Sunday, January 30, 2000
To All Concerned,
My story is not a new one. I have written about it before, to a limited audience. However, this
Website provides a way for me to reach everyone who may share an interest or who may be helped by it. I
would need to write a novel to reveal the full implications and details of my whole experience. My purpose
here is to simply (as best and as easily as I can) let you know about the unusual "half-wife" relationship that
Stewart Traill arranged for me to have with him.
First, sex was not the primary thing, hence the term half-wife; the major implication was one of
power and control. Stewart endeavored in every way he could to diminish my own self-confidence and
self-respect in order to make me willing to lead a dependent life, dependent upon his mercy and control. I
was his experiment, a hobby, he said. When I helped him develop film in the darkroom Stewart would set
aside time in which he would hug me very close. I'm sure he could feel my tension, my resistance. He
would tell me I was uncomfortable because I felt I was losing control -- my will to his. Later, he would ask
me what I thought it might mean for him to 'take care of me sexually." Thankfully, he allowed me not to
answer this question. I did not want to touch it. I'd already shut down, anyway. My main interest was in
trying to please, saying the right things, and staying out of trouble, thereby finding what I thought might be
some level of happiness and stability in the circumscribed life that I led, surrounded by him. If he was
holding me, he couldn't be angry with me. He couldn't hold my hands and yell at me at the same time, or be
disgruntled with me.
You need to understand that it was a gradual taking over. I was already
convinced that this was
the only way, and belonging to Stewart was my lot in life, so to speak. There was nowhere to go. I really
believed if I left Cobu and sought shelter at home, I would be using my family in a selfish way that would be
harmful to them.
Rather than rewrite the many details or my experiences, I'm including only
some of them in the
form of what I have written in the past, by way of letters (both unmailed and mailed) and excerpts from my
Journals, which I started keeping as a way of therapy upon leaving Stewart and Cobu. I'm attaching these
below my letter here to you. Finally, in hoping that they will provide insight and shed light on this troubling
subject, I'm also including three professional articles that helped me very much.
I will now close this discussion regarding my "half-wife" relationship
with Stewart. Here's the
bottom line: While I may not sound all that upset, now, over what happened, it was all terribly destructive
to me, and I worked hard to recover and free myself from the bondage, emotionally, physically and
psychologically. Regarding Stewart: Whether he is sincere, or deluded, or cunningly deceptive is beside the
point and irrelevant. The fact of the matter remains, he is a parasite who attaches himself and sucks the life
and health out of others in order to live himself. He might be compared with the turn-of-the-Century
American industrialists who got rich with the aid of, and at the expense of, the workers. Another way of
looking at it: There are the Hitlers and the Saddam Husseins of the world, and then there are the
Stewart Traills. They all kill. Whether it's the physical body or the spirit, or the mind, they all kill. They
take what is not theirs and either obliterate it or use it to get rich and powerful, in their own minds at least.
With me, I felt Stewart took something that absolutely did not belong to him. He used me for his own
purposes, and he nearly destroyed me. I didn't know it then. I do know it, now.
Thank you for your time and attention in reading this. My story is
only one of hundreds, as each of
us, whether we are presently in or out of Cobu, has had our own hurts and struggles. None of them
deserves to be minimized or diminished in any way. Each of our experiences runs deep and must be deeply
The following letter I wrote, but never sent, to one of the Gayle-helpers.
This was 1991. 1 had been out of Cobu for about six years. I was
34 years old and only beginning to realize the significance of what had
writing it, I crossed out portions of the letter. Partly I wished to edit, but mostly I wished to hide out of fear of being
misunderstood. I will note, following the letter, what I had crossed out. I can still read it beneath the black marks.
Just follow the numbers.
November 10, 1991
Up to this point I have had a great
fear of opening up any lines of communication with anyone still in the
Church of Bible Understanding. I was so close to Stewart and
have lived in fear of coming near him again. But I am convinced that
each brother and sister still there deserves a chance to see life in the
"outside world beyond the prison walls." And so I am
writing. In my letter S. = Stewart. I don't like to say or write his name. It's too personal.
to know what kind of man you are dealing with? One that is way out
in left field to say the least. He wanted to make me his half-wife. He
talked to me about the vows I should make to him in place of marriage vows,
That was scary.
