I have been reading the various notes about Stewart and can see where
who wrote has a point. As far as being angry at him as Chris was, I am
reminded of David in Psalms when he asks God to cut off his enemies'
descendants from them as well as a slew of other things that he calls down
upon them. I also know that in whatever we do we cannot let the rottenness of
bitterness consume us (be angry but do not sin). I think that David was a
good example of being angry but not sinning (look at how he was toward Saul!).
I have many strong feelings about Stewart...feelings that have just grown
stronger as the years have gone by since I left (it's been 13 years now). I
used to think Stewart was larger than life--even after leaving I had him on
some sort of pedestal. As many of you know, I and about 25 other sisters
were thrown out of 515--all because we begged to live better. We were never
given a chance. Other houses would not let us in because we were "maneuvering
women." Shiffon Grey...further put in a weak position because of her
blindness...was thrown out with us. I still thank God to this day that none
of us slept on the street or were raped or killed. However, given the
neighborhood we lived those were very real possibilities. It took me 9 years
to realize that Stewart simply did not care about me or the others who were
thrown out. I wanted to believe so bad that he was basically good that it
took me that long to face the truth. I am angry at Stewart, yet I think it
has been a healthy anger...it has allowed me to reclaim my person for myself
and to realize that I am not a second-class person before God. For 9 years I
carried this big burden of how bad I was and that somehow I deserved what
happened to me, yet Stewart remained spotless on the pedestal I had placed
What happened to me was so traumatic that I had nightmares for
years...sometimes 2-3 a week. I had been abandoned by my parents when I was
4 and being thrown out by the very people I thought would be there for me for
the rest of my life stirred up these deep-rooted issues...it felt like being
dropped off at the orphanage again, just like when I was 4. I felt that I was
being thrown out by the very hand of God. This all came after having a three
year relationship that had just ended. I think everyone knows well what life
was made like for those who had relationships.
I have come a long way. Through counseling, support of good friends and
coming to an increasing realization that God is more compassionate than how I
perceived Him in COBU have all contributed to my healing. I still get
nightmares every once in a while, sometimes something will happen that will
set off a painful reminder of something that happened in COBU, but overall I
look at my life with so much hope and have come to appreciate the smallest of
beauties. I remember taking a walk by myself once and crying as I realized
how free I was. There have been times I have taken pleasure in simple things
like the texture of a fabric or the intricacy of a leaf.
I am not happy that when I have read about dictators they remind me of
Stewart, or when I have read about other high demand, high control bible-based
groups they remind me of COBU. There are certain things one doesn't want to
be right about...and for me I don't want to be right that these comparisons
are true. However, the resemblances have been so startling that I haven't
been able to deny them. However, if I am proved wrong, I would only be too
happy about that.
Maureen (Cianciarulo) Griffo
I was amazed to hear what happen to the sisters at 515. I found
out the hard way through Carl Buckley two months ago. He said that he was one
of the brothers that was laughing while throwing belongings out the window.
Do you know that to this day it still haunts him. He couldn't believe that he
did that and he is so ashamed. When he rededicated, Jesus brought that
incident to mind and showed how he had to ask for forgiveness. All of us
have damaged or scarred another in the fellowship. Have you read the book "
Three Kings" ? If anyone remembers the author please respond. In your note
you quoted David speaking about cutting off his enemies. Maureen I know that
there was a time when you saw Jesus using Stewart. I look at Stewart as David
looked at Saul. And as you know Saul started out right "Gods anointed". David
even referred to him as that.
Stewart like Saul allowed an evil spirit to run him. Saul abused David made
him homeless, forced him to live in caves. In spite of that David respected
Saul, NOT BECAUSE OF THE PERSON but because of God. Remember David at one
time had the Knife to Saul's throat when Saul was sleeping in his tent but
let him go. If we are to have a heart like David, then we need to seek
Stewards good and let God do the rest.
