A Day In The Life Of A Cult Member

This website contains the journals I wrote while I was in the Church of Bible Understanding (COBU). These pages are also part of the source material for my book, Captive Congregation, which is available as a Kindle book or in paperback. (Captive Congregation is also available in the UKGermany,  Canada,  Australia,  Netherlands,  France,  Spain,  Mexico,  Italy,  India,  Brazil, and Japan.)


The book Captive Congregation


My second book,  The Tangled Web: Letters from the Cult is also now available as an ebook.


Introduction to A Day in the Life of a Cult Member

The pages are a record of my life in COBU from 1990 through 1993, which were my last four years there. (I became a member of the church in 1980 when I was 22 years old. I left 14 years later at 36.) For a description of life in COBU and how the COBU system worked, it is best to start reading these journals from 1993 onward.

Before 1993, most my writing was self-condemning. At that time I believed the negative things our leader, Stewart Traill, said about us, and I didn’t have the power or resources to reason my way out of it. Later, when I began to study about cults and manipulation to try to understand the system I was living under, I began looking at my surroundings with a more critical eye.

That being said:

“The rule I set for myself long ago that I should never destroy anything from this record: the principle value of these jottings for later use will be as a guide to reactions of the moment and I cannot help it if they remind me and embarrass me.”

This is from John Hersey’s novel The Wall. Somehow, despite our busy schedule that contained long workdays in the church-owned businesses, long meetings and time spent managing and training new converts, I managed to read a lot. And The Wall was one of the many books I read. The main character in this story kept a journal in which he recorded events, conversations and meetings during the last months of the Warsaw Ghetto before it was destroyed by the Nazis.

I wanted to do the same thing with my journals. I thought I might want to know what I was thinking at the time and that there might be some use for these journals later. I wrote down my thoughts, the conversations of others and about what went on in the meetings.

Where I mentioned books I was reading, I have provided links you can click on if you want to know more about some of the materials I had access to at the time which helped me to form a different viewpoint about the world I was living in than what I was supposed to believe about it.

There are different ways to read these journals:

You can start from 1990 read onward. Or starting from 1992 when I began to question things more.

Or read from 1993 onward, when I began to understand things more.

And by the end of May 1993, I was providing detailed descriptions of dialogs and the kind of manipulation that went on.

Any of these points would be a good place to start. There also is a link at the bottom of every page which takes you to the next part of the diary.

Two other good pages to read are the ones below, which are from my COBU Essays website:

My Exit Statement, or, Why I Desire to Leave The Church of Bible Understanding.

Breaking Silence to My Family About What Life Was Really Like in COBU.

My writing was highly subjective, though it is an accurate view from a rank and file member of a cult. I was subjected to many forces, some of which I understand now and some of which I don’t fully understand and can only speculate about.

One of those forces was that the words that Stewart Traill, the leader of our cult, told us were often reinforced by inward and outward means. Peer pressure and the confines of a communal society in which we were isolated from outward influences was like an echo chamber that magnified Stewart’s voice.

I also thought I heard God talking to me, in agreement with what Stewart was telling us. (I often recorded this in my journal as “a voice,” since I was not sure and I didn’t want to say that I knew for sure that it was God speaking to me.) I often had dreams that supported Stewart’s claims that we were all going to hell. The broken down and tired condition I was in seemed to support Stewart’s claims that I was not faithful to Jesus.

Also, there were influences, it seemed, from outside the cult. During a period when Stewart was preaching heavily about hell and how we’re going there, I was on a subway in New York City and a man burst into the car, screaming desperately about how we’re all going to hell. Now, there were often street preachers who came through the subway cars. But this was different. This man looked like he was running from a burning building. In a strident voice, he was saying that we’re all going to hell and that the devil has many distractions to take our mind off it, like television, cigarettes and sports. Then he went on to the next car, with the same message. And he wasn’t offering any solutions, like if you turn your life to God, you can be saved. No, just assurance of our eternal ruin.

On a less shocking level, when Stewart was introducing his new teaching that repentance means “making a U turn,” which is really not such a bad teaching in and of itself, I was resisting it, not because of the message, but because of the messenger. Stewart had an obnoxious and insulting style of relating to us, and he started any lesson, no matter how Christian in content by first lining us all up and exposing how bad we were. So, I was out walking to get a van that was parked some distance away from the church and a guy stopped his car alongside me and said, “Hey, where can I make a U turn? I’m trying to get to the highway” That and seeing a poster in a customer apartment that said, “If you’re going the wrong way, don’t worry. God allows U turns” helped me to accept Stewart’s teaching, at least on this subject.

Begin reading at December 1990.

Begin reading at May 1992. 

Begin reading at January 1993.

Begin reading at May 1993.

More of my COBU Diary Pages:

Sinners In The Hands Of An Angry Cult Leader.

The Tangled Web: Letters and Essays About COBU

Follow A Day In The Life Of A Cult Member on Twitter

And Captive Congregation: My Fourteen Years in the Church of Bible Understanding, is available as a Kindle book or in paperback.


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4 Responses to “A Day In The Life Of A Cult Member”

  1. Ave Says:

    It was Spring 1976, word was sent out that from that point on everyone would ‘dwell together in unity’ and give all that they had and all needs would be met collectively, such as paying off worldly debts by sharing one another’s burdens and being sure there was food for all and a roof over our heads..We were to be given a reverse tithe~ 10% back of our earnings for incidental spending allowances. They said we only had to put in request when a pair of jens or shoes was needed.

