1993, 08/21-31. Leaving The Church Of Bible Understanding.

This section covers my last week in the Church of Bible Understanding. I suppose if there is any value to reading this, it can help those who are not in a cult to understand the intense amount of thinking and deliberation it can take a cult member to decide to leave a cult, especially if they have been in it for a long time. Right up to the last minute, I was going through this struggle, even as it was clear that I couldn’t go on any longer living like this. And those who are or were in a cult might recognize this process in themselves.

Saturday, August 21

August is almost over. These are the most golden days of the most golden month, but I can get only tastes of it, to remember what it was like. I just wish I could retreat in this world of fantasy and think about summer rather than my present problem(s). Or just find some peaceful corner to go to.

Well, I just plan to believe what I believe and say what I believe.

Remember, our view of Jesus is what Stewart pushes. This Jesus doesn’t allow for any personal desire! He allows none of our own thoughts. So, what do you do with yourself?

I am in the indoor garden of the Pierrepont Museum, where we are sanding a wood floor. Time to think a little of, yes, my own thoughts. God forbid! But, what am I supposed to do with myself? How do I stop being? Submit to this false yoke of authority, in order to get what?

I am surprised really, though then again not, that nobody is really talking to me. Except the occasional mumbling about whether I have read Romans 8, which is their direction from Stewart about me. This figures!

I expect that at the meeting this Sunday, I will be dealt with further. And if I am still around, further directives will be given by Stewart about how to talk to me and everybody will come from that. They will be careful not to come from their own thoughts. Only from God’s thoughts. God’s thoughts as given by Brother Stewart. And of course, Brother Stewart has a direct hotline to God. Brother Stewart never thinks his own thoughts either!

Late at night:

I’m working tonight on the Shelby Restaurant with Paul and Jay. I called Mom from the phone downstairs. She got my letters. She didn’t think too highly of the fact that I have been reading books by Carl Jung. Really I was only reading it because I thought maybe God was telling me to. She seemed amused at the reaction everybody here had about my letter and what I have been saying, and about their ignoring me and their diagnosis of me as a “mental case.” She figured that since she didn’t hear from me that I hadn’t been thrown out.

(“Letter” refers to “My Exit Statement: Why I Desire to Leave the Church of Bible Understanding” that I tried to hand out to others.)

Well, tomorrow will be the big day. This is the opportunity for the big confrontation with Stewart and where I will probably know my fate. My guess is that Stewart will speak about me indirectly to the others in the room, in such a way I that can’t get a handle on it. Though it actually may be brought up as an issue: what are we going to do with Jim LaRue?

(Stewart might talk about me to the others, but if I spoke up during this dialog, he could always say, “I wasn’t talking to you.” So, I’d have to sit in silence as he was talking about me to the others.)

I just feel like maybe I would like to be thrown out. I am weary and would like it all to end.

Sunday, August 22

(In Philadelphia for a meeting with Stewart.)

Here now at the New Property. I found a semi-secluded corner on the property to sit in and think (and will pray). Enjoying what little piece of August I can, with the cicadias, clouds and sun. I wish I could get away and only think of this, but this is impossible. I’m thinking of writing a paper called “Questions for the Church of Bible Understanding.” Also, it is not possible for me to be free of apprehension about whatever may happen to me at this meeting, though I can always remember my old trick that, I am not the only person here and that I am far from the most important person here.

(I could relax a little, realizing that little time was going to be spent on me, though I still greatly feared it. At meetings, bigger fish were usually being fried, such as the most out front and capable brothers like Kevin, Chuck and Jay, and not someone like me.)

We’re voting now between having brothers and sisters meetings first and then the Bible study second or vice versa, as if this were important. What’s the difference? We are not voting whether to have one or the other, or not. So really there is no choice. But I guess we must be led to feel as if we are participating in our own lives.

I feel like standing up and saying something, but maybe I should wait and see if anything comes my way. One defense or tactic I thought I could use is that whatever they say about me could be applied to the whole church. (Such as that I’m alone, proud, separating myself, ad infinitum.)

I have now been separated from Alex, whom I was sitting next to. Kevin gave a directive to Paul from across the room, after he saw I wouldn’t go anywhere.

(I was told to get up and move away from this new brother, Alex, but I said I wouldn’t do it. So they moved Alex away from me. By this time I was considered to be “poison” to the new converts to the church and that I shouldn’t be allowed to talk to them.)

I stood up and offered my opinion on why we should study the Bible first, because even though there really is no major choice available, some brothers have been giving the opinion that if the brothers meeting is first, it goes on for a long time and there will not be much time for a Bible study. I said that we are the Church of Bible Understanding but we hardly read the Bible and that I find the brothers meetings very wearying. Chuck said right away, “That’s your opinion.” I said, “Yes, you’re right. It is my opinion.” It took tremendous effort to break through the pressure on me to keep quiet and the threat of annihilation. I sat down, shaking so much like a leaf that I couldn’t write for a while. I couldn’t hold the pen straight.

Well, it was probably good for a preliminary, because quite likely, I will be required to do a little more speaking later on and I had better get used to it.

The brothers meeting voices have prevailed, which seemed what it would be from the outset anyway. What is the purpose of all of this discussing?

Luther was trembling at the council. I suppose that to have great strength to speak clearly may not be necessary. I certainly don’t have it. Maybe then this will help me to rely on God. Maybe it will keep me from making crucial mistakes.

I need to break through the ice. I don’t know how much I will say or if I will speak at all if Stewart begins to ask for our opinions on our the view of our fellowship. I think it will be no good unless I go for broke. The threat is excommunication.  Absolutely.

I don’t believe all this jargon about “checking our fellowship.”

So, it seems Stewart is not accepting our reasons for our choice. A message comes back, through Kevin, that we must come from real principles and our real persons.

The brothers meeting has started. I passed a note to Steve D. [a new brother, who was thinking about leaving], saying that he should stick around, because God knows people are hurting, maybe he will make a way for us.

Stewart is now talking, taking a semi “kind” approach. But you realize, this is a powerful personality. He is picking on and making comments about Ron T. and Paul (saying they are mindless). And saying that we are not goal-oriented, and that we can’t and don’t get ahold of the new brothers.

