1993, 07/05 2. Then If Anyone Says To You, “Lo, Here Is The Christ!” Do Not Believe It.

The dialog is a continuation of the my talk from The Stockholm Syndrome: My Fellow Hostages.

It’s an incredible result this man gets. And I was thinking, the underlying assumption is that whatever Stewart says is the truth. And ain’t nobody going to question – they jump. For example, our group is in our little circle and Joe is standing up speaking to everyone else and Stewart came by and said that Joe was being lazy. And there’s just no contest. Not only does Joe immediately capitulate and confess laziness, everyone else is now talking to Joe about being lazy.

This idea is that whenever this man speaks, it’s the truth. And the idea is that he is like Christ. And I wonder, does Jesus have this totally abusive aspect? I don’t imagine Jesus as being that way. But let’s say you actually saw Jesus, that he came and talked to you, and said, “You’re being lazy!” Think of the utter ridiculousness of trying to say to Jesus,  “Jesus, I don’t think so!” The Bible says Jesus is the truth. That means when Jesus speaks, what he said is truth, ultimately and totally.

And when Stewart speaks (for an entire day and a half, so far), no one will challenge him and say, “Well, I don’t think I was doing that.” Sure, the stupid new brother will say, “Well no sir. I don’t know, I was trying to help.” He’s too new. But no older brother would ever say, “No, I wasn’t being lazy.” They know they’re not going to be able to withstand the pressure that he would lay upon them. Stewart will say, “Oh, so you say you’re not lazy! Well, what about this!” And he can just catch you. The closest you ever see an older brother or sister try to disagree is when they say, “Well, I didn’t realize it. No, I didn’t see it.” They’ll try to plead that they weren’t aware. That way they can at least plead that they weren’t doing it intentionally. But they’re already coming from that place of, “but of course Stewart, whatever you say is the truth.” And whatever we’ve done to give our minds over to this man, it probably has a lot to do with the jumping and with the instant snapping to and obeying a command, or agreeing with an idea. It’s this incredible thing!

Then I realize also that, so far in a day and a half of a Christian meeting, we haven’t cracked open a Bible. If anyone tried to point that out, they would just get put in their place. We don’t even read the Bible at meetings, we just get Stewart’s severe coaching methods. The whip-cracking and the intense despotic demanding, like raving over a group of people who are responding, “Yes sir! Yes sir! Oh, oh, you’re right!” The meeting is like being in a cauldron for hours on a stretch, six hours at a time. And no one is going to have time to think clearly about anything. They only have time to run. Just run and just do it. Quick! Nothing is done calmly. There is a tremendous amount of duress and pressure. And when I thought of how the Bible hasn’t been opened, I remembered hearing Stewart say one time, in response to a new brother who asked him why he doesn’t have his Bible open like he says we have to, that “I’m a living Bible.” He didn’t say he was a walking Bible, in the sense of these preachers who can recite the whole thing, but he meant the pattern of Bible through him, the pattern as shown in Stewart’s life. He said, “I don’t need to give you a Bible study, I’m doing the Bible on you.”

That’s what’s going on, we’re getting “worked on” at this meeting. And, Stewart did quote scripture sometimes, so you can’t say the Bible wasn’t used. But, there’s actually a kind of power coming from him. Like how Wallis [the author of the book Elementary Forms of New Religious Life] wrote about the charisma that people like Stewart have. And there’s no one who can withstand it or stand before it. You don’t even think of standing before it.

But then, I wonder if I have only recently learned what everyone else here already knows.  When I see the sisters rolling their eyes and acting dumb, saying, “Well, like I don’t know” when Stewart asks them a question. There’s more to everybody here than this. People are just making these making these inane speeches, louder and louder, faster and faster, and doing it again, in order to show that they’re obeying, and then we’ve got to hear everyone else speak. Stewart is always saying, “Now, no speeches,” yet certainly wanting and getting everyone to make their speech, by asking “Well, what are you going to do now?” There is this furious rowing to get away from the sea monster, that everyone does here. Everyone is certainly aware of something coming their way – and it looks like they’re trying to get away from “it” – and not from the judgement and God’s wrath that Stewart talking about.

