1993, 07/05 6. On Leaving The Deadly Safety Of The Fold.
In the previous section, I had been talking about the terms and conditions under which a person leaves the Church of Bible Understanding. I continued to talk about that here.
There’s no such thing as having doubts. You’re an attacker! It’s one or the other. It’s completely polarized. The only way anyone can express doubts is if Stewart said, “Now don’t you think it’s strange the way that I did that?” And I can imagine someone like Roger standing up and saying “Oh yeah, I always did have doubts about that.” But a person would never express such doubts until it was politically acceptable. But if he had expressed doubt on any other subject, he would be an ideological traitor. That’s why no one says anything.
When brothers leave the church, it’s a lot more than, “Well, I’m just tired of being a monk. I wanted to have sex. So, I realized I had to leave the church and Jesus to have sex, so I left to go have sex for a while. I can’t stand living like a monk. I’m so frustrated.” Or, “Look, I was just tired of dealing with my problem, so I went out and got drunk.” It’s hard to believe, but true: I have more chance of being received back into the fold coming back with a story like that, than if I say I left because I disagree with Stewart. Because sinning can be turned away from. We all know we have fleshly weaknesses. But how do we know if a person has turned away from questioning Stewart? There’s no way of checking. You can still see if someone’s getting drunk. Or, if somebody is into sexual deviance, they look look broken down. And you can tell if they’re not doing it anymore, because they look better. But if I’ve called into question three major points of our lifestyle here, and I come back from leaving, and maybe I could even confess actual sins I did out there. But someone will remind me, “Didn’t you also call into question Stewart and the church? That’s what we really want to know about. If you have disagreements with the way we live, why should you even be here? Why don’t you go start your own church!”
Really, it’s strange and obviously nothing gets discussed. I refer back to William Olin talking about what happened to people who said they were thinking of leaving Synanon. Usually people left through the side door. They didn’t tell anybody. In almost in every case, their leaving was a surprise. In Olin’s case, the people there put up with him for a while when they realized he was leaving. He didn’t get treated so badly. But he wrote about people who really caught hell over wanting to leave. And, again, the reason for that treatment is not because of sins or deviance that they see you doing and because they can have no trafficking with a fornicator or a drunkard. It’s obvious that when one is leaving our church, it implies that he’s calling into question some of our practices, if not the very core reason for our existence.
Those times when I to talk to Stewart, Paul S. said I was attacking the very church itself and that I was subtle. He said that I was “attacking the very basis for why we’re together as a church.” That’s what happens if you say something about Stewart. That’s a clue to the way people here think. Obviously I was attacking the very basis of why we’re together, which is: Stewart is a seer, Stewart cannot lie, Stewart cannot err, Stewart’s special calling to see the truth, and that we cannot live without Stewart. And a person saying to Stewart, “I think you’re alone. You need to have your views checked,” is attacking the very core of why we’re together as a church. I mean, it sounds preposterous, but I must have been attacking the very core of our existence when I did that. Which, by way of inference, is saying that is the very core of our existence. To say it more directly, to sum it up in one word, the very core of our existence is, Stewart. And I had attacked Stewart. I had attacked the very core and reason for why we’re together as a church. We’re Stewart’s audience. We are here to hear him speak. We are his flatters and admirers, or believers in Jesus – I mean, believers in Stewart – uh, I mean, believers in Jesus!
So, at Synanon, people disappeared out the side door and it was a total surprise when they left. Some guy would be railing at somebody who was thinking of leaving, Olin said, and within six months, he was gone too. Possibly the ones who harped the loudest on the other quitters were the soon-to-be quitters themselves, that’s why it bothers them so much and that’s how they deal with it. Olin was surprised at how someone would be gone within weeks of denouncing others who said they wanted to leave. The idea here was that leaving their group was never announced and the reasons for it were never discussed.
