The CBU founder is Stewart Traill, a Canadian born in Quebec around 1936, who settled in the Allentown-Easton area of Pennsylvania. His father, still in Canada. had been a college professor and was also employed as a proofreader for a Canadian newspaper.1 Traill, now 41, once studied nuclear physics, but soon left his scientific studies and turned to selling used vacuum cleaners which has been his official occupation since he turned 21. 1 In 1959, Traill married Shirley A.Rudy of Easton, Pennsylvania.1 At the time of his marriage, Traill did not believe in God and would not allow God to be mentioned during the ceremony. He subsequently had five children, two boys and three girls.2
As the first of their children was growing, Traill decided he would have to look into various religions so he would be able to speak intelligently about religion to the children. Traill took to the road to learn of religions, traveling hundreds of miles at a time to interview leaders, study books. and talk to believers. His studies covered the full spectrum of organized religion, including Buddhism and other Eastern beliefs. Traill decided Christianity was the only religion not laced with contradictions and hypocrisy. But most Christian churches were not following the Bible as Traill believed it should be followed. 2
In 1970, after about three years of travel
and investigation, Traill returned to Allentown. Then Traill started visiting
Calvary Temple, an Independent Pentecostal church. Representing
himself as an atheist, Traill frequently sought to debate church speakers.
Eventually Traill and
his wife supposedly committed themselves to Jesus. With
some young people, Traill used Calvary Temple's gymnasium to hold
Bible meetings. Around the same time, Traill learned of a Christian coffeehouse
located at the site of the former Westminister Presbyterian Chapel
But in both places, Traill began to sow discord
through extensive arguing over doctrinal matters. Both churches chose
to evict Traill, causing a schism in both youth groups. Traill, with a number of followers, began meeting informally at different locations in Allentown. Eventually, with its' membership at about 150, the group was formed as the Forever Family. At that time, the choice of the name caused a rift in the membership, and the organization almost fell apart. Many thought the name had too much of a "hippie" connotation. On January 21,1976, due to bad publicity leveled at the Family, their name was officially changed to the "Church of Bible Understanding." When the Forever Family began, Traill was extremely paranoid about the possibility of his group's demise. His initial fear has now been replaced by a confidence that the CBU will experience tremendous growth. The CBU desires to establish a fellowship in every East Coast town and move westward. But having
suffered from bad publicity, they have temporarily halted westward expansion to strengthen their eastern territory.
TRAILL'S MARITAL PROBLEMS
Stewart Traill is presently divorced from his wife. Prior to their divorce, Traill and his wife were involved in a bitter custody struggle for their children. Mrs.Traill said their marriage difficulties came to a head when she began complaining that he wasn't
spending enough time with her or at home, and that he was taking out other girls from the Forever Family to dinner. "I warned him that if he didn't stop doing that and begin paying more attention to me, I'd do the same thing," Mrs. Traill said. Some time later, she did. Mrs. Traill said she had dinner on two occasions with a male companion which infuriated her husband. Mrs. Traill
claims Forever Family members "jumped" her and took her children to live with Traill.
Around April 1976, Traill sued for divorce charging
his wife with adultery. In October 1976, Mrs. Traill acquiesced to the
divorce without agreeing to the charges because there was no possibility
of alimony or property settlement, and because Traill had embittered their
children against her. "I've only seen him four times since then and each
time Stewart would work me over verbally in front of the children and record
it all on tape. Then he'd play it back for the members of the Family.
It's just sick," she said. On December 11, 1976, Stewart Traill married
Gayle Gillispie, the 20 year old CBU secretary. The ceremony, attended
by several hundred church members, was conducted at the Diplomat Hotel
in New York City. The parents of both parties were conspicuously
absent from the event. The bride was adorned in a white and pink
floor-length dress. Traill was
dressed in a dark green shirt, dirty yellow pants, and bright yellow sneakers.
