1992. What A Tangled Web We Weave.
“What A Tangled Web We Weave, When We First Practice to Deceive.” – Walter Scott.
This is an essay I wrote, trying to summarize what life was like in the church. I often got thinking like this while working. I didn’t have a title for the essay at that time, but in looking over these notes, I think of the layers of deceit and deception that were involved and woven into COBU life in order to keep it running as it did. To believe the lie that Stewart Traill was a great teacher, who had the ultimate truth on Christianity and on life itself, in a world where all others were in darkness, and then the lifestyle that flowed from that, that we must live communally and be isolated from the rest of the world and from any other influence on our minds other than Stewart Trail, and to think and talk and act a certain way and to enforce that way of life on one another. And to go out and get more people to live this way, promising them Christian freedom, but really making them slave laborers to the church, or to Stewart Traill really, since he was the only one who reaped the financial benefits of the money that came into the church. We all lived in cramped and dirty quarters and were not supposed to have any free time, but instead be working at the church’s plans every waking moment. If a person stepped out of line, they were quickly brought back into their assigned place in the machine:
Through gathering new converts and furious work, salvation is promised.
If we are bringing in new converts to the church, it is the only way we will have confidence that we are in God’s will – in which there is a grain of truth, maybe even more. But invariably, these gatherers, the Brothers and Sisters going out to bring new people into the church, are always told they are hypocrites and that they are ruining all the ones they are bringing in. So we end up being trapped by our own works! It comes back on our own heads.
I feel totally isolated from people. From Brothers and Sisters. From people in the world. I can’t talk with “normal people” because of my life. We can only talk with homeless people, who don’t know their right hand from their left.
The Angry Pastor
Does Stewart take out his frustrations on us? Is it projection? He is a failure. Nobody in the entire world will listen to him, except for this group he has gathered around himself. (The remnant of the Older Brothers and Sisters and homeless people who wouldn’t know any better anyway.) Older Brothers have been the favorite whipping boys since the beginning.
Self-styled only true prophet in an unfaithful, deceived world. Only true interpretation of the Bible, phase II. He spoke with 50 pastors, all of whom didn’t want to hear it, wrote him off or laughed at him. Therefore again, all others are wrong and Stewart is the only bastion of the truth. This is his typical view of himself. We all buy it. Once more we are locked in. The doors have shut and we are locked into our little island.
Absolute control of thoughts and thinking. You will be informed on if you speak freely. You must be careful what you say, to whom. I often feel that Stewart is our Lord – it’s actually at that level. I am merely one of his possessions. He owns me. I belong to him. I keep thinking it is not Christ I must submit to, but him.
Whatever Stewart says is the law. No questions asked. No questions permitted to be asked. We all help one another along in this. We have a rubber stamp parliament [the Council] to ratify all his decisions. That’s what we exist for – a mere sounding board for him to expound his sermons upon. Nobody else will listen.
New Brothers Are Just Our Slaves
This seems to be the official policy, confirmed at least in part by Brother Stewart himself – though at times we get blamed for it and he is entirely exempted. We don’t serve their needs. Underneath all such talk [about how we’re supposed to be helping the New Brothers, the people we bring into the church], it is obvious that they are here to serve the church. All their needs, everything, (as with us) is subjugated to the great cause – to exhaust ourselves to try to build up an ailing church. When they get too unruly, we just shove them back with, “What are you here for?!” It is not really Christian Training, just sloganizing while burning out. All New Disciples are very frustrated. Most leave. We redouble our efforts to come up with new programs, lofts. And we also get blamed for every failure.
[Confirmed by Stewart himself – Stewart sometimes told us we needed to bring in more new people because we needed more workers. He also told us we ruled these people with an “iron fist,” in effect, accusing us of making them our slaves. But really, Traill is the one that ruled with an iron fist, though there were many “little Stewarts,” chips off the big block that acted like Stewart and pushed other Older Brothers and New Disciples around.]
Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.
[“The more things change, the more they remain the same.”
In 1989, Traill said he repented of making it too hard for the Brothers to get married. Yet, this situation continued, and is still the same in COBU, 20 years after I wrote this. Nobody gets married in COBU, even now.]
It’s no different than before, when the official policy was that marriage was allowed – but that you just couldn’t measure up to the standards. It’s just about the same now. Stewart hints at: Older Brothers can get married when they are taking care of New Brothers and finally moving on to raising Sister Disciples. [When we bring young women into the church and train them in this way]. ([Traill:] “How will you ever get married if you can’t handle a hundred Young Women Disciples?”) A long road of works is put before us, which is actually contrary to the Bible’s standard of being in charge of your own household before you tend God’s church. This is another way Brothers are pressed through the grinder. Their energies are channeled through the machine, because it is implicit that “you can’t get married until you are fully working at and going somewhere with this plan.” It is another way in which Stewart holds the reins on our lives. He is not going to permit marriage till we accomplish his ends, though this is under the counter, but it can be brought out with a little examination.
[Stewart did not directly state how he was using our lives to accomplish his plans, but if you looked at things a little more closely, it was self-evident. And even after so many years, people who have given up and dedicated their entire lives to Traill’s goals have not been able to be married, or be awarded marriage.]
Also: How “we” have done away with the need for marriage:
1.) No economic basis – we have the Business.
[We had a communal income source. We did not rely on individuals, motivated by making money to support their families. A man and a woman, providing for their own children and making money to do that, and then contributing a tithe of maybe 10% to the church. No, we contributed a “tithe” of 100% to the church and had nothing to build a life of our own with.]
2.) No need for progeny (for work or to continue our people). We can just go gathering.
