1993, 07. The Suppression of Marriage in COBU, How and Why.
I wrote this essay, two months before I left, about how and why marriage was suppressed in COBU. I learned about the concept of suppression of marriage from a book on life in institutions. In COBU for this suppression is better expressed by the biblical concept of forbidding marriage. But there is a sociological aspect to it as well which is no less true, which can be explained through the terms and conditions of living in an institution.
At the time I wrote this, there was a lot I didn’t know. I only thought forbidding and suppression of marriage in COBU was because of economic reasons, that there had to be a small army of unmarried people without other commitments to work day and night to pay for everything. And also that because we separated from all other Christians and seemed like a cult to them, no one would lend financial support or other resources to our church and that therefore this separation also caused us to need this army of unmarried workers.
What I didn’t know at the time was the extent of Stewart Traill’s adulterous relationships with women in the church. If I knew that then, I would have added two additional reasons why marriage was forbidden in COBU:
If Stewart Traill allowed marriages and the Sisters whom he had sex with (or knew about it happening to others) might talk about it with the Brother they married. She might divulge this information to him in a tearful confession about how she had sex with Traill, or knew of others who did.
And even more so, Traill set up a dynamic in the church where he portrayed the Older Brothers as unfaithful to Christ and therefore unable to marry. And everyone lived in crowded dirty communal buildings. But, Traill offered selected women the opportunity to come live with him in his nice house in Princeton and be a “helper” for his wife Gayle. These Sisters were called the Gayle Helpers. Why Gayle needed 15 staff members is a mystery. But there’s no mystery when the real purpose of recruiting concubines is considered.
In order to keep this dynamic operational, relationships and marriage had to be suppressed and forbidden. This would make Traill’s offer to come to the suburbs seem inviting, considering the alternatives. The alternatives being a meaningless and purposeless life in crowded and dirty inner city communal living situations, where the unmarriageable and wiped out Older Brothers lived. And the alternative of leaving the church and winding up in hell as a result were too much for some to risk. So, this dynamic insured a steady flow of Gayle Helpers to Stewart’s place in Princeton. The Gayle Helpers were always under threat of being sent back, if they did not show the proper attitude. At Princeton, Stewart had a secret door built to access the women’s living quarters. And he groomed a sister named Ann to be his half-wife, though that “project” was done when he still lived in Philadelphia. More elaborate plans for a harem were prepared after the move to Princeton and then continued when Stewart moved with his wife and all the women to the New Property in Philadelphia.
The Suppression of Marriage in The Church of Bible Understanding: How and Why.
This idea has come to me because I was reading in Ervin Goffman’s book Asylums about how Total Institutions suppress the formation of households. I could write a lot about how it’s done here and I will briefly outline. The subheading of this section would be, The Suppression of Marriage: How and Why.
Roughly, it is done by and consists of:
Brothers are married to the Business. To allow marriage would mean the end of the Christian Brothers business as we know it. “As we know it” means that workers are available 24 hours a day, on tap, with no legitimate reason to say “no” except illness and extreme tiredness. Having a wife and children, a family would mean a legitimate and alternative loyalty. It would be difficult for the church to deny people time with their wives and children. With the responsibility of a family, though people would still do some night work, they wouldn’t or couldn’t be available 24 hours a day as a replenishable resource at will. This resource would dry up. Even if people were willing to be available, this way of living, the way we live now, would put considerable strain on these relationships.
Also, we don’t have to pay people anything (except a small allowance). Married people would need more money. As it is now, as a rule, married couples don’t live in. [top of margin note: the sad thing is that people will leave anyway.]
It has been expected that married people live out, because the church won’t be their “mother.” Won’t support a grown man who should be supporting himself. “No putting your life on the church.” (As in the case of Mike N. when he and his wife wanted to live in.) Or, if couples did live in, and there were a lot of them. (If marriage were to be permitted, in actuality and not as merely a potential thing. On the books we “allow” marriage, but in practice, nobody can get married and nobody does. All are hooked up to the machine and must render selfless service to keep it going. No breaks, no vacations, no marriage, no families, no private desires and interests.) There would be a new source of expenses. Apartments. Doctor bills, clothing. New transportation needs and a lot more. Permiting marriages would sink Christian Brothers by drying up the labor pool and it would sink the church under the weight of new expenses, or so “we” think. I am sure Traill is not unaware of this.
Traill doesn’t teach marriage from the Bible or deal with it among us in any way – which then means for us, it doesn’t exist. Because only the things he talks about are legitimate currency among us. Only the things he brings up and drives are what the church’s agenda is.
Why is marriage not a part of our agenda? I have my suspicions, what are yours?
Of course, marriage, or the lack thereof, is always attributed to other causes. A person’s lack of spiritual development, faithfulness or commitment. The religious lies cover the actual truth. Churchill said “The truth is protected by a bodyguard of lies.” In our case, the situation is, “The lies are protected by a bodyguard of truth.” Religious truths, or lies masquerading as religious truth, are used to cover the real story. The avowed purposes of our church are always put in high and lofty terms. But this is used to mask the real truth of what goes on. In this case, the fact that the church is a complete financial disaster. (Or bad enough of one to cause severe problems.) And we have to pay for that in ways that don’t seem immediately apparent.
[At this writing, The Church of Bible Understanding is not a financial distaster, but a lucrative business, the profits all going to Stewart Traill. But, the cost of being financially successful was, and still is, the suppression and forbidding of marriage to the Brothers and Sisters in the church, so that there would be no loyalties other than those given to Stewart Traill and his financial agendas.]