We are hearing Stewart’s diagnosis and/or cure. He says we need to be goal-oriented as a fellowship. (I also hope he doesn’t speak up on me in a derogatory way. I don’t like to admit that I have this fear or worry and dislike of that.)

I can’t help thinking that this is a pep talk.

Now we are in our little group meetings. (Those of us who live at 46th Street are sitting together. The ones at Woodruff are sitting together.) For the voting, there are two votes. To find out who is:

a)  goal-oriented, neutral or mindless.


b)  escaping or not escaping.

Of course, I have gotten myself voted as “mindless.” Maybe labels are useful.  (Though the word “useless” keeps coming to mind.) I don’t know what I am going to do. I probably will not be allowed to stay here for much longer like this.

Kevin snared me while talking to Dale downstairs. (What am I supposed to do, walk away when a new brother starts to talk to me? Get in right fellowship, so this will not happen?) Kevin only talked to Dale, not to me. I guess it’s a case of isolate and contain. Dale had asked me if there are other groups like ours. I told him, “Yes, since about the time of the American Revolution.” Where? he asked. “In upstate New York.” (But I declined to mention that it was the Shakers.) Kevin came over just in time to hear me say the words “American Revolution.” I hoped maybe Kevin would think I was talking about American history, but his strategy was the same, which was to isolate Dale from me. Besides, when Kevin got there, he heard Dale say, “People say this place is like Jim Jones.” Kevin said, “What nobody will deal with is that Christ is preached as crucified here.” I guess Kevin said that also as an indirect comment toward me.

I walked away. What is the point of staying, to try to undo something? (Besides, I heard “walk away.” Whether or not this is God’s voice, it seemed the best thing to do, because there’s nothing I can do to alter the opinion on me anyway.)

We will have to see if there is a mini-session in which I am dealt with. I have this great fear, just like that time when I was waiting and waiting till the end of a meeting, wondering if I would make it till the end of the meeting without being called on. Stewart kept asking everyone, “Aren’t you forgetting something?” I figured this “something” was me, but that he wanted others to bring it up. So something like this may happen – and the apprehension is overwhelming. But yet, then again, I have a sense of relief, or release. Finally I knew it had to come. I had to get to and come to this point.

I desire to get a second opinion.

(I wanted to get a second opinion, as you would do if a doctor diagnosed you with cancer. Stewart diagnosed us with the sin of rebellion against Christ and said we were all headed straight to hell. I also wanted to find out if there was another version of Christianity that this one, which Stewart said was the only true version of Christianity. He said that “99.999 percent of all Christians are arrogant,” and claimed to be the only one in the world who cared about the truth.)

We are all agonizing over the fact that nobody is voted as escaping. Or fake-agonizing. I don’t think anybody is really too worried about it.

I have decided to pray my way through this meeting. I really need to pray though these meetings and read the Bible also as much as possible during them. I am starting to feel screwed up in a knot of apprehension. Who knows what kind of attacks will be directed against me – especially the indirect methods.

(Stewart made indirect comments about me during his talk, which was annoying, because he was making statements about me, but not talking directly to me. It was hard then for me to speak up and answer to anything, because he could just say, “I wasn’t talking to you,” or, “who asked you to speak up?”)

And also, the meeting “helps” us to really see our condition, which is so overwhelmingly bad, that how could anyone say anything?

(How could I say anything in my defense, or about what is wrong about life in COBU, when Stewart has just given us an in-depth description, in exacting detai,l about what is wrong with all of us? This is one of the ways I felt backed against the wall and unable to speak of the problems I saw in the church and its leader.) 

If I speak up, I will just sound like an empty rattle. All of this is very effective. Everybody really seems plugged into this. I wonder just what the point of categorizing and voting is. It probably provides a useful social purpose. But in Christ, what is the use of it all? This is the kind of thing that gets portrayed in books written about groups like ours as the way people are gotten into looking at themselves and their spiritual condition, and how their minds are taken off Christ.

Add to this an automatic belief system where people believe whatever they are told, with no apparent barriers to it whatsoever. Unthinking obedience, or short of obedience, unthinking belief.

The married live-out brothers are now getting worked over by Stewart and the others. Something like this directed toward me could easily provoke me into speaking.

Nobody breaks, nobody says, “This is a load of bull.”

The beatings are beginning to occur.

Well, I said my piece. It was something like I said to Stewart about a year and a half ago. I was quickly put down by the brothers – without Stewart saying anything. Okay, I wasn’t threatened with being put out (but the night isn’t over yet either). It is very quiet in here. Something happened, though maybe I didn’t notice the silence at first because of my own inner turmoil. The sisters are very, very quiet now. But also, they are under very heavy pressure, because Stewart told them at their sisters meeting that they have a covenant of death. So, who knows why they are being quiet. I suppose that was the best tactic, for Stewart to totally just ignore what I said. Now he is speaking very kindly to us. He spoke of Jesus’s crucifixion, saying that was is a painful process, then said (about me), “Get your friend to study that one. Get him to study. He studies a lot.”

(I stood up and spoke to everyone, just like I had a few years before, but this time I was not threatened with being put out. I said what was wrong with the church and what was wrong with what was going on in the meeting. After an initial period of being shouted down by some brothers like Paul S. and Chuck, I continued to speak. After a while, I noticed the absolute silence in the room and also that Stewart had chosen to remain silent, rather than giving directions to the brothers who where shouting me down. Because of the silence, I assumed no one was listening, so I sat down. There was a deep silence in the room for a while afterward. Then Stewart began speaking in a conciliatory tone, and he also did speak indirectly about me, telling the others to get me to study the crucifixion.)

So, reading between the lines, I guess I am still here and being dealt with “gently” this time. I guess this means I am still here.

I am a lot more calm after having spoken. No shaking hands. If this episode is over, what will my future hold here? (Is it over? Will this be the end of it all?)

I am still worried that Stewart is still going to lay into me somewhere during this meeting. And there is facing the others after the meeting, their disapproval and criticism.

Now Stewart is giving us a nice talk about suffering.

Now I remember a dream I had last night as I lay on the office floor. (Whether or not it has anything to do with this, I don’t know.) There were electrical storms. I was riding with some brothers in a van, which was open in front. There was an arc of blue electricity in front of me, fixed in the air. I was moving slowly toward it, aware that I was about to intersect it and I was scared. It went through and it dragged me up to the side of a building so I hung by my feet. I kept praying out loud, “Delivering angel, deliver me!”

