1993, 05/15-16. We Are Going to Lose Everything In This Life Real Soon.

Saturday, May 15

I was reading the Matthew Henry Commentary. I have decided I am not going to photocopy any pages from books like this and leave them around so brothers and sisters might read them. I’m going to drop all such ideas. It would be better to seek God and just read these things for myself and keep them in my heart.

(These were sections from this Bible commentary that explained how marriage was a good thing, and about how God created all things in this life to be used with thanksgiving, and other such things that were directly contrary to the teachings of COBU’s leader,  Stewart Traill.)

Woke up at 5:30 in the afternoon. So far, all I have done today is go to the restaurant at Union and 4th Streets with Paul. We talked to the waitress a little about Jesus and the Bible. I am now using the time, back here at Red Hook to study in peace and quiet.

Sunday, May 16

We are working at The Century Cafe for the second night in a row. Soon to get out after putting down the next coat of floor finish. I try to pray, but it seems to no avail. I can’t concentrate. (I recently read a David Wilkerson tract on prayer.) I just think of the trouble I am in, and the fear of death. I keep thinking that I am going to get shot in the head. Not exactly a pleasant thing to think about. Plus also, the ever present worry of getting the boot at the meeting, or at least some kind of grilling or inquisition. I never look forward to any meeting in any way whatsoever and I am always glad when it’s all over.

I talked with Paul tonight a little, although I didn’t tell him much about what’s on my mind, except for the subject of marriage and its unavailability. (Also, I’m coming to realize that Paul is quite a diehard COBU believer. He believes in the special divine mission for our church. He is a loyalist. I probably never should have decided or believed I could confide my thoughts to him, though I will see him slip once in a while himself. I suppose it is true that “even the most staunch believer has his inward reservoir of doubt.” [This is a concept from Eric Hoffer’s book,  The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements.] This leaks out once in a while, probably without Paul realizing it, though certainly I am in tune to it whenever I hear it.)

I feel like revealing my thoughts about L. to him, in the name of telling at least one person what I am like. But it’s probably better that I don’t. Really, except for a few dreams I had about her, I haven’t even seen any reason to believe it is true myself. What good would it do to talk about this anyway? The other day, I went through some anxiety about how if there are ever any marriages in our church, I probably wouldn’t be allowed to marry because, once upon a time, I questioned Stewart.

(I mentioned this worry to Paul and he said that it is true that things are more serious here than I take them to be. It is just hard for me to believe that Stewart is, or has, the ultimate embodiment of the truth, in the most concise and clear form since the time of the Apostle Paul. That is just about, unofficially, what he says and what we profess to believe. We are all aligned around this one man with this special view, and nobody anywhere else has this truth.)


Stewart has just walked in the room, making the opening comments: “Have we been thinking that we are going to lose everything concerning this life real soon?”

Now one by one, everybody is standing up and speaking, trying to guess what is the appropriate action to take.

Stewart: “Since we’re going to lose everything, let us make an agreement to lay aside all concern for this life right now – for the duration. Let’s make an agreement to encourage each other to forget all about this life for a while and to concentrate on our eternal salvation. We are all going to die real soon.” (There was loud agreement on this one.) “Make an agreement to keep our minds on our goal and forgetting about this life.”

(Somehow everybody likes this. Is this just doomsday cult talk? Is Stewart preparing us for our own type of mass suicide? About the best I can say is, “Lord, if this is really you, bid me to come out on the water.”)

Now Stewart is prompting us to talk about how it has been this last week. Stewart asks us if we been doing our training. If so, we should be able to say so. In my opinion is, after a flurry of trying to say they were doing their training, that nobody is going to be able to say they did.

Yes, this is our weekly performance review. It may go hard or it may go easy. Stewart is saying that we should be and should have been saying to ourselves and to each other, “You are going to lose everything concerning this life real soon.”

(I am thinking that this is starting to sound very strange. I also feel a little perturbed or upset. How hard will this grilling or ruling go? Will there be enforcement, or even a passive surveillance kind of enforcement? Imagine trying to talk to another pastor or other Christians about this. Of course they couldn’t help us anyway, because they don’t understand what we’re talking about. They don’t have this higher view – even the most sincere of them.)

These meetings, though this one is low key, are always like searing courtroom trials, and I think nobody really likes these. Nobody is volunteering any information, or they do so only when Stewart prompts them, and that, as little as possible without looking like they just want to get away. Maybe I am wrong, maybe just nobody knows what the answer is – or is it that we have all become little children, and we just “don’t know the answer” and are waiting for Brother Stewart to tell us what it’s all about? Stewart is about to reveal our problem to us. And he’ll say that we’re all showing what the problem is by the way we’re acting right now.

The meeting is still proceeding. We are looking for the “missing link.” Everybody is loosening up, this meeting seems to be a lighter one.