. I must also ask you to forgive me and all the sisters to
forgive me for the way that I have treated them. I may not have been at 515
but I know there were times when I was of like spirit. I am glad that Jesus
Has given us an opportunity to ask forgiveness and THAT WE CAN FORGIVE
OTHERS AS HE HAS FORGIVEN US.
your brother in Christ
Bill...Thanks so much for your kind words. I could really feel the sincerity
in your words. Isn't that a refreshing thing to say?
Did you ever see the movie or read the book _Lord of the Flies_? I think
that given the isolated atmosphere we lived in and all the pressure we felt,
we tore at each other very much like those young boys did in that book. Given
that I "had a relationship" and lived at 515 as the day of final damnation
came, I definitely got mauled at much more than the average member.
Anger can be such a scary thing. I used to think if I let myself be angry
that I would sin big time. As I finally have let myself be angry, I have
found the opposite to be true. It was like there was all this stuff pent up
inside of me, but as I let it out, the power it seemed to have inside of me
diminished as well. I think my experiences were so intense that a placid
attitude just wouldn't do it.
As I look back at how I came to respect Stewart, I can see how he used a lot
of trickery and underhanded ways...even in the early days of my involvement (I
joined in November, 1975)...In my naiveté I was fooled. As I've gotten older
myself, I more and more feel that he took advantage to how naive and trusting
I was...it's really hard to believe that someone who does that is God's
anointed. I'm not trying to argue the point with you...who knows...maybe
you're right...but I have a whole lot of trouble seeing it that way from my
perspective. I've taken a lot of care to listen to very early tapes of
Stewart (pre-1975) even back then it was obvious that he used intimidation
and held people in a sort of fear...things he seemed to get better at as the
years went by.
Anyway, I was very touched by your note...particularly by what you said
about Carl Buckley. One of the most painful things for me when I was thrown
out of 515 was having the brothers mock me and laugh at me. I felt it was bad
enough that I was homeless and had nowhere to go, but to be laughed out in
that way I think was even worse.
It's good to see you online and I look forward to "talking" to you again.
Thank you for sharing. I believe we all have felt the same pain, but since
all of our circumstances were different it evolved in various forms.
For me, as I wrote in a letter to Mike's Mars Hill, being voted as
untrustworthy to get donations (I was living out at the time) by the entire
"sisters" fellowship was extremely painful. However, when I realized that
my "unsaved" boss and employer "in the world" had much more trust &
confidence in my integrity I saw the light of what was really going on in
COBU. In my quest to remain a faithful Christian I pursued a relationship
with other "christians" at the "New York City Church of Christ". It is my
understanding they are now the "International Churches of Christ." What I
saw there was everything COBU wanted to be.. missions... # of saved
growing steadily.... regular bible study..., but I felt the same control
on my liberties through what they called "discipleship". I began
questioning their leadership and how people got to their positions, how one
leader Steve Johnson & his wife were able to have his Dad & Mom come to
Englewood, NJ and the church could provide a house and salary for them.....
etc... these were the questions I wanted answers too. Again I was told to
leave the church, just for asking questions. I was actually told that if I
came back they would have me arrested for trespassing.
Through God's grace and mercy I have not held these experiences against
however I don't pray nearly as I should, nor do I read the Bible nearly as
I should, but I have no bitter or ill feelings toward God or Jesus. I know
it is through them that I have been able to lead a life that I am not
One day I will write a more detailed letter comparing the 2 cults.
sad that so many cults disguise themselves as "churches". I feel strongly
the members that are sincere towards God will not be held accountable for
the deception, remember they think, just as we did that they are truly
serving God. They are giving up a lot of liberties unnecessarily in their
quest to do what is right. I find it hard to believe that God will punish
them, however for the leaders... that we all know is another story.
I would like to add that I have been going to various churches over
course of the last 15 yrs. I have always had a difficult time feeling as
though I fit in. Our experience may prohibit many of us from ever having
that feeling, however it saddens me when I have read some peoples writings
and they still believe that is is wrong to attend church or that "church
christians" are people to be looked down on because they don't meet the
standard that we were taught through Stew's false teaching. Just
remember... God looks at the heart and we truly are saved by grace. If we
seek him we will find him, because the fact is he never left any of us.
