Part 06 A. The Philadelphia “Retard Program.”

As mentioned in Part 5, I followed the forces that were on me and the options that were available to me (insofar as I was able to see them – in the 20/20 vision of hindsight and knowing what I know now, I could have just left).  I decided to move to Philadelphia in order to continue in the Retard Program, because all other options seemed like dead ends to me.

Soon, I’d be moving to the “Lamb House” in Philadelphia with about 80 “Middle Brothers and Sisters” from ages 20 to 22.  I was slightly older than they were and I was only admitted because I was an “Older Newly Saved” – a new member of the church.  Most of the others had been in the Church of Bible Understanding for 4 or 5 years.  I remember the suspicion that many of these ones held me under, because I was “older,” as if to say that the year or two that I had on them made me an utterly different kind of person than they were.  (It as also a dynamic that Traill had set in place.  He induced the the younger members of the church to be suspicious of the older members.  I wasn’t an “Older Brother,” I was new to the church, but still I was older than they were.  The Older Brothers fellowship had frequent meetings with Traill, where according to him, it was proven again that they were unfaithful to Christ and could do nothing right.  The threat and fear of turning into one of these “older ones” was used as a stick to prod younger members of the church with.)

My other options had been to move in to the dirty and crowed church apartment building at 515 West 47th Street with the Older Brothers, or maybe to move to the fellowship house in Queens.  But when I visited and put out feelers for the Queens house, I did not feel welcomed there.  There really was no other place to go, other than to follow the crowd into the Rescue Mission and the Retard Program.  In fact, considering the alternatives as they appeared to me, I felt very fortunate to be included.

All the Middle Brothers and Sisters were now consolidated into this house, which was a former institution for the blind, a big house situated on a property at 6713 Woodland Avenue.  There was a “Brothers’ Wing” on one side, which had rooms for the men, and the sisters stayed in the “Sisters’ Wing” on the other side.  The two large living rooms and a kitchen, as well as a porch that was on the side of the house, were common areas for everyone.

Stewart Traill and his wife Gayle lived upstairs in this building, and we would occasionally see him at meetings, but he never spent time with us and we rarely saw them.  Often during our meetings in the main living room in the evenings, we were required to select “ambassadors” to go upstairs to talk to Stewart to report on the progress of our meetings and to relay his messages back to us.  These so-called ambassadors more often than not would be sent back to us shamed and humiliated.  A brother named Tim A. was one of the ambassadors one night, and we sent him upstairs with the progress reports and messages.  He apparently had acted intimidated around Stewart, so he was sent back to tell us that his new name was “Timothy Turtle,” because when he is around Stewart, like a turtle, he goes into his shell and hides.  Not only did he have to tell us that was his new name, but he had to explain why.  You can imagine why it was hard to find ambassadors, because after this treatment, most of us were reluctant to go upstairs to talk to Stewart.  But, if we did not send up ambassadors, we’d be accused of hiding.  He sometimes communicated these accusations over the little intercom mounted on the wall in the room.

The whole “lesson” here was that we were supposed to be fully honest and “in the light” with Stewart at all times, without any “hiding.”  He said that he represented Jesus to us (in the sense that he modeled Jesus to us by his “right behavior” – though this modeling bordered on Traill being the only mediator between God and man, though he never said this – but then again, only Traill had the “true interpretation of the Bible” and without him, you were going to be deceived, which if not directly stated, is what it added up to, if you believed the things he said about himself) and that to avoid Stewart also meant that you were hiding from Jesus. One time when we were gathered together, Stewart put this question to us, that did we think that we were in the light with Jesus if we were hiding from him?  A brother claimed that he avoided Stewart, but he did not avoid Jesus.  Stewart countered with the idea of “how can anyone say he loves God, whom he cannot see, if he does not love his brother whom he can see?”  (The verse in the Bible is 1 John 4:20 “….For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen.”)  So,with this bit of sophistry and misapplication or twisting of scripture, he made himself the litmus test of whether anyone was avoiding Jesus, or not.  You essentially had to prove your degree of faithfulness to Jesus by your connection to Stewart.

