Part 07 A. Moving Back Into the Cult. A Wrong Thing to Do, For All The Right Reasons.

This section is a rough draft only. I have rewritten and expanded the entire contents of this blog as a book called Captive Congregation: My Fourteen Years in the Church of Bible Understanding. It is available in paperback and as an eBook. You can also continue to read the rough outline and first draft of Captive Congregation right here on these pages.


I answer the “call” to move back in to the Church of Bible Understanding, to Manhattan where at the time, all the promising activity was taking place.  I moved, in part because I cannot fit in anywhere and am not accepted and the world seems like a dead end.

Meetings in the 46th Street Y.   Living at the fellowship house in Avenue H. and then Woodruff Avenue.  Getting back into the “world,” the things I loved in it like jogging.

The Donation Program.

“Excommunicating” Stewart.

The “Proposition” and the “Power of the Question.”

My driving job. One foot out of the fellowship, at least in my mind.  Wanting to leave, but I can’t.  “Everytime I think of leaving, there is always some hopeful program” that makes me stay.


1984  Summer

I was living in Philadelphia, where I was renting a room at 4040 Walnut Street in a house owned by John and Kevin, who were two Older Brothers who did not live in the fellowship.   There was a general call for those living outside the church to move back in “because of the hope of the resurrection”and to use all of our talents for God.  The concept of “using all of my talents” had always been appealing to me.  I felt that God had invested me with certain talents and as in the parables in Matthew 25, I should be using them for God.  It was Jim G. who (on the behalf of Stewart Traill) was announcing this concept at meetings and selling it to everyone.

For some reason, I was eager to move back into the church that had cast me out and I was responding to this “call” being given by the one who had lead the wolf pack that day I got put out of the Rescue Mission, giving the lynch mob direction and focus and directing it to deal with me in an extreme way over a minor fault that could have easily been dealt with.  But at the same time, it seemed like it was not possible to find a life outside of COBU.  Though I did not live in a church-owned residence and was free to come and go as I pleased, I not especially liked or wanted around, except for a handful of friends that included Steve B and Bob M., who lived at the Rescue Mission.  Other than these few friends, the attitude toward me on the part of most other church members ranged from indifference to suspicion.

I also believed in Jesus and in my calling.  I still believed that despite whatever problems there were in the church and despite however the number two man in the church treated me, it was still Jesus’s church.  I suppose I never examined it thoroughly and I had never been dealt with (that is, abused) directly by Stewart Traill, so I still believed in the integrity of Traill and in his good intentions.   Traill’s deputy, Jim G., was usually rude with me, but he was not the leader of the group.  Well, Jim was being rude to me, that’s all, I thought. He’s not supposed to be doing it, but I’ll just deal with it.

I thought that there was a higher standard in the church of truth and love and of how persons should be treated and that Stewart was kinder and more concerned for us than Jim. Stewart was always giving lessons on “Loving One Another” and telling us that the way we had treated someone was “not loving,” so I imagined him to be a loving person, because this is what he talked about.  I thought that love was the standard for the church and that there were merely persons within it behaving badly.  I didn’t realize that really it was all part and parcel of the same and would not know this for many years later.  Sure, Traill had ignored me one time when I came to see him for counseling, sitting there silently at his desk till I finally got up and left.  But he never pushed me around or actively mistreated me either.  Had I been treated that way by Traill, I might have felt that there’s no place for me there and not moved back in.  Even in later years, when Jim G. would run meetings, I’d think, if Traill were here, he’d be a lot more reasonable and kinder with us, not realizing or thinking through clearly enough that Jim (and the “Princeton Sisters” who arrived with him) were sent by Traill to run the meeing on his behalf and were doing exactly as he wanted.  I was to learn this in no uncertain terms later in my tenure in COBU.