Regardless of marital status or sexual gender, CBU members reside in communal "fellowships" located in rented houses or apartments. Each fellowship has a male leader with designated authority over church members. Church fellowships in a specified geographical area are organized into "centers." For example, the New York City Center consists of all fellowships in the metropolitan area and throughout New Jersey. Each center has a male leader responsible for its activities and he answers directly to Stewart Traill. Many CBU communes are notorious for their squalid appearance and living conditions. In them, CBU members share overcrowded living quarters. Many male and female members sleep on floor mats in the same or adjacent rooms. Often proper electrical and sanitary facilities do not exist. Most communes are furnished with rundown, secondhand furniture. Members share each other's clothing and taking too many baths is taboo since that would be "getting into the flesh"
Often the CBU has been evicted from their homes for violation of local zoning laws prohibiting unrelated adults from dwelling in single-family homes. In New York City, health and fire officials evicted four hundred CBU members from three lofts and a storefront for living in premises unfit for human habitation." The city officials cited neglect, disrepair, poor maintenance, and extensive rat, mouse, and roach infestation as responsible for the order to vacate.3 Communal member often seek employment doing menial jobs, which they rarely retain for lengthy periods, to support their fellowships. Each member turns over his entire paycheck to CBU leaders and receives a small kickback for personal expenses. Non-resident members are assessed $10 per month dues. CBU leaders say the treasury funds are used to cover church expenses. But CBU leaders do not release updated financial statements to support their claims. The Scranton Tribune posed the question: "is the(Church of Bible Understanding) a fraud? Police don't know, but the flow of money through the organization is now the target of joint police investigative efforts, with some individual detectives already convinced that someone in the (CBU) is taking in a bundle of cash from members, including Juvenile runaways turnIng theIr earnings over to fellowships." 4
Due to the increasing number of fellowships and members,
an extremely large amount of money is continuously channeled upward, leading
to speculation of possible financial gain for Stewart Traill, the CBU founder
atop the financial pyramid. CBU fellowships have weeknight Bible studies
where active members, known as "guardians", teach the new converts, known
as "lambs." Each CBU center holds a weekly meeting conducted at a
rented facility, such as a college auditorium. Periodically, several CBU
centers converge on a vacant factory building or rented farmland for a
regional gathering which lasts three or four days. Most CBU meetings are
extremely disorganized and always start late. The agenda contains
mediocre Bible teaching,
a small amount of group prayer, and almost no singing.During the meetings, each fellowship must report their latest conversion
statistics.Fellowship leaders and members are publicly mocked and harshly ridiculed if pre-established quotas are not met. This caused one observer to write, "As a whole, their leader and large group meetings show about as much love
and compassion as a Zulu uprising."
The CBU directs their proselytizing efforts toward
the younger generation. They envision themselves as messengers.'called
to rescue young people from their fate. The CBU believes that older people,
being fixed in their beliefs, cannot be influenced through witnessing.
In the Forever Family Homily, the "powers of this world", including parents
and older people, are defined as "intransigent cattle-heavy and hard to
move, and deeply absorbed in their own kinds of pursuits, and strongly
disliking to be
disturbed from their bovine plodding.."5 The Homily also states that "you cannot seriously hope to influence older people with our strange way."6 As a general rule.CBU members strictly avoid witnessing to anyone over thirty years of age. And the CBU has determined that parents are an obstacle toward fulfilling their mission: "We need to see the FF and the powers locked in a mortal struggle over the control of the direction of the younger generation."7 "We are actively pursuing their children, while in some ways, they just stand there and watch us. We can continue and further this advantage by not needlessly breaking their rules and norms."8
But CBU members encounter problems due to their overpowering,
condemning, and often harsh manner of witnessing.