I feel calm now, though I feel stupid. I also wonder if some of the sisters are quietly thinking something, anything, in agreement with me. (One thing I said to Stewart was that “I don’t trust what you are doing with the sisters.”) I am sure that after the meeting, I will receive my denunciations and also tomorrow and maybe the next day at the office. (And Paul and Peter and others will be talking to me.) So, I better get ready for it. Plenty of forgiveness and calmness.

Stewart is now saying that several years ago, the issue of suffering was crystal clear, but the nature of the suffering was a question mark. But, apparently nobody, neither older brothers nor older sisters, have been doing it and we have been stiffening our necks against God. He is now going through the sisters, talking about Haroldynne and others, about how they refused to suffer for Christ. Getting the confessions from them, about what has been happening the last five years.

(At almost every meeting, Stewart told us that we were not being faithful to Christ, for this or that reason. After Stewart’s long explanation of our problem and his accusation of our unfaithfulness, came our confessions about how we saw this to be true and we made our commitments again to be faithful to Christ. Toward the end of my stay in COBU, I would not stand up and make a confession. I began to see the pattern and realized that all of this was just part of the weekly meeting ritual.)

“Are you and your German friend greatly exaggerating your suffering?”

(Stewart was speaking indirectly to me by making that comment. His nickname for me was “The German,” because I studied German, which was one of the “desires for things in this life” that he said we had to put to death and kill, which I would not do.)

(Well, I have to go through this, that’s all I can say. Also “forgive him,” which is the new weapon in my arsenal that I didn’t have before.)

“Jesus, please help me.” I have to keep praying. To keep my cool, to keep my sanity.

Stewart: “You should be saying what you think.” (I learned to do that here!)

(In other words, telling the truth and saying what we think was a concept we learned in COBU and Stewart often told us we should be doing it.  But this concept did not apply when a person was telling the truth about what he thought about Stewart.)

Stewart is giving his diagnosis. Is it all really true? He is going through the sisters, saying horrible truths to them in a gentle fatherly voice. (Did I have anything to do with him using that kind voice? Gotta be nice to keep everybody from thinking there might be something to what I said? “I don’t trust what you are doing with the sisters.” Now, Stewart is being very nice. Though I say “now.” I can’t remember how his tone was with them before I spoke up.

How can I know if this is true? I am praying, asking “is this true?” Every once in a while I just feel like screaming!

Stewart: “You are not near Christ unless you are suffering.” What is Stewart’s suffering? I can’t even figure this out.

Stewart says the sisters are “arrogant.” We have got Barb B., now speaking up in agreement, saying she is arrogant!

(When Stewart accused someone of being something, they often had to stand up and speak to everyone in the room and explain, in their own words, with reasons, why it was the truth about them and why they were in agreement with Stewart’s charges against them. Then more often than not, they went on to talk about how they intended to change and that everyone would see the change in their behavior.)

(I am afraid of “Depart and be with the people our God hates.” [1] Maybe this is it.  I don‘t believe. I don’t belong. I have sinned a lot. I may be hardened and this is it.)

([1] These were words that Jesus said to me in a terrifying dream where I was having my “chat with Jesus” after I died and I was about to be cast into hell.)

Tallulah is now saying she is not submitting herself to God. I suppose this is meant to be hopeful, that this will be the start of something new. But to me, it just looks like the end, like nothing will ever happen. Nothing good that is. It’s always the same. We always get corrected and make our starting over speeches.

Now everyone is making their speeches. Do I have to make a speech? (Supposedly it’s about surrendering to God’s will. It’s not about suffering and doing and earning it. We are trying to say “I can handle it.”) More speeches. Stewart now says, “It is no use making these speeches, you had your chance.” So, the issue, Stewart says, is “surrender and not about doing.”

Monday, August 23

Dream: It was about Stewart. I was with somebody else and we went to see him and were waiting. He said to the person next to me that he likes to see persistence because that shows the person means what he said. (It seems that he had put this person off before.) Then I spoke to him face to face. He seemed like a stern adversary. He was clean shaven and looked like Gorbachev. I asked him why he is alone. He conceded the point and offered his hand for me to shake. It wasn’t like we were friends now, but that I had won something and he was conceding not quite grudgingly. This encouraged me to say more, but there was this wrong feeling and a sense that he was pushing me away. He walked out of the room, saying, “It bothers me that I am alone.”

Nobody so far is really saying anything about what I did yesterday at the meeting. Paul hasn’t said anything, and I have been with him for awhile. Bob M. came by, encouraging me to be “goal-oriented.” Then he said “So what’s going on?’ Upon questioning him, it seems that he wanted to know where we were taking this van because he needed it.

Mark C. [a new brother] came up to me, saying he agrees with what I am doing. He said that maybe he doesn’t agree with all of it. But he agrees with how I told Stewart he is alone and the idea that Stewart should get his views checked by meeting with other pastors. He doesn’t agree with the way brothers treated me.

(The idea that new converts to the church would agree with my ideas was reason enough for me being considered “poison” and that I should be kept separate from them and be forbidden to speak to them, because of my “negative” influence on them.)

“In an enclosed community, the only ideas are the ones from the top.” I get feedback like this from new brothers only.Older brothers and sisters avoid me or say the right stuff.  Maybe they have what Lifton calls “closure.”  Maybe some agree with me, but won’t say anything.

I just thought of how, the more wrong things I see here that I let go by without saying anything, the higher my threshold of tolerance for these things goes. I feel much freer and easier to talk about this, but this is not synonymous with the idea that others will receive it or that I will be accepted. There is a way I think in which I confuse the two; that rightness means acceptance.

I opened the question with Bob M. again. He said, “God’s love, mercy and grace are all I need.”  (This sounds like a cop out, though he does need God’s love, mercy and grace.) I said, “I need grace, but I still have many unanswered questions.” Bob encouraged me to look at all the ways I avoid the cross. Whether true or not, it seems to mean that any disagreement, doubt or questions I have (or anyone here has) can only come from a wrong motive, source or reason. Or that, on the lighter side, I have blindness because there is a log in my own eye.

