1993, 07/05 5. I Can’t Live Without Stewart.
This is the second side of a 90 minute tape I was making while at COBU’s “New Property” in Philadelphia during a three day July 4th meeting. I got up while everyone was still asleep and went outside to a secluded spot and recorded my thoughts about life there.
I left the COBU seven weeks later. I had been in the church for almost 14 years, which means that my entire adult life (from age 22) until this point had been formed and fashioned by the way of life there. What is on this tape is just a small cross section of the inner dialog and reasoning that was necessary for me to break from from the hold of the cult and its leader, a cult that is considered to be one of the most dangerous mind control cults in recent history. This a description reflects the rhetoric of the “cult recovery industry,” but it is true nonetheless. I was caught fast in and bound to this system and extremely beaten up by it. It is amazing that I even had the reasoning power to think through any of these things. Sometimes I thought that God was going to kill me for dwelling on these thoughts, so sometimes I tried to forget about them, but they always kept coming back.
I was not rescued by the intervention of deprogrammers and I doubt that any deprogrammer could have locked me in a room, or taken me away to a seminar and presented all the necessary information to convince me that I was in chains and show me a way to be set free, because there were just so many layers and levels of this bondage. Also, unless someone had lived in COBU themselves, they would never understand how talk anyone out of their belief in the COBU system and obedience to its leader. They might know the way it worked in general, but not the way it specifically worked there and what were the names, the dates, the teachings and the specific things Stewart said to us and what the effects of those things were.
Note: the following is being spoken, not in a way that I believed this, but that this is the supposed way of believing in COBU. In other words: this is what others say and what Stewart Traill says or implies about himself:
You have to leave room for how Stewart says there are mysteries he doesn’t understand. Well, so what if Stewart has one hundred mysteries? Most people wouldn’t know enough to get to the point where they would realize that there are a hundred mysteries.
(Stewart Traill said he had one hundred mysteries. These were things he was working on, but apparently, didn’t understand yet. And of course, no one outside understood those things either.)
Because someone would have to get pretty far into the knowledge of the truth to really see that there are one hundred things they don’t understand. And other people either wouldn’t know, or they would assume that they understood. You see, when Stewart doesn’t know something, he admits it. There are others who just arrogantly think they already know. Stewart says, “Well of course they’re arrogant! They just go right ahead and say that they understand something!”
So this is Stewart’s way to wipe out the idea that we could learn from someone else about something that Stewart doesn’t know, because, “They’re arrogant! They just go right ahead and say they understand!” But, Stewart is not arrogant. That’s the other assumption – Stewart is not arrogant. Anyone who constantly speaks against arrogance, by way of inference, is not arrogant himself. We all know that no one is ready to fight against every disobedience until his own obedience is complete. Stewart has told us that so many times, so obviously our assumption is that Stewart has conquered all these wrong things in himself that he says we are doing. And woe to the person who tries to say, “Well, you’re a very arrogant man yourself!”
The assumption in that case is, you would be packing your bags. The assumption also, is that Stewart has the right to tell you to pack your bags. Of course, he’ll put it up to a vote, but everyone will realize which way they should vote. And you had better not help someone like that, or he’ll put you on the same bus out of town.
And the assumption we all learned here, is that the truth is very difficult to understand. And this ties into the cartoon I mentioned about the guy hanging from the branch. He’s only a foot from the ground, but because it’s dark, he thinks it’s a long way down. And Stewart has taught us about the immense difficulty of really knowing anything about anything. And I’m not talking about the shortcuts these arrogant people take! I’m talking about the immense difficulty to even begin to know the truth. And of course, the assumption is that if Stewart can speak like that – he must know the truth. And we get the contrast between how we know nothing and the immense difficulty of knowing anything.
But, Stewart knows. And, he’s the only one in the whole world who knows. Sure, someone might know how to do plumbing or electronics or how to build jet planes, but as far as the real truth, especially the real truth about Christian truth, only Stewart knows! This is what we have been taught and what we believe. You hear his say it quite clearly: “99.999% of other Christians are arrogant.” They assume, they take shortcuts. Really they know nothing. I think Stewart plays upon our fears and upon our anxiety that it’s hard to find things out. On the idea of the vast impossibility of ever knowing the truth.