In Synanon’s group honesty sessions, which they called “the game,” they could talk about everything and anything, under all kinds of terms. However, there was one thing that was left out. It was forbidden to talk negatively about their leader. So another proof that the reason why we’re together is Stewart, or that I can’t live without Stewart, is that one of the subjects that we are not allowed to talk about is Stewart! Now, we can say, “Stewart said this,” and, “Stewart once did that.” That is not talking about Stewart critically. But there is a line we cannot cross. Everything positive we say about him is permissible, but anything negative is strictly taboo. We can speak of Stewart, but the moment we’re critical, or we have a suggestion, or we wonder why he did it that way or why does he do this, couldn’t he do that instead. Even if said in the most soft-pedaled way, that’s it! That’s anathema. That’s considered to be utterly wrong among us. Which is another evidence which points to how we’re here for Stewart, and that Stewart is God or our Lord and that Stewart cannot err. All of these things. And it’s a strict taboo. You never hear anybody say anything like this.
For example, I walked into the office one day and the sisters were trying to calm Lauren down. She slipped out a comment – I don’t know, maybe she wanted me to hear it because she knows I think about these things. She said, “I think you’re all talking to me like this because I said I didn’t like something that Stewart did.” Because they were all caring about her so intensely and saying “Well, Lauren, what about your relationship with Jesus?” She was getting love bombed by people who really cared about her. And of course, the sisters told her that Stewart was not the issue and they attempted to steer her to the other issues that were really bothering her, that would even cause her to think negatively about something Stewart did.
So, it’s weird here. If I think something is weird here, well, what is it? If I were to say it in one word, it’s Stewart. So now, I get to be another raving lunatic, ex-member who comes around once in a while, foaming at the mouth about Stewart. And that’s about all I get to make of myself by saying this, or by saying any of the contents of this tape. The idea is that if I can point to something that is not right here, which is the underlying assumption, then this is the only underlying assumption I know of. And maybe, because it’s such an underlying assumption, I even can’t see it and this isn’t even the issue.
So, maybe this requires further work. Well, one thing is for sure, I have to shut up. I can’t talk to anybody about this and it’s difficult to actually live that way.
Now, I’ll go into a brief description of how I’m considering getting out of our church. And, well, I’ve thought of it. I could go to Florida and live with my mother. If I wanted to, I suppose I could leave tomorrow, if I really think I ought to get out. But any brother who leaves and goes to live with their mother is mocked for being a momma’s boy by all the others here, because he left the church and went to live with his mommy. If I went to live with her, I would try to get my own place as soon as I could, but until then, I would be living with my mother. I would like to at least visit her, but how do I get to visit my mother? Probably the only way I could do that is by leaving fellowship. It would be impossible for me to fly down there for a three day visit, I wouldn’t be allowed to. We actually have this fear that if someone left our church and they were alone for three days, that they would really get messed up!
Imagine telling the brothers that I haven’t seen my mother in about six years and that I’d like to go see her. We can never leave here for any reason. And, why would I want to go see her? It could only be for a wrong reason. “I would like to visit my family.” “Well, what spirit you going in, brother? Sure, we would all like to see our families.” But in order to go, we have to be accomplishing something.
I’ve always compared family visits to the way the Pope walks down the stairs from the airplane and kisses the runway. He never just goes somewhere. He’s on an official visit as the Pope and the representative of the Catholic Church. And I have to go out there as a representative of COBU. I can’t just say, it’s anathema to say, “I want to see my family.” Thankfully no one scrutinizes my letters and phone calls, and I can still write my family.
But this being forbidden to see our families is quite amazing, you know. Rocky goes to see his mother for the afternoon, but she lives in Queens. For anything involving distance, it’s obvious that you’re leaving the confines of the compound for a while, and we don’t want you to get influenced. It’s like the Russian soldiers who were captured by the Germans and spent time in prison camps in the West. When they came back to Russia, they were immediately imprisoned by the Communist authorities because they had been contaminated with Western ideas, and as a result, were a danger to those in the country.
