1993, 07/28 3. It Is A Great Work That Stewart Traill Has Given To The Sons of Men.

The title for this section comes from Ecclesiastes 3:9-10, “I have seen the business that God has given to the sons of men to be busy with. He has made everything beautiful in its time; also he has put eternity into man’s mind, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end.”

For us in COBU, our leader, Stewart Traill, had also given us a great task, that of denying our own thoughts. I was coming to realize that in order to continue living in COBU, I was expected to deny my understanding of reality.


As I was saying, before I came to our church, at college and other times, I overcame my inhibitions. But when I came to here, I never declared wanting to date any of the sisters. It was a challenge now. In a few years, my foundations of reality had been shattered. It was quite a paradox. As soon as I came here, I remember sensing the church members’ frustration about no dating in the church. Maybe I had lost whatever headway I made before coming to the church and I sensed that none of the sisters were interested in me. So it always seemed difficult. Maybe I didn’t want to spend my ten dollar allowance on a date. But I never really entered social life here. Not that I really ever entered social life at college, but I had my few friends. But at the Rescue Mission, I never borrowed one of the church’s cars or vans and took a sister out. Somehow I wasn’t connected anymore. Isn’t that strange? Maybe the stakes were too high. I have to marry a sister right away if I show interest. That’s something to look into, because I just don’t understand what happened.

Now, that was an example from a specific time in my past in the church to illustrate the case of, no dating in the Church of Bible Understanding. It has been a hard and fast rule for the thirteen years I’ve been here. It’s to the point where no one even notices the lack of it. I guess we have become blind to the absence of dating by living here. We see the sisters in the office, but no one openly mentions the existence of this area of human life.

I suppose that by being around the office, we brothers feel that we’re at least socializing and having something to do with the sisters. There are women around, so we’re not totally monks, even though these interactions are extremely and highly restricted. And because it’s not even talked about, not only do we have these restrictions, we also have the double whammy on top of that of remaining silent about it. And a brother is considered to be really weird if they say anything about it. They’re going to get treated badly for mentioning it, or they will have put it back on them and asked, “Why are you this way? Isn’t it all your own doing, all your own fault?” I guess it is our own fault, because we stay here and put up with it. So, in that sense, it is our fault.

And when I consider that life in our church is this way and that it has never changed, and that this seems to be the basis or the social dynamics of the church, and, if this is the case, it’s never going to change, except maybe when Stewart dies. Or maybe when he receives another revelation from God, this time that God has shown him about 1 Corinthians 7, that it is better for people to marry than be aflame with passion. Or Stewart might say, “You my have noticed that I have not mentioned marriage at all. It’s because I have not been able to speak about this subject.” And, it’s amazing the way Stewart will say, “I haven’t been able to speak about this or that.” We’re at the mercy of his whims and revelations. I wonder if his revelations are just a thinly masked attempt to resolve corporate failure. And, realizing that he had better let some people get married to keep us here, he may start to allow marriage, under certain terms and conditions.

(I thought that the lack of marriage in COBU was just a result of the poor financial condition of the church, yet Olde Good Things, COBU’s architectural antiques business that started after I left, has been successful. It brings in millions of dollars to the church, yet no one has married. So really I was wrong here.

I continued to talk about an imaginary future time, when Stewart finally decides, upon receiving some kind of revelation, to allow marriages. This “revelation” might come about as a way to “resolve corporate failure” and that allowing marriage would be more advantageous to Stewart’s goals. But it was clear to me that Stewart forbade marriage and that the only way marriages would ever be allowed in the church was if, for whatever reason, Stewart decided to allow it. And that until then, it would never happen.)

Stewart might decide, this is going a little too far, everyone’s getting into their forties. I should allow a few token marriages. One of the things that haunts me, is ten years from now, when I’ve got gray hairs and I still can’t marry or do many other things I want to do, is to get the final buzz off from Stewart. Another recantation speech about how he’s been wrong. And his final buzz off would be, “And you didn’t say anything.You must have wanted it this way.”And then to just sit there and look down and stare at my hands in disbelief and helplessness. No use getting angry and standing up and yelling at Stewart.He would just say, “Don’t say anything now, hero. Where were you all along?”