What Stewart seems to be saying is that we didn’t do The Five Approaches. (Nobody did it this week, it has been found.) Stewart says that The Five Approaches is supposed to be our focus and how to live the Bible. (Maybe this will be like a new type of Methodism, a real “way” and method of living the Bible.)

(Note I wrote on the top of page: *heresy.)

*Stewart is now telling us that it is wrong to say, “Jesus died to save me.” He says, “Maybe it’s okay for a little child, or a brand new Christian to say it. It is okay to say ‘Jesus died to take my sins away.’”

(I am now looking over at Ron T., who is holding his head down low – but who knows, is he thinking about this?)

According to Stewart, the underlying fact why we would like be able to say “Jesus did for my sins” is because “Jesus’s death is an over and done fact – but our salvation isn’t.” We would like to say our salvation is over and done too, because we don’t like this striving business. “He died to take away your sins – but the rest is on you.” This is a bunch of manure!

So, according to Stewart, Jesus died to “make our salvation possible.” So, we are back to salvation by works and Arminianism. He says it is to undercut our idea that we “have it made.”

IT’S AWFULLY QUIET IN HERE. The sisters are making a kind of cooing and soft moaning noise – BUT NOBODY IS GOING TO SAY ANYTHING! But who is like Stewart and who can fight against him? If I say anything, of course all my faults and sins are known, and they will be used against me. I have this feeling that it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the Lord Stewart.

(I was comparing Stewart to the Antichrist and how the Bible says people will not have the power to resist him: Men worshiped the dragon, for he had given his authority to the beast, and they worshiped the beast, saying, “Who is like the beast, and who can fight against it?” Revelation 13:4 RSV.)

Stewart is saying now, why do we believe such things? “Beware of anything beyond this. You just don’t fear.” (That is, we do not fear adding things beyond what Stewart says is God’s word – such as saying “Jesus died to save me.”) “Okay smart aleck, go ahead and say it.” (So you see now, if I try to say Jesus died for my sins, I am a smart aleck and being arrogant. Stewart will be quite angry with me. To hell with THIS GOSPEL!)

(Stewart was becoming angry at this point and lashing out at us. But the comment about to hell with Stewart’s version of the Gospel is mine, I was having a backlash at what I was being taught, and thinking, to hell with this gospel! This is an extreme statement for someone who felt is was wrong to even say the word “darn.”)

Is Jesus a Savior? Apparently not! Really Stewart, you lost me at this point. There really is something wrong with all of this. It is an undermining of Jesus. (Jesus is just a process. And of course, a unique process, that only “we” have.)

And of course, I know why I am not going to say anything. Will this be the beginning of the end for me? Finally, a line that has been crossed, that lets me know what this man is all about.

I feel very strange right now, like I just got slapped in the face, or that somebody told me something so ridiculous, or so strange that I know it is completely wrong. But also combined with this is the realization that I can’t say anything, due to the penalty involved in speaking up. This is all so strange, a bunch of “cow manure.” Of course, worse expletives run through my mind. We really are isolated, lost. There is no way out of this. I just don’t think I could wear, profess, believe or preach this gospel. It may have many fine surface trappings, but the underlying message is one of death and venom. It’s the snake in the pulpit.

(The “snake in the pulpit” was a religious tract I found about false teachers. It had a drawing of a snake standing in a pulpit. When I saw this picture, I thought of Stewart.)

I am looking at Ron T. and realizing that nobody is going to say anything about this, even if they were predisposed to, because of the forces that would be aimed against them. This is all so sick. “He shall take his seat in the temple of God, speaking against every God or so-called god, proclaiming himself to be God.”

(I was quoting the Bible here again about the Antichrist. I didn’t think Stewart was the Antichrist, but I saw how he arrogantly placed himself in a position of knowledge, proclaiming that his view was the absolute truth, and like the Bible says the Antichrist will do, he will be impossible to fight against. The way that played out in COBU was that Stewart immediately and viciously attacking anyone who raised doubts and many of the other brothers would support him as he trashed any dissenting person.)

I feel like I’m losing my mind. I am really trapped here. I’d like to send word about this to David Wilkerson or somebody, but ultimately, I think it’s hopeless.

(I was told that one day that David Wilkerson walked into our 50th Street carpet cleaning shop to talk to COBU members. I felt as if someone, a pastor from outside, cared and had tried to reach out to us. Later, I wrote him a letter, describing our situation here in the church. He received the letter and asked some ex-COBU members who were now attending his church to reach out to me and help me, which they did, by offering me a place to stay if I wanted to leave. I took them up on the offer in August of 1993.)

“We” are going on and on with Dion, a new brother. Stewart and the brothers are saying he is not demonstrating any fear. It’s so easy for everybody to get on Dion’s case. There is no point to all of this. The brothers are putting “heat” on him. The sisters are smugly asking him snide questions.

