1993, 07/28 2. Constantly Shifting the Basis: A Religious Shell Game.

This is side two of the tape from July 28. Part one was I’d Rather Be A Doormat In The House Of My God.

The title for this section comes from how every week, Stewart Traill changed the terms and conditions of what it meant to be faithful to Christ. He constantly switched the basis, keeping us off balance and in a high state of stress, anxiety and activity.


I feel a little calmer after talking now. I have often found that after I make a tape like this, it’s easier for me to pray.

I’m in a position where it’s hard to pray. It’s always the same things. A constant raging, turbulent river rushing by, full of all this stuff. It may not always be this or that specific thing, but it’s always the same kinds of things.

What the brothers at Woodruff were doing to us tonight used to be called “dealing,” except that it’s gotten a lot worse now. You used to be able to deal back. At least that would help you feel better. But now, it’s crimes against state and against God and humanity if anyone even tries to defend or justify himself. You’re justifying yourself!

Stewart has given us so many lessons and teachings on this. We’re so woven in. Such as Stewart’s teaching about: “Justification is found only in Christ. Man’s biggest problem is trying to justify himself.” This becomes something that is aimed at anyone during a meeting if they try to “justify their actions.” These teachings are a two-edged sword. Even if these teachings are good and right, they also bend back on us, hobble and muzzle us and tie us up in chains.

And there is only one way out offered, which is submission to all of this stuff. Whether it’s the real thing or not, I can’t say.

(Whether Stewart’s teachings were true, and this was the required response to that truth, I could not say for sure.)

It’s like thought reform where, if I struggle against it, they can punish me further. And if prisoners in the Communist reeducation camps weren’t progressing in their reform after a year, they were executed. So, they had great motivation to work at their reform. They all clearly saw that there was only one exit offered, only one way out, which was to confess the doctrine and to be seen as progressing in it and being progressive minded. And part of demonstrating that progress was getting on all the others. They couldn’t just progress by themselves, they had to prove it by working on all the others and bringing them around to being progressive, or else no one believed that they were progressive. They were used on the others.

This is what Stewart does at meetings when someone says they have repented of whatever sin he accuses them of being guilty of. They stand up out of a group of brothers who haven’t repented. Stewart says, “Well, if you are repenting, why aren’t you getting on all the others?” So in order to prove that they have repented, they have to immediately start getting on the others, saying, “Well, what about you?” Otherwise, their repentance won’t be believed. They have to put pressure on others. There really are amazing parallels here to that book I read on thought reform, not only Chapter 22 of the book, which describes the milieu, as the author calls it, but also describes the process that took place when they were in their classes and sessions, which could be compared to our meetings. But this process also happens all along, all the time, even when we’re not in meetings.

Also, the brothers who deal the harshest with others are the ones who have paid their dues by putting up with Stewart’s beatings, so they’ve earned their right to get on others’ cases when see them step out of line. They’ve earned that merit badge. And they use the same body language and posturing that Stewart uses and they use Stewart’s tone of voice and his stock phrases. And they get on anyone who is out of line. They’ve earned that privilege to put others back in line in the same way Stewart does with us, thereby tacitly agreeing that what Stewart did to them was right, even though Stewart blasts everyone to the wall at most meetings. Everyone over at Woodruff does the constant cycle of work in the church business, working and meeting and performing at Woodruff and then just hears Stewart tell them that it was all a religious performance. Well, it is a religious performance. That’s what Stewart is telling them, but somehow they can’t stop doing it either, and that has to be a very discouraging life. It’s very confusing.

(It was a wearying for the brothers at Woodruff to work that hard all week in the church business and training the new disciples, and having meetings until late at night, only to have Stewart tell them that what they were doing was sham and a false religious performance. And then the brothers made a commitment to work harder next week, only to hear Stewart tell them the same thing again at the next meeting.)

I got back to Red Hook in a half hour. I’m laying down in my old bunk here. I would still be awake over there at the office. It’s doubtful whether I’ll be able sleep or if I won’t be able to sleep here. But, I will have to get up in time to get to the meeting in the morning over there. The van has to be back precisely at the time the meeting starts, and well then, I won’t get to eat breakfast at the diner tomorrow. But I feel better over here, as the author of The Shantung Compound wrote, it’s important to have your little space around you. This defines a person. And Erving Goffman, in his book Asylums, wrote about the stripping process. I see myself as resisting the stripping process.

How to deal with the stripping process in my life? I will be stripped of everything. I willl only be able to have my things in a crate in a closet. I have to sleep out on the floor with all the others. And, if I progress in my reform (now blending the ideas from several books I’ve read), then I will be able to have some of these things back. What was once a normal privilege will be given back to me, over at Woodruff.

(I’ll get some of the privileges I had before, but now they will be doled out as a reward for good behavior and just as easily revoked as punishment for bad behavior.)

