1993, 04/13. The Definition of Insanity is to Believe Anything Other Than Stewart’s Teachings.

Tuesday, April 13

As I read back over this, I realize what a state of confusion I was in at the time.  Part the process of leaving a cult involves the inward battle of the mind.

5 a.m. I just got back from a two day meeting at the New Property in Philadelphia. I was reading an article by Ron Enroth called On the Fringe. It sounds like life here. I’m wondering what to do. I looked up at the clock. It said 12:24.

[I looked at the clock and the time was 12:24. (Apparently the clock was not set at the right time, but I may have plugged it in 24 minutes before I got to my bunk, without setting the time.) It made me think of the verse John 12:24, which says,“Unless a seed falls in the ground and dies, it remains alone. But if it dies it bears much fruit.” Stewart Traill often used this verse to tell us that we had to lay down our lives and die to ourselves, giving our lives over to Jesus (according to Stewart’s instructions of how this was to be done). Looking up and seeing 12:24 in the midst of all these thoughts seemed to me like Jesus showing me that the real issue was not any of the things that I was thinking about, and that my thoughts about what was wrong with Stewart and COBU were only excuses to avoid doing God’s will, which was to lay my self down and die to my own life, so I would bear much fruit (in this case, making money for the church  and finding and training new converts.]

I am surprised to still be here. The meeting was pretty intense. I expected to really get it.

[I thought I might have gotten thrown out. This fear was not only because where I was at. Stewart often sent us messages during the week that read, for example, “Anyone who cannot say by Sunday that they are living by faith has to leave the church.”

Not long before this, I received a letter from Tom, an ex-member of COBU, which contained popular comic strip. The characters had become members of a cult and wanted to get out of it, but when they were threatened with being thrown out, they begged and pleaded to be able to stay. I could identify with the humor in this. I was becoming aware that COBU was a cult and understanding how it controlled me, but was terrified of being thrown out just the same.]

I’m still anticipating a follow up, either from brothers and/or in the next meeting, Stewart may go after me, having waited until later so as not to look like he is responding directly or retaliating for what I said to him at the meeting. Others may realize this, but the subject Stewart will come after me for will not be because I asked him a question, but for something else. He will state it in terms too general to pin it on my one action, but instead he might tell me that I am proud. Stewart will lay a net for my feet and I will be ensnared. I will not know until next Wednesday or even next Sunday, the next meeting or two that I am in, when he is there.

Does that 12:24, versus the article by Ron Enroth (though who says it is one “versus” the other?) show that all this is not true and that really, I am not laying down my life and that is all, and the rest is pride and my flesh? I have asked God pointedly and directly to let me know, to let me “have it,” because I really need to know.

(Dream – “No promises this week in God’s peace.”)

[I was noting a dream I had where I was told I would have no peace or rest in God this week. A dream like that just added to my confusion over trying to decide which view was right, while I was going through a process of trying to find out what was real.]

1 p.m., Red Hook.

Getting up a little late (in comparison with the others). From my little shack here, I can hear the meeting outside. I may have good reason for avoiding meetings, at least initially this week, due to my confrontation with brothers Sunday night after the last session where I was saying “Stewart is a liar! Stewart is a failure!”

[This confrontation took place in a hallway, where I was surrounded by several brothers who came to talk to me about what I said in to Stewart the meeting and I just lost it and began saying this. Risky behavior indeed.]

I am sure to be questioned about it and I will have to make the requisite confession in order to absolve myself, with the appropriate descriptions of my arrogance. I heard some brothers say (to others) about their need to “push ourselves down.” I thought that out of all the things that Stewart told us at the meeting, this one would be picked up on because of the nature of our group – the urge to rule over others and to make them submit.

I was also thinking about this last meeting and all the pushing and prodding, making each other snap and jump (or Stewart doing it to us). Being urgent and shouting at one another, “Are you holding back?” as opposed to Jesus, the shepherd who leads. How there seems to be nothing coming from inside, but plenty of beating on the outside.

Again this morning, brothers are doing a lot of talking coming from the (usually most recent) lines, but nobody speaks as a person. But everyone speaks by putting together strings of slogans and concepts, which although it would be “proper” to say are biblical, it would also be right to say they are all Stewart sayings. I have been thinking about what it is like to be in a meeting (and to a lesser degree, what is is like outside of meetings) where, when brothers and sisters talk, everything is in strings and groups of these phrases joined together or juggled in order to talk and make points.

