1993, 03/28-30. The Mind of Jim LaRue.

Sunday, March 28

I’m not going to the meeting because at the last minute I was called to do some wood floor work. Bernie left last night and went to Dave Arnold’s [an ex-member], but is back here this morning. It is now 7:30 p.m. I’m waiting waiting for the wood floor finish to dry down here at the French Connection. I’m definitely thinking about leaving the church, though not in the immediate sense. Though I do consider my emergency options. It’s like more long(er) range plans. I really can’t stand living here. What kind of job could I have for the future? How much is rent for an apartment and where? I’ll try to build and maintain a bank account. Maybe I will get a private post office box.

[I read in a book about cults that sometimes cult members get a post office box to be able to communicate to outsiders when they’re beginning their transition period to leaving their group, because mail from addresses of people outside the cult would be noticed as would as any increase in correspondence.]

Yes, I’m thinking of leaving. A more planned out thing, coming from how I just can’t see how I can continue to live here and to live like this. Do I want to be here at 40, just like this? A throw away life.

[I had nothing and I was expendable. The church could get rid of me at any time, and I had been threatened with this before.]

The problem also is, that in these situations, my thoughts get dense and confused, going down the cul-de-sac or blind alley of thinking about Stewart. Not that I don’t think he is a major source of problems, but when I get spinning like that, I can’t think clearly and it’s probably good to back off a little. To cool off somehow, and think about something else. Don’t I want to get out of that cycle that I fall victim to over and over again? There must be a way somehow. I’ll probably never be able to figure all of this out at this level. I’ll probably need to go to a higher level.

[This meant I might not be able to figure out how Stewart and the church controled me by watching every little thing, but that I needed to go to deeper underlying reasons about how and why things worked the way they did there, in order to understand its hold on me.]

I was at the office a while, alone. I began to make an autobiography tape, basically talking about the emptiness of my life. This wasn’t helping much. Then I decided to read Raymond Franz’s book about Christian freedom onto tape. This provided a complete diversion from the empty feeling. Really, thank God. Obviously I need to get involved in something. This hobby of reading books onto tape is something I am interested in and I see how it can provide a valuable contribution to my life, due to the limited nature of time in my life. I can listen to these tapes while I’m working and it also helps me to remember material in a book that I might have forgotten if I read it just once.

Tuesday, March 30

The time now is 1:40 p.m. I slept last night from 5 p.m. until 8:30 in the morning. Walked to Carroll Street with Ray [a new brother]. There was some tension, at least in my mind, over whether we would get to the job on time and whether there would be enough equipment because I left Red Hook and wanted to go walking, even though there was a buffer there. Equipment is often in short supply. It could have been the only buffer available. I decided to not worry, since I do that too much. Things worked out okay. I was able to go to the library as well. I picked up a book by Saint Augustine (Collected Writings), also two more books about cults. Although I intend to study Christian things. (I read a photocopied page from the Matthew Henry Commentary on the subway today.)

[I gave a book of Saint Augustine’s writings to Brother Stewart, because he mentioned wanting to read something by Augustine. I thought it might help him. I received a comment from Stewart either through the daily messages, indirectly thanking me for the book, but putting me in my place at the same time.]

I’m not quite done yet with reading about cults and related subjects. I still believe I’m either in a cult or in a group that resembles one and I want to study the various techniques of control and other coercive pressures brought to bear on the person who lives within the walls of a cult. It is my sound conviction that the same things are being done to me here. (With Stewart as an overbearing ogre or a subtle persuader, the center point of all our thinking and reality.) I read that in such groups, when a person decides to get out, his considering and debating back and forth about it may go on for several years. Too many of the things I read in these books resemble life here. Often things I was thinking about are confirmed in these books or echoed there.

Ray handed me his escape from Red Hook plan to read. It was hard for me to pay attention to the words because I was thinking about the three spheres of life and how here they are not separate, but all one and the same.

[I was refering to an idea in a book by Erving Goffman called Asylums, which is about life in Total Institutions. I found out about this book on a job site. We were sanding the wood floors in the apartment of a psychologist on the Upper West Side. She had bookshelves along the walls which we covered with drop cloths in to protect them from sawdust. I began to browse her shelves during a break in the work. There was a book called Total Institutions. That got my attention, because I felt like I was living in a total institution. As I read this book, I felt like I was reading about life in the Church of Bible Understanding. This book made a lot of references to the book Asylums by Erving Goffman, which was one of the author’s main sources. By hook or crook, I found that book soon after, whether at the library or at a sidewalk bookseller. (I’ve had a couple paperback versions of that book, which I underlined heavily. It was an eye opener.)