I’ll get a room. I’ll share it with five others. Noisy, dirty people. But, I’ll have a room again. I won’t be able to keep valuables there, but I will have a room. And some of the things I have now will be returned to me, but no longer under my ownership, but under the ownership and regulation of the institution, allowed to me as long as I behave well – and withdrawn as a method of punishment whenever I behave badly. No longer in my hands in any way. I could say it’s already that way now mostly, but this is taking it a step further.

But, I’m supposed to say that the truth is that I’m not faithful to Christ.

(I was supposed to say that the reason why I had to undergo all these privations was because I was unfaithful to Christ, otherwise Stewart would not need to force me to live this way and to undergo the stripping process. The constant pressure he put us under was meant to strip everything away from us that was of the world, sin and the flesh, so that we might be saved. I needed to be 100% about Christ and Christian training every second in order to be saved. This was like chemotherapy for the soul.)

We have to be over at Woodruff. The goal now is to escape from 46th Street and go to Woodruff. Of course, I have just heard from Stewart’s phone message that no one is faithful over there at Woodruff either. Now, Stewart never openly says that and I don’t if others realize it, and maybe I’m wrong, but that is the implication of what he says.

(Once again, Stewart exposed all the brothers at Woodruff to be just going through the motions despite all the work they were doing with the new disciples. He said they were rebelling and trying to have it both ways, and all the brothers at Woodruff readily capitulated and accepted Stewart’s accusation. I realized that when Stewart said this, this meant that the brothers at Woodruff (who were in the good category) must be no better than us at 46th Street, even though we were considered to be not faithful to Christ and we needed to prove ourselves in order to “escape 46th Street” and to be worthy to join in the activity over at Woodruff Avenue.)

The new saying from Stewart now is, “Are you willing to be changed?” It’s always a new thing. In other words, until now we haven’t been willing to be changed, otherwise, we would be changed. That was on the tape message from Stewart too, because someone said, “I’m willing to be changed.” Apparently, Stewart prompts them to say, “I’m willing to be changed.” Then Stewart says, in a classic case of pulling the rug out from under their feet, “The fact you have to say y0u’re willing to be changed shows that you’re not changed, because you’re saying you’re willing to be changed.” So then, I’m unfaithful to Christ, but so are the brothers at Woodruff, according to this. No one seems to realize that.

Now tonight, the brothers at Woodruff were all fired up, working on us, asking, “Who’s taking part in the agreement now that they’re willing to be changed?” Like, suddenly, they’re the good people now. Like all the other times when Stewart told them that they weren’t doing whatever it was, then the next day, they were all acting like, “Yeah, this is it now!” Only to find out the next phone call or the next meeting with Stewart, that it’s the same thing all over again, when Stewart says, “Oh, you’re not doing this or that? Well, it’s not real then!” Of course, Stewart always ends these inquisitional sessions with some kind of encouragement, but no one seems to notice it’s the same thing every time. So, here they are saying now, “Yes, I’m willing to changed,” only to go to the meeting this Sunday, where Stewart is going to tell us again how, “So, no one’s been doing it? That means you never even got started.”

(It was predictable that Stewart was going to prove at the next week’s meeting that all of the brothers’ claims about being “willing to be changed” were never accomplished, because he always came up with something that we needed to do before this change could take place. For example, in order to be willing to be changed, we needed to be speaking about the fear of God moving us first.  And since Stewart had not heard anyone mention the fear of God all week, he said that no one really could have been changed. (They had been repeating the last lesson like a mantra, and of course, had not been talking about anything else.  So they wouldn’t have been talking about the fear of God, but only about being “willing to be changed.”) 

So, Stewart would gave us some teaching as the way out of our condition, only to undermine it the next week. In this case then, the lesson was that we couldn’t get started without living in the fear of God.  But the next week, he said, we couldn’t have been living in the fear of God, because the fear of God was too horrible to face and that the only way we could have been facing it, is if we had been trusting God’s in love for us, otherwise the fear is too horrible to think about. 

And this would go on and on, from week to week. No one seemed to notice. And the ones at Woodruff got on the case of the us at 46th Street (who were considered unfaithful, unless we could get voted on and move back over to Woodruff – and this was the subject of our nightly meetings).  Yet Stewart always pulled the rug out from under the brothers at Woodruff, declaring them all unfaithful, and this went on and on. No one seemed to notice. It was like a religious shell game, with Stewart as the con artist, constantly switching the basis, constantly shuffling the shells, keeping us off balance and in a high state of stress, anxiety and activity.)

Or, the idea that I have to escape 46th Street and get over to Woodruff. If, let’s say, I “escaped,” like Rocky did, and I’m over there now, only to hear Stewart tell us the same things. I wonder, what is the difference between the brothers at 46th Street and the brothers at Woodruff? Someone will say, “It’s because they’re really laying sown their lives for the new disciples.” Well, there are plenty of new disciples around here too. Yes, and there are no rights of the governed here. These are my dying throes, trying to hang on to my cubicle, my little space in a closet. It sounds like such a shameful thing, “my closet!” Trying to hang on to my selfish little thing. It’s utterly ridiculous.

(I had a small private space I wanted to keep, in the face of the onslaught toward collective and common living that Stewart was imposing on us.)