It wasn’t great living in 4040 Walnut and I was not very well liked by the owners, Kevin and John.  I was seen as a strange person, though I did nothing wrong to anyone.  I was merely an introverted person who kept to himself and who just wasn’t “cool.” (“Cool” was not a COBU expression, but it helps get the idea across.)   But I had no friends there and I thought if I got with the program there might be help for me and my life and I would be useful, valued and needed and even liked, not that I thought this way directly.  I thought that my life would have more meaning and purpose, rather than drifting around and going nowhere.

There were faith lessons and meetings going on at this time, a lot of the married ones were still part of the church and were meeting in New York City and having “hopeful” meetings, while things in Philadephia seemed dead.  So, I made a commitment (as did some others) at one of these meetings to move back into the fellowship.  After that, for some time, I delayed, but whenever Jim saw me, he said, “So, when are you moving in? I thought you said you were moving back in?”  So, I finally did, going to Manhattan to one of the meetings with a few meager belongings and then after staying at 515 West 47th Street a few days, moved to the apartment building the church owned at 162 Woodruff Avenue in Brooklyn.

By this time a lot of the sisters who had been at the Rescue Mission had been sent to Woodruff Avenue in Brooklyn.  The reason for that might have been financial, because they could get higher paying jobs in New York.  And now I was living in Woodruff with a lot of the brothers and sisters I had been with in the Retard Program (which had been disbanded, without graduates).  I was no longer under suspicion as an older person and there were no inquisitional meetings with people being thrown out at odd hours of the night. (Or, not at this time.)  At this point there were no more relationships or talk of them openly.

I had left everything, what little I had, and responded to the call to “use all our talents for the resurrection,” part of which is that I would work in the church’s Christian Brothers cleaning and renovation business.  And when I got to the business meeting in New York I was regarded with suspicion and rather than being hired into “The Business” (as we called it), I found I might be knocking on doors to look for a job – with the implied three day ultimatim of being put out of the church if I did not find a job.  This was typical COBU bait and switch.  We want volunteers up here, but when you got there, you could get conflicting information, to say the least.  Jim G. was at the meeting, but now I was being regarded with suspicion and indifference by the same person who had been reminding me of this call to move back in and use my talents whenever he had seen me. Some of the Older Brothers at the meeting saying, “Let him go out and close jobs” was a last minute repreive, after I had stood up at the meeting, saying I had come there (as requested) and would like to work in The Business.

So now I was on a do or die trial basis as a “closer” for The Business.  I spent the next 2 weeks out alone knocking on doors in the city, at first succesfully, and then with diminishing returns, until I was closing nothing.  I was happy to get accepted into working the cleaning crews.  I liked these initial two weeks as it gave me a sense of accomplishment, at first.  It was interesting being in the city.

I did not realize how fickle these calls could be.   I took it at face value.  Give all your talents to God for the sake of the resurrection.   At one of these meetings, I asked to move back in, was “backed” and went there and when I came to a business meeting, it was like, who needs you?  I repeated the lines of the general call for help, about having come to use my talents and it was like, most didn’t want to bother.  Someone said let him close jobs.   One sympathetic brother pulled me aside after the meeting and told me to try the Garment District, because there were showrooms there that you could sell carpet cleaning to, because Market Week was coming up.  I had asked and no one would tell me good areas to solicit.  And when the brother had suggested I try the Garment District first, Jim G. shouted to him, don’t tell him anything!  There was to be no kindness or mercy. I was supposed to figure it out myself.

But after a few days, I had to be taken somewhat seriously, as jobs were coming in from my efforts and these jobs were being put on the schedule.  As the jobs I was closing came to a trickle, I became worried.  The first week added up to nearly 2,000 dollars, but went down to under a thousand the following week and then trickled to nothing and no matter how many doors I knocked on, I could no longer sell cleaning.  I had exhausted the entire Garment District and had moved to other areas of the city, where cleaning was less in demand.  I enjoyed the neighborhood feeling of the Upper East side and felt a certain excitement about the international flavor of the area around the United Nations.  There were embassies of foreign governments.  It was good to sit down in some spot with coffee for a rest after knocking on doors for several hours.  However, I was not closing many jobs up there.  Had I been a little smarter, I would have gone back to the Garment District again and started over, since it’s a big area.

