1993, 07/17-18. A Pressure Cooker Meeting.

In this section, I have recently filled a notebook and I began a new one.

July 17

This starts a new diary. Just got into Red Hook at 4:45 pm. Stopped at the library before getting on the subway. I am going to try to read through the whole Bible, first in French, then in German. I probably will start a study plan on some subject that I will give some thought to first. Will try some foreign language learning, seeing that I have had contacts with foreigners again.

(Also, I will try to extend some more contacts outside the church, though discreetly and carefully. And also do background research on COBU, past and present. In part, just to see if anybody out there has anything on us and also to satisfy a kind of curiosity, sinister as it may seem. Is Stewart withholding anything from us, either about himself or about his history? There is probably so much I don’t know.)

Well, I am always so happy to start another one of these journals.

I only slept a little. Went with Paul to do laundry. The clouds and yellow summer sunlight were really nice today. This lead to thoughts of whether I will ever get out of here, will ever be able to travel or go somewhere. Before I came to this church, I could never have imagined I would be so confined.

Why is there this big fear that if I had a day off I would severely misuse it? That I only could do myself destruction if I went somewhere like Point Pleasant and walked around for the day. Why wouldn’t it be that I might do some deep introspective thinking that might actually be beneficial?

Later, before I got to the Galaxy Diner where I am now with Paul and Orlando, I started to think about Stewart, about how does he get his (claim to) authority? He is alone. Who gives this authority to him? If not from man (but from God), then why does he avoid man? Stewart is so alone, I think by design, though he seems to portray this as a necessary product of clinging to his views in the face of a hypocritical Christian world. The man has no friends. (I suppose if someone were to pose this question to him, he would say, “Why aren’t you my friend?” If you say you are not on a par with him, or that you couldn’t be one of his peers, he would say, “You never grow to become able to be.” He has every base covered – predicated upon our weakness, unfaithfulness and guilt.)

I was reading about Luther. God entrusted the truth to him and it wasn’t carried out in a corner. Why is it so with Stewart, who claims – in effect – to have a revelation on a par with Luther? Of course, if pressed – if you could get that far – Stewart would probably deny ever saying such a thing, but that is what it adds up to. He practically came out and said it.

(Stewart said Paul the Apostle was the first reformer, and then darkness returned to the world because Christians were rebellious and unfaithful. Then Martin Luther came. This was the second reformation, he said. But because of rebellion again, darkness returned to the world. But now, Stewart said, regarding his teachings, “This is being revealed.” It wasn’t quite a direct statement that this was the third reformation in history and that Stewart was the third great reformer, but this is what his claim added up to, if you followed it to its logical conclusion.)

So, what do I do with these thoughts? I can only say to write them down and sort it all out later.

It seems another new brother has stolen some valuables on a job.

I am blundering around with Paul and Orlando up to the Lincoln Center. None of us can even get it started enough to “witness” to anyone.  Paul said, “How can you invite somebody over when you are not even in with the program yourself?”

I have no motivation. I have lived a life where all important and basic human motivations and desires have been thwarted. I never married, became a father, started a business or followed any other real ambition. Okay, I do some of my desires, such as reading. I used to jog. I eat, choose what to wear – but somehow that ain’t quite it. Those things are on a much lower level, the leftovers I was left with when life had already “passed me by.” (Call it complaining, but these are the things I think about. It is not the official story, the official reason I am supposed accept for why things are this way, but what does a person do with his own convictions? I can try to say it really isn’t convictions, but I think these are the thoughts a person starts to have later in life when he begins to realize what he has or hasn’t done with his life and no amount of right doctrinal filtration can eliminate it.)

Sunday, July 18

I went with Paul to Leonia to pick up some of the wives and their children. 

(We went to a town in New Jersey where some married women, who did not live in the fellowship, lived with their children – it was rare that their husbands came to meetings.)

I drove down to Philadelphia for the meeting. It’s a great sunny summer day with some clouds (though we have a pure blue sky in Philadelphia). I was musing on the sky and doing some general thinking as I was driving, sort of like scanning, where whatever came into mind, I thought about until it ran out or I found related thoughts. Whatever “broadcast” would be found by the scanner, I stayed on a while until it was gone. I didn’t try to get too serious about it, I was just sort of free associating. I will try this more often. (This included various scenes of my past life before coming to the church, thoughts about Stewart and “life here.” And about things to study.)

Some middle brothers told me that Chatman left this morning. I stopped by the job site yesterday that he and Mark C. and Ty R. were on, a restaurant where there was a bar. I made a comment about being tempted by alcohol, noticing that there was quite a bit around. I guess I felt as if one of them might take a nip. Perhaps it was a hunch.

