1993, 07/06-7. A Sister By Any Other Name Would Be Just As Sweet.
(Postcard, a picture of Central Park.)
July 6, 1993
Central Park. I used to jog in here a while ago, sometimes around the reservoir. I got the books, thanks especially for the commentary. (I got the package about a week ago.)
We just had a “two day meeting.” Two days of bullying and badgering, in which we didn’t open our Bibles once or read them. I had to keep myself extremely detached in order to survive it. Something is very “rotten in Denmark” no matter how lofty the avowed ideals of our organization are.
Will write or call soon.
July 7, 1993
You probably got the post card I dropped in the mail yesterday. I am guarding our house in Staten Island this evening, so I have more time and opportunity to write you something longer. I am sitting on the front porch. It’s a nice summer evening. I’m away from the usual city atmosphere, so it’s more conducive to constructive thinking.
A few of us went witnessing in Times Square last night. This was all right. There are a lot of people there, from locals, to people from all over the world. I met a man from Bangladesh (whose name was Krishna) handing out flyers for a nightclub. He didn’t understand much English, but I told him I’d find a copy of a Bengali New Testament to give him. He said he was Hindu, but I thought a copy of the Bible in his own language might help him.
Yesterday after walking with a New Brother to a job site on Broadway in order to make sure he got there OK, I met an ex-COBU member. He was working on the same floor, putting in a new carpet for the same company we are sanding the floor for. I rode down the elevator with him, telling him how it’s getting pretty strange here and that I’m thinking of leaving.
In our book, talking to ex-members is like talking to the devil. Especially if we confide anything with them. It’s “fellowshipping with a wrong spirit.” Unless, of course we are inviting them to a meeting or trying to enlighten them to the error of their ways, or if we are inviting them to work on a Christian Brothers job so that we can “work on them.”
He told me, “Stop by my office any time you like” and handed me his card. I glanced at the address and said out loud, “666 Tenth Avenue! Great! Thanks a lot! Oh well, God bless you…” I had prayed earlier, saying I wanted to run into an ex-member. I just wonder if the “666” was coincidental, or is God trying to tell me something? Last time I prayed to meet an ex-member, I ran into Stacey W. on the train. He is a massive black man who is now into black Muslim racial supremacy and has no problem at all with being very vocal about his dislike for anyone white and anyone in COBU. This encounter took place on the subway, where the audience was more that just passive, though nothing came of it. The other Brother I was with, also named Jim, was trying to rebuke him and tell him he’s going to hell! I was waiting to see some kind of trouble break out.
Myself, I used the human element of familiarity and friendship, being that Stacey and I had worked on quite a few jobs together in days past. I even spent a night in his place in Harlem. I asked him how he’s been, what he’s doing now – which he was actually quite willing to talk about in between his jabs at “all you white people are alike” and his increasingly belligerent responses to Jim’s sincere but obviously inappropriate “taking a stand on the truth.” The whole thing ended without incident. But I remembered the old Chinese proverb “Be careful of what you pray for, because you might get it,” and it looks like I did.
And now, about this meeting. It was like being in a two day compression chamber. I guess the man means well. Often, I’ve thought concerning Stewart, that “nobody will tell the king he has no clothes.” Everybody believes whatever he says. They think he has a special hot line to God. So much so that he can tell us that 99.999% of all other Christians are teaching wrong. That all other Christians are arrogant, and such things. Everyone puts up with this and expects it. And, since he is this unique and exclusive source, the only source almost, that gives him vast powers to require all kinds of obedience and compliance from us, if we believe it.
It’s amazing what one man can do. Whether it’s him standing behind his podium before the assembled body (150 of us), or at the Brothers Meeting, railing at us and badgering us. Then we broke up into smaller groups, sitting in circles. He went from group to group, observing and interjecting comments. He is able to propel everybody into a high state of urgency, tension and flustered activity for hours on end.
