1993, 07/30-08/04. The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse.

Friday, July 30

I slept for the first time at the office at 46th Street. I still have a problem of not being able to fall asleep until pretty late.

I am with new brothers Alex and Alberto. We’re taking a break in the park at 60th Street across from Fordham University. I need it. As we were walking, I just felt the need to read (or write and think). Maybe it’s just that I have not truly woken up yet. I need time to sort some things out, some quiet time.

I happened to pick up a Catholic newsletter on Kevin’s desk this morning. The author of it mentioned the need to draw away from others and to get some quiet time. It is an essential need. Beware of becoming a human doing rather than a human being. You need to get in touch with God and your own thoughts and feelings. I understand this. This is what I am doing now. My life goes by me, I never really get ahold of it. This has been on my mind lately. Always moving, never finding out what I am, what I think, what I want.

I have also been giving some thought to: what if at the end of the next 10 years Stewart says again, “I was all wrong and you went for it. Why didn’t anybody say anything? You must have wanted it.” Then he starts to name all the things I myself had misgivings about. And a final kick off: “Where was Jim LaRue? He always had something to say. Why didn’t he say anything? I thought he was the hero.” As if speaking up was suddenly something I was supposed to have been doing. In other words, Stewart knew the things I told him were right, he couldn’t really say it was wrong when I spoke up to him sometimes. He knew I was being cowardly by not sticking to my guns and backing down and deciding to be silent. Yet, he quashed any of my efforts with threats of excommunication whenever I did it. The classic double bind.

Real summer is here now. Maybe this is the first time I noticed it. We had warm days in June and July, but there seems to be a perceptible change in the weather. Thick and varied cumulus cloud patterns. Haze and heat. A difference in the kind of air and the scent of it. (This corresponds to memories I have of being at the shore, seeing the working of the clouds. So much activity from the heat, yet cooled enough to be bearable by the onshore breezes with their scent of brine.)

Went out to Staten Island with Alex to look at the deck at Benny’s house to give him an estimate on refinishing it. Now back at Red Hook, wanting to take a break from the milieu. I’m sitting outside with John O. I told him I was taking a break. John said, “It’s the gift of God. He leads his sheep beside green pastures.”

(John was a new brother, and therefore he did not run the usual lines on me. No older brother would have said anything like this to me.)

Wonderful light. Long chains of clouds drifting past, the leftovers from the heat of the day. I just want to sit here for a while. (Though there are always some other things I want to do; read, write, draw, etc.) But for sure, I am in no hurry to go back to just about the only place I am “allowed” to go anyway, to the office environment.

I just talked to that old man again for a while out here. Enjoying the air, with a nice touch of brine. The hour of golden light has now begun.

Saturday, July 31

I slept late at Red Hook. (So did Paul and Jay.) But so far there have been no hassles. (It’s amazing how we weren’t hassled about this.) I walked out soliciting with Alex, Martin and Alberto down to 23rd Street.

I talked to Martin [a new “disciple”] for a while, using some of my technique, including what would be called psychology by many here. The fact is, he seemed to be thankful. He acted like he was helped. (He shook my hand. Not after I told him that other people here were giving him a hard time, but when I told him that he seems to have a martyr complex, and why.)

But I did take risks by describing to him the ins and outs of our fellowship and its leader. Things which, I hope, don’t find their way back to me. What I fear is some kind of demotion and public humiliation like what happened to Jay two years ago. (And the idea that “the good I did was bad, precisely because it was good.” This is a line from Robert J. Lifton, regarding the idea that one’s good deeds are poison to the people because he is part of the bourgeois.) So, I wait for some thing where new brothers trumpet my good deeds in helping them, saying that, unlike most of the older brothers, they can talk to me. (Whether or not I then have to explain my “methods” doesn’t matter much in this fear. I would probably just play dumb: “I dunno, I just listen to them, hear what it is, and try to explain.’) But, there would probably be some kind of “auditing” about just what kind of “good” it is that I am doing. I would be weighed in the balance and found wanting, for sure.

