1992, 12/14 2. What Are The Costs Of The Benefits We Receive In COBU?

In this part of the tape, as I was driving a church van, I continued to talk about how I felt I was the only one who was aware of what was wrong in COBU, because no one else said anything – except, of course, those who had left COBU. These ones usually had something to say about it. People who left COBU were viewed as contentious backsliders and not to be associated with. And I was saying that these “backsliders” said the same things I thought about COBU and its leader. 

Now, it was true that there might be some benefits to living in COBU, but I wondered at what cost was I receiving these benefits. Then I went on to talk about how the “divisions” we made at every meeting (the ritual of putting everyone into categories based on their faithfulness to Stewart’s latest teaching) was a way that Stewart controlled us even when he was not present, and I was beginning to understand how this method of control worked. Until then, I always thought these categories were to help us. Now I understood they were used to control us.

I also admitted it was hard to put my new awareness of how things really worked in COBU into a context in which to deal with it and I was tempted to just bury all of this under the rug.


I feel like it’s just me who thinks these things, because no one else says anything. Other people here have got to be thinking about these things. It can’t be that I’m the only one who thinks this way about what goes on here. It can’t. I could be be the only one, but that seems hard to believe.

And the other side of the story is that everyone who leaves our church accurately pinpoints these things. Even Beth does. Sure, she’s too theatrical, she’s vindictive, but she says the same things I think. One must be careful not to mention Beth’s name in any sentence or opinion of his own, because you don’t want to be seen as being a person like her or having your name allied with activities such as hers.

(Beth was an older sister who left the church and she was quite open about what she thought was wrong with it. Her story about her time in the Church of Bible Understanding was the source of Ron Enroth’s chapter on COBU in his book Churches That Abuse. Beth also tried to reach current church members and tried to warn the new disciples about what they were getting into.)

But I think everyone pretty much knows the scoop here. There are those who have decided to remain silent for whatever reason, whether out of fear, convenience, a tradeoff, security or other reasons. And it’s not to be spoken of among us. There are strict social taboos against speaking about it. One of the things we must say and believe is that Stewart can do no wrong and that Stewart has a special angle on Christian teaching, which is not to be contradicted – nor can he be contradicted. And if Stewart is alone, it’s not because he chose to be alone, it’s because other Christians don’t desire to have fellowship with him. That’s the scenario we’ve got to buy, if we want to be here. We have to buy it.

(Stewart Traill did not desire to work with or have fellowship (or any accountability) with other Christians. He portrayed this situation as the result of his being the only faithful Christian pastor (at least in this hemisphere, because we believed that persecuted Christians in foreign lands were true Christians), and that others did not desire to be with him because he stood for the truth and didn’t play the games that all other Christians played and that was the reason other Christians didn’t want to associate with Stewart. 

Stewart’s isolation and the resulting isolation of our church from all other Christians, who were beneath us in their level of understanding of the truth, was what we had to buy, believe, pay lip service to and sell to others if we wanted to be there. Isolation was also an effective way for Stewart to control us. We had little contact and influence from anyone outside the church or from other Christians. 

There were only two reasons why we talked to those who were not in COBU: 1. to sell goods and services to them (to make money) as customers of the church’s Christian Brothers Cleaning and renovation businesses, and 2. to try to get other people to come join our way. In my final years I there, we mostly talked to homeless people, to recruit them as part of our unpaid workforce. In earlier years, we talked to high school and college kids. We called this “making Jesus known,” but the expected result was these people would start coming to the church and then move in. 

Of course there were exceptions to this, and sometimes we talked to someone about Jesus if they were not a candidate for moving in. But these are exceptions that prove the rule. And by the end of my time there, I felt I could not talk to anyone with a normal life about Jesus, because I was so degenerate as a human being. How could I talk to someone in college, or people who had businesses and families about Jesus, when I was an involuntarily single person who lived communally in a dirty place and who owned nothing? Our lifestyle was not legitimized, like Catholic monks or priests and there was no reason for me to be taken seriously by anyone I talked to, except maybe the homeless people we offered “Christian training” to.