As I said in the postcard, the Bible was not opened in two days, though Stewart would sometimes quote a scripture and some of us had an open Bible on our laps.
Words will not describe this whole thing and I am not now disposed to write out a long explanation of it and of my perceptions of everything that transpired. I did tape a lot of it and I am considering sending you a copy of it so you can hear what it’s like.
We even had the Lord’s Supper, which was delivered and explained in a totally confrontational style. At this point, we had been reading 1st Corinthians out loud together in order to explain the Lord’s Supper to the new ones. Stewart walked in with his wife and after asking what we were doing, gave a presentation about the Supper (but not an exposition from the Bible on it, such as what it is and how it works).
By the way, all meeting long, his wife sits next to him, as motionless and expressionless as a block of wood. She never speaks unless asked a direct question – by Stewart, that is. Or if Stewart says to her, “Pick a Sister,” she will call on somebody during the discussion, but not say anything more except a few words. For example, she will ask, “What about you Laurie?” Her face resembles one of those guards at Buckingham Palace who are trained to stare forward and make absolutely no response, not even in recognition of the tourists who come up and say things to get them to flinch. Also, she is free of all public correction. No one else is exempt.
I do understand that Stewart was attempting to convey the seriousness of the Lord’s Supper. That Christ’s body was broken for us. It was no light matter for Christ to offer himself up for our sins. Much of his talk centered on not profaning the body and blood by not discerning the body, saying that you will die if you drink in an unworthy manner. (“We are all unworthy, no one is worthy of the Lord’s Supper. That’s not the problem. It’s drinking in an unworthy manner, not treating it seriously, just taking it as a hunk of bread and grape juice that causes you to die.”) Then he said to C.B., an unserious new brother, “Don’t take it C.B. Or you will die. You got that C.B.!” But he meant it for anyone else too.
You had to be there to get the whole sense of this, it’s on tape. Our actual method is to pray first, then take the bread and juice (which has already been distributed), then “thank our Father” by praying again. So, between prayers, Stewart noticed that some of us were sitting in their seats, rather than kneeling. So he launched into them. “What?! You are not kneeling!!! Are you arrogant?! You won’t kneel before Jesus!!”
When I looked up and saw that some of these were Older Brothers (ones who “know better”), I realized they probably sat back in their seats in order to eat the bread. The rest were “dumb” New Brothers, most probably unaware of our practices.
There’s more to this, but I figured it would be tedious to write it all out, except for the following incident, which I write to demonstrate the “carry-over” of the meeting into our daily lives.
These pressure meetings carry over into the week. Everyone becomes a little Stewart, laying it on everyone else. The following incident is real, and it is a slice of our daily life here, including a lot of other factors that came into play other than the meeting. And it also involves yours truly…me, that is.
Last night, some Brothers, those at the 46th Street office, got together to check one another – to make our claims and vote on each other. Before the formalities started someone came in and said, “Two Sisters are at Penn Station and we need a Brother to drive over and pick them up.” (The Sisters weren’t mentioned by name.) Several of us there are drivers. Joe spoke up and said, “Well Brothers, you know I can’t go. I don’t think it would be good for me…” (So I and we all understood that Kathryn was one of those Sisters.) Joe has an interest in Kathryn and it is assumed vice versa. They talk sometimes but never mention interest in one another directly. You would have to understand our societal taboos on “relationships” to understand it all. In all our minds, everybody is paired up with another person of the opposite sex, but it’s never mentioned in mixed company. It’s like everyone is married off, on paper at least. One Brother won’t interfere in another’s territory. No one proceeds any further. It’s understood tacitly that because of the way we are (unfaithful) that no one can marry. This condition has been in effect for years, except with those rare cases of those who leave to get married.