Mark C. mentioned how Stewart was talking about those flesh churches. (Stewart said, “I don”t want this place to be just the usual flesh church.”) Mark said regarding the disciple Peter: “After Jesus cussed him out, he said ‘He who is for me is not against me.’” In other words, he mean that Jesus said are other people who are for Christ (and not just us, here in our church).

I stopped in briefly and saw Dave [one of the ex-members I stayed with after leaving].  I was in a restaurant a few minutes with Chris, Denny, Jayne and Dave. Then we went back to Dave’s apartment, where Dave and Denny called for Tom White. They also told me how they got together with nine people (all ex-COBU members) and raised $1100 for the orphanage. (I am a little worried about meeting these people, yet I want to see. COBU can’t be all there is to Christian life.) Denny was talking to me for a while.

(Tom White was a missionary who wrote God’s Missiles Over Cuba, about his imprisonment there after his small plane that he was dropping Christian literature from had to emergency land on the island.)

I didn’t feel all that welcome there, so maybe it was good I didn’t leave the church to go live there. Yet, I feel I must keep some outside lines of connection open, some irons in the fire. I will cut my contact with them down a little bit, but I want to know when Richard Wurmbrand is coming to Times Square Church.

They seem to be in touch and on familiar terms with the Wilkersons, Bob Phillips, Tom White and Richard Wurmbrand. How much this is show, I don’t know. When I first approached Dave, Denny came down the sidewalk. It almost seemed like a staged visit. Dave talked about how he met a children’s clothing manufacturer from Lima, Peru who has now invited him to come to see him and stay at least for a night.

Of course, none of this will go over well back at the ranch. Me, I guess I just cast myself in the role of an observer. I felt like a “little nothing” when I am over there, imposing myself on them, not a part of the picture. They have something to prove maybe.

(Even though I was on my way to leaving COBU, I, like the other current members, was suspicious of ex-members and their motives. I was only beginning to be open to talking to ex-members and I was cautiously checking out the possibility of staying with them if I left. For me, leaving COBU at this time was all but inevitable. I was coming to believe that ex-members were people like myself, the only difference that they had come to realize the truth of COBU before I had and they had been willing to act on what they knew, and leave.)

I have been at the office. So far nobody is bothering me. Though we did have to make a claim, as a result of a phone call from Stewart, about “Are we fully surrendered to Christ, playing around on the edges, or in rebellion?” This doesn’t leave a person much choice. Most everybody claimed that they were fully surrendered, as I did, adding their qualifying remarks, such as, “Its my attitude to be surrendered,” or, “I can’t say I was fully surrendered all day.”

This is militaristic push-pull methods. I felt tempted to take the middle claim (of saying that I’m playing around on the edges), as I can’t say I’m fully surrendered. Nor do I want to say I’m in rebellion. But if anyone does this, they are really setting theirself up for abuse. I don’t want to imagine that I am putting myself in the good care of the church (the hospital for sinners), by saying “I am playing around on the edges.”

Tuesday, August 24

Except for useful Christian aspects, life in COBU leaves you poorly equipped for life in the world, the real world.

I got up at 8:50 and came down to the Good Diner. I will be going again to the job to put another coat of finish on the wood floor, but will drop off library books on the way.

I felt pretty upset last night when we had to do this voting. It was like getting caught in a dragnet. I ran to get my Greek Bible to read Psalms 107.

When I prayed this morning, there was a (persistent) voice saying “Get out.” I have heard this frequently, especially when I pray. Yet, I feel I can’t know.

What I have been going through today is:  realizing that we don’t do the Four Basics together at meetings. There is perfunctory prayer, no Bible study. No fellowshipping. Only a speech and voting to see who is who. And our making Jesus known is probably a sham. Stewart is getting us into something besides Christ and the Bible.

(The Four Basics of the Christian life are: prayer, reading the Bible, telling others about Jesus (witnessing, or as we also called it “making Jesus known”) and meeting and talking (“fellowshipping”) together with other Christians.)

Friday, August 27

I haven’t written in few days. Everybody is still being “nice” to me, though two sisters hit me up in the office today. Maybe they are getting ready for Sunday. Why did they, or anybody, wait until so late in the week?

(In other words, Stewart might ask at the meeting if anyone had been protesting against my wrong behavior and proclaiming that they want no part in my wrong spirit and rebellion. Realizing that the meeting is coming soon, a few brothers or sisters might want to get their hits in, so they can say they did, if they are asked. To have remained silent would mean that they were in agreement with my behavior, because they did not make it clear that they wanted no part in it.)

I have been talking to Dave and Denny. I found out I am more than welcome at any time. There is room. I don’t even have to work for a while if I don’t want to. I just wish I could know conclusively what to do. (If, that is, this is what to do. Maybe God’s will is that I stay here.)

I don’t know how long I will stay here. I have no intention of going back to being a doormat. (Though I have said that famous line before!) I was thinking that I have been neatly bypassed, as were the Japanese on the islands that were “island hopped” by the US military.)

(I was for the most part being ignored. For Stewart deal with me might have been to admit there was something to what I was saying to everyone, rather than acting as if it were not the “real issue.”)

I was on a pay phone Thursday night (after going to the library) talking to Dave and Denny. Avtar, a new brother who left a while ago, walked by at the end of the conversation. (He told me his reasons for leaving our church were: there is no love or help, brothers push people to work, we have to live in the fear of Stewart rather than the fear of God. He said this in reference to meetings where we “had to stand for four hours.” Oddly enough, Avtar also noticed how we don’t read the Bible. He said he never sees Brother Stewart with an open Bible.) Avtar was also quite drunk, so I guess that is supposed to negate everything he says.

I sat with Paul at the Argo Restaurant. (Of course, not really talking to him about anything I think, though I did read his amateur radio magazine. It’s nice to read these. It’s reminds me of all the time we have spent working together, but really, there is no communication.)

I said I was going to walk back to the shop. Paul left me at the subway entrance at 86th Street. I walked over to what will probably be my new residence within the next few days. There was no answer at the door, but in passing by the phone booth, I thought I would call to see if anybody would pick up. What is unusual is that after the answering machine came on, I didn’t hang up as I usually do. While leaving my message, Denny picked up the phone, saying he had just come back from the store. I thought maybe this had been providential. I even thought when I called that I should make the extra effort to see if they are there. If it is something that really matters, or if I was really in trouble, I had thought.

