1992, 04/11. The Stewtape Letters

I made this journal tape in COBU’s residence at 162 Woodruff Avenue in Brooklyn one night. It was a month before I had to move to the Red Hook warehouse. I had already lived in Woodruff for eight years and then moved to Philadelphia for a never to be forgotten episode that is described elsewhere in my story. Now I was back in Woodruff, and like last time, I chose a spot in a room on the 4th floor. The higher floors had more privacy. Downstairs rooms were noisy, with people coming and going all the time. Most brothers preferred rooms on the first and second floors (the third floor was the sisters’ floor) so they wouldn’t have to climb extra sets of stairways.  

On this tape, I was talking about having to move to the loft. The loft was a rented warehouse on West 45th Street in Manhattan, where everyone slept on the floor. The loft was an early morning to late night operation. The brothers there were supposed to do only four things, all the time:

1.) Do their Christian Training, according to the “training papers” – this also included shouting slogans back and forth to one another and making sure others were saying these slogans. There was very little actual Christian instruction in a Bible school sense. The entire COBU theology was printed on two 8 x 11 sheets of paper. Usually these papers were creased, wrinkled and dirty from having been shoved into pockets and carried around all day.

2.) Meet together for judging and voting to put each brother into a category that had to do with his level of faithfulness to Christ, or, more often than not, his lack of faithfulness to Christ. A speech was required from each brother about his claim and how he saw himself. Then long commentary followed from the others present. This could go on for hours. It had to be done again the next day, and the next. They also had to read “warning verses” and to do “hell bible studies.”

3.) Work in the church carpet cleaning business. This meant working at least 9 to 5, Monday through Saturday (and an all-day meeting with Stewart until the early hours of the morning in Philadelphia on Sunday). They had to be on call for evening and night carpet cleaning jobs, no rights to refuse this work.

4.) And go to out “sweeping” to gather new people, usually homeless people, to bring them over to the loft to be trained to live this way.

A fifth activity, sleep, was not mentioned in this course of action. Nor was food and showering. This was improvised in some way. They could get a little sleep after the nightly meetings, which always went to 2 or 3 in the morning. Those at the loft were under constant surveillance, which was done by having meetings and by voting and reporting on one another, with an “ambassador” relaying this information to Stewart Traill and then relaying Stewart’s comments back to the unlucky inmates of this institution.

As mentioned, the “training papers” were two printed pages containing Stewart Traill’s precepts and distillation – or perhaps better said, bastardization –  of the Christian religion into a series of simple statements that could be repeated as slogans by church members. These slogans were shouted at one another, or shouted in the air to no one in particular, during the meetings. These slogans were considered to be all that we needed to know about Christianity. The training papers were carried around in our pockets and always ended up being as crumpled and tattered looking as many of the brothers appeared to be.  A brother was supposed to carry his training papers at all times and you often heard, “Brother, where are your training papers!”)

At this time, a call was going out for more lofts to be started. Stewart said it was supposed to be a return an earlier and better time in COBU when everyone lived in lofts. Stewart had never lived in one of these lofts himself and always had much better living quarters, arranged according to his specifications. The rank and file (everyone else) lived communally, sleeping on the floor.

I didn’t look forward to a life of even more constant activity and even less sleep. And I didn’t look forward to being monitored more closely by Stewart than I already was. Until now, the existing COBU system was passive surveillance, where the only way I got noticed was when I broke from the routine and did or said something different than what everyone else was doing. (For example, if I were stupid enough to draw attention to myself by saying I didn’t like something or that there was something wrong about what Stewart was doing.) 

“Loft life” included active monitoring and control of our lives, in addition to being on the treadmill of cult life. It was more intense than it already was now. I talked about that in my dialog below, and about some other things.

-*-

Okay, I’m going to reflect a little. I’m in a crossroads in my life, where I’m having certain problems and I need the remedy that God supplies for it, which is a wife. And often, I think it’s not possible to get married here. I ultimately think that Stewart keeps wraps on us so tightly that the brothers and sisters can’t marry. Which would never stand up in court, the court of COBU.

(I would never be able get away with claiming that Stewart Traill prevented marriage in COBU. Stewart’s claimed that the brothers couldn’t marry because they were unfaithful to Christ. When I began to read about cults when I was still in COBU, I found out that most cult leaders tamper with the marriage relationship in some way, from extremely controlling it to forbidding it, because marriage represents loyalty to another person besides the cult leader.)

