1993, 07/01-04. “Even Jim LaRue Says That I‘m Alone And That I Need To Have My Views Checked.”

Thursday, July 1

I’ve been hearing messages about the upcoming July 4th meeting at the New Property in Philadelphia. Aside from the usual phrases about “what can we do to make it better for everybody,” Stewart also says that we are also supposed to study evolution in preparation for this meeting. Lauren was reading the message aloud to everyone in the same stilted, otherworldly voice that one always reads messages from Stewart in, totally devoid of their own person. I don’t think anybody will really be into it. I don’t hear much talk about it. (But then again, I haven’t been at the office much today.) As far as the meeting, I have absolutely no desire even to be there.

I’m spending a great deal of time now thinking about a “suicide note” to leave Paul. It could be written over a period of time.

(This meant a note explaining to Paul why I left the Church of Bible Understanding.)

Friday, July 2

At Stein [a job site].  I’m thinking a lot about leaving the church and about the terms: when, how – and why. I need to get out while I still have a life left.

Sunday, July 4

The start of a two-day meeting. The first session is supposed to be about evolution.

The first session, before prayer or anything, is a (traditional) roaster session, where Stewart is describing our hopeless condition according to Ecclesiastes 12. I suppose Stewart “means well,” but he is describing the death, or imminent death, of all COBU members.

(Stewart Traill, in his typical morbidity, focused on passages in the Bible such as Ecclestiastes 12. It was also for the purposes of manipulation, to get us to feel horribly bad and guilty about ourselves, which produced people who could be more easily manipulated. 
Ecclesiastes 12, verses 1-8 says, “Remember also your Creator in the days of your youth, before the evil days come, and the years draw nigh, when you will say, “I have no pleasure in them”; before the sun and the light and the moon and the stars are darkened and the clouds return after the rain; in the day when the keepers of the house tremble, and the strong men are bent, and the grinders cease because they are few, and those that look through the windows are dimmed, and the doors on the street are shut; when the sound of the grinding is low, and one rises up at the voice of a bird, and all the daughters of song are brought low; they are afraid also of what is high, and terrors are in the way; the almond tree blossoms, the grasshopper drags itself along and desire fails; because man goes to his eternal home, and the mourners go about the streets; before the silver cord is snapped, or the golden bowl is broken, or the pitcher is broken at the fountain, or the wheel broken at the cistern, and the dust returns to the earth as it was, and the spirit returns to God who gave it.)

My thoughts on the meeting: this is Stewart’s understanding or view of our psychology. A meeting like this is one of Stewart’s trademarks. From the first days I came to this church, there were meetings like this. What did I do about this back then? Just bury it or shelve it, and move on. It’s such an unpleasant subject. I used to just get up and go witnessing on Monday.

(Meetings were the same back then, with Stewart predicting the end and dire ruin of all church members, describing their miserable futures here on earth and then their eternal misery in hell afterward. I felt extremely disturbed and beaten up after a meeting like this, and at the time, I didn’t understand the process, or the function or purpose of a meeting that went on for hours where the leader of the church was describing members’ hopeless and hellbound condition. The day after the meeting I went on with my life and my work, really beaten up from this, and thinking about the apparent hopelessness of Christian life, and my life, but I would just go on somehow.)

Of course, nobody talks, discusses anything or asks questions. But how could you? (Not in this case, because Stewart doesn’t let us ask questions, but because of the nature of the subject.)

We are hearing Stewart’s views on human life, portraying the desperate scenario all humans face. (Except for Stewart, of course. Not that he is claiming only he has the escape from this condition, but it alway seems to work out that way. He has that special magic – though, what it really is, is that he has always been obedient to Jesus. He says that even the “good” old timers here are all headed for that burned out life. Stewart is calling on Barb and Debbie to answer his questions. He says, “They’ve heard it for years. Why weren’t they even able to answer the questions correctly? So, what does that say they are doing then?”

(This was an example of a typical Stewart set up and trap on church members. He asked some question about Christian life, and those he called upon were not able, or were not willing, to answer the question. If they could not even speak correctly about Christian life, Stewart claimed, then what did that say they were doing? Obviously then, they were not obedient to this particular point of Christian doctrine he had brought up for discussion, and if they were not obedient to some small part of Christian doctrine, then by way of implication and accusation, they were completely unfaithful to Christ, and not only that, they never had been faithful to him in their entire lives.)

