1993, 08/15. Why I Desire to Leave The Church of Bible Understanding.

 I wrote this paper about why I wanted to leave the Church of Bible Understanding, because no one wanted to talk to me or listen to any of the ideas I had for changes we could make in the church.   

I thought if I wrote down my ideas and passed out copies, church members would read it and there could be a dialog about these issues.  I made an appeal at the end of my essay for others to write their own essays and called for dialog among church members. I soon found out that the only dialog that followed was that I was told I was not permitted to speak, that I should not be around the new converts (because I was “poison”) and that if I believed the things I wrote, I should leave.

As far as I know, only Paul B. read my letter.  He agreed to let me read it to him as we were driving.  He said I had a point about one thing – but he would not tell me what it was.

Other church members knew I had written something that was not in complete agreement and whole hearted commitment to our way of life.  A Sister sarcastically commented in one meeting, “I heard about your letter of love.”  But for sure, none of the contents were going to be heard or be dealt with objectively.

Writing it reflected a final hope I had that things could change here and that I wouldn’t have to leave.  I knew these things, and more, would have to be talked about and dealt with.  But from the title of my essay, it can be seen rather clearly that the writing was already on the wall.  If I wanted a change in my life, I was going to have to leave there:

MY EXIT STATEMENT

or:

Why I Desire to Leave the Church of Bible Understanding

by Jim LaRue

Over the past days I have begun to speak my mind about things which I have kept hidden for the last two years.  In so doing, I have found that I was met with a wall of words – so much so that it’s hard to get a word in, or to explain my point of view and dilemma.

Most of this talk was centered in being asked in what spirit I am speaking in.  (Alluding to the idea that I am in the “devil’s” spirit, since besides the Holy Spirit, there is only one other “what spirit,” which is Satan.   According to our theology there are only two “spirits,” since no one is allowed to say he is speaking in his own spirit.  This leads to the useless dead end of trying to prove to everybody what spirit I am in and that I must be in a right spirit in order to speak.  And of course, the view is that if I am in a right spirit, I would not say these things.  So, it’s a useless double bind if I allow myself to get caught up in it.)

[When I spoke about what was on my mind, I was asked, “What spirit are you speaking in?”  They said I had to prove I was speaking in God’s spirit in order to be listened to about these things – which to them was impossible for me to claim, because God’s spirit would never lead anyone to disagree with the church and Stewart Traill.  Therefore I must be in the devil’s spirit.  Case closed.  No further dialog was necessary.  And this was the way they would sidetrack any conversation I tried to start.  It always went in this direction.  I thought if I wrote an essay about it and gave it to everyone, they could at least read it all the way through first in order to hear what I had to say, without having to start contradicting me as soon as I started speaking.]

I also was met with a sudden and renewed interest in my sins by people who didn’t seem so interested in my spiritual condition before I had spoken.  I was told that “your own sin is your basic problem” and that I can’t talk about anything else until I work this problem out.  This is used on me to keep me from talking.  Or because people don’t know how, or are not willing to deal objectively with what I am saying.  Or both.

[“Your own sin is your basic problem – not circumstances or the other bad guys” was a Stewart Traill precept.  It could be used to shut down conversation.]

So, in order to get a hearing, I have decided to write it down and pass it around.  This way anyone who likes can read it and see what I am saying, without having to dispute everything point by point.

(Some of these disputers are “True Believers,” though I think others are arguing in an effort to convince themselves about something, in an effort to push this information away as it is coming from me and to quell their own inner doubts, which they fight against and deny all the time.  When I show up, I see that they have a well-ordered and ready made defense.  It is so well prepared that it leads me to wonder if it’s something they practice against their own discordant thoughts not a few times every day.  It’s not just me they are saying these things to.)

Though I have been thinking the things I am about to explain for the last four years, a convenient place to begin is an incident that happened two years ago.  This was when I tried to explain to Stewart that he is alone and that he needs to get his views (and a whole lot more) checked.  Somebody asked me if I was saying Stewart is my problem. (Which I take to mean, is Stewart the basic problem in all of human life, including my own.)  I said no, but he does make some problems.

Upon saying these things, I was told I was going to be put out.  There was no attempt to answer my questions in any way.  He really pulled rank on me.