I talked to Denny for a while. Dave also came in. We watched a Tom White video about Peru. This was good. Before seeing it, Denny told me some of the circumstances and terms of his leaving. Afterward all three of us were talking. Surprisingly, many of Denny’s own conclusions were also my own.

They also told me that David Wilkerson had indeed received my letter. Dave told me that Wilkerson’s response was, “Isn’t he from that church, the Church of Bible Understanding that you used to be in? You should do anything you can to help that brother.” (I have some misgivings now about whether Dave was making that up! Why didn’t Dave tell me this before? I understand that Wilkerson told Dave this at a wedding Dave was at, when he talked to Wilkerson about Richard Wurmbrand coming. So, did he why wait until now to tell me David Wilkerson got my letter? I will have to inquire more about this. Though while praying, I thought that even if this is something that has been fabricated, it would still show Dave’s real attitude toward me, which is that they want to help me.

I told them as I was leaving, that there is a 90% chance that I will show up there tomorrow, to stay.

Of course, I have misgivings about this. What am I going to do? What “wrong agreement” will I have to enter into in order to live with them? Or more importantly, am I just stepping into nothingness?  But on the other hand, look at my life here. Or not even my life, but just life here.

As it is, my tentative plan is to leave sometime tomorrow morning after getting back from this Shelby Restaurant job (which I’m working on tonight with Peter) and to go out with all the stuff I have with me here at the office, hopefully before everybody gets up. And to just walk to the corner and get a cab. (But there is this reluctance. What if I am walking away with misgivings? I really have to decide tonight, beforehand.) One thing for sure, I just don’t feel as if I can go on here, not even for another day. Or maybe I could for a few more days, but for sure, I just don’t want to go to another meeting.

I have been hearing about the things that Richard Wurmbrand says to the ex-COBU members and what he has said about Stewart. (Even if it is outdated information, look, it is still my opinion that it is worse here now than before anyway. Stewart is worse.) Also what Wilkerson has said is good. It does help. In fact, it is more important to me than if he had called Stewart. (But the only question is did he say it? Is it possible that Dave is lying?) I need to go, I really need to go.

We are sitting here, talking to Orlando. It seems he had a really big blow up today, cursing and carrying on in front of everybody, including in from of the sisters and children.

There really is no help here. I tried to say a few of my “off the wall comments” to Orlando, such as, “What if you went to see your family for a week? Maybe you need to get away for a while.” This met with disapproval by the brothers.

I will really probably go tomorrow. Really, even if what I said to Orlando was “off the wall psychology,” really there is nothing anyone could say, or that I could say. I am tired of being cooped up in a little box. All I get here is a little box. I have already been caricatured and typecast. (As a mental case, as poison to the new disciples, and as one who no longer believes in our way.) There probably is no hopeful future for me here anyway. Why can’t I get away for a little while? Why do I have to make a complete break?

Well, it’s about time to go to this job. Thankfully, it looks like I won’t even have to go through the whole voting tonight because I’ll be working. Yes, to try to tell these people “I am escaping hell and the disobedience of my flesh.”

We’re now about finished at the Shelby Restaurant. I talked to an Ecuadorian man who works here, really just listening. It turns out he is in an adulterous relationship. I thought about telling him it was wrong, that “Jesus doesn’t want you to,” but thought this would be like reading the Ten Commandments to him. Instead, I asked him if he reads the Bible. He said he knows the Bible and that Jesus says to not commit adultery. Our eyes met at this point. But this was not a confrontational thing. He said he was too busy to read the Bible. It probably wasn’t an excuse, since he works day and night. I gave him a cassette with the Gospel of John and the Book of Acts on it. Maybe this is something I could do. I have read so many of those stories where somebody was converted by reading the Bible alone.

I don’t know anyway, what am I going to say to anybody? Any kind of “heavy witness” is probably out of the picture. I also gave out cards with an invitation to Times Square Church today.

You know, leaving might be the start of something new, something better. It might also be my ruin. At times I feel so bad, contemplating it, and actually going through with it. But I can”t go by these feelings! Guilt over leaving. I also can’t bear the thought of being at another meeting, even if the meeting is at Woodruff without Stewart, only one session. It’s just too much anymore. I can’t stand, or almost can’t stand, the thought of just one more “COBU day,” of being here one more day.

You know, I never even read or study anything. When do I get time? Maybe I just don’t manage time well, to sit down and read my Hebrew book. But look at today, just where exactly could I have read it? Yes, I can think of a few spaces, but they are so few and far between. I can never just get down and study! There are no large blocks of time for anything! This just isn’t right. There is no time to replenish my mind, my spirit. Stewart doesn’t live like this. I heard that David Wilkerson got away for one year! He said he came to realize that he didn’t know God, so he decided to do something about it. How come these kind of people can leave and go somewhere and I can’t! What if I wanted to get away for a month or two? It is strictly forbidden! Something is very wrong with this! (Maybe it’s because there are fewer and fewer of us left to do the work, so nobody can leave the ship?)

Saturday, August 28

Well, I am out, tentatively. This “perfect escape” has been marred by the fact that I couldn’t find my drivers license and bank card. I was all ready to go, then realized that I didn’t have it! (I must have left it at the Shelby Restaurant!)

So, now I am going to have to go back over there. This also means I have the key to the restaurant with me, which must be returned. Then I started to wonder if this was God showing me, a sign, that I shouldn’t leave the church. I had been praying and there almost seems to be a voice saying, “Get out,” or, “Go!” Like, so clear. Then, I find that this happens. So, now I get to be all thrown into doubt, as if I weren’t already!

I went over to the van lot across the street. It was 6:30 in the morning and it was light. They wouldn’t let me take a van without pay. [I was going to borrow a church van to take my stuff across town, then bring it back.] (Now I realize maybe that the cost for a cab would have been the same, though I couldn’t know that unless I had asked.) Then I was standing by the fence on 46th Street (across from the shop) thinking, “If I don’t go right now, I will never go.’ (License or no license.) So I ran upstairs to get my stuff and get out of here, taking the key, figuring that I will work out going to the Shelby afterwards.

When I went up to the wood floor closet, I saw Greg S. up in the back of the shop. (I was thinking of the dream, of getting out without being detected. The noise of my bags, the noisy key chain in the lock, my feet on the stairs. Greg will see me.)

