1991, 11/09 B. “Older Brother, When Are You Packing Your Bags!”
An older brother, Peter, used to call certain occasions in our church “membership drives,” because Stewart Traill, COBU’s leader, was driving us crazy or trying to drive us out of the church. The following section is about a time of heavy abuse I experienced in COBU, when Stewart tried to drive the older brothers out of the church and to replace them with homeless men who would be obedient and willing workers. But this plan did not work and the older brothers were needed again.
At that time, the new people we had brought into the church were put in charge and the older brothers were put in submission to them. Most of these new people were homeless men recently taken off the streets. Some of them had criminal backgrounds and these ones moved into positions of power, with disastrous results.
I called that time period “810” because I was living in the church-operated homeless shelter at 810 North Broad Street in Philadelphia, where Stewart turned the tables on us and put our former charges in charge of us. I didn’t talk much about the final outcome here of that episode here, but it’s covered in other places in my story. I continued to talk from side A of this tape (see: Worshipping And Serving The Idol Of COBU) about giving into the pressure of cult life to always be on the go and to never stop and collect my thoughts. I was always driven with a whip at my back, and part of the process was my own willingness to go along with it.
It’s hard to find time to stop. It’s partly inward, as far as these things go. Inwardly, I go for it. I don’t put the breaks on inside of myself. An example is when Stewart told me to go to 810 from the Lamb House, how I didn’t delay for one second. I ran for my punishment. I was a glutton for punishment. Or when I was flyering when I lived at 810, I usually only had one new brother with me. Often I was with ones who weren’t going to monitor me. I was with Paris one day. He just wanted to wander off. One day I was with John. He was an alright character.
(During “810,” Stewart told the new disciples to watch the older brothers and to report on them. I was often with new disciples who didn’t understand the concept of being informants and spies for the pastor of our church. These ones were enjoyable to spend time with. We went around passing out flyers for the church cleaning business. But even when I wasn’t being monitored by one of the informants, I pushed and drove myself anyway, pushing myself even harder inwardly than I was under surveillance outwardly.)
I felt driven to pass out these carpet cleaning flyers. I found a nice neighborhood to walk around in, and we were putting flyers under doors. It was a form of rest in an out of the way place. There was a little park by the railroad where I could sit and take a break to watch trains go by. Of course I felt really bad for doing that! I felt so driven. I had to do this flyering and I had to take a new disciple with me and be on the move every minute. We had to call the office every hour to report what we were doing. And as the evidence bore out, as far as I know, there wasn’t a single job from the hundreds of houses we flyered. In other words, I could have taken a break from all of this. But I acted as if I was being watched. We had to call in all the time. I acted as if I was watched every minute.
One time, I took a break by the river. I sat down on a bench with John. He was blabbering on and on, talking in an endless loop about himself and how he was going to get his life together. He was a friendly old man. I liked him. But the truth is, I couldn’t offer him any help anyway. But even though John wasn’t one of the ones who was watching me and reporting back to Stewart, I still felt driven and inwardly I rode myself as hard or maybe harder than anyone else was, despite the fact that no one was there to watch me. But I thought they might find out I took a break, or that Jesus was watching me, that he’s got me cornered.
It was like the law of averages or something, where I thought I would be repaid for what I did and that I couldn’t hide. I though that if I decided to sit on a bench for a while to read or look at the river, or to wonder what I’m doing here and why I’m doing this, that somehow I would be found out. Not even that someone might ask me what I did all day. It was strange, I was being beaten then, but I was afraid to lie, afraid to say. “I took a break for an hour and half.” I was afraid it would come back on me somehow.
(If I took a break from the treadmill and sat somewhere and thought about what I doing all this for, I feared I would receive divine retribution and this retribution would be by means of others getting on my case, or that God would reveal it to them.
The church (Stewart Traill really) was subjecting us older brothers to extreme abuse, yet I did not take time to ask myself, why am I so zealous to do this work, if at the same time I am being severely mistreated and Stewart is acting as if he wants nothing to do with us and says that he would rather see us all leave? Looking back on it, as I was doing now, it didn’t make much sense. But at the time, I had a strong feeling of being driven and that it was wrong to relax for even a moment. Part of that came from the sense of being watched and reported on. And part of it was inside myself, I was doing it to myself.)
And I was driven like that, inwardly. I see now that it wouldn’t have made any difference. I was driven inside and acting as if it was good for me. Maybe I would have been desperately running from punishment, because I knew I had taken time off. But it was weird, I was just living this punishment life.