I also saw how Stewart’s response was dishonest, both in not answering and in his threat to put me out of the church.  And he began to stir up everyone in the room to say things about me, working the crowd the whole time.

Getting put out of the church also includes the immediate loss of one’s job and residence without compensation, which makes this a highly effective way of controlling people and suppressing dissent, but as I’ve said, it’s not honest.

Of course, I was surprised and overcome by that tactic.  I had expected Stewart to answer, whether in agreement or disagreement, because he always portrays himself as a maker of standards and a man of truth, a man who respects the truth and lives by and seeks it – no matter what the source.  I found out I was wrong about this.  I began to blame myself and say I was the problem, not because I thought this was true or I was suddenly enlightened, but because I was overcome by a power tactic and was begging for my life, because the sudden prospect of living outside the church tomorrow seemed overwhelming.

It took me a while to recover from this, but what also happened is that this incident became a milestone in my thinking.  I have not been the same since.

(Since then, I have often thought that “I learned more about our church in those eleven minutes than I did in the entire eleven years I have been here.”  There is certainly some truth to that.)

I had begun to lose my idealism before this and had already begun to doubt what could be called the “myth” of our church – that it is special and that our founder has this special view that is different and above the rest of the Christian world, a view that is necessary to set all of them straight.  The implication of this view, if one accepts it, is that it is necessary to separate ourselves from the rest of mankind, including other Christians.  We may “teach” these other Christians if they are willing, the greater (us) helping the lesser (everyone else).  Unless of course they are arrogant, which is a nice way to blame people who have legitimate doubts and questions about our sanity.

So, we have no fellowship with other Christians, no guest speakers, no working with other churches, no visiting missionaries. (Though Brother Buraga did come recently.  But this is few and far between, and a single visitor doesn’t change much.)

We have spiritual inbreeding where people end up getting sick.  We are constantly pushed to perform but get nowhere.  (This is also a contributing reason for my wanting to go.  I’m exhausted.  I feel as if I can never get replenished.  I would like to go away for a while, for a “sabbatical.”  Perhaps go permanently.)  There is no input from the outside.  There is nothing to compare life here to, because this is all you see.  So you can’t know if the whole church is drifting onto dangerous shoals, though you have the feeling it is.  You can’t ask questions or depart from the party line when proposing solutions and explaining to someone what is wrong with what you see or what’s wrong with yourself.  Stewart has arranged things very carefully so there is no accountability for himself and his actions – either to anyone here (you can’t ask questions) or to anyone outside (he says he “hardly ever talks to other Christians” and when he does he “only tells them these things if they are ready to hear it”).  He doesn’t fellowship with other pastors.  He needs to and he could use some fellowship and help from other men his age.  But I am sure he has a reason why this isn’t possible.  I don’t see how he makes it, how he can survive as a Christian and a person in that state.  I wonder if he is making it.   Maybe that’s why he drives us so hard.  There is more to his driving us than just “concern for our salvation.”

A critical difference between me and probably anyone else who reads this paper is where we draw the line when talking about problems in our church.  You are willing to admit there are problems among ourselves – but you believe that our founder is above and beyond these problems like some God figure sitting on a cloud, giving orders and proposing cures to the wayward humans on earth.  I see Stewart as being very involved in our problems and often the source and cause of many of them.  He has great complicity in the whole picture, though we are strictly forbidden to say so.  The very fact that there are rules that forbid talking about his involvement and the immediate and furious reaction that anyone receives over breaking this collective agreement, is great circumstantial evidence pointing to that fact.

We are frequently asked to discuss what’s wrong here, but all the feedback that is heard on our part is Stewart phrases like, “we need more urgent sweeping,” or, “we’ve got to get back to the basics.”  We can talk and talk, but we can never fix anything.

I suggest that Stewart end his self-imposed separation from the rest of Christian pastors and that he hold “amnesty” or “free speech” meetings with us where we are free to discuss the underground current of our doubts and suspicions as well as our proposals and solutions, without any payback or repression from him.  And though I think, ultimately, he will never do anything like this, nor will we, this could be very helpful.  It certainly won’t hurt.  If no one would like to speak in person, maybe they could write papers, which are written intelligently and in detail.  We have all been here a long time, we are all insiders in this system and we understand very well how it works, which is something the new people here can never grasp.  But, we know.