Once they begin witnessing to a potential convert, CBU members aren't satisfied with simply "planting the seed." They expect and demand an immediate commitment from the unbeliever. In addition, their way of communicating their message is often devoid of proper Christian love. After observing CBU members witness, various Christians have commented: "He seemed to hate the person he was sharing with instead of loving him. That person was more like an opponent at a verbal boxing match." "They are very cruel in their witnessing technique. They put people down if they don't know Jesus. 'they try to shove Jesus down people's throats which turns people off and isn't a good witness." "They generally turn people off by their approach because they are very pushy and just won't quit even if they are bothering a person." Gary Skinner, a member of the Rutgers University Inter Varsity Fellowship in New Brunswick, N.J., surveyed the reactions of college students contacted by the CBU. According to survey results, an overwhelming majority of college students indicated less interest in Jesus Christ after having been approached by CBU members. Their lack of interest was not because of rebellion toward the Christian message. Rather, it was due to the obnoxious manner of CBU witnessing.
In several instances, CBU members have been arrested
by police and charged with harassment after intimidating and pestering
youngsters to join their church. Last February in Eastern Pennsylvania,
vigilante youths grown tired of CBU harassment decided to rectify the matter
in their own way. These irate youths threw rocks through CBU
house windows, set fire to the Scranton headquarters, and invaded
theWilkes-Barre center. The New York Post described the aftermath:
"About 9 p.m. officers were summoned to the house and found it a shambles.
Police found the windows broken, garbage strewn throughout, furniture overturned
and drinking glasses shattered on the floor. Neighbors said four
carloads of youth had wrecked the premises." Unfortunately, the CBU
naively interprets the opposition to be persecution for Jesus" rather than
end result of an unloving and unscriptural approach to witnessing.
OPINION OF PARENTS AND HOME
The CBU teaches young converts that it is not necessary to be obedient
to their parents.10 They are told they cannot faithfully follow Jesus while
living with parents. But most flee home and live in a CBU commune
to insure their spiritual walk. They are also urged to forsake academic
studies to devote more time to church activity. the Scranton Tribune reported:
"Teenagers are approached by members of the group, begin attending meetings,
become argumentative and unruly at home and eventually leave. They initially
stay with the fellowship near home and sometimes draw money out of bank
accounts. They are usually
sent within a short time to a fellowship out of town and frequently out of state, avoiding contact with their families altogether or rejecting pleas to come home."4
The Sunday Independent reports that well over a hundred
complaints have been filed with various police departments from upset parents
who believe CBU members are trying to entice their teenage children away
from their homes and into communes. It further stated that members
of the Church of Bible Understanding "have occupied the public spotlight
for several months because of mounting reports of children leaving their
homes and joining the (church), only to disappear, leaving their parents
worried and concerned about their safety."" The Wyoming Observer reports
that "concern has been expressed by area parents who have been told that
one of the apparent aims of the (CBU) is to convince teenagers to leave
home in order to find
Several times Pennsylvania police have
conducted statewide searches and issued "Missing Person" Bulletins for
teenagers believed to be with the CBU. The Scranton Times revealed "disappearances of several teenagers in Northeastern Pennsylvania and elsewhere in recent months have triggered increased police scrutiny of activities of a controversial religious cult known as the Forever Family and also as the Church of Bible Understanding ... In each case, parents of the missing youths either have blamed outright or insinuated strongly that recruiting activities of the (CBU) were responsible for their children's abandonment of home and family."13 The New York Post said police describe the CBU as a group "Primarily concerned about grabbing the younger children."9
Stewart Traill, the CBU founder, has been accused of using his Piper Cherokee single-engine airplane to relocate members across state boundaries to evade searching parents and public and private investigators. A Pennsylvania newspaper questioned the motivations of the CBU leader: "What motivates a man who preaches Bible study and following Jesus Christ and at the same time promotes breaking up the family unit which, at last glance, is still considered the cornerstone of our society" 1Many parents have accused the CBU of "brainwashing" their children. Some parents have employed professional deprogrammers to kidnap and deliver their children from the CBU. Other parents have accused the church of being a front for an extortion-runaway child scheme, have participated in police raids on CBU houses, have protested with picket signs outside CBU meetings, and have called for an investigation by federal legislators. James Timlin, Roman Catholic chancellor of the Diocese of Scranton, in a statement issued about the CBU, said, "Anyone, young or old, who preys on unsuspecting adolescents and encourages them to rebel against their parents or leave their parent's home, is a menace to society. Such goings on are especially despicable when done under the guise of religion."