Whether or not it was designed to be that way, it was a gulag. I didn’t even have to be there.
(My efforts didn’t amount to anything for the church and it wouldn’t have made a difference if I was doing this or not. My uncertainty over whether the prison labor camp (gulag) conditions in our church were intentional shows that I was still not sure if Stewart had good or bad intentions toward us. I was not sure whether Stewart consciously planned these conditions or it just happened to work out that way. It’s clear to me now, of course, that it was well planned and carried out.)
In a lot of ways, I was a glutton for punishment. Imagine, living at 810, you see how it is there, right? And I get assigned a new disciple brother to flyer with. And I know he’s easy going type. Not a Steve L. type.
(Steve L. was a new brother I worked with a few times. He rode me all day about being a bad older brother and watched me like a prison guard, having completely believed Stewart Traill’s hype about the “ex-older brothers,” as Stewart was now calling us. Steve was a street person. I ran into him many years later in New York City, after I left the cult. He was standing outside a mens shelter and we talked a little while.)
And I could have gone out and just hid out for the day with this new brother who was easy to be with and not an informant like Steve, who gave me a hard time and reported on me. I could have flyered a little on my way to somewhere, and then stopped, just to get away from this 810 thing. I needed the escape, I needed the relief. But I wouldn’t do it.
(I could have found ways to get away from this situation. But even when no one was watching, I rode myself like a taskmaster.)
I didn’t want to hear someone say, “You’ve been flyering. But you haven’t been closing any jobs. Why?” That was part of it. I was afraid there would be some reckoning. It turned out, there wasn’t a reckoning and nobody closed any jobs. I might have closed one job, one day, by walking into a store and asking if they wanted their carpets cleaned. But no one responded to any of the business flyers we put out there. I feared there’d be an inquisition, if I didn’t get my quota, and that was driving me.
(I feared and expected this, due to my past experience with church inquisitions. It was not an unfounded worry.)
And I can see my other motives. Even all through the abuse foisted on us by the church, I felt that the church business was good, and I wanted to build up the business. I thought, this is right, we should do this. And I was trying to goad these new disciples into doing it. Let’s pass out flyers, this is good to do. It’s strange.
(Considering the circumstances, now that I was looking back on it, it was strange that I would work hard for a church and pastor that were treating me with such contempt. But I still remembered my earlier days in COBU and remembered how much the carpet cleaning business meant to all of us and how we thought we were supporting our church’s three orphanages in Haiti with our efforts)
Another thing I was thinking about 810 is, what other church runs a shelter where the people they bring in dictate to the people running it how it’s going to be? Where the tenants dictate to the owners of the place how it’s going to be. And not only that, they run the Junior Black Mafia out of the place and deal drugs! And I was thinking, only in our church. Only in our church would we allow such a thing to go on. It was crazy. One of the new disciples told me later, after 810 was shut down, that they used to put us older brothers to bed every night and then go out and do drugs at night. It just shows what a fool I am.
Brother Stewart wasn’t aware of all this when it was going on – and he hasn’t admitted that. The closest he got to admitting it was when he asked us, “Why didn’t you tell me anything, why weren’t the older brothers saying anything?” The truth was, I didn’t know. So much of this was hidden, maybe I only saw the tip of the iceberg. But it’s hard to tell your leader something when he’s trying to beat you out of the place. He was thrusting us down and putting us into this prison situation to punish us. To all appearances, he was trying to drive us out of the church. And why he didn’t just outright do it, I don’t know. Maybe he was just trying to wear us out.
(Stewart didn’t have a good line of communication open with the older brothers, who might have been able to alert him that there were problems.
Stewart may have been trying to wear us out so we would leave on our own, that way, we couldn’t claim that he threw us out. Stewart often said that he was going to make it so bad that the older brothers would want to leave. At the same time, he said that no one was throwing us out. That way, he said, it would be clear to any older brother who was leaving – and to everyone else – that this brother was rejecting Christ and leaving the church to go live for sin.
Another possible reason was that older brothers would not be able to get unemployment benefits if they left the church voluntarily. If a brother was thrown out, it would also mean that he was fired from his job in the church business. Then the church would have to contribute money toward that brother’s unemployment benefits. Stewart would have never stated this motive publicly.)
Well, there was Stewart’s claim that maybe the older brothers will repent, but that he was going to put us though this treatment.