At the meeting here in Red Hook this morning, I spoke up to protect a new brother, albeit one who was possibly being recalcitrant. He was getting come down on with a lot of harsh talk. I said, “I don’t know what this brother did, but brothers are being harsh. We don’t own people and this isn’t an interrogation camp.” I spoke to Greg B. especially.

The result of this was that the brothers said that I see things, but they can’t trust my spirit. But after I spoke, everyone in the room seemed to be in general agreement, because everybody immediately calmed down. Though Orlando had been demanding toward me after I spoke, which is unusual for him in any case. He demanded, “Can I speak?” But, enough of this.

4:45 p.m.

I am now at Grand Army Plaza with a flyering team. The spring weather is great, about 60 degrees. Forsythia bushes, a blue sky with lots fine white clouds.

I’m not too motivated to do any kind of work. My state of mind is about on the level of a blank. (I’m wondering about “no peace in God’s word for you this week.”)

My motives for what and why I spoke to Stewart (it seems hard to remain silent and to not see what I see and to not think about what I see), yet somehow I am still “caught.” It seems like the way out is to accept everything and say nothing. But I guess the actual proffered way out is laying down my life, no cheating, then turn and say what I think.)

[This means that despite my attempts to disagree with Stewart’s false teachings, or to come to a new brother’s help by speaking the truth about what I saw, I am no more helped by God or trusted by my brothers than if I had remained silent and let this go on. Ultimately, I am still caught by the nape of the neck for not having wholeheartedly accepted God’s – or rather Stewart’s – teaching about first laying down my own life (giving up control of it completely, supposedly to God, but under the terms and conditions demanded here), not cheating (that is, not doing anything other than the plan there, which was called “God’s will” otherwise I would be cheating, not 100% and it would show in my “spirit”).

When I had “turned” (given myself completely over to this), then coming from a surrendered and “right” spirit, I could then speak up in an acceptible manner to correct real or perceived wrongs. Of course, once I accepted the above, I would probably not be speaking up against anything, since I would then be accepting it all. But it would be acceptible to confront the other brothers (but not Stewart) with their wrong behavior. And quite naturally the brothers would be doing the same to me all the time too, because no one was ever trusted as being fully for Christ. All of us were considered to be cheaters, liars and rebels, no matter what we did.]

I really feel under the gun now – from both the fellowship and from God, although no member of the fellowship is attacking me or speaking to me. In fact, they are notoriously silent, but I guess after the (re)revealing of this meeting’s message, I am all the more guilty especially in the area of being a holdout and a hideout. Stewart says that we have been murdering, yet God is bringing good out of evil. And the pressure I’m under is to just shut up and go along with everything out of fear of what is going to be directed at me and that I even may be found to be opposing God, plus missing out on the good developments soon to be revealed and I will at least be embarrassed, if not worse, when the good comes and I am out there standing apart from everyone else. Plus, since our organization promises to be fighting for my good, it is hard to see the validity or even the point of fighting or questioning anything.

Well, things seem to be serious. Possibly at this meeting I have heard the life and death message of the Gospel, in no uncertain terms. Perhaps that and/or my defensiveness in anticipation of any attacks by others about my behavior on Sunday is making me apprehensive and cautious to walk an extremely straight line – tensed up, circumspect, careful. I really stuck my neck out too far, plus the life or death message we heard at the meeting. (It all makes for a strange circumspect life. I will probably be no hero. It is just too rough. I will probably duck under all the more and tow the party line. It is just too much. My fragile psyche just can’t handle it. Plus I am considering what I am facing, ultimately and perhaps immediately:

1) total annihilation and hell.

2) disfellowshipment and having to leave everything and everybody I have known for thirteen years.

3) a life of extreme difficulty here as I get hemmed in and questioned concerning my behavior. The only way out is to repent and become a model prisoner, renouncing and confessing all my crimes, real and imaginary. I would need to reject the very basis and validity of anything I have spoken up about , making a complete renunciation of it, which means, should I ever try it again, first of all, it will be harder to do so. Second, my previous renunciation will get used on me. “I thought you said you weren’t going to…” or, “You admitted last time that whenever you do this, it is just your flesh fighting against the truth and also a result of your cheating on Christ.”