The nature, terms and conditions of this extremely (and intentionally) limited contact with those outside the group never occurred to me, until I began studying about cults (while still in COBU). One book I read explained that cult members usually only talk to those outside the cult to solicit money from them or to proselytize for new members. When I read that and realized it was true about us too, it helped me see how deeply locked in and isolated I was in COBU and it helped me to face and understand these limitations on my freedom.)

When thinking of Stewart, I often think of the story, The King’s New Clothes. Stewart is wearing this wonderful suit that we all must praise and worship and play the game about. It’s a two-sided game, but the ball’s always in his court. You know, if you want your soup, you’ve got to beg, you’ve got to dance. If you want your lodgings and you want this special type of security we have here. And it’s like what that ex-leader of the Jehovah’s Witnesses [Raymond Franz, author of Crisis of Conscience and In Search of Christian Freedom] said. He said that lot of people do get help with their problems in the Jehovah’s Witnesses, but that there are also a lot of social programs that get the same results. Well, you say, people [1] get a relationship with Jesus here. Well, I wonder who? Many of the new disciples seem to be living in sin. The sisters seem to be doing well in their faith, but sometimes I get the impression that Stewart just hasn’t tested them too hard lately! And that any of them could easily become as we older brothers are.

([1] “People” here meaning the homeless people we swept up off the streets and stations in the city. They got a relationship with Jesus in COBU. Or did they? And if, unlike us, the sisters seemed to be doing well in their relationship with Jesus, I wondered if that was because Stewart Traill just hadn’t been giving them a hard time lately.  If he gave them a hard time, which would include accusing them of being rebels and unfaithful to Jesus, then none of them would seem to be doing well with Jesus. And they  be considered just as bad as we Older Brothers were. And who then, in our organization, would be doing well?)

Franz was saying in his book that it is true that there are improvements in peoples’ lives when they become Jehovah’s Witnesses. Just as I would say there are a lot of good things here. But the question Franz asked was, at what cost are people getting these services and improvements? At what cost do I get them? I want to have financial security (even though I could get thrown out any second and have been threatened with it). And a ready made circle of people to live with, security and protection, and sureness of doctrine. At what cost? Well, at the cost of the prohibition of marriage, of being in a dangerous position of always being tempted sexually and God says that those who do such things shall not inherit the Kingdom of God. So I’m in a precarious position. I pay a lot to live this way. Stewart often says, “Why pay half the price and get nothing?” But that doesn’t sound right. If you work, you get things. Stewart’s claim is that if you don’t cross a certain barrier, you get nothing, no matter how hard you work. I wonder if that’s just one of the ways Stewart explains away the fact that we don’t get anything, or almost nothing, by living here. And he can just say it’s because we haven’t worked enough or that we haven’t made the final commitment. We haven’t really done this or that. And that talk is just a charade.

(One of the things we couldn’t have in COBU was relationships and marriage, because in spite of giving almost all our waking hours to work for the church, Stewart said that we just hadn’t done enough or been faithful to Christ enough. There was always something he said we had left undone, despite our doing so much work.  According to Stewart, we were doing all the outward motions, but this is not what mattered, because inwardly, were were still rebels and cheaters who were “trying to have it both ways,” that is, to serve our flesh while trying to make it look like we were serving God. Such people, he said, could not get married, because their relationships would not really be “right marriages.”)

I don’t even like the way I’m living. And that’s serious. And also, somebody’s using me.

But I would like talk more about why I do this There are my basic motivations, like fear, I do it out of fear. Of course, Stewart preaches to us a lot that we’re supposed to live by fear, as our first thing. [Stewart said that fear (usually adding that it was total desperate fear) was our first step to faith and repentance.] I do this out of fear. And out of habit too. I’ve lived this way for 13 years. But also out of ignorance in a way, because I’m afraid to leave here.

One thing after another can be taken away from me, but I stay here. And the verse in the Bible that applies is, “A man will give anything in exchange for his life.” I have often thought that if Stewart could get away with it, he would make us wear striped suits and put a number on our backs and slap us behind bars, if he could get that far. And I would probably stay here.

It’s serious, when I think that I don’t like what I’m doing. I don’t even agree with it, I think it’s pretty stupid, or even dangerous and harmful…and yet, this is the life I live every day.