    But we were encouraged into self deprivation~ not to ask for anything as that was construed as dwelling in the flesh…no one wanted to be viewed that way..so the road was paved to develop into a cult that was like the Star Trek Borg- or collective.. a bunch of worker bees with Stewart being the Queen Bee…

    To leave was considered backsliding and damnation to hell, so many lingered on, some for years and finally when worn out by exhaustion from all the physical labor and lack of true spiritual knowledge because it was replaced by the doctrines of a harsh taskmaster who elusively wore the kings new clothes and became powerful and rich by the labors of others ~ a hirleing that cared not for the flock but beat his fellow servants and had an inner core group to enforce his dictates.

    To all who survived their COBU experience, the Holy Spirit delivered you out of there, but the torments of the demons who oppressed many of you followed you into your ‘worldly’ life and church experiences, haunting and making it hard to survive, often living under self condemnation and a wierd spiritual elitism of wrong teachings, preventing assimilation into current world religion. Many have even departed the faith altogether.

    The Good News is that Jesus never forsook you and even in your darkest hours He is there watching over you and still loves you, although spirits of doubt,confusion,self-hate,resentment, bitterness and more have crowded your mind. These are the imparted workings of satan in your life and your own tribulation! You can renounce these feelings and be healed by the Holy Spirit.

    You can be set free to love and honor Jesus and be accepted by the Lord. Just dont let man be your guide, instead, study the Word and learn to divide it rightly – The Spirit and the Word always agree.. Learn to reject whatever is negative and embrace the positive!

    The Holy Spirit doesn’t condemn you~ He wants to bring you to repentence and into the love of Christ.

    Satan and its evil spirits only bring confusion, doubt, despair, bitterness, self condemnation and guilt..Reject such, gird up your loins, accept the FACT that you ARE a child of God and be secure in knowing you are loved by the almighty God and count it all joy when you meet and conquer your trials as such produce steadfastness in your faith.


    • James Says:

      Thanks for the comments. Yes, I still feel condemned. In fact, I rarely question whether if this condemnation is real or not. I just unquestioningly believe it. I have posted new entries.
      James L.

  2. Ave Cosgriff Hurley Says:

    For years I existed under condemnation. I still served God outwardly but deep within behaved as though He was a harshtaskmaster[which He isnt] I reasoned that it was my sins that separated me from the love of God and that I deserved my future dismal outcome, but that I didn’t want to further the efforts of satan through my life, so in the least I was opposing satan and still doing good deeds/works to benefit others.
    One day it hit me however that for me to accept being condemned, I was actually not believing God would or could forgive even me, which meant I was believing God was a liar since He claimed to love the whole world and that anyone who comes to Him, He would not cast out…Well I didnt want to call God a liar, nor doubt his power or love. I was fully ready to accept the blame on myself, consciously, but later I realized that subconsciously I accepted Doubt,Fear,Judgement,Self Hate and more and it hit me that those were from the Legion of spirits that afflict all men . A double minded man receives nothing, as does one who doubts. Spirits of Doubt, Delusion,Despair, Self Loathing,Pride,Anger, Hate, Surrender and more, which I had only considered to be part of my thought life, were actually oppressing my mind and thoughts into causing me to surrender to self condemnation!..like the people on the wall in Hezekiah’s days , hearing the enemy taunt them and tell them they already lost so may as well surrender…

    Once I could grasp this I knew that it was the workings of Satan in my life and that I was choosing to believe all the negative stuff about myself rather than what the Holy Spirit would say, since I could not hear the Holy Spirit, rather I heard all the doubts and bad thoughts. I needed to be set free from my enemy and had no way to do it.

    I asked the Lord to help me for his namesake, since I was so unworthy!

    He directed me to go to a church and when there prompted me to testify that I needed to ‘renounce and reject’ the workings of satan in my life!

    I asked the Lord to show me what to do as I didnt know and before long I was speaking outloud in front of many witnesses, telling them I wanted to renounce the workings of satan in my life ~ not withcraft or rebellion as many might think but the Spirit of Doubt, the Spirit of Delusion, the Spirit of Pride, The Spirit of False Religion …. and so on naming and renouncing every one that came to my mind. It took a little while, but in the end I had renoucned 40 something spirits that til then were just character traits I had and once I completed naming what I could , I included ‘ and all others with them in tandem and hiding in the recesses of my heart” and began to praise God…My house was swept clean and I was new again…

    Over the ensuing weeks there were moments of ‘doubt’ but I rejected them in the name of Jesus. There were moments of ‘despair’ but again I rejected those as well as any others that presented themselves to my mind.

    Taking every thought captive!..Testing the ‘spirits’ to see if they were from God or not and before long I could tell the difference and began to hear the still small voice of God and my mind was in perfect peace because I kept it on Jesus and relying on the Word.

    It has been years since that process began and I have been in peace through many storms and the Lord has been my stay and hope.

    Now no matter how lonely or bad things get, I know that He loves me and is taking care of me and I can trust in him..

    So can you!

  3. Former Member Says:

    First, I would like to thank you, Jim LaRue, for creating and maintaining this website and all the work you have put into documenting and sharing your experiences and, also, providing a forum for ex-members to participate in and learn from one another. You have a talent for writing and I am glad you didn’t “blow out” your back carrying carpet cleaning machines.

    What helped me was reading the Catholic Catechism from cover to cover. It was an instant cure. Gone was the confusion, doubt and uncertainty. When you need advice, don’t try to reinvent the wheel, go to a professional. The “bible” was written 300 years after Jesus’ Resurrection and since most people could not read they relied on apostles as well as holy pictures to learn the gospel.

    Do organized religions make mistakes? Plenty. They are, after all, earthly institutions, but try following a new and improved form of Christianity and you will wind up with a Stewart Traill.

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