I have been thinking about “peripheral vision” these days and how it is not necessary to look. You can see a lot anyway without directly looking  and you can hear a lot more than you think you can with your ears. There is quite a lot of informational output.

(This shows how I felt I needed to be circumspect while living in the cult and to not look too curious about anything that was going on, because asking would reveal that I had interest in whatever I was asking about. I often tuned into conversations around me to try to glean some information.)

This upcoming meeting: Stewart’s messages (about the 46th Street brothers) have seemed to be “condoling.” Whether or not this will be a gauge of the tone of the meeting, I do not yet know.

Upon arrival at the meeting, I see Chuck and Kevin in a sort of militant spirit.

We are now starting a brothers meeting, in a spirit of high tension. (Getting ready, getting into a “right spirit.”) I guess I am just too cynical. Someone stands up and says, “We can’t afford to have a hold-back session.”

John O. [a new brother] handed me a picture of me at the Rescue Mission [a picture of me from about 10 years ago, when I was in a so-called training program in the church in Philadelphia]. I will keep it for my personal archives. I told Peter today that I have lost all my idealism. I was quite a different person back then. Sometimes I find myself wishing I could go back to a believing, obedient servant or member of this church without that division or barrier I have now that keeps me from believing almost everything Stewart says. Looking at the picture also, wondering why no sister really desired me back then. I was, if not handsome, at least not ugly. Though actually upon thinking about it, I realize there had been one or two.

The messages from Stewart that are being relayed to us are that we are going to get into “46th Street” as an issue today, though there seems to be a careful use of buzzwords about it, such as, “Get into it in a practical way,” and, “The issue is, are you one of Jesus’s sheep?”

Stewart has now walked in the room, and asks, “What’s especially appropriate for today?” In other words: we are about to hear the terms of this session of the meeting (if not for the whole meeting). It is sort of like laying down the constitution or precepts before the proceedings begin.

(The meeting is being conducted in a high emotional pitch, with various ones giving their ideas of “what is especially appropriate for today.” When there’s a lag, Skylar or somebody else blurts out, “Urgent, brothers!”)

(Stewart now began speaking to us after our efforts to decide what was an appropriate subject to talk about in our meeting:)

Stewart says, “We should be talking about loving one another, obviously there is none here. And there is no mention of Chatman.” Also, “We should be speaking about our double life and hideouts. You could help others if you were relying on God. Otherwise you are trying to save yourself. Otherwise you are selfish and withdrawing into your own little walls. It’s keeping up the flesh.

“If you did it with Chatman, what must you be doing with the new brothers?”

(I’m wondering, if these are the problems, why did that brother get so blasted last week?)

(Stewart was the one who was blasting Chatman at last week’s meeting. But, now Stewart is looking for causes among us as to why Chatman left. He seemed oblivious to any possible connection between his treatment of Chatman, and Chatman leaving the church.)

Chatman was in Chuck’s working group:

Stewart: “Chuck, do you have a heart?” Chuck pauses. He knows it’s hard to answer that yes, that he does have a heart, if Chatman has left the church. But he doesn’t want to say no. So finally, he says “Yes.”

Stewart says, “The fact that Chatman left shows that everything you’ve been doing is phony and not real.”

(This “you” was in the plural. No matter what happened all week, Stewart always told us that what we had been doing in the name of serving Christ that week was phony and not real.)

Stewart is now saying, “You rely on precepts and procedures, and not on God’s spirit. I’m not saying that the precepts and procedures are bad, but what good are they without God’s spirit?”

Of course, I like to figure I don’t rely on precepts and procedures, but march to the beat of a different drummer. But, do I have God’s spirit?

Now brothers are going through the useless activity of shouting solutions to the problem, or trying to institute procedures, such as going through all of the groups “to see if the groups are balanced.”

I do seem to realize that the meeting is still at a high fever pitch (though there’s not much shouting). Not much is really discussed. It is certainly not a discussion and there probably won’t be one. Everybody is really hidden. Everybody talks in the lingo.

The answer, or buzzword, seems to be “being filled with God’s Spirit.” Not that I wouldn’t want to be, but everything is now being discussed in terms of how we need to be filled with God’s spirit. (Discussing it perhaps in a fake way. Everybody will be locked in a sort of continuous loop.)

I am praying, “Jesus, please help me through this meeting.” I feel I need to pray in this meeting. Maybe it’s the more subtle, less confrontational meetings where I drop my guard. I do have the sense of “one false move and you’ve had it.” In discussing one’s self – if one is going to have to do that – it’s good to be circumspect.

