1993, 03/23 2. Methods Of Manipulation.
The methods of manipulation used in COBU: isolation, fear, social control, sleep deprivation and constant activity. (To name just a few.)
In this section of the tape, I continued talking about how marriage was forbidden in the Church of Bible Understanding and what the effects of that policy were on my life. I suppose the value of these pages, beyond my own misery at that time, is to help understand what the “doctrine of demons” spoken about in the Bible in 1 Timothy 4 is (the doctrine of forbidding marriage) and the specific effects of this on those who would otherwise want to serve Christ, without this heavy burden on their backs.
The title for this section comes from how Stewart manipulated and kept his hold on COBU members. He kept us busy, we were tired and he lashed us with the threat of hell by using of fear-inducing teachings.
I don’t know what to do to get out of this. My sexual desires are a real monster on my back. And it’s not going to be patient with me, as I patiently apply myself to a program in hopes of getting somewhere. And besides, I’m not supposed to apply myself to a program in that hope. Marriage is supposed to be a byproduct of faithfulness.
(Stewart said that marriage was a “byproduct of faithfulness to Jesus Christ” and that marriage should not be sought directly. No one in the Church of Bible Understanding has married since 1979, so it would seem that no one has been considered faithful enough to Christ in COBU since then. Yet, current members try to make ex-members to admit they are not faithful to Christ, because they have left COBU and are not “in fellowship” with the current members.)
All these things Stewart told us. Marriage is a byproduct. What’s the process? The process, of course, is that he wanted us to sacrifice ourselves for the aims of the church.
The new disciples don’t come here and get their needs served. They come here and serve the needs of our church. That’s a part of what their training is. They’re corralled and harassed. I suppose because they’re street people, that if they’re not serving the needs of the church, they’re going to go out and do drugs or something. In other words, it’s easy to say that the new disciples’ refusal to serve the needs of our church is wrong behavior, because of the things they would do instead. We don’t bring in normal college age people who might say, “I don’t want to go sweeping tonight because I have to study. I’ve to complete my accounting course, I’m getting my CPA.” You see then, we couldn’t really nail those people because they would have legitimate things they wanted do instead of their training. How do you put someone down for wanting to complete their courses? Or someone would say, “I want to marry this woman, we’re both studying in the university.”
But we only deal with the most damaged lives who don’t know their right hand from their left. [COBU was only bringing in homeless people at the time.] And this is a damning thing that we’re into. Even that comes back on us, how we don’t have input from all sorts of people. (See, I’m throwing a lot of things together. That’s why I have to make more of these tapes. Otherwise I try to compress all of these ideas into a few sentences.) We have spiritual inbreeding, we don’t have any input from other churches. There is no input from any other kind of people. The only kind of people here are of two types: the new ones who don’t know their right hand from their left and the older brothers who must keep…thoroughly…quiet.
And as we go further off on our own, into a black hole, it becomes a communication blackout where we don’t communicate with other people and other churches. Sure, we can read Christian books, which might make us aware that there are other ways of doing things. But that isn’t going to help very much.
(Next I began talking about photocopying some pages from the books about cults I was reading and laying it around for brothers and sisters to find and read. I also considered printing Christian doctrine to lay around, but I realized that this would not have any ultimate effect on the members of COBU. Everything was seen through the lens and filter of Stewart Traill and it did not matter what information was presented to COBU members. They were going to continue to follow Stewart’s viewpoints and filter everything according to it.)
I have even thought of photocopying certain things that might be good to leave laying around. Like some pages from that book about therapeutic communities and cults, but also Christian things. But even if they are left there for people to read, there’s the problem of filters, where things are seen through certain filters here. And these filters are given to us by Stewart. You know, if he doesn’t say it, it doesn’t exist. If he hasn’t spoken it. Various brothers read aloud a passage from a Christian book, saying, “Listen to this!” And it will be the same as what Stewart has taught us, or sounds like what he’s taught us, which reinforces the things he teaches us, because “Hey, someone else (other than Stewart) said it.” But, these are the only things that are selected. Brothers generally will be looking through Christian books, and when they come upon something that sounds like what Stewart has taught us, it’s time to say “Eureka!” But there might be masses of other material that is directly contrary to our thoughts or that are alternative choices. These things aren’t mentioned. No one ever says, “Hey look what I found! Listen to this! This is different than what Stewart tells us.”Because if it doesn’t fit the scheme, it’s not going to happen. It will be passed over. No one is going to want to hear it.
