1992, 08/02. Bait and Switch Beating Meetings

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.

August 2, 1992 Sunday Meeting at the New Property

During the first session of this meeting, Stewart Traill was friendly toward us. In the second session, he walked in and “threw in the hammer.” That is why it was bait and switch. He was friendly toward us in the morning session and then after the lunch break, he came back into the meeting and gave us a long talk about what was wrong with us.

This is a pattern that I began recognize over time. It appeared as if Stewart had suddenly discovered something wrong about us, which he now was dealing with. But, at this meeting, when Stewart outlined our faults in great detail and in a calm voice, I realized that he had prepared his talk ahead of time. The morning session where he was kind and friendly was merely setting the stage. 

Another time, we had a morning session in which Stewart spoke to us about God’s mercy. At the beginning of the afternoon session, he said that because we were not shouting and proclaiming about how “overwhelmingly thankful” we were for God’s mercy, it meant that we were “thumbing our noses at God’s mercy.” A verbal beating followed. 

I became aware of this bait and switch tactic as I began to detach myself and to consider that what went on in COBU meetings might not be real. This was a major change in my thinking. Now that I was no longer so believing everything and running from every lightning bold of Stewart’s wrath, I began to see how Stewart worked the room with the leading questions, such as, “Are you saying that you just don’t mind hell?” Someone would then stand up and say that this was true and explain. Or a brother or sister said something, and Stewart claimed they really had said something else.

For example, a brother might say, “I’m really thankful for what Jesus has done for me and I need to take my salvation more seriously.” Stewart would say, “Did he just say that he’s thumbing his nose at Jesus?” After a few mild protests (with the help of other people in the room agreeing with Stewart and giving reasons why that person was, “thumbing his nose at Jesus – not in his words, but his actions”) the victim of this shakedown soon capitulated and agreed that he really was thumbing his nose at Jesus. But this was not enough. Then Stewart would prompt the brother to say “How? Not just because I’m making you say it.” Then, in his own words, the victim would provide the reasons why he was “thumbing his nose at Jesus.” That way, after he gave all his own reasons, he couldn’t say it was because Stewart made him say it. He had provided a confession of his wrongdoing in his own words.

We were all familiar with this routine and had been trained into it over time. Part of the conditioning was that anyone who resisted this treatment was harassed until they gave in. Continued resistance was turned around and used against the person as evidence that they were “arrogant” and “fighting against the whole body” (against the whole church).

Coming to understand all these processes was just one small piece of the puzzle. The manipulation in COBU was constant and took place on many levels. What went on in meetings was only a small part of it.

***

Stewart is asking questions about “Why it is the way it is between you in the older fellowship?” We are supposed to discuss this. We are reluctant to discuss this because we all know, ultimately, that the blame will fall squarely on us. Traditionally, perennially, we are the problem. We all know the outcome. Stewart is always right, the new brothers are always sincere (as a whole) and the fault always lies with the older brothers. We all know the scenario. No need to think about it.

It’s hard to be motivated about that which involves your punishment. Basically, the meeting scenario will consist of older brothers standing up and giving their carefully censored explanations of what is wrong, sprinkled with multiple confessions, patiently waiting for what we know is inevitable. Stewart already has the answer and we merely have to go through this formality to arrive at the answer, so it is not handed to us on a silver platter. When Stewart comes out with the answer, we will all chime in, “Yes, I really see how that is the problem.” And for a week or so (or maybe three days) everybody will be running around sloganizing and “bothering” everybody else about it, till it all fizzles out.

I feel compelled to try to give some of my views on the matter. I’m half toying with it. I realize that it will only get me in trouble if I do. (The ultimate punishment for an arrogant man is to be surrounded by people who will tell him only what he wants to hear.) 

[I was considering saying some of my ideas about “why it is the way it is” among the older brothers in the church, but I realized it was pointless to talk to Stewart about it, because it had been clearly demonstrated over time what happened to anyone who did try. I knew that Stewart was asking us for our opinions, but I also knew that he would attack anyone who didn’t give an opinion that was in agreement with his own. I realized that the worst punishment for someone who portrayed himself as a man of truth, as Stewart Traill did, was to be surrounded by people who were careful not to tell him the truth, even if he was asking to hear it, because they knew the inevitable result was a verbal beating. Stewart drove everyone away who had held opinions or ideas contrary to his own. He was now surrounded only by yes-men (and yes-women) who accepted whatever he said without question. (In other words, when Stewart said “Jump!,” their only response was, “How high?”) It was the ultimate punishment for someone who considered himself to be a man of truth, eveb more so because it was of his own making.]