And sometimes I wonder if that’s how it works here. If someone leaves our church and comes back saying, “Hey, I was out there for a whole week and I didn’t backslide. I didn’t choose sin, I didn’t have any beer, I didn’t get into fornication, and I didn’t look at pornography. There was a television and I didn’t even watch it. And I didn’t go to any movies and I even witnessed to a couple of people about Jesus and I read the Bible. Actually, I feel a whole lot calmer now that I’ve been away a while. I had some time in the evenings to sit and read and ponder my life. And I took some walks. And gee, I feel a lot better! It was like a rest.”
We could never, ever let anyone experience that for themselves or to come back and tell others that, “It was refreshing to leave here for a week.” They left the crisis compound, where everything is down to the wire, every second. And they leave here and they find out they can be a Christian on their own for a whole week and they didn’t choose sin! If people began to understand that, it would cause some real problems here.
It’s like I have to be locked up in this place. The idea is that if I actually left for a time, I would be irreparably damaged by the deception of the world and that I would bring that deception back in with me when I returned. In fact, the only people who ever come back, or who are let back in, are the people who say how bad their lives were when they were gone. I guess they would be the only people who would ever want to come back here. But we can’t have people coming around saying they were okay out there! What would that do to all the new brothers! When really, maybe the world they go back to is a little more dangerous than the world I go to. The book on the Shiloh Community said that when the people had been ordered by the court to get jobs, they found that they could be Christians out in the real world. That phrasing is anathema here, that they could be ordinary Christians in the world. They actually saw that they didn’t need the place they lived in to make them faithful. And after that, they all left!
(Shirley Nelson, who wrote the book on the Shiloh Community, said that once the men were ordered to leave their communal living arrangement, everything changed. With “the assurance that they would never be hungry again,” and that their needs would be met in the same way everyone else’s were met, “there was no reason to stay. They could be ordinary Christians anywhere.”
I sometimes called COBU’s Philadelphia property the “crisis compound” because in meetings there, Stewart often induced us to believe there was some great, urgent and desperate crisis to face. These crises were usually spiritual in nature. We were headed to straight to hell, or there was a group of brothers or sisters among us in a wrong spirit who were trying to drag the church down. We spent hours in this intense drama, in a state of stress and urgency, until the problem could be “solved.”
Plans to deal with these crises were drawn up so they could be followed up on during the week in our long nightly meetings, without Stewart. Books about cults I read at the time described the use of such crises to keep members in an urgent state of mind and to keep their minds off their own wants and needs, and as a way to shut down critical thinking. How dare anyone complain about lack of sleep or a poor diet, or that they can’t get married or even have a day off from work, if they’re headed straight to hell, or if they’re accused of being in rebellion and are being hounded by all the others? Reading these books opened up my mind to understand this process. Until then, I had no alternative viewpoint by which to understand these crisis situations and their intended purpose. I began to detach myself from the deep anxiety I felt and to watch the others, and to watch Stewart working the crowd.)
And with regard to my family, I’ve had the feeling, at least in the last four years, that I’m in prison and that I can’t go to see them. I remember when I used see my father, I went for a whole weekend and no one bothered me. I always came back. Yes, I was thinking of leaving. When I was there, I was running on the school track and half praying, half thinking, “Jesus why can’t I leave, why can’t I come back to live here?” It seemed to me that Jesus was telling me I could not leave, but maybe I would have left eventually, it’s hard to say. I was thinking of leaving when I was visiting my father and checking out my options. But then again, I was also thinking of leaving when I was here in the church. Maybe I would have left within several years if Stewart had not started over.
(If it were not for the Grace Meeting, I would have eventually left. But instead, I was roped into COBU again by Stewart’s promise to start over and my hope that conditions in the church, such as forbidding marriage and Stewart being a dictator, would change and improve. Until then, I was headed toward leaving and I was halfway out the door, at least in my thinking, drawn by memories of freedom in summers past before my increasingly miserable life in COBU.)
