1993, 03/21. Deny Your Thoughts.

Sunday March 21

Sanding the wood floors at Michael’s Pub early in the morning.

I’m having extremely heavy thoughts about Stewart and his methods, which are intolerance, manipulation, isolation and exclusivity, and how he will drive anybody out of here who doesn’t agree with him. Reading what Solzhenitsyn’s wrote in the chapter “Our Muzzled Freedom” in his book The Gulag Archipelago has done much to stir this up in me, because I recognize many of the same traits Solzenitzyn wrote about in our church’s society. I’m probably being had, and my own sins are, or will be, used against me as blackmail if I try to speak up against this. Everybody is a potential informer if I say anything, even in private. IT IS A KIND OF PASSIVE SURVEILLANCE SYSTEM WHERE ALL WRONG MOVES ARE NOTICED AGAINST A BACKDROP OF CONFORMITY. Not that someone is specifically assigned to actively watch me. (I would like to find out what my legal options are, if any, or even seek out Christian lawyers, though everything here is done by the book.)

[I knew that Stewart did everything within the boundaries, or within the loopholes of the law, and that there was nothing that could be used as a charge against him, such as tax evasion or evidence of assault.  I was also wondering what laws might protect me if I were put out on the street and had nowhere to go. I saw a poster on the subway that said if your landlord evicted you, you could go to the police. But who would I charge if I were put out on the street? Stewart was not my landlord and the buiding was in the name of the church. I also feared that if I went to the “world” for help, if I were put out on the street in a violent neighborhood in the night and I walked to the police station for help, that God would have me shot and killed by a mugger or drug dealer as divine retribution as I was on my way there. Sometimes I wondered, if this is a cult and not God’s will for my life and I get put out and walk to the police station in the night for help, God won’t kill me, right?]

We recruit only those people we can retrain to fit our aims, such as homeless people, and we skip over people who have jobs and their own places to live. Maybe I will change my tack and talk to these kinds of people and invite them to visit our church.

These thoughts are intense. It is almost as if I can think of nothing else.

I find that in writing this, I have calmed myself down a little, though I certainly fear the usual results of such thoughts and of giving myself over to them and being lost in them, though I certainly think there is something to these thoughts. I would have to shut down my mind in order to shut these thoughts out, if that is what I decide to do to resolve this.

But also, it is good to keep a diary, because somewhere, somehow I write down my thoughts and face them. It is impossible to tell anyone else about these thoughts, so I need some form of release for them that doesn’t involve denying them, or careful censorship. At least I am acknowledging them, since everywhere else and in every other way, with everyone else, I must deny them.

Maybe it is like a ground wire for the charges that build up. I am thinking about studying about “whistleblowers” and what happens to them.

Stewart is my master. I am his slave.

Today, I have that feeling (again) of being on the edge of a nervous breakdown. Though, I must say, I have never had one, so I really don’t know what a nervous breakdown is. I also have shortness of breath. It’s hard for me to even do this work. I probably need to do something for my mind, but, any activities I do to take the pressure off myself, well, I know I am just trying to avoid this whole thing – which means, I know it is real.

[I was trying look for activities to relax my mind and the cool down a little from all of this pressure and all this thinking about the situation I was in, this meant that I knew that what I was facing was real, and not just something I was imagining or making up.]

There really is no outlet. I am really stuck. Nobody understands me. There is nobody I can turn to. Praying seems to offer no help. As far as I know, God is as much behind this stuff as Stewart is. If so, then there is no way out but to conform to the program. This is like what I was reading about the Moonies this morning, that since there is no way of escape, conformity becomes the way of release. I am driven again and again to the point of “are you going to conform?” and to accept the system of proferred rewards for acceptable behavior. To live like a child, not an adult. To live for a pat on the head. Can this church really be a cult? This is too horrible to face, because if this is a cult, the indoctrination has been complete. I have been here for 13 years. We are a small obscure group, so there is no feedback coming from “out there” to confirm my own thoughts.

[I read literature about more well known cults and there was much documentation available which explained how they were cults, but there was no book published about The Church of Bible Understanding that would clarify everything for me.]

(And what little that has been written about us, you can always say they don’t know us very well, or have only heard the views of a single defector, but haven’t found out for themselves. Or you can say the devil is using the press to attack the church. Or that the devil has many imitations out of the real thing – that is, imitations of us!)

[This is a saying I often heard in my earlier years there. When people said we were like the Moonies, someone would say that the devil has many imitations of the truth out there to deceive people. These were communal groups that claimed to follow Jesus which were close counterfeits of COBU, the real group that followed Jesus. It was an indirect admission that we are like Moonies, because of how similar they were to us and how similar we were to them.]

