Sinners In The Hands Of Any Angry Cult Leader is based on the journal tapes I made when I was in a communal organization called the The Church of Bible Understanding (COBU). Journaling was a way for me to come to grips with life in COBU and to understand the methods and motives of our leader, Stewart Traill. It was also a safety valve, because there was no one else I could to talk to about any of these things. Those on the outside could not understand (or so I thought). And I did not talk to church members about these things, because I was accused of harboring ideas against our way and our leader. (The COBU way as “the only way that works,” according to Stewart Traill.) Anything less than unquestioning obedience to Stewart’s teachings meant that we were in rebellion against God, because Stewart claimed to receive special revelation from God that no one else in the entire world had.
If you followed Stewart’s claims to their logical conclusions, he was the restorer of Christianity to its original state. He claimed that after the time of Jesus and the Apostles, the “lamp stand” (meaning the light of God’s truth in this world) was lost because Christians were rebellious against God, so darkness entered into the world. Then there was a short time during the Protestant Reformation when Martin Luther restored the lamp stand, but the light was soon lost again because of the rebellion and disobedience of Christians and there was darkness once more. “But now,” Stewart said, “these things are being revealed.” These were the claims Stewart made, all the time.
And if this were true, then this man selected by God to bring the truth back into the world could place tremendous demands on our lives and our time, because if we believed this, then we needed Stewart. Indeed, we were supposed to give our entire lives over to Stewart, in the name of giving our lives entirely to Jesus. Anything less than this was “cheating” and “trying to have it both ways.” It was “rebellion” and “trying to have a life in this world.”
Selected victims were accused of all of these things in our weekly courtroom style meetings, with Stewart as the accuser and judge, and with the church members as a jury that was always striving to be in agreement with him. These meetings went on all day in a high state of tension, with a lot of shouting, proclaiming and speech making. Then we had our own meetings every day during the week, apart from Stewart, in which we tested and voted on one another and reported the results to Stewart by phone.
Life in the Church of Bible Understanding was all or nothing. We were either obedient to this way, or we were in rebellion – and headed straight to hell. After some time, I began to realize I might be headed to hell if I stayed in COBU and continued to live this way. And after a long time of struggle, which these tapes capture, I left.
Hell must have been Stewart Traill’s favorite place, because he talked about hell so much. He hardly ever talked about heaven, especially after his so-called repentance in 1989 at the “Grace Meeting.” The closest he ever came to mentioning heaven is when he talked about “your chat with Jesus,” which was a one on one conversation we were going to have with Jesus when we died, and this chat was going to be about whether we were getting into heaven or being cast into hell, based on how we had performed during our lives.
And what was going happen to us our chat with Jesus, according to Stewart? “Jesus is going to kill you as soon as he sees you.”
We had “hell bible studies“ and we read “warning verses” to “stir up our fear,” because only through being in constant terror of hell would we have enough fear to take our salvation seriously.
The Hell Cult was in full session. This obsession with hell (and our immediate prospect of going there, as Stewart said, “You’re going to die in two seconds”) had a useful side effect. (Or was it the original intention?) It caused us to lay aside our soon-to-end lives and to work hard at the church’s businesses. Salvation from hell was not promised through working, but the church’s businesses were “God’s will” for supporting “the purpose,” of the church.
It got worse in COBU after I left in August 1993. Stewart had meetings to “take volunteers for the lake of fire.”
The links to the tapes are in the right hand column of this page. You can also go to the next page by the link at the bottom of each page. The first section of Sinners In The Hands Of An Angry Cult Leader is here: Worshipping And Serving The Idol Of COBU.
These pages, as well as my other pages, A Day In The Life Of A Cult Member and The Tangled Web, are part of the source material of my book, Captive Congregation: My Fourteen Years in the Church of Bible Understanding, which is available as a Kindle book or in paperback.