(Two years before this, Jay was taken out of his position of leading and helping the new brothers at COBU’s shelter at 810 N. Broad Street in Philadelphia. The new brothers said they liked Jay and that he was there for them and he helped them, and Stewart found this intolerable. Stewart said that if the new brothers liked Jay, it meant that Jay was not training them, but just being their friend. Not only was Jay removed from his position, but as part of his public humiliation for this at a meeting, he had to explain to everyone, in his own words (not just because Stewart was making him say it, Stewart added), why what he was doing was wrong and how that was hurting the new brothers and not helping them. Jay reluctantly explained. Taking Jay, and other older brothers out of that program there paved the way for the criminal element among the street people we brought in there to take over, and then no new brothers were getting any help.)

I was sick. I laid down for most of the evening or just sat in the office. Got myself elected as the guard at the Staten Island house.

I was explaining about the Greek New Testament to Stuart R., but I think I will never be able to turn anybody on to it.

I wanted to escape the milieu for a while. I had prayed to be able to guard Staten Island.

Through flyering and doing things like visiting the park and sleeping late, I guess I have avoided the milieu some. I want to get away from it for a while. Even if Joe is saying that he thinks the upcoming meeting in Philadelphia with Stewart is going to be a good one in which changes are going to come. Greg S. was saying he thinks there will be changes as well. Even I have a feeling of wanting to be there. (But maybe I know better?) I think of the mind-bending pressure cookers recent meetings have been. Think of the meeting, you will not want to go there again [1]. I want to get away from that, even if guarding Staten Island instead of being at the meeting isn’t a vacation in some wonderland. Even if I don’t do much there and it’s over before I know it.

[1] By saying, “think of the meeting you will not want to go there again,” I was making an analogy to Job 40:1.  “Think of the battle, you will not want to do it again.” The context is about Leviathian, a sea monster, who represents the devil. I was saying that I could not handle the pressure and manipulation that Stewart subjected us to at the meetings, any more than I would be able to fight Satan himself and win.

I have read (or “monitored”) the recent “Stewart messages” of previous days and I think I have some idea of what to expect. Stewart will tell us that have not been caring about the new brothers. And that we don’t want to look “inside ourselves” because we are afraid that this is what we will see.

These messages seem to indicate that this will be the “confession pattern.” Some older brothers may try to say they have been caring. Some may even be defended and supported by the new brothers. But in the end, all will fall into the same category. But then Stewart offers a way out through this confession, facing it, turning from it.

Often, I think I see into Stewart’s modes of attack. He provides, whether consciously or unknowingly, a way out through the proffered confession. There is no use in trying to defend yourself. No one can stand before his all-consuming justice. They all fall like wheat before the scythe. But Stewart’s accusation is, or becomes, our confession. We admit it. And it becomes our “way out.” Not that this is easy. But, it’s like the fireman pouring large volumes of water into our burning house. We come floating out on it. Out on the wash so to speak.

This is something I noticed in one of those high-tension meetings a while back. Maybe by means of detached observation I was able to see this, being that I wasn’t caught up in the frenzy (so much). Therefore my powers of observation were able to work a little. So, hey, maybe that is a good way to be at meetings, because the “proper, or right thing” to do is ducking and weaving and confessing. But maybe that isn’t healthy. Maybe this really is spiritual abuse. Maybe I should protect myself!

But I do have the feeling of wanting to be there at the meeting in order to see if this is so. Maybe I can just get the tape of the meeting later.

I read Chapter 1 and 2 of Ephesians. It was good to read. Trying to see what God has done for me. (I got this idea from the book The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse, which says that abused Christians have a distorted view of God. They either are not aware of, or don’t look at passages in the Bible about what God has done for them. What I can say about this with certainty is that I rarely ever read these passages.)

Monday, August 2

(I was guarding a church residence in Staten Island overnight. It was a way to get away from the grind of cult life. Single, divorced and separated mothers lived in this house, with their children. An older brother was usually sent over to guard every night.)

