1992, 08/02. The Aftermath of the Malaise Meeting.
This section is about a meeting we had with Stewart Traill at COBU’s “New Property,” a city block sized compound in Philadelphia. The afternoon session of this meeting started out very hopeful, only to have Stewart turn the tables in the evening session and spring a trap on the older brothers. In my earlier years in COBU, I would have believed it all, but by now I was beginning to understand how Stewart’s manipulation worked, although here, you can see that I was speaking in terms of just beginning to figure it out and wondering if what I observed could actually be true.
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I have a lot on my mind right now and I want to talk about it. I just got back from the August 2nd, 1992 meeting at the New Property. And it was quite a blowout and a bamboozler.
(bam·boo·zle: To take in by elaborate methods of deceit; hoodwink.)
I suspected there was something up. It was clear from the beginning. We were on the way down to the meeting and there was a question being asked around by Chuck, and other toadies, who are always willing to carry out Stewart’s orders. They were going around saying, “So what’s the problem with the older brothers fellowship and why is it the way it is between us? We should discuss it for the meeting.”
So that was going on and I suppose there were other warning signs. I heard later that the brothers in the lofts said they weren’t surprised. They said they saw it coming. The only thing I had heard up to this point was that Stewart said to gather all the new brothers together for a meeting and that he wonders why he’s doing what he’s doing. And I heard that a large group of new brothers had gone out and done a lot of wrong things. I figured that the result of this meeting to find out what happened with the new brothers was going to end up being the usual scenario. It always ends up that the older brothers are the problem. We’re the perennial scapegoats for any problem in Stewart’s church. It’s always the older brothers who are at fault.
So we get to this meeting and none of the older brothers are really getting in there to discuss what the problem is. The newer and older brothers were seated together. And everyone was sitting around looking at each other. I noticed there wasn’t much enthusiasm to speak about it and the reason I thought was well, nobody is really into it. And besides, we all pretty much know that Stewart is going to say that the problem is us older brothers, and it’s hard to be enthusiastic about that which involves your own punishment. And I wrote down some notes before the meeting, about how Stewart will discover that we’re at fault and that we’re going to get it.
(I obviously realized this was going to be the outcome of the meeting, despite the so-called hopeful first session.)
So, the meeting was in two sessions. A good part and a bad part. In the first part, Stewart came into the room and he was lighthearted and was joking with us. He was extremely cheerful and friendly, and the meeting was in that kind of spirit. And I could pretty much tell this was a well-prepared talk. I don’t want to go into a lot of detail, but basically it was one of those meetings where, as often, Stewart knows what the problem is and tells us that this is what your problem has been all along and here’s the answer. And of course, we all say, “Oh yes, I see how this is true and this is exactly what has been bothering me.”
Stewart talked about how the older brothers do all these good things for the church and that we’re really into it and really sincere about it. Stewart was crediting us with a lot of sincere effort, but he said that we have a general sense that we’re not getting anywhere. It looked like he was building up that which was already going somewhere. He also said the issue was that we have a problem with seeking our own glory and that we are supposed to seek God’s glory instead.
(Stewart essentially said that we were doing all these good things for the church and that our motives were sincere. However, he said we also had a general feeling that we weren’t getting anywhere and that the course correction that we needed was to seek God’s glory, rather than our own glory. It was a hopeful sounding meeting and Stewart was lighthearted and friendly during this entire session. Once we realized that we were not going to get a verbal beating, many of us older brothers began to speak up and talk about how we viewed ourselves and our problems.)
And you see, Stewart always has a deeper purpose. He started this big noise about how the older brothers are a certain way, and here’s the problem. Then he said that the older brothers are only a very small part of the problem, actually. In other words, the lesson is really the issue. I can’t explain that more clearly, but that was how he caught our attention, using Kevin, asking us what’s wrong with Kevin. Well, it was pretty much presented as our problem.
(Stewart started the lesson off by putting Kevin on the spot and asking everyone what was wrong with Kevin.)