(Stewart claimed that the abuse he aimed at the older brothers was so that they would repent.)
But at the same time, it was clear, and it was really on my mind, that Stewart didn’t want me around. And I was supposed to get on the phone and I was supposed to send him a message about what was going on over here at 810? That there were some really bad things going on? When Stewart came around (he made it to two meetings at 810), he lined up the older brothers first and beat them. “This one’s a rebel. That one’s a cheater.” And I stood up to say something to him about what was happening there and he said, “We don’t need to listen to this dead man.”
(I stood up to say something and Stewart dismissed me, telling all the new people, “We don’t need to listen to this dead man,” meaning I was spiritually dead, so he did not have to respond to anything I said. He didn’t speak to me, but said this about me to the other people in the room. So with an attitude like that toward older brothers, Stewart was not going to receive much input about the way things really were and what was really happening in 810, from those who could have told him about it.
After beating on the older brothers for a while, Stewart went on to talk to the “new disciples,” admonishing and exhorting them to remain faithful to Christ – as well as to watch out for these older brothers, because they’ll try to get over on you and cheat you any way they can, because they’re rebels against Christ. These “new disciples” were mostly homeless people, but a criminal element had moved into the positions of leadership after Stewart removed the older brothers from their positions, and these ones began handling the money and running the place. These were the ones reporting to Stewart and fronting that they were doing their “Christian training” when Stewart came around now and then.)
In one of these meetings, Stewart had Greg standing up on the other side of the meeting room, and all these new disciples were shouting the line at him which Stewart incited them to use on us, “Older Brother, when are you packing your bags! When are you leaving!”And then Greg took off down the street.
And Stewart wasn’t telling them to stop. You might try to say he was sitting there as this was going on, thinking, “What am I going to do now, this isn’t right.” But to me, it was the same as if he was doing it to us. The new disciples were the axe that Stewart wielded on us. He sat there very patiently while it was going on. If he had wanted them to stop, he would have just said, hey stop. Like he told “Keith X” one time, “Don’t call the older brothers jokers.” He could have told them to stop, if he wanted to.
This was how we were being treated. Stewart came and he beat each one of us. Basically, you just want to sit back down again. He was asking the new disciples about how it was going here. It’s clear to me, he didn’t want to hear anything from us.
(Stewart didn’t want to hear from us older brothers who could have told him what was happening there as the criminal element was taking over.)
And when Stewart was done with beating us older brothers, then in a very gentle, fatherly way, he started talking to these thugs about doing their Christian training, “Well now, you’ve got to do your training. You’ve got to take your salvation seriously.” Talking to these thugs like they were his pet rabbits. They were his project and he came over to see them once in a while. Stewart was just out of it. What was he really up to at the time? He was out to lunch. He must have been. Stewart came over and said, there they are, there’s the thugs, let’s beat them. [“Thugs” meaning what Stewart considered the older brothers to be, not the genuine criminals among us.] That’s how it was. And I could talk about more things. Maybe I should.
These are the archival collections of my thoughts. I go through the day and there’s nothing to think about. So I begin thinking about different time periods in the fellowship. It’s as if there’s an audio-visual library available to me, the archival selection of my thoughts. I pull out a certain year and I look at it. I’m looking at 810 now. This is my life.
The way we were being treated at 810 reminds me of a saying Hitler had, that “Wherever there’s a problem and strife, there’s a Jew behind it.” Like some worm or some cancer. And that could be paraphrased to “Wherever there’s trouble in the fellowship. Wherever there’s strife and fighting, behind the scenes there’s an older brother.” Like some filthy worm or insect. You know what I mean. Stewart was treating us that way. At the same time, why didn’t we tell him what was really going on there? As far as I know, Stewart was trying to drive us out of the church. It even came to a point where I blew up. It was late, it was time to go to bed and suddenly the older brothers would have to get together to have a meeting.
(After a long day, around midnight, the older brothers at 810 had to get together to report on ourselves, vote on one another, and then call in the results to one of Stewart’s intermediaries.)
We all huddled in the corner of a room. It’s amazing how Stewart didn’t have to be present to beat us.
(Stewart didn’t have to be present to beat on us. We did it to ourselves, knowing that the purpose of getting together was to report on one another to Stewart.)
