1993, 07/05. What Are The Underlying Assumptions About Life In COBU?

Monday, July 5

The first session of the day, the dreaded brothers meeting, is about to start. I spent two hours outside, taping. It is a part of my ongoing series of putting my own thoughts on tape.

(I got up at 10 in the morning, while everyone else was still sleeping after the late session and was alone in a corner of the church property, speaking my thoughts into a tape recorder about the proceedings of last night’s meeting and about life in COBU.

In the Church of Bible Understanding, we were not supposed to “be into our own thoughts,” because this was considered sinful, doing our own thing and opening the door for the devil to deceive us. At all costs, we were not to think our own thoughts or to go by our own ideas. We were supposed to think God’s thoughts and explanations for everything and for why we lived this way and did what we did – God’s thoughts as explained by Stewart Traill that is, our teacher (and enforcer) of beliefs and behavior.)

I was trying to look at underlying assumptions about our lives here, the essence of which, besides our belief in Stewart’s special calling as a “seer” and that everything he says is true, is the idea that “I can’t live without Stewart.” Certainly, I need Jesus, but without Stewart, (that is, on my own) I can never have Jesus. So, Stewart, and Stewart alone, is a necessary factor, a sine qua none in my relationship with Jesus. 

(Sine qua none is Latin for “without which not.” It means an indispensable condition and requirement. You cannot have the latter without the former.) 

Indeed, there is no salvation without Stewart!

In a sense, if there is something I need before I can need Jesus – even though Jesus is the most basic need – then wouldn’t you say I need Stewart more, since without him, will I never get to Jesus? I cannot come to or find the truth on my own. If I left our church, I would be deceived. Stewart says, “You won’t hear what I tell you anywhere else.” This equals: I am the only person who knows, or who at least speaks the truth.

(A few years before this, a brother was saying he could leave COBU and serve Jesus somewhere else, because Jesus is everywhere. Stewart said, “Sure, Jesus is everywhere, but you won’t hear the things you hear here anywhere else,” implying that we needed Stewart in order not to be deceived and fall into error, and ultimately end up in hell.)

So, then, we’re here because we need Stewart, first of all. Not because we need Jesus. We need Jesus more than Stewart, but since “Jesus is everywhere,” we are here because we need Stewart. Otherwise there are other places we could be as well.

So, in effect, Stewart is placed before, or in between, me and Jesus. (Since Stewart says that saying “me and Jesus” is a joke.)

I am here because I need Jesus?  Is this the only place that Jesus operates?

During the meeting:

A new brother won’t move to the middle of the circle. Joe says to him, “Two brothers have already told you to. Jesus is here. So, however you are toward us is how you are being toward Jesus right now.”

According to Stewart, “The question is: unite with Christ or do what you want to do.” This equals, if we don’t obey what Stewart tells us to do, we are repudiating Christ and all of Christianity. It’s militant Christianity. I would do anything to not be in this meeting. Well, by obedience and compliance, I may preserve my life.

This is how the meeting has been so far (much of which I taped). I waited as long as possible to make my obligatory speech. It really is true that less is expected of the stragglers, those who wait to go last, after most of the other brothers have already made their speeches. I shut up after my quick speech and acted as humble as I could and only answered one or two of the comments the brothers made to me, realizing that the more I speak, the more trouble I would open myself up to and the longer my time in the limelight would be.

(We all had to make claims about our level of faithfulness to Christ and our commitment to change. After I spoke, there was a bombardment of questions directed at me by six or seven brothers, either all speaking to me at the same time, or one following after the other without time for me to answer the question before being interrupted by another brother’s question. This let me off the hook and I didn’t have to answer the previous question. But, I couldn’t just say nothing, so I selected one or two of these questions to respond to, while saying as little as possible.

This was a survival tactic. If I kept talking, they would have just kept me up there longer and asked me more questions. If I at least appeared to be making an effort to answer their questions, they might be satisfied with that and move on to interrogating the next brother. Any sign of “fighting,” disagreement or refusal to talk meant that it would be time for everyone to make an issue out of me and put me on trial.)

I failed to point out several older brother shirkers who didn’t make a speech – not as Stewart claims, to make room for myself to get away with doing the same thing, but I am in a state of flux regarding my belief in all of these methods and meetings. What do I get or show by ratting on others, or by being in there all along, speech making and “getting on” the others?

(I did not bring to anyone’s attention the others I noticed getting away without making a speech. In former years, I would have felt pressured to expose this and bring these brothers to account. The reason, according to Stewart, was because if I did not expose wrongdoing, I was making room for myself to get away with the same wrong behavior.  These knee jerk compulsions and fears that I was trained in and conditioned to over my many years of being in COBU were having less and less of an effect on me by this time.)

