opposed to other cult movements like the Mormons in the 1800s, where church members were expected to marry and have a lot of children in order to promote their religious movements. At this time, for the first time, I began to understand why Stewart did not want any of us to get married.] 

We’re not called upon to raise children in a family unit to tame a new continent and raise a new generation. We’re basically a dead church, barely held together. Without marriage, there is at least a small army of “willing” volunteers without other commitments or divided interests (that is, a need to tend to one’s own needs). Could this be a plan (conscious or unconscious) by Stewart? The whole system needs free labor to survive as it is, and I am expected to subordinate my every plan, whim and desire to the church. Marriages would mean an end to the free labor pool and an end to having brothers who work day and night for the church without family ties and responsibilities that would hinder them from it. What wife would put up with this?

Stewart’s church is not a society for the whole person. I am not free to do as I please. I am expected to worship and serve the idol – our church. The implied promise is if I do that, I will get what I need. Maybe. But also that this shouldn’t be my concern. These rules were laid down a couple of years ago, when Stewart said, “whatever the shepherd decides to give you, when he decides to.”

[Stewart Traill told us that our only human needs that will get taken care of are the ones that the shepherd decides to give us, when he decides to. The shepherd meaning Jesus. We, being the sheep. The COBU concept was that we had two natures. Our spiritual lives and our sheep lives. Our “sheep” nature was of far less importance than the spiritual nature and really should not be our concern. 

When I heard Stewart say this, I understood that a law was being laid down. It was not a new concept, but it was a deeper and more imprisoning layer of it. We had expected changes in our lives after Stewart said he repented. In his repentance talk, he said that he had made it too hard for brothers to get married and that is why the brothers and sisters were not married.  

After a period of making it look like his tight control over our lives had ended, the need for this charade was over and the chains came down on us even tighter than they had been before. Stewart was enacting laws on our lives to limit our freedom and to take away natural human rights such as marriage, under the pretense of “Christian teachings,” such as “Christians don’t take vacations,” “no painkillers” and “you only get what the shepherd decides to give you, if he decides to give it to you.” I felt the chains go on and my newly-kindled hopes smashed. This Jesus that Stewart talked about was much more restrictive and demanding than the Jesus of the Bible. Stewart’s implied promises were that if we fully served God (or, as I was saying, served the church, the idol of COBU), only then we would get what we needed. But at the same time, we should not be concerned about those things, or really want them, so that if we did not get them, it should be no big deal. We were supposed to cultivate an otherwordly disregard for all matters in this life. As the Bible says, “with food and clothing we shall be content.” 

Abraham Maslow said it differently. After your need for shelter, food and clothing were met, you would concentrate on sex as your next most powerful unmet need and become utterly preoccuppied with it. You would have trouble moving on to anything else, unless the need for sex was being met. So, according to Maslow (and not like according to Traill) higher levels of personal development and self-actualization were not possible without your basic human (“sheep”) needs being met. Maslow is not in conflict with the Bible. The Bible says that people should marry and that “the forbidding of marriage is the doctrine of demons.” It’s just that in the Church of Bible Understanding, consciences and lives were bound and controled more tightly than the Bible required them to be. Traill favored and preached the more extreme passages in the Bible about suffering, sacrifice and otherworldy oblivion to personal needs. The Bible says to first seek God’s kingdom and all other things will be added to you. In COBU it was, first seek God’s kingdom and you should not care about whether or not you get anything else.

July 12

I basically hung out on the streets today.

[I was going door to door, looking for work for the church cleaning business during the day and “sweeping” (looking for new people to bring into the church) in the evening.]

As a man (or even a Christian man) I should have a study, let alone a wife and child. I should be able to decide to stay home and read or I guess, be doing missionary work. But, I am basically living on the street and living below my capacity.

Jul 17

Facets. The pendulum swings. Sometimes looking into a diamond. Sometimes the facet is as dark as death; other times light comes forth. Sometimes, kill everything; sometimes, read other authors. One thing is for certain: I can’t go back to only a darkened relying on Stewart’s thoughts. I know too much. I have experienced too much in the past.

[This short paragraphs alludes to my going back and forth between believing Stewart and beginning to stand apart from these beliefs for the first time. Sometimes I believed and felt compelled, maybe even by God himself and not just by Stewart, that I must “sell all I have” and “kill everything within me” if I wanted to enter God’s kingdom. Other times, I felt lead to read “other authors,” like Augustine, Luther and Calvin and also more modern authors. I was coming to realize that, instead of believing what Stewart was telling us, that I should believe these sane and rational Christian authors whose views and writings had stood the test of time.  

One thing was certain, I should not go back to dependending on Stewart Traill and a total reliance on what he said as guidance for my life. Stewart was not a light in the darkness, leading the way to truth. He was the faint glimmer of the fires of hell, reflecting off the dark waters of a deep swampy pit. And that’s where he was going to lead me, if I continued to follow and obey him.]


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