Yet, a lot of Christians have understood that it can be difficult to know things and it hasn’t stopped them, and it’s not because they’re arrogant. They realize they don’t have to know the laws of the universe with great certainty before they get up and do something. We might hear Stewart say that himself, but we’re stopped dead in our tracks, like a deer blinded by car headlights. We can’t go anywhere, until Stewart takes us by the hand. After we hear about the immense difficulty of knowing the truth, we’re waiting for someone – and we know who that someone is – to take us by the hand and show us the way, because obviously the one who is telling us these things is clearly able to lead us through these problems. Because only he knows what the problems are and what to do about them. So Stewart points to the problem and then gives us the answer. Of course, we all know he’s the only one who has it. That’s the incredible assumption, that if we leave here, we’re lost. Not necessarily lost because of sin. We might not go to drugs like these street people here do. We might just go live in the suburbs and be lost there, lost to the truth and end up in hell.
It’s preposterous, but if you state these ideas clearly, it means that I can’t live without Stewart. There’s another assumption, I cannot live without Stewart. I can read everybody else’s books, and they’re all wrong, they’re all going to mislead me. They may know this or that piece of the truth, but it’s incredible, when I look at it, that I can’t live without Stewart. That’s a major assumption. No wonder why the sisters don’t want to test anything. They go by their instinct for security, rather than, as Stewart tells us, “The women are really sharp, they really know what’s going on.” Yes, they know who they better stay with! It’s more than how we can’t live without our way of life here in the fellowship. Because there are probably a lot of live-in places you could go to and be away from from the world, where you can’t watch TV and you can’t bring in drugs. That’s a preposterous assumption, and I never really put it together that way, the idea of how we can’t live without Stewart and that we need Stewart.
Of course, we can say, “What do you mean? It’s Jesus who I can’t live without!” But Stewart will tell us, “Go try to find Jesus on your own and be deceived! Sure, try ‘Me and Jesus!’ You think you’re going to go off on your own, away from the fellowship and follow Jesus!” Stewart once said this to a brother who announced he was leaving and moving to Minnesota. “You’re going to Minnesota? Hey, Jesus is everywhere!” Then Stewart said, “The things you hear here, you’re not going to hear anywhere else! You won’t hear about suffering in Minnesota.” Well, who do we hear it from? We hear it from Stewart. The words don’t come out of the walls. It isn’t this voice in the air that we hear when we’re inside the buildings here, our special talking buildings we have here.
(That brother was not going to hear Stewart’s teachings about how we had to suffer for Christ if he went off on his own. Stewart said that other Christians didn’t talk about suffering, because they wanted to take it easy and have a comfortable life. We were not supposed to have comforts in this life. We were supposed to be ”taking our share of suffering.”)
When Stewart says “you’re not going to hear it anywhere else,” he really means, “I’m telling you this and no one else tells you what I tell you.” And, we can’t live without Stewart. Not that Stewart is a life-giving spirit, only Jesus is. But, we’ll never get to Jesus without Stewart, because everyone else out there is either a deceiver or they just don’t know these things. And Stewart says we know too much now, and we can’t go back to not knowing, or go back to an easier way. But, Jesus is everywhere! It’s true. And Stewart admitted that. But you see, when a brother goes out to Minnesota, he can deceive himself. Sure Jesus is everywhere! But that brother is not going to hear about suffering out there.
So, I wonder if that’s the bottom line, that we can’t live without Stewart. Because that would include all the things Stewart tells us. That’s an incredible thing, that we can’t live without Stewart, because only he is going to tell us these things. Yes, we also need this way of life, we need our brothers and sisters. Well, there are brothers and sisters everywhere, but they don’t know the things Stewart tells us!