[This means that we didn’t need to raise children in order to perpetuate our “people” or to have a next generation of workers, as other cults and religious communities did. We could just go out and get new converts. These converts were expendable, and many only stayed a short time, which did not matter if there was a steady inflow of new people. But while they were here, they worked in church businesses, without being paid. Though for a time, some were being given a dollar a day.]
3.) That just leaves sex [as a reason to desire marriage], which can simply be relegated to the category of “sin.” That is, selfishness, indulgence and immorality. Besides, Jesus will help you overcome “sin.” Also, because the first two reasons are unnecessary and wouldn’t even enter a person’s mind who is seeking marriage, aside from “I love her,” you are just saying you want to marry because you want sex.
Brothers are kept from having their own lives and are hooked up to the machine. Obviously Stewart doesn’t want divided loyalties. We have a fully dedicated workforce, a labor pool available on call 24 hours a day without other commitments, loyalties or needs. This would dry up if Stewart allowed Older Brothers and Sisters to get married! Then their interests would be divided. They would soon have to care for families. Even if the church took care of the economic end, Brothers and Sisters would still want to spend “ inordinate” amounts of time with their little ones. This can never be allowed to be!
FOOTNOTES About This Essay:
About gathering new converts. This was always difficult for me. We were pressed to go out and gather new people to come to a meeting and sometimes we’d get them to come over, only to have Stewart Traill center the meeting in what was wrong with the Older Brothers and we got a verbal beating in front of the guests we had worked so hard to invite to the meeting. This was confusing to the new people, because we told them we were bringing them to a Bible study. Some would graciously excuse themselves at some point saying, “Well, nice meeting you, I’ve got to get going.” Others were more vocal in their dislike for what they had been brought to. Often when one of these people walked out of the meeting, Traill said to us, “you’re ruining the new people,” or, “you’re letting the new people go.”
None of us had the moral courage to stand up to Traill and tell him that our guests were leaving because of what he decided to make the meeting all about. Traill was the one who told us to get new people to come over and then made the meeting an inquisitional session to beat the church members. It made me not want to bring people over. Why do that, only to get humiliated in front of them? Some of these people were interested in what we had been talking to them about and thought we were interesting people. Now, in the meeting, they could not understand the change we went through as we sat there beaten, sullen and silent. Such visitors never returned.
About the homeless people we “swept up.” Stewart Traill told us we were ruining them by the example of our hypocritical Christian lives. Traill accused us of “thumbing our noses at Jesus,” and “trying to have it both ways,” and that this was setting a wrong example for the “New Disciples” and we were ruining them. There is a verse in the Bible (Mark 9:42) that says, “If anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to be thrown into the sea with a large millstone tied around his neck.” So there was always a double bind about bringing in new members to the church – we brought them into the church, but now we were causing them to sin by our wrong example. (This was never proved, we were just accused of it.) And that it would be better for us to receive the above mentioned millstone (like a biblical version of the Mafia’s cement shoes), than to meet God and have to give account to him for all souls we allegedly ruined.
The idea that Stewart Traill is a failure. When I was there, I rarely looked at Traill as anything else but a Bible teacher who claimed to have exclusive and unique revelation (as well as someone who used to grind our faces with this “revelation”). That is because he put out great effort to interact with us only in this apparent role. He never acted out of character or spent any time with anyone as a friend. Except for the “Princeton Sisters” (our name for the “Gayle Helpers,” the Sisters who lived with Stewart, no one else spent any time with Stewart. I only saw Stewart at meetings, or heard his messages over the phone, in his role as great teacher and sole prophet of God.
From that point of view, I considered him a failure, because if this message was so important and it was God’s only real truth, Stewart was a failure in getting it out there to be heard. Stewart did not publish any writings or books. And as a great prophet of this age, he only had this ragged band of burned out people gathered around him to hear it. But I rarely looked at Traill as a businessman. In that sense he was successful in living off the efforts of others. He was a man who preached to others that they should give up their lives in this world, in order to get them to devote their lives to work in his businesses so that he could live very well in this world. He did not flaunt his wealth in front of us. He wore a uniform of work clothes and drove an old car. Most church members have not seen his mansion in Florida, except for many of the “Gayle Helpers” (the more attractive females who Stewart kept around as, ostensibly, helpers for his wife). In that sense he was successful too, if one measures success in having sexual access to young females.
“The only true interpretation of the Bible, phase II. Before his so-called repentance, Traill claimed to have the “only true interpretation of the Bible.” Then, in 1989, he claimed his previous teachings had been full of errors and that he had left out grace. He blamed his lack of understanding of God’s grace as largely responsible for his own sins. But shortly afterward, he was again inventing new exclusive interpretations of the Bible and recycling old heresies, such as Perfectionism. After a false show of humility and repentance, Traill was his old self, up and running again, business as usual. I had initially been duped by his show of repentance and promises to change and to be humble toward us.]
Traill made a big fanfare about talking with 50 pastors about his new teachings. He did not speak much of it after a while. When someone asked him about it, he said that they had all laughed at him and that none of them had taken him seriously. We all understood this to mean that these pastors were not willing to accept the truth when it was presented to them and that there was no one Stewart could go to. There was no one of like mind and only Stewart cared about the truth. This was always a big theme in Stewart’s worldview (as presented to us), that only he knew and cared about the truth. Only he had it. This gave me a sense of feeling locked up in COBU. Because if this were true, then there was no one out there that I could go to.
Here what my original essay looked like. I wrote in notehand so no one could read what I wrote. These are the last two points in my essay, “New Brothers are just our slaves” and “forbidding marriage.”