In my thesis, which I am considering writing about the church, the area that applies to this is choreography. The whole thing is a well-defined and well-orchestrated play.

I probably will make a move to the loft this meeting. Expect a call to go forth. I don’t expect to last long there.

The beating at the meeting:

After the lesson on giving glory to God. After the supper break. It seems like Stewart has sprung the jaws of a trap. (Just like the mercy lesson a year ago when we didn’t jump with joy immediately upon hearing about God’s mercy, so therefore, he said, we were thumbing our noses at God’s mercy.)

Sometimes I wonder if these are just cult tactics. Stewart asks everybody else, the new brothers, the middle brothers and the sisters, if they weren’t thumbing their noses. Of course, everybody said “no.” Although they, especially the sisters, had said nothing themselves the whole time.

Now, I am sitting here watching the more “out front” brothers get their beating. Stewart is using the new and middle brothers to get on these brothers, telling them what to say to them. (Stewart says,“You were supposed to have gotten a job two hours ago. Why didn’t you do it immediately!”) It’s easy for middle brothers – with a little prompting from you know who – to shout slogans at the older brothers.

I really have doubts about all this. Stewart is telling middle brothers what to say to the older brothers. When older brothers speak, Stewart interprets to everyone else what they are really saying, no questions asked. Nobody contests if what Stewart says about them is true or not. Whatever Stewart says, they agree with.

Time for a beating. Who knows where this may go. God help me. I know I must guard the doors of my mouth. This is all weird. Everybody goes for it. The middle and new brothers really don’t understand. The sisters are being quiet, because they know they would be next.

We are all toys in the palm of Stewart’s hand. It‘s time for confessions. I notice also, that the sisters are just sitting there, watching. (Because they figure they really aren’t any different than us, though they will say “yes” if asked if they are doing the lesson.) The other older brothers of course, are just content to sit there and watch the celebrities get theirs. Why should I stand up and bring it upon myself? It is easy for middle and new brothers, when prompted by Stewart, to shout at the older brothers, “What are you going to do! What are you going to do!”

[“Celebrities” was Stewart Traill’s word for the more outgoing older brothers, who were in minor leadership roles. (Stewart had the only main leadership role.) Stewart needed these brothers for their natural talent and ability to lead, but he also wanted to keep them in their places so church members would not look to them as alternate leaders or alternate sources of loyalty. At every meeting, Stewart selected at least one of these brothers for an especially nasty beating in front of everyone else, bringing out all their faults and shortcomings, real or imaginary, in front of everyone in order to humiliate them and to take them down a few notches.]

But then, is it God doing this to us?

“Either totally rely on God or rely upon yourself. Directly rely upon God in everything.” Stewart is speaking in total extremes. Brothers make confessions, but Stewart prompts them to say things.

The new brothers are now getting their revenge on the older brothers. They are venting all their pent up emotions about being pushed around, corrected and made to work. Now is the day of their revenge!

Who can beat the invincible Stewart, who gives us the words for our confessions, writing the whole script and making us wear mud on our faces for it? Nobody will say what they really think. (Including me. I am beaten). Everybody is in their beating mode.  (Paul S. is doing a lot of protesting. Maybe it is real.) I just want to get out of here.

Denounce others to save yourself! Sisters are keeping their cool, staying out of the fray!

THINGS were getting better – suddenly THE TABLES WERE TURNED!

(These are notes from the heat of the moment.)

Is this a cleverly orchestrated, straight-faced game?