So, remembering that the reward to member dissenter-critics is often censure and disfellowshipment, what will I do? Taking that into consideration and also my past crimes and hearing the truth of the Gospel and its obligations on me and my past and present behavior in regard to the Gospel, namely I have not been doing it or living up to it – or even worse – I have been murdering.

[One of Stewart’s accusations toward us during the meeting was that we were (spiritual) murderers. This meant we older brothers were killing the faith of, and ultimately the souls of, the new converts to the church by our wrong examples as cheating and unfaithful Christians. This accusation was a heavy guilt trip, and it really got to me and it was hard to shake it off. It also caused me to feel I could not speak up against any of the wrongs I saw in the COBU or its leader.]

So it could come down to, that I can’t really say anything. How can a criminal lay the law down for others? Either he repents or he goes away in chains. But certainly he has lost all rights to say anything.

This happened at the meeting with a new disciple, who was cursing and then tried to tell others how to talk to him. Stewart told us that we “bear it well enough when somebody slaps us in the face.” And a law, a sort of precedent or test case was made based on this event: that one who is wrong or has done wrong can’t tell someone who has not done wrong how things are to be done.)

[Note: Stewart worked very hard to prove our guilt, thereby removing any grounds for us to say that he was doing something wrong. As spiritual criminals and cheaters, we could certainly not oppose or challenge him on anything.]

My opinion is that there can be and there is right and wrong on both sides. Things are too “legal” or “judiciary” here. One looks for laws, rather than for answers.


I’m now sitting in an outdoor mall at the Fulton Market. I don’t really want to do anything (that is, anything I am supposed to be doing.) I want to sit and do some unconnected thinking. Unplugging myself is about the only respite I can get right now.

My thoughts turn to marriage. I saw an Asian girl on the bench next to me. I just wish I could sit and talk with somebody like her for a while; to chat with somebody who would accord me this one thing: humaneness. To be treated that way.

My thoughts turn to marriage in this way. I am somebody who can’t marry – or who thinks that he can’t. Then I think of what Martin Luther said about the denial of marriage – depriving what is mine by natural right.

[Martin Luther wrote about the Catholic Church depriving its clergy of marriage as if marriage were a right that could be withheld from people by a religious organization, when in reality, marriage is a natural right that people have, and they may marry if they wish and no church has the right, divine or otherwise, to interfere in this choice. It might have jurisdiction in other areas of peoples’ lives, but it did not have the right to deny marriage.]

Did what I am in presently also exist in Luther’s time? I suppose people could just get married. Were there live-in communal religious groups back then? Yes. The monasteries. Just what Luther spoke strongly against. Is my inability to marry merely a view imposed on me from “above?” How do I get out of it? The idea I have is that I would have to risk my soul and salvation to do it. Also this date which exists in my mind, which would be about November 1993 onward, it’s not all that far away. [*]

It’s hard for me to suppress my thoughts on the inconsistencies I see here in our church. These thoughts seem to spill out of me on all sides. They multiply uncontrollably.

[*] This date that existed in my mind. In November 1990, I got down on my knees and prayed (yet one more time), agonizing over the lack of marriage in COBU and my continuing desire to have a wife. The words “What if you had to wait three or four years?” cut through my thoughts and I figured this must be God replying to me. It had to be God, I thought, because if it were an answer like “Sure, you can start a relationship next week” I wouldn’t have believed it anyway, although that was the answer I wanted to hear. I kept this date in mind and assumed that there might be some change in the church or in church policy (all church policy, except extremely minor decisions, was determined by Stewart) and that relationships and marriages would be permitted again.

(The last marriage in COBU was in 1979. although many people left and got married after that. Only a handful of those people trickled back as now married members of COBU. This fact was sometimes used to counter a new disciple’s question about why people there can’t have relationships or marry. I remember Kevin B. saying to one of them, “What do you mean people don’t get married here? Sure you can get married. They’re married.” (Pointing to a couple over there.) “If you want to get married, you can!”