RELATING TO CHRISTIANS
Today CBU members have minimal contact with Christians except when that contact is motivated by an attempt to lure Christians into the CBU fold. CBU members do not hesitate to perniciously remove people from other churches and lace them into their own ranks. DenleyNeff, a former Pennsylvania CBU member for seven months, said that, "When they show an outsider love, its to get you into their group. And once you get in, if you leave you're going to Hell."
It is extremely difficult to get a CBU member to attend a Christian church or meeting. In some cases, CBU leaders strictly forbid members to visit other churches. But if they do attend, they come on the defensive and ready to pick you to pieces. They become very contentious, challenge the Christian authority, and try to take over the meetings. Darrel Cook, a former coffeehouse leader, claims that "they seemed to approach us with caution to feel us out at first to see how far they could go and to find out what kind of a Christian we were, looking for loopholes. It was like they wanted to find something wrong with us." Maggie Donatelli, of Scotch Plains, N.J., stated that "when some CBU members came to our church, they planned on taking over the young people until they were discovered and kicked out."
When Stewart Traill began the Forever Family, he
mysteriously chose to segregate the FF from the Christian community.
In the Forever Family Homily, a 1974 esoteric booklet given to fellowship
leaders, Traill cites his policy of "not building on and with the existing
church structure and by rejecting almost all observable influences including
. . ." Bible Church Christians and Jesus People.14 At
one time, Traill told his followers. "We are choosing to stand apart
from the body of Christians. Why?
Because their direction is wrong. And a better direction is here now. So all of us are going to teach the Christians and the
world the right way." Similar to many false cults, the CBU thrives by criticizing the supposed ineffectiveness of the established Christian churches. Then they exalt their growth' and works as a sign of their spirituality. The CBU considers itself to be more spiritual, to possess more truth, to be more active, and to be more effective than any other church. Louis Vazquez, formerly a CBU member for five months, says that "CBU members are disliked here on Staten Island. The CBU seems to think that they are the greatest thing from Heaven since Jesus. They seem to thrive on pride in their 'sinless group.' They also think that all the other Christians aren't into a true relationship with the Lord."
The CBU members have a subtle way of making Christians feel inferior
in their presence. Then they offer membership in
their church as the obvious solution to our spiritual sickness. In addition, the CBU attempts to stifle any Christian who Challenges their Viewpoints by derogatorily labeling him a "CC", which means "Contentious Christian." If a CBU member leaves the fellowship to join a Christian group, even though that person still retains his commitment to Jesus, he is considered backslidden, Gary Edkins, a former Staten Island CBU member, testifies that, "When I left the CBU, I became a much better Christian yet they persecuted me and said I was a backslider for leaving them." Clearly the CBU seeks to not be a friend of the Christian community.
INTERPRETATION, FIGURE SYSTEM, COLOR CODE
Traill has not issued a written doctrinal statement
even though the CBU has existed for several years. Therefore it is
extremely difficult to pinpoint CBU theology on major doctrines.
It's members seem skilled at double-talk and evasive
language to conceal their theological viewpoints, Or they think that
defining doctrine is unimportant. They say, "We don't have to define
doctrine. we just need to fellowship in Jesus." The CBU doctrine of Biblical
Interpretation is most repulsive to Christian views on this subject and
is propelling this church down the road to cultism. Their views are
the following points,
1. Traill claims the Christian church has never issued a publication explaining the true way to interpret the Bible. He believes Christians neither mention nor properly emphasize correct interpretation of the Bible. So Traill says there is no way that right direction can really come from the Christian church.