And that comes back to how I just had to get out of there. I can only take so much. Here I am, looking out the window at these trees and I’m remembering when I used to go out once in a while for some time in the park. That has really fallen by the wayside. I remember when I first used to come here to the New Property, when things hadn’t become so intense yet.  On Sunday mornings, I got up and went to the park across the way to jog. I wish I hadn’t let go of that in my life. It’s like a bridge that can take me through each day, being able to run, all through the year, during the different seasons. Out there on a November day, a nice cool day for running. I can walk but, there’s nothing like running. I was in the city all day, but once I entered the park, the city noises receded and I was swallowed up in the park with its big grassy fields and trees. I could smell the grass and feel the wind blowing down the field. I could see an unobstructed view of whatever cloudscape there was that day. Or those late summer evenings, running out there and then lingering in the park as long as it seemed like it was safe.

And, I guess I should speak against such a thing, but it really provided relief and diversion. 

(According to Stewart Traill’s deny yourself teachings, by going into the park, I had been seeking relief and painkillers which was a serious sin and rebellion against Jesus. Stewart began a nihilist campaign of teaching, right after he said he had repented and started over, a few years before this. Whereas he used to talk a lot about God’s love for us and Jesus as our shepherd, he was all fire and brimstone now, and telling us to put everything in our earthly lives to death if we wanted to be saved.)

Stewart tells us that there is relief only in Christ. I don’t know. He says that I cannot be in command in my life anymore, whatsoever. And that the things that I want, they all have to go. Yes, in the larger sense, who is in command of his life? But, what Stewart is telling us to do so absolute. I can’t temper the tone or tenor of my life by just walking away from it for an hour. I rarely ever experience a time, especially not regularly, in a way I can depend on, when I can walk away from this intense life. And that’s what I used to do before, I briefly entered into another world for a while. A world of trees and little lakes and some fresh air. The wind blowing on me in a way that’s not possible on city streets. And now, this is just not possible. I do my job in the wood floor business, and when it’s over, I can walk up Sixth Avenue or Park Avenue as a way to get exercise. But it’s not the same as running in the park. I never have the sense of getting out for a while and I suppose I’ve lost something along with that.

And then there’s the idea of, how dare you sit up here alone, enjoying a piece of summer! However short, a half hour. Looking at summer and setting aside this whole world that I’ve just been in for the last six hours. Just setting it aside and putting it over there, and walking a stone’s throw away from it, to be away from it for a while. Like, how dare you! To try to have even a slight piece of mastery over my life, to control my environment for a short while, is considered to be such arrogance. But I can’t take this life and I know that I can’t take it. Well, I certainly do develop defense mechanisms to handle it. It’s spontaneous. And I’m not so sure I should destroy those spontaneous defenses and measures. Maybe I should get a delivery job, so I can drive by myself all day, away from this. In the ultimate sense, it doesn’t change anything, but it would be good to get away for a while.

(In 1988, I used to have a delivery job and this gave me time to be alone, instead of constantly living, working, convert making, eating and sleeping within the boundaries of the cult. That delivery job was one of my favorite times in the cult.)

Everything we do now takes place in the milieu. I probably don’t realize how much I suffer. And of course, from the things Stewart tells us, I have no basis to wish it could be different or to avoid these things I’m talking about avoiding.

(A milieu is an enclosed social environment. We lived an intense life, in constant contact with all the other cult members, in perpetual motion, with little or no influence from outside the milieu, and little time for anything else anyway, if outside influences did reach into our surroundings.

Milieu control is a term that describes tactics to control of communication in a group environment through the use of social pressure and group language.

For more on control of persons within a milieu see: here and here. Milieu control is an important concept in understanding life in COBU.)

And what I must deal with now, well I’m unfaithful to Christ, and what I’m about to say is all excuses – but we Stewart always tells us that nobody here is faithful to Christ! And that at every meeting, he shows us again that we’re not doing the right thing. Even Jim D., [the older brother visiting from COBU’s orphanage in Haiti, who was presumed to be doing good and faithful to Christ, not like all of us unfaithful ones here] said during the meeting, “Well, I’m faithful to Christ.” And Stewart said, “Oh so you are? Let’s hear it.” And quite a few said that they were faithful, but no one would say anything for a while. And then when Stewart walked out of the meeting room, a few said, “Well, since I’m not taking my share of suffering for Christ, I can’t say I’m faithful.’