I also should mention that prior to Mike's letter & web page I did
any way of sharing this part of my life. I basically had not dealt with it
and just looked ahead. While I am looking at this area of my memory now I
still prefer not to dwell on it in my day to day life. My life is good.
God has blessed me in ways I could never have imagined. While he has also
chosen to give my family a major trial I really can't complain because for
years things were so so good. I knew sometime there would have to be a
thorn in our side. Thats his promise when he loves us.
I hope this has been helpful. I encourage all to share as Maureen
that we can encourage one another all the more as we see the day drawing
Carol (Amspacher) Stutts
Actually, it is more fundamental than that. What is the defining difference
between a "church" and a "cult"? Are they not aspects of each other on a
sliding scale of degree? Many, if not most religions have at their core an
edict of control. Control of your desires. Control of you activities. Control
of your very thoughts, using "God" to 'keep an eye' on your most private and
intimate part of you, your inner self. Your sense of self worth is denied in
order to make way for these controlling forces. And "God" is used as the
vehicle for this control in a very skillful and artful way. "Doing the will of
God" then becomes doing the will of those who wish to control you and every
aspect of your life.
In my view, all churches fall somewhere on this spectrum of control.
than others. That is not to say that this level of control is all bad, but it
becomes extremely difficult to separate out the "good" control from the "bad"
control, and in most cases you have both at play.
I have learned -- and rather painfully over the years -- that it is
not good to
give anyone and anything else that level of control over my life.
What religions should be emphasizing is inner strength. We all have
strengths, and we must build upon those. But churches would be shooting
themselves in the foot if they were to emphasize that too much, if at all. What
need would you have for a church if you are internally strong? And so, they
rather emphasize your weaknesses in order to break down your self-esteem and
self worth, to INCREASE YOUR DEPENDENCE on them.
Not all churches are like this, of course, but understanding the nature
games they play is paramount. Stewart Traill must've understood this very well,
and used it to full effect. Or can it be that he is just as deluded as the rest
of us who followed him, that there are greater delusional forces at work here?
I know this is a "dangerous" question to ask -- it hits to the core of
Christianity -- but we must ask these questions.
Hi Mike and brethren:
This is Nancy Coogan. I was appalled to see Maureen's account that
sisters were actually thrown out into the street en masse, and it
infuriated me to think that a blind sister was among that number. Today
I spent an entire day at a deaf/blind social and all the more I know that
some of the anger that Chris Hirtler is expressing should have been
expressed back in "the old days" of COBU. Where were the brothers with
anger then? If a sister is attacked, does the escort brother have to
even consider if he should lay down his life or not? If he feels mad at
the attacker as he punches him defending the sister, does that make the
brother a terrible sinner? I'm not saying anyone should retain
bitterness, and although learning of this past injustice angers me, I
don't intend to make it the focus of my life or anything. But I think
righteous anger is different than just holding some grudge against ST.
Sure, David did not touch God's anointed, but who still thinks ST in
wickedness is anointed by God? Was he ever? When we started living
communally it was mostly out of necessity. Often we would move into a
fellowship only to find that the electric company was about to shut us
off or that long-distance calls to our lambs cost more than the phone
company was willing to stretch on over a few months. So, since we lived
in the same house and some were going hungry, we pooled the resources.
It was only after that when ST started to rise to controlling power.
Although many thought the colored bible thing was cool, it was his
aggressive, assertive "I'll teach you idiots" style that pushed everyone
into thinking he could lead, NOT God's anointing. It is just his own
boasting however much he claims himself to be "Elijah" or "an old
testament character" or that poor Gayle is held up (see Grace Mtg.
transcript) as being so other worldly that "she's not even human," by
virtue of their "divine" marriage.