Well, my long awaited and long overdue Staten Island “vacation” is over. Not that I did a whole lot. In fact, not much. I did artwork for 20 minutes. Read some more in the books I bought about church abuse.

I was reading in these books that in abusive churches, the mundane becomes important, while real problems become trivialized. (This is “doctrine over person,” according to what Lifton says in his book on thought reform.) Although, in our church, we would say that we are into the most important thing, which is salvation. But, I thought of how we spend hours voting on one another and making speeches while I rot inwardly over not many problems, but over several problems which really plague me, some of which could lead to eternal death. Yet, there is no mention of them. Not because I won’t mention them, but because for all practical purposes, they don’t exist. I’m just the one who is coming from Mars if I try to talk about these things, such as the how nobody gets married here.

But, all this starts to sound the same. Through sheer repetition, my complaint starts to sound like a broken record. And yes, then, maybe am the problem for dwelling on it.

I just wonder whether I should check out my legal rights in my situation. I though about calling that agency in Long Island, but didn’t have the number and it was already after hours. I think I am going to do it because I want to know my boundaries.

I find myself between a rock and a hard place. I can’t get married. I think I desperately need to. The party line is that I need the Number One Principle and everything will follow from there. There is no idea that anything could help in the meantime. I can’t have anything for me or my needs (except food and shelter) because I have not gotten it down with the Number One Principle. Though I suppose it would be admitted that I have at least to some degree. But, you see, it is not the number one, all consuming fact of my life. So I can have nothing. Nothing of the things that really matter toward helping a real problem. Stewart presents as a matter of God’s way, but I am more inclined to think it is a matter of church policy or doctrine.

One discrepancy I notice is that when it comes to a matter of a church need, then nothing gets in the way. No excuses are allowed. When the balance sheet is low, we must press for more jobs and get them. In this case, Stewart will not mention that we can’t have anything or nothing will work for us until the Number One Principle really is number one in our lives.

You see, the forbidding of personal desires is not depicted as church policy. It would be easy to say it is wrong then. It is portrayed as a matter of divine principle or divine physics, and Stewart says that we can’t have these things because of our condition and that it’s just the way things work.

Israel, behold your God! Is this the God who is going to help me? He could see me rotting away from this problem and not lift a finger. All I hear, when I pray and at other times, is “I will confuse you!” I must bend myself to fit the agenda and who gives a damn about me!

As a matter of (unspoken) policy, the church would rather see me commit adultery or fornication than to sanction a “wrong marriage.” The so-called standards are that important. Isn’t there a way I could challenge the basic assumptions of this church and win? Must I always and only take what is doled out to me?

Tuesday, August 3

On the Yaso job. I talked to [ ex-member] Dave A. for a while on the phone last night. Then I had a long talk with middle brothers Kevin and Chatman about our church. If this doesn’t get me in trouble, nothing will.

What’s also on my mind, wearing me down, is this idea of my imminent dismissal from the church. I figure it will be sooner or later. Dave said I am welcome if I ever decide I want to leave. Although it is the typical familiar last words, I figure that if I left, it couldn’t be worse than this.

(It was getting harder for me to keep living in the Church of Bible Understanding, not only because of things like the denial of relationships and marriage, the constant treadmill of work and activity, but also, because others there were becoming increasingly aware of my disagreements with this way of life and with COBU’s leader, Stewart Traill. One of the terms and conditions of life in COBU was absolutely agreement with our leader and complete belief in everything he told us. I was making myself unwelcome.)

I feel like rational thinking is returning to me.

In the office, I got apprehensive, imagining somebody wanting to put “heat” on me, asking me, “Are you willing to have brothers put heat on you?” Me (if I actually said this), “Actually, no I’m not. It’s like mind control.” And then imagining what would happen thereafter. Realizing full well the significance of what “passive resistance” means.

I am not looking forward to our “brothers meeting” tonight. Not necessarily because of today, but because I didn’t look forward to it anyway.