Now there’s a question. If making this tape is worth anything, it’s the realization of how I’m living. How am I living? Well, I don’t even care to live this way and if Stewart died tomorrow, I would just walk away from this. There wouldn’t be anything in my heart to make me want to stay here. So maybe, as long as I am under constraint, and if this is how I’m spending the 35th year of my life and if I stay here until my forties, then this is how I’m choosing to spend my life and this is what I’m spending my life on. That’s a pretty heavy statement. Yet, I never seem to get my mind clear enough to think my way out of this or to really examine it. I never can really, because I’m always so busy. I can never really stop.

(The treadmill of cult life kept me from having time for reflection. We were staying up late, working all day, and usually I usually felt like I was behind schedule and needed to move faster. I did try to get away and think things over sometimes, but many others in COBU seemed strangely zealous for this way of life. And there were a certain number of others who took it a step further and watched everyone else to make sure they were doing it. Any “taking it easy” or doing anything different than the status quo usually was duly noted.)

And even if I do realize things, I really don’t have a context to put it into. I don’t have another power to go to say anything to, and I really can’t call for help. I’m stuck. It’s like I could be the most brilliant philosopher, but if I live in a peasant village, I live in a peasant village. It doesn’t matter where my mind goes. I still live here. I’m stuck here and I can’t get out. That much I know, that I’m really stuck here and I can’t get out. And I thought that before the awakening too.

(“The awakening” meaning Stewart Traill’s supposed repentance, which he tried to pass off as a way for the whole church to start over, now that God “revealed” grace to Brother Stewart.)

I remember one Saturday before that time, standing in front of Woodruff, thinking that I have nowhere to go. I was looking down the street, thinking, I have nowhere to go. I felt trapped. I used to write in my journals back then about how I live in this place and there are even bars out front. I can walk in and out, but symbolically, I actually do have bars out in front of my house. And I’m trapped here and I think that if I leave, I’m guaranteed to go to hell. And it starts looking like a horror picture. You could call the movie “Hell House.” The old haunted Victorian house, lightning flashing in the night sky above it. A strange orange glow in the widows from the candles inside. You pound the knocker on the door and the butler opens and greets you, saying, “Welcome to Hell House…” This is where I am. It’s like I can never recover from the blows or from the realization of the absolute horror story I’m living in.

(The absolute horror of COBU and how we were trapped in this bizarre hellbound life, without any possibility of escaping it. It was like being in a horror movie. Stewart hammered us about hell all the time, and said if we left COBU, we were guaranteed to go to hell. So, in order to avoid that fate, we put up with and suffered through the deprivations of COBU life, because at least it was better than a guaranteed future of burning in hell for all of eternity.)

Well, one good thing is that I can talk about whatever I want on these tapes. I can say anything I want and do anything I want. I can talk about this.

(This was in sharp contrast to COBU life, where I was tied up in chains and had better not talk about anything but the party line and about urgently I was committed to obeying it.)

When I make these tapes, I always feel like I have to stick to a strict format and that I’ve got to say exactly the right thing. That’s how I’ve been trained, growing up in that, a slave to the rules in my life.

To digress more, what started hitting me in my first year here in the church was that we were not allowed to marry here. I saw a sister and thought, “That’s a nice girl, but I can’t talk to her. I’m not allowed.”

You could always say that when the new disciple brothers act interested in the sisters, we tell them, “Now, you’re here for Christian training.” But this is our place. There ought to be things here for us. Now, I wasn’t asking for debauchery, I was looking for something normal.

(What I was saying was that, sure the new people we’ve brought into the church, they’re here (only) for Christian training and they shouldn’t be trying to have a relationship, at least not at first. But we had been in COBU a long time and there should be things available to us, such as marriage. After all, this is supposedly our place and our home, and the church is for the benefit of the brothers and sisters. We give our all to the church and work hard in the church businesses. Then there ought to be a reward for our work and service, and not as Stewart said, “Why pay half the price and get nothing?”)

I’m just talking about pre-reformation days. 

(Again, speaking of life in the church before the “Grace Meeting” in 1989. I did a lot of thinking about how nothing had really changed since then, although it was supposed to have gotten better in COBU now that Stewart admitted he had been teaching wrong (as a result of leaving out grace) and making it too hard for the brothers to get married. Life in COBU, and its leader, were bad before 1989 – and we were actually allowed to admit that now. But it was clear to me that life in COBU was now going from bad to worse.  But we weren’t allowed to talk about that now.)

