Part 06 B. The Fall of the House of Woodland.

About June 1982, I was still in COBU’s “Rescue Mission” on Woodland Avenue in Philadelphia.  There were lots of “sisters” in the house and this was the only time relationships had started in my entire 14 year stay in COBU, although I did not have a relationship.

But, it had been me who made the opening kickoff that lead to “Open Season,” which was the beginning of this brief period of “relationships” in the Church of Bible Understanding:

I was aware of a teaching Stewart Traill had for the Young Sheep Training House, because I read the notes and also heard tapes of some of the meetings Traill had with them.  The Young Sheep were newer members of the church who were in their late teens.  Traill had essentially cast off the Older Brothers and Sisters and was training these newer and younger converts as the next wave of church membership.  As a Middle Brother at that time, I envied the Young Sheep, because Stewart was talking to them about being real persons, and not to be like those Older ones who were so far gone and beyond hope that their only purpose in the church was to be a warning to the new ones – and the Middle ones were next in line for being like the Older ones.  “Doing your interests” (as well as “giving attention to the sisters”) was part of Young Sheep training.  Besides working their day jobs and gathering converts in the evenings, they were also supposed to take time to develop themselves by doing their interests, because this was part of Jesus’ plan for their lives.  We had never heard of anything like this, at least not there.  So I decided that I would do this for myself as well, in spite of the fact that it had never been mentioned as part of our Middle Brother and Sister training, because I wanted to be a full and complete person.  The Young Sheep brothers were also allowed to show interest in the sisters (by telling them “I am attracted to you” and giving them “attention”) and, unlike us, they seemed to be on a track for marriage, with Stewart’s help – after receiving more training, of course.

I decided I would do the same thing, and this is what helped to precipitate “Open Season.”  When I was out visiting Lambs with a sister named Judy, I told her that I was attracted to her.  After deliberating for a while as I was walking with her if it was alright to do, I decided I was going to be brave and go ahead and do it.  She had no idea of what to do and began freaking out, muttering to herself and acting nervously and it was an act of extreme damage control just to make sure I was able to get her back to the Rescue Mission in one piece.  Word got back to the brothers, who began giving me a hard time for breaking the unwritten rules and “hurting” a sister, and I began to get come down on.  Some of them were asking me a phrase I had heard from time to time in COBU, “Are you trying to wolf away a sister?”  There was no acceptible answer to this question, because it was really an accusation in the form of a question and the question would just be shouted at you again after you explained, or you’d get interruped while explaining by someone shouting the question at you.  All they could do is demonstrate a blind kind of anger at what I had done.

However, word also got to Someone Else’s ears and he decided to call “Open Season” in order for us to get it out of our systems and to air out the unspoken attractions between Middle Brothers and Sisters.  There were about 100 young men and women in this house.  Traill said the terms and conditions of Open Season were that any brother could tell any sister, and vice versa, that they were attracted to them, but that no one should take it seriously and that Open Season was to last for only three days and that after that, after having exposed all these attractions, we were to forget about and get back to business as usual.  Despite the admonition to not take it seriously and to limit it to three days, relationships began springing up, as brothers and sisters began expressing their interest in one another and pairing up, with no intention to call anything off, once the parties involved had decided it was mutual.

A Middle Brother named Ernie told me that Jim G. had asked him one day, “So what do you think about Jim LaRue?” Knowing the issue and event being referred to, he told me he was afraid and that he played it safe and replied “Oh, I don’t know…” Jim G. said, “He’s just a brother trying to be real, in his own way.” So then I knew word had gone up and come back down and that I was not in trouble for anything.

Stewart soon moved to put an end to this.  I wasn’t living in during that time, but I heard about it from the ones I knew that were still living in.  It was not a pleasant time, as all these newly founded relationships had to fold, under Traill’s orders.  (More about that later.)

I get ejected from the Rescue Mission two times.  The first time, I was able to stay at 4040 Walnut Street with Older Brothers who were live-outs, but still members of the church.  I was regarded with suspicion and contempt by Kevin and John, who owned the house and was often mocked and put down by them.  (No wonder I’d move back into the “Rescue Mission” the first opportunity I’d get, where I had some friends like Bob M. and Steve B.)