What is not even human is how those sisters were treated!!! What
slave labor is going on there now? Do those brethren in the salvage
business get any kind of training in the safe removal of asbestos, say,
or will they die of cancer because no one cared enough to inform them,
due to personal greed for gain? ST is still at it! He is still hurting
people. Even if we all are so "nice" to forgive him for anything we got
hurt with personally, it still angers me that ST is getting away with it
I personally plan to testify against him at the Judgment Seat of Christ,
because I honestly don't think his lack of repentance is going to save
him from the fire. Does this mean I will thank about this every moment
until then? No. Do some of you think this qualifies me for some judgment
myself? Possibly. (It certainly isn't "nice"). Do some of you think this
anger will eat me up like cancer? Possibly you do. But I am not going to
dwell on it more than it deserves, because I do think the time is coming
(Maranatha, Lord Jesus!) soon and very soon that ST will have to face
God. It is my prayer, whatever you may think of me, that the Lord
hastens that day by taking ST out of this life and minimizing any more
Does that mean like the anti-abortionists that I personally want to
action against him? No. But my expectations of any of us "reconciling"
with him are zip, zero, nil. It would be justice to see an eye for an
eye, (how would he like being blind and thrown into the street?), but it
will probably not happen in this lifetime. But I will rejoice when it
does. Why? Because then we will see with spiritual eyes, not human
frailty, emotionalism and a head full of how we "should" perceive stuff.
I am glad to have a promised time when all things will be made completely
right. That helps me not dwell on all the garbage here that is illogical
or unfair. I trust God has a plan in it, so I don't need to be bitter.
I can move on to Peggy B.'s "point <c>" as indeed, I am.
When were You poor, blind and naked, Lord? When were You downtrodden
discouraged and of bad reputation? When were You in need or lonely,
Lord? Oh, You were one of the brethren in COBU? It was You I saw in
that sister as she cried? That brother, as he stammered to defend
himself... that was You?
We were all so brow-beaten into "pleasing Jesus," can we say that ST
by his actions? Is Jesus pleased in COBU? Is anyone besides ST (even
Gayle, because I see her as human, even on that pedestal) pleased there?
(I have seen her cry).
Twisting, twisting, twisting. That's what ST's art is. Twisting.
you learn it too? Pick a subject. Couldn't you defend both sides? And
"projection" -- wasn't he good at accusing the brethren of the very
things he found wrong in himself? That he even did? Oh, he was "the most
humble one" there he stated. It was always those evil older brothers,
never him, no, never his fault, except that he did operate in error, only
about a little thing, though, Grace, but hey, the brothers were to blame
for that error too, for not telling him so...
Dan Hunt is right that we can't fall back into treating one another
in the group. I'm for Chris Hirtler. I think he has a right to express
himself as vehemently as he wants to (without resorting to fists!) I
have no fear that it will eat him alive, because God is dealing with
Chris and has him in His everlasting arms. I think the raw honesty of it
has touched a nerve with many of us. I think some of us are afraid of
our anger. Depression is anger turned inward. Some, when they left,
went through this, (especially as they didn't have opportunity to act on
their righteous feelings there).
We are all "in the Hospital" from our experience in COBU. We are
various stages of recovery from various degrees of wounding. What our
own therapy with God has been might not be just the prescription for
someone else. Only the Great Physician knows what healing is yet to
come. But healing is coming, Praise the Real Jesus! Don't give me your
medication, my salve is not the same as yours, and that's okay.
We can agree to disagree in love. We each have our relationship
Jesus, Who loves us. Yes, I do think he even loves ST. But I don't
think He is at all pleased with him, so if we are to be "like Him" some
of that righteous anger is going to come up. Anger is not the same as
sin. Defending the innocent/weak is righteous. I am for venting.