Maybe I’ve contradicted myself by saying that I could leave once in a while, I might be more predisposed to stay. If I could see the contrast between life in and out of here, and I found out I was still alive if I wasn’t here. And if I went away for one weekend every month. Or if once a year, I left for 2 weeks or even longer and I found out that I could survive just fine. And that in fact,my temptations were a whole lot less out there. I wonder how much I’m irritated into give into temptation because of the abject sensory deprivation of life here.
And God forbid if I were to say that I could actually use a little sun and fun, some time to go for a walk and some unstructured time to collect and reorder my thoughts. I might find out that I really do want Jesus! And that I want Jesus, by my own free choice and not because I’m corralled into it. And I might find that there is a such thing as free grace or free justification and I that don’t have to work for it. It seems like we have to work for it, you know. It’s like Stewart during a meeting, when he’s predisposed to be in a light-hearted mood, saying to a brother who looks stressed out, “Gee, he looks like he’s suffering! Life is hard!”
But anyway, I’m not free to just get on a plane and go south to see my mother for a week, or for three days. And there are the “pressing needs” of the church businesses too. No one can step away from it for more than a day. On one hand, I’m treated like I’m totally dirt and that I’m not needed, but on the other hand, I can’t leave for a few days because I’m needed in the business, because the church is in such a financial crisis. Yet a year ago, they were ready to put me out in the street within minutes of trying to speak to Stewart at a meeting. And I wonder, if I’m so needed, how could they? That issue wasn’t brought to the fore. “We need every worker we can get. Why don’t we just put him on probation for a while?” Yet if I want to leave for a week, it’s anathema. It’s practically deserting.
There’s the concept of how if I’m open to the world in any way, that if I’m not as suspicious of it as everyone else is here, obviously then, I’m one of those people who harbors secret thoughts. And I’m under suspicion. But, I would like to visit my brothers. I suppose I could be more open about myself with them and write letters, but I wonder how much I’m opening myself up for if I begin to tell them what’s on my mind, like I have with Mom. It would be hard. It will produce an expectation on their part that I would leave, and I may regret this later.
(I already wrote some honest letters to my mother explaining about life in COBU. Now if I began writing my brothers about the same thing, it might seem that I was leaving and then what if I didn’t leave? I worried about this after I wrote letters to my mother. Now she was expecting me to leave, now she was talking to me about it all the time. Though actually, she handled it quite well.)
I could just be honest with them and say I’m going through my midlife crisis. But I have effectively cut off ties with my family. But I don’t believe in the curse of the family which, shall we put it in indirect language, is “the view that is sold here.” In fact, I will no longer say “a certain person” tells us this. I’ll put it in passive voice: that is the view here. The view that my family could only have sinister thoughts about my being in the church. At best, they could be neutral. They could be suspicious, because they think there’s something wrong here.
Of course there’s a lot wrong here. Stewart tells us that we are what is wrong here. He says it’s me, as an example of one of the us. And it’s obvious that I don’t believe that it’s so. And there are ten thousand other people who don’t either, people who aren’t here, the ex-members of the church who came to these same conclusions and left. It’s rare to find a former member out there who will tell you, “I’m what is wrong.”
I remember when Charles M. was coming around and he was campaigning to move back in again, so of course, he said he was the problem and he didn’t say there was anything wrong with the church. It’s pretty much known that you can’t list your other set of reasons for why you left. When Dave C. was out, he admitted that he was sinning, but he was also blaming Stewart. Then he said he was coming back and of course, he said he was dropping all of that. The same with Bernie. When he was living out with Dave A., he talked about what was wrong here. And it can’t just be that those ex-members Dave and Chris filled his mind up with that. For him to talk to Dave and Chris about it, he had to already have those things in his mind. And while he was out there, he was talking about those things.