(An example of “non-interfering.” We were riding in a van. A Brother kept talking about “a Sister” he “gets attracted to” and what kind of inner turmoil he goes through whenever he sees her. He kept casting cautious and apologetic glances in my direction, declining to name the Sister. I said, “It’s OK Paul, you can marry Becky, I’m never going to anyway. Besides there’s someone else I like. In fact, I think you two would be pretty good together!” Everyone has me and Becky paired up, and why not? Ten years ago – yes ten years ago, I expressed a lot of interest in her, even proposing marriage to her and in the subsequent years any Brother who I spilled my thoughts out to knew what and who I spent the greater portion of my waking hours thinking about. Everyone knows, she knows, etc. Today, I passed by her in the crosswalk, she smiled and held my glance a while as I said “Greetings in Jesus,” passing as we did like two ships in the night in the middle of the street.)
But, I had to explain all that to you so you can understand the story I am telling. Everything needs explanation or no one outside the confines of our little world can understand it.
So, back to the narrative.
Bob then speaks up, “Well, I guess that means I can’t go either, same thing…” (OK, so now I and we know the other Sister is Carrie.)
So someone says, “Well Jim, maybe you ought to go.” So I said, sort of tongue-in-cheek, “OK, sure, I guess that means I’ve got to go pick up Kathryn D. and Carrie R. at the station!” Ron, on the other side of our little circle flew into a rage of religious indignation. Really “protesting” my “wrong behavior,” and my “spirit.” Others joined in.
I realized I was in trouble and tried to downplay it. “We all did it – all three of us! Why should only the guy who doesn’t speak in code get it?”
To no avail. It was decided I was arrogant. A message went to the other house. A message came back: “The only reason you Brothers allowed Jim LaRue to get away with it is because either you just don’t care (about the truth, that is) or you are just dull.”
So, in the morning, four Brothers who weren’t even present last night, came in one after another and greeted me with, “I heard you were being arrogant last night toward all the Brothers.” They didn’t ask for details or to hear my side. They have it on the authority of “the Brothers.” When I attempted to explain, a Brother who had been present stepped in and said I had been arrogant.
And, just summarizing, without all the other things that were said, this is very exasperating, not to mention stone age and juvenile.
These things don’t necessarily stop there. (I am very glad I am here in Staten Island tonight and not in a meeting. I think God gave me a reprieve.) It doesn’t stop there. One of the lines I heard from them was, “Your arrogance has got to go.” I know the other half of this Stewart precept is, “Either your wrong behavior goes, or you go with it.” The second half was implicit.
Usually “post-meeting frenzy” lasts only a few days after a meeting. I suppose the human organism can only sustain a high pitch for a limited time before returning to normal, since it’s generated by forces outside ourselves. But Stewart has great capacity to maintain and generate frenzy via phone messages and the use of testing and voting on one another on our part. Somehow being judged by and against the backdrop of the others with whom you live has great motivational power, causing people to jump, shout and campaign to show their zeal and to ride others hard, also to show their zeal. All to come in with that crucial vote in the “how others see you” category. Everyone wants to be backed. Not backed means you are exposed to scrutiny, shame and being “worked on.” Getting backed in the vote earns you a little breathing room from the heat and pressure, plus also feeling better about your eternal state. The more frequent the voting among ourselves, combined with what amounts to standing in judgment before Stewart every week, the more activity – though of a highly dubious nature – is generated. It is a great motivational force.
This is how we get “motivated” here to work. Stewart turning the screws tighter on us sluggish people. This is combined with drives to get more converts. (This is called “sweeping,” bringing in mostly street people. Bringing in the homeless poor to your house – that’s in Isaiah. But all the new people come from the dregs of society only, no higher. People who don’t know their right hand from their left, or wouldn’t know a religion if they saw one.)
Stewart rarely ever talks to or with us. He just does these things. I have been calling it “psycho-pressure” for lack of a better term. There probably is a better term for it. He plays on basic life forces, such as fear and death. And, since those are real forces, when he presses buttons, people jump by reflex. You couldn’t not jump. I am afraid of death, I am afraid of hell. It works. Although I have been taking measures to distance myself.