(If anyone realized you were leaving the church, they would surround you and try to talk you out of it, even physically barring you, and this was a confrontation I wanted to avoid – though in my case, I doubt whether anyone would have done that for me.)

I acted like I was just putting equipment in the closet, which was true, because the edger was still outside. Then I looked in back and also through the office door. Greg must be in the bathroom then, taking a shower. Without wasting any more time to do things like walk over to the bathroom and see if I could hear the sound of the shower, I grabbed my stuff and made it down the stairs quickly and ran down the street. (In case, he came to the door and saw me going down the stairs.) I got a cab.

I really did want to avoid any scene, anything with me going down the stairs and outside with my stuff and somebody seeing me and trying to talk me out of it. (I am hoping to go to Red Hook when nobody is there too.)

(Most of my things, like my crates of books, a radio, ragged clothes, which were all my meager world[y possessions, were in the wood floor storage closet, which was also, up to the last week or so, my former sleeping quarters in the Red Hook warehouse. And I wanted to go over there later and get these things, with as little confrontation as possible.)

When I was talking to the cab driver, I told him I lost my license at a job site. I said I did wood floor work. Then he was asking me about how much it would cost to do the wood floor in the house he bought in New Rochelle. I ended up giving him a Christian Brothers business card. So, I am wondering if he is going to call for a wood floor job! Amazing. And what will he say? Yes, I dropped him off at 81st Street. He said his name was Jim.

So, what kind of other wonderful events are we going to have today? I will have to go back to 46th Street in order to drop off the key to the restaurant.

I woke up about 12:30 p.m. [I was now at ex-member Dave and Chris’s apartment.] Dave was on the phone with Linda G. I talked to her for a while. Or really, I listened to her speak about why she left COBU and what it is like for her now. I suppose there is also an element of “congratulations, you’re out.” Or maybe it is welcome to the real world. Or sympathy, because they know how it is when you leave.

I am a little uncertain of how to be with Dave. We will probably go to the East Side. I probably shouldn’t tag along with him either. I guess I will play it by ear. I think I have to watch out for clinging to people. I have feelings of just wanting to run right back right now.

(To go right back to the church, as many did who left, only to come back after a temporary escape, maybe because they were being driven the same uncertainty I was being driven by.)  

Also, I was thinking that if I call over and say I have left, or whenever they do find out, that Paul and some others may try to contact me. Hey look, more sympathy for my case or drawing attention to the fact. Hey look, I left. I need to stay away for a while, maybe for good.

I prayed awhile. I noticed a delayed reaction, felt a little better later on.

Monday, August 30

There is too much to write about at this moment. I left Saturday. Sunday was my first full day out. I went to Times Square Church and met many brothers and sisters who used to be in COBU. There were all friendly. It was good to talk to everybody. I will work today waxing floors, getting much needed cash. I prayed a lot last night.

I am a little apprehensive, because Dave and Chris are already talking about moving out of this apartment and getting new places. I would like to be without this anxiety. Dave is talking about me and him getting a place. So, this way, I shouldn’t worry about getting dumped. (They want this apartment cleared out because women are going to be working in the office they have set up here. You can see it wouldn’t be good to have a men’s dorm with women working here. This is the weird thing everybody put up with at COBU. Something that shouldn’t be.)

(Dave and Chris ran a business out of their apartment. The living room had desks and phones. I had just come from a situation where I was sleeping in COBU’s office at night, on the floor under a desk, and in the morning, the sisters came into work. Often the brothers were just getting up when they came in.)

Last night I prayed a lot. It seemed God drew very close to me. It seems like God took me to my worse fears, then the greatest releif – the cross. I am still terrified about about a lot of things.

(I was terrified about the things that Stewart said would happen to any of us if we left, even though I no longer believed in the COBU way of life. These fears were ingrained through many years of cult teaching and were not so easy to ignore, even if I had come to doubt all of that.)

Ron H. was here this morning. It’s good to see people like him again.

In one of our talks, Dave brought up the rumor, a possibility that Stewart had gotten into sin with Noel. (That according to Stewart’s own admission, he “touched her in a sexual way.”) It’s a rumor, actually from Shelly, but again, the quality of the witness. Well, she is living in sin. Dave R. also said that Stewart has a little hideaway in Florida. But again, the quality of the witness. But then again, anybody who is predisposed to be “good,” like everybody who lives in COBU, you know they would never talk about this stuff and not for good reasons either. Everybody and everything is a closed book over there.

(The stories I was hearing about Stewart Traill were from church members who had left, and who in some cases were “living in sin,” that is, living with a man, but not married to him. But also they were living with Stewart prior to this and they would be the ones who best knew what Stewart had been doing. We were taught in COBU that sinners could not be counted on to tell the truth, and that they were mostly likely lying. Especially if those people were ex-members of COBU. Dave R. also was an ex-member, and married, but still, he was an ex-member and it was ingrained in us not to trust anyone who had left and not to believe their “lies” about Stewart. Again, this was hard to shake off, even though I no longer trusted Stewart. But there were also people in COBU, who were not ex-members, who also knew about all of these things, and as I was noting, no one in COBU talked about anything like this.)

I talked to quite a few ex-COBU Sisters over there yesterday. I have not talked to sisters this much in a long time. Joanne G. was very friendly, though I am quite suspicious of her, because I wonder if she likes me or has her sights on me as a potential marriage partner. But, it was good talking to her.

There are many other people. We talked about many things which are too much to write down. Norman told me that when he left, he was telling everybody that Stewart is backslidden. This kind of information (the fact that Norman was saying this) of course, never gets around. What he said could be quite true. I told Stewart at the meeting that “you are back to the way you were before.” Isn’t that saying about the same thing? Whatever the exact terms of it are, isn’t there something desperately wrong? Wrong with Stewart and wrong with the fellowship?

When I was moving out yesterday from the Red Hook Warehouse (I went there with Jeff B., Denny, and Dave to help me get my things) only Andrew was there, though Chuck came at the last minute. Dave said Chuck’s spirit seemed to border on violence. Bill [a non-COBU member who rented space in the warehouse for his cabinet business] shook his head and said to me, with a little more than a touch of sarcasm, “Congratulations.” I guess Bill knows. Bill also said to Dave, “So, he’s escaping to reality?” Yes, Bill really knows. Or at least, he knows enough!  Doesn’t he!