And Bernie knows that he can’t come back and still be saying those things. You come back crawling on the floor, as a repentant sinner, talking about your own sins. How many times you masturbated, how many X-rated movies you saw, how many times you got drunk and of course, the wider spiritual sins, which everyone is more interested in hearing about. You left, you deserted Christ, you abandoned Christ. You trafficked with and took part in “the wrong spirit,” which means you talked to ex-members about the church. And because you left, you were a wrong example to the ex-members. You were hurting them. You come back and you confess your sins.
I’ve been sitting here undisturbed for two hours now and it’s twelve o’clock. An observance about how life runs in ruts here: no one comes out to sit under a tree. These new brothers go to that little porch area and just sit there. They’re used to hanging out on doorsteps, it’s not really a part of their life to spend time in the woods. But even the older brothers do that. No one would dare enjoy anything. Of course, the New Property is old hat now, we’ve had it for five years now. No one especially wants to look at the oak tree down at the corner anymore.
Although we have this property, we would never hear an invitation to a meeting the way a Southern Baptist preacher might announce from the pulpit, “Come on down for the meetin’. It’s gonna be a good two day meetin’. You can sit out on the grass under the spreadin’ oak trees and enjoy the gifts of nay-cher from our Lord n’ Creator.” How dare a person speak of enjoying the surroundings here in any way.
If I were to say, “I like the New Property because I like to go outside at night after the meeting and sit on the grass under the stars and look at the moon,“ or, “I like the nice carpet of violets and these beautiful green plants and I come sit here to sit and think.” “What! You’re alone! Off on your own again. You’re all alone, brother! It’s not good for you to be alone.”
We’re so suspicious of people, we worry that if a person were alone, he might be thinking thoughts. Maybe some of those thoughts might be subversive toward the church. Basically, if I go off into a corner of the property, the devil is immediately deceiving me, as soon as I walk away from the sidewalk by the door to the meeting room. You know, the sidewalk that leads over to the little area by the other building. As soon as I walk out onto the grass, the devil is right there in the bushes. As soon as I sit down on the grass, he starts whispering in my ear about Stewart and the church. Or, let’s say I wasn’t a person who was prone to that and I was a total true believer, then the devil might whisper in my ear about nature, the way he talked to Eve in the garden, “Didn’t God create nature? Well, then why isn’t it okay to enjoy it? Isn’t it good to sit out here and enjoy the fresh air and the green trees? Did God say that you could not enjoy these things? So what if it’s a ‘thing in this life,’ God made it. It must be okay then. God wouldn’t create anything that would hurt you.” And the devil would be laughing with evil delight as he was inducing me to let down my guard in the fight of the faith and to enjoy something of this world.
(Stewart Traill’s teachings were extremely nihilistic and he said that we were supposed to put our lives in this world to death. This is in direct opposition to what the Apostle Paul wrote about in 1 Timothy, chapter 4: “For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving; for then it is consecrated by the word of God and prayer.”
Earlier on in the same passage, Paul wrote, “Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by giving heed to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons, through the pretensions of liars whose consciences are seared, who forbid marriage and enjoin abstinence from foods which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth.” This also is a hallmark of Stewart Traill and COBU. The last marriage in COBU was in 1979.)
So, here I am being tempted by the devil in the wilderness to enjoy and indulge in something in this life! On one hand, any enjoyment in any way, is just sin, or beyond sin. And, of course, I’m looking at “this life.” That butterfly, flying over there! It could lead to a wider and even to a total indulgence in this world. I might leave fellowship, because I want to go walk in the woods.
Now, here’s another thing I was thinking about last night, which is the idea of enjoyment and the reasons why people don’t marry here, such as how if marriage was allowed, it would require a total economic restructuring of the church, and that might sink the church financially. I’ve noticed that married people don’t live in, the idea being that the church isn’t going to support them, the church isn’t their mother! They have to be responsible. In order to get married, a person would also have to talk about moving out. There are social and economic forces at work, a lot more than the alleged, you’re just too messed up to get married, hogwash and bullcrap that Stewart feeds us. But I also realize that marriage implies enjoyment. Marriage may be hard work. It may be a sacrifice. There may be trials in marriage. Why, it may even be a hindrance, or who knows, it may even be a help for your relationship with Jesus. You may be one of those so-called live out married brothers who hang their heads and look so wiped out and pitiful at the meetings.
