1993, 05/16-17. The Myth Of Our Church And Its Great Leader Must Be Maintained.

We were now in the second session of a meeting at the New Property in Philadelphia with Stewart Traill, the leader of the Church of Bible Understanding.

May 16


Stewart opened the session by asking to hear from Dion again. The new and middle brothers told him that Dion left.

I had been thinking that Dion might leave and that if he did, would it be Stewart’s fault? Stewart talks to people, then they leave. But there never is a question about whether people are dealt with wrongly or harshly. Dion’s leaving happened sooner than I thought it would and of course, it was all Dion’s fault. In fact, by leaving, Dion was only proving all the more that Stewart was right when he said that that Dion was not living by the fear of God.

There is no tinge of regret in Brother Stewart’s voice. Oh well, there goes another one. I guess Dion was our victim and sacrifice today. He was necessary in order to make a point for a lesson, to have a living example and to get everybody in on it, or on him, in order to exercise us and to get us ready and prepared to hear the teaching of the day. Of course, we all are supposed to say it’s Dion’s problem or, it was up to him. He certainly didn’t have to leave. Possibly these new ones can’t take the pressure heaped upon them. They don’t understand, the don’t have experience in our “dialectical method.”

We are now dealing with middle brother George H. The issue at hand is that he has been keeping the tips customers give him on carpet cleaning jobs. I don’t doubt, or am pretty sure he has been keeping them. (Though I guess I just don’t want to believe anything anybody says here, because there is no concrete evidence that George has been keeping his tips, though the sisters did call some customers about whether they gave him tips.) Perhaps it’s just wearying watching all of this.

I have the feeling again of being in a courtroom, but I guess our meetings are a foreshadowing of the Final Judgment and that Stewart runs meetings that way, whereas other pastors don’t. You would never get that feeling or view in another church.

Stewart has brought up the verse, “He who confesses and forsakes will find mercy.” This makes me think of sins that I have not confessed to anybody. Would I really obtain mercy? What would I obtain from anybody here? And would there be a real change in my person and spirit? A substantial change, I mean? Am I carrying around a load of guilt, visibly weighing down upon me? Has it been enough to confess “to the Lord” only, without having to tell others?

The meeting was about to close, but now Stewart has said, “Isn’t there something a little vague here?” He says that the flesh is always looking for an easy way, for the wide road. That none of us here are shaking ourselves.

The meeting is now over. I’m looking at a married brother here, and thinking about how he doesn’t have one certain problem I have. He can have sex. He wakes up in the morning, and there is a woman laying next to him in bed! His woman! He probably had sex today. Maybe this morning. Maybe tonight after the meeting. Brother Stewart does also.

This thought just explodes my mind. I can’t handle it at all. Here I am, laying in my bunk alone. And far away, over there in Philadelphia, maybe Brother Stewart is having sex with his wife right now. Or the other married brothers are having sex with their wives. It’s no problem with them. I think we will never, can never conceive of the pain – the pain of the unmarried, that is. This is one travesty that I think just should be ended here. This issue is not even addressed.

(The reason I was addressing this here was because we had just come out of a long and extremely stressful meeting, where we had been under duress and what I began to call psychopressure. I realized that married brothers, who didn’t live in our church, could just go home when it was all over and that they were not subject to the pressures of the continual enforcement system the way we who lived communally were. And that, of course, other forms of human comfort were available to these ones as well.)

As I write this, I look up and meet Becky’s eyes as she walks by on the other side of the room. I dutifully drop my eyes. She also.

I know my place; I am obedient. I know I cannot, will not, make a move or do anything to act on my natural desire for sex and marriage. (Though perhaps God has somebody else for me.) It will never be forgotten, I am sure, whenever I see her. She knows I once said that I wanted to start a relationship with her, almost ten years ago when we were living at the Rescue Mission. I could be married to her now.

One man has sex. Another man must resist it, or his soul is lost. Both have the same desire. This seems grossly unfair to me. What if the married brother, even though he still has a wife, had to do the same thing, or his soul would be lost?

