1993, 07/08 2. The Overwhelming Pressure To Conform To Cult Life.
This is part two of this tape. One part one, I had been talking about slipping through the cracks of the cult’s system of monitoring its members. (I didn’t describe this system much here. I only talked about how I got away from it for a while and that it was still too soon for my absence to be noted.) I also talked about the larger surveillance system, of never being allowed to leave the treadmill to go away for a few days or to go home for a while.
I used to just mention to Rocky that I was going down to the shore to see my father for the weekend. I only told him because he lived near me on the same floor at Woodruff and I used to talk to him sometimes.
But now, if I were to say, “I’m going away for the weekend to see my family,” I imagine the first thing I would hear – and this voice is not meant to be anyone in particular – let’s just call it the persona of our fellowship. And if it sounds like a Certain Person’s voice, then know that all voices, when truthspeaking, try to imitate and come from that place. So this is just your generic brother. But it could be the Ultimate Brother, also.
(On the tape, I did a dialog imitating a COBU brother asking to take a vacation and Stewart Traill’s voice responding to him.)
The dialog would go something like this:
“I would like to go down to the shore for a while.”
“Well, you see, life is pretty intense here. I live and work in the city all the time. I would like to leave for a while to go home and walk those old pathways I used to walk, to take a walk along the river and around the town I used to live in. To ride a bike around and look at things, and to spend some time thinking about my life and maybe even to make some tapes. It would be refreshing, a time to rethink my life and what I’m doing. Not that I expect to change worlds by doing that, but I would like to be able to do that.”
And then you might hear:
“Why are you here?”
Or something like that. This sinister method of questioning. The Socratic method gone bad.
“Don’t you know that Christians don’t take vacations?”
And, the very fact that you want to take a vacation:
“What does that really say about you? What are you really up to?”
We have to have such a hold on everybody, because if one person here was allowed to take a vacation:
“Won’t everyone want to take a vacation? And who knows how far it will go? And what will happen to you? What are you really doing? What are you really saying, when you say, ‘I want to take a vacation’? Isn’t it because you want to abandon Christ for two days? Isn’t it because you want to do your own thing? You just do whatever you want! You’re your own lord, aren’t you? Yes you are! You’re your own lord. You don’t have to listen to Jesus, do you?”
I’m just making up something that I might be able to expect in such an encounter. I don’t know what the actual words would be, but I imagine it would be something like this. And I see the riveting tendencies of all these sayings – I’ve been there, I know what it’s like. Because if you’re a member of our church for a while, you know the score. And I often think I should speak up and say something about what’s going in here. And immediately, I know I can’t, because I know what’s going to happen if I do. I figure maybe I’m just limiting myself. But I know full well that I can’t leave. It’s weird, I know that I can’t leave here.
(Maybe I thought I was limiting myself by not speaking up about my wants, but on a deeper level, I knew we were not allowed to do certain things and I would be told so in no uncertain terms if I tried.)
On one hand, that’s a preposterous statement, the realization that I can’t leave here. And, what is that saying? Sure, I can leave here permanently, but to do that, I would have to repudiate the whole fellowship.
(I hadn’t yet faced that it was necessary for me to leave COBU. I was only thinking about getting a break or a vacation from it, but I also realized taken that even one day off from the cut was forbidden. But my thinking about and re-examining the terms and conditions of this place I had been living in for ten years helped me come to the conclusion that I needed to leave. I always knew I could leave permanently, but in order to leave, I had to “repudiate” the whole fellowship, that is, I had to say that our way of life was wrong. Surprising as it may be to anyone reading this, I still thought there were good things about COBU. But I also wondered what was so good about it if I wasn’t allowed to leave it, even for one day.)
This an oversimplification but, if I want to leave for two days, I would have to repudiate the whole fellowship.
“And it’s not really the fellowship you’re repudiating, is it? Really, it’s Christ who you are repudiating. Tell the truth! Is that true? Really, you’ve already repudiated Christ!”
(I was said the above lines in a tone of voice of our cult leader denouncing me at a church meeting. Stewart would have told me that it was not the fellowship (the cult) that I was renouncing, but that I was renouncing Christ and backsliding. In fact, Stewart would have used my wish to go away as evidence that I had already left Christ in my heart. I remembered that Stewart said that to some brothers who were leaving the church when I was a new member, and naively, being new to COBU and knowing little about Christianity, I believed the “great teacher.” And his claim about what it meant to leave COBU stayed with me for the following ten years until I began to question it.)