Well certainly, we knew people didn’t get married there. Some did if they “backslid” and went away and got married, and came back. This was the only way new marriages existed among us. No marriages took place in the church, with the blessing of the Pastor and congregation. This leavetaking to get married was not a simple walk to the justice of the peace and coming back. The couple left, either together, or at different times, found one another, dated and lived together for a while. And since marriage had been denied to them for so long, they didn’t or were not able wait until marriage to have sex, but instead they “fornicated” and “lived in sin” for a while, and then continued on to marriage, after which they were no longer fornicating and living in sin in regard to their sex lives.

When some of these people trickled back to the church and began attending meetings again (married couples did not live in the church), we now had recently married church members among us, which made Kevin’s comment technically correct, although he was, in fact, lying to that new convert and well aware of it.

The denial of marriage was part of the overal array of things new people would become eventually aware of over time. The real deal about life in COBU was never explained to anyone up front. As people gradually became aware, it might be too late, because they were so woven in with fear and guilt about their need to be in COBU if they wanted salvation from hell that doing without a few things in this life was nothing compared to their extreme need to escape the burning hell which awaited them.

One did not escape hell upon joining COBU, they were only awakened to the fact that they were still headed there, plummeting headlong to eternal misery and pain, and that they needed to do their Christian training constantly in all out desperation at every moment of the day or it would not be enough to escape going to hell. In fact it would be worse now, because they heard of the truth and refused to do it. (Every aspect of life in COBU was arranged to produce panic and desperation.) At most meetings Stewart pointed out by  that everyone was still going to hell despite their best efforts to do their training (all of which had been merely lies and deceit to cover up what they were really up to, that is, cheating and desiring a life in this world).

Being honest with the new people up front would have involved telling them the truth about what they were coming to when we invited them to come for “Christian Training.” Which of course, we did not tell them. For the unlucky or unwitting few who took the bait, they also bit into the hook. Had we wished them to make a fully-informed decision, we would have told them the following: You are expected to move in with us and stay with us for the rest of your life. You will work in church businesses 6 or 7 days a week and receive only a small allowance. Every other moment of your time that is not earning income for the church will be spent gathering new converts, being in meetings and reading church literature together. You may only talk to others about work and “Christian Training.” The meetings will consist of teaching sessions and even longer inquisitional sessions. The meetings will be very long. You will be permitted to sleep, but never enough to feel really rested. You will not be able to have a girlfriend or get married. You cannot start a family and have children. You will never own any property or investments.]

12 midnight

It now appears I may be stranded in the city unless I take a subway at this hour. It bothers me how I am such a dependent and that although I succeeded in using a van to get everybody back to Red Hook, I am now stuck here because I had to bring it back. I am now dependent on others for a ride home. (We probably should have all gone back on the subway and left the van here.)

I’m wondering about Stewart. It has suddenly hit me – not that I didn’t see it before – that he doesn’t make himself available. At Red Hook meetings, he quickly disappears after the meeting is over. Sure, brothers and sisters can approach him afterwards, but it’s in the sense that he is in a hurry and will not stay around long. (And we have to stay there and shepherd the new brothers. Jim O. was asking me where I go between sessions.) I don’t get the impression that Stewart is lingering a while to talk with us, sitting there for an hour before he leaves. He isn’t around between sessions at the New Property, except maybe to come in and check up on what everybody is doing, and even then, it’s like an inspection. I never get the idea that he is available. But we couldn’t pin him on this because we know that, officially, he is available. (But, like going to see the mayor, you must have a purpose for your visit and present it concisely.) And besides (Stewart says), we don’t want to talk to him anyway and the older brothers have shown that they don’t want to be near him! So the fault is always ours.

But still, it never struck me like this. And of course, the separation between us in New York and him in Philadelphia is our fault because we never got faithful to Christ, and therefore were not able to live with him in Philadelphia. According to Stewart, really it is we who are out of fellowship – not him. But, who is Stewart in fellowship with then?

I found the #50 van out in front of the office at 46th Street with Papo standing there. Shortly we were off to Brooklyn. On the drive there, Paul began talking to me about Ed G.

[Ed  G. was ex-member who Paul said was a real smart aleck and who used to stand up and say things to Stewart in meetings. Paul often compared me to him.]