I just internalized these kinds of things.  At 24 years old, and despite being in a Bible-based “fellowship” in which we read the Bible all the time, I lacked the kind of critical thinking, life experience and the kind of Bible knowledge that would have helped me see through this deception – despite the fact that Traill would have continued to attack anyone who stood their ground on this (or any) point, proving to them that they knew nothing, or failing that, at least convincing all the others present what a liar such a person was.  But step by step, all through my early years there, I saw or heard things like this and just believed them, or my internal protestings against it were not enough to counter the all-pervasive kind of “logic” that Traill used.  Little by little, as you’re living there over the years, you get bought into these things, and internalize them, till they become a part of your life and thinking, the unquestioned assumptions and the rules you, and everyone else there, lives by and interacts with one another according to.  And layer by layer, you get woven into it, till it becomes your own.  And you live with people who are also accepting this way, which reinforces it to an even deeper degree.

Yet, Traill’s intimidating manner toward people who were essentially just kids made it unlikely that anyone would be fully open and honest and trusting around Stewart, unless perhaps you were a young woman that he had decided to flatter with his attentions.  (See Ann Burkhardt’s Account.)

We were also supposed to go to Stewart for counseling.  I did this once and appeared before Stewart at his desk in his office on the upper floor.  I came in and sat down in front of him and said hello.  He acted busy and did not look at me.  He was cutting photographic negatives with a pair of scissors, making a big show of being busy.  But one thing was for sure, he was not going to acknowledge my presence as I sat before his desk.  It was a game of intimidation, but as a young person before this great teacher, I assumed that I was doing something wrong or that maybe I was not in a “right spirit” (that is, I did not have right motivations for wanting counseling).  I sat in silence for a long time as Stewart carried on his act.  I looked over to the other side of the room and Ann B. was sitting silently at a small desk, writing.  Once again, I broke the silence and said, “I came for counseling.”  Stewart remained silent and after a time, I got up and said, “Well, I guess I’m going to leave now.”  When I got back downstairs, a brother named Tony  P. was waiting with eager anticipation (in order to get vicarious thrills off of whatever happened between me and Stewart) and he asked me, “So, how did your counseling go?”  When I explained the bizarre scenario, he said it happened because I had been in a wrong spirit and that Stewart can see through all those games.  So of course, according to Tony,  Stewart was right to treat me that way.

(When I look back on this and consider that Ann B. was in the room at the same time as my “counseling,” the whole point of my treatment may have been that Traill wanted to show Ann that all young men her age (Ann and I were about the same age) were hopeless idiots and that she needed someone older and wiser (such as himself) to be in a half-wife relationship with, rather than having a relationship with someone her age.  So really it was a character assassination toward me in order to magnify his position in her eyes.)

We were required to get jobs “in the world” because only a few brothers worked in the Christian Brothers carpet cleaning business.  Many of these new arrivals, especially the sisters, had been proactive and had already arranged job interviews before arriving from the church houses in the other cities where they had been living.  Some even had jobs already.  Most others got jobs shortly after arriving.  I was one of the few who spent over a month job hunting.  I finally got an ultimatum that I would be put out on the street within 3 days if I did not get a job. I finally walked into a Wawa (a deli like 7-11) and got a job at the counter.  I could have done that the first day I arrived, but I had been trying to get a “real” job where I could use my skills or feel I was learning something.  Some of the brothers had found jobs washing dishes.  I could have also done that early on.

Despite this just in time find, I was soon “outed” by a brother at a meeting with the dramatic accusation that I was selling porno magazines at the counter of this store.  This had become an issue for me, because along with the sandwiches and coffee and cigarettes that I sold over the counter, I was occasionally asked for this month’s issue of Playboy, which was on a rack behind me.  After selling a few issues, I began to feel guilty and I told the older guy who I was working with that, as a Christian, it was not right for me to sell them.  After that, when someone asked, I stood back and allowed the other guy to ring up the purchase.  I had also confided this struggle with my “brothers,” and that’s why Steve O.  knew about it, and I was soon accused by Steve in a meeting in a dramatic way.  “What do all the brothers think about Jim LaRue selling Playboy magazines?!”   There was a sudden uproar and I was now being dealt with in a confrontational style.  There was no point in trying to explain the arrangement I had worked out with my coworker (who, by the way, reported this to the management of the store, which lead to my being fired).  I was now being treated as an enemy of all righteousness and a wicked sinner and a criminal – and judgment was without mercy.  The more I tried to explain, the more I appeared to them to be the very wicked person they were accusing me of being.  Because I did not instantly lay down and calmly submit, but instead reacted in an irritated way at being pushed and shoved and accused, without anyone listening to my side of the story, and my irritation was now being used against me as evidence of me having an evil spirit.