I am pretty much at the point that I won’t look for trouble over this one (though I feel I should say something) – but I can’t “confess” this.

Dion sits back down. He’s just about at the end of his rope now, but they are not letting him go. (Dion is saying he is not able to make it clear. Kevin asks him, “You mean God hasn’t made you able?” Yes, nice leverage. We pick somebody and spend two hours in the meeting beating him up, “for his own good.” Big brothers against the new brother. I could see if Dion went out drinking and was fighting with everybody, then that would be different. Brothers are asking him, “Are you shaking yourself right now?”)

This is a total confrontation. To show that you are faithful, you get on Dion. It is very wearing. Dion says, “I will do it by praising somebody else besides me – by praising Jesus.” So somebody says, “Is this praising Jesus right now?” And on and on it goes, until he and everybody else (except maybe the questioners) are worn out. Like Lifton’s re-education classes, where your comrades question you endlessly. GOD HELP US! Why can’t we have some independent appraisers come in here? Why doesn’t God do something like this? Whatever Dion says, they take the last thing he said and say it back to him, “Are you…right now?”

Stewart says to Dion as he continues to sit there, “Not standing up – what is that serving?” Bernie asks, “Are you going to serve the flesh?” Valencia: “What are you really serving?” Dion: “I don’t think that standing up is serving Christ.” Chuck: “What is serving Christ?”

(Outside these four walls, Stewart is nobody. Nobody out there takes him seriously. Here, he is our entire world to us.)

I think that the strangest thing is not Dion, but all the ones who get in on the act to “get on him.” Especially the way the sisters do it.

I would like to leave, but I just have nowhere to go…

Obviously Stewart is approving, in principle, with the way the brothers and sisters are getting on Dion, though he says Dion is winning and everybody is missing it.

The only relief I am getting now is reading over previous pages of this diary (my entry from April 21). Reading the Bible doesn’t seem to work – how can you read the Bible in the middle of this?

Stewart is now asking, “So what is Dion really saying?” Everybody quite willingly comes up with scathing answers to the question and charges of despicable, horrible things – though Stewart says, “No, it’s quite different than all of that.”

The verdict is in. The gavel comes down. Stewart says that Dion’s problem is that he absolutely refuses to live honestly, day in and day out, in fear. (Is Stewart just looking for his own particular devils? His diagnosis of someone’s problem is always in terms of his own teachings. It is what he always finds in every case and we have all learned to sing along – or to keep quiet.)

“Dion refuses to live in fear, because fear is just too unpleasant.” I get the feeling that Stewart wanted to tell us this all along and that Dion was just the pawn he set up to get us into the subject. He could have used anybody to get to this conclusion. He could have called on anybody and not let them out till they were at their wit’s end and everybody was else too. Then comes his pre-planned message, so it all looks spontaneous. I can see how he manipulates the pawns. (These are the terms of the meeting today. If I were to stand up and blow my top, these are the terms I would be dealt in. I would be told that I just refuse to live in fear.)

Meetings are like being in a courtroom. Like a psychoanalytical screenplay. Like psychopressure. (I can see that it was all contrived, because now Stewart is launching into his message, and the pawns have been put away now.)

What’s the point of all this? Why does Stewart tell us this stuff over and over again? Why all the fear and hell? This is not a good place to be. Everybody sits here mesmerized, quiet. Yes, we “can’t be one of those happy churches.” But what is all this for? We meet with Stewart every week to hear about Jesus the terrorist and God the killer. But, we’re so used to it.

The play goes on. Stewart got Kevin to stand up and to explain to everyone why this is so. And Kevin is belting out the appropriate speech, which he knows how to do so well, with Stewart prompting him, of course, where needed. Kevin says he intends to keep the bad news out front, push himself down – ad infinitum.

Now Stewart says we had better “make sure you find out who is accepting the fear of God every moment and who is looking for shortcuts.” This is a real terrorist church.

“Yes,” Kevin says to everybody, “we have to make this agreement.” And everybody shouts back with one loud voice, “Yes!”

What’s the point of a meeting where Stewart orchestrates and says everything and also, either directly or indirectly, tells everybody else what to say?

Obviously, we are one of those “fringe churches.” I keep thinking of that dream I had where I got up and walked out of the New Property. I would like to get up and walk away, but there is just no place to go.

Kevin and Chuck are standing up and making the same kind of speeches. I guess they have learned it so well. It’s expected of them to be up there saying how they never do whatever it is that Stewart just told us about, but how instead always do the wrong thing, but how they’re going to do the right thing from now on.

I need to be delivered from this. This is like a traveling medicine show. Stewart preaches the same sermon every time and various ones in the crowd, who are all a part of the act, play their appropriate roles. And in the end, whether they realize it or not, everybody ends up feeling satisfied. Somehow, it is a catharsis. Everybody has to sing and dance. We are now in the heavy preaching and proclaiming stage. (It is a three-part process, first, a pawn is selected and beat up as a way to introduce the message. Then Stewart introduces his message. Then we have to proclaim the message.)