It’s just one of those realizations I have. Obviously I’m in a cult if it’s like this. Or, if this is a fringe church, then as Ron Enroth said, “It’s time to look for another church.”
(I was only beginning to face that I was in a cult. I had been reading about the characteristics of cults, one characteristic being that cult members are not allowed to leave their cult, and if they do, they are considered lost and among the dead, because they have left “the way.” This applies to any cult, not just Christianity-based cults.)
It’s an incredible statement – here I am, a 36 year old man, and I can’t leave. Maybe I don’t want to leave and I’m just using this as an excuse, because I don’t want to face my family. [In that voice again]: “Well, if you really wanted to see your family, you would do it the right way. And ultimately, isn’t being faithful here the best way to work on your family?”
(Stewart Traill said that the best way to help our families was to stay in COBU and to be faithful to Christ here and that by doing this, our families would respect our right example and this would be the best way to help them – actually, Stewart claimed that was the only way to help them. This line was be pulled out on anyone who expressed a desire to visit their family or to go help them.)
I’m standing here under the shade of a motley tree, right around the corner from the Red Hook warehouse, thinking these thoughts aloud on tape. I wonder if this tape is just a bunch of nonsense, and I ought to just stand out here and think without recording. But I like doing this.
(If I recorded my thoughts on tape, I was more consciously admitting to these thoughts and owning them – rather than it merely being “stuff that goes through my mind, maybe the devil puts these thoughts in my mind and I go for it.” If I wanted to get my thoughts out on tape and to listen back on them and examine them, it was a step further along the road to leaving COBU. Fears kicked in about consciously planning to “leave Christ” by leaving COBU – though it was not Christ who I was planning to leave. It would be better to be a hapless and hopeless sinner who left the church because he fell in to sins such as drinking or sexual indulgence – but who still believed in the COBU way – than it would be to be one of those who openly spoke against what what wrong with this “way” and its leader. I feared a hotter place in hell than mere sinners received. That is what the others said was going to happen to me for thinking like this.)
Back to the idea of, am I in a cult? When I realize, I can’t leave. I know all the internal logic, all the things Stewart has told us about why a person can’t leave. But I wonder, what churches do this to people? You have to live in, first of all, to have this situation.
(Non live-in churches do not forbid leaving their ranks, or not as strongly, because their church members don’t live in.)
But what kind of institution is this? Is it a mental institution? Even people in mental institutions get passes to go on leave, except for the worst cases who are unfit for society. I cannot go somewhere even for two days, even though I’m a 36 year old man. In order to do anything, I would have to have an extremely valid purpose, like Paul B. did. And even he couldn’t get away to see his family. His parents met him at a Holiday Inn in New Jersey and they went out to for dinner.
This is how you can see your family. I asked my mother when she was coming up here, because I would like to see her. If it comes down to that I can’t go see her, that would be something. Sure, there is the internal logic about why I can’t. It would be on me, something I did, so really it’s not them. But, I need tangible evidence like that to show this is a cult in a lot of ways and that this is a good reason for leaving. Otherwise it’s just Stewart’s teachings that I’m repudiating.
(To explain this last sentence: I needed “tangible” evidence, such as how we were extremely controlled about family visits in order to show me, that is, for me to face that I was in a cult. To face that “this is a cult in a lot of ways.” I was still unsure if I was in a cult, but, at the same time, it seemed so clear when I examined it. The last sentence meant that if I don’t come to terms with the fact that I was in a cult, then the only other reason for leaving that I could present to myself or to others, was that I just didn’t like Stewart’s teachings – that I didn’t want to “serve the truth.” It was hard for me to differentiate Stewart’s teachings from the teachings of the Bible – although I began to pay closer attention to what the Bible had to say and I began to understand how Stewart twisted scriptures in order to manipulate us and to promote his agenda.)
There is a mockingbird singing. We have all the requisite things of summer here. We have cumulus clouds, we have a mockingbird, we have the shade of a tree.
I’m so into deeply these thoughts, they bind me over and it’s hard for me to think of anything else. I just have to get away for a while, though I can’t really. I’m just standing around the corner, you know.
This is an intense life, though I really can’t say anyone is attacking me right now. But, of course, it comes. Just like in most wars, the battle isn’t continuous, but there are intense skirmishes and hot battles once in a while. But damage is done. It doesn’t take much to do damage.
But, I’m just thinking about this this intense thing, that I can’t leave here.
