funny stories, religion

Partial repost: Unsuccessfully making fun of Jack T. Chick with Pensacola Christian College alums…

A few days ago, I reposted a couple of book reviews about author Frank Schaeffer. As I was looking up those reviews on the old version of my blog, I noticed that I included Schaeffer in a post I wrote about cartoon religious tract artist Jack T. Chick. It so happens that Fundie Fridays also recently did a video about Jack Chick.

I enjoyed this video. I went through a Jack Chick phase myself about twenty years ago.

There is something fresh I’d like to write about this morning, but I’m not quite ready to put it into words yet. I think I need to talk to Bill a bit more before I’m ready to compose. But Jack Chick is always a fun topic and it IS Sunday, so here’s a partial repost of an article I wrote in February 2016.

When I was a graduate student, I had a surprising amount of free time on my hands.  Though I did not have as much free time in those days as I do now, as The Overeducated Housewife, I did have plenty of time for messing around.  I bought my very first personal computer in 1999.  I felt I needed to have it, even though the University of South Carolina had computer labs.  It was a good investment, especially since it ultimately led me to Bill.  Of course, I’ve already written that shocking story (which I will probably repost on 9/11).

Today, I want to write about the Christian evangelical comic book artist Jack T. Chick and how I came to learn of his existence.  I had never heard of him until 1999 or so, when I bought that first Gateway machine for $999.  I spent hours on the Internet, looking at everything that was available in cyberspace.  At one point, I landed on The Student Voice, a site for former students at Pensacola Christian College.  The site used to be http://www.pensacolachristiancollege.com, but it’s now defunct.  The school sued to get the URL released to them, but they lost. It looks like the guy who had the domain finally released it and now if you go to http://www.pensacolachristiancollege.com, you end up on the school’s official Web site.  I see a lot of the stuff that used to be on The Student Voice has been taken down.  That’s a real pity, though it’s still worth looking around if you’re interested in how weird PCC really is.  Here’s an article written by someone who experienced PCC and didn’t like it.

Apparently, the people who run PCC are extremely uptight folks.  They are very quick to give students the boot for not measuring up to standards.  If you choose to attend this college, you will be paying to be treated like you’re on house arrest.  Pensacola is near beaches.  PCC students are allowed to go to the beach, but they have to go to gender segregated ones… or, at least they did back in the early 00s.  Students were not allowed to be in mixed company and had to travel in groups.  They had to scan off campus and were only allowed to go to certain places.  They were only allowed to see G rated films.  And ladies, you can forget about wearing pants.  Indeed, women have to wear dresses and skirts of an appropriate length along with pantyhose.  Imagine how pleasant that is in Florida heat!  And guys are to wear ties, which are not allowed to be removed until the afternoon.

Man almighty, if I ever thought the rules were strict at Bob Jones University, BYU, or Liberty University, they were nothing compared to PCC.  Men and women had to use different stairwells and sidewalks and avoid touching or staring at each other for too long (making “eye babies”).  At night, everyone had to draw their blinds in a particular way to prevent peeping.  Books, magazines, and the Internet were strictly regulated and filtered.  Anything remotely suggestive was censored.  If you got sick, you had to check yourself into the infirmary.  And almost every student was required to live on campus, where, if they broke the rules, they could be grounded (campused).

I’m not sure if the rules are as strict today as they were twenty years ago, but back then, they were almost unbelievably strict.  What was really crazy in my view is that the students were all legal adults paying for this experience.  And the degrees they were paying for weren’t even accredited.  It’s my understanding that PCC now has some sort of accreditation designated for Christian schools, but I don’t think it’s the kind that is universally respected.  I, of course, found the whole thing fascinating and used to hang out on the Student Voice’s messageboard to get the dirt.  The stories were crazy and positively addictive.

Anyway, not being a particularly devout Christian, I had never heard of Christian tract artist Jack T. Chick.  Chick makes Bible tracts that many Christians pass out to others, leave in lieu of tips at restaurants, or litter with in parks and public restrooms.  They can be entertaining to read, even if some of the messages within them are hateful.  Basically, according to Chick, everyone who doesn’t live their lives in accordance with Biblical principles is going to go straight to Hell.

The PCC crowd had heard plenty about Jack T. Chick.  Some of them had handed out his tracts to innocent people.  Once I found out about Chick, I felt the insatiable need to find out more about him, so I continued my sleuthing and eventually came across a Web site called Weird Crap.  A guy named Psycho Dave had created several  parodies of Jack Chick’s tracts.  Most of the parodies are hilarious, even if they are also quite sacrilegious.  If you have an irreverent sense of humor and are not offended by blasphemy or extremely off color humor or language, I recommend having a look, especially after comparing them with Chick’s originals.  If you are at all sensitive about such humor, I recommend simply taking my word for it.  Also, be aware that the site is a bit wonky because it hasn’t been updated in ages.  Your patience will likely be required.

Psycho Dave wrote that he got a ration of shit from Jack Chick after he created his parodies.  He got phone calls and emails demanding that he take down his parodies because they were copyrighted.  I can’t help but get a huge kick out of the fact that the people at Weird Crap had loads of fun poking fun at Chick.  Their Web site kept me entertained for hours when I was in grad school and not able to chat with Bill.  And, as you can see, despite Chick’s saber shaking and harassment, Psycho Dave’s parodies are still online.  He says he’s ready to pass the Web site on to someone else, though.

