1 A. Some notes on my COBU Journals

These are journals I wrote while I was in the Church of Bible Understanding.  They cover the years 1990 – 1993. (I was in the Church of Bible Understanding from February 1980 to August 1993.  I joined when I was 22 years old and I left at age 36.)

These journal pages form the background of my book, Captive Congregation: My Fourteen Years in the Church of Bible Understanding, which are available as a Kindle book or in paperback.

I was a “true believer” in my earlier years, in COBU, or at least I believed the explanations that were given for the way things were done and for what we believed, including explanations for the things that didn’t look right. (This explanation was often one version or another of “you helped make things this way,” or “if you were faithful to Christ, you wouldn’t be like this.”) But in later years, especially after observing the leader of the church and his actions more closely, I was able to understand more. I was also getting worn out by and I didn’t think I could live this way any longer, seeing mid-life approaching. I also understood that I could not get married there, and that I was expected to cut off and “put to death” everything in me that was not directly part of the church program, which was really Stewart Traill’s agenda for his personal profit – making money, gathering and training new converts to live this way. He created and administered this way of life as a way to control people to use their lives to serve these ends.

A note to anyone taking a quick look at these journals who wants a general idea of what I was writing about:  It is best to look at the entries from 1993. The earlier sections (1990 through most of 1992) contain so much of my inner turmoil and doubt that it might be difficult to read through them. The entries in 1993 contain a more accurate description of what was wrong in COBU. because it was becoming a lot clearer to me by then, and I was less likely to blame myself for the problems there and was less likely to be writing only about my sinful and confused condition, which I imagine is not very interesting to read about.

You may be reading these pages because you have an interest in life in cults, controlling environments or other situations where people are monitored and where there are severe consequences for anyone who thinks differently from the party line. Or you may be interested in studying the dark corners of the Christian subculture and what effects legalism has on people. You may be interested in totalitarian organizations with a fanatical bent. Or, you may be a member of the Church of Bible Understanding (past or present), and you would like to know what someone else who was there was thinking at the time.  You may have come to the some of the same conclusions, but in your own words.  I have my unique way of observing and describing things. Though from reading and listening to others who were there, we all essentially have said the same things about it in our own way.

If you are a current member of the Church of Bible Understanding, you might not agree with any of my conclusions or observations. Or if you do agree with some of these things, having reasoned them out yourself, you might be on your way toward leaving the Church of Bible Understanding yourself. It is not possible, as far as I know, to remain in the Church of Bible Understanding if you have any disagreements with the way of life there, unless you are willing to bury it deep inside and remain utterly silent about it.


Anything in brackets, [like this] is commentary that I have added later. All other text is the journal as I was writing it at the time, with slight modifications to make it more readable and editing out parts that are repetitive or unnecessary.

Despite this commentary, there is just too much to explain to someone who was not there, and I do not know if I can provide a clear picture to those who have not lived it themselves. I hope this is a help to former and current members. For most everyone else, these journals probably need comprehensive notes to explain what was going on, but I have tried to add notes to provide context.

Editing the journals to make them more readable often means taking out words like, “like, really, just, all,” and longer phrases like “I wonder if,” and “this is sort of like.” While making it more readable, this editing also lessens the sense of uncertainty and doubt I had about my own thoughts and whether or not I could believe them. The more direct sounding narration that results makes it sound like I was more confident in my observations, when really, I was often not sure. For example, while writing about a verbal beating by Stewart Traill, the leader of the group, I wrote “this is like a haranguing,” but I have edited it to “this is a haranguing.” Well, it was a haranguing, but you see, I was not sure, because these talks were supposedly being given for our good by someone who had our greatest – and eternal – good in mind. I was only coming to see what the real truth was, so I wrote that it was like getting yelled at. It was also “like” a haranguing because Stewart rarely raised his voice from a rather monotone reciting of all that was wrong with us.

But over time I did become confident and sure of what I was seeing. Today I would not say that it was “like being in a cult,” and “sort of like Jim Jones.” I would just say the Church of Bible Understanding was a cult, and that it was similar to the Jonestown cult in many ways, except for the final outcome, which was a mass suicide. But I was just coming to a real awareness of all this and I would often fall back into doubt. I would try to suppress my thoughts that were contrary to the way of life in COBU, only to have the thoughts leak back to the surface like toxic waste that I was trying to keep buried. So, eventually I decided to deal with it head on and to dare to believe what I really believed.

It was a doubly a struggle, because it was cast in religious terms, because these doubts (according to cult teaching and anyone I dared to talk to about it) were supplied to me by the devil himself and if I believed these doubts, it was because I was looking for a way out of serving the truth, so I could do what I really wanted to do instead, which, according to Stewart Traill, was to sin and serve my flesh. (That is, my carnal desires, most especially the sin of pride, to run my own life, according to my own thoughts, rather than by the “true teaching” which Traill supplied to us.) And Traill said that the devil was always there in our minds to give us excuses if we were looking for them.  He also said that if we were looking for way out of serving the truth, that God himself would give us that way. There was even a Bible verse that said it. 2 Thessalonials 2, verses 11 and 12, “Therefore God sends upon them a strong delusion, to make them believe what is false, so that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness.” So, here was a dire warning for all those who were looking for a way of escape from the COBU way of life.  This was the fate, according to Traill, of all those who had left COBU and their end was to burn forever and ever in the lake of fire.

Sometimes I told people there what I was thinking. Their reply was “Oh, the devil tells me those lies too.” These were very specific things about the church, life there, and its leader and not the kind of thoughts that most Christian teaching will tell you that the devil could cause you to have, such as “God doesn’t love you,” or, “go ahead and sin, it’s okay.”

One day, after hearing this response from one of the sisters in the church (that “the devil puts those thoughts in my mind too”), it became clear to me that she was telling me that she thought the same things I did! She had just chosen to deal with those thoughts as “the lies of the devil,” as if her very own thoughts, at least on these matters, were the devil himself speaking to her, and that therefore these issues and observations about what was wrong the church and its leader were not open for discussion.

But I had come to a place where I couldn’t deny reality anymore. If these things about the church and its leader were true, then I needed to leave. Or to put it another way, if these things were true, I no longer needed to be there, because this was not the only place in the world I had to be in order to be saved (as we were told) and I was not leaving Jesus to go out into the world to be deceived and lost for all eternity. In fact, I was starting to worry that if I stayed in COBU that I would be deceived and separated from Jesus for all eternity.

I went through this struggle, trying to identify what was the devil deceiving me and “putting thoughts into my mind” and what was reality.  Did I dare think, possibly God was showing me the truth about the Church of Bible Understanding? And if he was, would I act upon it, or just stay there anyway and try to keep living according to this way of life? I also realized that my presence there was a reinforcement to the others that this was a genuine and true way of living the Christian way of life. I would be misrepresenting God and Christianity by staying there (as COBU itself was a misrepresentation of God and Christianity). Now that it was clear to me what was wrong and why, it would now be a conscious decision to sell this way of life to others by taking part in it and helping the system.

I would like to explain the above paragraph further. Didn’t I already know COBU was a false system? Not at first. I got into this in my early twenties and most there came to the church when they were in their late teens. We were just kids who didn’t have a lot of discernment about life or about God and the bible. I was not aware of how I was lending support to this system of lies and religious deceit at first and it was only after many years there did I become aware of this. Now in my early thirties, and well trained into the COBU way of life and the COBU way of thinking and worldview, it was not so easy to break out as it might seem. These pages will help to provide some insight into that struggle.


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