We only hear things in our own language, expressed in our own terms. And it’s a self-reinforcing delusion. We’re lost in a black hole and an information blackout. We really are. This is one of the lines of thought I’ve been following lately (as if to say, I don’t think it all the time) about our isolation and how harmful it is.
I was thinking too, about sexual temptations, that there is too much availability of what is wrong as opposed to the unavailability of what is right. How easy it is to indulge in looking at women in the street, how easy it is to open a magazine and see what you could be getting if you were married. How easy it would be to pick up a prostitute. To hand over a small amount of money and there you go. This is extremely available, if I really want it. And I hope I never really want it. But, I’m tempted with it like crazy!
Yet, the real thing, the real way, marriage, is not as available. Maybe it shouldn’t be quite as available. But the fact that it is not available puts my back to the wall. I am already in this burning building. There’s no fire escape. I really need the fire escape called marriage. There’s nothing but an open window to jump out of. And with those flames licking at my heels, I might get crazy enough to jump. I’ve got this life of being constantly dogged with sexual temptations, knowing full well there’s not a way out, in a real way. Of course, someone would say, “Well, you’re not doing all you know you should be doing to serve Christ, otherwise you would be able to get married.” I see it as a real hopeless situation. It’s really horrible. And I’m caught in this web of death.
(If I talked about temptation and my need for marriage, someone would tell me I was not married because I was not doing all the things I knew I need to be doing. They would tell me that, because that is what Stewart said about it. That I was not fully faithful to Christ, therefore I could not have marriage. This is the usual sophistry anyone was met with who tried to talk about it. No one in COBU has gotten married since 1979, so I doubt that current members can claim they are faithful to Christ, according to COBU standards.)
I can’t fully express what I think, because I worry that someone will find this tape. It’s not the explicit things I’m saying (about sexual temptation) that I don’t want anyone to hear, but certain thoughts about how it should be done and what ought to be available would get me in trouble if anyone heard me talking about it. There has to be somewhere where I say what I genuinely think. Maybe, later I’ll find out I was wrong, and I’ll admit that it wasn’t right. But there has to be somewhere where I fully express and work out what I’m thinking. A lot of it is unresolved.
(I was not worried about anyone hearing about my temptations, brothers confessed those things in our brothers meetings all the time. I was worried that others might hear my thoughts that were critical of COBU and its leader. The only acceptable thing that should come out of my mouth was belief in this way, though it was acceptable to talk about how I was not faithful to it.)
So anyway, I was delving into these things. I came up with a list: isolation, exclusivity, social control, fear and constant activity. That’s five headings under which to describe the way this church works. What has been bothering me a lot is the isolation factor. And that, if I really were diagnosed with a fatal disease, I would want to see another doctor to get a second opinion. Because being told you have a fatal disease quite a thing to hear. And even in your horror, go and get it confirmed by someone else.
(Stewart had diagnosed us not only with the disease of sin, but also with rebellion, which is a deeper disease that was preventing us from having our disease of sin dealt with. We were rebels, cheaters, perverts. I thought, if anyone diagnosed me with a fatal disease (speaking in medical terms), that I ought to go to another doctor for a second opinion. A lot of my quest in COBU became to get a second opinion of Stewart’s diagnosis of the disease he said we had, and a second opinion about the cures Stewart proposed for our spiritual illness. I did not want to just accept at face value what he was telling us.)
Then I think about Stewart’s constant refusal to bring in guest pastors or co-pastors. I’ve thought about this a lot. They would have to submit to him and work under his authority. Which in and of itself, might not be that bad, but it’s his absolutist position that seems wrong. What did the author of the book about the group Synanon say about Synanon when it started going bad? That the only way to enter the organization was not as a consultant or a co-worker, but as a subordinate and as one subjected to its rules.
And it’s the same thing here, the only way to enter the Church of Bible Understanding is as a subordinate and as an order taker. People can only enter in an entry level position. And, you might say, what’s wrong with that? Well, corporations advertise entry level positions, but they might also want junior executives, accountants or even freelance consultants to come in once in a while. And we need that here. But the only way anyone can get in is on a ground floor.