But, I think it was a ploy. It was the bait. As usual, we were supposed to discuss the lesson during the dinner break. But then after the break, Stewart came back and now things were utterly different from the first session.
Before the second session started, we get this message: “Discuss it for an hour.” Stewart hung back to see what our discussion would be like, then he came into the meeting. And, right away he said, “The older brothers don’t seem to be reacting well to this. Well then, that means they’re thumbing their noses at the lesson!” And suddenly the jaws of the trap were sprung.
On the ride back from the meeting, I was thinking of the various ways to describe this thing. I was thinking of the Mafia don who wants to do away with his adversaries. Instead of just murdering them outright, he invites them all over for a banquet and makes them feel comfortable. He wines and dines them so they’re relaxed. It looks like he’s giving them a really good thing. Then he steps out of the room and his thugs come in and kill them. They’re caught off guard. It’s like, I’ll lift you up really high before I thrust you down. Something like that. Fattening up the sheep for the slaughter. I think Stewart had this planned all along, but what he did, maybe, was throw the bait out there to see if we would react to it. Which of course we didn’t. But he knew we weren’t going to react to it.
(Actually we did react hopefully to the lesson in the first session because we started speaking up, but at the discussion after the dinner break, Stewart did not consider us to be hopeful enough, saying that we were not reacting to the lesson with overwhelming enthusiasm.)
Now I see that the first session was a ploy. In other words, such a non sequitur, such a so-called good first session where I think we all got had. There was something going on that was much deeper than us having this good meeting. And, the second session, where everything went wrong because, gee! All of a sudden, we had thumbed our noses at it!
Yet, Stewart seemed amazingly calm, like he was not surprised at all, and it seemed like he just continued to proceed with his plan. Basically, it’s a Hitler against the Jews scenario, where there is this bad group of people among us, which of course is us, the older brothers, and all the new brothers had their revenge when Stewart let them complain about how bad we’ve been treating them. And all of a sudden they rose up and got zealous and began saying to the older brothers, “Well, what are you going to do, older brothers!”
When the new brothers ask these questions, they don’t really know what they’re asking, while Stewart leads them on and prompts them what to say to us. It’s so easy for them to yell, “Well, what now? How many cylinders are you running on?” Their motivation to shout these things is because they’ve been repressed and oppressed by us – rightly or wrongly. We tell them what to do. And now it’s their turn for revenge. Oddly enough, the new brothers who live with us Red Hook didn’t get in there. Well, I guess they’re another category, because they’re not really with the program. Well anyway, it was time for their revenge. I’m surprised Stewart lets that go on. But see, now the new brothers are really motivated. Very, very motivated. They’re coming from wanting revenge. I can see it.
(Stewart was playing the newer members of the church against the older ones. The new brothers from the Red Hook Warehouse (where I was living at the time, with some older brothers and new brothers) did not join in the fray, because we did not push them around. Red Hook was the repository for those who were not quite with the program, the troublemakers, those put on a “three day sudden death,” and ones like me, because I was known for questioning the church, however meekly.)
Suddenly, the older brothers were thrust down. We came from the first session, where Stewart said that the older brothers do a lot of good things, and that we’re really getting somewhere, but we just need to be directed a little bit better – to pronouncements by Stewart like, “The sum total of all they do is zero.” What a change. And even some of the new brothers said about certain older brothers, “He helps, he’s there for us.” But most of the new brothers were standing up and saying, “Yeah! They don’t do nothing for us!”
Of course, the older sisters were already being notoriously silent. After Stewart asked, “Are all the older brothers thumbing their noses?,” he turned to the older sisters, asking them, “Are you thumbing your noses?” They replied, in one voice, “No-o-o-o-o!” I think the sisters are quiet because they know that Stewart could have just as easily have gone after them. But you see, it just didn’t suit his purpose at the moment. It wasn’t what he was after. And the sisters had to denounce us. It’s always implied that you must either denounce wrongdoing or else you’re taking part in it.