I wonder if Stewart had a plan all along. (Due to the fact that last week he said he wondered if he should be doing this work.) Maybe he planned to overthrow the older brothers all along. To overturn the apple cart, as he often says, but to make it look like we did it. He came in during the second session and remained quiet for a few minutes. That’s all it took. (He could have continued talking in the somewhat light-hearted way he did in the first session, but he didn’t.) It’s a good cop, bad cop routine. Suddenly he came back and threw in the hammer. Did he have this planned all along? Fatten them up before you strike. Then strike for the heart! I’d be surprised if he didn’t have this planned all along. He doesn’t seem surprised one bit!

[Stewart didn’t seem surprised to have suddenly discovered something deeply wrong about the older brothers, which he seemed to have discovered unexpectedly, in the second session. He wasn’t saying that we were doing so well, it’s horrible that I’m just find this out about you now.]

The whole church is ready now to lay on the punishment for us older brothers.

I have seen all this before. This reminds me that one February day when I was walking in the park and I was wondering what was really going on, about how there is always one group in the fellowship undergoing punishment. (I should have never ripped up that diary, or rather, I should have written it in code so I wouldn’t fear it being discovered.) Where is this thing going? The sisters have us all wrapped up and headed for 810 again! At the dinner break, the brothers were saying that this was the best meeting we have had in a long time, before the tornado hit.

I keep seeing this strange image, a picture in my mind of a gentle rain and the sound of it. And wet leaves blowing in the street. (Like that dream, where I saw that sign about how Christ died for our sins.)

Stewart is just too calm. This must have been premeditated. Possibly, everybody is too anxious to notice this.

One thing I did during this meeting was to just sit here and try not to be too agitated, which I did with some degree of success. I am calm enough to notice that Stewart seems to be calmly and subtly leading us by the use of questions. For example, by asking, “Do you mean to say..?” And then, “So then, are you going to…?” Or, with comments such as this: “As long as the dinosaur club has confusion, they are free to act. They love confusion.” He is giving suggestions of how to go about it. It is too well-orchestrated to be an accident.

(I am going to try to not wear myself out with all these things we have to do, this testing of one another and having to make speeches about where we stand with Christ. I am beginning to wonder how real all of this is!)

The older brothers agree with everything Stewart says about them. Nobody will ever say, “I thought I was doing well, or that I was doing better!” I guess we figure we need a good beating and need to go back into bondage because we have been getting a little too far out there!  The brothers are being operated like robots. Nobody even seems surprised that this is happening!  It’s just like, “all in a day’s work.” The whole thing was taken calmly, at least outwardly.

Well, I have been denying myself all sorts of privileges, but I still end up getting punished anyway. If God is anything like this, then it is true, I will never be saved.

[I was denying myself my interests and hobbies like language study, in the name of doing God’s will (as presented by Stewart in COBU), but I still ended up getting a beating at the meeting about not being faithful to Christ and trying to “have it both ways,” that is, to be accused of acting like I’m serving Christ, but secretly “cheating” and trying to have the “world” too.]

Stewart definitely had this planned all along, because he is now saying things like, “This has gone on too long.” I wonder if this is a game to get a lot of work out of us. The whole church is falling apart and he knows it, so these are his traditional heat methods. It is also a way to keep our eyes off him and what he is doing – or not doing. All eyes off Stewart and on ourselves and our own shortcomings. It’s time to slap everything and knock it off balance to keep us all on weak ground. Is it because Stewart is ashamed of himself and these dirty dealings come out of him because of his own unstable nature? Who knows what really goes on in the dark here. There is no one to check out or to verify things. Stewart is our idol. We wouldn’t dare question.

I have seen this before, but I don’t think this time I will make it through. I will try to hang on as long as possible. I think I would leave if we were forced into another 810 situation.

(My confession)

[We all had to stand up, one by one, and make a confession about how we had not been faithful to Christ, and to give details about it.]

I just admitted that I can’t be counted on, that I don’t fear and also that I am still laying up treasures in this life. Well, for some reason, I feel better for having said it. I have a free(r) feeling.

Stewart says about the older brothers’ confesssions, “Sounds like more plotting. Well, we will just have to make other plans.”

I think Stewart wanted to turn the tables over for a while, yet he goes through this process of trying to appear like he’s being fair, because his “principles” are to give the older brothers every chance. In other words, we are welcome to try to prove ourselves if we care – on our own time and effort. That way, of course, it doesn’t look like Stewart is throwing us out of the church, though he seems to want to.

