1993, 01/04. Culture Shock for a Returning “Backslider.”

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

January 4 

Jay O’Neil came back this weekend. He was in for an interesting “cultural experience” this morning. Things were fine at the meeting, until he had to come to Red Hook! He said he couldn’t live like this.

[Jay was an older brother who had been away from the Church of Bible Understanding for many years. He was at the January 1-3 weekend meeting and then came back to the dirty Red Hook Warehouse in Brooklyn with us when the meeting was over, fully intending to move back into the church. When he got to the warehouse and saw how we were living, he was in utter shock. He had been expecting a more normal living situation. He kept saying, “I can’t live like this! I can’t live like this!” There were several brothers who were telling Jay that living conditions were not the “real issue,” but Jay was not convinced.

It is unfortunate that this is a stumbling block to such ones. (I’m supposed to say it’s my fault for causing this situation where our life is like this, but it also occurs to me we could at any time have a nicer place for returning brothers. But it is against the unwritten rules in the self-denial category of teachings to do so. Jay is expected to put up with it “if he really wants Christ.” If he leaves, well, he’s making excuses and looking for a way out anyway, and it’s certainly not our fault. I will be surprised if Jay is still here tonight or if he is still around after a few days. (Note: Jay either left that night or by the next morning.)

[And we heard nothing more from Jay. And we didn’t talk any more among ourselves about the returning brother we were going to “help.” He was immediately forgotten about and it was like he had never existed. Jay thought the meeting was hopeful, though really, it was not. But maybe he was encouraged by seeing so many brothers and sisters again after so many years of being away. And besides, Stewart’s abuse of church members was standard fare at meetings back when Jay had been a member anyway. When Jay got to the Red Hook Warehouse the next morning and he saw the living conditions, he reacted strongly. He said he could not live this way. Later on, I sarcastically remarked to Paul and Peter that we ought to have a halfway house for returning brothers and sisters. This house would have nice curtains and beds. Then we would wait to spring reality on them a month later, when they were roped in by all the guilt-tripping again and would readily agree that living conditions did not matter when compared to their need to escape hell. Then they would no longer complain about having to live in a dirty warehouse.]

I would now like to talk about sex (1 Corinthians 7). About that which eats me up day and night. (As I have been busy applying finish to a floor, these thoughts began to come to mind. I decided to write them down because they are a typical cross-section of my view of the matter and of my situation in life with regard to this.)

I have sexual desires. I want sex. Not due to deviation or some abnormality, but due to the fact of what I am and how I was made. Because of physiology. That is, I want sex. Not because I am “demanding my way” or “I want to do my own will,” but because I am a human being. To say I don’t want sex would be denying the human condition. It would be lying. As if to say “I never want to eat or sleep.” When nature proves that I need to eat and sleep, and when the need arises, I also want to.

An unmarried person wants sex. He is supposed to control himself. He wants sex. He is tempted. He gives in. He is a transgressor, a sinner.

When the attack is over, he goes back to the normal course of resisting. Back to acting as if sex doesn’t exist and that he is otherwise a normal, decent human being. It is not that he wants to live like this, but it gets to be too much. He feels like he has as much ability to resist it as a screen window in a hurricane. He can’t stop it. Even though this is considered to be “just making excuses for sin,” he finds himself unable to resist.

Maybe he’s taking the wrong approach. Maybe he should have a wife. He is telegraphing that message loud and clear. As we often hear, “What do your actions say?” This person is tempting God (by so doing), but maybe the greatest way he is tempting God is by not marrying, being that he has this problem. (By the way, if one is giving into these desires, then nothing he says matters, because he is a transgressor.)

Now I say, contrast such a one with a married brother. The married brother also wants sex, due to the human condition. He also has sex. He is not weird for it. If he is also a person with a strong sex drive, well then, he is just a person who has sex a lot with his wife, that’s all. (He is looking at and touching a woman, but it is not a crime. Again, if the unmarried brother looked at, touched and had sex with a woman, then he’s a fornicator or adulterer. Maybe if he is going to, or will go that far, then he might just as well get married – rightly or wrongly. If his problem takes him this far, he might as well “do the right thing.”)

[Stewart spoke against “wrong marriage,” that is, getting married under any other circumstance than the brother and sister being extremely faithful to Christ. However, Stewart set the standard and the bar for faithfulness so high, that no one could live up to it, in terms of their “relationship with Jesus” and their conscience. A brother was expected to be extremely “out front,” a leader of the entire church. And not only that, the entire fellowship had be right. If not, there would be no “right society among us to present marriage to.”  If we did not have a “right fellowship,” according to Stewart, then marriages would just be games and deceit.  Even if a brother could meet a faithfulness standard (no one was able to meet these high standards), he was still bound to the fellowship and not free to marry despite being right with God himself. If the whole church was not repenting and being faithful, that brother’s efforts were just more deceit and games.  

I realized that Stewart would prefer that brothers and sisters go to hell for sexual sins, than permit what he called “wrong marriage.” This is one of the ways that I saw him not being our benefactor, as he claimed to be. This was also an example of “Doctrine Over Person,” which Robert J. Lifton spoke of in his book, Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism. Brothers were commiting sexual sins or looking at pornography and going strip clubs, or in some cases, leaving the church and getting into fornication. There were also some brothers who decided to leave the church together with a sister to get married. They were now married, and not living in sin. Stewart considered these ones to be the worst of all!