I see people here who park their cars out in front of their little warehouses. [Cars belonging to people who don’t belong to COBU.] At five o’clock, they get in their car and go home. It’s absolutely impossible for me to leave here, for any reason. I feel like a thief, a dirty rotten cheat, out here. I’m not working or doing something right now. The things I have to imagine I’m going through to take this little break. Not only do Christians not take vacations, they don’t take time off, because they must always be serving “the Lord.” That means every moment. Every moment, Christians are fighting the fight of the faith. Every moment, they’re doing something, in their outward actions. But then, Stewart tells us just as much that obedience to Christ is not outward, it’s inward. But boy, if someone is not doing the outward activities, we really question their inward obedience. It’s like being in hand and leg irons. And I’m really caught in this whole thing. It’s very deceptive.
“Well, why do you really want to go to Point Pleasant? Is it to really help your brother, or is it for your own fun and indulgence?”
Even the idea that I would have to speak to the brothers to ask for permission shows that in a lot of ways, they hold the keys to whether I can go or not. You always hear brothers tell the new disciples that, “the door is not locked on the inside, you can leave any time you want” but that’s for permanent leaving. It is locked on the inside if for anyone who intends to keep living here. If I want to leave for good, the door isn’t locked. I’ll get all the usual lines, but no one will actually physically restrain me from leaving. But that doesn’t mean I can leave for a day or for a week and just go somewhere. The doors are locked on the inside for those who live here. The doors aren’t locked on the inside for those who wish to leave. But for those who wish to stay here, the doors are locked on the inside. I have to get into a fight or an argument with the gatekeeper, and he’s not going to let me out – unless I just want to leave the church. In that case, pack your bags. And we’re going to make the best lesson we can out of this for everyone else, especially when we hear that you got killed and you died. And we’re going to make a big lesson out of how you went to hell, so that the rest stand in fear.
This leads me into thinking, what will I do during the next confrontation? Should I really stick with non-resistance? Or, let’s say I walk back in there now and Andrew gets me for, “Where have you been?” And what if I said, “I just wanted to step outside of the milieu for a while.”
“Oh, so you did your own thing?”
“Yes, I wanted to do my own thing. I’m a 36 year old man, I can certainly do my own thing once in a while.”
“Does Stewart do his own thing?”
“I don’t know, because to tell you the truth, Stewart is not accountable to anyone. I really wouldn’t know.”
And there’s no telling where this conversation would go. It could just end there with Andrew saying a few more words to me, or it could escalate to major proportions. Andrew could tell the brothers and I could become the subject of the next meeting, especially because I called Stewart in to question and Andrew would feel a need to report this.
(We were monitored and had to report our actions to one another and watch one another. Stewart was accountable to no one. I learned about the concept of the unaccountability of cult leaders from books about cults. Cult members are extremely monitored and controlled, but their leaders are accountable to no one. I would never have considered this on my own, without reading these books. As far as anyone in COBU was concerned, Stewart heard from God and Stewart was accountable to God alone.
I began to realize that we did not hold Stewart accountable to anyone or to anything. No one dared to question him. And if they did, all the others got on their case anyway, to immediately shut that down. In my little imaginary conversation above, I was making a major departure from cult rules to even mention the words “Stewart” and “accountability” in the same sentence. It may not sound like much to an outside observer, but any hint of dissent was immediately detected by the other cult members. Anything that departed from the norm, and especially anything that was not complete obedience to Stewart Traill, the man of God with a special calling to understand the truth.)
The other thing I’m thinking is that if Jesus is really like this, what would I want Jesus for anyway? Let’s say that this really is Jesus terrorizing me. According to the terms of the gospel, I understand that it is necessary that I love God and that any works I do which are not done in that spirit are worthless. I’m only doing it to stave God off from getting me, so it’s not going to matter what I do, I’m still going to hell. And so I think, what’s the point of all of this anyway, when I really consider it?
Or in a more blatant way, if God is really like Stewart, I guess there really isn’t a chance that I would ever be saved, because no one would want to be around someone like that for all eternity. But I guess you could say that the devil is worse. Well, if you had to pick between the two, you would take Stewart over the devil.
But when I consider all that Stewart has put us through, like the whole scene at 810, when he said to the older brothers, “When are you packing your bags!” and he always made it look like he wasn’t doing it to us, but that he was only doing what was necessary. And I figured we had to put up with this garbage from this guy. We had to be deferential around him. The assumption is that whatever Stewart does is Christ, and that to even begin to question, his response is, “What are you doing! What are you really doing? You’re not questioning me – you’re rejecting Christ!”