So, I’m just recording some of my thoughts on matters. I can’t get rid of my inmost thoughts. These thoughts are always going to be there. I have found out that it is a great work that Stewart has given to the sons of men, to get rid of their inmost thoughts, to nullify them, mortify them and to numb them. So we become homogenized persons, inwardly and outwardly, only responding to the cues we have been programmed to respond to. Totally, effectively and completely ignoring all other real things within us.

(I was quoting Ecclestiastes 3:10-11: “I have seen the business that God has given to the sons of men to be busy with. He has made everything beautiful in its time; also he has put eternity into man’s mind, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end.”  Stewart gave us the task of denying our inmost thoughts and our own reality. This was a great and hard work to do.)

Speaking of burning buildings, someone is yelling, “Fire!” And, well, that’s not part of our vocabulary. The need to run from this situation is not our real problem. Sin is our basic problem. Other four alarm blazes are taking place in my life which are not included in Stewart’s teaching, so I have not been authorized to run from them. I haven’t been authorized to solve the problems I have that need to be solves. I ask myself and I just wonder, how long I will linger here? A lot of what keeps me lingering here is that I would receive no approval for what I do. My reasons for leaving our church will never be spoken of in noble terms like, “He saw how bad it was here and he realized he needed to get out. He left for right reasons.” I will never receive a good epitaph over my grave when I leave. “He went valiantly. He went down fighting! He left to seek God elsewhere.” It is what I’m waiting for, to be spoken well of. And I realize, I can’t be spoken well of if I leave our church.

There still some missing link. There is one more piece of the puzzle missing. That could go on for years, as I find more and more pieces. But I just don’t feel I have that one piece that puts it all together, so I never really do anything. It’s all the same stuff and I don’t think I’ll come up with anything new. I’ll just have some more of the things I’ve spoken about on tape.

I thought of telling the brothers that I haven’t been able to sleep at night, and I could just imagine somebody like Joe saying, “Maybe God is trying to tell you something.”

(Sometimes I couldn’t sleep because of the things that were on my mind. But if I talked to any of the brothers about this, they said, yes, God is trying to tell you something. The other cult members said that God was trying to show me I was going the wrong way by thinking these thoughts. But in reality, this turmoil was the way in which I was being forced to deal with what was wrong in COBU and to make a decision to leave there. God was indeed “showing me something.” I was also wondering, how many more pieces or clues did I need to come up with in order to make a decision to leave? It was all the same kinds of things anyway.  And I could stay for another year or more, trying to add up reasons to leave, or to find that one deciding factor where I could finally say, “Okay, that’s it!  Now I know I’m leaving.”)

Here’s another one: making God over in the image of our church. And also prooftexting, that is, Stewart’s use scriptural passages to back up his viewpoints. I wonder if people here aren’t able to tell the difference, or to discern whether or not something Stewart is teaching us comes from the Bible. In this church, we don’t listen to scripture first and do what it says to do. Stewart only selects specific themes, and then uses Bible verses to back it up with. That’s backwards.

(In other words, we do not seek to obey the whole counsel of God by searching all of the scriptures and obeying, but instead, Stewart selected themes such as “suffering” and “putting to death our lives in this world” to promote his agendas and to get certain behaviors out of us. And he used scriptural passages to prove or to prooftext that these things were God’s will for our lives.)

We go to meetings on different themes. Stewart always talks about these high-minded ethereal concepts like submission and suffering, such as the Suffering Bible Study. I wonder if there’s something behind that, that it’s just being used to lay the groundwork for suffering talk, as a way to exert further privations from membership and also to remove our basis for complaining about these privations or that these privations are too severe. Because then if we complain, we’re not having the suffering spirit. We don’t want to suffer with Christ. And yet, the Bible is a book – we should be letting the book itself talk to us.