I cannot explain the essence of Asylums in a paragraph or two. What I was talking about above were the three areas of life. A person has his job, his family life and his recreational life. (Such as the rod and gun club.) All three spheres are separate from one another. If a person is not performing well in his job or his family, he still has his friends at the rod an gun club. Or, his wife and children may still love him if he did not close that contract at work. A man could still preserve his dignity in one area of life, even if other areas suffered. In COBU, or in any communal living situation, all of these areas are one and the same. If I failed in business (the church business), I could not find comfort in my faith in church on Sunday, because they were one and the same. If I disagreed with the pastor on doctine, I could not go home and be okay. The pastor had the power to throw me out of house and home.]

I can see how this reduces me to the level of being a dependent or a child and I must perfectly profess to believe our creeds, to follow our dictates and generally be good, or there will be a crackdown and I can lose my job and place of residence. I can also have financial troubles, when I may desperately need money because I’m looking for a new place to live, because the church controls my pay. It’s not like I can save up my paychecks to move out. (Though in consideration of this, I may need to begin save as much as I can of my allowance. Under the present circumstances, that may be wise. Even though I want to check out my legal recourses, it still may come down to being put out on the street and even though I go to the police and maybe even a lawyer, I may need ready cash to see me through.)

Reading that back (the part about the three spheres) was a help, an eye opener. I always considered that I was just working for the church and that being put out could only be for God’s righteous indignation against my sins or conduct. But, in a way, I don’t realize that what I am in is not a normal life, and that I have do “rights” in a sense, natural rights.

Most people are not in this three-in-one dilemma. Trouble in one sphere does not necessarily have to lead to troubles in the others. Their foreman can’t thrown them out of church and their pastor can’t take away their job or throw them out of their apartment. Their landlord can however, but in that case, they could get support and help from the people in their church (spiritually and physically and possibly even money) and they would also still have their job.

So, I see this as a three-way leverage that can be used on me to keep me in line. This is not normal for a 35 year old man. I wonder just how much this affects my behavior (probably a lot) and also my thinking. I imagine that I think very freely and that I just don’t let on in my actions and speech, but who knows?

Really, when I think of it, this is a fact (the three-in-one) that I have just woken up to. I take all of this for granted. Sure, I “knew” that fellowship life is not really “normal” life, but I didn’t understand this quite so clearly before, nor did I realize its power over me. This is a type of coercion, one of those subtle abuses of power that keeps people here backed in a corner.  (It certainly does in my case.) This, and how many other things?

What will happen with me if and when I understand these things more clearly and how they apply to my life, how they work on me and whether I want them working on me anymore? With the three-in-one, I am nailed in place. But is this right to do to someone? It happens in places like the army, but do I believe it is right and necessary in Christian life? Is this a Biblical principle? Is it necessary for my salvation? Or could I live better without it?

How much of my receiving and believing what we are taught here is by faith and how much is by coercion? How many of them are things I really think I believe? How many actions do I do every day that aren’t from true conviction, but through coercive measures like these, and I either don’t realize it or don’t really want to look at it too closely? It’s easier to profess the usual reasons were are given for doing these actions in our lives here. The bottom line, I guess, is that I’m not really supposed to have any questions. The things that are presented as questions are pretty much laid out for me and then I’m supposed to profess and believe that they are my own convictions. (You can’t say that they’re all wrong though. I understand that. But should faith and one’s own life be legislated and regulated? Does authority know no bounds? How minor and minute are the details of my life to be regulated? How far should it go? The “burning faith” questions, are they even mine?

All I know is that Stewart has his methods to make us do or accept his will, his present plans and teachings. I think about Ron H., trying to say to Stewart (as placatingly as possible, Ron already knew he had to be deferrential, or solicitous of favor) about the new teaching Stewart was presenting to us, that, “I’m not really sure about this. I’m going to check it out for myself.” I saw the subsequent beating he got for those comments, a “baseball bat conversion.” I saw Ron immediately duck for cover and by the end of the meeting, he was shaking his head enthusiastically at every comment Stewart made.

Or the time Chuck backed down immediately after saying that Stewart had made some mistakes. All it took was Stewart to say, “As far as I know…” You may say that Chuck didn’t have to back down at such a point, that he was a coward. But, then again, the king began to proclaim his infallibility. Maybe Chuck just saw the writing on the wall and decided to quit while he was ahead. He would have had to quit later, only now with bruises and a black eye.