There is a man here. I don’t know who he is. He seems to be an aware type, though somewhat dull.

(We had a visitor sitting among us who was not a church member and was not a homeless person.)

Stewart is speaking to us in spiritual terms. (About how God’s spirit, loving one another and not holding back is the real issue.) He says, “There doesn’t seem to be much determination in overcoming this.”

So, the rest of us had to stand up and make a commitment.

This visitor seems to be watching with rapt attention. I suppose I am attributing thoughts to him that I really have, such as, “He is thinking that this is a bizarre religious sect.”

Really, none of us know “what to do.” We are going through the groups and talking about how each brother has been doing. Obviously, only Stewart “knows what to do” and he will tell us by the time this session is out. That’s the usual scenario.

Don is being talked to. He is saying he has been having temptations, but has not been talking about them. Stewart: “If you are not talking about it, then it isn’t the temptations that are the issue, it’s the playing with the temptations.”)

(The temptations that Don and many of the homeless people we “swept up” had was substance abuse, and this was hardly any way for Don to get help, and Stewart didn’t ask him what his temptations were or try to help him in any way.)

It’s doubtful to me what benefit there is in these crowd confessions. I’d hate to have to go through this cross-examination. Throughout this, we are hearing Stewart’s prescriptions for help, success and salvation. Formulas, plans, things to check up on each other about. (Such as, “How much does everyone in your group desire to be saved?”) Kevin and Chuck pick up on this stuff right away and start to do.

(Upon hearing Stewart’s lesson, Kevin and Chuck were immediately standing up and cranking out the lines we just heard from Stewart, like cheerleaders (or I’d rather say, cattle drivers, because it wasn’t friendly or encouraging) and pushing the contents of Stewart’s lesson on everyone else by goading and prodding everyone, saying, “What’s it going to be!”)

There are always these “helpers” in the crowd. Bob M. is standing there up front, getting worked on by Stewart. Bob pauses for just a minute. Right away Bernie says, “Bah-ahb…” The nurses and the aides, holding the reluctant patient down under the knife. What motivates them to do that?

Stewart: “What’s wrong with having a real church and fellowship?” In other words, we are now hearing Stewart tell us again that nobody has been doing the right thing, and that they haven’t even started. It has all been our own efforts, without God’s spirit. In other words, nobody here is led by God’s Spirit. (And there is no delving into our history, whether individually or collectively, to see if anybody has ever been led by God’s spirit, though I don’t know if that would help anyway.)

It really does seem like Stewart orchestrates everything. Even, it seems, speaking for people. Telling them when to talk and what to say.

So, again, the whole church is unfaithful (or, at least the brothers are). Well, this is the pressure cooker. Remember, sooner or later it will all be over and we will have another new saying or concept to say all week. And that really, it goes on this same way from week to week. But, it will seem like the end of the world when you’re in it.

Stay plugged in. Pray. We’ll have to get into discussing our group soon. “Don’t calculate.” But, somehow I can never take it easy or relax in these meetings.

(“Don’t calculate” is what God seeming to be saying to me at this time, to not be so anxious about what was going on in the meeting, as if it were a life and death issue, which is how it felt to be in these meetings.)

I am starting to think about heaven. The whole purpose of these meetings is that we go to heaven, isn’t it?

Kevin, he mimics Stewart very well. Or, if not mimicking Stewart himself, Kevin is in tune or in touch and acts immediately. Ones like Bernie, do they help Stewart drive a point into somebody because they are sincere, caring and want to help? But, my brain – the dark side of it – seems to want to tell me that their motives are more self-serving. It’s a kind of appeasement. I can’t do that, though maybe if I saw hell and had concern that nobody here goes to hell, I’d be in there getting on everybody.

(A brother could get Stewart Traill off his back by getting on everyone else’s case during the meeting. Stewart would let up on the pressure on the brother then, because he was useful, because he was putting pressure on the others on Stewart’s behalf and he always encouraged this behavior. If hadn’t approved of it, he would have told these ones to sit down and shut up. Sometimes he sat back and watched these ones do his bidding on all the others. Such helpers in the crowd were a constant feature of the meetings and Stewart used these “useful idiots” as a kind of two-pronged attack on the assembled body of COBU members, where he beat us up with one hand, and used these others to beat us up with the other hand.)

Stewart asks us a question: “Does God’s spirit scare you, totally?” Various ones are fumbling over trying to answer this question. For me, the crux of the difficulty over this question is,  is God’s spirit supposed to scare us, or lead us gently? Or does Stewart’s question mean, does God’s spirit scare us, and that’s why we avoid him?