There is a lot of motivation to proclaim on the part of middle brothers. Why? When there is a group to persecute, the other ones can get motivation out of it? They can rally around putting down those older brothers. Like Hitler did with the Jews, rallying his country around uniting against these vermin and taking up the crusade against them.

***

[The following are notes from the back pages of the journal book I was writing in.]

LOGIC: Argument: Q because P: inductive reasoning. Deductive reasoning: conclusive evidence (valid / invalid) or explanation. Only deductive arguments involve a claim that their premises provide conclusive evidence.

What I want to study about the Bible, religion, etc.:

* History (and current) – social

* Doctrine – history of various types of doctrine.

* The Bible itself – in its entirety

* The Bible in the original languages

* Church History:  Early Church Fathers

* The Reformation and the legacy of the Reformation, and the periods in between

* Religion in America. The Great Awakening

***

This will either be:

1)  an important meeting where we get “set free.” (A little bit.)

2)  a meeting where we really get in trouble.

He’s working up to a big well-rehearsed speech about something.

[The above was a note I was showing to the older brother sitting next to me, as we were in a beating meeting with Brother Stewart.]

Is it real? Or another far-fetched theory? [This was my question and my doubts about what Stewart was telling us.]

1.  It is useless for me to expend effort to try to redeem myself through acceptance back into our society.

2.  Even if I did have good works, I couldn’t (or at least shouldn’t) trust in them anyway.

Juliet  Juliette  Julietta  Jordan  Jodie  Joyce

[These were names I was thinking about for a daughter, if I ever got married and had a child. I was writing this during a meeting. Nobody has gotten married in COBU since 1979.]

***

[Below are notes for an essay I was thinking of writing, comparing life in the Church of Bible Understanding to life under Communism.]

Working title: A Few Notes Concerning Our Church. Why Communism Didn’t Work.

Main points.

Communism:

Communism was designed to eliminate class divisions and the idea that one group of society was better than another. That one segment of society possessed more, etc. It was designed to combat real problems, but failed in its goal. It was designed as an antidote to selfishness, selfish ambition and pride.

Our collective way of life, or institutional living, in the Church of Bible Understanding:

The purpose of this lifestyle was to advance further collectively rather than by individual efforts (“united we stand”) and to kill off selfishness and self ambition. A society of like-minded people pooling resources for a cause. A desire to be in constant “fellowship,” for mutual upbuilding and safety that so-called “church Christians” and corner churches couldn’t provide.

Opposition likely to be encountered to these ideas:

This way has been instituted by God, therefore whoever speaks against it, or even desires to modify it in superficial ways, much less in fundamental ways, is speaking against God and what he has instituted. Ultimately then, the person who wants to change it is of the devil.

This is not the “real issue.” Sin is the basic problem, not circumstances. So changing circumstances won’t help, it’s a game, etc.

(But yet, what we are talking about here is a bad set of circumstances. That is why the question has been brought up about what to do about these unfortunate circumstances. But when circumstances are talked about when discussing that the way we are living may be fundamentally wrong, upon the first hint of such an idea, everyone hits the panic button. “Circumstances are not the issue! Sin is the problem!” They will run to an absolute, with no attempt to see how sin is affecting things. Just like the fundamentalists, who when confronted with an issue that makes them uncomfortable, or if they feel their ability to maintain control of a discussion slipping away, hit the panic button. They start thumping on their Bibles and saying, “The Bible says it, I believe it, and that settles it.” Case closed, as far as they are concerned. But obviously the case has not been settled.)

[The COBU version of that would have been: “Stewart says it. I believe it, and that settles it.” Maybe with an added clause of: “If you disagree, maybe you shouldn’t be here. In fact, we’re going to put you out.” The brothers could be receiving a thrashing and a beating from Stewart, but the moment anyone disagreed with Stewart about anything, they would rise up to defend Stewart. If anyone spoke in a private conversation about what was wrong with Stewart and COBU, he was running the risk of being reported and to be dealt with at the very next meeting in an extremely nasty inquisition. I forgot to include surveillance, a secret police system and thought control in my essay above about how COBU was like a communist country.]

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