I’m not too sure if what came after this was good. Sure, we’re constrained to say the right things about it. We’re allowed to say that the sisters used to run the church, and that we couldn’t get anywhere in a meeting because of this. And well, how is it now? Hey, Stewart did say to the brothers that if we lose now, the sisters will really take over and it will be worse than it was before. I don’t know if that’s true. But the idea is, it’s worse now. As far as how the sisters are being, I don’t know, they seem subdued.

(Stewart said in his so-called repentance speech in 1989 that the brothers were now “set free.” But, according to him, the unfortunate side effect of this was that the sisters, who used to have us under their thumbs and had been in control of us until now, were furious over losing this control and now they were going to do everything in their power to regain that control. Stewart said that if the brothers did not take up on the new chance to serve Jesus now that “grace had been revealed,” then the sisters would regain control over us and it would be worse for us than before. I did not see the sisters taking over and running our lives, but I did see that life in COBU had become much worse than I had ever experienced it before. And the problem was not the sisters, it was Stewart Traill.)

Now I’m really rambling on. But I don’t talk enough. If I made enough of these tapes, I would probably get down to business.  

(If thought that if I made journal tapes more often, I would begin to talk more accurately about all of these things, as it became clearer to me through dialoguing about it and getting my thoughts out on tape.)

I’m rambling, but I don’t mind. I’m going to listen back to this. I’m vaguely talking about the area of pre-reformation days and how the sisters are now. But looking at the sisters today, at the meetings, they’re real quiet and subdued. I don’t know if it’s just an act or if it is because they know they had better not get out of line, because Stewart is really at work in our lives now. Even from a distance he can control us. The method of using categories is an excellent means of control. Stewart can control people without being there, because the categories do the work themselves.

As soon as anyone talks about making categories and divisions, people get really self conscious, because they’re judged in relation to one another and it makes people do funny things they wouldn’t normally do. Sure, the Bible says, “there must be divisions among you,” but our church, our pastor, takes that to astronomical degrees, where we might as well be called the division church, because that’s our thing. Other churches don’t do this. Well, you might say, but other churches have a lot of gossip and other things going on. But to tell you the truth, there’s a lot of that going on here too. So, it really doesn’t take it away.

Divisions are an excellent means for Stewart to control people when he is not around. You could say, well, let’s just trash the divisions. [To not bother doing the voting on and dividing all the church members into categories regarding their faithfulness to COBU teachings.] Yes, but they know that Stewart is going to ask about those divisions. It has to be written down and sent to him. What if we didn’t do divisions?

If we didn’t do our divisions, Stewart will say, “Well! Why didn’t you do your divisions? And why didn’t you?” This is something I’m growing to resent. I see this as really dirty. It takes along time to come to understand these things and then I start realizing this is not above board. And that it’s cheap, it’s irrational. It’s like Stewart says, I treat you like dirt. I just buy you off with a little this or that. Because that’s all you are.

(Despite having been in COBU for so long, I was only now becoming aware of how Stewart’s methods of manipulation worked and that it was not a legitimate way of dealing with people. But it was very effective.)

And if we decided not to do divisions, it would never stand up in a court of law. Stewart would just say, “Well, why do I have to make you do these divisions?” We would reply meekly, “Yes, it’s me, it’s my fault.” And Stewart would say, “Yeah, I thought so. Why didn’t you say that?” What a way to control people. These are the things I’m starting to see and realize. It becomes clearer to me, little by little. And well, there’s another one to bury under the rug! I have no way of dealing with it. Maybe I better just keep quiet. But I’m really starting to wonder about all this.

In one of the religious groups I read about, there were people who waited three months for the leader of their group to resurrect after he died. That’s how much they were mesmerized into believing their leader was the real messiah. So, people can go a long way in believing a false doctrine. I’m sure the leader of that group used a lot of scriptures too.