If you can’t whip everyone else into shape and be that primary example and represent the church, like the way olympic athletes represent America, and if you’re not a finalist and the best, we can’t allow you to get married. But I also thought, when you get married, well gosh, you can have sex now! And no one can tell you it’s wrong. At least we don’t go that far and say that people have to be celibate in marriage, like some groups have.
But you know, our church doesn’t permit marriage. What an accusation to say that! But it appears to be so. And I realize that the act of sexual intercourse is extreme gratification, especially as the sex manuals say, in the moments leading up to and during climax. It’s intense pleasure, where you’re howling like a dog. And you can’t control yourself and you lose yourself in this feeling, no matter how serious you try to be about God and to be serious every moment, like Stewart is. (Like when Stewart tells us, “We’re going to have a supper break. We’re only eating for strength. You can eat for indulgence to go play, or you can eat for strength.”) He gave us a lecture last night about sleep, saying, “I slept, but my heart was awake.”
Even sleep is for serious Christian purposes. “Not even because you’re tired, or you happen to feel like laying down.” So, I wonder what Stewart’s views on sex are. God forbid, Puritanism is the creeping suspicion that somewhere, somebody is enjoying theirself. You can’t regulate people, no matter how serious they normally are otherwise, when they’re ejaculating. They’re having intense pleasure. And this isn’t compatible with Stewart’s viewpoint that says life must be extremely devoid of any pleasure. All motivation must only be in Christ. Everything else we seek, any pleasure outside of Christ is seeking sin. We are supposed to have no painkillers in this life to mitigate our share of suffering with Christ, because Christ didn’t take painkillers when he was on the cross.
I don’t know what Stewart would call these marriages we would want then. The sex act is extreme pleasure and people who say they want to get married are, by way of inference, saying they desire these few moments of extreme pleasure every once in a while. And you would be suspected of wanting it for that reason, and we can’t allow people to have any kind of good feeling whatsoever. I don’t know what Stewart’s views on marriage are. Would he say, “Well, perhaps you’re plagued by these feelings and you need release. But you must be very serious about it. You must do it in God’s spirit, in Christ.”
By the way he treats food and drink, I wonder if he would treat marriage about the same way. “Sex is not for indulgence. It’s not even for pleasure. As food is not for pleasure or for gluttony. Of course, food may taste good and you may have your favorite food. But that’s not what it’s for. And we don’t want to have people getting out of God’s spirit during supper.” Of course, Stewart is mostly talking about our behavior during supper, but, you could have behavior in marriage, like really enjoying the marriage bed. I just wonder how he would describe the sexual act, or what he actually thinks of it, like “of course, I have sex with my wife, but…” And no one would dare ask him if he enjoys it. Like, maybe it’s more for her than it is for his own enjoyment, to show that he really cares about her. He would probably say that, of course, he needs sex. But for us to talk about sex in terms of, well I really like it, that we want to get married because we would like to have sex. Of course there is this particular sister we might want to marry, but, this positive idea of I want to be able to have sex is just not allowed.
(Stewart was always lecturing to us like this. He often used the verse about the children of Israel who “ate and then they rose up to play,” as a warning not to be lighthearted in any way and to always be serious, every moment, including during supper breaks at the meetings. He said what the Israelites did was wrong, because it was rebellion and that God was angry and he smote them.
Stewart was not anti-pleasure when it came to himself. This was an act he played in front of the church. He wore the same workingman’s clothing every day (never a suit, jewelry or nice shoes) and drove an old car.)
Read the next section of Sinners In The Hands Of An Angry Cult Leader here: Prisoners For The Lord: Taking A Break From Cult Life Is Forbidden.
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.