Then in the middle of an seemingly innocent conversation with Jay (they were talking about doing a construction job in Poughkeepsie and I said “Poughkeepsie! Send me on that job!”), Jay said to me, “You gotta repent!” He sounded angry, though for a second he almost seemed like he was suppressing laughter. Paul added, “In the early church they wouldn’t have tolerated you. They would have gotten rid of you. There is no way you would be listened to. No pastor who is laying down his life would listen to you or trust you.”

The point I get is that I can say nothing. So much for imagining that if brothers ask me any direct questions that I will explain about Stewart’s three Born Again teachings, or other things, thinking that somehow I will get listened to, when really, this is out of the question.

[I wanted to explain that Stewart had given us three different teachings about what it means to be Born Again, all of which contradicted each other, within the last year or two.]

Paul also told me that there are many people who read religious books and who know some languages who really think they are something, but really are nothing. Paul said that there is no way I or he can tell Stewart anything; that I have delusions of grandeur and that people like me get diagnosed as having a mental illness and get put in mental institutions. (This, by the way is one of the ones I was waiting for, being told that I am mentally ill or incompetent. I guess it’s better to get that, rather than being told “You know what you are doing.”)

Paul also said I can’t sit in my tree house gathering nuts and throwing them at people. (This makes me realize I should have never showed that note to me from Stewart to anybody, as whatever he said about me will be taken as a definitive statement about me.)

[The day after the meeting, Stewart dictated a note to be read to me with a statement about my behavior on Sunday. Paul was repeating some of the lines of that message to me, using them on me.]

So maybe this is the calm before the storm. (“Don’t calculate.”)

[I was noting a “still small voice,” in which God seemed to be telling me not to have anxiety about future events.]

I am afraid there will be some confrontation down the line. That is why I am avoiding everybody I can for now. I didn’t go up into the office for that reason, hoping that after a few days things will calm down a little. But of course, not totally. Nobody is directly coming after me, but what Jay said to me shows that there is a residual opinion about me among the brothers, even if they are not saying anything to me as I walk by. Maybe they think others have already been getting on my case. Besides, I don’t seem to be blowing up right now. I’m acting “normal,” as I always do. But if they have a residual opinion about me, it will all be focused on me at a meeting, like a lightning rod. It will all come out then with a big bang.

A line in a book (Cults, by Marc Galanter) says: “It is probable that cult leaders become grandiose and demanding as they interact with their members. They find their vanity and inadequacies addressed by adoring followers and are shrewd enough to manipulate their flock effectively.” This is what I have though about Stewart, and about his vanity. Also especially his sense of inadequacy; that he is going to gain recognition somehow, he is going to come out with some earth-shaking revelation or teaching. He wants to make a name for himself because he feels snubbed by other pastors. Does he really put weed killer on our faith and back us all into a corner?

I noticed that I felt remarkably calm about what the brothers said to me. Also, about the note on cults I just wrote, I notice I am heavily into studying about cults now – openly, no holds barred. I used to be a whole lot more cautious, while somehow openly raging about it. Maybe now, I’m no longer raging about it. I just do it.

[I used to be afraid to read books about cults, because I feared they would poison my mind and take me away from the true way, but now I was reading them, no holds barred.]

I have an image of how “safe” I was back then. I wish I could stay here longer and just read books on cults (and other books) in privacy. I am no longer safe somehow. I used to indulge these thoughts in private, here, in the safety of the fellowship.

[I used to be able to safely speculate about COBU being a cult, without being detected or questioned about it, because at one time, no one knew this is where I was at. It was no longer like this now. After a long night of work, or a heavy beating meeting with Stewart, I could come home and before falling asleep, read one of these books about cults and the dynamics of life in cults (or books by Alexander Solzhenitzn which essentially described the same or similar dynamics), reading and identifying with all of it, yet without having to face the consequences of my newfound awareness. Now I realized I should leave. I also had heavy-handed abuse coming my way once I was known as someone who harbored thoughts and opinions contrary to the COBU way and its leader.]

In the van, when I interrupted Paul when he was speaking, Paul said that now I was acting like a new disciple when somebody tries to tell them something. This made me feel like a child. Maybe I’m lucky to be getting this rather than being taken seriously or being considered to be dangerous. In other words, I have merely been a bad child.

Read the next section of the journal here: I Have Nothing To Do With You.

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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