This site contains stories written by people who were in the Forever Family and the Church of Bible Understanding.
You can read the stories by clicking on the titles under the heading “The Stories” on the left side of this page.
I hope that all Church of Bible Understanding members will benefit from reading these stories and that these stories will bring back memories, whether good memories or maybe not quite so good memories (I’m sure it’s a mix of both for all of us).
For me, it was the best of times and it was the worst of times. I got a lot of benefit from being in COBU at first. I learned to hustle carpet cleaning jobs. I learned to talk to anyone about anything – though what I talked about was usually getting saved, moving in with us and I convinced a lot of people to get their carpets cleaned. I enjoyed the all-night Bible studies, where we stayed up into the early hours of the morning studying the Second Coming. I’d even say that my first year or so in COBU was pretty good.
But other things were going on that I began to become aware of over time. We couldn’t get married or have relationships with the sisters. I learned that in COBU, we had a higher calling than all other Christians did, and that because of that, I couldn’t leave because that would be looking for an easier way to serve Christ, and as Stewart said, once we knew these things, we couldn’t go back to not knowing them and God would hold us accountable to the knowledge he had given us. (It was only by studying cults and abusive churches when I was still in COBU that I learned that this is a claim made by a lot of different cults.) When I used to complain about how things were in COBU, somebody always told me I was the guilty party because I had helped make things this way. That’s why I wasn’t able to walk out of the meetings that went on until two in the morning in the Woodruff basement until we settled whatever issue we were on. Someone always said, “You helped make things this way and we can’t end the meeting until we settle the issue at hand.” The guilt was like quicksand. The more I struggled against it, the more I sank into it.
Part of COBU’s hold on me was that many of the things we did seemed good. Stewart’s tactic of saying there was a cult among us helped me to believe that all the strangeness was coming from the secret cult members among us who were fouling up the works. It was never clear to me who was in the cult and who wasn’t, but I figured that if anyone looked tired and wiped out, they must be unreal cult members and that they were a danger to my spiritual survival and that I should avoid them. I was sure that all the older brothers and sisters were in the cult, because of how wiped out they looked, not realizing that their tired appearance had to do with the long hours of work in the church businesses, the sleep deprivation and the general frustration of living the way we did. I was still new and the slow poison of COBU hadn’t hardened me into an unreal person yet. As long Stewart was coming down on other people and not me, it was even fun sometimes to see those weird older brothers get blasted. It was great entertainment, because Stewart was often clever and witty. It was great theater – as long as I wasn’t on the receiving end of that abuse. I feared that I would become like the older brothers. I would do anything not to be like one of them. I would work hard at my Christian training.
There was extreme legalism and condemnation, and in later years, Stewart increasingly pounded the terror of spending eternity in hell into us. It was campaign he started almost immediately upon his so-called repentance at the Grace Meeting in 1989, where he appropriated forgiveness and a carte blanche wiping clean of all past wrongs for himself, while at the same time moving in more aggressively than ever to put us into bondage to the fear of death and hell. However strange Stewart might have been from the beginning, at least before this, he used to preach about being born again. He talked about getting saved and urged us to go out to the highways and byways to compel the people to come in. After the Grace Meeting, which he claimed was a time for all of us to start over (including himself, for reasons he was never too clear about, other than that he had left the grace of God out of his teachings), he began to slam the doors of heaven in our faces. He portrayed Jesus as an angry judge who was going to cast us into hell. At every meeting, it seemed as if Stewart ignited the flames of hell before our very eyes. Brothers and sisters made desperate fever-pitched confessions and screamed about how they were recommitting themselves to Stewart’s teaching of the week, after having confessed they had been guilty of not being faithful to Stewart’s teaching of last week.
After 1989, Stewart also began driving the church business. Although he said we were all cheaters and rebels, he seemed to portray the businesses as a way of acceptance in which we could make money to support the purpose of the church. During this time I learned that although I was not worthy of heaven, that no matter how many hours I worked, I was not worthy of a day off. The COBU brothers and sisters’ had work has led now to a the multi-million dollar Olde Good Things architectural antique business and even more luxurious living conditions for Stewart Traill, a man who constantly preached to us about putting to death our lives in this world. While Stewart was amassing his fortune, and surrounded by a harem of female followers, the rank and file church members lived in squalor and were denied the natural human right to marriage and were denied compensation for their long hours of labor.
Stewart used the fear of death and talk of our soon deaths in a calculated and purposeful way, with a specific goal in mind. He got us to give up our own desires and to work hard at the income gathering machine of the church, because as he said about our human lives, “You’re going to lose it all very soon anyway.” We were also Stewart’s uncritical and captive audience. He was the Great Bible Teacher to whom God was revealing exclusive knowledge that was, in Stewart’s own words, “hidden since the time of the Apostles.” He sometimes hinted that God was revealing things to him that the Apostles themselves didn’t even know about. He claimed that God had given him “the riches of assured understanding,” which was an infallibility claim not unlike that of the Pope. He strutted forth on the stage of the theater of his mind before his dwindling and isolated band of followers, who were always willing to praise and admire the king’s new clothes, transparent as those garments may have appeared to all observers. (The club and the whip were brought out when necessary on those who whimpered about their doubts about those great truths or about the way things were being done around here.)
This is my point of view about COBU. I’ve written a lot about it in my other pages about COBU. The purpose of this site is to provide a place for anyone who was in COBU to tell their story in their own words, their own way. Your comments are appreciated as well.
Story submissions can be sent to to cobustories @ gmail.com. (Stories can be of any length. You can use your full name or just your first name. You can also remain anonymous. One of the contributors used the name Loyal Brother.) I can also transcribe your story if you send me a recording of yourself telling your story.
Contributions from those who are still in the Church of Bible Understanding will also be accepted, though if you’re still a member of COBU, you are not likely to want to submit your story. But I know you read these pages and you’re welcome to read what the others have written.