Not only would I have to beat myself inwardly, but we got together and beat each another. Except when it was not official, when we met informally. You see, it depended. When it was unofficial, we just talked. “Well how’s it going?” “Boy, this is tough.” But when we got together, we knew we were uniting in Stewart’s name, not even in Jesus’s name. We were uniting in Stewart’s name, so we had to be a certain way with each other, which was to go through each one and make a speech. And beat one another. Mostly, we were trying to get a message together (to send to Brother Stewart), so we were trying to line ourselves up right. I remember one time, just saying, “Look, I’m not one of God’s elect. I’m not right with God. I can’t repent,” and everyone was just beating on me. No one was going to help you. Sometimes there was a monitor. Robert G. would come and sit in on our older brother meeting The head of the Junior Black Mafia would come and monitor the meeting! I mean, that’s amazing. He was monitoring our meeting and an hour before he had been over to the other side of town to deal drugs, sex, violence and murder!
It’s amazing. It is truly amazing. It wasn’t like good, Robert walked away, now we can talk. Because we can’t say Stewart’s bad, you know.
(Stewart was the one who had set up this oppressive arrangement, including having the new disciples monitor us. But even when the new disciple who was monitoring us walked away from our meeting, we didn’t relax, but we kept monitoring one another, and prodding and pushing one another with the usual Stewart slogans.)
Maybe inwardly we were thinking it was crazy, but we had to keep up the front and beat on one another. Play the act, you know. And it’s truly amazing, the way we lived there. We would get a message: Who’s going to call Stewart? It was crazy. I can’t believe something like this could exist in the annals of human behavior. How could I have lived that way? But, in many other times in the fellowship, how could I have lived that way? Well, I didn’t want to leave the fellowship. And, if I did, there was nowhere to go. I had literally nowhere to go. As proven by the fact that when I was in 810, I was planning to leave if I could arrange a place to go to. I think I would have left when Steve B. got his place together.
(Steve B. was an older brother who left as a result of this treatment. He was trying to get an apartment. The first night he left, he slept in the back of an empty trailer. He was now staying with an older brother who left long ago and they were planning to get an apartment, and Steve said I could move there if I wanted to leave. But before that could happen, the situation at 810 came to a head and most of the new disciples were put out and many older brothers, including me, were sent to Manhattan to “live on a homeless basis,” sleeping on the floor of the church office at night and spending the whole day soliciting work for the church business.)
That’s the facts. I was thinking of leaving, I really was. I was walking down Broad Street and I was thinking, the leaves are going to be coming out on the trees soon. And I thought, I can’t be here, locked up in this place for this in the summer, this is going to be horrible.
Which reminds me, in the midst of trouble, there are always pleasant interludes. Now we look back on 810, and on the walk down Broad Street to Center City, there was an old railroad car by the side of the road which was converted to a diner and I ate breakfast in there sometimes. I went in and sat down and ate while looking out the window, thinking about how this is an old passenger car. And as I was stepping down the stairwell on my way out, I enjoyed looking at the way the car was constructed out of metal and rivets. Although I soon found a diner where breakfast was cheaper, so that ended the railroad car diner.
(I didn’t have much money and breakfast at 99 cents instead of 1.50 was a better deal.)
And there was the week we were sanding the wood floors at Tekla’s place. I worked with a new disciple brother. I had learned how to accommodate new brothers. I blabbered outwardly to them, while inwardly keeping my distance, thinking my own thoughts. It was hard working with these ones, and it was crazy, taking them on jobs. Taking them into peoples’ houses sometimes. The new disciples would talk with us, but this business wasn’t for them. We had to run the wood floor machines and we knew they couldn’t join us permanently. We couldn’t teach them how to operate the equipment. I showed them how to scrape corners or something. Not that they were inferior as people, but I knew they couldn’t participate, this wasn’t going to work. I realized these ones were going to be out of here in a short time, they were not going to stay with the fellowship. Not that they had something better, but they were not going to adapt to our way of life.
I remember working on that job, where the work was a good interlude, and then walking back through some nice neighborhoods. It was like leaving the real world and going back to my dungeon. And I met these people. Tekla was an attractive woman. She had a nice husband. And we used to talk to them.
(We made pleasant small talk with our clients as we renovated their houses. This pleasant talk was quite different than the kind of conversation and beating meetings we had back in 810 in the evenings, when we finished working for our clients.)
It was like getting let loose for a while during the daytime. Who was that one in Greek mythology who went to hell for half a year and to heaven for the other half? Then she had have to go back to Hades. [Persephone had to leave heaven to spend half of each year in Hades.] That was what it was like going to work in places like this and then going back to 810 each night. Going out to the real world, which I would say was the real world by comparison.