2. When God wrote the Bible, He coded it. No one can understand the Bible without the proper decoding tools.
3. Stewart Traill is the only person who can correctly interpret the Bible. He is infallible and possesses more understanding than anyone else alive. l. God has granted Traill alone the "Gift of Bible Interpretation.- A CBU fellowship leader told this writer that "every word Stewart speaks he directly receives from Jesus." he also stated, "'There is only one true interpretation. and it is Stewart's interpretation." Another mernber stated, "There's no doubting Stewart. What he says must be right."
4. Based on his divine revelation, Traill teaches the "Figure Systern" and the "Color Coded Bible" as the decoding tools required for correct understanding of the Bible.
5. Due to the growing number of fellowships, Traill can't spend enough time with each fellowship to dispense his true interpretations. For three years, he has worked on a 100 chapter book, "how to Interpret the Bible." Once circulated, this publication will unlock the secrets of Biblical interpretation. Then CBU members can interpret the Bible without Traill's presence.
6. Because Christians are 'spiritually blind", Traill
foresees rejection of his pompous claims. He has warned
members, "You've just got to get ready for games and rejection over the
way the Bible should be decoded. You may rest
assured that as soon as that book is done, how quick it will be rejected."
Believing that defying Traill is tantamount to denying Jesus, CBU members exhibit unquestioned loyalty toward Traill. Two former CBU members have stated that "the CBU looks toward Stewart as though he is their personal Savior" and "they treat him like he is God Himself and Stewart seems to enjoy it." Many CBU members even seem to imitate Traill's demeanor in attitudes and speech-.
The CBU does not explicitly define Traill's "Figure
System", which is proclaimed the only way to interpret the
Bible, but it involves looking for a secret, hidden, or "spiritual" meaning in each Bible verse. And Traill is always able to
uncover these hidden meanings. Traill's claim that Christians haven't properly dealt with Bible interpretation is readily refuted by a visit to almost any Christian bookstore. Just a brief search by this writer uncovered two publications dealing with Bible interpretation.0, No doubt a more thorough search would uncover additional material.
For Personal study and witnessing,
Traill offers the "Colored Bible Method" to his followers.
It is a color code based
on the "concept of relating ten basic colors to the ten basic Bible themes."I He defines the Colored Bible as a "prism
that breaks up the Bible's light of understanding into various single lights,or colors, that can be more easily handled
by all Christians."In While the CBU utilization of a color code appears harmless and may very well aid Bible study. they err in claiming Traill is the first ever to have created it. Under "Bible Marking". the Thompson Chain Reference Bible suggests five colors for topically marking the Bible. Two of these colors, red and purple , represent the same topics that Traill has assigned to these colors in his system. Likewise, the Marked Reference Bible. distributed by Zondervan Publishing House, uses four
colors to mark the major themes arid subcatagories of the Bible. The CBU Colored Bible concept did not originate with Traill as the CBU maintains. Traill's 'color system is simply an expanded imitation of previously existent color codes.
ARE CBU MEMBERS SAVED
Christian opinion on whether CBU members were genuinely saved included both possibilities. Some Christians felt CBU members weren't saved due to their absence of love (Jn. 13:34-35, 1 Jn. 4:2021 ). Other Christians felt many new CBU members were truly saved, but questioned the salvation of the CBU leadership. CBU definitions of salvation taken from their literature agree with the Biblical teaching of trusting Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior for the forgiveness of sins. Former CBU members, now associated with Christian churches. testify to having met Christ through the CBU presentation of the gospel. This writer believes that many CBU members,especially the new "lambs", have genuinely trusted in Christ.
A FUTURE CULT
In The Marks of A Cult, Dr. David Breese defines presumptuous Messianic
leadership as "the notion that a contemporary human being
has 'been appointed by God to be some special kind of saint, a guru
(teacher), a messiah who represents divine authority that must not
he violated."19 fie states that "one of the marks of a cult is that it
elevates the person and the words of a human leader to a Messianic level.
The predictable characteristic of a member of a cult is that they will
soon be quoting
their leader . . . with some kind of final authority. A messianic human leader has used the powers of his intelligence or personality and with them imposed his will and directives on the ignorant. "The success of this approach is usually predictable, for there are few who are intellectually responsible enough to think for themselves. Their mental laziness has led them to seek a leader who can give them all of the answers and personalize or objectify their religious need. They want someone to speak to them with authority, even finality."