Another sleepless night in Red Hook. My sleeping has been disrupted lately. Maybe it’s because of these night time trips back here. But the other night I couldn’t sleep at the office anyway and I probably wouldn’t be asleep if I were over there now either.

I’m reading some more of Enroth’s book, Churches That Abuse. I can’t say for sure if reading this book has moved me closer toward leaving. And I think I should leave.

Meetings are long tedious processes, where one must keep up the appropriately cheerful and involved looking attitude. I often wonder how all the others do it. We are extremely monitored, even though our leader is not always present. Everyone has strange forced smiles, saying, “Well, brothers, what should we do next?” Someone ought to say, “Why ask that question? We always do the same thing, all the time.” But you can’t say that. We must always pause and ask one another what we should do next.

We like to feel we’re genuine and flexible and that we’re open to God’s leading and that we don’t just sail into the meeting, but instead, we try to find out what to do next. But we must feel that way because we figure that Stewart is that way. But really, he just conducts the meeting however he wants when he’s here. He never says, well brothers, what should we do? He might ask this in a perfunctory way toward the end of the meeting, his famous line, “Any comments or questions?” But, there are never any comments and there are never any questions. And how does everyone go through all these meetings? What do they think? The problem is, you could never really find out. Because they won’t tell you. Is everyone else under the same pressure and duress that I am under?

Do others even think and try to methodically plan on leaving our church, once and for all? They may have considered it, thinking through their reasons, but they’re always rebuffed inwardly by the fear of going to hell if they leave and by the belief that it’s not possible for us to be faithful to Jesus anywhere else than here. Stewart says that we can’t be faithful to Jesus if we leave the church. But Stewart also says that no one here is faithful to Jesus.

Stewart says, “You’re not faithful here, so you’re going to go out there and be faithful to Jesus?” And, there’s no concept of how it might be helpful to leave in order to be faithful. Because Stewart says that a person can be faithful to Jesus anywhere. Wait a minute, that’s a paradox there. You see, it’s not our surroundings that makes us unfaithful, it’s our choice. So, that’s a backhanded way of saying we can be faithful to Jesus anywhere. But if a person leaves our church, they can’t be faithful anywhere, because they’ve left our church. By this and many other contradictions, we lure men’s souls unto perdition.

Let’s just give a random overview of our church. Dating is not permitted in the Church of Bible Understanding. Actually in the Rescue Mission, it was permitted.

(That was in 1983 and it was 1993 now. It was easy to forget the passage of time and that it had been ten years ago. For a brief time, some relationships started in the church, before Stewart put an end to all of them with some sophistry about how marriage was a social issue, and that there was no “right society” among us to present the marriages to, because we hadn’t done our training properly, therefore there was no real brothers fellowship leading the church. And Stewart warned everyone, saying, “and no trying to make a right society just so marriage can be valid.”)

Stewart didn’t call it dating. He called it “giving the sisters attention” and other terms like that. No one ever said that a brother and sister were dating. But there was some leniency toward relationships at the time. But often these dates were a challenge. I remember Stewart saying to Nathaniel, “So you think you could handle one of these sisters? Can you take a sister to dinner and have spare zeal?” It was a big challenge. Taking a sister out was only for the spiritually strong. I always had insecurities about dating before coming to our church, but I remember when I heard Stewart say that, I thought, wow, I can’t do this.

This was beyond what dating was in the world. The sister was going to be evaluating my spiritual prowess and my ability to be all there and motivated and my ability to have enough spare zeal to keep her motivated too. I never took any sister out for a date when I lived at the Rescue Mission. I went out witnessing with various favorites and spent time with the sisters who were easy to be around, but I never directly asked a sister out. Except for one time, when I asked Becky out. Of course, she dutifully said no. I was living out at that time. That was after the boom had come down on all relationships.

(I was living out of the church at that time, which made me “dishonorably independent” because I was not giving money to the church every week, and this sister, being bought into the COBU mindset, did not want to have an “under the counter relationship” or a “relationship in the dark”)

But I never declared to a sister that I wanted to take her out on a date. It seemed like such a challenge. Before I came to our church, when I was in the world, it wasn’t such a challenge. At least I was becoming a little experienced in going on dates with women. I wanted to do it and I’d tried. When I was in high school, it always seemed impossible. In my second year of college I took girls out sometimes and it wasn’t such a difficult thing and it no longer seemed so hard. In other words, I was willing to overcome my fears and weaknesses, and ask women out on dates.

(Coming to the Church of Bible Understanding was a step backward in my social development in this area. I learned to talk to people to witness to them about getting saved by Jesus, and for soliciting work in the church’s businesses, becoming less shy in the process, but as far as dating, where once I had been willing to overcome my fear and reluctance to talk to women and after I went on some dates in college, when I came to COBU it became impossible to date anyone.)


Read the next section of Sinners In The Hands Of An Angry Cult Leader here: It Is A Great Work That Stewart Traill Has Given The Sons Of Men.

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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