1993, 07/03 3. The More Things Change, The More They Remain The Same
After continuing to talk about how I came to COBU and what it was like in my early years there, I talked about how Stewart Traill said that we needed to pattern our lives according to the true interpretation of the Bible and that Stewart implied that only he had this true interpretation. And that if Stewart’s claims were followed out to their logical conclusions, not only was Stewart the only true man, he also had the only true marriage.
Then I talked about how despite Stewart’s promise to change at the Grace Meeting in 1989, nothing had really changed. He still claimed to have exclusive revelation that God showed only to him and to no one else. And he was ready, willing and able to trounce anyone who questioned him. To question the great teacher even over a small thing was to call into question his unique authority and special place in God’s plan.
As I said, I’m now speaking in general terms. It’s beyond the scope of this tape to go into great detail. This is just introductory material. I don’t want to go into a detailed description of every person who was in the Jersey City fellowship. Although it might be good to open up the whole thing and really consider what my life was like back then. I have consider what the value or point of that would be.
Often I like to think, this was my life, this is what I did for a whole year. Just for that reason, it’s important. And I often go off on tangents and begin to examine the psychological content and what I was like. The only way to reach that is by going back and telling the story as it comes to me. At least once in my life, I would like to look back to those times and to consider them and think about what I was doing.
Speaking in general terms, the word that comes to mind about the Jersey City house is activity. There was a lot of activity and there were a lot of people to talk to. One of my friends there was Victor. I had already taken a liking to Spanish people in the fellowship and that may have been why I liked him, but it was more than that. It was the way he was. We could talk about a lot of things. We were on the same intellectual wavelength and he was a kindred spirit, although we were from different cultures. But that was fine with me. I liked such things. That made him more interesting to me.
It was not like everything was wonderful there. There always was a brawl waiting to break out, usually on Saturday mornings. I often thought of it as being like the bar room brawl scene in cowboy movies, with the bottles breaking and someone swinging on the chandelier. And then Fred would come through the swinging doors of the bar like John Wayne, both guns blazing and put everyone in their places.
We went through different eras too. Joanne was over all the time, but she was removed and Steve M. came over for a while and he was going to whip us all into shape. I attributed semi-magical properties to anyone who tried to lead us, to any older brother, or anyone in the fellowship who might be able to understand me and tell me what I needed to do. When Steve began coming over, I looked to him to do that, because at that time I looked up to any strong personality in the church to tell me what to do. I was willing to listen to that person and to follow their leadership.
I wouldn’t have realized it at the time, but I wonder now, how did I go from a person who was trying to find out what was going on in life, to being so willing to be told what to do? But it seemed like I threw that quest away when I got here and I exchanged it for looking for someone to tell me, “Do this. Do that. Throw away your mind. Just do what we tell you.” I must have done this because the search for meaning in life was just too painful and it cost too much and it was such a sense of vertigo to live in that state.
And coming to the fellowship was like to coming into a soft cocoon, it was like a hand in a glove. There were plenty of people who were going to tell me what to do, including the man at the top. Everyone was really a little chip off the big block. They were trying to parrot Stewart anyway. And Stewart was a real strong case of someone telling me, this is it, this is the truth. And his guidelines were everything, as if they were the definitive word on it. And then there was Stewart’s claim that he had the only true interpretation of the Bible and that only through true teaching could anyone understand the will of God, or the mind of God, which meant that all the things Stewart was telling us to do were the ultimate truth on everything.
A while back, I pieced together, by way of inference, the idea that you only can be faithful if you walk with Jesus. Stewart always promoted the concept of walking down the path of life, knowing which way to walk, having our lamps filled with the oil of true interpretation. And we could only have that through true teaching or we would be deceived. And Stewart didn’t quite directly state it that way, but he said that only our church had the true teaching of the Bible.
We all knew that Stewart had the figure system, because he said that as far as he knew, only one guy in the 16th Century was slightly onto it. So, there you had it, neatly in hand if you pieced it together, about the only true teaching of the Bible. Only Stewart had it! And all human relationships, such as marriage, could only be right if they were based on the only true interpretation of the Bible. And this made sense to me, at the time. Because God was the creator and he left his plans and blueprints in the Bible. And if relationships and any human endeavors weren’t based on the true sight of God, they had to be wrong.