Somehow, I try to weather these meetings, to distance myself from the immediate crisis flashpoint. Partly by design, realizing things like: don’t speak until you have to, and that as short and as general as possible. When you have to speak, agree with everything, but the best is to avoid speaking about it at all. Never reveal your own secret thoughts, much less your objections or questions.

(In nearly every meeting, there were sessions in which we were made to feel as if we were in a dire crisis, a spiritual emergency in which our very eternal life was at stake. During this time, it was also important to determine “who was on the Lord’s side” (and more importantly, who was not). This was usually done by the speech making and proclaiming. This often went on for hours, all under a heavy state of pressure, panic and stress, with brothers and sisters shouting their claims in desperate and strident voices.)

I realize also, that if you wait and listen for it, not only does Stewart assail you with your problem, but he also gives you a way out. In this case, he says that your problem is pride. So, rather than justifying yourself – not that you necessarily accept his description of your problem – but, neither “fighting” against his diagnosis nor trying to take another way out other than the way he provides. The safest thing is silent agreement and when speaking, making your commitment speech in terms of what he says you need to do as a result of his diagnosis. You sort of float out on it, like a styrofoam cup on the crest of an ocean wave. In other words, it’s a kind of passive resistance.

(When speech making, the only acceptable behavior was to speak of our problem in the exact terms Stewart had described it, and to speak of our commitment to change in the exact terms Stewart gave as a cure for it. Anything other than total agreement with the diagnosis or the cure would set a person up for incredible verbal abuse, and some would say, spiritual abuse.

This was also a form of programming, because through this method we received a specific slogan that Stewart wanted us to say, which this method had burned into our minds, which everyone went around saying verbatim for the next week, until the next meeting, where we would learn a new slogan.

After Stewart accused us of a problem, we struggled for hours to get out of it by talking about it, making commitments and promises to change, and getting on the others to speak up. And Stewart would accept none of it, claiming that all of our efforts were just lies, deceit and games.

Then after we were worn out, he gave us the solution to the problem. It was a one-line sentence, such as, “I need to go to war against my pride by pushing myself down and by putting to death my double life.” The brothers and sisters immediately seized on these words as the only way Stewart would let us out of this dilemma, and one after another, they stood up and said this line, often prefacing it with, “I really see how it’s true that…”

Once we all proclaimed this message, Stewart let us off the hook and went on to something else. And we were now programmed with this line, burned and seared into our consciousness after at least an hour (and sometimes three hours) of this treatment.

The pain and stress came first, then the programming was dropped into our minds. If the programming was not the specific words themselves, it was certainly that only Stewart knows what our problems are, that we are helpless to know what to do about our problems, but that Stewart, and only Stewart, knows the solution. And that we need him.

I saw this process as like being in a storm on the sea, which was enough to sink a ship, but that a styrofoam cup would float on the surface of the roughest sea and not be damaged. When the brothers began to mechanically repeat the newly-given line, in my imagination, I saw them as a string of styrofoam cups, now coming out floating on the the current.) 

The way it used to be, we were faithful to Jesus and any correction we received from Stewart was for when we were ready for it, but now correction means, we have never ever started to be faithful to Jesus.

(In earlier days in the church, Stewart said that “correction” (a verbal beating by Stewart) was given to people who were striving to obey Jesus. The Shepherd (supposedly Jesus) corrected us in order to discipline and guide us on the path of life. Stewart said that we did not get corrected all at once, because if God corrected all of our faults at once, we would just die. So God handed out correction in little doses as we grew in Christ and were able to handle chastisement. But now, Stewart’s heavy-handed correction sessions were all about how we’ve never even started out on the path of life, much less have ever been faithful to Jesus in our entire lives and not only that, he said that we were headed straight to hell.)

Well, we get beaten up for four hours – but, it’s being done to us by a group, by a pastor that claims to care about us. So, I sit through it, patiently if possible, and I survive for another day.

(All of us at the meeting then broke into separate discussion groups, according to the church residence we lived in. Stewart went around from group to group, interjecting comments. Anything he said was immediately repeated and followed. If Stewart interrupted a brother while he was speaking and told him he was just lying, that brother immediately agreed and said, “Yes, it’s true, I was lying.” This session was even more intense than the one we had just been in, because the brothers were sitting in small circles, working on one another:)

Now I’m seated in a circle with Red Hook and 46th Street brothers. We are forming working groups. Be awake, be aware, pay attention, look attentive… This is how I survive.

I put myself forward voting. Of course, I was not backed. The truth is, I don’t care about the vote. I have lost my belief in Stewart’s charisma. (Stewart came over to our circle and reprimanded us. I must fear before him. Whatever he says is the truth and matters for me.) I don’t jump when Stewart says jump.