So, Stewart has unique revelation. That’s preposterous, but that’s our belief. And we believe that the minute a person leaves here, they’re deceived. And it’s not because we have these special anti-deceptive forces here, within our buildings and that once we get out there, this protective force is no longer there. That’s what our belief is, that we can’t leave here. I wonder if that’s why when anyone leaves, they make a big issue about Stewart.
(The people who left were “contentious” about Stewart. In reality, they had legitimate complaints and observations about him. Stewart always claimed that he was not the issue and that these people were trying to make him the issue as a way to avoid facing their own rebellion against God. So it was automatically assumed among us that if anyone had a complaint or disagreement about Stewart, it was a sign of their own rebellion against God.
In my first years in the church, these contentious people seemed to me like they were filled with venom. I used to wonder why there were so many of them. They were backsliders. At all costs, I did not want to be a backslider. Even though sometimes I wondered about some of the same things they said. I think that early on, I did see what was wrong in COBU, but I stayed. Yes, there were other forces and factors that helped me stay. I could not go back to my family and there were people my age I could live with in COBU. But Stewart always seemed like a weird person. Sometimes I found reasons to believe that Stewart concerned for us, because anyone who talked so much about “loving one another,” must be loving. But to have such an internal debate meant that I thought that Stewart was not loving. But I decided to believe that he was loving, because he wrote lessons about God’s love and about loving one another. It was one of his main teaching topics when I first came to COBU.)
We’re definitely magnetized around this one man. All the books on cults I’ve read define one of the primary marks of a cult as a teaching or a group or a life polarized around one leader. Not two, or three or a group of leaders, but one leader and his interpretation of the facts. And, it’s clear that this is what we have here. This is absolutely definite.
Another thing these books say is that Christian cult groups claim to restore Christianity back to the original teaching of the Apostles. I could name ten groups in the past and present that have claimed to do that. And we’re just another one of these groups. According to the attendance number on the wall, there are 150 people here at our meeting today. I consider the vast size of Christendom, though Stewart would say, “Of course, if they really are Christians at all!” And it is just this handful of 150 people who have the real thing. And it isn’t really these 150 people, because we’re all flunkies. Stewart has to manipulate us into accepting his teachings.
It’s amazing that we have to be manipulated. Did Jesus manipulate people into accepting things or trap them into having to say things? Did Jesus create a circumstance where people have to be professing these things because they get checked on it every week? But, you can erase the 150, because we’re all elementary-level flunkies and order-takers. And really, there is just the number 1. There is this one man, Stewart, with his special charisma and channel to God. Like in Roy Wallis’s book about the charismatic leader and the resulting privileges he has from being that kind of person. Stewart is able to make tremendous demands on us. (Though a lot of these demands, we just put on ourselves.)
We can’t live without Stewart. Certainly, our biological life could go on without Stewart. We could possibly live another fifty years. We could go to work every day but, we would be spiritually dead. And there is no other church we can go to. Because no one tells us what Stewart tells us. He never vaunts himself directly by saying, “No one tells you what I tell you. I, I am he!” No way! But he always speaks in indirect terms, in passive voice. He says, “You won’t hear it anywhere but here.” But, how do we hear it here? He really understates himself. And our unwritten rules, if they ever were actually written and boldly stated, they’re preposterous. And, that’s how we get to share in Stewart’s mantle.
(In Stewart’s mantle = in Stewart’s glory. We were members of this great and exclusive organization, and only we had the truth and only we had Stewart. There is an explanation of what I meant by Stewart using “passive voice” at the bottom of this page. The explanation is too long to put here.)
Last night, a brother said, “God in his mercy revealed to us…” Well, that’s not really how it works. God did not reveal anything to Kevin. Not directly to Kevin, but Stewart told us. And even the most ardent believer would say, “God showed Stewart and Stewart told us.” Stewart tells us. I don’t receive revelations. I don’t hit the books. Even if we hit the books, Stewart says that we can study all we want, it’s only God’s mercy if he decides to show us anything. So apparently, Stewart is the only one here to whom God decides to show anything.