We have been woven into these arguments for years…

(We had seen Stewart use this method of attack against us for years and we knew all the “evidence” he had built up to prove our disobedience to God. No one bothered to contest or deny what Stewart was saying about them, because we knew it was futile to try to disagree, because Stewart would go on, for as long as necessary, using every negative point about our lives as evidence and even calling in those whom we lived with to offer negative assessments of our lives and character, until the person under this method of attack capitulated and admitted to all of Stewart’s charges and accusations. After years of conditioning in this process, most of us just capitulated ahead of time and agreed immediately to any charges Stewart made against us. It was apparently not worth the effort to fight it.)

So basically, everybody in the whole church is in the same pot.

(I was drawing this conclusion from what Stewart was saying. Usually there were divisions or categories in the church, in which church members were divided into faithful and unfaithful, but usually in any meeting, Stewart would end up declaring all of us apostates and cheaters.)

I am wondering, if this is how the meeting starts, how is it going to end? Not one brother or sister is able to say they are not living according to this process, and that they are living in the fear of God instead. Everybody is now standing up and making totally inane speeches, regurgitating the lesson.

(Many brothers and sisters were standing up and making statements that they had not been faithful to Christ and then making commitments to be faithful. All of them were speaking in the terms and words of the lesson that Stewart Traill had just given us, describing their unfaithful condition in the exact words Stewart had used to describe it, saying it was true about themselves and then making a commitment to change and to be faithful, again in the exact words and terms that Stewart had described as the only way of escape from this condition.

No one who spoke gave any other kind of description of themselves or offered any other possible reason for it, or any alternative way out – and for certain, no one dared to claim they were faithful to Christ, or to say that what Stewart had said was not true about themselves or about others. Each one stood up and shouted in a desperate voice and then sat back down and was immediately followed by another brother or sister doing the same thing. This went on for some time, until everybody was done.)

Now Stewart is saying that we mentioned nothing of Christ as the answer and the way of escape.

(Stewart declared all the brothers’ and sisters’ recommitment speeches as having no value, because according to him, no one mentioned Christ as the answer and way of escape from this condition.)

I realized Stewart had intended to build up to the hope by explaining the problem first, I guess an exposition of man’s depravity vs. Christ’s help. He says “we” never mentioned it. I have the feeling he is totally play acting.

(I thought Stewart was just playing with us and that all of this was just for effect. He got us to see our depraved condition, offered a way out, and when all the brothers and sisters stood up to proclaim and confirm their need for the lesson, he said all of the proclaiming was false, because some point was omitted from their claims.)

Stewart is pointing to Bob W. as an example of what we’re all sinking into. He says we should be accepting it before we die. Bob certainly is a real weirdo. (Apparently Bob wrote Stewart a letter. One of the things he wrote in the letter was, “There is nothing of me left.” Stewart called upon Nancy R. to speak to everyone concerning Bob W. and his letter. She said to Bob, “You look like there is nothing of you left.” Then Stewart said that was the very phrase Bob had used in his letter.)

(Bob was a former member who came back to some meetings during this time. He often seemed troubled. I suspect that Stewart may have told Nancy in advance what Bob had written and that this was a set up.)

Stewart says, “Plenty of bad news first – then even more good news. Properly, of course.” We have heard Stewart’s theology and the terms and conditions of it. Is it true?

I had also thought to say, it looks like Stewart is writing us off. But now, he is revealing that, in effect, he purposely withheld the hope part, I assume, to see if we would say anything about hope ourselves. This, I take, is meant to be a hopeful or encouraging session. It’s just that, in Stewart’s convoluted theology, you might miss it.

Stewart asks, “What can we do about this?” I suppose this is the point or the purpose of this meeting, where we are supposed to talk about what to do about the church’s problems.

Stewart’s theology, what does it comprise of? (Stewart is talking about how we need to push ourselves down, and that we don’t need to lift ourselves up. Obviously, his is not the “positive” self-help gospel.) Is all of this real? Is he creating artificial crises? (He asks, “What are we going to do about this?” Various ones give their opinions, but Stewart corrects them, saying, “No. It should be this way.” Obviously then, he already “knows” what we “should” do and had it planned all along. After our show of participation, he will lay out the directives. Okay, maybe the directives may be good, but, this is the process. After all the goons are done bouncing up and down and flopping around, and after the sisters are done rolling their eyes and making inane-sounding repetitions of what they have heard Stewart say.)

Now there is a lot of flustering. Jim D. is exhorting the brothers to shake themselves, Andrew is blabbing. Then Stewart calmly, methodically, correcting the speakers. Obviously, he already has the plan all laid out. Don’t others realize this? Perhaps, the sisters do and they are patiently waiting to hear it. Is anybody here conscious? Aware?