(In COBU, one was either denouncing the wrong behavior in others, or taking part in it by default by not protesting against it. At meetings the brothers and sisters sat separately, on their respective sides of the meeting room. While this was going on, for about 5 or 6 hours, the sisters’ half of the room was silent.)
I just sat back and watched all this, because I’m too weak for this. I can’t take this. And I was thinking, while sitting back, I can see Stewart subtly directing everyone. He led everyone by asking questions like, “Oh, you mean that…this is going on? So, you’re going to have to do this and that then, right?” And everyone was caught up in the frenzy. And the older brothers were totally involved in concern for ourselves and what was going to happen to us, to notice what was going on.
And the weird thing is that all the older brothers didn’t react and say, “What do you mean I’m thumbing my nose!” We just totally assume the part and believe whatever Stewart says about us. And no one lifted a finger to fight against this by saying, “Well wait a minute, I thought you told us we were doing good.” The older brothers just hung their heads, and as they were doing that, many of the sisters began saying what the church should do with us. That we should be separated from everyone. That they should do this, do that. Yet it was being said so calmly, as if nothing was out of the ordinary. It was just part of the normal routine. That’s what shocked me too.
But it seems I’ve lost my train of thought. I was talking about Stewart directing in the background. Then he made these pronouncements like, “Well, dinosaurs are always stuck in their ways and go by routines.” Really, I think the second half of the meeting was as well-planned as the first half. And that somehow, the first half was Stewart’s one hand that built us up, softening us up to make us feel at ease, in order to thrust us down with his other hand all the harder – and, I think, to hand out the real thing.
This is the real thing, the eternal purpose to what’s really going on: “You older brothers had your chance. You had your chance. Oh! You’re thumbing your nose now.” (Ah! I can’t explain fully explain it.) And then hearing Stewart say, “Well, this has been going on for a long time.” Again, possibly proving that Stewart knew all along what he was going to do with us and that he had planned all of this ahead of time. I realized this was no spur of the moment thing, although I suppose, technically, that if we had reacted with great joy to the lesson in the first session, the second session would have been different.
You see, it’s like Stewart expected us to snap suddenly into a happy joyful reaction to the first session, which we did not. Somehow the lesson was to drive us down! Because first he told us about how we’re doing all these good things and that we’re really doing well, and that we just need to be directed. And that we’re seeking our own glory. He said that this is what gives us this general feeling of malaise. Even the best of plans of men go awry, he said, and he really seemed like he was on our side!
(Stewart started out the first session with the odd pronouncements that “the best laid plans of men go awry,” and that the older brothers have a general feeling of “malaise” about our lives. He really appeared to be, at least initially, trying to help us.)
What am I trying to say here? We were supposed to suddenly snap into a hopeful mode, giving God the glory, totally. And what Stewart never mentioned in the first session, he was now mentioning, “And totally relying on God instead of yourselves, from the heart.” Nothing like, well, changing over to relying on God is a process that is going to take some time.
(There was no concept of how it might take some time to switch over from seeking our own glory to totally seeking God’s glory, that it might be a gradual process and growth.)
No! We didn’t jump! We didn’t move instantly when we heard this lesson. So, we went from being hard-working but misguided older brothers, to totally worthless jerks who were totally thumbing their noses at God, completely. And who now need to have responsibility for the entire church taken out of their hands and given to the middle brothers, who now have to take over. Stewart asked, “You don’t want to get into this, do you, middle brothers?” They shouted, “No!” And the sisters were already like the Allied Powers at the Yalta Conference, coming up with the terms of the enemy’s defeat and surrender. A sister said, “I remember last time, when this happened with the older brothers, everything was taken out of their hands and they had no responsibilities.” Another sister said, “They’re going to have to separate from everyone.”
Suddenly, it was almost as if the sisters were in on what Stewart had planned to do with us and that it had been prearranged. Stewart had drawn us into the snare through this Bible study. And, on the surface it all looks like, gee fellas, Stewart had had no idea this was going to happen! I get the idea that it was total surprise to Stewart. He had just been trying to encourage us, with this really constructive criticism! But now he says, “Well gee, they didn’t respond. They’re thumbing their noses. Well, we’re just going to have to do this and that then, I guess. Well everyone, what are we going to do about this?”