I suppose at this point I could go into a long explanation about the wrongness of arbitrarily imposed celibacy.

I guess I’m making a case for the availability of marriage. (This issue will probably get me out of here one way or another.) Having sexual desire and not being able to marry is like having a millstone around your neck. And I am sure Stewart would put it back on me, saying “And whose fault is it anyway? And why aren’t you married!

(Stewart Traill often said these lines to us.)

Monday, May 17

Today is the day to feel the aftermath of the meeting. Riding into the city with Paul in the van, basically I started to wail about how hard the standards are here for being able to get married and also slip in a few of my “subversive element” thoughts – though now I have carefully recoiled. I just need to get out of my own thoughts. So therefore, maybe Traillism is true. It is God’s will, and I will actually have peace if I submit to it.

I notice that when I pray to be delivered from “all of this,” that is, from our life, ways, mores and laws, there is no deliverance. Therefore, God must want it to be so. He would have delivered me by now. I guess I’m a lonely dog barking in the wind. I am the one who is out of kilter. All my harping on about my point of view will not save me.

Yet, I still have these viewpoints, a backlash of private thoughts, so I will probably still write them down.

The result of the meeting yesterday is that almost everybody is going around talking about the fear of God. (And only about the fear of God and not any of the other Five Approaches.) So, as an experiment, instead of talking about the fear of God, I said to somebody, “Are you basing your life on God’s love for you?” The reply was something about the fear of God. The needle is going to be set in this groove until the next thing comes along. Yet there is some kind of satisfaction in towing the party line. Much like the Marines, there is a satisfaction in yielding to their discipline – marching in step, snapping a salute. At first the “flesh” fights it, but this yields to a satisfaction and even an enjoyment in being able to do it.

Robert S. came up to me today and said, “Fear Jesus.” When he said that, I realized that the Bible doesn’t say to fear Jesus. (It isn’t “scriptural.” Just like how, according to Stewart, “Jesus died to save you” isn’t scriptural.) So there is no reason for me to say that, or to “fear Jesus.” Jesus is the mediator between me and God, who is the one who I am supposed to fear.

I was hoping that such a way of thinking would help me come to Christ. After all, isn’t that why Christ came, to bridge to gap between God and man? Yet, I must still watch out for any appearance of anything that could even be marginally considered to be expressing doubts about what Stewart said. I would probably be better off by keeping quiet and “not fearing Jesus” all by myself, rather than trying to point this out to somebody.

I probably don’t realize just how far my record goes, and how the others here immediately consider everything I say and do in connection with what I’ve already said and done in the past. And actually, this is the place I’m coming from anyway. I’m doubting and saying “what about this?” I would do myself better by keeping quiet.

Also, nobody really wants to hear it. They are much more likely to report me to the brothers and to Stewart, first thing – even if I could point to something real. In other words, what if I could point to something “incontrovertible” – whether finding proof of an actual crime that Stewart committed or something clearly off in what he said, which can be proven (especially the latter). The first order of business on anybody’s part would not be to say “thanks for showing me that,” but they would report me for doubting and questioning. That’s where their thoughts are, that’s where they’re coming from. There is a dissenter in the ranks of the party. They would be carrying out their first duty to the security of the nation.

This is what I’m dealing with, with people who absolutely believe, who don’t want to believe anything else. (They don’t want to check, don’t want to deal with doubts. They want to kill the doubters.) I think I might be doing them a favor, but they will turn me in. Period. (And I do think that if the lid is clamped on that tightly, something pathological is going on here, or it is something like that people don’t want their views disturbed. They badly want to believe everything and they don’t want this illusion upset, at all costs. The backlash over expressing these doubts is so strong that it shows that there is something enormous behind it – which is something that I might want to consider giving further thought to.