(The COBU term “the world” was based on the Biblical use of “the world,” which means all things that are not of God. But in COBU “the world” meant “everything outside of COBU.” In a break from my usual COBU beliefs, I was saying that life outside of COBU was the real world, and that it was good and infinitely to be preferred over life in COBU.)
Like day and night, the world is the real world. And this was some fake and ridiculous prison, where no one on the outside knew of the inward beatings that took place. And we left there in the mornings and went to these jobs and we were cheery with our customers. And we tried not to tell them anything about ourselves or about where we were living. Not that it was conscious, it was not intentionally lying, but we weren’t open about it.
Sometimes we told them about the kind of work our our church business did and how the money we make goes to support our orphanage in Haiti. And we wouldn’t let them know what it was like where we were really from. And often, I wouldn’t really be thinking about it as I was working. But at the end of the day, after I had been working in this nice brownstone, I went back to this prison. Or it was like a marriage where the wife is beaten, but when company comes over, she puts on a show of how everything is okay. No one knows her inward terrors. There was no one I could have gone to for help, to talk to, or for anything. I can still imagine being at 810 if the place hadn’t gotten so bad. But it was doomed to failure. The way it was set up, it was going to turn bad. It wasn’t a right place to be sent to and it blew up because it wasn’t right.
It wasn’t a good place to be at, because of the way it was. If it was a right kind of punishment place and we were being “rightly” brought down, well I guess it would still be operating today. But really, Stewart threw us in with a bunch of sharks, thugs and thieves. It may have better before at 810, when Kevin and Jay and the older brothers were running it, but Stewart threw out the brothers who were making it good. He threw out their help and guidance. Now maybe some of these things were already going on, but it certainly became worse, when Stewart threw out the older brotherss and let the new disciples run it. And I think Stewart put Kevin back in there, but Kevin had to answer to the new disciples and if he tried taking even a small stand, they beat on him.
This was crazy and stupid, you see how low we sunk. See, what they used to do was put a red X on your chart! You would have to understand our society to know that was like. A fate worse than death. You have your chart up there, and this chart meant more than X’s in a box. It had a lot to do whether you were going to be thrown out of the church or not. And we clung and grasped for enough points on that chart to get halfway, to at least be in the middle. We couldn’t get the best score, but we could at least be in the middle in order to hang on. And we didn’t want red X’s. Because if we did, we got pounded on and then asked, “Older brother, when are you packing your bags?”
Yes, it was ridiculous. First of all, no one got thrown out for not getting enough points or getting too many red X’s. But imagine what would happen to someone if they said, “I quit. I give up. I don’t care what I get on the chart.” They would have be far gone to do that. I was giving up, you’ve got to understand, but for me to get to that kind of giving up, I would need to have somewhere to go. I might have given up, but I still tried to tread water. I would still try. I was preserving my life.
We had to go around and fill out these ridiculous file cards, we had to interview five new brothers each day and write it down on cards. Each older brother was supposed to get five, but I had to get ten. It was a punishment meted out to me, for a reason I may get into later. I had to get ten cards. And I could have just made them up. I could have done like that counter spy did in England when he sent messages back to the Germans, making fictitious characters and writing their stories. That never occurred to me. It would have been funny. But see, then I would have been worried about the deceit. I couldn’t have known the future. I couldn’t have known how it would have worked out. I could have only done this if I was trying to buy a month until I could arrange somewhere to go.
(The reason I had to get five extra interview cards a day was because I spoke up to Stewart Traill at a meeting and this was part of my punishment. Also, later I found out that Stewart never read the cards, because the cards were not sent over to him from 810 N. Broad Street. I found all the cards later in a cardboard box at 810, after the place was shut down and we were doing clean up.
The implication with the cards was that Stewart actually cared about the new disciples and that he wanted know about them, which he could do by reading the interviews, but he never read them. I realized, later that I could have made up the names and stories of 10 or 20 imaginary new disciples and written this on cards. Because it took a lot of time to find 10 new brothers and then get them to agree to a short interview, and to ask the questions and write them down on cards. But of course, I would have never practiced such deceit – unless of course, I knew I had a place to go and was merely trying to buy some time till I could move there. I would have had to see through this farce and realize that such an act would not then be deceit.
Read the next section of Sinners In The Hands Of An Angry Cult Leader here: Justified By Faith, Or Just Abused?
(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.)