According to Stewart, what could be anyone’s motive for questioning Stewart anyway or trying to point out an error, however minor, in his teachings? (Hey, look, if you point out a minor error, you are a nitpicker, starting fires over something so little and possibly upsetting the faith of the innocent. If you point out something bigger, just think what you are up against now. You are attacking the core of Stewart’s teaching or some major point of it. I feel sorry for you! So, you are either making big trouble – since one is making big trouble whenever he questions Stewart – even it is some little thing of no importance, in which case it’s better to just shut up, or, you are going for the jugular.

You just can’t win! Also in which case it’s just better to shut up! When I consider the outcome of the situation, do I think Stewart will ever thank me for pointing out an inconsistency in his teaching? I would just be considered to be devious and that’s it.

Of course, there is the highly deferrential method of asking Stewart a question about his teaching. But in this case, the person is coming from saying they don’t understand and could Stewart explain to them a little better. They are not questioning the validity or truthfulness of the matter, they are only presenting their slowness of comprehension. They are not showing that they have a mind or understanding, that they could be sharp and understand the potential errors in a situation. Now, that’s showing some life! But, what one must show is his or her submission, asking Stewart, can I understand so I can submit better? One must never question the teacher.

I am now considering writing my mother about some of these things, possibly even writing a her short testimony of my Christian life and my life here. Possibly I would break the ice with by saying that I’m dissatisfied with some things here, and describe the three-in-one situation and give a short description of what happened to me last year when I almost got put out of the church. I’m also thinking of writing a short treatise (to whom it may concern) entitled “Why I Left The Church of Bible Understanding,” writing and adding up my conclusions and reasons why I left, rather than something hastily thrown together after I’m gone, when I may be in an angry emotional state.

[I did write that treatise, calling it Why I Desire to Leave the Church of Bible Understanding, which I wrote before leaving, but nobody I gave it to wanted to read it.]

(I probably will be gone if I can’t adjust these things that bother me. Maybe they are not the “real issue,” who knows. As I write this I hear that voice, “I will fool you,” but, who knows about voices. You can’t go by voices is what I hear from several sources. I would have to deny all my perceptions to go along with all the things I think are wrong here. It’s just that I never thought there was anything I could do about it and I never really considered leaving as a viable alternative, but now I am. When and how, that’s the question. I must have a place to go. (Maybe in an emergency, maybe something – or Stewart himself – will settle the issue for me and may do it for me. I may get thrown out long before I decide it’s time to go anyway.)

[I have to deal with that here, the issue of hearing “voices,” or rather a particular voice that I thought was God speaking to me, almost always in a condemning way. “You are going to hell,” was the most common thing that I would hear. “I will condemn you for your thoughts,” was a close second, and “I will fool you,” was another. The latter alluding to, as Stewart always told us, if we really wanted to get out of serving God, then God, perhaps after warning us several times at first, would then send a strong delusion upon us to make you believe that what we wanted to do was right.  He would let us have our way. One of the Bible references Stewart used for this was 2 Thessalonians 2:11-12, which says,

“Therefore God sends upon them a strong delusion, to make them believe what is false, so that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness.”

All this fit in neatly with COBU doctrine and was what I was up against if I decided to no longer believe in what I was being taught here. If I persisted enough, God would allow me to be decieved into leaving the only true way, because I wanted to get out of serving him so badly, so I could serve sin and my evil fleshly desires. This is a conflict that I have barely mentioned here, but was so real. I did not hear these voices, or this voice, as if it were someone in the room speaking to me, but clearly in my mind as if someone was cutting in on my thoughts, telling me the REAL deal. Anyone in COBU reading this now will say that this was the voice of God speaking to me. How could it be anything other than that? It was difficult to push past that voice and to continue to “think my own thoughts,” but time and again, everything around me drove me to the same conclusions about life in COBU and the falsehood practiced there, and that as Martin Luther said, there was freedom available for the Christian, which included freedom of conscience and freedom from oppresion by tyrannical religious rulers who passed themselves off as the exlcusive channel through whom God spoke and who dictated what to do and believe. Luther was among many of the authors I read while still in COBU, and whose writings helped me understand more about my faith and about the spiritual side of things. Authors like Erving Goffman helped me to understand the institutional and social side of life in COBU.]