It occurs to me that Stewart’s gospel is a very impersonal gospel. It’s all methods and processes.

(At this point the session, and Stewart’s lesson, ends.)

I am wondering if some of the books I have been reading act as a buffer zone. I think the book on the Shiloh community has helped me in particular today.

(The books about cults that I was reading were helping me to detach and see the processes that went on in the meetings objectively and to not be so bought in to it.)

-*-

The Session on Evolution

(We were having a debate about science vs. religion, with Stewart Traill moderating and making comments.)

How do I know this is not just a projection of the theater of Stewart’s mind? (For example, when Stewart said that Greg was “blackening science,” in response to one of his comments.) Stewart is even projecting answers on people as if that is what they really said. This will probably just be another session where we all learn just how stupid we are and how smart Stewart is and then, we will be ready to accept Stewart’s answers, whatever they are.

This whole session is upsetting and irritating. It is being delivered in a totally confrontational style. Perhaps Stewart is just into this and he is sharing it with us – but it’s like the bull vs. all the mice. Why is he wasting such great talents on people like us? I have no desire to participate in this debate whatsoever and I am behaving accordingly.

Well, I don’t really learn anything from all of this, except to say that I learn something about life in the Church of Bible Understanding. What’s the point of speaking up? All of this just means less and less to me. Where am I going to meet any scientists anyway? And when does Stewart crawl out of his enclave to hobnob with any scientists as well? Science and evolution vs. religion is an important issue that Stewart says I have to deal with. His agenda for my life. (Here I am dying from certain “hormonal” forces and he is selecting various biblical issues that are of urgent importance for me, such as evolution, or perhaps the direct biblical command that women must wear veils, but he is skipping over 1 Corinthians 7.

(Stewart omitted the need for marriage in what he considered to be the agenda for my life, yet he highlighted trivial matters, such as how the Bible says women should wear veils when praying.)

I think Stewart is just playing with us. Will I learn anything from all of this? He is just showing us that we are all ignorant monkeys. He is so arrogant as to believe that whatever his interests are should be ours. That he knows what is good for us. But, tomorrow comes and will any of this mean anything at all? This whole thing is Stewart’s show. I don’t live on every word that comes from Stewart’s mouth.

It’s like the only way to be safe here is to act dumb and submissive. It’s the only way of survival here. Everybody accepts you this way. (For example, as you are speaking, or while Stewart is speaking to you, quite often, very often, he gives you the words to say – a permissible way out of whatever particular dilemma he’s putting you in, or correction he is giving you. Woe to him to tries to get out by another way or tries to explain himself in his own words. This is related to the idea of how answers to a question will often be included in the way a question is asked, or in the content of the question. Indeed, the vary fact that a question was asked…)

This debate on evolution is not a discussion, per se. Really Stewart just wanted to tell us something, and we will hear it very soon. We are certainly being led along in a certain direction on this issue. (We are supposed to decide or vote on something.)

Gail L. is speaking. Stewart gave her a new name. Why? Because she had the same name as his wife. So, there as a little more to this renaming than “pastoral” favor.

(Stewart had renamed Gail as “Tallulah” so she would not have the same name as his wife, Gayle. There was also a brother whose name was Stuart, but Stewart did not find it necessary to rename him. The difference may have been that Tallulah lived with Stewart and his wife.)

I notice that Stewart interrupts the sisters, every other word they speak, interjecting comments and asking how they could say something like that. He did a fine and persistent job with the brothers, making sure everybody looked like a bumbling idiot. Of course, he is “gentler” with the women, but still, what a difference! I guess the brothers just can’t compete with him. The sisters, well there’s no challenge to Stewart there anyway. The session with the brothers was totally bogus.

Stewart mentions Christian people who go along with biblical creationism, out of fear, because they don’t want to say anything wrong. So they figure they had better find out what everybody else is saying, and go along with that. This, from the man who doesn’t brook any opposition in terms of disagreement with him or anybody saying anything “wrong.” Once in a while, I wish I had stuck to my guns back then when I told Stewart, “You’re alone and need to get your views checked by other pastors,” and gotten thrown out [as he threatened me with if I did not retract that statement and say instead that I was the problem, not Stewart]. How easy it would have been, when living out, whenever I would have encounters with COBU members to say just that: “Yeah, I got thrown out because I told Stewart he was alone and that he needs to get his views checked.”

(I was saying that I would have told members of the church, if I encountered them, that I got thrown out for telling Stewart that he was alone and that he needed to have his views checked. Later, Stewart and those in COBU could not admit that Stewart had threatened me for saying this to him, because Stewart portrayed himself as a man of truth, open to all opinions, and as such, this statement should have been regarded as harmless, and that no one should get put out of the church for saying anything like that. 