Probably the hardest thing of all, ultimately, is the fact that I live in our church. Because let’s say I think all of these things. If I didn’t live in, I could just not show up at the meetings sometimes. There could still be other social pressures that weave me in and that make me want to go to the meetings anyway, like losing what friends I have, or there is a potential mate who is faithful to this regime and I realize I can’t have a relationship with her unless I play faithful to this whole thing. But I don’t have those things. I’m just trapped here. And I haven’t invested money in this, but I have invested time and work. [All my income was turned into the church for the 13 years I was there.] And, I understand that when a person leaves, they leave with nothing. I take my few belongings with me, and that’s it. There’s no compensation. Why should they compensate rebels, why should they compensate someone who’s taking himself to hell? What are they going to do, are they going to hand me a couple of thousand dollars to help me readjust to life in this world? How could the church take part? [Take part in my “rebellion against the truth” by helping me adjust to life on the outside?] You go out on your rear end. And that’s it.
It’s like a black hole here and no light can get in. No one can get in, no one can see what is going on here. There is no accountability and no responsibility to any laws. Ultimately, I think it would be good if this whole church got destroyed. And wow, I just put that on tape. Someone will discover it.
(I feared putting my thoughts on tape and that someone might find this and play it back as evidence against me.)
But if it gets to that point, where they find a tape I made and they play it back on me, why the hell be here? And I am at the point, I admit it to myself, of giving up and just walking down the road anyway. I know it would be futile to try to recover damages. After thirteen years in the church, basically I go out there to start my life over with nothing. I’ve got a couple hundred dollars in the bank. And I have no medical plan. All these real life situation I would have to deal with if I left here.
On the other hand, it’s just going to keep being like this here. And as the years go on, it will be harder to leave because of these considerations. It would have been easier for me to leave when I was thirty. It would have been easier to leave when I was twenty-five. Now I’m woven in by guilt. All the things that I know now, that no other Christians know…but I know them. (It’s like being in the secret society of Christian believers.) And I cannot not know these things. And I’ll always know that I’m not doing these things if I leave here and go out to the world, and I’m going to be really messed up and guilty. It’s like they still got our hands on me. Even if I leave, my life is just going to be a wreck.
(Stewart taught us that as members of the Church of Bible Understanding, we had a deeper knowledge of the truth than other Christians had. Stewart special knowledge, which he taught us, and that once we knew this, we could not leave COBU and just go back to being happy and dumb. There would be the severe consequences of God’s punishment and wrath upon anyone who left COBU. Stewart often quoted Proverbs 15:10, “There is severe discipline for him who forsakes the way; he who hates reproof will die.” This fear was reinforced in me by the occasional returning backslider who talked about how messed up he had become after leaving COBU. Or course, we did not hear from those who left and had better lives as a result.
In the above paragraph, where I said “because of those considerations,” this meant that as I became older, things like health insurance, rent and expenses – and having the money to pay for them, would make it harder for me to leave COBU. The older I got, the more I might need of these things, while at the same time, my employability and earning power as an older person who only knew how to clean rugs and sand wood floors was going to diminish. It would have been easier for me to leave at a younger age. I could have gone back to school, saved money and then as I got older, I would have had the money to pay for these things. But if I continued to stay in COBU and then left at 50, nearly penniless and having medical expenses and rent now? That was going to be difficult.)
I continued talking on tape later that night. I was driving alone in a van. On the tape, you can hear the rumbling and bouncing of the van, which gives this a certain feel or flavor to the recording…
Leaving Red Hook about 3:30 in the morning now. I want to keep making this tape. I talked to Mom on the phone for two hours. I have doubts about the value of talking to her. Yes, it’s good to re-establish contact with her and to have someone to talk to about these things. There ought to be someone I can talk to about all of this. It is probably good for me to talk to her, although the more I talk to her, the more it may be moving me toward a decision. Yet, it seems hard to not be talking to somebody, as I’m undergoing all of these things.
I find myself standing a more on the outside these days, especially during this last meeting and then after the beating I got from over being (supposedly) arrogant and the treatment I got from the brothers when they arrived in the morning. I feel like a dog who has been beaten and is now unwilling to come around the house. It’s a feeling of withdrawing from others. The first thing I think now, whenever I encounter another church member is, what are they up to and what are they going to say to me? It’s beyond being on guard, because I’m not trying to do this consciously. I just notice this reaction that goes on inside of me.
Read the next section of Sinners In The Hands Of An Angry Cult Leader here: I’d Rather Be A Doormat In The House Of My God.
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.