Also, yes, I know that I am going to hell. (Little voices “help” me along in realizing this. [I often heard a voice in my mind, sometimes repeating every several minutes, saying simply, “You are going to hell.”]) Then I think, “So if I am going to hell, I might as well lust at women and commit any sins I want, why fight against anything?” And that all the above is just a smoke screen I use to cover up the fact that I’m going there. I will be badgered and blasted into accepting this as the only view, the only answer. There is nothing else I can do. (Nothing that will have a good result.) Maybe if I acquiesce and accept this view, I will be saved and have peace. Profess it, love it, take it inside of me as my own. The only way to peace.

I was reading a quote from Spurgeon about when you are anxious about the state of your soul, that your first, middle and last thoughts should be about the cross of Christ. Will something like that help me? I usually sink into despair and sin.

I feel like crying out for help (but where?) I think of calling the Cult Awareness Network, or even the police. I’m thinking that Stewart has too much control over people, more than a pastor should have. (Imagine trying to say that at a meeting or at a brothers meeting!) Then I hear a voice, “You are responsible.”

What will happen at some meeting if I collapse from the pressure, if this pressure starts getting too frequent or too intense? (Stewart usually applies pressure and then there is a subsequent relieving of pressure.) I am afraid of getting close to Stewart. What is it like for the sisters who live in Philadelphia, who are around him all the time? Maybe they develop a defense mechanism. Or are they completely believing and compliant? (Is that the defense mechanism?) Is compliance the only defense which could leave you at least a little room to breathe? Anything else, even the slightest murmured questions, brings the roof and the sledgehammers crashing down on you. You are in the spotlight. You lose whatever insulation from this pressure you did have, in your quest to get a little more relief from it. In your chafing against the restraints (on your time, on your mind, on your person, on your ability to question – on your ability to think at all), you have tightened your bonds all the more securely.

I think I am headed for a big crash, maybe. Maybe it is my “flesh” trying to flush yesterday’s meeting down the toilet so I won’t have to obey it. I feel like cursing God. Maybe I am in danger of getting into immorality. My flesh doesn’t want to live this uncomfortable life of fearing, 24 hours a day.

I am surrounded by people who only tow the party line. (I was thinking about talking to Paul, or at least confessing my temptations.) There is only one explanation of the “cause and effects” here, only one “dialectic.” Only one solution, through the proper discussing of the issues and correcting one another. Through dialog. Certain questions – certain answers. Anything else is invalid or not recognized as a proper cause, problem or answer to a problem. If you persist, you will be told that you are being arrogant!

There is no way out, no one to go to. But what about being shut up alone with God? Spurgeon wanted people to be that way. He didn’t want an altar call after his sermons, he wanted people to go home and pray, to shut themselves up alone with God. Is that what this is? It seemed like a good thing in that case.

(The concept of being shut up with God means that there is nowhere to turn but to God. No friends, counseling or diversions will help you. You only have God to go to for help. Nothing else works.)

But I realize, of course, that these are all just “my own thoughts.”

(Stewart told us that we were not supposed to get into our own thoughts. And brothers were always admonishing one another to not get into our own thoughts. We were supposed to get into God’s thoughts – as interpreted by Stewart – because our own thoughts would lead us astray. Stewart said the devil would give us plenty of ammunition, very plausible sounding ideas and doubts, if we really wanted to fight against God’s way and if we were looking for a way out.)

(I was thinking that in the case of a crisis like this, I should write the whole thing down, so I could have at least one written record of one of these things.) But if all of this is just my own thoughts, what this comes down to is that there is absolutely no validity to anything I think! I can and should discount it all. These thoughts are all of the devil, and me if I care to join him. That is amazing, that none of these thoughts can be valid. It reduces me to an automaton. A person’s questions don’t have to get answered here; they are just wrong. And the person who has questions is just arrogant. This has actually become a part of our street-witnessing techniques. If a person doesn’t comply immediately with what the brothers are telling him, they start blasting him with the accusation that he is just being arrogant. We can demand a conversion to Christ, unless of course the person just walks away.