Stewart is the channel. He has this mysterious charisma and he’s the channel. We’re not supposed to say this exists – we just have to live according to it. This is the bottom line, that I can’t live without Stewart. Do I really believe that? Well, of course, I would say no. But then look at my life. Of course, I would say no, I can’t live without the fellowship. The fellowship keeps me away from the world, I would just be out there [speaking in a mocking voice, expressing my supposed depravity living apart from the fellowship:] going down to the beach to look at women in their bikinis and well, once I was out of here and there was no one to watch me, I would probably get a six pack and quickly become an alcoholic, or even if I didn’t do that, I would just be being fattened up for the slaughter in a prosperous worldly life.
So, anyway, this is my monthly tape. I’m just getting all if this out. Some of it is new thoughts and revelations. Of course, if I realize anything – of course I can only know if God shows me, and obviously God wouldn’t show me anything contrary to believing that Stewart is good, and that what he tells us is the truth! So, I’m being deceived. You see, there’s the assumption. If I realize anything, I’m being deceived. This great underlying fear of being deceived. And the only way not to be deceived is to stay here. No matter what condition I’m in, it’s better to stay here, because at least I can hear what Stewart says. If I were to embark on my own and go to another church – I’m lost! Not even through sins, but through being deceived! Stewart doesn’t get blatant like some of the more outright churches of this type which say, “If you leave here, you’re going get the mark of the beast! You will lose God’s protective covering. You have left God’s only prophet.”
Maybe because we live in the Northeast, we’re too sophisticated for such arguments, but still, I’m living with people who have bought into this. And any awareness I have of these things only causes me pain, because I have to either put up or shut up. I have to get in or get out. Either I have to go along with this or I have to leave. And leaving is a tremendously fearful thing. I’m dealing with the fiery prospect of judgment. As Joe said one day, “Most likely I’m not going to make it. But I know if I left here I would definitely go to hell.” That’s a revealing statement by what it implies. It shows that Joe thinks of leaving.
But it also shows the great fear that keeps him here. Stewart tells us that “fear is good,” but I wonder, is that the right kind of fear? And is it even true? Is this the only place where I can hear the truth? Is this my only hope, to be here? That’s another assumption, that my only hope is to be here. But that starts to mean that it’s not even Jesus who is my only hope. Because if I really believe that Jesus is my only hope, maybe I can say, then what do I need this for? I’m just putting my life on this weird institution and this self-made prophet. But (I feel sick to always have to say such things), I can know nothing. The only conclusions I can reach on my own, are that the ones that Stewart says are true.
And, all my rational forces are only supposed to be used to understand how what Stewart says is true and to agree with it, just like a person in the Jehovah’s Witnesses is supposed to read their study guides and look up the Bible verses that are given as references to show how the teaching is true. That’s why the verses are in their study guide, to show how their teaching is true.
The reason anyone here would give for what I’m doing now, is that I’m hitting out and seeking to find strong pretenses to break out against all sound judgment. That I’m using my reasoning to believe what is false, that I can really know nothing and all of this is just rebellion. You see, I can’t come to any independent conclusions that are against what Stewart says.
(In my earliest years in COBU, the Stewart, and those who were training us into this way, used Proverbs 18:1, which says, “He who is estranged seeks pretexts to break out against all sound judgment” as a way to explain what any disagreement with Stewart really was. As a naive new believer, I accepted these explanations, in part because this was all new to me, and I didn’t have any way of dealing with it or any defenses against it, and this was just one of locks and chains on my mind. And these things were always operating in my mind when I began to question Stewart and the COBU way of life. In effect, here and in many other parts of these tapes, I was working through all of the programming I received and re-examining it. It was like I had to work backwards to find my way to the door where I first entered, in order to get out.)