I will draw this paper to a close now, though I have a lot more to say and may write several others.  I am distributing this paper to whoever might want to read it.  I understand that this act alone could lead to my being put out of the fellowship.  It will certainly lead to further ostracism. I understand that I could go quietly, but this didn’t seem right to me, to slip out the back door, another casualty to a system that doesn’t work, and later presenting my viewpoint and gripes through the mail as so many others do.  I feel as if our church is wrong enough that it has to be dealt with directly.  This may also do good.  I see how I also lend complicity to the plot by playing along in silence.  This helps lock others in. (People will feel they are the only crazy one, because they are thinking something is wrong, but no one else is saying anything.)   It also helps confuse the new people and give them a mixed message about Christ.  They see the inner circle, the Older Ones playing along, so Christ must be this way then too.  We are collectively, from the top down, presenting a false image of Christ.  We are, as a church, “misrepresenting God.”

I am open to questions.  But can we talk about something else besides my “spirit” and “my own basic problem” and other moves to block me and take me off the subject and down a useless avenue?

It’s time to move beyond that and speak to one another on the level, as adults.

Jim LaRue

August 15, 1993.

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2 Responses to “1993, 08/15. Why I Desire to Leave The Church of Bible Understanding.”

  1. john schultz Says:

    Did you ever get a response from anyone that this was a help to them in them being freed from their chains? I found that most things I have put to paper were meant largely for my own benefit. As this letter had the benefit of freeing the writer from his chains.
    john

    • James Says:

      John,
      I can’t say that this letter “helped” me when I wrote it, in terms of it being a cathartic experience, setting it down on paper. Coming to these conclusions, some of which I mentioned in this letter, are what helped me. But the purpose of this letter was that it was an open letter to the other members in the Church of Bible Understanding as way to start a dialog. And nobody wanted to read it.

      I, naively, hoped it would start a dialog among church members about what was wrong there and what we could do about it, and I was calling upon them to talk about what they really thought, and not only what we were allowed to say. (There was a tightly proscribed and controlled way of talking about problems in COBU, and this had to be what was wrong with us as Older Brothers, and it had to be described and discussed only in terms of Stewart Traill’s teachings, using only the terminology that he used. You couldn’t use your own words to decribe yourself. But you could parrot the correct lines, and if you didn’t, you’d be steered back to that. For example, we could say about ourselves or others that, “I’m not fully there,” “I’m cheating and trying to have a double life,” “I was going by my own thoughts and not God’s will,” all of which were pathetic and never were ways to fix anything, although there was a lot of finger pointing and blaming, mostly by Stewart toward us. But you couldn’t say this was really “fellowshipping” and dealing with real problems in our lives in any real way. You could never get help in your struggle with sin this way, even though all these terms sounded like they something to do with the struggle against sin. And Stewart himself could never be mentioned as a contributing factor in our problems or what was wrong with the church and nothing could be pointed out about him, not even in the most soft-pedaled and round about way, as it would be immediately seen as “contention” and “attacking the church,” and you’d be dealt with on those terms, immediately.)

      Also, as I mentioned in the letter, that I wanted to talk about these things before leaving and not be as others were who didn’t speak up when they were there, but after they left, send letters in the mail to church members about why they left and about what was wrong with COBU. And maybe somewhere in there also, I hoped that if we could talk about all these things, and fix them, or make improvements, I woudn’t have to leave. But by that time, it was becoming obvious what the choices were. And I am lucky that Stewart Traill didn’t throw me a bone and act as if he were taking what I had to say into consideration. I might have stayed. I’m glad I didn’t. It was good that the immediate reaction to speaking up was an uproar of indignation from everyone and Traill saying “Off with his head!” Oddly enough however, and maybe it was an attempt at damage control, Traill later told everyone (about a year after I left), “You know, Jim LaRue was right! Maybe I ought to get my views checked.” But he seems to have said it in a speculative, rhetorical way, not actually admitting to anything.

      Anyway, John, I hope that answers your question.

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