(Many would have seen it this way, had you asked. They would have also said they believed that the older brothers did not take up on the lesson as presented in the first session and that we were now getting what we deserved.)
It’s like Stewart gave us the bait, and we either didn’t run with it or it was too big for us to pick up and really do anything with. He laid a huge burden on our shoulders, and we didn’t muscle up and start bearing with it, which I think he knew would be the result. How do I describe this? He laid this thing on us. There was great expectation and suddenly, we were nobodies. I can’t say it better, but something is really rotten in Denmark. And nobody questioned it. They just went into autopilot mode. Well, here’s what we do when older brothers are bad. We do what we did last time. Are we ready to start the proceedings? And that was it. It was amazing. I think the man is totally Machiavellian.
What scares me is that Stewart is alone. Who does he consult with? Who does he talk to about these things? And I get the idea that this was very cleverly orchestrated. He knew we would stumble. He gave us a stumbling block. And he knew we would stumble. But I guess that was what was going to make the division. It was the catalyst that was to be dropped into the solution, to make it start bubbling. It was, “Well, you had your chance.” Of course, Stewart would have cut down any older brother who took up the chance as well. If any brother had started proclaiming loudly about how joyful and overwhelmingly thankful he was, Stewart would have said it was all games and show.
Well that was the purpose of the lesson. To divide the men from the boys. Well, it turned out they were all boys, so, “Well, what are we going to do?” Something like that.
But Stewart is really alone. He does not consult with other pastors, has no accountability to anyone and has no friends. Often, it doesn’t really seem like he’s a Christian pastor, or that this is really a church. The Bible study just seemed like psychological manipulation techniques, where Stewart is working with us as if we were material to be forged in the fire, bent, heated and shaped – and he definitely meant to work on the older brothers.
By saying Stewart is working with us, I don’t mean he’s working with our consent, but I’ve always felt that he’s working with us in the sense that one works with material. Material really doesn’t have a say in the matter. He invites us to participate and to give our opinions, but we know that, in the end, we’re going to hear his opinion. And, sometimes he will take points out of what we say, “Yes, yes, she touched upon it there! Lauren touched upon the issue.” And I said something, a lot of things, during the meeting. He picked one thing out of all that I said and commented on it.
We get to have the illusion that we’re participating and maybe even contributing to his line of thought and that the things we say actually help him to arrive at his decisions. But ultimately, we know that nothing we say matters. I know that the meeting would have been the same, whether I said anything or not. It doesn’t matter what we say. He’s got a plan. And in the end, he’s going to reveal it. There’s just a whole lot of fake participation, because he never just comes out and tells us anything. First we have to guess what Stewart has in his mind. “Is it red, is it green? Is it round?” We have to go through this guessing game with him. Or, maybe we imagine that we’re helping him, we’re working with him! We’re helping him arrive at his conclusions. Ah! He holds all of our opinions entirely in contempt. But somehow, he likes to have us give our opinions.
And I just sat back and realized, there’s nothing I’m going to say that is going to matter or change anything. Stewart is totally over our heads. He’s got us totally wrapped up. I’m totally wrapped up. There’s nothing I can say to the man. And Stuart R. was saying after the meeting, “Yeah, no one tells him the real deal.” And that’s true, because we never tell him what we really think. Because it’s futile, because basically, he’s going to tell us “what it is.” We all know that Stewart has come to tell us “what it is,” and this is what it is. And we know it’s not going to be anything else than, “what it is.” And that he will dismiss all our attempts to say what it is. I was actually hoping he would touch on the subject of marriage, “Well, brothers, the reason you have his general feeling of malaise is that you need to get married.”