I saw an interesting thing on a job site the other day. There was a poem on a notepad that said: “If you blame society for your problems, then you’ll end up looking to society for the answer.” And that’s like, if I blame Stewart for my problems, I’ll end up looking to Stewart for the answer. And that’s really hopeless. It’s just proven to be hopeless to get an answer from him. And it’s not going to work.

Now I’m looking out my windows here at the tree branches. There are buds on the trees. It’s April 11th today, just after my 35th birthday. April makes me want to be out in the park jogging. I don’t get to run anymore and I really want to be out there. Maybe I’ll get up tomorrow and take a long run in the park, if I can get up early enough. That would be really helpful.

(With the treadmill of COBU life, it was hard to get to the park or keep up an exercise program. Our lives were all the more intensified now that Stewart had begun to get involved in our lives after a period of several years of leaving us to ourselves, where we essentially ran the church businesses on autopilot with minimal input from him. During this time, I had begun to develop some hobbies and and exercise program, which was impossible to do now.)

It’s so beautiful in the park. I was been out there last week looking at the forsythia bushes and I promised myself that throughout the month of April, I’d get out to the park as often as I could to watch the season turn. I haven’t been out there yet, though.

This is just a rambling collection of all my thoughts over the past couple of days. I ripped up some things I had written because I thought that if anyone ever found them, it would be dangerous. It would be used as evidence against me. In some ways, I wish I didn’t get rid of it. In other ways, it was the beginning of preparation for my underground life, which I imagine I’ll have to live as we move to these lofts. Having barely any possessions and having nothing written down that someone could find and read, and use against me.

And what was I thinking? I was thinking about writing a story called the Stewtape Letters and it would be inspired by C.S. Lewis’s The Screwtape Letters. It would be by “B.S. Lewis” and it would be about the devil writing to Stewtape (who is really Brother Stewart), congratulating Stewtape on this congregation he’s preparing to take to hell by getting them all wrapped up in himself, secluding them from other Christians and separating them from the world, and by making them confused, frustrated and focused on their own sins and guilt. And one of the letters from the devil would say, “My dear Stewtape, I congratulate you on your latest efforts in preparing this congregation to be with me…”

And the devil would offer Stewtape these words of advice:

“Now one thing you must do, my dear Stewtape, is to make sure they can never marry. Nothing frustrates my Enemy’s work more than having the men and women working together, yet not being able to have anything to do with one another. Get them to look at their shortcomings. Tell them it’s their fault they can’t get married. That way, each one of them will be looking inwardly and they’ll find plenty of reasons to get down on themselves. And they’ll never suspect that it’s you doing it to them. And if any of them do seem to catch on, you can always slap them down by using their sins against them.

“What an effective hindrance it is to Our Enemy’s work, allowing them to be around one another, but not letting them marry. You must understand, my dear Stewtape, that neither extreme is good if you want to keep the members of your congregation from serving Our Enemy. It would actually better for all of them to be monks, secluded in a monastery where they don’t see women. That way women are out of sight, out of mind. Or, if you did allow them to marry, they would be at peace because their passions are subdued. You see, my dear Stewtape, nothing frustrates Christian men more than working side by side with women, yet not being able to have anything to do with them.

“And tell the brothers they have to sublimate their earthly, human desires for the sisters into heavenly desires. Get them outwardly professing a religion where they’ve renounced everything, yet inwardly desire the sisters when they see them, every moment, thinking about them. Yet, they’re totally forbidden to speak to one another about these desires. Tell them to run around shouting slogans like, “Only Christ matters.” This will totally frustrate any work for my Enemy that could be done through them, because they’re twisted up like pretzels and rendered absolutely useless.

“And I congratulate you, my dear Stewtape, for having done so well to completely destroy the relationships between the sexes. I especially commend you for getting them to believe it’s their own fault and to not suspect it’s you, Stewtape, who is at work in this matter.

“Think about how deeply ashamed you can get them of each other. You must expose all their faults, all the time, so when the brothers feel totally worthless when they’re around the sisters. That way, when the sisters have those inklings of desire for a brother, they can quickly cancel out their desires by remembering how you said that brother is worthless and how they would be ashamed to be seen with him.

“And it’s especially good how you allow them to work together, yet keep them separate from one another. Because that only incites their passions more and increases their frustration until they’re climbing the walls. That’s my favorite, when I have someone destroy one of My Enemy’s congregations where outwardly, it looks really good and the men and women appear to be cheerfully working together, while no one knows the deep dark secret about how they cannot have anything to do with one another.