(Catharsis, purging). Be there to listen brethren. Listening is an act
of love. I don't know about you, but I am glad for anyone who gets riled
at injustice on my behalf. I think in his own way, that is part of what
is going on with Chris. He wishes he could make it right. I respect
that. And Maureen, I do very much respect your moving past all that
hurt. I am sorry you had to endure any such treatment, and thank you for
your honesty. God bless you, sincerely, those of you who long for
Amen Sister. I am sorry that you had to go through that.
I when I left was
treated fairly weird by those who had also recently left because I was
outraged at Stewart. He had just admitted to missing grace and I was appalled
that after all his heavy handed dealing with us and convincing us that we
would be heavy handed with others and also may I add and not least heavy
handed with ourselves I had to deal with my anger and resentment by first
admitting it was there and through many years of prayer getting to the point
where I could sit in a church and not be oppressed and have this terrible
feeling that I was a failure because i was not perfect. But thanks be to God
who has revealed to me the deceptions that I might give him the pain and hurt
that I might no longer be pushed around by the Spirit of Cobu. it sounds to
me that God has helped you and this also makes my heart glad
I'm sory it took so long to respond to what you wrote about 515, but I would like to share a few thoughts. When the 515 situation was going on, I was living in Orange, NJ, trying to take care of 3 children and serve Jesus in the fellowship. I remember clearly the meetings that preceeded Stewart casting the sisters out of their home, and the whole thing scared me greatly. I remember Jimmy sitting outside while the whole charade was going on. I tried to pursuade him that letting the sisters out on the street was not right. Some of the sisters had found places to live or people to stay with. A few sisters came and stayed at my house because they had nowhere else to go. Some were scared to stay with me because I was not a married brother and did not have a good reputation thanks to Stewart poisoning the sisters against me. He told them I was only there to "steal" a wife, so many were very "on guard" towards me. Jimmy had the gaul to call me up and send these sisters back to NYC. Stewart used to mock the sisters and joke that some would become "bag ladies", and Jimmy and some of the brothers participated in that spirit. By God's grace and mercy, I did not, but I did participate to my own shame in a small part of the "move out". I felt so convicted at the time, I simply could not continue to throw things out the windows, some of which were the few belongings brothers and sisters had left. I stored a few items for sisters, that I could haul in my small car, but I also took some "spoils" for myself. For that I was convicted as well. The scripture says, "DO NOT PARTICIPATE IN ANOTHER MAN'S SINS." I in various ways therefore did particpate in Stewart's sin in ordering the cold wicked eviction of his people from their home. Would that I had taken a stronger stand against it! Dave Rizzetto and I did indeed take a stand openly not long after that concerning the way Jimmy was treating brothers and sisters, but we relented when we were threatened with being thrown out of the church for opposing Stewart's authority. It was a great battle at that time that was going on between good and evil. Evil was working strongly through Stewart, Jimmy, and Bobby and we didn't have the strength to stand against it. Bobby walked up to me after the many beatings he had given brothers and sisters and said as he was going out to backslide, "Chris, I was just beating the sheep." Jimmy, who not long after had his legs broken, also admitted when humbled that he was not right. Only later did we know the more sordid aspects of his backsliding that were covered up by Stewart, but his participation in Stewarts "beating of the menservants and maidservants" brought the swift judgment of God upon him in order to bring him to repentance. The great wounds inflicted on God's precious daughters including yourself as exemplified through the 515 debacle, will not go unpunished, you can be sure of that. "WHAT DO YOU MEAN BY CRUSHING MY PEOPLE, BY GRINDING THE FACE OF THE POOR!" "THE WOMEN OF MY PEOPLE YOU DRIVE OUT FROM THEIR PLEASANT HOUSES" (MICAH) There was a cold and malicious spirit that more and more took over as Stewart evolved into the evil king that he is today. Sin grows in a person when allowed to just like grace can grow in us if we abide in God's love. Your gentleness and love for others throughout that horrific experiece was a comfort to many brethren and to me as well. I'm sorry for the ways I failed you and others in my own weak and cowardlike conduct during that battle.
Dear Chris: Your note brought tears to my eyes...I'll write more later, but I just wanted to say that.