He would passionately hug me in the darkroom. He told me I should wear bikini underwear instead of briefs after checking tosee what I had on. He asked me to open up to him about myself sexually. He encouraged me to wear a bikini bathing suit and get a tan more than he ever encouraged me to take time to read the Bible. I don't even remember him encouraging me to read the Bible, Why did I go along with this? Because for 3 years at least he had instilled in me the belief that I needed him and the fear of what would become of me without him. I was used to his "taking care" of me, his "superior understanding" of me, and I would never be able to be happy with a "normal" man. He kept reminding me that no one gets married in our church but I was lucky because he would "take care of me." I was thoroughly convinced that I had no hope for any happiness as a single Christian woman apart from him. I was thoroughly convinced that I would never be able, or permitted, to be married in our church. I belonged to him. And yet during my times of "rebellion" I had a great desire to break free of him and his control over me. The last time, the talked to me and worked on me until 5 o'clock in the morning to convince me to come back to Princeton and accept his care. I was so torn. I felt this was my "last chance." And yet deep inside, I was so disappointed that I was going back to living under his rule. But I was "convicted" that it was God's will for me, this was my lot in life, and it was therefore the right thing to do. Looking back, I am very ashamed of my relationship with S. At best it was totally inappropriate and at worst adulterous.
My work with my young friends in
Kensington was undermined by my unreal relationship with S. True he encouraged
me to begin this kind of ministry. There has always been just enough
truth mixed in with the strangeness of his ways to keep us thinking we
were on the right track. And my ministry was successful but only
to a point. And I was happiest and freest when S.went away on one
of his trips. I loved it when he was gone. I didn't have to prove to him
that I was faithful and successful. I could just be faithful and God gave
me success. And besides, S. looked good because "he made me what I was."
In fact he directly told me that I "would be nothing without him."
Below are notes I scribbled to myself after writing this letter. I felt wrong in writing the letter. By the same token I
felt I needed to write it.
My notes are hard to read, so I'll decipher them. Again just follow
(1) I always said I'd never tell anyone because they
wouldn't understand. I always
said I would respect our "relationship." (I said this to myself, not to Stewart.)
(2) Donna said he did it for power and control.
(3) Stewart said he did it for a hobby.
(4) 1 say he stepped way over his boundaries and he
had no business experimenting with
me. He said so what -- I was happy, wasn't I? The end justified the means,
(5) It's too upsetting to dredge it up. He would
explain it away just like I did. No one
would be ... my letter was sensationalizing it and missed his point.
(6) [not show, it's on the reverse side]
Concentrate on the good -- my work with MY young friends in Kensington. I loved
that. I don't want to dredge up all the awful memories. It ruined my weekend. There's
plenty for them to see wrong without me having to go through that.
About a year later, I wrote the following on January 10, 1993. I've retyped excerpts here to save you the laborious
task of wading through the three-page
original handwritten entry. It goes as follows:
Well, I wasn't going to write this because I feet so ashamed [of my unnatural
relationship with Stewart] and I would hate for anyone to read it, but
I need to do it for my own sake ... I started comparing may experiences
with Stewart to [sister's name withheld]... he worked on her for about
eight months. Only the beginning of those months were "good" for
her until he began trying to break her will. From there on she was
more distant and could even still speak to him ... of wishing she could
many (for which he sharply rebuked her). He began working on me at
my age 23 (when I began Kensington). I remember helping him in the
darkroom and the first time he gripped my hands -- both of them -- and
smiled (I could hear it in his voice in the dark -- that all-knowing kind
of I'm so sure of myself smile and you are just my little girl and have
a lot to learn tone of voice). I remember feeling alarmed but then
thinking well I guess he knows what he is doing and if he likes me well
enough to want to touch me then he won't jump on me for doing something
wrong while he's holding me. So I figured I was safe when he was
holding me. Now I feel so ashamed. Even though I remember clearly
not being able to relax, and not feeling at all attracted to him in a sexual
way. In fact I think I've developed a real wall of insulation from
allowing myself to feel that way toward any man. Anyway, last night
I was feeling so down. It was as if a lump of heavy clay had replaced
any happiness I might feel. And thinking about the way Stewart worked
on me for over three years -- my age 23 until I left at age 26 for good,
brought tears to my eyes. I felt I should not write down my feelings
but this morning I realized if I did not I'd end up wasting more of my
life. the other disturbing thing to me was that I felt powerless and like
[be] knew better and it was my duty to be for [him] what [he) needed at
the time. . . [Stewart] would say things like this is our secret although
I don't remember him using the word "secret" but that's what it amounted
to. He would say how our relationship was unusual and outsiders would
not understand. Not even brothers and sisters in Cobu. I'm
not sure about Gayle. I always thought or assumed she knew, but now
I don't know to what extent. I always thought our relationship was
"right" because how could a man of God like Stewart do something wrong
and I had been conditioned to that since I was 16 years old, And here this
great man who knew so much would offer this security to me. Plus
thoroughly convinced me I could not rightfully and happily marry whether in the church or not.