See, the reason I mention this is because, sure, it’s clear to me that these people were cult leaders, but everything here is supported and backed up with evidence, and Stewart is really careful and thorough in his research. So, you’re going to argue with him? Yet these other groups show that there are people who are deluded into believing their leader is God’s representative on earth or a second Christ and that they must obey their leader and that by serving him, they serve Christ. There are societies that reinforce one another’s belief in this, to the point where, you might laugh and say, well that’s really stupid. They waited around for three months to see if their leader would be resurrected from the dead? That’s pretty funny! No it isn’t. I can understand it.

Well, of course, I wouldn’t do that, but I truthfully, I can understand that one. Sure can. The terms of it are a little preposterous. But the attitude, I do understand. I’m sure that, in that group there were a core of faithful followers and then there were the ones who didn’t buy in as deeply. And those who were in the group believed that they were…

(In the part that follows, as I continued to drive, I mentioned how, in the midst of these thoughts, I saw a pretty woman on the street and that because I was giving myself over to thinking negatively about Stewart and the church, I was weakening my faith. And because I was not concentrating on my faith, sin was close at hand. I might give into despair and begin looking at every woman on the street, because my defenses against “the lust of the eyes” were weakened through indulgence in these wrong thoughts about Stewart. In a life without the possibility of a relationship or marriage, looking at women could become an overwhelming obsession, made even worse when fueled by the despair of cult life. This appeared to me a sign that my thoughts about the church and its leader were wrong, if it was going to lead me to lust.

Then I brushed by a man pushing a cart by the side of the road. Fortunately he was not hurt and he waved me on. I also thought this might be God trying to shake me out of indulging in negative thoughts about Stewart and the church. 

I was often conflicted over whether these thoughts were provided to me by the devil – even if they often came in a ready-made, clear and concise form which became increasingly clearer over time and hard to just bury and go on and forget about. My struggle was to believe that these thoughts were true and to work my way out of the hold that the COBU cult had on me. This hold was spiritual, social and economic. I will write more about these aspects later.)

You know it. Now here’s the whole thing of the beautiful women who walk by, and because I’m into these thoughts, and I can’t resist looking. Well, I did turn my eyes away. It’s just so chronic. And I think, I need to just cut out this thinking about Stewart and the church, because it leads to immorality. Well, I’ve never been able to successfully not think these things. Maybe I should just make a resolution to never think about these things again. I don’t know if that will work or not, because I stayed away for a long time last time, and then almost imperceptibly at first, I began thinking these things again. Well if I could just take a plunge, if I could step through some hidden door into a good time in my past before coming to the church, would I even come back to this to think about it? Well no! Though I would always have a desire to think about where I’ve been and where I’ve come from. But giving it so much attention is not good.

I bumped into a guy pushing a cart. I’m lucky he didn’t get angry. I don’t know, maybe those things are warnings, maybe those things are warnings. [On the tape, I said this in a very reluctant voice. I wondered if God was warning me to not think these these negative things about Stewart and COBU.]

Well, he seemed to not be mad, and he waved me on. The good thing to do is just leave. You know, I don’t really want to be this way. I mean, thinking about this stuff all the time is a pain.

(I know it seems like a small distinction to make, but I often said I was “thinking these things,” rather than “thinking about these things.” If I was thinking things, it was more like “thoughts I was having” which more means like I was being plagued by these thoughts rather than owning them and reasoning them out. I hope I can make this distinction clear to the reader. It was hard for me to own these thoughts as my own, and sometimes I worried they were just thoughts from the devil, who was offering me excuses to not serve God.

I got trained into this belief and fear early on, when I first came to COBU and this is what Stewart said was the source of any such thoughts. He said that if we really wanted to get out of serving God, the devil would give us good sounding excuses. Not only that, even God would delude us. Stewart said that God would give us the rope to hang ourselves with if we wanted out bad enough.

Or as the Bible says, in 2 Thessalonians, chapter 2:  

“The coming of the lawless one by the activity of Satan will be with all power and with pretended signs and wonders, and with all wicked deception for those who are to perish, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. 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.”

I hope that this helps to provide some understanding about the deep control that members of some Christian cults are subject to and about the inward checks and balances that are installed in their minds to keep them locked up in the cult.)

Read the next section of Sinners In The Hands Of An Angry Cult Leader here: Sex And The Single COBU Brother.


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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