It was always said later that I had been threatened with being put out for other reasons. Or even, it was denied that this was ever done to me. A year after I left COBU, I heard that Stewart announced to church members that “Even Jim LaRue says that I’m alone and that I need to get my views checked.” One day I ran into a COBU member named Faye, and she told me this, as if it were a way of inviting me back to the church. I reminded her that I had been threatened with immediate removal from the church property, and the loss of my residence and job in the church business for having said it at the time. She acted as if she had no idea what I was talking about. She could only believe the part that Stewart said, that this statement of mine (which was considered so subversive at the time) was now something good. Apparently Stewart was now cashing in on it, for some reason that I am not aware of.)

Get this now: Stewart says (in reference to books on various subjects, including the present subject), “I always go with the heretics. Because the heretics always deal with subjects that the Christians won’t deal with. They deal with it wrongly though, but cowards won’t touch it. I like heretics.” Yeah, give me a break, jackass! [See my notes in the paragraphs above!] When I hear the – possibly inadvertently slipped out – thoughts of this jackass, I wonder what world I live in!

THE MOVIE.

(We watched the movie, called The Pilgrim’s Progress, which was based on John Bunyan’s famous book by the same name. This movie was often shown at meetings, after which brothers and sisters stood up to speak to everyone about the movie in terms of COBU’s teachings, using the movie’s themes to back up the communal and self-denying way of life in COBU. A major theme in the movie is that Pilgrim left his life in this world, including his family and all he had, to go on a quest to have his sins forgiven. This was used to talk up leaving our families and moving into the Church of Bible Understanding.)

Stewart calls upon brothers who going to be fully there to explain the movie to the new brothers (so they will not be lazy). These explanations come totally in our own terms, a self-serving explanation only in terms of our own teachings. Nobody actually explains the movie itself, what it is, the setting, who John Bunyan, the author of the book on which the movie is based, was and what his place in Christian history was. Then Stewart said that the purpose of showing the movie is for encouragement in our struggle.

Now, we’re having a “forced” discussion about the movie (Stewart is not here, because he left the room). I see Becky looking at me (or at least looking in my direction). I feel I should jump up and start talking. Yes, I am living a life as a doormat, I’m never going to get married this way. Though on the other hand, jumping up and saying something now – or at any other time – will not help either me get married to her either.

Stewart walks back in and asks, “What are you all discussing? Urgently!” (Earlier in the meeting, Stewart had said, amazingly, “The movie is divided in two parts. Of course,” he said, “it probably wasn’t done on purpose, it must have been an accident.” This is typical. Even if somebody does something “right,” somebody else besides Stewart that is, they are just stumbling on it by accident.)

(According to Stewart, the first reel of the movie ended at a significant point, which was when Pilgrim encountered Jesus on the cross and the burden of his sins (represented by a heavy backpack) fell away. Reel two of the movie opened with Pilgrim walking on a path, now unburdened and forgiven of his sins, but now he must fight the fight of the faith and walk the path of life in order to reach the Celestial City. That the movie was divided into two reels at this very point must have just been an accident, because no one could have realized this significance intentionally, except Stewart Traill himself. Stewart’s teachings dealt much with this second part of the Christian life, which he felt other Christians knew little of or paid little attention to.)

Stewart also says the Protestant Reformation never took hold. He says they had the opportunity to get it right, but it went downhill.

Now, whether it will be short or long, we are getting a beating session. Stewart asks, “How many are interested in salvation?” A few answer, the rest say nothing. Stewart says, “And even if I am interested in salvation, it is just not enough. It must be: I am interested in salvation more than anything.”

There is no peace, not even in or after, seeing a movie. Everything is a lesson. Chuck is standing up now, bellowing, “We’ve got to shake ourselves!” As always, bellowing and making a lot of noise about shaking ourselves.

A browbeating, even after a movie. Stewart indicates that tomorrow, we will get into discussing who here is living on a hotel basis / who is escaping. Oh no! I would do anything to not be at that meeting.

These divisions (who is a right example, who can be counted on) which we are going to do tomorrow, Stewart says it’s so those who aren’t right examples can be worked on. I wish. A foretaste of the pressure cooker religion. The screws tightening.

(Ending the session.)

Stewart says that we must dismiss rightly. (Eat rightly, have a bathroom break rightly…)

Read the next section of the journal here: What Are The Underlying Assumptions About Life in COBU?

(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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