And although no one will admit it directly, we take orders from Stewart. We speak his words, we do what he tells us. Of course, Stewart tries to mask this with the idea that we listen to the church counsels, we submit our lives to the authority of the Four Basics and to the brothers and sisters. But, there’s really a lot of manure behind that, for anyone who can see through it. It’s all very hopeless. And I imagine someone might come in to help us. Another pair of eyes to see. That would really help me, if I could see that these were independently thinking persons who can think and judge for themselves, without Stewart telling them what to do. They’re not under duress, they’re not coming in as subjects. And if the same results came up, that would be a second witness and a second opinion. Fine, from then on, it would be on me. But as it is, the only new people that come in are people who need help and who need the program.
(If impartial and independently-thinking observers came in and confirmed everything that Stewart said was the truth, it would be a second witness. But, as it was, the only people who came in were homeless people who needed a place to stay and food, and they were not likely to examine these issues too closely.)
But what I find hard to accept is that everyone comes in as one of Stewart’s minions and he’s the dictator. And ain’t no one getting in, except under those terms. Even the so-called expert on classical languages Stewart brought in to a meeting one day. He was a teacher at a Bible college. He was also a young man. He was not a pastor or someone who would see what’s going on here. And only being here at a meeting for a couple of hours, he isn’t really going to see what’s going on. You know, everyone here looks really cheerful, yes, a nice bible study.
We’re really trapped in here. Our isolation is absolutely tremendous. And I’ve got this pressure and influence coming from everyone else here too. The punishments are severe for disagreeing. I can get the crack of the whip over my head for saying, even accidentally, that something isn’t right. I know that if I want to survive, I must never criticize. If I want to survive, I never say anything is wrong here. I can say something is wrong, as long I say it’s something wrong about myself. It’s really weird living here, it’s strange. It’s an extreme life of denial that’s foisted upon us. It’s definitely not Christian. If I could do one thing to change the fellowship, I would try to find some way, somehow, to get someone over here regularly. It would have to be against Stewart’s will, however. And he’s not going to invite anybody over. And you would think that if we are in this much trouble, as he says we are, he would call for help. The man is an extreme loner. It has to be that we’re his captive audience.
The only people who can come in here are people who are going to submit to Stewart’s vaunting over us and being our dictator. There’s just no other way anyone can enter. They’ve got to enter through the door! And there’s no other way in.
These are the things I deeply think about our church. And what was I going to say? Oh yes, the old familiar line, “It couldn’t happen here.” Yes, it happened at Synanon. Organizations that weren’t even cults originally have turned into cults. I read about all these groups, and they sound just like us. And these groups displayed many of the patterns and things that are going on here, but “No, that’s not what’s happening here!” But it is happening here. It is exactly what it is here.
And then a parallel situation is, I read the Philadelphia Inquirer article about our church long before Stewart ever admitted he did anything wrong. [This article was from June 4, 1979.] The article said that we were a cult and talked about the wrong things that went on here. And what we must say is, that’s just the devil attacking us. But, I read it and I thought that what the article said was true. It was all true. I live here. I ought to know.
Well, now I’m driving around in Red Hook.
I don’t know exactly where to pick up from where I left off, but, this really is a cult. It is displaying all the marks of cults that are written in all the books, although I must not say this.
And there, I look down the end of the street, and here’s the kind of thinking I have. There are people standing around a fire in a barrel. Well, the fire reminds me of hell. Therefore, you know, I”m going to hell. Thinking about these things are helping me go to hell.
(I feared that thinking these things contrary to our way was helping me go to hell. I saw people standing around a fire in a barrel to keep warm and thought it was God warning me about hell. I thought God was warning me against thinking this way about the church, because I saw this fire in the middle of thinking about all this. But I pushed forward despite this fear and continued to think about my situation in a way different than the rules of the cult said I had to think.)
And, it’s really horrible. I need to say what I really think, at least to myself. Because, part of the damage of cults is they forbid critical thinking. Cult members are so well-monitored that even on their own they don’t have a single objective thought. Their thoughts are all about, how do I complete the aims of the cult? How do I fit into the scheme of things, what are the things I must do?
(At this point on the tape, I stopped driving the van. I was parked by a wharf and was watching a train move freight cars around. I was talking about not ever doing things I like to do, such as this.)
Yes, that’s just one mark, one further mark, about how my whole life is postponed and I’m not allowed to do something like this, because it’s not the real issue. There are always these things that are built in like that. It’s a life of reasons why I can’t do things. I complain, but also I’ll decide to just go ahead and do it anyway. But, in talking about these things, I’m attempting to describe my life. I’m attempting to say what it’s like for me.
Read the next section of Sinners In The Hands Of An Angry Cult Leader here: Heavenly Deception: Lying For The Lord.
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.