“I congratulate you, my dear Stewtape, for having done such a wonderful work of messing up this little congregation and preparing them to meet me. And also, I congratulate you for imitating my great work in the world. You’ve seen how I’ve destroyed relationships between the sexes ever since the Garden of Eden.

“And there, Stewtape, you’ve carried out the same destruction, right there in one of My Enemy’s favorite little places. By destroying relationships between them, you’ve succeeded in rendering the brothers and sisters incapable of serving My Enemy, which is just what I wanted. Why, it’s perfectly splendid what you’ve done! And I’ll have a much, much hotter place reserved for you in the next world, my dear Stewtape, when you come to meet me.”

And I went on and on, thinking about that for a while.

I had been working on a job and was really blowing up about all of this, and then I suddenly thought of this story about a young man in Poland. He was a Polish Jew who had been educated in Germany when he was a boy. During the war, the German soldiers were coming down the line, selecting which ones they were going to kill. And he saw this small hole in the ground and threw his ID in it and stepped over it with his foot, so no one could could see it. When they got to him, he said he was Volksdeutsch, which means he was an ethnic German. Even though he was standing in the line to be killed, he appealed to Caesar in a sense, and they took him away and sent him to an SS training school. He parroted the Nazi lines in class, but he did it to save himself. And he wore the Nazi uniform. And something just clicked and I thought, well, that’s what I’m going to do. I’m basically going to sell myself into this organization in order to survive.

But, I was just wondering how long I can take it before I see Stewart saying something, and I feel compelled to try to tell him, and before I’m brutally executed for it. I would try to keep quiet, but I don’t know how long I could do it. He’s got us so totally wrapped up. Well, that’s an entire line of thought that I don’t want to develop on this tape right now.

But I just thought I would try to live this way and hope for a better day. I see this loft life coming. I’ve got to take all my things and put them away. I’m pretty angry that I won’t be able to run or do artwork. But the fact is, I don’t run anymore, anyway.  The only thing I might not be able to do which I still can do now is artwork. But I don’t really do even that much anymore – I just think about it. Last time I tried, I could hardly even do it. It always seems so wrong to do, because it’s from my old life. And maybe it’s another one of those things that has to fall by the wayside.

But as far as finding something to read, once in a while I suppose I could slip into a bookstore, even when I’m out in one of these working groups. I don’t know how completely we will be tied up when we’re living in the lofts. I might be thoroughly tied up. But there’s usually a time when I get to be alone unexpectedly and I could probably find what I’m looking for. And as far as language learning, I don’t have to tell anybody I’m doing it. Sooner or later I find a French newspaper, like I did the other day and that may even be God providing it for me. Or, I might overhear somebody speaking in a foreign language or see a foreign word on a sign. One of my favorite things to do is when I’m in a bathroom on a job in a customer’s apartment, is reading the shampoo boxes that are printed in three languages.

(I can still remember the German word, Hochleistung (high-performance), which I learned this way by reading a box for an electric shaver in a customer’s bathroom. The product description was printed in several languages on the side of the box. While totally wrapped up in the cult, I still had a drive to do these things. In COBU, Stewart told us to kill off these things inside of us. This is contrary to what Jesus talked about. Jesus talked about using our talents to serve God. And God gives us some of these talents to support ourselves and our families. Many years after leaving COBU, I began to work as a translator.)

There’s always things like that, even if moving to these lofts is really as I imagine it will be, like going to prison, some kind of jail life. Somehow, I can still thrive. I read in the epilogue to Richard Wurmbrand’s book, Christ On The Jewish Road, where he said that since he had been deprived of so many things when he was in solitary confinement, he grew sharper in other ways. And that’s about how I would imagine being at the loft. I don’t really desire to go to what seems like a jail, but there are benefits, and even ways I would look forward to it. I resent the loss of freedom. Not that I have really any freedom left now, I just have a few freedoms left. And I sense going to the loft would be the end of all freedom. I would have absolutely none. But there are ways. And I just figure that tomorrow, I’ll volunteer to go to the loft.

And then I look at my life here in Woodruff. What am I hanging on to being here for? What is there?I can try to remember that when I’m at the loft and I can console myself with the fact that I don’t live at Woodruff anymore and that maybe I never will be at Woodruff again, for the rest of my life.