Moving back in was rather simple.  I was visiting Steve at the Rescue Mission and Mike O., who had also been put out during one of the kangaroo court inquisitions was let back in.  I happened to be standing in the hallway where he talked to some brothers and got permission.  I said, if he is allowed to move in, based on that, that was the reason I was put out!  I should be able to move in then!  Brother Roger (a very old, spiritual man that was living with us), asked the brothers what was so different between me and Mike that he would be let back in and I wouldn’t.  So they let me back in.

The second time I got put out, the circumstances were different and this time I seemed to have a different attitude about it.  I didn’t run over to 4040 and more of the same treatment.

The second time I knocked looked for ads and found a rooming house near the university, perhaps remembering how I had found a room once before in Worcester just before meeting the church.  I hadn’t known where I was going to sleep that night.  I had been put up for one night at Kevin and John’s house, being allowed to make one phone call before I was put out the door of the Lamb House.  The issue had been over me not handing in checks.  Someone would ask me to hand in my check and I’d always say, sure, I’ll get it to you later, for some reason being reluctant to walk to my room and get it at that moment.  Because I didn’t get around to handing in my checks, I didn’t receive an allowance, and that is when I dug in to my next paycheck to get lunch money.

Maybe on some unconscious level, I was reluctant to hand my paychecks over to the church.

This lead to a confrontation at a meeting and I was able to keep them at bay by answering intelligently.  I handled all the questions about if I am saving up money to leave, do I have the love of money, etc., which I knew were rather ridiculous.  But neither would they let me sit down and leave me alone.  At that time Jim G. walked into the room.  I had a sense of releif, that he might help me.  But he asked the crowd, “What’s this one doing?”  (I didn’t have a name I guess.  I should have realized from that very opening comment what was going to go down.)  If I had been Mitch or Frank or someone, Jim might have talked to me directly and said, hey, what’s up?  What have you been doing?  Such things would often happen.  The brother or sister would get talked to, the issues dealt with.  It might even be embarrassing for them, such as that time with Frank saying he had attractions for someone, but it did not leave to his being put out on the street minutes later.  After hearing various ones’ explanations about what I was “up to,” Jim began to ask everyone, “So what should we do with him?” And this lead to me being summarily put out.  Just before I was to be escorted out the door, one of the sisters, Debbie S., looked up and me and snarled, “What’s he doing here?”  She was referencing Matthew 22:10-14, [1] and I understood what she meant.  Not only did I not belong to the true body of believers, but I was to be bound up and carried out of the “wedding feast” and cast away into the outer darkness, forever:

[1] Matthew 22:9-14 says:  9 Go to the street corners and invite to the banquet anyone you find.’ 10 So the servants went out into the streets and gathered all the people they could find, both good and bad, and the wedding hall was filled with guests.  11 “But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing wedding clothes. 12  ‘Friend,’ he asked, ‘how did you get in here without wedding clothes?’ The man was speechless.13 “Then the king told the attendants, ‘Tie him hand and foot, and throw him outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ 14 “For many are invited, but few are chosen.”]

I found a rooming house at Chestnut Street that would take me in with no money up front.  (During the aforementioned meeting, I had gone in my room and gotten the checks, after I was asked “So, where are your checks?” And I no longer had them.)  I could pay at the end of a week or two when I got my next check.  That was very fortunate.

While living out, I continued to go to North Philly to gather my “lambs” and to see Dolly and her family.  I still hoped she would move in and I could have a relationship with her, after that.

(Dolly provided the only human touch I received during my 14 year stay in COBU.  This consisted of her sitting behind me and combing my hair as we all waited for a bus to go back to the Rescue Mission one day after being out witnessing. I was suprised that none of the brothers and sisters around me called me on it, whether at the moment, or later on at a meeting.  No one brought me up about getting a “Lamb Sister” – a 16 year old girl – “into me,” or questioned if I was trying to have a relationship with her.  It felt so good that I began to feel dreamy and I was debating whether to pull away, because of the other brothers and sisters around me, or let it keep going on.  But it felt good, so it stopped when she decided she was done.  When I used to visit her, sometimes alone, I never tried anything.  I just wasn’t opportunistic.)