So, nobody sees these cleverly orchestrated plays. Maybe I can see it because I am so set back and detached now. It’s hard to be emotionally at one with everybody, and believing and trusting and idealistic.

(Because I finally began to detach myself emotionally, I was able to identify the process that was going on in the meetings and understand how it worked . Until then, I had always been totally wrapped up in it, driven by it and subject to it.)

According to Stewart’s message, nobody in our church is saved or has really repented. Because Stewart says, “Without the fear of God, your repentance is a joke.”

Basically, what is now happening now is the altar call. We’re going through the brothers, though not systematically (yet), but after someone makes their confession of guilt, others are now beginning to say, “Anybody else?”

Well, I didn’t have to go to the “altar.” Stewart himself called the rush forward off, saying, “We should just pray to God and commit to him.” Then we all prayed together.

Even Stewart’s comment after prayer, “So what did you learn today brothers and sisters?” shows or at least could indicate that this was a preplanned message. My prayer was for Jesus to “Please get me out of here. I don’t want to be here anymore. I don’t want to be in these meetings anymore.”

(The reason I kept talking about how this was a preplanned message is that Stewart’s favorite script was to set it up to look like he discovered some problem with someone (the pawn), and that this just came out unexpectedly as he began the meeting by asking how we had been all week. When really, the meeting’s designated pawn was just the device he used to get us emotionally involved in the message, then to tire us out, so we would be ready for the message, as a way to help drive the message more deeply into our minds.)

So, what was this meeting all about? Stewart was introducing an adjustment on the 5th Approach, which is the Fear of God. So then, that was the reason for the psycho-terror-pressure meeting. To burn it in. Why couldn’t he just tell us? This show of looking for a problem with somebody (Dion, in this case), which of course, turns out to be just the thing that the meeting was planned to be about.

(So the terror session for the supper break is that Stewart says we have to find out who we trust. Find out who is going for the fear of God every minute – and who is looking for relief right now. Everything today is in terms of this. Everybody who talks to me is going to be talking to me about this, and this is what I should talk to them about and of course, after supper, we will find out who is who.)

So, anyway – the purpose of the meeting has been revealed.

During the supper break:

Among us, at least the ones near me, there is some dull asking one another the question about, “Where do you stand?” Ron brought up the subject of me and my behavior five weeks ago. (Me, Paul S. and Ron are all sitting there, our heads down. Everybody is wiped out. There are thirty to sixty second pauses between questions.)

I realize that nothing I say will satisfy anybody. When Ron said that to me, I said, “It’s like now I have a criminal record.” I have to be careful about what I say about it, or even when talking about my real fears like, “maybe I can never get married because of this.” All I know, is that it is considered to be a serious crime, and this is where the average person will come from when dealing with me about this. I have to stick to the basic confession of “my behavior was wrong.” Anything else I add to that may just bring the house down upon me. Even volunteering to talk about it in the name of showing that I’m trying to clear it up, which I did with Ron. He stopped questioning me, but a few minutes later I said, “Well, Ron, is that it?” I should have just left it. It didn’t make things any better by any means.

The last thing I need to do is to reopen the dispute – even by false confessions that are really a protest, such as, “Yes, I was wrong to question Stewart. I am now ready to admit that he was right when he said that we are the only church that understands what faith is, and that as a result, all other Christians are starving and they need to hear this.” Thereby bringing out the very crux of the issue I doubts about. It’s best just to say, “I was wrong, I was proud,” without actually introducing any other subject matter.

Nobody seems to buy it when I add even, “the only reason why I could ever say I have any doubts about what Stewart said is because of pride.” Even though that’s what it’s coming down to. That’s the contested issue: can a person ask questions? Yet nobody will admit that the very act of questioning is crime. That is what is expected of me, to make a confession about this. It’s just that I shouldn’t be so obvious about it. And I do wonder what the motives are of those who are asking me this. I sense something strange. What, they are the enforcers, or are trying to be, to make sure his majesty is upheld, or something like that. It’s more like a police force than somebody wanting to know how I am. They just want to make sure I don’t do it again and that I speak the right words about it. That I know what the right words are and that I act properly about it. It’s all a part of our unofficial system.

Everybody was standing around Dion after the meeting. Can’t they see he was just the guinea pig? Apparently not. What is so different about Dion from the rest of us? So, the whole thing was just to put a new precept on the list. Perhaps if Stewart decided to put prayer on the list, next time the meeting about that would go easier. There is a whole lot of correcting going on at the break, with the older brothers coming after middle and new brothers.

Read the next section of the journal here: The Myth Of Our Church And Its Great Leader Must Be Maintained.


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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