His basic message these days has been “fear God.” I get the point. I question the methods. I question the terms. “You are going to die in two minutes.” Paul the Apostle said he would remind you of the terms in which he preached the Gospel. I am attracted to reading Galatians chapter one, because Paul talks about “a different Gospel” and those who “wish to pervert the Gospel of Christ.”
[Galatians 1 appealed to me, because I was beginning to realize that we were hearing a “different Gospel,” other than what Paul preached and that Stewart Traill was perverting the Gospel.]
I don’t think it’s done to earn a personal fortune [actually Stewart has amassed a vast fortune, based on members’ efforts, which I was not completely aware of at the time I wrote this], but I think he wants to earn an appreciation of his personal magnitude and wisdom on our part. Even if he has to bind a personal audience to himself by weaving them in with layers of fear and manipulation of basic human impulses and needs. He is hardly known, much less taken seriously, by anyone outside our “compound.” He is going to get an audience if he has to force us, which I think he does quite well and people here are quite willing. It is his great dream to be a great Christian leader, ultimately the only restorer since the time of the Apostles, returning the Gospel to its original purity.
But, the light of this “gospel” hardly radiates a few feet beyond the chain link fence of our property in Philadelphia and is also seen occasionally as it beckons a few poor homeless wanderers to give up their place in the bus station to come over for some “serious Christian training.” I don’t think it’s likely to get much further than this. It all seems founded upon a delusion. Otherwise there would be some more positive kinds of motivation here.
This is just after I got off the phone with you. I had been considering whether to mail the letter or not, but because there’s essentially no difference between what we talked about on the phone and the contents of this letter, I figured I’d send it.
I hope by now you’ve started to read the Richard Wurmbrand book. It will encourage your faith. Plus, in the newsletter you can learn about people who need prayer and also more about a part of the world Christian situation that doesn’t get a lot of coverage. He had come to speak to us over thirteen years ago, but I am finding out now [through former members of our church that I was now in contact with] that he doesn’t feel welcomed or thinks that his efforts might produce better fruit elsewhere, Since he is always in demand, he probably has to select whatever places he thinks best. Two Sisters did go to a church in New Jersey to see him. He spoke there in Romanian, his native language, but they said they knew the stories so well that they could tell which one he was on. They were glad just to get to see him.
Yes, I do agree with you that if I leave here, or when I do, I need to step into something rather than just stepping out into a vacuum. One thing this place does supply is a lot of rigidity, a completely structured environment, a “high-minded” purpose and answers to all your questions. There is an answer to everything (usually a Stewart phrase or concept) and if there is something, some subject for which no answer is supplied, well, you shouldn’t be thinking about whatever it is anyway! And it might be, well, if not traumatic, at least highly stressful to walk out or get blasted out the door without things firmly settled in my mind. I often realize that for the last thirteen years–my entire adult life–all my thinking, and outlook on reality and way of dealing with most everything has been formed by this place, probably far deeper than I could ever realize and I would probably try to deal with everything according to this way of thinking, even if I was doubting or questioning such a way at the same time.
I also agree that I need more of Jesus and more of the New Testament. I need to feed my inner man. I am really shortchanging myself. I had just gotten off the phone with Chris (a former member) who told me the same thing. He doesn’t want to get into disputes, just into Jesus. He thought that what’s wrong here is that we get lots of the “bad news” but no positive stuff, the “good news,” though it is officially mentioned once in a while. He thought we should all just come over to Times Square Church (this is David Wilkerson’s church, though he isn’t the only speaker there) to see what’s being preached there. It might do us some good. I might stop by, but I would be in tremendous trouble if anyone found out, because of what it would mean to do so. (I’m “looking for another, easier Gospel that doesn’t involve suffering” is the official story, but I think it means I am showing I have questions or am repudiating Stewart. It’s like being a defector, though it would be OK if one of them came to our meetings. We wouldn’t send them back for being traitors to their own church!