What alternative did I have because he had "spoiled me"? I was so fortunate that he would show an interest in me. That was his attitude which he instilled in me and I accepted. I guess because I took all of this for granted and had nothing to compare it to in normal life, I still take it for granted. I think, how could this have any great effect on me? I guess I should talk to someone who would know and who would have a better perspective on it than I do . . My relationship with Stewart is something I never, never talked about to anyone, Cobu or outside ... I just feet so lonely in this and I want to tell someone. And I want to make him (Stewart) accountable ... I always want to write intellectual letters to [Cobu members], clinically describing what happened and giving a clinical diagnosis or whatever. But what I've just written is the truth from me ... of what happened and how it has made me feel and the effect it has had on me as I see it and feel it. I think this is the first time I ever wrote it down ....
In reality I had written some of it down, rather bluntly, in the crossed
out, unmailed letter. I'd just forgotten. And I did receive
the opportunity to tell the Gayle-helper sisters during their visit to
California on a camera sojourn just a few weeks later. We met in a restaurant
for dinner in Fairfield, California, on Sunday, January 17, 1993.
Following our meeting, I wrote this letter.
January 20, 1993
The sisters were so enthusiastic about grace when we met Sunday that to even try to begin to explain what I am enclosing for you to read would have been impossible. This information is applicable to the Church of Bible Understanding( I got it from GC Mennonite Women's Concerns) and I hope you will read it. If you don't have time, at least read the underlined portions. You will get the most, however, by reading in its entirety.
Then if you would like, give it to Stewart to read. But I wanted you to have a chance to form your own ideas and thoughts, and whether or not you pass this along to him is up to you. You may feel obligated to do so.
I don't mean to trivialize God's grace; however, it's kind of like telling someone with an open wound that God's grace is sufficient without first binding up the wound and then insisting on God's grace. Or like telling a starving person that God loves them, but forgetting to feed them. Or like telling someone who had been overpowered by their pastor to forget about it because God has grace. What disturbed me for your sake was that I don't recall ever having seen you and the sisters appear so programmed to hammer one point. You and Shelly were always so flexible on what we talked about. I could always talked to you to some degree on a personal subject. Not that God's grace is unimportant; again, I am not trying to trivialize it. But you seemed nearly unable to discuss anything else. Or you were somehow not free to (permitted to) discuss anything else.
Now that I've been outside the Church of Bible Understanding for some length of time, I've found some new reference points from which to understand my unusual and very difficult half-wife relationship with Stewart. It has only been in the last six months to one year that I have begun to try to understand. I just found myself feeling very angry at him, like he had taken something that really didn't belong to him. He had no business forming a half-wife relationship with me. He directly told me he had taken a chance, that it was sort of an experiment (after I was so far into the relationship that it was too late for me to back out, not that he ever gave me that option.). He never gave me a biblical foundation for what we were doing. It was "all psychology" to put it your way from Sunday. And me like a true dummy never asked him for any justification for our relationship and rarely doubted him. What did I know? He was the Man of God.
Another point I would like to make. There was apparent sincerity on Stewart's part; although there were times, in fact many times, that I sensed I was more of a project than a love of his. One thing I know for sure, we, including Stewart, were and are so isolated in the small world of the group that any distorted viewpoints quickly and effectively permeate the group, especially when they come from the chief shepherd. I know that he worked hard on me to break my will and conform me to his expectations. I have learned well (often from his tirades and from being coldly ignored) what was acceptable behavior in his opinion and what were the right things to say "to stay out of trouble." I learned to hide my true thoughts and emotions. I lost touch with my inner self and my own inner voice telling me, "Hey wait a minute, Let's take another look here, is this right, is it true?" The reason I left was I couldn't take it anymore. I remember going to my room one night and realizing, finally, that this just wasn't going to work with Stewart. That I just couldn't do it. And I ran away (escaped) the next morning. I love my parents and I wish I lived closer to them, but realizing the hold Stewart had on me, I think the best thing I could have done was to come to California, 3,000 miles away.