A new brother, Antoine is missing today, as a result of getting talked to last night at the brothers meeting. (Which, of course, is a result of what he did, which was try to take Martin down to the Western Union to get his check and go and get high.)

Ron T. is sitting Martin down, saying, “Are you a con artist?” I don’t know, is he? Or is it “our” methods of dealing with people?

The buzzword from the last meeting is: “The only motivation worth having is confidence for the day of judgment.” Stewart says we are supposed to be saying it, saying the “chorus.”

Some new brothers are discussing concept of whether it’s necessary to be in this fellowship in order not to go to hell. Paul S. guides them back into the “chorus” and points to the Condemned Sinner picture on the wall and says, “Big surprise!” I can’t do this. The circumstance that lead up to this discussion they’re having was that they met some new brothers who had left our church at the post office, getting checks. One of them said, “Because I’m not in this fellowship doesn’t mean I’m guaranteed to go to the lake of fire.” Of course, we can’t accept this laying down!

I am listening to, but staying out of these conversations. Actually it’s kind of interesting. Also kind of interesting to stay out. It feels safe, but maybe I’m being a coward. I do question my kind of “wisdom.” I would not confess my sins to anyone here, because of the humiliation.

It’s almost 5 a.m. I am inadvertently enjoying summer. An August night with a full moon mostly obscured by clouds.

I wrote a letter to the author of The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse. I sent a photocopy of the letter to Mom. In writing this letter, I experienced a brief flash of: “Stewart really is sick!” Isn’t he? I have been thinking more lately about how I have to reach out to somebody outside the church.

I am really just a waste. So much of me is unused. Stewart seems to say this too, but with his own twist. He says that since we aren’t faithful to Christ, we bury ourselves. But really, this place legislates such behavior – or really, Stewart does.

I really don’t have anything to write right now. It looks like I will not be getting much sleep.

Wednesday, August 4

“Some day, I am going to want to have sex.” Not the best thought to start your day on, but I was thinking over the contents of the letter I wrote last night, which includes our no-marriage situation. An attractive woman, a black woman, walked by, but I may have thought this without seeing her anyway.

As far as I know, I will be driving today. Always a bad one when I am in this kind of condition and state of mind.

I have the green stripe van today. What would I do without that radio? Listening to some old songs seems to help, getting in touch with a part of the old me. There must be something to this.

(This was the only church van that had a radio. I tuned into stations that played songs that were current before I came to the church, which unleashed a lot of memories for me. I contrasted the freedom I had back then to the prison situation I was in now.)

I am getting pretty angry. I keep replaying my excommunication threat. (Sure, the anger is a result of yesterday, but then again there wouldn’t be anything to get angry about without that.) Extreme pressure over the lack of marriage and other problems which don’t really exist in our book because they are not a part of our program. I must suppress everything. I can’t have any solution now.

When I think about leaving, it would and does anger me that I go with nothing.

It’s amazing to me that we could actually believe, or say we believe, that Stewart couldn’t be a problem in any way!

I just want to do 1 Corinthians 7:1 – to touch a woman. “It is well for a man not to touch a woman, but because of the temptation to immorality, every man should have his own wife.” I have been blowing up and agonizing how this is not possible here.

Dale cornered me (or I him), in order to talk. He was talking about the bad living conditions here, too much work, not enough food – as well as spiritual matters. And about how it is weird in the office, with the secrecy over the food.

(The older brothers and sisters were ordering take out food and having it delivered, but keeping this a secret from the new people, who were being fed donated food, such as peanut butter and bread.)

I agreed with Dale. Chuck saw me talking to him. I figure all this will come back on me soon. I don’t care. Or do I? Is that what is driving me? Or is it that I am so driven that I don’t care about keeping quiet anymore?

A brother told me he was thrown out of the church one time for peering into a sister’s window from the fire escape. Will this kind of thing be my end? Why should I care? Not, I mean, about the sin, but about making a good showing. I want to go out openly speaking about the doctrine and what’s wrong here. Maybe I will never get the chance.