It appears that Chuck may have called for me this morning, but if so, so far Dave has not told me about it. I am waiting. I will ask if he doesn’t tell me. Will they be trying to gain me back? What if they do? How should I be?

I ran into [ex-member] Charlie R. at Manhattan Floor Supplies. He is telling me that Chris and Dave pay you as little as possible. (This gets me worried and suspicious of them.) I wanted Charlie to give me a ride back to the job site. I’m not too sure if I should associate with him. A verse that came to mind:  “He who greets him shares in his wicked work.” I am a little apprehensive about this. I will probably just let Charlie talk and listen, and not say anything as much as possible.

(I was extremely suspicious of the motives of ex-members, some more than others. We were taught to believe they had sinful and sinister motives and evil purposes in mind, having rejected Christ and his way. Yet Stewart Traill, who was the promoter of this point of view had sinful and evil motives himself. Few if any ex-members were capable of accomplishing evil designs to the extent and level of complexity that Stewart Traill is capable of. Stewart is the least to be trusted of all.)

Chris has just told me I can give 10% of my gross income to him to pay rent. In some ways, the heat is on. He was saying, so I can use the rest to get an apartment.(Of course, Dave and I are talking about it.) I had better get serious about this. This is reality. I guess I won’t be able to stay in this nice comfy place for very long, though I would like to and would like not to have to worry about it. But, work is coming my way. A wood floor job possibly. I will be out of work, only if I don’t want work. Sometimes I get surprised that it seems so easy. Maybe people I get to know at Times Square Church will need a floor work. (Of course, you can say this is using a church for you own social life and business, but, let’s get real. I have to eat. I will be very glad if I do hustle and take these opportunities, along with the new people I will meet. This really will have to be a “working sabbatical.”)

(I wished I could have taken a month or two off in order to dry out, before going back to work. But there was going to be no place where “they” were going to take me in and let me recuperate in a quiet and restful place for a few months before entering the real world of rent and other expenses.)

I am invited by Norman and Lonnie to go to their house in New Jersey for a three day weekend. I probably should go. They said I should spread myself around. That’s probably better advice than I realize. Norman also said Times Square Church was started as a hospital for damaged Christians. I am one. (I got there with my own help, but I think God wants to help me anyway.) This really is true. I am a damaged Christian.

I talked to Norman, Lonnie and Denny. This has the effect of piecing a picture together of the fellowship, Brother Stewart and my own life there. (Just about all the things they said, I already thought myself. But, it helps. When Denny was talking about the no marriage situation in COBU along with the “because of financial reasons” picture, it was like something real broke through and touched me.)

Tuesday, August 31

Up early this morning. Chris mentions I can go with him to help deliver a carpet  (obviously also meaning I can make a few dollars in the process). Why am I so reluctant? I am so standoffish. Is it because I don’t feel like working? Or, is it because this work signifies that I am indeed now out of the fellowship and “making it?” It feels wrong to be making my own money! But obviously, I need to. Like Dave said when he left, he had to be making money out of necessity.

I need to make money. What will happen to me if I don’t? Maybe I have some aversion to getting it from Chris. It’s like a freebie. I think I should be trying to drum up my own work. Which I will, and had better do. (Yes, I wanted to have this “sabbatical,” but I better get on the ball.) I asked Chris for details on these buffers he buys and sells. I may be able to sell one or two. I have an opportunity to wax a tile floor around the corner (so easy!), yet, I feel a huge reluctance. Or is it a loneliness about it. I must also remember, I am lazy.

(I began to get into financial worries as soon as I left COBU. I never had these worries in the church, but at what price? In COBU, we had nothing of our own. I had hoped to recover from the treadmill of constant work I had been on, by taking time off and not working for maybe a month or two, but the realities of my situation soon became clear. It was not bad to have to work, and since I was used to working in COBU’s business all the time, it was not a problem. But some of these comments show how I was beginning to encounter different realities now that I was out of COBU. I was having to adjust to what it was like to be out of the church. I had an idea and expectations of what it would be like before I left, and some major readjustment was necessary.

I thought also that since I was no longer under the marriage ban that it would be easy to find a wife and that I would find one right away. I would be able to start a relationship with a woman immediately, after not being able to have a relationship with a woman for 14 years. But a new reality was in place. I was a wiped out looking person with worn clothing and no money and the great struggle I had been through meant little to those on the outside. I felt as if had been through a great war, had fought and survived, but it was over issues that had little or no meaning to anyone on the outside. Maybe I was just a “former cult member” and how could I have been so stupid to have been deceived like that?

When I talked to others (other than ex-COBU members) I usually talked about serious or meaningful subjects. I was to find that if I wanted to fit in and especially to get face time with women, I would have to learn to chatter and talk about silly and meaningless things and to be “funny.” (In other words, I would have to learn to make better small talk. Yes, small talk is what greases the wheels for more meaningful conversation topics. And yes, I was too morbid and serious, but still I was amazed that after a good sermon at Times Square Church, that no one would talk together about what they had just learned about and if I did, I sometimes got blank stares.)

I went to a party with Time Square Church members who had been back from missions trips and was amazed at all the clowning and carrying on and how some of the men were sitting on the floor in front of the women they were interested in (so they could be seen by them), carrying on and practically supplicating and that the women didn’t seem to mind this.

At this same party, I talked to one of the guys who had been on a missions trip to Cuba (where you could now go and not get arrested for handing out literature). Desiring to have a meaningful conversation with him, I started talking about how the economic conditions in Cuba are still bad. He looked at me with a mildly shocked expression and walked away from me, to go clown around with a group of people in the corner. I felt utterly rejected, as if I were a strange person. Yet, he had given a talk at the church about his activities and not only that, was nearing an advanced state of cancer. It seemed odd to me that he was not “serious” about things.

I don’t want to speak utterly disparagingly about these people. There was a man with a camera there who was liked by everyone and he was taking pictures of everyone. And I was interested in one of the women there and tried to talk to her (but did not sit on the floor in front of her). It was clear to me that she was not interested, but it was hard to unhook from that to face it. I thought that if I could only think of more things to say and tailor my conversation around hers to be interesting to her, she might warm up to me. But as Emerson said, ”What you are shouts so loudly in my ears, I can’t hear what you say.” As an ex-cult member, I was underpaid, underaccomplished, did not own investments or property and it did not look like I was going to get any of these things very soon.