I also witnessed a few times when I was out.  I was carrying a Bible and I saw a young man sitting somewhere and went to witness to him.  I resisted the idea at first.  I hated this compulsion that I must witness to people, but the feeling would gnaw and gnaw at me, and I felt I was resisting God’s command to me.   It was not a problem of being shy, I had overcome that with many hours of witnessing and talking to customers when I first came to COBU.  It may have been because I realized (though I probably didn’t examine where this reluctance came from, other than it felt like I was resisting God’s will) that witnessing to someone was closely linked to inviting them to come over to the church.  If I prayed with them and they got saved, that would be the next step, as I would have gotten their number and started calling them and inviting them over.  But I knew what meetings and life in COBU were really like and it was not all that great for me there.  In witnessing to someone, I was also in effect petitioning them to come join the church and live where I was living and to live the way we were living.  Knowing what it was really like, how could I be glad about that kind of good news and want to tell others about it?  I also understood implicitly that anyone new would be initially shielded from how things really were here and would be sold on what a great way of life it was.  It was a type of deception we practiced – though to be fair, the brothers and sisters also hoped things would be better and this was our own idealized view of the fellowship, which we would portray to others, and as I thought, maybe these were just temporary problems and in time they might get better.  They never did of course, and in hindsight, this was just the way life was, always was, and would continue to be there – and still is today for those few who are still “living in.”  I used to think COBU was like Russia, which had a great Constitution, on paper, which promised all kinds of rights to its citizens, but the actual life there was a different story.  Yet, despite this awareness, I hung on to the idealized view of the fellowship at the same time.  I think that’s called cognative dissonance. The dissonance was to get more extreme over time till I finally realized I needed to do something.  But that was not yet to be.

I was also ashamed of myself and my life in COBU, at the way I was treated, about how worthless I felt and somewhere in there, about how I couldn’t have a girlfriend or woman in my life, being that relationships were forbidden. (This was done under the terms that though it was not forbidden by God, you were not faithful enough to God to be able to get married, because marriage was “a byproduct of faithfulness,” and other Stewart Traill twists on scripture).

(In witnessing to others, there is a sense where you’re saying to people, look at me, I’m doing this, I have this.  I want you to have it.  Even when the world, usually the newspapers, looks at some evangelist and his words, they are usually eager to uncover how his life really is, highlighting the difference between his words and his greed, sexual debauchery and tax fraud, if that is what he is really up to.  The world will examine your conduct and judge you accordingly.  They will find out about it, if it is there to be found out about.  What I mean by this is, that even for yourself, it helps if your life lines up with the good news if you’re going to talk to others about it.  Do you have peace and freedom yourself?  Then it can be a joy to talk to others about this.  I was weird, twisted up, and put down by those I lived with (if not regarded with contempt, at best ignored as a marginal person in this Christian community I lived in), and was recently told, move back in urgently, and when I got there, it was like, who needs you?

I had responded to this call. I felt both a compulsion and a challenge to do the “right thing.”  In retrospect, I should have just stayed where I was and not moved in, but, what did I have?  A simple job, I didn’t have money for college, I was living in a rooming house run by live-out church members. and felt lonely there.  I had no friends.  The Chinese college student in the next room may have wanted me to come in, but she was not really a source of temptation, since I was not especially attraced to her, and only saw her there a few times. And I was not opportunistic and still wanted to “do things right” regarding sex and marriage. But it was a rather dead end existence and like a holding pattern.  As I sat on the steps of 4040 Walnut Street, I might have thought I’d’do better and have more hope for my future if I went to Manhattan and lived in the church again.  Yes, I should not have gone and I was just in store for more trouble.  I was not a very independent person.  I was cut off from my family and could not go there for help.  Living on a shoestring and not financially secure.  Not working toward a degree or career or having a focus did not help.  Maybe I liked studying Spanish.  That was about it.  What about a motivating and useful life with the church as we wait eagerly for Jesus to return, directing all the gifts and talents we have, that God gave us, for that purpose, so that we can present a gift to Jesus at his return?  And I was coming to realize, that though I lived around women and saw many of these “sisters” during the day, we couldn’t have relationships with them.  How could I be glad about this life, even if in my mind, I could separate the message in the Bible from the life that is lived in COBU?  It might have been good, and even fun, to go out in groups witnessing and proclaiming the message of salvation and praying with people when I first came to the church and knew little of what life was like here and had not suffered much yet as a result of it. At that time, I knew little of the Bible except for the basic message and thought it was a really good thing to tell people about it.  But it was not like this for me now, and this is not what was going on when I felt that compulsion to talk to that kid I mentioned above, when I saw him sitting there.