I can’t think today. I can’t even operate. There is just too much going on inside my head. It’s a major blow out. I am incapacitated. I don’t have a full deck and there is nowhere I can go for a reality check. (I would think if somebody diagnosed me with a fatal disease, I might go for a second opinion. Why not do the same with Stewart’s diagnosis of my spiritual condition?)

[Stewart declared us spiritually dead and fit for nothing but hell – but he proposed that there MIGHT be a cure if we did everything he told us to do (100%, every second, without slacking off for a moment), and that there are no other options and nowhere else we could go. Because anything else was a false way and meant were were trying to find a way out of following Christ.]

But, it is considered a crime for any of us to visit another church, or to go and talk to someone there. I thought of doing this anyway. On Sunday mornings. I could go to the German church on Henry Street, though this would just be to sit in on a service in German. I could also try to walk in to that church in Lower Manhattan. I’ve got to reach out somehow.

I have considered telling my mother about what goes on here. However, this is thought crime or being a Judas.

I am under extreme stress right now. There ought to be something I can do to minimize it, because this is going to tear me apart.

I have come to the conclusion that a large part of the brothers (the older brothers and also the new brothers) are probably living in immorality, but are unwilling to report or confess it because of the extreme system of correction in our church. Most brothers have a secret underground life of indulgence. Probably almost all the brothers are into “self abuse,” let alone whatever drugs and alcohol are used. I wonder what the sisters are up to. Do they even commit sexual indulgence? It’s hard to believe everybody is a little angel. (We are in a system of one or two false moves and you have had it. Do you really think anybody is going to confess their sins?)

[This may seem to contradict to what I talked about previously, about living openly and transparently in a communal society. No one talked about what their lives really were like, because of the extreme amount of condemnation they would get for it. So, in a parody of being honest, people were willing to confess the officially proper sins, such as “thumbing my nose at Jesus,” or “murdering the new disciples” (which meant that one was being lazy and thereby setting a wrong example regarding the amount of work expected of new converts). People eagerly jumped forward to confess these so-called sins in our group confessions. But if anyone ever had a real problem with sin, there was not any help in a real or lasting way.]

Writing in this diary is the only form of relief I have gotten today, so I will continue to write in it.

I might be making this up, but I think I am starting to realize this, though actually I have known it all along. Most older brothers are sexual indulgers because they are not married. Quite a few middle and new brothers have their own kinds of peccadillos, and now I am starting to wonder about the sisters.

And it does look kind of funny how these sisters live with Brother Stewart. It sure would look strange to any outsider. Stewart and Gayle living there, then there is that long hallway that connects to the other sisters’ rooms. All those very loyal followers of his, his inner circle who might do just about anything for him. What is it like to be in Stewart’s presence 24 hours a day? I am only experiencing the outskirts of his ways. The mesmerizing mind control, his hypnotic presence, the amount of surveillance they do on one another. They must be under extreme control.

If I am roped in to not say anything and I can be blackmailed, then what about the sisters who live with Stewart? What in the world would make me think it is actually better to be closer to him? Do I think these sisters are any freer, because they are (tentatively) in his favor and are not like us older brothers, under perpetual punishment? I know that when one of them slips up, they wring ’em out.

I even have let my mind wander to: do they ever have orgies there? Two or three of these sisters in bed with Stewart? Of course, I am playing with wrong thoughts and only a sinner such as myself could think of such a thing. But I see how Stewart rules celibacy for the men, yet keeps the choicest women for himself. There might be a lot of innocent and simple people in our church who just don’t know about this, like at Shiloh.

[Shiloh was a communal group that existed at the turn of the last century and was written about by the daughter of an ex-member in her book Fair, Clear and Terrible. She grew up hearing what her parents and other ex-members talked about when they got together and decided to investigate and write a history about the group. There are numerous similarities between Shiloh and COBU.]

And the sisters in the inner circle, who have lost their minds and sense of reality, are willing to believe anything justified by Stewart or his views of scripture. (Like Old Testament polygamy to justify his extra-marital relationships with them.) Dissent is not tolerated and not heard here. Why? What’s going on and what’s being covered up? Why is it necessary for Stewart to keep everybody backed in a corner?