There was a brother who was well known among us for his visits to porn joints and strip clubs. When this brother had been missing overnight, it was assumed that this is where he had been. It was not something he planned, but he became overwhelmed with his desires. Combined with Stewart’s constant bombardment about how we were unworthy rebels, he had no strength to resist or to depend on God, because Christ was probably going to throw him into hell anyway, so what was the use of being good? He liked a sister in the church, but of course, could not have a relationship with her or marry her because his “relationship with Jesus” was not very good and he was not faithful to Jesus according to COBU standards. Didn’t his very sins, mentioned above, prove he was not faithful to Christ and that he had a poor relationship with Jesus? This is an example of the convoluted thinking in COBU where the results of living according to COBU teachings resulted in our having a broken down condition, which was then applied to us by Stewart as proof that we were not faithful to Christ, because anyone faithful to Christ would not be broken down, messed up and sinning like a profligate. This brother is still in the Church of Bible Understanding to this day.]

I suppose I’m saying I should get married. I know I need to. I’m trying to resist my desires, but maybe I’m not supposed to resist them and it’s an artificial burden to be carrying. I’m chasing windmills when I could be doing something more useful with my life and with what’s left of me. (Now that I’m no longer trashing myself.)

If and when I go so far as fornication, I will wonder why I couldn’t have just been married instead. (I say “if and when,” because the temptation is so constant. I try to bury my head in the sand as I see the tornado coming. I’m trying to change or deny reality when really, that’s the way life is. As 1 Corinthians 7 says, “Because of the temptation to immorality, every man should have his own wife.”)

I know it‘s inevitable and it’s only a matter of time. The smart thing is to avoid it by taking the way of escape God provides.

Now, the other thing I was thinking about is, “Stewart’s plan for my life.” You see, marriage is just not in Stewart’s plan for my life and his strictly functional use of my life. A safer way to say this is “economics.” I can’t get married because of the “economic” condition of our church.

We work a lot, but we are always living on a shoestring. Any reduction of income or any increase in expenses will make difficulties or even sink the church. A premise then, stated in the extreme, is that if 10 or 20 brothers (and sisters) were to get married, it would put financial strain on the church.Proofs for my point are:  as it is now, we save a lot of money by warehousing people. By packing a lot of people into Woodruff and the Red Hook Warehouse. Rent is cheap, especially when divided among so many. I think it costs me $125 a year for rent. ($2 a week or so?)

[This was the rent expense per individual, as claimed on our tax returns.]

And since brothers have no family ties and obligations, they are available to be used day and night in the church business to make money. They have no good excuse to say no. Any grounds for saying “thus far and no further” are knocked out from under their feet. It’s a punishable offense to miss work without good reason. No time off is allowed for travel or unwinding. You are a machine or a conveyor belt.

Marriages would mean an immediate reduction in income (in hours spent working) and an immediate increase in living expenses. Brothers’ interests would be divided and they would naturally devote time to their wives, and soon, to their families. They would no longer be part of the free, on tap labor force, but would be on limited availability only or maybe they would move out. Living expenses would go up. We could no longer warehouse the couples. (Though I think we’d try. But it would be awkward to allow one hour leaves so couples could socialize, talk, go to dinner or share conjugal rights. That would be strange and not very discrete. What would we have, special “conjugal rooms?” That would be bizarre. Everybody would know what was going on inside.)

Immediately, the couple would have to live together, at least one private room, a bedroom. That means getting houses, or subdividing a loft! That means skyrocketing rent expenses. This increase in rent and brothers working less in the church business would be a tremendous blow to the church.

Of course, I wouldn’t put it past us (that is, past Stewart) to try some kind of segmented, functional and utilitarian relationship system. A previous hint of which can be found in Stewart’s admonition to say that “I work out of (a certain location),” instead of saying, “I live at _______.”  Because he says we don’t “live” anywhere.

[We were not supposed to say we lived at any particular church residence, but that we “worked out of” that location.  We could be moved or transfered at any time. We had no home.  If marriages were permited, I imagined this flexible basis would continue.]

So there could be some kind of segmented relationship in which the church delineates the terms and times of your relationship. As if to say your marriage is really church property and it is meted out in parcels, on specified terms. This would also expose us to a new form of being vulnerable to manipulation and control. Punishments and rewards could be given by withholding or increasing privileges. One would have no control over this, unless of course, he was “good.” The control of his relationship would be out of his hands.

[We were already living under these terms and conditions as single people. I could only imagine that relationships, if they were ever permitted, would be under this same system of control.]

There may be some benefit to wrting about all of this after all. I have some kind of sense of prayer, which mainly consists of collapsing and being aware of Christ. Just how far Christ will help me in this, I don’t know.

I am in a prison without walls. I can walk down the street, but I can’t get anywhere. As for cures of my problem (that is, with sin and temptation), the cure often seems more deadly than the disease. In some cases, like 810, they definitely turn out to not be for my good. For me to take a “way of escape,” I would have to be into it and see a reasonable chance of making it. And not to think I’d just end up being in a worse position than I am in now.

[The ways of escape from our problem with sin, as presented by the church (that is, by Stewart Traill) seemed worse than the problem itself. I would have to be interested and motivated, and believe that this cure was going to work, in order for me to apply myself wholeheartedly to these church programs. I never was, because indeed, the cure always proved to be worse than the disease.]

The next section in this journal can be read here: Stop Looking for Answers and Act on What You Already Know and Believe.

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