(COBU’s residence at 162 Woodruff Avenue in Brooklyn was in a violent neighborhood and it was dirty and crowded inside the building. I used to hate living there, but during a brief period of almost anarchy in COBU, when Stewart left us alone for a while, I developed some hobbies, like jogging in Prospect Park, which was just around the corner. Stewart’s ban on marriage was in full effect, however, so I could not have a relationship or get married. And no COBU members, even to this present day have relationships or marriages. To qualify this statement, there are some who got married many years before (before 1979) and this will sometimes be used by current COBU members to say there are married people in COBU.)

I used to live at Woodruff and I used to be able to go running and do other things here. I tried to live a life here, I made my home here. That made it bearable in a way. There were a lot of sisters living here at one time, yet it was impossible to have anything to do with them. Relationships with the opposite sex were just stagnant. I couldn’t get anywhere. It was really frustrating.

On Saturdays, I used to go down to the kitchen and there were all these sisters there, but I couldn’t have anything to with any of them and it was horrible! But I could go outside and around the corner, half a block away, and be in a nice park. And I couldn’t believe this park was so close to the house. When I discovered that park, I had already been living in Woodruff for four years, and I asked myself, why didn’t I ever come out here?

I remember my first time out there in the park. It was a Saturday afternoon in January. It was one of those winter days with a lot of intense light that contrasted with dark shadows, there were big clouds in the sky and it was cold. I couldn’t have a relationship with one of those sisters, but I could go out into the park and I could have that, what little consolation it was. And I began to take up jogging in the park. But even then, I wanted to leave the church.

But, that was that long ago. I’m here in Woodruff now and I can’t do these things anymore. I can see how it would be hard to give up living at Woodruff to move to the loft if I jogged every day and I had my little room here like before. That would be hard to give up. But all I’m giving up is this place, because I can’t do those things here anymore. It’s like there aren’t any benefits, there’s no life that I’ve been able to make here recently. Not really.

In considering moving to the loft, in the back of my mind somehow, I’m imagining giving up that old life I had built here in Woodruff. But that’s gone. But I feel like that’s what I’m giving up if I leave here. Let’s say that I’m giving up opportunities to do those things. But that’s been dead for three years, at least. I used to enjoy it, for whatever it was worth. But, it was horrible being here in Woodruff. I remember standing in front of the building on a hot summer day, after I had already been out in the park. I didn’t want to go back out and there was nothing else to do. I felt stuck here on the weekend and staying in the building felt like being in prison. And I remember what it was like hearing the gunshots outside. I would be sleeping at night with the window open, listening to the sound of the rain and trying to remember days of summer past and then hearing gunshots.

I don’t know, I’ve got to take the loft plunge. In some ways, I think I’ll end up being sharper, my mind will be sharper. And that includes all the memorization I can do.

(I used to like to memorize Bible passages as a way to occupy the time. Having all things stripped away from me made it easier to concentrate on doing that. I considered that this might be one of the benefits of living a life all tied up and regimented as I imagined what Stewart called “the loft life” to be.)

I mostly fear getting dashed to pieces by Stewart. That’s my huge fear. And then the horrible feeling of just bowing my head and saying, “yes, yes, it’s true, yes.” Of just being beaten. Because I know if I try to disagree with him, he’ll just keep slapping me more. Or when I try to stand up for someone else…well, just forget that!  I don’t know what I’m going to do. All I know, is that I’m getting beaten in another way by living the way I am now. And if I go to the loft and still have this problem, well at least I tried.

That tree looks beautiful outside. But, I wouldn’t want to stay in Woodruff just to see that. This is one of those quiet late night reflections that I haven’t done in a long time. I was reading Fenelon and he was saying to find time to spend with God. And maybe I could have a right relationship with Christ if I go to the loft. I’m just worried about having everything stripped away from me. But again, there’s always the Bible, I’ll have that.

On the other hand, I’m not sure, but I don’t think it would be possible to be that scrutinized, that they could be that sharp. And I could keep my books where the wood floor equipment is stored at the Red Hook warehouse. I could at least try to carry around one Christian book with me at a time.

But, I was facing another thing, my life that I’ve lived at Woodruff, the best of it, you know. Just like 1974 was the best of my human life, the years 1986 to 1988 were the best of my human life in Woodruff. But it’s been three years since the Reawakening and the Grace meetings in Philly and getting in the Business.