The latter is now the intent, which Stewart has clarified to all the brothers (maybe he is attempting to help us with this one). Apparently, the idea that we are scared of God’s spirit will be the answer on us. (This seems to be what Stewart is working toward.) He says that we avoid God’s spirit. I certainly do. I think of the times when I am nudged to pray. It’s a gentle voice. I avoid it.

Of course, Stewart is going to say that we are afraid because we are playing around with sin and that we’re not surrendered to Christ. So, there will be a clincher to this lesson. In order to accept the cure, we must admit to having the disease and also take the bitter medicine. But, I don’t want to be afraid of God’s spirit.

(The comment on admitting to the disease and taking the bitter medicine was my own jaded assessment of what was going on, not what Stewart was saying.)

Chuck is now crying about Chatman. Peter turns and whispers to me, saying that it’s all an act, he does it every time, he does it very well.

Nothing gets by Brother Stewart, and nobody will try to disagree with anything he says. Is this part of why there are so much performances? Is it because of the huge can of worms (or snakes) that one would open upon himself if he did disagree Plus, in a round about way or maybe not even so round about, when Stewart speaks, it is Jesus speaking, in the sense that if Christ spoke, it would be completely free of error, or even opinion. What Christ said would be true, period, just like a yardstick is supposed to be an exact and true measure. If you knew it was Christ speaking, you wouldn’t even try disagreeing. This man encompasses you. It is like trying to play chess against Boris Spassky. Your “best” option is complete compliance ahead of time, and for sure, immediately upon hearing whatever Stewart tells you.

Stewart says, “You are all just not frightened. You are are arrogant. You are just not converted. You think you are going to be saved apart from being frightened.”

So, nobody here is saved. Well that is the teaching anyway. And Stewart says that all other Christians out there are arrogant. So, does that leave only Stewart who is saved?

“You just won’t listen. You are cheaters.”

So, the blow has been delivered, right in the middle of our group evaluations. Right away, upon Stewart running out of the meeting room, Bernie immediately makes the confession, that he hasn’t been, that he intends to start. The speeches are starting to begin.

Kevin is telling everybody about how Nathan is totally frightened, and that he can’t even breathe right. He doesn’t know if he will have another breath. He has absolutely no confidence for the day of judgment.

(Nathan was a homeless person we we had “swept up” who discovered that he had AIDS.)

One of my problems is that all of this seems so surrealistic and unreal. I keep remembering the picture I saw of David Koresh in a meeting room giving a Bible study to all his disciples. When I saw that picture in Newsweek, I had the feeling I knew what it would be like to be there, I had a certain feeling.

This is the picture of David Koresh giving a Bible study to his followers that I saw in Newsweek. Seeing that picture, I understood what it would have felt like to be in that room.

I guess I have separated myself so far from everyone here and from believing in our way. I just don’t know what to do about all this, the way it is in meetings. Maybe I really am spiritually dead like Stewart says we are, because I can’t (or won’t) whip myself up to a frenzy and stand up and proclaim, and get urgent. The most I can say that I’m doing at this meeting is praying inwardly and glancing at some Psalms in Greek, trying to take myself through a meeting without getting burnt out or warped too much. To avoid getting my head rearranged or deranged. I just wish I was safe, protected.

Stewart is now lashing into everybody about how we are not scared. He says that we will not be led by God’s spirit without it. Skylar is now swinging from the gallows pole. Hanging there, immediately repeating everything Stewart says, “Yes, I’m not scared. I will never be led by God’s spirit or be saved without being scared out of my mind first.”

Sometimes I just wonder, where does Stewart get off? Nobody entrusts themselves to him in any way. What an extreme polarity – the king versus all the pawns. Stewart is belching out a lot of his formulas now, and telling us about all the things we didn’t say, let alone do, all week.

Stewart: “Your won’t accept the truth that you won’t be Christians without being scared out of your minds.”

Kevin and Bernie are now getting into strained shouting over it.

Our observer is looking from person to person. I wonder what he thinks about all of this. Is he anybody at all?

(It must have been strange for this person, who was an unknown visitor, to watch all the desperate standing up and shouting that was going on in this meeting.)

Jesus please help me through this meeting. I can’t take this stuff!  Is there anybody who can say or do anything about all of this?

Now we broke up into separate small groups meetings. I was in our little group meeting for the brothers living at the 46th Street office:

46th Street:  Joe, our spokesman is speaking, telling all of the dirt. Was I saved by the bell? I didn’t have to make a speech. Most of the older brothers had been gone through and made their speeches. I kept thinking it just didn’t seem like the time to speak up yet. It was just a feeling I had, but I was getting ready. Then somebody said that for the rest of the brothers who hadn’t spoken yet, maybe we should just see if anybody had been “seen as escaping,” so we just did that instead and asked who had any votes to that effect.