When I moved into the rooming house, I had eerie dreams as I slept at night. In these dreams, a wave of cold air, as cold and frigid as death was flowing over me, then I was being picked up and carried off the bed. I had to sleep with the light on for it not to keep happening.  This had been the first time I was out of the fellowship and being out of the fellowship carried the implication that I was soon to be lost to the world, sin and death, so maybe these fears were unconsiously fueling that, though there may be more to it.  (About a year after leaving, in 1994, I had been reading my journals, which I wrote when I was in COBU, and then went to sleep and I had the same dream. The feeling was like someone was slowly pulling the sheet off of me.  I was able to see, and realized the sheet was not being pulled away, but that it was a wave of cold air flowing over me, then the feeling of being pulled off the bed.  It wouldn’t happen if I kept the light on.)

The young Christian woman who rented a room across the hall saw me with my Bible one day and asked what church I went to.  When I told her it was The Church of Bible Understanding, she said, “You’re in a cult!” adding that her pastor said it is a cult.   This put me on the defensive.  I was certainly not entirely content with COBU, but this made me and COBU one and the same.  (Even after leaving, a former member said to me, “So, you finally left that cult.”  And my first reaction was to feel very defensive, even though I was now thoroughly convinced of that fact.  To that I would add that it is not necessarily a good or helpful thing to tell someone in a cult that they’re in a cult, if you’re trying to help them leave it.)

I meet Eric A. in the library one day.  He was an Older Brother who had moved out of the church a long time ago.  His sister Lauren was still at the Rescue Mission (and is still in COBU today). I started visiting him and soon moved in with him as a way to escape the rooming house.  Eric was friendly, but seemed to have ulterior motives, which he admitted to later.  He needed someone to pay his rent while he went on a YWAM “missions trip” to Germany and he also sold me his old car and set me up with someone to put a new engine in.  That person, Reggie, never got around to it.

Through Eric and his friends I did get out and around and meet people.  Including other Older Brothers who had left, but still were loyal to COBU.  No one ever spoke negatively about the church.  I also got to know Benny and his family, who were Eric’s converts.  They were “interesteds” that would come over, but fortunately for them, never moved in.

Traill puts and end to the relationships that started during “Open Season:”

There was that brief time in 1982 that I’ve mentioned when “Middle Brothers and Sisters” in the “Rescue Mission” began to start and have relationships, until the day when Stewart announced that there was nothing wrong with these relationships, but what was wrong was that there was not a “right society” to present them to. Since in his teaching, marriage is a social issue and marriages must be presented to the society, then if there is not a right society, there is not a right framework for these marriages to exist in. The essential reason for the lack of a right society had something to do with the Middle Brothers not having accomplished their Christian Training to Traill’s satisfaction and that therefore there was not a right Christian society among us at the large institutional building we lived in. Most of these relationships quickly died on the vine as everyone correctly interpreted Stewart’s real message to end the relationships, while at the same time, paying lip service to the reasons given. Yet many believed it. It was done according to the kinds of teachings we had learned and accepted here about God and human life. It came from our “trusted” leader whose only motive was concern for us and our salvation. He also was very clever in not directly legislating against relationships, but going to some deeper or higher level in order to pull the rug out from under people in a way they could not have real control over.

One by one, the relationships desolved. I was living out of the fellowship, but I heard through my friend Steve B., about the daily tallies, as the information sort of came over the grapevine like news reports. Bob and Barb broke up.  Until that time, they seemed to have had a very good relationship.  This brother and sister lived in the fellowship for years afterward, yet, from that point on acted as if they never had been in a relationship and would show no outward interest in one another and didn’t spent time together anymore.

Stewart Traill did not forbid marriage by telling anyone directly they could not marry.  However, he worked very hard to create and maintain circumstances and an ambience in which relationships could not start or flourish.  While at the same time, sometimes asking rhetorically, “And why aren’t the brothers married anyway?”   He spoke as if he were merely observing the conditions (such as a the lack of a right society mentioned above) and telling you about it.  This way he could forbid marriage while also maintaining the illusion that marriage was allowed, and that it was just you who were not faithful enough, or that you were too much of a coward to dare to start a relationship or that there was some other fault or shortcoming in yourself.  It was your own fault, not his.

I eventually moved back to 4040 Walnut Street with the same live-out married brothers, after moving out of Eric’s apartment.  I received the same kind of indifference from those brothers just like last time, but as there were a lot more renters in the house and these people were not from the church, and I was not so noticeable.

At this point, I responded to a call for those who were living out to move back into the church to “use all their talents for the resurrection.”  That part will continue in the next section.

Captive Congregation: My Fourteen Years in the Church of Bible Understanding is available in paperback and as an eBook.

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