(This last comment means, instead of having Stewart pick out topics like suffering and preaching them to us, with Bible verses selected to back up his agenda, why don’t we read entire sections or chapters of the Bible and let the Bible speak for itself?)

Maybe I do harp on my own themes, but it seems that the Bible never speaks to anyone among us about 1 Corinthians 7.

(This is a chapter in the Bible that talks about marriage and says that most people need to be married, because of the temptation to immorality. It is the “forgotten chapter” in COBU’s Bible, just as we used to accuse Jewish people of omitting a chapter in the Old Testament, Isaiah 53, which Christians believe is a prophecy of Jesus’s life and crucifixion.)

And probably a lot of other subjects are omitted from our reading of the Bible, such as having families, and desiring mercy and not sacrifice. In that case, someone would take that verse about mercy as meaning to go sweeping. [To recruit homeless people.] But when we sweep these people up and if any of them are considered as having attitude problems, there’s no mercy. They’re dealt with according to crime and punishment.

Making this tape will help me sleep eventually. I have no real communication with another member of the human race anymore. You may say, I haven’t for years. I have to speak to people here in the clichés and phrases we get from Stewart. But I’m especially locked in now and I keep all these things bottled up inside. There is no opportunity to unburden myself in a safe place and in a safe way. Once my criminality has been established, I’ve lost my rights and nothing I feel or think could be real. Except insofar as my thoughts and words line up with our current teachings. Lately, the teaching is the First Principle, which is a noble principle in itself, but now whenever we speak, we must link everything we say to this and explain everything through this. What if there are other parts of me I need to talk about? Well, hey, if it ain’t the Number One Principle, it’s not real, is what you’ll hear.

(On the surface, Stewart’s teachings seemed to be basic Christian teachings, so what was wrong with them? But, there were so many wrong things in COBU which we could not speak of. And if I had problems that I needed to talk about, if those problems didn’t exist as a part of Stewart’s teachings, then these problems would not be acknowledged, nor could they be tended to. The Number One Principle was quoted as a way to shut down conversation. My problems and issues with the church were not the real issue. I was told that I was making up “fantasy problems” as an excuse to not focus on the Number One Principle.)

Has our church teaching actually gone so far as to just be asleep at the wheel? And I wonder where this is going. Because it can’t be going in any good place, because it’s so negative. It never offers freedom. It might take some homeless people off the streets, but it’s just eternal bondage. Everyone is led on with a carrot on a string. Everything is focused on the next meeting, what we’re going to study there and then being followed up on about whether we’re doing what Stewart taught us, and we always have our backs to the wall.

We’re always at a crisis point and we don’t notice the day to day changes. We don’t realize how the pathway is either going in circles or tending downward, and that more people leave the church than come to it. There is a steady trickle out of the older members. There are the ones tottering on the edge now, such as Bob D. and Kathryn. And from what I’ve read in most books about cults, some people have to leave and come back two or three times until they finally leave for good. We lost José and Joe M. recently and you could probably predict that within a month or two, there will be another permanent leave-taking. [It was my own.] And it could even be someone we never suspected, because he was always proclaiming and denouncing and announcing. And now he’s gone! Another victim to the double life, who wasn’t telling anyone what he was really thinking. Because we can’t tell anybody what we’re thinking, unless we speak correctly. We have to graft all of our thoughts and emotions onto the pole of Stewart’s teaching and discard all else.

(Anything about us that was not covered by or that did not conform to cult teaching, we had to act as if that did not exist, or if possible, to explain it only in terms of cult teaching, which made it impossible to get help for those problems. Also, if we had any good desires or aspirations that were not a part of the church agenda, we had to suppress them and not do them.)