Maybe it’s good that I don’t get entangled in all of this by saying things about myself. When it was Paul’s turn, he made a good dirty story, self-incriminating speech. This never seems to work for him though. I wonder if that is just his way of making a ruse. We all seem to have our own methods, don’t we?

When thinking about why I always wait until the end, or why I didn’t feel like speaking right away, I realized that the reason I do this is that nobody really wants to hear from the last guys so much. After going through so many brothers and hearing their speeches, by this time, everybody just wants to get it over with – including me. But, I feel exasperated from this whole process anyway, even if I didn’t speak.

Maybe I’m not getting away so easily. Stewart came back into the meeting room. He asks, ”So, who is escaping 46th Street?” (I keep thinking something will lead to some of us brothers getting put out of the church.) But toward the end of these meetings, it seems as if – tentatively – all is well. During the dinner break, we are going to reorganize our groups. It’s the usual stuff, always coming after the big blow.

Stewart: “The only thing that will empty you out – so that you’re empty, swept, and in order – is if you are frightened.”

So far, nobody here has experienced this conversion experience. But this never seems to get dealt with. Stewart seems so nonchalant. It’s not like he doesn’t rail at us and I guess the fact that he deals with these things and speaks about them shows that he is aware. Yet, it all seems to be part of the script and taken in stride, like good religious theater. We are, supposedly, if not the only church that knows the truth – for sure, we are the only church that knows certain things and who has the gospel in these terms. And, if we have not genuinely converted to Christ, who is faithful anywhere? Because only we have the real thing.

At the dinner break: I am outside as usual, trying to enjoy a bit of summer. Before this, I had to meet with the 46th Street brothers, talking about our plan of escape. Nobody really was into it, except maybe Joe. I think the whole thing was compulsory. It was hard to elicit a response out of anybody. Me, I am filibustering, trying to float through this meeting and to run out the clock. (I should write something about the fear of God; how I know I am cheating in Christ; that to write this without saying it is wrong is totally unacceptable, that I don’t intend to leave it that way.)

It seems totally horrible to me to even contemplate going back to Woodruff. That is not the underlying basic issue, but it is part of the bargain and I have to confess that I am quite unwilling. I’d have to say that I am doing all this holding out because I neither want to live at Woodruff nor 46th Street, that I want to hang on to my closet at the Red Hook warehouse and the ability to arrange – however minimally – my own things. To have some degree of control over this. This is something I am not supposed to have, neither the control nor the place. This reminds me of the stripping process Goffman talks about in his book.

(The stripping process is a concept written about by Erving Goffman in his book “Asylums: Essays on the Social Situation of Mental Patients and Other Inmates ” which is a book about life in total institutions. The Church of Bible Understanding qualifies as a total institution, in which all activities, place of residence, social life and work take place under the same roof, and there is no separation between these spheres of life. I did not want to live even more communally than I already was living, by moving to the church’s building at 162 Woodruff Avenue in Brooklyn or to the West 46th Street church office in Manhattan. Paul, Peter and I were living in a large supply closet that Paul had built in the Red Hook warehouse, at first to store and keep our tools under lock and key, but we soon moved into it, after building bunk beds inside.

In the stripping process, a new inmate, or member of an organization like the armed forces has all their personal belongings taken away, has their hair shaved off, and often wears a uniform. The purpose of this stripping process is to remove the person’s former identity and to give him a new identity based on being a member, or inmate of the total institution.

In COBU we were supposed to have as little of an individual identity or personal life possible, as well as no private or personal space where we could “hide” or “do our own thing.”  Without books like Goffman’s Asylums, I would not have been able to understand or identify what was happening as clearly as I did and would not have been able to make a separation in my mind between what God was doing and what Stewart was doing to us. Without that separation, it all seemed like “God’s will” for us. The pressure to conform came from all angles, all the time. And I had internalized the COBU belief system over the years, so the pressure came from within me as well.  

The pain of living this way was one of things that began to wake me up to the falsehood of the COBU way. To use a passage from the book of Job: “He delivers the afflicted by their affliction, and opens their ear by adversity.” It was because of the pain and suffering I was undergoing in COBU (which had not been as intense in my earlier years there) that I began to question the reality of it, and to question the “good intentions” of our leader. You could say that God opened my ears or got my attention by using this adversity, so that I would listen. (I have no problem with this use of adversity to get my attention, by the way, and I’m glad that God did.)  