In other words, what’s really going on is that I’m trying to deceive myself and I’m succeeding in fooling myself. And that really, I’m being operated by the devil’s spirit who just loves to feed me with all these thoughts. This is just another thing that makes me scared, so I drop it and run back to Stewart. I mean, it isn’t even running back to Jesus! In a sense, we don’t have our own relationship with Jesus. It’s as if Stewart holds it in trusteeship for us. It’s like what he says about grace, that we have grace but it’s only valid in this and that application. According to Stewart, a person could even end up in hell with grace.
And, I think what Stewart is saying is that here, my relationship with Jesus is under the same terms. It’s only valid under certain circumstances. Yes, you do have a relationship with Jesus. Maybe you would say you don’t have one. Stewart would say, “You think you have a relationship with Jesus? How are you so sure?”
But, even if it were to be admitted that I have a relationship with Jesus, it’s only a valid here. That is, in two locations. It’s valid in the two square acres that I’m standing on here at the New Property in Philadelphia. And it’s valid in three fellowship residences in New York City. And there’s a special pass to travel between these locations. You can still have a relationship with Jesus there. You have a special traveling allowance. Your relationship with Jesus still good on the highway down to Philadelphia, but if you were to take it and go anywhere else that is not approved by the church, it is no longer valid.
I mean, hey, the church could send you to Texas to do something. Your relationship with Jesus is still valid in that case. But if I were to get up and go somewhere on my own, for a day, for a year. Well, my relationship with Jesus has lost all its validity. Except maybe I may hear the Holy Spirit calling me to repentance and to return to the church. But that’s God calling from a distance. And somehow, my relationship with Jesus in trusteeship. I don’t even own my relationship with Jesus. Until the time of the Protestant Reformation, the church was the mediator between God and man, in the sense that Stewart is in between God and man. These were earthly mediators. I must go through this mediator to get to God. Not that I can’t pray by myself. But, Stewart is the man who gives all the terms and conditions.
There’s really nothing I can do about this, so I just shelve it. Maybe I’ll deal with it later. What if all this is true? I really have no way of proving it. All I can do is sit and twiddle my thumbs and say, [in a wimpy voice:] “Well, it sorta kinda looks like this.” Basically any motive someone might have for thinking anything is always reduced to the common denominator of [imitating Stewart’s voice:] “You brat! You snot! You’re just hitting out!” There are no noble motives. We have no right to question. Everything can be reduced to the idea of, “It’s because you don’t like the truth. It’s just the rebelliousness of your flesh! You know you that hear the truth here, and the only reason you would fight against it is because you’re fighting for self, you love this life, you’re into this life, you’re hoping in this life.” In other words, there can never be a real reason. It’s not me using my mind and me realizing things at all!
This is like in the book, The Shantung Compound, where people in internment camps used reason to justify their own selfish desires for more space or more food at the expense of the others. And this is basically what I’m told that I’m doing here. And there’s not another person who I can talk to about any of these things. [In a mindless robot voice:] “Well, you’re fighting against Stewart. And that’s all you are. That’s what you’re doing. I’m taking no part in this. You’re doing your Jim LaRue again, aren’t you?”
I’m reduced to a being doormat. I’m reduced to being a child here. I can have no independent conclusions about anything, especially not in this area. And if I were to actually come to these conclusions and believe them, aside from the fact that, “of course you’re being deceived,” the only possible thing is that I’m wrong. If I left our church, there’s no such thing as leaving here rightly, unless I die in Christ, like Dawn did. I can’t say, “Look, I’ve been here for a while. I no longer desire to be here and to live like this. I’m going to leave.” There’s no such thing of coming before the assembled body and saying that I desire to make a basic life change. It’s just impossible. A person who leaves goes out under the terms of backslider, hypocrite and rebel. No one even bothers. It’s not even an option and nobody would actually consider standing up and talking to the brothers about why he wants to leave and give reasons for it.
(Not that anyone would have gotten very far with this anyway. And no one bothered, when they wanted to leave, to talk about it at a meeting and to explain the reasons why they were leaving.)