(This was a common tactic, Stewart Traill started an inquisitional session, or threw out an accusation and then abruptly walked out of the meeting, leaving us all to discuss it.

The level of our suffering for Christ was an indicator of our faithfulness, though Stewart never spelled out in specific terms exactly what this suffering involved, except that we were supposed to be “putting our lives in this world to death” and other such things. Even if this were an adequate measure of anyone’s faithfulness to Chris, there was no way to prove we were suffering. We could be giving up everything and living like a dog in a kennel, but still be accused by Stewart for being proud and “hoping in this life.” No one was ever faithful enough according to Stewart Traill’s way. So, at each meeting, Stewart never accepted that any of us were faithful to Christ, no matter how much we had done all week.)

I might be overstating it, but this means no one in that room has ever been faithful to Christ in their life. And our theology is “once and for all,” so if they haven’t been once, they never have been at all. Now, we’ve just heard again from Stewart this week that no one has been faithful to Christ. And if any are now, they have only been faithful for the last hour. During their whole life now, this hour, now they’re first, finally being faithful to Christ. (Because they’ve just made a speech, recommitted themselves to be faithful, and it is presumed that they are starting over.) So, anyone saying, “I’m not faithful to Christ,” also means they never have been faithful in their entire life. Sure, on the day of the last judgment, you can’t hide in the others, but I just wonder about all of this.

Well, if you add up all the little pieces here, things don’t make sense. Like what I’ve just been talking about, that no one’s ever been faithful. If that’s true, you never hear anybody deal with that.

(No one challenged the idea, that according to Stewart Traill’s teachings about what is necessary to have a conversion experience, no one in the entire church ever had experienced this conversion, and at every meeting, Stewart accused all of us and found us to be unfaithful to Christ. This meant, if you were to follow this out to its logical conclusion, that no member of the church had ever been faithful to Christ, for any period of time, in their entire lives and they’ve just been found again to be rebels and cheats. This didn’t make sense to me. And no one ever challenged this assumption. 

Though I challenged it one time and Stewart just said to me, “Are you faithful to Christ?” According to the unwritten rules, I had to sit down and shut up, because an unfaithful person could not challenge the teachings or conclusions of our faithful pastor, as if by some law. So, I folded up like a house of cards and sat back down.  

But, I often thought, nobody here is faithful, ever? Okay, I understand about me, I’m bad, but there must be somebody. But no one considered to be a faithful Christian in COBU – except for Stewart Traill and it was assumed, his wife. This is what I was dealing with when I mentioned Jim D., our faithful and hardworking Haiti mission brother on a temporary visit from the orphanage. Yet, when he proclaimed himself to be faithful to Christ during Stewart’s accusation of our collective unfaithfulness, Stewart threw it back on him, saying rhetorically, “You are?” Basically everyone understood the code and the cue, and we knew that not even Jim D. was going to get away with a faithfulness claim. He was going to have to declare his unfaithfulness to Christ and make a recommitment during the confession session that was to follow, along with the rest of us.)

I can’t argue this out point by point, as the person trying to prove it. So, the perpetrator always gets away with it then, because it’s effortless for him to do that. And for the guy trying to catch him, it’s an endless life of playing catch up. Always trying to bail out the boat. There’s a new leak springing, trying to plug every leak – and I lose. So, maybe someday, I’ll discover the basic underlying premises about life here that are obviously off-base. I think I’ve delved into some of them, and still I may not realize just what it is. And then, how long am I going to keep living here? How long will this life here go on? I really wonder about that. How long can this state of affairs exist? But then I look at last couple of meetings. This is exactly how it’s been every meeting. Ate very brothers meeting, Stewart discovers again that the brothers are not faithful to Christ. And I guess by inference, if it’s not the real thing, then they never have been faithful to Christ.