Sara, I know you have a good mind, and I think you must sometimes think of these things, if at no other time, then when you are unhappy and perhaps feeling alone. That's how I was. If you find you need the security of the group and Stewart's leadership (whether harmful or not), then you will stay there. Leaving is scary because you feel and have also been taught you are leaving God. Leaving is a difficult thing to do and it takes a long time to work through things once you leave. But it's a decision you may make someday. In any event, there is life on the other side. And it can be interesting and fulfilling.( And maybe God's grace is sufficient to extend there, too.) It, too, can be difficult, but it's also very liberating. I was amazed at how even the Bible could mean more to me, when I read it, finally. The expanded horizons are wonderful. And the chance to learn and experience new freedom of thought and ideas. That's why I kept saying I was using the mind God gave me.
One other thing. We used to talk about a meaningful, interesting life with peace through Jesus. Now it appears your minds are set not only on God's grace, but on death. It seems that you think in terms of it doesn't matter if your lives are lacking enrichment here on earth because you are going to die soon anyway, perhaps in two minutes. Except, from what shelly tells me, Stewart has a very nice living quarters, well-planned, nicely built, with all the extra amenities. Does this seem like a double-standard to you as it does to me? Enough said on that subject as it is one of those taboo subjects about Stewart, which we all learned not to mention. And if it was mentioned, it was only by those who desired to be contentious and find fault. I'm just making an observation.
If you want to call me it's okay to call me at work. I wasn't able to talk but we could figure out a time for me to call you back from home. I was glad to see you and Gail(sp?) and Linda. I used to be afraid, but this time, although I felt apprehensive, I really looked forward to seeing you.
P.S. And I wanted to tell you about me and Stewart
so you and the sisters would know, for your own protection and freedom.
When you read the enclosed materials you'll understand more what I mean.
And there's more where that came from.
Here is the information which I included with the above letter. You will see that I had underlined the parts I felt were
the most applicable, hoping that at least the highlighted areas would be read. I have just reread these articles, and I
still feel they are especially relevant and insightful. They were provided to me by the General Conference Mennonite
Church Women's Concerns Committee.
As an introduction and to set the tone, I would like to extract a section from Shirley Souder's article "An
Introduction to Professional Abuse" and include it here, remembering that Stewart, acting in his capacity as our
pastor, was a "professional."
Definition of Professional Abuse
Professional abuse has been called by many names: sexual misconduct, power
familiarity, sexual exploitation, adultery, authority abuse, seduction, scandal, and sin. Essentially,
Professional abuse is crossing sexual boundaries in a professional relationship. [Emphasis added] I
The professional may be physician, psychotherapist, pastor, teacher or professor, workplace
mentor, or attorney. The professional relationship is based on trust and is characterized by a power
imbalance. Professional abuse is primarily a matter of power and control, not of sex and sexuality.
Sexual invasion can he experienced through any physical contact, bodily
verbalization that uses sexual expression to control and intimidate the less powerful person in the
relationship. [Emphasis added.] Such invasion of boundaries is disruptive to the professional
Boundaries define us. They indicate our limits -- where we begin
and where we end. Boundaries
differentiate us from others, showing us where we end and where the other begins. They help us
distinguish ourselves, physically and psychologically, from others.
In our society, we learn gender-based messages about our boundaries.
Generally speaking, men are
given permission to challenge sexual boundaries and women are taught to accept the challenging
behaviors of men as normal. Because of the distorted messages that we have teamed as men and
women in our society, boundary violations may not be immediately recognized as such.
There is often a period of testing in which the more Powerful one it? the
relationship rests to see if
she "will accept his secret redefinition of their relationship as one that might include sexual
contact. " [Emphasis added.] In the context of a trusted professional relationship, she is likely to
experience his testing as confusing, often doubling her own perceptions and rationalizing the
experience as nothing at all. Depending on her earlier learnings, she may feel empowered or
disempowered to defend her boundaries. Those who are disempowered by prior life hurts or
current vulnerabilities, may be particularly susceptible to exploitation by the professional who is
The frequency of professional abuse is not clearly known. Statistics
tend to be conservative
estimates. Those who are victimized tend to be reticent to disclose the mistreatment due to fear,
guilt, or loyalty conflicts. Those who are offended are prone to rationalize their behavior as
permissible and unharmful, denying or minimizing the exploitive nature of the activity. [Emphasis
added.] ... It is not unusual for offenders to be "repeaters" who exploit a number of people over a
period of time- Due to the secretive nature of the activity, the extent of the maltreatment may not
be apparent initially, following a single disclosure.