1992, 07/03. A Look At The Past Can Help Understand The Present

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.

I continued to guard COBU’s house in Staten Island. Usually guard shifts lasted one day. No one came to take my place, so I stayed another day, getting much needed rest from the treadmill of cult life and working non-stop in the church business.

July 3

This is my second day at Staten Island. I like it when this happens. I am only just beginning to settle into this, and to be able to read, etc. I took a 30 minute walk. On the first day, I am so not used to this. It is very awkward and it’s over before it really hits me that I am here and “away from it all.” I just want to sign off and forget that the whole world of the “business” exists at all. A stay like this is therapeutic.

“A LOOK at the PAST can HELP UNDERSTAND the PRESENT.” (A quote I got from Antenne 2.)

[When I guarded Staten Island, I could watch the news in French on the PBS channel at 7 p.m.  I saw the above quote on this show and it made me think about my life. Looking at the past made me think about past years in the fellowship and I began to write about it. (The Staten Island house was the only place in the church that had a television. Mothers lived there with their children and the rules were a little more relaxed. Their husbands had left the church and these men were vilified as evil backsliders. Television was strictly forbidden in all other locations in the fellowship, but they got away with it there and no one bothered me about watching television when I was there.)]

I was thinking of Rescue Mission days. [In 1983-4, I was living with about one hundred brothers and sisters in a large institutional building which the church owned in Philadelphia.] And how if there had been marriages, there would now be over a hundred children in our church soon entering their teen years. My children, Lou’s children, Skylar’s children. The church would be different. We’d all probably have a more positive and less “down on this life” point of view. (We would not be against “house and home,” etc.)

I wonder if Brother Stewart’s teaching about “all of life is a fraud” is greatly colored by the fact that our church is a failure and that he is quite a failure himself; that people whose lives have been a series of hardships and letdowns develop an attitude that life is really bad. But now Stewart has enshrined this in a teaching, claiming that it is the gospel truth. How much of this negativity is just a result of the past, and even a cop out? What really is the truth? What is really the difference between taking care of the “lambs” [young converts] and taking care of your own children? Except that the children are your own. I would have the view then that the church is a good place to be, whereas I don’t really have that view now. I feel that I have to strangle everything within me in order to be in the church.

Yes, the man is a failure and now he wants to enshrine this as a new form of the Gospel. I really hope that David Wilkerson will help in some way and that he will come back again. Does he just want to buy rugs only?

[David Wilkerson, the pastor of Times Square Church (and the author of The Cross and the Switchblade) came to the Christian Brothers shop at West 51st Street, asking about buying carpet for his apartment, which was just a block away. But he was also there to try to learn more about the brothers and sisters in COBU. There was a large group of ex-COBU members going to his church and Wilkerson became curious about those still in COBU and wanted to learn more about them and to help them. It was partially because of his visit that I was able to leave COBU.]

We all just go along with Stewart without questioning. In fact it is almost a crime to ask questions. It is expected of us not to.

If we had a lot of children, we’d have to be a lot realer about everything.

Also, during Rescue Mission days, all those young men and women together without any real dealing with it. Then these strange erudite lessons Stewart gave us about how “you think sex and Jesus don’t mix” and to “be proud of Jesus and proud of sex.” Strange esoteric babblings with no practical way to do anything about it. It just wasn’t real. What were we supposed to do? And at a time in our lives when it hurt the most or when we needed it the most. I really did get a bum steer. [I got sent in the wrong direction by Stewart’s false teachings.] I was so convinced the man had it all together and that his was the only view of reality, as I struggled to make it in this weird society. I was a lot realer before I came there.

At some point in the Rescue Mission, we could officially now get a relationship with a sister. But so many restrictions applied and we had to be so many things that I could never get it together. I remember the immense pain I had back then and how this overtook my whole mind. What frustration I had back then!