I would be afraid to stand up to talk to the brothers and explain why I’m leaving and why I don’t want to be here. It’s utterly futile and no one would consider going through with it. Eveyone goes out the door quietly. Just like in Synanon. William Olin [in his book Escape from Utopia] talked about how life was hell for anyone for anyone who actually admitted that they were thinking of leaving Synanon. This is another one of those amazing parallels to our group that I thought was just tremendous. And Synanon had nothing to do with Jesus or the Christian religion at all. These are the terms that are lived out in any exclusive society that considers itself the right place to be and that the rest of the world is in darkness, and in which everyone lives together communally and acts as one, like a school of fish.
And when people announced that they were leaving Synanon, they were treated like dirt. So on one hand, leaving is a crime, yet the way people who said they were thinking of leaving were treated, it certainly helped them leave quicker. Why is that? The only thing I can think of, is because they’re traitors! Why would anyone think of leaving, except because they want to indulge in deep dark rebellion and they’re joining the forces of darkness? Sure, there are brothers who just say, “I’m thinking of leaving because of sin.” That’s the only acceptable reason. It would actually be better to say that I’m leaving because I want to sin, than to say that I’m thinking of leaving because I don’t believe in our movement. That is a worse sin than saying I’m leaving for sin.
That is totally backwards. Leaving for sin should be anathema. You’re leaving for what? To get into sin? Yes, to just come out and say, I’m choosing sin and that’s what I want for the rest of my life and I’m just going to do it. I mean, that’s crazy, but that’s the only acceptable reason. A person could come back and repent from that, because he’s not an ideological criminal. He’s mainly a criminal of his own sins and weaknesses. He’s a drunk, or he’s got sexual problems. Fine. No problem at all. As long as you don’t fight against Stewart and the church and what it stands for. That is much more unforgivable than actual sins. Leaving signifies that you think there’s something wrong with us. It’s a loud statement of your disapproval of our group. Unless you can be like a good doormat and act submissive, “I really have a problem with sin, that’s the reason why I left.” I wonder if, when brothers come back, they speak only in those terms because they don’t want to deal openly with the other things that were on their minds about why they left. Everything from being corralled like a prisoner to having doubts or outright disagreements with our ideology or principles or our leader and the way we live. No one wants to live here with the way they would be treated if everybody knows they’re a questioner. There’s no such thing as having doubts. You’re an attacker! It’s one or the other. It’s completely polarized.
Read the next section of Sinners In The Hands Of An Angry Cult Leader here: On Leaving The Deadly Safety Of The Fold.
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
Further up in my talk, I was saying here that Stewart often didn’t use “active voice” grammar when he claimed outrageous things. He chose passive sounding statements, that seemed to merely point out facts, thereby understating that he was the great man or great seer, such as:
“This has been hidden since the time of the Apostles, and now this is being revealed.” (Omitting directly stating that he was the one who was revealing it.)
“You won’t hear about suffering anywhere else.” (Again, omitting mentioning himself as the only teller of these things.)
But other times, Stewart did directly state things. Such as, “I have the benefit of assured understanding.” And to a new disciple who asked him why he didn’t carry or read from a Bible at the meetings, “I don’t need to carry a Bible, I’m a living Bible.” (I could tell that a lot of the older brothers who heard him say that liked hearing it. Yes, the way Stewart was being toward us, including the verbal bashing and character assassinations was Stewart “doing the Bible” on us.)
Another device Stewart used was to ask a question, which we would then give our reasons for, making the answers to the statement (which was in the question, but masked as a question) our very own.
Such as, “Why don’t Christians take vacations?” We had to discuss it and come up with our reasons why it was true. (Note: we were not supposed to discuss IF it were true, but only, HOW it was true.) Stewart did not tell us we could not have time off to go somewhere or to pursue other interests, instead of being at our posts all the time. But he had us come up with our own reasons for why this was how things should be. Then, what he said could always be used on us. “YOU said, out of your own mouth, that Christians don’t take time off, didn’t you? So, were you lying? Well then?” A brother once said to me, in response to me wanting to be able to take an hour off to study something, “Jesus didn’t ask if he could come down from the cross for an hour.”)