And only Stewart had the only true interpretation of the Bible. He was, I realized, the only true man. Because you’re not a true man unless you’re a Christian. Now, there was a little room given to those simple Christians out there somewhere, who were sincere about Jesus. Stewart didn’t talk them down, but they were on a kindergarten level compared to us. But it was only the “true man” who walked by the light of true interpretation who was a real Christian. And we all got it from Stewart, but only Stewart actually had it, promoted it, taught it and could actually handle it. Everyone else here still needed to learn interpretation. And maybe I’m stretching it, but the idea was that Stewart was the only true man. You know, arguing from that viewpoint.
(Not that I agreed with this, but by looking at it from the viewpoint of that the only way to be a man was through true interpretation of the Bible and that only Stewart Traill had that interpretation, so therefore Stewart was the only true man.)
Stewart told us that the only way a marriage would work was if it were based on true interpretation. It’s amazing, all the things Stewart pinned on true interpretation. Doesn’t this have echoes for the present time too? You know, plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose. The more things change, the more they remain the same.
(The saying “the more things change, the more they remain the same” appealed to me, because Stewart had supposedly repented and he said that there were going to be changes and things were going to get better now. Stewart said he had been dealing harshly with us and that it was his fault that there were no marriages. He said that he had left out grace from his teaching, and that all our problems flowed from that. But the more things seemed to change, the more obvious it became that nothing had changed. Not only was Stewart continuing on the same course he had always been on, but the locks and chains were tightened even more heavily upon us. This irony was not lost on me, in the name of how things were now supposed to change here.)
Yes, the only way to have a right marriage was through true interpretation. It sounded plausible. God made the blueprints for life and most definitely the blueprints for human relationships. And one of the most complicated relationships of all was marriage. We had the background of all the bad marriages among non-Christians in “the world,” and we needed God’s true plan in order to have a good and right marriage. And only through true interpretation could we know God’s plan – and of course, only Stewart had true interpretation. So, by a short chain of inferences, I realized that Stewart had the only true marriage. There was always an exception made for Christians in Communist countries and that Richard and Sabina Wurmbrand probably had a true marriage. But at least in this hemisphere, not only was Stewart the only true man, he had the only real and right marriage. And he said that we couldn’t get married unless we had this, because it had be a right marriage. I don’t know if that’s what made it impossible to get married in our church, but this was very formidable stuff. And when we really though about it, we realized that we didn’t understand true interpretation, or what right this, or what right that was. It was a lot to know and handle. Now maybe I’m being vindictive, I don’t know. I’m sure no one would hear me out if I tried to explain any of this, even though it’s a past matter. But this is what I’ve been thinking about.
(It being a past matter meant that I was talking about the way Stewart Traill used to be, but now according to his promise, he has changed. But it would have been unlikely anyone would have heard me out if I tried to talk to them about these ideas, because I was being critical of Stewart – even though I was talking about how he used to be. But, as the title of this section indicates, nothing had changed, unless those changes were changes from bad to worse, which is what they indeed were. COBU morphed into a prison camp and mind control pressure tank. Although stories from church members who were there in the beginning of the church tell of essentially the same things. But it was to be the first time I experienced it so intensely.)
Stewart never directly stated these things. A lot of things he says aren’t stated clearly, but if you follow them out to their logical conclusions, they’re pretty intense. In the most basic nutshell, Stewart now claims to be the only man who understands what faith is. Yes, he leaves a little room, he says that 99.999% of other Christians don’t. He’s careful in that way to not paint himself into the corner of making the claim that he is the only one who knows the truth. He won’t say that. He says that we’re the only Christians who know what faith is, pointing to our church. But, it doesn’t take much thinking to realize that five minutes before he told us about this, there was no church that knew this and he was the only one who knew.
And Stewart says a lot of other things like that, which I’m not naming now, and when I look at these claims, what does that make him? If his claims are all true, what does that make him? The concept is that Stewart has the true restoration of Christianity and that no one else has it and that only he is able to point to these things. I mean, God doesn’t just reveal precious gems to anybody. Now, if Stewart is the only Christian on the face of the earth, or there are .0001% maybe, just a few isolated individuals around. And his claim that since the time of the Apostles no one has known what faith is. By virtue of revelation – or if not revelation, through the virtue of study – he knows this. But then I wonder, why didn’t other people who studied understand these things? What exactly does that make him?