[For a very short time, Stewart Traill allowed relationships, in part because some relationships had sprung up on their own, with all these young men and women together. He had not been able to do damage control at first. Relationships flourished for a while, then Stewart moved to create the circumstances by which these relationships would die on the vine. One of the ways he did it was to say that we had not successfully completed our Christian training program, and that as a result, there was not a “right society” to present marriages to. His reasoning was that marriage is a social issue, and if there is not a right society to present the marriages to, there can’t be marriages until there is a right society among us. He never quite defined what a right society was, though I understood it had something to do with all the brothers being strong in their faith and being “united in Jesus.” Until then, no marriage. And it was easy for Stewart to thwart any kind of right society, simply by telling the brothers what was wrong with them all the time and keeping them focused on their shortcomings.]

What I have learned to do since then is to bury it. For all practical purposes marriage doesn’t exist, and maybe in the future I can do something about it. But, we are all products of years of these strange and damaging influences.

I will now try to explain some of my roots in order to better understand the present. To say that I spent a good part of my last 10 years in a cult would be an understatement. This means that I don’t really know how (or desire) to think for myself.

[This was an essential concept to have finally become aware of, that I could not think for myself because of years of cult conditioning. For anyone studying cults or who wants to know what life is like for cult members, it is important to know that this was a major turning point in my thoughts.]

I entered into a place where all important life decisions could be put off or be deferred altogether. Things such as career and marriage, both of which were very painful, if not outright seeming impossibilities to me. It was very painful for me to deal with women at the time (and still is), though I tried because I was propelled by my need and by the shame of not having a woman in my life, which became worse as I got older. But all this was deemed unnecessary when I joined the cult, since it was forbidden. But it didn’t seem to hurt that bad, because this provided a relief from a very painful thing in my life. And if there was a way out, I probably would have preferred that instead of the painful idea of having to deal with it. So this fit like a hand in a glove, though I didn’t realize it at the time. But I always have a vague sense of not dealing with reality in the name of Jesus or in the name of “Jesus will provide everything for me.” How much did I really want to get into a relationship back in the Rescue Mission days anyway? How much of my singleness can be attributed to my own fear and reluctance to get on with it? But, now my failure to deal with reality is leading to grave consequences. But I always had a nice comfortable cult to fall in with.

How true is all this? I don’t know! And what is the point of writing all this anyway? How can this help now? All I have to look forward to is a bleak miserable human life.

[This was my view of what it would be like to stay COBU, decaying away in the cult, unable to marry and unable to have a “human life.” And leaving COBU would be even worse, because I would be guaranteed to go to hell, to suffer for all eternity.] 

The idea of “God’s promise” comes to my mind. The fellowship has always been a bleak, miserable place. There is always an internal misery and always a big drive to get new members at the same time. But even with these new lofts, life in the fellowship seems really bad, as always. But we are not supposed to say anything. The fellowship is always touted to be the “best of all possible worlds” and our way of life is superior to all others. But I don’t see how anybody can make it, as a Christian, with our way of life!

I am writing this as I ride an exercise bike. What a pleasant interlude! I guess life is what you make it. You have to seize whatever opportunities you have and make the best of them. I have already seen that I can’t really change any of the external realities. (Maybe that is a wrong idea and a cop out. I may look back on that and see it as a big mistake.)

Loft life is coming, but it seems like going to jail. I will have all my activities regulated like never before. (Yet through this I am hoping I will get a wife, but actually I will probably run into more confrontation with Brother Stewart, whether correction or some scenario I cause. I have this picture in my mind of him crushing me like a cockroach because I don’t conform to his teachings or because I am secretly keeping up my old way of life in the dark and he is able to sense that and he kills everything off that is not like himself.)

[More like, Stewart killed off anything that did not serve him or serve his goals. We were not like Stewart. As far as the idea of hoping I could get married if I went to the lofts, this meant I thought that if I did the Stewart training 100 percent, faithfully “fully there,” I would get trained and move on to leading other lofts and church “plantings” in other cities. Occasionally, Stewart hinted that marriage would be available once this system was up and running, by saying to the brothers, “How can you handle one of these women, if you aren’t taking care of 100 lambs (new converts)?” Or, by saying that if we were not in charge of a church operation ourselves, that a woman was so complicated and so much trouble and needed so much care, that we needed the experience of administrating the lives of many people and becoming familiar with their tricks, deceit and games in order to be able to handle and understand all the manipulation and trouble one wife would cause us.]

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