(Stewart forbade marriage, though in not so many words. He said that we were unfaithful to Christ – which he proved to us at every meeting – and that was why we were unable to marry. Social control such as this was easy to enforce because we lived communally. Our ties to the outside world, and possible outside influence, were slim. We interacted with people outside of COBU only for the purposes of recruiting them, or making money from them as our customers.)
These things are totally demonic. The things Stewart tells us and what he has to offer us, they’re totally inhuman, sub-human. They don’t cure anything. He never intended to cure anything. He intended to lay a weight on us. I think he wanted to depose us. But, that can’t be shown. His ambition can’t be shown. It always has to be in the sense of, “Well gee fellas, aren’t you going to try?” And Stewart has basically set up a huge tension within our church. The new brothers are really motivated now as a result of this meeting, and they’re going to be denouncing everything we older brothers do. The sisters were ready to draw up the terms and conditions of our defeat. And the older brothers, those who intend to protest it are going to be in total wild disarray. Totally messed up and totally into themselves.
(In other words, the older brothers are going to be scattered and beaten if they try to disagree with this lesson, being overwhelmed and attacked on all fronts by Stewart and all the other people in the church).
And nobody is going to be looking at what Stewart did. Or what he’s doing.
(Because of Stewart’ overwhelming attack on them, all the older brothers were going to be too busy being on the offensive to see what was really happening and to take intelligent defensive measures against it.)
And Stewart is orchestrating, he’s behind the scenes. He’s causing things to happen. And basically I think, he wants us out of there. He’s not going to say that, but what he’s going to do is put an immense barrier between us and him and his work, and between us and the new brothers. And between us and the sisters, I suppose. “Of course, if any older brother wants to try to help, they’re welcome. But gee! It seems like nobody’s interested!” And maybe what it is, is an impossible burden.
My strategy, well, I basically intend to sit there. About the best thing I can do is to not be in turmoil and trying to prove anything to anyone. I don’t intend to prove anything. And I don’t intend to disagree openly with Stewart in any way.
(This was showing that I was beginning to distance myself, once I had begun to understand what was really going on, and that my actions were not hitting out or “rebellion” against Jesus, as Stewart would claim they were. Stewart expected me to be in turmoil and distress about my lack of faithfulness to the COBU program and to be trying to anxiously prove myself as desiring to become faithful to it. These techniques generated a lot of zealous hard work from people.)
I felt tempted with disagreeing with Stewart today and saying it to him. But I realized, he just walks five floors above me. He’ll just kind of chortle or chuckle and say, “Well, we just heard from the German!” And I realize, I have no power. He’s got me completely tied up and all things are in his hands.
(Stewart’s nickname for me was “the German” because he knew I liked to study German.)
I wonder what Stewart’s purpose is. For someone who claims to just be into gathering and training new people to come and live with us to follow Christ, he seems to be coming from deep purposes, from the creation itself. God’s ultimate plan. And he’s working with God on the secret plan. And he’s tapped into the secret spiritual plan. In which everything in heaven and earth will eventually line up with. Which is a far cry from the way most pastors are. Most of them are a little bit more down to earth.
(I didn’t believe this about Stewart, or no longer did, but this is what we were supposed to believe about him.)
Stewart is alone. But in our eyes, he is like a messiah. He is like the Lord. And there is no one, no wisdom, no strength, no person who can prevail before him. And all who try will be broken and trodden underfoot. As evidenced by the fact that no one tries. And we’re all just basically waiting to see what he’s going to do. He’s our god, I think. These are my most extreme thoughts these days. That Stewart is our god. It’s like, Stewart sits in the heavens, he does whatever he pleases. And, he has this eternal purpose with our church and the plan of our church. And in the end, it will be revealed who are the saints. And to reprobate those who are the sinners.
(Stewart’s plan and eternal purpose is going to be revealed and it’s going to be seen who is genuine among us and who is false, and what each of our eternal destinies are, heaven or hell. Stewart often hinted at things like these, of some great and eternal purpose going on among us.)