How do I know he is just not another Sung Myung Moon? I could see myself snapping though, my polished façade breaking down when being pushed about how I “must work at these groups or else” and that must lay down my life. I fear being pushed into some loft or Woodruff situation where I must sleep on the floor and can’t keep any possessions, or at least not any valuables around. Sleeping “with your group” like the conditions at the Shantung Compound.

(The Shantung Compound was a book I read about a Japanese prisoner of war camp. By this time I was reading many books about communal living situations and this was helping me to understand more about the world I was living in.)

In the case of those living in the Shantung Compound, this was done to them in a wartime situation by their enemies, but we must live like this in order to suffer for Christ. Without it there will be no Christ. It is Christ who makes it all necessary(!) But, yes, this is what bothers me, although I “survived” 810.

(Another trying time for me in the Church of Bible Understanding in 1991, where we were put in an extreme prison camp like living situation. You can read some of the details about that here: The Criminal Element Takes Over.)

I can overhear Stewart over there on the other side of the meeting room, speaking to another group, saying, “The way is hard. The way is hard and few be that find it.” And he is talking about certain brothers as being “too lazy to train.” When Stewart speaks about someone, it’s the final truth on them. It is improper for anyone to disagree with him, as if it were Christ himself speaking. In that case for sure, if Christ spoke, there certainly would be no second opinions. You would know that what he said was the truth.

Imagine being in something like this, 24 hours a day.

(There were some church members who were in a situation like this 24 hours a day – the sisters who lived with Stewart. Based on my own experience living at a distance from Stewart vs. their experience of living with him, I can only begin to imagine the control, pressure and duress Stewart put them under.)

I am considering sending a letter and some tapes of meetings to Ron Enroth [the author of Churches That Abuse, whose book contains a chapter about COBU]. I guess this would make me a real turncoat. Maybe I could send it to him and ask, “Please don’t publish this material until I send a letter saying I have left the church, but feel free to use it as reference material.”

Stewart says that all people who don’t obey Jesus are “arrogant” – but apparently also, all who don’t obey Stewart are arrogant as well.

So, if you could undermine that foundation that everything Stewart says is the truth, maybe you could get a little room for yourself…but how? By going to outside forces. How could anybody do it from within the church?

(Much of the power and hold of this on us was our assumed belief that everything Stewart said was the truth. If I could step back from that, I might be able to get a little room to breathe and to look around and consider what my options were.)

Each meeting like this helps me to be further out the door.

How would I spread around “dezinformatsia” if we are not even allowed to talk negatively about Stewart? (I couldn’t say the obvious things like, dropping a comment like, “Well you know, whatever Stewart says is the truth,” because the official view is that Stewart says it, but we test it with our rational minds, then we agree with Stewart, always. Or saying, “I can’t live without Stewart.” No, I don’t think it could be an inside job. It would have to be from somebody from outside.)

(I was talking about making extreme statements out of what everyone in COBU believed was true, thereby making a parody out of Stewart’s claims and our beliefs about those claims, the underlying assumptions that kept us locked in. We were not supposed to say “whatever Stewart says is the truth,” (though we were expected to accept this unquestioningly and act according to it), but instead we had to say that Stewart tells us and that we see and agree from the Bible and from our consciences that the things Stewart tells us are true. We were not allowed to say “we cannot live without Stewart,” but anyone who thought they could live apart from the church, that is, from Stewart and his teachings and the COBU, was told he would be deceived because we won’t hear what Stewart this anywhere else, and many other such things we were told and, if we chose to, believed. And of course, all those who had left our church were backslidden and deceived and going to hell. Unless they came back.)

So, now we’ve just formed our working groups.

I am again experiencing that feeling I had in 810, “this (what is now happening) is not very important.”

Chuck – I couldn’t be him. Doing things so Stewart won’t come down on me. Doing things to get his approval.

Watch out when talking to this group –and don’t play by blurting things out you don’t need to. It could easily turn on you and kill you. I believe I have the right to protect myself as much as possible, to remain as detached as possible.

These are like Lifton’s pressure groups. [As described in Robert J. Lifton’s book, Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism.] Those who have turned and accepted the new ideology work on the others, or they work on others even as Stewart is working on them.

(Stewart put us in small working groups, the purpose of which was to monitor one another and to work on the others. Those who were proclaiming now that they were going to be obedient what Stewart was teaching us at the meeting, and who have “turned,” that is, repented of the sin or wrongdoing that Stewart has accused them of, are now putting pressure on the other church members. In his book, Lifton wrote about people in communist re-education camps who caved into accepting communist teaching putting pressure on the others who were resisting accepting it.)