But now add in the concept that obviously Stewart thinks this is true. So coming from the place that it’s true in Stewart’s mind and that if it were true, he could place tremendous demands on people for the privilege of being the only one who knows what he knows, by virtue of who he is and that he knows such things. He implies that this is now the Third Reformation by saying that during the time of the Apostles, the light came back after the world had been in spiritual darkness for such a long time and that this was the First Reformation. Then he said that the lampstand was taken away, because of the rebellion and unfaithfulness of Christians. And then Martin Luther brought the lampstand back. This was the Second Reformation. Immediately after Luther’s death, everything was obscured again, because of rebellion. And then Stewart could actually say the words, “And now, this is being revealed.” He was careful not to say, “I am the one who is revealing it,” or, “I am the one bringing back the lampstand after 400 years of darkness,” but again, it’s by way of implication, that this is being revealed and that we’re hearing it. Well, Stewart is telling us and he’s the one who’s revealing it. He carefully places everything back on God. He claims that it is God who is doing it.
Okay, I hadn’t meant to get into this, but this reflects much of what I’ve been thinking about. It opens up the idea of, what kind of place have I come to? What is this? Whether anyone wants to say it or not, everything here is centered around this man. Another thing I’ve been thinking is that when Stewart made his apology, he was not apologizing for his practices, but just the terms. It’s really still the same as it was before, with Stewart as the only true teacher and this is the only true church. Stewart the only one who has “it.” That concept is still the same. This has been re-emerging and is clear to me. So, Stewart did not repudiate the concept of him being the only one who has the true interpretation of the Bible. He only repudiated the terms. In other words, before it was in different terms than it is now, but it’s still the same objective. Before, he claimed to have the “only true interpretation of the Bible.” It had that label, the only true interpretation of the Bible and the figure system.
And now it’s still the only true teaching and interpretation of the Bible. He just doesn’t call it that anymore. By the way he says these things, he obviously didn’t intend to give up the idea of himself as being the only one who has the truth. Once again, only Stewart, or pretty close to only Stewart, has it and 99.999% of the others are wrong. And he zealously guards this truth against the host of evil spirits and gameplayers who want to come and assail him and try to say he’s wrong. And no matter how plausible they may be, he is the Alamo of Christianity. The last stand. He has it. God has revealed it to him, and for all practical purposes, to him alone. It’s still the same scenario as it used to be. Only the terms have been changed, and it’s really back to the same thing.
And, I’m describing my own subjective experience of the fellowship, but all this is the periphery. I’m merely one member who has come and may stay a while longer, or may stay until he dies, or may leave tomorrow. I’m just one more bean in the bean counter’s jar. One more number on the attendance record at the meetings. But this last thing I have delved into for a few minutes is basically the core of the whole fellowship. That’s why it’s here. I’m just one of the faces who has appeared for a while and may or may not soon vanish. But this is what’s going on in the fellowship and would have been going on whether I was here or not.
(Stewart Traill’s exclusive claims are the terms and conditions of COBU and the reason why COBU exists.)
And what always goes along with Stewart’s claim to be the only true guide who has the only true teaching is the corresponding decadence and death of the fellowship. And I’ve often thought, if such a true message was being given, why would God give it to such a place as ours? If we are really such a backslidden church, as Stewart constantly accuses us of being, why would God give his only true message here? Because we’re such basket cases. People like ourselves could use something more like therapeutic Christianity. But Stewart claims that this is the only true Christianity for all time and for all peoples. Now, Stewart never quite says it in those terms, so it would be impossible to stand up and say to him, “well that’s what you’re really saying.” But, at least for this speaker, the person who’s making this tape, his mind seems to make connections. The idea is that, if you follow out Stewart’s claims to their logical conclusions, this is what you get. And as I said, I really didn’t plan to get into talking about this, because these things seem so vindictive.
(I felt bad talking for about these things, like maybe I was an evil fault-finder.)
But, what was I trying to say? Well, I was contrasting our condition with the message being given. There is always this extreme polarity. There is this man dispensing the only true interpretation of the Bible to a church that is in utter shambles and the people in it are such wrecks. And both extremes are still going on today. It’s only the terms that have changed. Even the terms that you are a wreck have changed. And still no one gets married here.
So, what do I do, now that I’ve made a quantum leap from the past to the present? Do I just get out? What do I make of all of this? Do I just hang on a little longer and wait for something to happen that will show me to get out?
Read the next section of Sinners In The Hands Of An Angry Cult Leader here: The Key That Unlocks The Prison Door.
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.