It’s this incredible thing and as I said, if Stewart weren’t so alone, I guess it would be easier to trust. But I realize he is totally alone. And, part of this scenario that he portrayed was “Well gee fellas, I went to fifty pastors and they all laughed at me! None of them are into the truth! Only I am, your pastor. It is me! I, and only I, am into the truth. So therefore, you’re sealed off, because only I have the truth. So, give up! Give up!”
It’s something like that. And only we hear his teaching, which he is always constantly working on and revising. These far out esoteric Bible studies that seem to be “aimed at exactly what you need!” Yet seem so untouchable, unfathomable – and definitely not practical, for my day to day living. I go to these Stewart bible studies and I just sit there in perplexity. Oh, I can try to give a verse, but I know that he’s putting things together that are far above my head, that have eternal consequences that I just cannot grasp! It’s like eternity is being decided in every Bible study, and it’s like, Stewart is God. Stewart is God!
And yet, I have to keep noting, there is Stewart’s aloneness. And his wife who sits there next to him for the entire meeting with a blank expression on her face. She sits at his side, just personless. Of course, after the meeting she talks to some of the sisters, or sometimes Stewart asks her to make a comment to everyone during the meeting. But there’s Stewart on his throne, all the creatures are gathered before him, and he winnows the people. Stewart is great and mighty in strength. Great in power and all-pervasive in wisdom. He is the great empirical wisdom. Or something like this.
And this touches on or borders on the area of cults. Now, there are these obvious cults, like that woman who came into New York last year, who says she has the spirit of a 6,000 year old man that speaks through her. She’s some kind of divine oracle. And there was Father Divine, whose followers actually called him “God.” And there was Jim Jones. There’s a lot in common with us and Jim Jones. Jim Jones berated his followers, he emasculated the men. With him, there was a lot of weird sexual stuff that doesn’t go on here. Stewart in many ways, is not sexual. And he has nothing to do with us in any sexual way. [Actually, I was wrong about this. And there were a lot of ones who knew about it and kept it covered up.] Either in any perverted ways or in any good or positive way. For example, marriage is not important. He never speaks to us about marriage and therefore we must act as if marriage does not exist either, among us socially. There are back room conversations among us, but they don’t count.
I read that Jim Jones told his followers (they had to call him Dad), “I bet you wish Dad would die, so you could die, or do your own thing.” I don’t understand the “so you could die,” but I do understand their death wish about him. Jones knew that his followers wished that they could be released from their bondage to him, which might happen when he died, but he overcame that by stating the obvious to their faces, so they would have to deny it. And really, I’m that way. I sometimes catch myself wishing that Stewart would die. I have this harebrained view, that he’s going to heaven when he dies, but I don’t know, there’s something not Christian about him, not scriptural. The way he presents the scriptures, they’re so dry. There’s no life in them. There’s no inspiration. It’s just some weird angle. Scriptures are used, but he’s doing something, of his own purpose.
Yes, I could be totally wrong. I seem to hear this voice in my mind saying, “You’re wrong.” I don’t know about that though. I might try to tape more of my impressions of these moments that seem overwhelming. What was I saying? That I catch myself thinking, sometimes more than just catching, but actively thinking, I can’t wait till Stewart dies. Everything would break loose, the church will go wild. Former members will come around trying to claim money or property or things. But I think, well maybe some of us would get married then. I’d be free.
All I know is that man exerts an extreme dominance over my life, which is complete, total and inescapable. I’m locked in. I’m totally under his thumb. And I always think I’m losing my mind, or my own judgment. I mean, if Stewart is of God, I just think, then what is God? If this is of God, what is God? To me, it’s all very strange. I see how everyone is willing to do Stewart’s bidding without questioning. There’s never a question. Everyone moved into their clearly-orchestrated roles tonight and began to do what they were wont to do.
And I wonder what to do. I don’t know where to go from this point. I suppose I’ll be watching the next few days. I don’t intend to do anything.
Read the next section of Sinners In The Hand Of An Angry Cult Leader here: An Unexamined Life Is Not Worth Living.
(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.)