In one of the books I read about cults while I was still in COBU, the author explained that doctrinal differences are usually not the reason why someone leaves a cult, it is weariness or other forms of pain (like the forbidding of relationships) that cause the person to begin to question his belief in the cult. The other reason many leave is because of the difference between the way cult members are supposed to live, and the way the cult leader lives. The leader has all kinds of privileges and perks, while members live communally and deny all but their most basic desires, such as food and clothing.

And in-depth summary of Goffman’s points, which helped me so much to understand my life in COBU and the processes I was subjected to is here: Total Institutions.)

Somehow, all paths lead to the stripped out life in order to be saved. I would never do this willingly, unless I was forced to. Yes, I remember yearning sometimes for the corralled and regulated certainty of the “810” days – though I would never go there willingly.

(“810” refers to a time when I lived in COBU’s shelter/residence on 810 North Broad Street in Philadelphia, being under constant pressure and regimentation. It was very much like being in prison. More information about that episode in our lives in COBU can be found here: The Criminal Element Takes Over.)

Somehow, I am avoiding the cross of Christ by not going to Woodruff and that my cross – mine in particular – stands at 162 Woodruff Avenue, waiting for me. It’s the only spot on the planet where I may serve Christ. Of course, in these meetings or elsewhere, I would never speak of this or of any of my wants or reservations. I do think we should be able to at least speak about such things, but here, it’s either “will you go or not?” Incidental features, such as any other side issues, or your personal preferences, are not even considered. Obviously, it is a totally unreal way of life. Of course, you could say, “so get real then,” but it’s hopeless. I wish there were other options available.

I think that I have a life where I can’t get anywhere or do anything. Maybe it’s Christ who has me so completely boxed in…but, does Christ box you in so much that you can’t even speak about what’s on your mind? The same with “say what you think to Stewart.”

(Stewart sometimes asked us to speak our minds to him, but there were severe consequences for anyone who did not tow the party line or say the appropriate and expected responses. So, usually anyone who did respond to Stewart’s offer to speak up about, “Any questions or complaints? Let’s hear them now,” always responded to this invitation by speaking in “cult phrases” – that is, in combinations of Stewart Traill quotes and precepts which were strung together to form sentences.

An example of this kind of talk would be, “We really need to shake ourselves and urgently go through the groups to check our fellowship, what do all the brothers think!”

The above is a sentence made up of Stewart Traill sayings and concepts, strung together and it really doesn’t mean anything.

Another example would be “All the more, really laying down my life to build up my brothers in God’s spirit, putting myself to death, no games or cheating.” And so on.

At meetings, which could last for hours, this parody of real conversation was the only thing that church members said. And if Stewart asked for opinions, there might be ten or twenty, or even more people standing up in turn, one after another, saying these long sentences that were cobbled together out of Stewart’s precepts and sayings. Almost always, Stewart then told us that our guesses were wrong, and then he told us the answer to our problem. And this reinforced our belief that we knew nothing and couldn’t figure anything out and that we needed Stewart to tell us the solutions to our problems. 

But this was also the only kind of talk that Stewart would accept from anyone. If someone deviated from this way of speaking and said something real, Stewart “corrected” them in mid-sentence, saying, “Do you mean to say that….?” and gave them the appropriate lines, which they had to repeat after him, or suffer more abuse.

Most brothers and sisters preferred to not to speak up, but when names were being called, or they had to say something, this was the safest thing to do, and as I said, the only thing they were allowed to do. It is ironic that Stewart, a man who portrayed himself as a great bearer of truth, and who said he had God’s spirit – and as a result, could see into the deepest motives of our hearts – would accept or promote such behavior from people, in effect, making sure no one would ever be fully (or even partially) honest about themselves or give honest opinions about what should be done in the church, in a church that was supposedly based on living according to the truth and on speaking the truth to one another in love.)

-*-

Second session of the meeting:

We are about to have a Bible study. I just wish this were all over.

Stewart is saying that one of the major things he should be doing is rewriting the ABCs. (If these things are so true, why isn’t he publishing a book about them to send out from here?)

I just feel so broken down, wrecked up.

Is Stewart about to “flip the box?” He is asking us the question, “Are you saved?” There seems to be something to it. He is now going over verses like Titus 3:5 and trying to get us to discuss this. But there is some reluctance on everybody’s part.

(At this point, Stewart recanted a major teaching of his, which he had given us last year about this time. And then he blamed us for accepting what he was now called a false teaching, saying, “You let me get away with it – and nobody said anything. You must have wanted it.” This teaching, as were all of Stewart’s teachings, had been given in a tone of  “believe it or ” and “this is the absolute truth and anyone who does not believe it is rejecting Christ,” and he abused anyone who questioned any of his teachings or biblical insights – yet now, Stewart was saying his teaching from a year ago had not been true. Yet, woe to anyone who brought it to his attention, or questioned him about it at the time!)