Brothers also go around blasting each other. The best way to avoid getting eaten up is to be a tiger yourself. It’s the safest position. Everybody else will leave you alone and you might also make it by Stewart.

(I basically finished this whole crisis state of mind by listening to CBS, songs from 1978. I get to such a crisis point that I am about to crumble. What is the use of this if it has a violent backlash? It seems to tend to evil, not good. I tried to listen to a Bible tape to take my mind off all of this, but I couldn’t concentrate on it. It sounded like a rasping noise. I told Paul a little about what I’m going through. Maybe that provided some relief, but it probably did me more harm than good, since it now appears to Paul that I’m “doing my thing again.”)

(Brothers treated me like I was having some kind of compulsive disorder when I brought up my doubts about Stewart and our way of life in COBU, or if I talked about my struggles in any other way than using the proper words, like “it’s just my pride and rebellion.” I would often hear brothers tell me, “You’re doing your Jim LaRue thing again,” which was sometimes shortened to, “You’re doing your Jim LaRue again.”)

Rocky picked us up from the job site. On the way back, I had the foolishness to imitate Stewart saying something and Rocky gave me a look. Also, Paul said that Peter and I don’t seem to take our church and what we have seriously. Paul added that there is nothing else like what we have, there is no church out there like this, there are only just weird groups. It’s always back to the idea that this little group of 200 people is the only real repository of truth in the entire world.

I do see Paul being more serious. I wonder if something is going to happen soon. It really is a crime among us to have a wrong thought about Stewart or to speak wrongly of Stewart, and/or of our fellowship. It’s vigorously defended. And I see others getting more serious, if not about Jesus, certainly about this.

I am considering protecting myself if I get thrown out. I would probably go to the police. I have all these fantasies of inquisitional meetings where I am brought to trial, but there is nothing I can say to convince them. Or about what will happen to me if I say Stewart is not as important or as great as we say he is.

Sooner or later, something is going to happen. Because I can’t walk the perfect straight line and sometimes I wonder what the point of walking that line is, and whether I need to or not. There probably will be some kind of trial at a brothers meeting. (To the degree I play the doormat is the potential degree I may receive mercy. To the degree I intelligently defend myself is the degree to which I will stir up the hornet’s nest.) They may wait for a brothers meeting in Philadelphia when Stewart is there, so they can throw me at his feet. All the while, of course, while Stewart makes it look like he is a passive observer.

Yes, the storm’s brewing. It may be a while before it finds me – but it will. Maybe I will be used in a larger sense, since the brothers will want to test the boundaries. (Or maybe they will get me to say what they themselves wouldn’t dare say. For example, if they are starting to have second thoughts about what Stewart is telling us, they wouldn’t dare voice it themselves, but they might look for somebody who they know will say it, if only he can be pushed into it.) [This sentence in parenthesis is circled in my diary.]

I see how the they trap you with questions, especially in the meetings. One example is by saying, “Is the way you’re acting right now pleasing to God?” If you say no, your whole argument is blown. If you say yes, well, how can you really? Because if you do, then they will ask you, “So, you’re arguing with all your brothers and sisters? Ask them what they think about your behavior.” Of course, their testimony is a powerful lever on you. “Are you willing to go against the view of the entire assembled body of brothers and sisters and what they are saying about you? You are really arrogant – aren’t you?”

I saw these methods being used on Dion yesterday. He never knew what hit him. (I heard that Dion showed up at the Lamb House today. The sisters said to him, “We know girly numbers when we see them.” Really, what is the function of these sayings? Why do people feel compelled to utter such things? It seems unmerciful. It’s “truth speaking” without checks and balances.)

The “criminal” has no recourse, no method of appeal. Once you fall beneath the floor so to speak, of our society, or once you run afoul of it, there is no mercy for you.