(I didn’t want to leave the church as a sinner who could not control himself, as was the case of this brother I mentioned. I wanted to leave COBU for right reasons and I wanted those reasons to be clear to everyone.)

I guess I will never meet a woman. There is no point in chasing women. I was never good at that anyway. If I ever do get one, the only way, I think, is by being myself. If I put on a fake personality, chase them – how do I know I am getting somebody like myself if I am not being myself. If I do get somebody by not acting like myself, after a while, I will only want to go back to doing the things I want to do anyway. So it would be full circle. So I might as well just stay at being myself.

I have noticed that when I talk to Alex, about his past or about recent happenings, he acts more like a normal human being after.

I’m getting frustrated. Little sleep. (Sleep is not the real issue!) There is a job that I have to be on at 9 a.m. (I have to get up at 6:30 a.m. in order to be there.) Peter is doing all he can to back out on me, though he agreed earlier to work on this job. He called me at 1 a.m. to tell me Andrew absolutely needs him.

(I would be told, that “sleep is not the real issue.” We were not allowed to have “human explanations” for anything. The only “real issues” in COBU were eternal issues – most importantly, whether we were going to end up in heaven or hell when we died (according to Stewart, most likely hell). The official explanation for why everything had to be the way it was in COBU was for the sole purpose of escaping hell and getting to heaven, as well as finding other people to join this way so they could escape hell. I know now that extreme abuse and self-denial were not ways to help people face eternal issues, but they were ways for COBU’s leader to have his earthly goals and desires fulfilled, at the expense of those he exploited.)

I walked through Central Park for a long while today. I began to get bitter toward God, saying, “Why did you screw me?” I’m at the end of my rope. (I really just can’t take it any more.)

Upon getting to this job site, there was a very beautiful Asian woman who, lo and behold , actually seems interested in me! We exchanged some looks. I think she found a reason to get near me, talking to me about wood floors. I think I am in love. I actually half mean this. I have made it known to her that I will be here at 9 a.m. tomorrow. I think that we have both made an agreement. I will be expecting her to be here – yes, I hope, alone. I want to hug her, kiss her. Talk to her. If she is game, I am game. I want to marry her. (I am speaking like a fool. In a few days, this will seem stupid.)

But, I think we have made an agreement. There has been eye contact.I don’t know how I will go through the night and come back here tomorrow. How can I go through the voting at the brothers meeting while carrying fire in my bosom and not be burned? I don’t know how I will try to say that I am, in effect, right with God and striving to be faithful, while thinking about this and planning to do it tomorrow. I am playing on the edge. It is possible that I could get into fornication tomorrow if it’s both of us here alone. (I doubt it will happen though.) I don’t intend to let anybody in on my plan.

(All of this was merely the theater of my mind. I was so dirty looking and poorly dressed that no woman would want to be with me. She had just been friendly to me because I was there working on the floors the office where she worked. The conversation we had was merely courtesy on her part.)

I feel like I am in love! I have never had this feeling in the fellowship before.(Except that one time with a feeling about a “Young Sheep” sister, Delores.) I also think that this fellowship makes relationships and marriage too hard. I will have to do something for myself. Why should I tell anybody? I will move out and marry her – or keep a secret relationship. That will be my approach, to just establish talk. Take it slow. If I made a physical move, it would be bad. It would probably totally surprise her.

I can clearly identify these feelings as love. (I’m, wondering if there exists a possibility that God put it there.)  I am actually in love. Maybe nothing will come of it.

I figure I am going to get into fornication soon anyway. It’s going to come and get me sooner or later. That I can guarantee. I can’t go on living like this. I am not making it.

I used to hear brothers say that their passions went down when they were talking to their favorite sister, that it was actually a remedy. (Isn’t that a proof that marriage will work?) But I and we are so weird, that we can’t even talk to the sisters. This bothers me. I know I am going to fall out of the fellowship because of this problem. I just can’t live like this anymore.