When such a condition develops, as it has in the CBU, Dr. Breese cites the eventual corruption of leadership: "Many converts to a religion stand in inordinate awe of the person who brought them into the electrifying experience of the discovery of that faith. Few leaders can withstand the temptation to develop the personal promotion that will retain their exalted image in the minds of their devoted followers.It is possible that many cultic leaders began as humble people but soon came to believe their own promotion. They stamp their name on everything in@ make themselves utterly indispensable to the faith or their followers. "2I
If pride, wrong attitudes and actions aren't eliminated, the CBU shall
continue its' journey down the road to cultism. No
doubt. Traill's book will be proclaimed indispensable for understanding
the Bible.The CBU may even declare salvation
impossible outside of their church. In a recent
issue, Cornerstone magazine concluded: "The
(CBU) is definitely traveling down the road to cultism.
They closetv resemble the Children of God's early beginnings ... The (CBU)
in a general 'spirit of error'.":.12 In claiming the sole authority to interpret Scripture, Traill has obviously puffed up with pride and a strong judgment awaits him. (Prov. 16.18, Ja. 4:6).
The paradox is how the CBU can exist as a strange hybrid of Christian and cultic characteristics. The ex-CBU members
quoted in this article left the CBU because the Holy Spirit was able to point out this paradox. The best conclusion is I that CBU members are severely misdirected converts, lacking Christian maturity. The Christian response can be fourfold: (1) The CBIJ has voluntary chosen to stay aloof rrom the Christian community. Allow this segregation to continue since fellowship and cooperation is impossible. (2) Lovingly point out to CBU members the areas where the CBIJ has gone astray. (3) Pray for God to convict CBU lva@vrship anil members of the sins. 0) Welcome into fellowship ex-CBU members seeking greater maturity in Christ.
I gratefully acknowledge the assistance of Mr. Donald Fetterolf, of Scranton, Pa.. for generously supplying
an abundance or newspaper articles and other valuable information used to prepare this article.
1. "Doesn't Always Practice What. He Preaches-Estranged
Wife Describes Founder of Forever Family", Sunday
Independent, February 1, 106.
2. "Forever Family: Leader HostileTo Those Outside His Cult", Sandusky Register, March 31, 1976.
3. "Sect Told to Vacate The 3 Lofts" and `4th Eviction: Youth
Sect Told to Vacate Store", New York Post,
November 16 & 17, 1976.
4. "Forever Family Showdown Near As Second Lad Disappears", Scranton Tribune, October 29. 1975.
5. "The Forever Family Homily," page 3.
6. Ibld, page 11.
7. Ibid, page 4.
8. Ibid, page 5.
9. "Leader of Teen Cult Arrested". New York Post, February 13, 1976.
10. See Ex. 20:12, Prov. 20:20, Eph. 6.1-3, Col. 3:20.
11. `WB Police Enter Bizarre Case Involving Forever Family Sect" and "Forever Family Told: Get Off Pringle St", Sunday Independant, October 26,1975 and March 14, 1976.
12. "Parents Lose Son to Forever Family", Wyomning Observer, September
13. "More Teenagers Disappear: Police Intensify Cult Inquiries", February 1, 1976.
.14. "The Forever Family Homily", page 1
15. iee Proverbs 26:12.
16. "Interpreting the Bible" - a 34 page treatment by J. Stafford Wright. Second, "If Ye Continue" by Guy Duty contains an appendix on eight rules of interpretation.
17. "The Gospel of John (Chapter 3)In Colors", page 10.
18. "Understanding The Colored Bible", by Stewart Traill, page 6.
19. "The Marks of a Cult", by Dr. Dave Breese, pages 9-10.
20. Ibid, page 11.
21. Ibid, page 11.
22. 'Cornerstone", No. 29, page 4.