Well, I probably won’t get a moment of glory. Though I have some things I would say, if I could. Stewart has told us we are allowed to believe something different now – so we will.

This just shows that I can’t entrust my mind to somebody. I have been wondering just how many hard and fast teachings and rules Stewart is going to change his mind on later, and tell us, “Why didn’t you say anything?” This is all a bunch of nonsense, isn’t it!

Now Stewart is possibly extricating himself, threading the eye of the needle, by saying that there is a difference between the concepts of “saved” and “salvation,” and that being “saved” doesn’t mean you have “salvation.”

(Stewart’s previous teaching on Titus 3:5 had to do with the meaning of the word “salvation,” and he was fudging now to say that there is a slight difference in meaning of the original Greek verb tenses of the word “to be saved” which caused it to mean something other than what he had told us it meant.)

I really have trouble believing all of this stuff. Okay, Stewart may have a point, but he is like a magician who keeps pulling another rabbit out of his hat. Now another thing we are told to believe. It’s the same thing, but only one of the ingredients has been changed. So, what ingredient will get changed next week? Next month? “Subject To Change Without Notice” ought to be the title of a book on our church or of a handbook for understanding our doctrine.

(The reason “doctrinal changes” were so hard for me, is because we were forced to live our lives based on Stewart’s teachings, which he said were the absolute truth. But then he would change something which, in effect showed that not all of his teachings were the absolute truth, if they could be changed at any time. Yet, these beliefs – and the practices that followed from them – were enforced within our communal society as absolute law.

And we were not allowed to question or even give our opinions on anything Stewart was teaching – not even in a helpful way, unless what we were saying was in complete acceptance if his words and we were making an urgent commitment to live according to it. So, we got our heads beat against the wall with some “true” teaching, which we had to accept, only to find some time later that Stewart decided it was no longer true anymore. Yet, woe to anyone who questioned it at the time, and he also put us in a double bind by saying, “and nobody said anything, so you must have wanted to believe it.”)

So, this is the new word. It is like he is hastily constructing another edifice. Like in the book Nineteen Eighty-Four – now it’s time to believe something else is the truth. And, everybody will believe it. Just as surely as they believed the previous line. (Or at least they say they did.)

(In the book Nineteen Eighty-Four, by George Orwell, the main character, Winston Smith, worked at the Ministry of Truth. The world was divided into three main superpowers and at any given time, their alliances would change and Smith’s job was to change all the history books to say that their country had always been at war with their present enemy and always friends with the country they had just stopped fighting. This was not unlike how Stewart changed his doctrines and we always had to say these were the truth and that this had always been the truth.

This is also the book where the saying “Big Brother Is Watching You” comes from, another COBU-like reality, except that our dictator and oppressor was Brother Stewart, whom we had to report to and give account of ourselves to.)

So, Stewart says, “You can’t lose your salvation, but you are as safe, or as saved, as you need to be right now.” Another convoluted teaching. Sorry bozos, you allowed me to pull the wool over your eyes and you are just as ready to let me do it again.

Sometimes I wonder if it’s true that Stewart just can’t get it together. But he will beat up anybody that crosses him or questions him in any way.

(Earlier in this session, when Stewart started to talk about it, I was so overcome by fear and apprehension. My heart was beating so hard that I could see the movement outside my body. Am I just a coward? Or was God protecting me from my own stupidity for wanting to jump up and say something, by making me unable to speak up?  Would I have just been throwing myself on the tracks? Paul B. turned and gave me that look when Stewart mentioned Titus 3:5. Paul and I had discussed this last year. I remember riding in a cab together with Paul on the way to a job site, when I showed him about the verses in the Greek bible about the verb tenses of the word “saved” and told him Stewart’s teaching on it at that time was wrong. Paul said to me, “If that’s true, then what Stewart said is wrong.”

(The year before, Stewart had a false teaching, based on Titus 3:5, where he said we are not saved. He said that the verse in Greek did not say “you have been saved,” but “you are being saved.” With this distinction, Stewart did not want us to feel we had “salvation in our back pocket.” In other words, we should never relax or feel any security our salvation, but should always be in a state of worry and doubt about our eternal destiny. Stewart promoted doubt and fear as a useful manipulation tactic. I showed Paul this verse, in the original Greek from the Bible, explaining that the verb tense for saved (you have been saved) was a completed and done past tense. And Paul said to me that if this is true, then what Stewart is teaching is wrong.)