I am in love at first sight. I hope she is the same. (Probably not.) What if we were talking and she showed mutual interest – should I say that to her?

Now, getting to something that could very well be divine retribution. [I was wondering if I was receiving punishment from God because to what I imagined I was plotting with this woman.] Kevin found out I have his wood floor sanding machine because I called to see if we could leave it here overnight (which I should never have done). He reminded me that he told me I can’t use it without his permission. Then he began to question me about why I am really here in the fellowship at all. What basis am I here on?

I can just see some future inquisition.

I enlisted Paul and I told him about what Kevin said, hoping to obviate this direct pressure attack. Yet, this all the while knowing I am planning to try to meet this woman tomorrow.

Compromise. (This word came into my mind while I was praying about this woman. It seems crazy to pray about this, but I am doing it. It is crazy, unless I am praying and saying that I am absolutely forsaking this idea.)

What does this mean? I don’t know. I’m going to get into fornication anyway, it seems inevitable. I can’t get married in the fellowship, much less even talk to the sisters.

So, I will get a liaison with just this one woman. If it has to be. I don’t know any other route. Celibacy just isn’t going to work for me anymore.

Is God going to kill me for this? But, like Philip in Martin Luther’s day, who said he could exercise self-control and be faithful to Christ and to one woman, if he could just have this woman he loved. What’s wrong with that? It is grossly unfair the way COBU forbids marriage.

I was passed by a woman on the street who reminded me of [Stewart’s wife] Gayle.  I thought: Stewart gets to have a woman – but I don’t. (And I also don’t get a lot of other things like money, and not being subject to the milieu.) Much like the deprogrammer Ted Patrick works on someone he is deprogramming, comparing the way he lives with the way the leader(s) of their cult live, showing the obvious discrepancies, getting through the cult member’s thick armor and his view of sacrifice as handed down from the cult’s leadership. Shattered this view by comparing their own lives with how these leaders actually live. That comparison is the place where the chains and the hold on a cult member’s are most easily broken.

(I read about Ted Patrick, a controversial cult deprogrammer. He was controversial because some of his methods were extreme. One of his favorite methods of deprogramming, aside from anything “controversial,” was talking to cult members about their own lifestyles (which usually are lives of extreme self denial), contrasting this to their cult leaders’ lifestyles, which were usually lives of pleasure, wealth and having multiple sexual partners. Ted Patrick tried to get them to realize that their teacher did not practice the same self-denial that his followers were expected to practice.

I saw a woman that looked like Stewart’s wife and it made me think about how Stewart didn’t deny himself sex and marriage to himself, though he did deny this to us. I was also saying this at a time when I thought a woman on a job site showed interest in me, which was merely my misunderstanding of her polite small talk. The sisters in the church were not going to show interest in me, because they believed, according to Stewart,  that I was unworthy and unfit to marry them. Even more so in my case, because it was remembered, and never forgotten that I disagreed with Stewart publicly at some meetings – however weak and ineffective my attempts to do that had been. 

I could never be marriage material in the Church of Bible Understanding, even if at some future time, marriage became available, because I did not wholeheartedly believe in this way and in our leader. It was not thought of by the others in these terms, but rather that, because of my behavior, I could never truly be faithful to Christ, ever. Therefore I could never become a real Christian man, able to take a Christian sister in marriage. I realized that the ground I was standing on was shrinking under my feet, and that I could never, ever, be fully accepted in COBU again, no matter how good I tried to be.

I considered what my future in COBU would be like as a “persona non grata,” and this was a factor that helped me to leave. I could never be accepted back into the flock. This acceptance and being seen by all the others, as well as Stewart , as faithful to this way was a prerequisite to having a relationship with a woman there. I would always and forevermore be a social outsider, unfit to marry, even if marriages were finally permitted here.

Just as a final note, marriage has never been allowed in COBU since 1979, not even till this day.

Read the next section of the journal here: We Need The Training Papers, Because We Can’t Understand The Bible.

(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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