I read two things in books about recovery from cults shortly after leaving. One was, “for many of those leaving a cult, their troubles have just begun.” This rang true for me. Walking out of the cult into the “real world” was like the feeling you get when you walk out of an air-conditioned building into a sweltering summer day. I was soon to be taken over by what the Bible refers to “the cares of this life,” most especially the need for a woman and sex, and this was soon to turn into extreme distress over not being able to enter into the marriage relationship, which before leaving COBU, I thought it would be easy to do. 

It seems sometimes I forgot about relying on Jesus, as we had been taught in COBU and became preoccupied with making more money and having a woman in my life. The other thing I read was that the recovery time for former cult members can often be equal to the number of years that they were in the cult. I felt discouraged. This might mean that it would take me 14 years to recover. There are some interesting parallels and events in my life that began to take place, 14 years after leaving. One of those lead to finally being able to get married, the lack of which was one of the greatest forms of destruction visited by COBU on my life. (Other ex-members have gotten married sooner after leaving, this is just my case and I noticed a change taking place in my life at about the 14 years out mark.)

I left COBU as what some have called a “beta male.” I was already soft spoken and not assertive before I came to the church. I had begun to be aware of this before coming to the church and I used to try to be more assertive and take more initiative in my life. Now, after 14 years of being flattened in an authoritarian institution and taking orders from the leader and where I learned to not take initiative (because whatever I did would probably be wrong) and to doubt my own intuition and thoughts, by means of the second-guessing and self doubt instilled in us, and I did not grow to become a person who was assertive, and who took risks and initiative.

And, as a beta male, I was going to be ignored by the women I was meeting in church. Upon approaching a woman the next time for another conversation, I was much more likely to hear, “What did you say your name was again?” (Which was not a sign of interest, but rather that she hadn’t been thinking of me in my absence, as I had been thinking of her. Of course, I had remembered her name and everything she told me about herself and was eager for another conversation.) As a result, conversation with women became difficult for me, because it was one-sided. I would ask the questions and get responses, but would rarely be asked questions about myself. I often likened it to playing catch with someone where you toss the ball to them, but they wouldn’t throw it back and you’d have to go over to them and take the ball and throw it to them again. And if I stopped talking, the conversation would be over.

After a year of being unable to get into a relationship, which seemed like an eternity, when added to the 14 years of not having a relationship, I got into a relationship with a manipulative and verbally abusive woman, whom I met right there in Times Square Church. But, perhaps because of the emotional and relational desert I was in, I was open to her. When it became apparent what she was really like, I didn’t get out and stay out. But rather went back and forth, always coming back when I would find out once more that I couldn’t meet anyone else, for the most part, for the reasons I’m mentioning here. I found that I was prone to staying in an abusive relationship, but the positive side is that I learned over to recognize the signs of an abusive relationship and get out sooner the next time I found myself in one.

I was caring, sensitive and attentive to the needs of others and a “good listener.” I would remember what a person said last time and follow up on it and ask questions the next time I saw them. When a person paused while talking, I had learned to wait without speaking, because the next thing they said would be from a deeper place and might be more revealing than if I had asked them questions about themselves. I often took delight in listening to people and hearing what they were really saying, rather than just trading opinions and dominating the conversation.

Another thing I had learned is that if you want a person to talk about something, just talk about that subject yourself. This would be a more effective way to draw them out than asking questions, because they might feel you’re being invasive. For example, if I wanted to find out what they used to do on summer vacations when they were a kid, I just started talking about what I did on vacation when I was a kid, and about the 2nd or 3rd sentence in, I got interrupted and they told me all about their summer vacations as a kid. And I learned to not interrupt someone’s narrative with my own, and let them talk about that. This is a privilege that is rarely accorded to people, but I enjoyed doing it for others. This is called the art of listening, or the art of conversation. I’ve pretty much forgotten about that now.  I was soon learning that such attention to detail was not going to gain female interest in me as someone who “cared about them.”

I also realized that no one was going to go out of their way to get to know me. I did have the network of ex-COBU members though, and that was a real benefit. Most of the resources I needed came to me this way. I had friendships with them, got a place to stay with ex-members and lived with them for a long time untio I finally moved on my own. I also found work with ex-members, so I didn’t have to account for the 14 year period of time in COBU on employment applications. If I had given Christian Brothers Cleaning as a reference on my application and they had called them for a reference, those who answered the phone would have told prospective employers that I had been a terrible employee and to not hire me. They would be doing this for my good, they believed, because it would cause me to not get work out in “the world” and that maybe I would come back. Also, to give a positive recommendation (such as that he had worked 60 hours a week and did excellent wood floor refinishing work) would be for them to “take part in my sin” of leaving the church (which meant to leave Jesus). Taking part in my sin meant that they would be “making provisions” to do the same sin themselves, since the COBU belief was that if we were are not protesting against something, we are taking part in it.

I will probably write a closing page to this diary about what it was like to come back into the real world  Some of the above and other things will be written about and added to.

In the meantime, I have other web pages about COBU, including The Tangled Web and Sinners In The Hands Of An Angry Cult Leader if you want to read more about what it was like for me to be in COBU. I have also written a book called Captive Congregation: My Fourteen Years in the Church of Bible Understanding, which is available as a Kindle book or in paperback.


2 Responses to “1993, 08/21-31. Leaving The Church Of Bible Understanding.”

  1. Scott Osterberg Says:

    Hello. I was a carpet cleaner in Brooklyn in the early eighties. I then lived in Reading PA. Then moved back to Brooklyn. There was a guy Ephrem Jenkins that I mostly worked with taking the carpet machine on the subway to go to jobs. Apparently he stole some jewelry one day that I didn’t know about and then they asked us to leave. I wasn’t even told what happened until a couple years later when I ran into some members in Manhattan. I only saw the leader three or four times in Bible studies. I thought it was odd that this man with a very long white beard was with a very much younger woman. I also remember having many bible studies with a little guy with a red beard.
    I would love to talk to someone
    GOD Bless

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