And if I can’t make my speech mesh with our current ideology, no one will consider anything I have to say. Speaking only in the terms of the ideology is useless anyway. I would think that at least some of our needs could be dealt with. But really, our communication with one another is so highly filtered that we’re only taking these things within ourselves and using them as support systems to speak the ideology, which means we’re just using it as material, but not actually dealing with the things themselves.

(We could talk about our sins and temptations as material to support Stewart’s teaching about what sinners we were and as proof that we were rebels who deserved hell – but we could not talk about those temptations as a way to help to overcome them.)

And everything else, we have to just throw away like a useless husk and worthless chaff. Everyone is only interested in getting the appropriate confessions. When prisoners in Communist prisoners made their confessions, they had to use real situations and actual events from their lives and distort them as proof of their own guilt, because it had to look like they were talking about their own lives. They couldn’t just pull out lies from the air and say that they did them. They had to be actual things from their past, but they had to recolor them to mean something else. For example, if a person had been a missionary in China, he would then confess that instead of passing out church literature, in reality, he was a spy who passed out subversive Western tracts and literature. That way, the guilt would become more his own. He could tell himself that was actually something he did. It would appear more to be his own. That’s a lot how our talk among ourselves is now. It absolutely thwarts all genuine communication.

What is God going to do with this place? It might not please him at all. Yes, the great invincible church, the Church of Bible Understanding, just turns out to be another empty cult. I sort of knew it all along, from the first year I was here, but I never had the equipment to effectively deal with it. There was always just one more program, one more teaching to lead me on, and I wanted to stay, because I thought it might get better here. And I didn’t want to be one of the countless thousands of people who left. I didn’t want to be one of those non-entities who basically lost their lives the moment they walked out the door. [See Robert J. Lifton’s concept of The Dispensation of Existence.] Anything not to become another Ron H. or another Kathy C. Or a Joe M., living with his parents, or a Steve B. Anything not to become one of those people myself. I didn’t want to be just another backslider who walked out on the true faith. It was like the movie The Night of the Living Dead, where every time someone died, they came back as a zombie, walking around in the graveyard at night in a vast throng of reincarnated zombies with dazed eyes. And the ex-COBU members walk around, but they’re like the living dead. And this is what I was in danger of becoming if I left the church. 

(This recording his ends here. After it ends, there is another recording made on this tape from about 1990, in which I was talking about the Protestant Reformers and the way Christians lived in the Reformation and Puritan times.)

… they read secular literature and were not uptight about life, they didn’t kill off all their desires in this life. They believed that God made everything and that therefore, there was a right use of these things. They didn’t divide their lives into secular and non-secular. And certainly, they were serious about God. The reason I have to say something like that, is that I feel obligated…

End of tape.

(These few words at the end of this tape were my first realizations about all the things that were wrong in COBU, before I read books on cults, total institutions and brainwashing – though reading these books later was necessary as well. Had I only looked at the ability to enjoy the “good things”of this world and to have “things indifferent,” from a purely religious viewpoint, I might still be in COBU, or at least I would have stayed longer. In other words, if I had seen my struggles and problems with COBU and its leader in only doctrinal terms and that the leader was forbidding us “things in this life that God has created to enjoy,” as the Bible said, but had little other equipment to deal with what was happening to me there, I might still be there. 

It would take coming to understand the social dynamics of total institutions, organizational behavior, coercion and cults for me to understand the entire array of forces that I was subjected to and held firmly in place by in COBU. But, it is interesting to hear this early genesis of my thoughts and understanding what was wrong in COBU. One of my first realizations was that Christians throughout the ages did not live like the way we did in COBU, and that there were other great teachers who explained Christian doctrine, whose works had stood the test of time and they talked about important issues regarding salvation and the proper use of things in this life that Stewart did not talk about. This was the beginning of the blinders coming off my eyes and the shackles coming off my mind.)

Read the next section of Sinners In The Hands Of An Angry Cult Leader here: “The Devil Puts Those Thoughts In My Mind Too.”


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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