I guess this is all unresolved conflicts. I can’t bear to think of what I have been subject to, so I try to live every day as though it never happened. But it keeps resurfacing and I have to try to deal with it in some way. It is hard to face the absolute terrorism of my situation; to face that I am aware of the grand deception that is practiced here. I am one of the few terrified hangers-on in an obscure, bizarre religious sect who is afraid to make a move or leave because he is afraid of going to hell, which he surely believes will happen to him if he leaves here – though going to hell is almost as certain if I stay here, so it is the classic case of damned if I do and damned if I don’t. I am too afraid to say anything to rock the boat or to reveal my true thoughts on any matter, lest I be thrown out. This whole existence is a fraud and I know it. I surely believe that those who leave our church are among the dead, but as for those who stay, life here isn’t so great either. It’s like living in a prison. There are so many things I am not allowed to do that it is not funny. Even the idea of visiting another church on Sunday morning is either unthinkable or it would have to be done in absolute secrecy and I would have to get back on time so as not to be noticed.

Well, my mood is beginning to slowly and subtly change. I guess I cannot keep this up indefinitely. I must live off something; must feed and nourish myself on and with something. Negative currents such as the preceding episode tend only to blow out the transformer. I hope it all goes away.

Now we (me, Jim O., and Skylar) are at a place below Canal Street, sanding a floor. I got some rest at the office. I read the chapter called “Ascents” in the Gulag Archipelago. I have been listening to Radio France International and a Spanish radio station. [As I worked, I listened with headphones to foreign language programs.] In my mind, I am mulling over some books I have read lately, such as the book on the Shakers, Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion, and some others.

I wonder if many of the new people leave because of the things Stewart says, like the what he says about leaving our families, or the way he treated Cimmarron. How many of them leave without saying a word? (Stewart blames their leaving on the older brothers. For us, it is not conceivable that Stewart could make a mistake.)

Stewart requires utter separation from our families . A new brother, Joe H. was chiming in his speech that he has now seen the light with reference to his family. Also, when Stanley and I met the black man in 34th Street Station, he asked if he would still be able to go to school if he moved in with us. Quite frankly I told him that they would put pressure on him to quit. We only prey upon those who have no real ties and who don’t know any better. As for talking to high school students, this is not the kind of place for high school students to come to. We shouldn’t concentrate on telling people to move in at all. I think it taints our presentation of the Gospel. This admonition to ”sell all you have” to follow Christ, not many Christians do that. Does that mean that the only way to serve Christ is to forsake all and come live with us? Stewart has a lot of things of his own anyway. He lives differently than we do and I am sure he is not about to change.

We have a self-centered gospel, one that is interpreted according to our own aims and goals, which clouds our view and we sell this perversion to others as “the only way that works.” This is a very arrogant claim. “The only way that works” – that is, there might be other ways, but they don’t work. Stewart is again, in more a subtle form, still claiming he has the only way.

Of course, I have to buy this, or at least give tacit approval or I will be summarily thrown out, no ifs ands or buts! Under duress, “I confess” that this is the only true Gospel and the only way that works!

I really feel like hitting the panic button and going and repeating this to somebody! I want to get out of here anyway. I don’t want to keep living like this, to keep living and believing these lies.

Daybreak has finally come. I can see the Hudson River. I thought about taking a ride on Metro North as I have a few times, but time today will not permit. Neither really, do finances.

[Sometimes, even though I needed sleep after working all night on a job site, when everyone else went back to get some rest, I went to Grand Central Station and got on a train that traveled the Hudson Line for 76 miles. It went along the shore of the Hudson River and through some beautiful mountain scenery. I hung out at Poughkeepsie for an hour and caught the next train back. No one missed me because it was assumed I was sleeping somewhere. It was absolutely forbidden to go off on our own somewhere. Paul cut me a break and did not report me.

We cut one another a break and “allowed” one another to “do his own thing,” that is, to “have our own interests.” I was interested in trains and Paul was interested in two-way radios. We read our magazines about our hobbies and then we traded and he read my railroad magazine and I read his radio magazine, each of us taking some interest in the others’ hobby.

Paul bought a two way radio and sometimes talked to people while we were driving to meetings, if this could be arranged when it was only me, him and Pete driving together. I thought Paul’s hobby was tremendously interesting. Jim O. was also in the wood floor business, but insofar as I could tell, he was completely sold out to the COBU mindset and seemed to have no individuality or personal interests. We had to be on guard around such people, because we could easily end up being reported on by these ones, although Paul seemed to handle him well. To a certain degree Paul and I became friends, talking about our personal lives, our lives before coming to the church and other things. But only up to a point. I could not be totally free to speak with him, although I did show him some of the books I took out of the library about other communal groups like our own and he had a passing interest in them. I could trust that he was not going to tell on me about this. I would not have shown them to him otherwise.]

So maybe I will try to visit that Christian center in downtown Manhattan. The idea of going to another church, even for a visit, is a cardinal sin. But when I look at it, I see that it isn’t a sin at all. We are kept in total isolation.

The next part of this journal is here: Where Can I Go?

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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