What was once a viable system – that is, the church lived communally, pooled its resources and went a lot further than if it were supported by individuals. What has been a strong asset seems now to be a definite hindrance. Maybe it worked before because there were more people.
Now I will say what no one will accept. That the core or source of this problem now is Stewart Traill and his beliefs and lifestyle.
This is how it works. It has to do with the way he separates himself from other Christians and other churches and as a result, so do we. As with the Pastor, so with the congregation. No one wants to touch this but I can see it. There is this aura surrounding Stewart – at least in our minds – that whatever he does must be right and there must be a good reason for it. Because of this – and because it is also forbidden among us to do so, no one would ever think of looking at Stewart as a source of any problem. At least not publicly to say so.
But our church, following the example of its Pastor, separates itself from all other Christians. This creates suspicion on their part and a “we versus them” attitude on our part. This is something that escalates and compounds itself to the point of irreconciliability as time goes on. We are suspicious of other Christians as being not serious, fleshly, “hoping in this life,” hostile to us, arrogant, in error – the list goes on. (We do make an exception when speaking of people like Richard Wurmbrand and the Christians described in his newsletter. But, though we donate money to them, we make no effort to contact or actually work with, talk with or interact with them – though we like to feel we are one spirit with them in Christian service and sacrifice. But, we are still quite separate.)
People in churches “out there,” if they have any knowledge of us, view us as a cult or “very cultic.” They are suspicious of us. We don’t examine to see if a great part of the mystery about us is due to our own behavior. We don’t make ourselves clear to them. We don’t approach anyone in order to explain ourselves. They are not invited to come and learn about us. The battle lines are drawn. In our view, we are right and they are all “arrogant.” In their view, we are “highly cultic.” We are to be avoided. People are warned not to come here. Literature written about our church by people “on the outside” is negative. We are not willing to realize why people see us this way or to find out what they think.
We would like to say things like: this view of us is a result of the fact that we serve and uphold the real Christian truth. (Especially the parts about suffering, not hoping in this life, that salvation is not a free gift and other such things.) And that therefore the world, the rest of the Christian world is against us. Of course people have a hostile reaction to the truth, we say. But, I think it is much more because of our separatist and noncommunicative behavior and the resulting mystery surrounding us that comes from this.
I try, when I can, to find out what other people think about us. (Could it be that we shy away from other Christians because we already know what they think. They touch upon some sensitive issues. It’s hard to tell them they are wrong.)
A man at the New York Bible Society told me that other churches won’t donate anything to us because we are very cultic. There is an information network in the city in which churches lend support to one another and communicate to one another about who’s who. This is the word that is out on us.
I have said these things in relation to the non-marriage issue, which is related to the economic issue. There are a lot of overworked people around here who can’t stop working for any length of time for fear of the whole place folding financially. A life of treading water just to keep afloat, and just barely at that, doesn’t leave time for anything else. No time or opportunity to start one’s own household. No time to really teach new people about the Christian faith. Instead they are taken along and pressed into service as full time, or overtime, workers with a little Bible now and then. (This is something they are not told is going to happen to them when they are met on the street. They are not told they will be put to work supporting the church! If this sudden turn of events surprises or angers them, they are told they are “arrogant” or they are asked, “What are you here for?”)
What I am driving at – and to some my solution or proposal may seem a little too simplistic, because “we’ve always done it this way” – is this: Think if we ended our voluntary separation from the rest of the Christian world. Among the many things that would happen, provided that we were no longer a mystery or suspicious looking, other churches would be willing to lend us a hand. There are probably a lot of resources out there that people are looking for opportunities to provide. There are also probably talented and willing people who would want to come help.
Isn’t it really our own pride that leads us to think we can go it alone, that we can handle it? We can handle anything! Obviously, we are slowly sinking. The older membership is slowly dwindling. It is hard to invite lapsed members back. Just about all the new people that come here are street people or are people who were at one time financially successful and had families but lost everything through drug use. So, it’s only the most down and out people that come here. Well and good in itself, but it’s not good if these are the only people willing to come here (either to live or help.)
This means that people only enter our church on the lowest rung of the ladder. What about businessmen or tradespeople who convert to Christ? I don’t know of any that have been willing to come here, because of the lifestyle we offer. In our thinking, such people are not willing to pay the whole price, which is to sell all and forsake everything and move in with us.
In short, if we made these changes, we would have time and ability to pursue other interests and needs. Even marriage. Though such a statement is not part of the agenda here, it is a part of the agenda of human life that is being neglected. Some of us, unfortunately, will have to be reminded that God is the creator of human life and its terms. Human life seems to have a bad name among us.
[There is still no marriage in COBU. I came to realize that the things I was writing about were the truth about COBU. And after a brief period of thinking I could do something about it, and then realizing it would never change and that I would never start a dialog about it and get everyone talking about how to fix it, this helped me leave. Of course, I now know there was much more behind forbidding marriage in COBU than just the need for a workforce of single people without other commitments and distractions. And with this hidden reason (I’m not sure how many were aware of this), the issue was never going to get touched and dealt with, because it was system that Traill profited from, financially and sexually, and there was no way he was going to give up his control over this system.
The whole idea of “speaking the truth” and that “the truth will win” (and that all you have to do is speak it for the truth, or for Jesus, to win) was a concept I learned when I first came to COBU, and it was taught by Stewart Traill, who was always “speaking the truth” to us and demonstrating that Jesus was on his side. Speaking the truth did not work with Stewart however and neither did speaking the truth with the Brothers and Sisters work, if what I was saying was not part of the agenda taught by Stewart. I thought that if I spoke the truth about how and why marriage was suppressed in COBU would change things and I naively hoped others might dialog about it.]