I must also try to know the laws concerning this. Let’s say, if I do get thrown out, will the law protect me or does it offer me any rights? For example: can I be just thrown out on the street without recourse to any help or protection? Can I go to the law and get a stay of eviction or some kind of order so I can stay here long enough to make enough money to put a downpayment on an apartment, or do I just go out on the street to fend for myself and there is no person or agency I can talk to about it?

If I am thrown out, is it God’s righteous judgment on me, or is it one man’s wrath and totalitarian methods, and I am just supposed to think it’s God doing it to me? In which case there would be no recourse from man, but I must just accept my lot as punishment from on high. Or, worse yet, if I try to do something legal to protect myself, I can expect a lightning bolt of wrath from heaven.

I can imagine the scenario, Stewart does me in, but I take it patiently because I fear God will do something to me. So I suffer the abuse in silence. I can’t go to the church (ours, that is) for help because it will have nothing to do with me. I can’t go to “worldly” churches, because they are in the power of Satan. (And they wouldn’t understand our situation. That may be true, but they may understand more than we say they do.)

And you can’t “go to law against your brother,” because the Bible says not to [in 1 Corinthians, chapter 6]. So I am stuck with being the silent martyr. But as far as, “why go to law, when you have church courts to try people in,” I say, “What court?” A synod of churches? Where? We are totally isolationist. We are not aligned with any church council which might provide a balanced view or checks and balances.

These things are on my mind, all the time. Do you think you can just push people down and they will go away and be quiet? (Speaking specifically of my “almost disfellowshipment.”) I know I’ll never be able to live that one down. You might say I learned more about our church in those 10 minutes’ time than I did in my last 10 years here. I learned where I stand and what my church can do to me whenever it wants to, and that I am expendable.

Other things I’m thinking: I can work here, but at any time, with little or no notice, I could find myself out on the street, with no way to receive any of the benefits of the work I have done for the last 13 years! I think this is very foolish on my part! (And wrong on the church’s part.) Of course, the justification for this that anyone here in the church would use is that I had done something bad enough to merit this. But anyway, these are the terms here. But I must not and cannot ever turn down one job for any reason!

[The church could put me out immediately, at any time and for any reason, without compensation or severance pay, despite how many years I had worked in church businesses, and it had threatened me with it before. Yet, if I had worked long hours all week and was requested to go on yet another job, I had no right to refuse to go on that job by citing tiredness. It would not matter at that moment that I had worked 60 to 80 hours that week. I would be seen as refusing to work. The church required everything from me, as if it needed me every moment, but at the same time, it would not hesitate to put me out – thereby proving it did not need me. In other words, if you’re going to put me out, so you don’t need me to work then. Okay, so let me get rest and I’ll come back to work tomorrow. Such a thing was unheard of.]

On the back pages of this journal, I am writing some things that bother me about work,  finances and marriage. I am thinking of what legal action I can take, though I would probably only do that if I were thrown out. If I leave voluntarily, as a matter of choosing, probably not. But, what could I do if I were suddenly thrown out, put a lien on church properties? Such as putting a lien on Woodruff? I can’t say I have done work there, so what then can I do? Also: would I even want to do this, since it could ruin the rest of my life, or at least a part of it (the involvement, the hassle, and emotional stuff). Maybe I should just walk away, especially if it has been relatively easy to land a job and an apartment. Then also there would be the humiliation of losing. [I did not believe it was possible to win a court case against the church.] But, I could just see myself in court, raging against Stewart, shouting out my reasons, which couldn’t or wouldn’t be heard when I was still in the church.

[The idea of being in a courtroom across from Stewart Traill and being able to testify in order to win a monetary settlement was pure fantasy. It would have been impossible for a scene like this to take place. To be brought to court as part of a federal investigation of the church is more believable, as in the case of the Branch Davidians, which I was not mentioning, but indirectly referring to here.

In that case I would be brought in as a witness, or even be one of those on trial as a willing accomplice in the use and abuse of homeless people for labor in order to further the church’s financial goals. I would be one of the people who “exploited” and “used” them, since I took part in going out to find them and also brought them to job sites. I would also be guilty – although I did not handle church finances – for keeping their legitimate tax refunds, since all church members had an income – on paper – in which we were issued paychecks that we signed and handed back to the church with a note on the back that said “for deposit to the Church of Bible Understanding.” At the end of the year, we filed a tax return and were allowed to keep 25% of it, but the new people were not allowed to keep any percentage of their tax refunds. It’s uncertain to me whether they filled out tax returns, but I know that the church would not have wasted the opportunity to get refunds from them.