Stewart relies heavily on themes of hell and death, so that we are caught by the throat by basic issues and fears of life. Death! You are going to die soon!

What are we going to do about the clerical workers? You cannot hide your inmost thoughts.

(I was referring to a dream I had about my true thoughts about my participation in COBU, which can be read about from my diary page on May 31, 1993.)

We have not cracked open the Bible the whole meeting (neither has the whole church – we just have these psycho-pressure sessions). I decided to open my Bible, and the first thing I open to is the Gospel of Mark. It says, “If they say, ‘here is the Christ,’ or, ‘there he is,’ do not believe it.” The question comes down to, is Stewart a false prophet? Does he point to “Here is the Christ, or there he is?” In other words, something like, his own description of Christ.

Stewart’s wife Gayle sits there next to him like a stone statue. In all of this, she never says a word, nor is a word ever spoken to her! She seems to be free from Stewart’s correction. (Maybe that’s why she sits there like that. She’s keeping a low profile.) Maybe it’s just that Stewart wants to preserve that perfect image, that both partners in this marriage are faithful to Christ. But, heck, she can’t be totally free from correction. She must get it in their private moments.

Maybe she is faithful to Jesus. Maybe she has just learned to anticipate all of this trouble and to posture accordingly. Maybe Stewart just spares her from it. But, like with Jim D., our faithful Haiti missionary, who was getting bopped for not fully relying on Christ and other such very serious inward problems. What are Gayle’s faults? Does she even have any? Does she get reprimanded, even privately, for things?

Obviously, this is something I am trying to get to here, something I notice. Or, I guess I am just finding another thing to “hit out” against. It does look strange, Gayle, the stone statue sitting there for hours. I have often wondered what her life is like. I guess she considers herself fortunate, seeing that she has been saved from all this wreckage.

Stewart is raving at us. I know there is just no love with him. We are supposed to say what he is doing to us is love and that this is the form it comes in.

Stewart is now asking us, “Do you think I’m coming off that I am better than you?  Because I better not.” I guess I have my chance to speak up and say something about this now, that Stewart is not acting in love.

Stewart adds, “Don’t use it as a springboard for all of your gripes.” I guess I can’t touch this one. Somehow, this was a safe question. (Now come on, do you think anybody would really say so? Somehow now, I feel further locked in. How? It was a safe, well-controlled question and he was making it clear that he was not opening himself up to any other kind of questions.

Perhaps if I had been able to have time to prepare a response. His question came so unexpectedly. I felt like quickly blurting something out. Well, I’d have to, at least initially, respond to the question. So, I’d have to say, “Yes, I think you are acting better than us,” then give reasons. (I wouldn’t touch it with a ten foot pole.) Yes, I would have to give some real concrete reasons. I wish some of the sisters had said something. It would be amazing if this could have been done in a real way. Something Stewart would have to consider and ponder and not brush over, nor attack the person responding to the question.

But, remember, this was a specific question. How could I, or anybody, have answered that he was acting as if he were better than us? (What made him ask? Did he think he was, or did he have reason to think so? How would he be acting better than us if he was?) I guess the way to do it would be to put it back on him.  But this could be construed as an attack.

(Stewart usually turned around any questions or doubts about his person, character, actions, or religious teachings and ideas against the person asking the question or making the statements about him as being an attack on him, or an attack upon the church and its members.)

Really, I can’t say, or show that Stewart is acting better than us. (He also said, “I should be acting as if I am worse, because I am.” Well, for sure, he doesn’t act as if he was worse than us. But that wasn’t the question he asked us.) I mean, he doesn’t, or rarely does, vaunt himself over us and taunt us. It’s all done like scientific processing, keeping himself, in a way, emotionally and personally detached.

Did I just get had? Will somebody come up to me after the meeting and say I had my chance to speak up? Somehow this was the issue, that if we can’t say Stewart is acting better than us, then any other complaint we might have becomes invalid. I am just wondering if this was a very crafty tactic.

Also – notice this – he didn’t press really hard for any answers, the way he presses hard for everything else from us. He could have said, “Come on now, I know you have ‘thoughts,’ let’s hear them.” So, there was only a silence and only one new brother stood up deferentially to say something. Now we can perpetuate the myth that Stewart is really open and fair, and that he really asks us what we think about him and of course, we have now shown that we have no objections about the way he treats us.

Yes, I wish I had said something, like “Well, I think you are extremely arrogant,” which means of course, he does act better than us. If he attacked me, I could have said, “Play by your own rules – no pointing your finger at the other bad guys. You are the one who always tells us that our own sin is our own basic problem, not the other bad guys.” Well, good luck! I would have been dead at that point.

Read the next section of the journal here: On The Cutting Edge Of Reality, Or Just Going Over The Edge?

(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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