There was also the sense that the whip would crack over you, if you were walking away from this opportunity to witness, being that God told you to talk to him, or so you felt.  In fact, I rarely enjoyed the opportunity to “witness” to anyone share my faith and wished I didn’t feel compelled to do this.  It was not going so well for me and it felt so strange to offer “freedom in Christ” to anyone while I felt so twisted up and in chains.  There was also a hope that if you did this with enough people you’d become free.  But then again, did I want to invite more people to come in and to live with me and have them go through what it had been like to live in the Rescue Mission, or to endure all the correctional meetings we had.  And on some level I also realized that life in the church was mostly about working in the church businesses anyway.  The big drive to use all your talents for the resurrection was really all about working in the church businesses and the proceeds really mostly went to Stewart.  Not so much that he was walking around with a pocket of cash and wearing fancy clothes, as much as it went to buy properties, airplanes and such things.  Only a small part of the income went to the orphanage in Haiti, though this was touted as one of the main reasons we were working so hard.  The orphanage had been, I was told, started with the profit generated from the Christian Brothers Cleaning business when it had been a vast army of willing and unpaid  volunteers.  And only a small percentage went to our living expenses, as many people were crowded into the same buildings.  Food was bought in bulk.


I stay at the Woodruff house for 8 years.

There were a series of programs, like the storefront and weekend fellowships.  There were a lot of older live-out marrieds coming over.  I would say this is the last time there was such a group of these ones still coming around.  After this most left and did not come back.

When we used to have meetings in some hotel ballroom in Philadelphia, Stewart said we excommunicated him, because no one remembered to call him to come to the meeting.  This lead to a period time where we had meetings where we deliberated for hours about how we had done this.  Anyone who said they didn’t think so was told he was wrong.  We could never ask rightly enough for Stewart to come back.  He “solved” this problem by “inviting himself” to some meeting and arriving unannounced.  Citing how Jesus said “I am not going to that feast,” but that he went later anyway.

There was a period of general anarchy.   I had time to read in my room.  I took up jogging again and began to get into all my old interests.  I also used to daydream heavily about my life before coming to the church and these daydreams and longings stayed with me until I finally left.  (I remember long passages on my driving job, musing on the summer sky as I drove and daydreaming about my past summers and wishing I could be out in summer now.  The driving job gave me a break from Woodruff for 5 working days a week and I loved it.  I didn’t realize that at first as there was the shame of being cast out of the church business.  This is one of the favorite periods in my life.

-=-=-=-=  This section needs to be put in part 8=-=-=-

End of the driving job era.

I left the driving job in order to escape temptations that seemed to be all around.  I thought that if I were near my brothers all the time, I would be free from this.  I thought I needed to make a desperate change, and about that time, Bob W. was starting the wood floor work, this time unger the aegis of Christian Brothers

Dream of change.  [Put and condense the content of the dream in here.  Put in about how I talked to Greg about it.]  How hopeless my life, life in the church seemed at that time.

Backslider meetings.  Going to the new property. No one could make the grade.  Stewart relented and began to let us come there.  Had a big announcement to make.  This is where he did the damage control stuff.

Stewart “repents” and starts over and promises of change.

Slamming the sisters.  Suddenly, the doors open and new people are swept up.  Problems with the new people.  The older brothers turn, now 810 starts.


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