In the middle of this Jim G., who was, at least officially, considered to be second in command in the church, second only to Stewart Traill, popped his head into the doorway of the room we were meeting in, asking, “What’s going on with this one?” Ah, I thought, Jimmy will help me.  (I still believed in the integrity and fairness of the leadership of the church, and that they would judge with fairness and equity, and, in this case, save me from the kangaroo court of the brothers’ fellowship.)  Someone answered that I was causing problems.  None of the actual, objective issues at hand were mentioned, and before I could begin to explain my case, I was shouted down by a couple of those present.  Jim noted that I looked like a troublemaker, being that I was irritated and upset.  He started “labeling,” a COBU characteristic, really something learned from the leader, Stewart Traill.  I was described in terms a dangerous conspirator and a promoter of political strife, someone who is upsetting the order of things. A sneaky and devious person with evil motives, behind an honest looking face, the kind of face that could fool somebody.  Since my last name is LaRue, Jim started mocking me and calling me “Lyndon LaRouche.”

At this point, I began to undergo a change.  It was one I was to experience later, in stronger form.  The standards of truth, those in leadership roles who were supposed to exercise true discernment, fairness and judgement, were willing to sell me down the river.  You could not depend on such persons.  But, I was not the biggest fish to be fried at this time.  It was annoying, but the issue blew over, and besides, I was soon working at the job that a brother named Arnold recommended to me after this little session had ended.  I applied the next day and they hired me on the spot.

By the way, Jim G. has apologized to church members.  He was used by Stewart to beat on us.  He was Stewart’s pawn and fall guy, though I could not have seen it at that time.  Jim’s letter can be read here.

When the meeting was over, Arnold pulled me aside and told me that he had just moved on from his job at an appliance repair shop and that I should call them and that they’d probably hire me.

The main activity at this time was our “retard training,” which consisted of doing various rules and Bible studies.  It also included going out to neighborhoods in Philadelphia and gathering “lambs,” visiting them at their houses and bringing them back to the Lamb House for lessons and meetings.  These groups were mixed, young men and women working together.  But relations between the men and women were usually strained, due to the unreal life and teaching in COBU.

Traill eventually brought this out at a meeting, the punch line of which was, “Jesus and sex don’t mix.”  He said that the brothers think that Jesus and sex don’t mix and that they must choose one or the other, but not both. And since they desire to serve Jesus, they pick this option.  This was done in a dramatic way when a brother named Lou was standing up during the meeting and Traill asked everyone, “Why is he so uptight and unreal?”  After a long explanation, Traill came out with the statement that “Lou’s every thought is that Jesus and sex don’t mix.”  So, now that the problem was “exposed,” some brothers began asking, so what do we do?  But Traill would give no answer other than that we must “be proud of Jesus and be proud of sex.” This was the kind of advice we were receiving from this older person who was supposed to be not only our mentor, but our guide in all things spiritual and temporal, and perhaps you can get some small idea from this of the great havoc he wrought upon our lives.  You wonder if he did it just to embarrass everyone and set them on edge.

While there, I began to feel that I could never marry one of the sisters and that I should look outside of the church and I began to put my hope in the idea of meeting a young woman in one of the areas where I went “gathering” and then that she could become a “lamb” (a new convert) and move in and that later I could marry her.  There was a young woman named Adelaida (a.k.a. Dolly) that I often visited at her house in North Philaedelphia, sometimes with sisters from the church and sometimes alone.

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

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2 Responses to “Part 06 A. The Philadelphia “Retard Program.””

  1. False Shep Says:

    Yes Jesus and sex don’t mix unless you’re in a safe zone like say a dark room. Then it is fine

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