Ultimately, these fantasies of future confrontations lead to me having to come out and expose my views about how we are all being coerced and manipulated here, because for sure, I would have to say that Stewart compels the brothers and sisters to be like this. Ultimately, all of this would lead to an outburst, or to me making a charge that Stewart is a liar or a perverted man. After which, I would be summarily carted off the property by four of the strongest brothers – one each per limb – and banished. Since there is no word, wisdom or weapon that can avail against Brother Stewart and everybody else is in on it and supports him.

Sometimes, I think our society needs such a challenge once in a while so that we can reconfirm to ourselves that Stewart is invincible and so we can uphold the myth that he is great. I don’t want to be used as the pawn to promote this, though one could say we are doing this every day in a much calmer way. But, I just might be sought out and brought out. I will be used for this motive and perhaps for the kind of reward and recognition that a bounty hunter receives when he catches his prey. They will get praise from Stewart. I will be like a human sacrifice to appease him and keep his wrath away from them, by showing him that they are being good and rooting out the evil within our church.

I just don’t see how I can survive here much longer, whatever actually does happen. I would like to write a book or an article about it if I leave, but I wonder if I would be able to. I like the way these words can flow off my pen, with insight and ready-made conclusions. Either I am crazy, or I just know what life here is really like and how it works. I choose the latter explanation.

I realize that we are a dying church, one that must continually reassert its importance – if only to itself, to its own members. The myth that Stewart is great and is an excellent teacher must go on. Both for him and for us. We can’t face that it is all a waste. Every meeting is like a reconfirmation ritual. The excellent teacher myth is just like it was in the old days, though it survives in a modified form.

I see Paul as really duped. The things he says about the greatness of our church. Really, we’re a band of ragtag burn-outs and self-important nobody. All the sisters are getting old, and nobody can marry them. They’re all hoping to be like Dawn and to die a happy old lady. If Stewart forbids marriage – or just never includes it in the agenda – the sisters will go along with it, with all the appropriate talk about how “life is short” and how they must “give up thinking about it, because you are going to lose everything in this life soon anyway.”

The brothers are going around now spouting this line from the meeting, “You are going to lose everything in this life soon anyway.” I wonder if this is all preparation for something down the line. Maybe something that Stewart is consciously planning. Or maybe it’s the spirit that is at work in his teaching. If it isn’t a Jim Jones or David Koresh suicide, it is certainly groundwork for further privations. Stewart can tell the brothers and sisters to “forget marriage anyway,” because, as the Apostle Paul said, “The appointed time has grown very short.”

I’d like to see just how Stewart wipes out the basis for getting married – if he hasn’t already – such as by saying, “Really it is not scriptural and I Corinthians 7 doesn’t say you should have a wife.” He could twist it in some way that either sounds plausible, or at least, we would get the message that we had better not even try to go there. Most brothers and sisters would go along with a permanent celibacy basis – with an explanation. Stewart may be getting us ready for it, though I think in this case, Stewart’s program is far more all-encompassing than just this area of our “human lives.”

A lot of it seems to be Stewart’s attempt to sow up his power. To make it more sure and secure. To get us all believing the lines. We have already agreed to all of it thus far, we’ve been brought along the way for so long. It will be hard to get out. All of this seems to be leading to death.

Also, if we are a dying, losing church, he and we can’t admit it. Not with the sense of elitist mission and purpose we have always had and still have. It just couldn’t be. So we have to mask our poverty and failure with this distorted view of scripture so we can say it is supposed to be this way.

(Note, with the financial success of the Church of Bible Understanding’s architectural antique business, Olde Good Things, which was started after I left there, the poverty aspect (at least in the financial sense) is no longer true, but even so, the more things change the more they remain the same. The members of the church who do all the work, insofar as I know, only receive what is necessary to warehouse and feed single people. Stewart has a very large private mansion in Florida. And nobody has ever gotten married in COBU since I left it, 36 years ago at this writing.]

The more this place is falling apart, the more dictatorial Stewart’s power has to be, so that hopefully, we will never realize or admit the problem. He has us so sewn up that even in the privacy of our own rooms, we wouldn’t dare speak of it.

Read the next section of the journal here: Under Pressure.


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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