(To explain briefly, “the Reawakening” was when Stewart said he repented and that there were some things in his life and teaching that had been wrong. The underlying events were that he had been caught by his wife in sin with one of his female staff, although he never said that was the reason for God suddenly waking him up and showing him the true meaning of Grace – but Stewart had to do damage control of some kind. In fact, we never heard the real details at all, and I only learned of them after leaving COBU. Stewart made this a universal event for all COBU members, saying God was waking all of us up to the truth of God’s grace, hence the name for this time period in our church, The Reawakening. Not quite on the par with The Protestant Reformation, but you get the idea. Stewart got involved in our lives again and I was on a constant treadmill of activity and Stewart started abusing us much more intensively. Generally speaking, the closer one is to Stewart, the more abuse he receives, so the brief period of freedom I had in COBU before this was a result of Stewart being less present in our lives for a time.)

It’s a long time since my life has been that way. It’s gone and I can’t retreive it. It’s not possible, because he conditions are gone. For example, I used to have beautiful Saturday and Sunday mornings in the park and that early spring feeling. I really liked it and I treasured those days. And it cannot be duplicated because it’s not that way here anymore. I don’t get a Saturday free anymore. I don’t get a Sunday free. At that time, Stewart was far away. There were only infrequent meetings and we were left to our own and I didn’t have to work Saturday and Sunday because I worked in the world. So, these conditions existed where I could go and entertain myself out in the park. Whereas now, these conditions don’t exist and they’re not going to get reduplicated here. I would have to leave the church and go into the world to try to reduplicate it. The conditions to do what I used to do don’t exist anymore. The times, they have changed. And it’s not possible to do these things anymore. I do see that.

So, I don’t know, I guess I’ll try to ride the wave. When I was talking to Blake today, he said the lofts were meant to be “up, up, up and out,” meaning that it’s not supposed to be a permanent way of life, but just a step toward getting out to start our church other cities again. So I thought, reluctantly, that tomorrow I would ttake the plunge, though I really don’t desire to.

Like I said, I’ve been pretty much wrecking myself and, at moments, I faced that it was all because I don’t want to go to the loft. And now, I have to live with what I’ve done and I hear a voice in my mind saying “you are being reprobated.” I might be cut off from God now. But, if I hold off from going to the loft for another week, I don’t know what I’m going to do with myself! I feel too free to sin now, it’s too easy. And the warm weather’s here and women are walking around with hardly anything on. Springtime, spring fever feelings are here, and I guess I need to be busy in order to keep my mind off it, and I guess I need to entrust my soul to God. I don’t know if that’s what it really is, because my motives for moving to the loft are mixed. Part of it is to escape detection. If I haven’t moved to the loft and I am still here at Woodruff, I’m going to be noticed and others are going to get on my case about it.

In some ways, the loft life looks easier than living here. The brothers at the loft sweep up all these people – anyone from sincere ones to real scoundrels – and they just send them over here to Woodruff and then we have to deal with them. Well, what I’m afraid of is having to live a torturous life, getting up early in the morning and then, as usual, there will be some crisis where the loft brothers have to get over to Woodruff every night and stay up until three in the morning to have meetings. A monkey business. I don’t know, maybe I’m not looking at things right, and I am just figuring it will be a life of torture and being on a treadmill. But sometimes I do get some time away from it, where others really can’t get a handle on me. That’s about all I have to say right now.

Basically, I think we’re learning a different gospel [1]. We’re bound hand and foot, our consciences are fettered much more tightly than God’s word binds them. But there’s no way out, it’s like I can’t even pray to God to get out, and that he’s silent, or it’s hopeless to try to appeal to him for help. And it’s hopeless to try to talk to Stewart. There’s just no way to talk to him about anything. So, I go to the loft as a fugitive and a criminal and an inmate. And that’s how I go, and I’ll try to be like the Polish Jewish guy who survived the SS training school. Even when I’m bound up, life still goes on. And as I say, I don’t have anything here, really. I could just pack my stuff and go. I don’t really have anything here.  There’s nothing – when I really look at it – there’s nothing here for me at Woodruff.  There’s nothing. Nothing whatsoever.

(At this time, I often thought that Stewart was preaching to us what the Bible calls “a different gospel,” and that we were learning something entirely different from him – a life of utter nihilism, self-denial and deprivation in the name of serving God. The passage from the Bible about this is Galatians, chapter 1, verses 6 and 7, where the Apostle Paul wrote,  “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and turning to a different gospel – not that there is another gospel, but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ.”)

Read the next section of Sinners In The Hands Of An Angry Cult Leader here: The Aftermath Of The Malaise Meeting, which is about Stewart Traill’s bait and switch techniques.

(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.)

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