It was a sweet deal for the church too. When I filled out my return, I also was able to claim a huge amount of money as a tax donation to a charitable organization (guess which one), and I had to sign a form that said I lived in the church and that the value of the housing I recived was only about 200 dollars for the whole year! (Dividing the number of people who lived in the church’s building at Woodruff Avenue by the expenses of the house.)]

I don’t know, I’m just thinking about what to do. I want to do it calmly; search out my alternatives and their consequences. What the parameters are; what I can win, what I can lose. What do I want to do. Maybe I’ll never leave. Maybe these would just be background knowledge or back up protection, such as knowing my rights. But, there is still the issue of how I could get thrown out at any moment, so it would be good to do some advance study and preparation. I would be in such a state of confusion and anger at the time of my disfellowshipment that I would be at an extreme disadvantage.

Preparation would probably also help me face the prospect of disfellowshipment more calmly. One thing for sure, I am paying a high price for living this way. It causes me to extremely keep my mouth shut, to keep my person under wraps (because of what could and probably would happen to me if I didn’t). I’m sacrificing my mind and any critical thinking I can do by remaining in this present situation. It’s a holding pattern that I could do without. I don’t think I will change without this testing and finding out what I can do and can expect. Until then, I know I must remain a silent – and terrified – doormat. In examining all sides, I wonder, maybe when or if I have “received my reconciliation” with God, that all of this would go away. Is not being reconciled with God the real source of all my woes and fears?

I have just heard that Joe said, “What about all the older brothers getting together at 10:30 tonight?” That choice of words is very cultic. I suppose there is no person involved – at least in the grammar he used, if not in actuality. It’s also hard to say “no” to this, though I thought of saying it.

[What I was saying is that though Joe called for the meeting to take place, he is not into it himself. It was just the right thing to say to everyone and everyone is expected to say they want to meet together. Grammatically, Joe did not use a personal pronoun. He did not say “I would like to get together.”]

It is now fast approaching 2 a.m. and we are in one of our infamous filibuster meetings – though actually, they have been rare of late. Pretty much the usual kind of stuff is and has been discussed. Paul is talking to us (though some have fallen asleep).

[I was making a joke about Corinthians 15, the resurrection chapter in the Bible, because some brothers fell asleep in the meeting, not because of dying before Christ returns (which that chapter calls “falling asleep”), but because of exhaustion.]

Paul is talking about his view of the church business and the general view of life in this church as he sees it, especially about the long working hours and the lifestyle that accompanies that sort of life. The brothers are not listening to Paul, because he either is, or appears to be, complaining and he is being spoken to accordingly. Am I about to witness a religious execution or butchering? Paul is starting to get emotional and is standing up and talking, which is probably sure to bring about a swifter destruction.

I need to be fully here. I am pretty much discounted because I seem to get too emotional. Blake is being the faithful mediator in the conflict. But basically, the doctors of the law are at work.

[These are the brothers who conducted the meeting by using all the cult phraseology, analysing and parsing everyone’s words and who kept the meeting moving along.]

We are now hung up on a point. Paul didn’t say he forgave Kevin when he asked Paul to forgive him. Is this true, as far as God’s word goes, or have to doctors of the law found and centered on a legal point, and the bigger picture is being missed? Until Paul admits this, the discussion will probably go no further.

Things seem to be mellowing. They are talking to Paul about how the answers are not in himself, and other things we’ve been taught at recent meetings; about not trusting his own point of view.

At 2:30 a.m., with the stroke of a phone call, our plans change. Chatman and two middle brothers are to be sent to Philadelphia. Do we agree to send them? (It will take some re-juggling of the schedule.) Of course we agree. 

[We always agreed on whatever we were told to vote on and approve.]

I am now to be put “where needed” on the wood floor schedule. I spoke up and said a few things regarding all of this. Why say anything? None of it really concerns me anyway, right? So, I will work on some wood floors instead of closing jobs. Plus my true colors were starting to show, a sort of smorgasbord of things I’ve read in these books about cults, other sources and my own thoughts (and actual observations) on matters. It’s a good thing I didn’t get taken too seriously. The reaction I got was sort of that “Oh well, you know Jim LaRue. The mind of Jim LaRue.”

Read the next section of these journals here: We Should Be Up Front With The New People About What We’re Bringing Them To.

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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