But, what is the point now? Stewart is now sewing it right back together, weaving it in with words and overlapping concepts. Somehow also, this doesn’t inspire me to hope. Also, I shouldn’t have been so stupid as to think there would be any uncertainty in Stewart’s mind or in the way he is coming off, that this would be an opening for me to say something to him. He is not leaving it hanging.

In other words, when Stewart leads into something with a leading question – and yes, also with a half-admission of a mistake… (Come to think of it, he never said he made a mistake. In fact, he put it on us and asked, “What are you going to do with this?” And everybody’s response was to defend what Stewart had previously told us the truth was about Titus 3:5.) This was only a preliminary for a well-planned discourse that will soon take place. Yes, I shouldn’t have been so stupid to think that Stewart is admitting he made a mistake.

So, if I had spoken up, I would probably have been a lamb lead to the slaughter. As Stewart was speaking, I did have the feeling – it started to dawn on me – that “He who gives an answer before he hears is a fool. It is to his folly and shame.” This started to become apparent to me. That maybe I wasn’t so cowardly to “shrink in fear” after all. And that all we were hearing was the opening comments of a spiel, with the usual introductory bait. (I wonder what the sisters think about all this. I always figure that their wheels are turning, but apparently, they prefer to hang loose.)

(I realized it had been better to not speak up, and that I would have only opened myself to raging abuse if I had.)

Stewart is making Christianity over in his own image.

He does have a good point: “If this is salvation, who would want to be like this forever and ever? You call this salvation?” But, I do have a feeling he is covering over a blunder he made.  I am thinking about the story of king and his new clothes. We all have to play along by praising how great and wise he is.  He explains it all so plausibly. There is a plausible explanation for everything we do and are taught here, but this gets confused with whether these things are true or not.

Stewart: “If you ever get confronted with the question ‘Are you saved?’ it is probably from an arrogant Christian.”

Sure, I know all the plausible explanations. They have been installed in my mind quite securely. (But, what do I do when it’s time to change rabbits? I end up feeling like a fool and that I was taken for a ride.) 

(I was using the metaphor of Stewart pulling a new rabbit out of the hat every meeting or so. He had a new trick, a new thing we had to believe now. This happened quite frequently, especially right after he said he “repented” and God revealed grace to him and he began to come out with a new set of teachings. But, whatever he was teaching at the time, and no matter how frequently he changed his teachings, what never changed was his claim to be the only one teaching the truth, and that he had assured understanding, which was given to him by God.)

I am trying to convey an impression of the feeling I have gotten from all this. It’s not that I believed Stewart’s previous salvation teaching or his other teachings hook, line, and sinker, but I still feel pretty stupid. The big bulwark that everything is constructed on and founded on appears to be immovable, but with a flick of the wrist, the props can be changed and it’s time for the next act to begin. Time to sing a new tune. And it leaves me with an open-ended question about just what else is wrong. What other varieties of wool are being pulled over my eyes?

Plus, it is an eye-opener, because even though I think Stewart says things that are not true, I always have the inability to believe my own thoughts – until Stewart himself calls it off, thereby verifying what I had been thinking.

(I was thinking about this just today before the meeting, about how I think things, but can never know for sure until Stewart himself says it. And I was wondering, yes today, I was actually thinking about when will I hear Stewart say to us again that what he told us was wrong – even thought at the time, I had to believe it, or else. When will I hear these words again: “I was all wrong. Why didn’t anybody tell me anything!” Then feeling like a real jackass and worse, feeling bitter.)

IS THE GOOSE THAT LAYS THE GOLDEN EGGS JUST ANOTHER TURKEY? I am thinking about writing Stewart a letter, but just as quickly, I realize how futile that would be. So, I will not write letters. If Stewart publishes any literature (obviously all of this is meant for in-house only), I will try to spread it abroad

(What I meant by this was that if other people read what Stewart was teaching us, they would realize how foolish it was. It wold be something like reverse evangelism. I would spread Stewart’s nonsense all around if it was in printed form. I was still looking for or imagining there could be outside help of some kind.)

When Stewart was speaking to us today, he admitted that anybody who writes or speaks always comes from a point of view, his own point of view. He said that you can’t avoid it. These are perhaps his indirect admissions of fallibility, or whatever.

He talked about how you have to define your terms and other things “you” have to do, and about what a person must do in order to avoid such mistakes. In other words, he was speaking of himself. He really doesn’t like to admit mistakes. He said, “I make these statements and get myself in trouble.”

Read the next section of the journal here: Thought Reform And The Psychology Of Totalism.

(These journal pages are part of the source material for my book, Captive Congregation: My Fourteen Years in the Church of Bible Understanding, which is available as a Kindle book or in paperback.)

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