(That is, if Stewart accuses them doing a lot of outward activity, but it’s not the real “laying down” and “putting to death” of our lives in this world, then he says never done the real thing, never had real faithfulness to Christ, because it’s supposed to be a “once and for all” conversion.)

And every brothers meeting is the same. It ends with all these recommitments, and now we’re finally going to do it. You think every meeting was the last meeting like this, but then it becomes or just looks like part of the script. It’s like a ritual. Everyone does this, every time. It’s like a rite of passage or a reconfirmation of all the things we hold dear. Such as that we’re lowly dogs. Our leader walks around interjecting comments into our little group meetings. And we all act so intensely involved in what we’re doing and we always confess to whatever Stewart says we’re doing wrong and we admit that what he said is true. This is Church of Bible Understanding life.

I do have the feeling this is not as Stewart would have it, but he doesn’t seem terribly bothered that it’s this way either. Sometimes I get the feeling it’s just fine with him. This is a terrible accusation I’m making here, but it’s fine with him – just as long as he’s worshipped and adored. Now, how could I say Stewart is satisfied if he’s always railing and raving about how we’ve got to change this? But he doesn’t throw us out and he doesn’t seem too perturbed about it.

Every meeting its the same and this is what’s done every meeting. It’s part of the agenda. Everyone says the end of their respective brothers and sisters meetings, “We made it!” And the brothers explain to the sisters how it went in our meeting, and the sisters explain to the brothers how it went in their meeting. All the saying sisters saying how they’re really committing themselves to whatever lesson Stewart taught them, with Stewart interjecting as they’re speaking, asking how things are going to be from now on, and all the sisters shouting back in unison to his questions.

And, I guess after this, everyone feels fresh. It’s like those so-called Church Christians who go to church on Sunday and come out feeling like they’ve been to the car wash. They feel better. And, we’ve been through the wringer and maybe we’ve worked off our sins.  We feel worked on. Stewart has pummeled our backs till they’re supple and beyond feeling. It’s like we’ve made it though and have been cleansed one more time by the chastiser’s rod. Once more confirming our allegiance to this way and our part in it. It’s like a salvation ritual, and also a ritual confirming our life as a church and what it stands for.

Well, this tape is almost over. I know I’m going to have to go back in there in a while, or my absence will be noticed. Ah, I got more into talking than looking at the trees. But I’m going to sit here a little while longer and look at them and think about summer and what it used to mean to me and about how I can’t experience it anymore. And then I’ll go down to eat and go back into the corral. And just try to look like another one of the cows and hope I don’t get branded. Of course, here’s the question, is Jesus really this way? Is this real? I read a verse in the Bible today that said, “Then if anyone says to you, ‘Lo, here is the Christ!’ or “There he is!’ do not believe it.”

(What I meant is that the Bible says that in the end times, there will be people saying that Christ has returned, and here he is, or, there he is over there. Saying that Christ has returned and this person is the Christ. There will be many people pointing to someone and saying, “This is the Christ.” Stewart was teaching certain things and being a certain way toward us (usually abusive, manipulative and threatening in the name of Jesus) and saying by his words and actions that “This is the Christ,” in the sense that this is what Christ is really like and that he was representing Christ to us as he really was. And to question Stewart equalled questioning and disagreeing with Christ. Stewart also claimed that he had the only true teaching about Christ and that “99.999% of all other Christians are arrogant.”

The rest of this passage in Matthew goes on to say: “For false Christs and false prophets will arise and show great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect. Lo, I have told you beforehand. So, if they say to you, ‘Lo, he is in the wilderness,’ do not go out; if they say, ‘Lo, he is in the inner rooms,’ do not believe it.”

In quoting this verse, I was questioning whether Stewart was a deceiver who was pointing to someone who was not Christ, saying, “This is Christ.” He was not pointing to a specific person as being the Christ, but portraying Christ to us as being a certain way. I also realized that the Bible said not to believe the person making these claims. But, at the same time, getting up and walking away from all of this was not going to be so easy. But I could not just stop questioning these things and continue to stay in COBU. This process I was going through can be seen throughout my written and spoken journals here on these pages.)

Read the next section of Sinners In The Hands Of An Angry Cult Leader here: What Are The Underlying Assumptions About Life In COBU?

::

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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