A Chick tract in Dutch I found in Amsterdam.

I made the mistake of sharing the parodies with the folks on the PCC board.  I got quite the dressing down for that because even though a lot of them seemed to think Jack Chick is an asshole and they were a bit on the rebellious side, they didn’t like how Psycho Dave made fun of their holy book. I got chastised for being blasphemous.  Aside from that, they were pretty accepting of me, even though one person said I reminded them of Janine Garofalo (really?!).  I guess to them, I really was super liberal.  I’m definitely even more liberal now than I was back then.  

I can credit PCC folks for introducing me to the writer Frank Schaeffer, who was himself raised by famous Christian evangelists in Switzerland.  Schaeffer has written several very entertaining novels as well as a few non fiction books that I’ve enjoyed.  His son, John, joined the Marines against his parents’ wishes.  Schaeffer had never been exposed to the military and was against John’s enlistment, but later educated himself and wrote a few excellent books about different aspects of the military experience, including his experience as the father of a Marine.  When Bill came home from Iraq, I passed on Schaeffer’s novel Baby Jack to him.  That book really resonated with Bill on many levels and I probably never would have known about it if the PCC folks hadn’t turned me on to Frank Schaeffer’s writing.  So I offer them thanks for that.  And, I also see from Amazon.com, that I’ve missed a couple of Schaeffer’s latest books.  He’s very prolific and, if you write to him, he will write back.

Mood music for this post. It’s profane, so don’t listen to it if cursing offends you. I can play this on the guitar.

I don’t really hang out with PCC folks anymore, though I am still a member of their relocated forum.  Every year on my birthday, I get an automated birthday greeting from them and I remember how much fun I had learning about the wacky world of PCC and fundie Christians.   I only wish I could find a similarly entertaining community so I could pry myself off of Facebook. 

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family, Reality TV, TV

I finally found my way to “Plathville”…

Recently, I started following Fundie Fridays, which is a YouTube channel run by a woman named Jen who does her makeup while talking about fundamentalist Christians. Sometimes, Jen is joined by her social worker boyfriend, James. I like her channel very much. She’s funny, and she’s great at applying makeup. I’m often amazed at the looks she achieves as she casually discusses people like the Duggars, the Bates, and any other weird-o-rama fringe religion out there.

It was on Jen’s Fundie Fridays channel that I discovered the Plath family. I mean, sure, I had seen references to them in the Duggar Family News Facebook group. I just never paid any attention to them, despite their impossible to ignore blondness and musical chops. Anyway, they have been on TLC for two seasons, and I recently happened to catch Jen’s video about them. In this video, she’s joined by James, as they describe this Quiverfull family who live in southern Georgia and work in Florida. Parents Kim and Barry Plath have nine living children. Their toddler son, Joshua, died in a tragic accident. Kim accidentally ran over him while driving on their farm. He was seventeen months old.

At this writing, two of the Plath kids have gotten married. Eldest son, Ethan, is married to Olivia Meggs, who could easily pass as one of the siblings, since she’s tall and blonde. Eldest daughter, Hosanna, is married to Timothy Noble. They live in Ohio and aren’t on the show.

This video led me down a TLC rabbit hole yesterday.
About season 2.

Kim and Barry both went to college. Kim didn’t finish her music degree at Florida State University. Both parents left college with tons of debt and remember that their college mostly consisted of getting drunk and partying. Consequently, they aren’t fans of college, unless it’s to study something for which a college degree is necessary. All of the Plath kids were homeschooled. They didn’t eat sugar, watch television, have social media or cell phones, or listen to popular music. Both Plath parents are strictly against drinking alcohol, as Kim grew up with an alcoholic single mom who traumatized her.

The Plath kids are musically talented and have had a family band. They played southern gospel music. On their TLC reality show, Welcome to Plathville, we see the adult kids wanting to branch out and listen to and play secular music. Mom and Dad Plath are against that, as well as their other worldly habits, such as drinking Coca-Cola and beer, wearing immodest clothing, and visiting “liberal” cities like San Francisco. The Plath parents have been criticized for being too controlling and for sheltering their children so much that they can’t function in the world.

Here’s a documentary about the Plath family. You can hear their music on this. I think they’re good musicians… certainly better than the Duggars!
Not bad at all, although the girls look a little sad.
Timothy and Hosanna Noble. They aren’t on the show, but Hosanna clearly has the musical genes and blond hair.

I think the Plath kids are absolutely gorgeous. They’re also very talented. Yes, it’s true, they’ve had a very unconventional upbringing. I’ve read a lot of harsh comments about Kim and Barry Plath and, while I haven’t yet finished the series, I feel the need to speak up. I think people are being kind of tough on the Plath parents… at least based on what I’ve seen on the show. Kim and Barry Plath are strict, conservative, and sheltering parents, and some might think they’re hypocrites for making their children live a lifestyle so different from the ones they had growing up. But… when I watch the Plaths, I don’t get the icky feeling I get when I watch the Duggars. And when you compare the two families, I definitely think the Plaths are more “normal” than the Duggars are.

It’s true that the Plath parents discourage their children from being too “worldly”. They don’t approve of drinking alcohol, consuming sugar, wearing immodest clothes, or visiting liberal cities like San Francisco. However, the kids are doing those things and they haven’t been disowned by the parents. It’s true that eldest son, Ethan, kind of went no contact with his parents because of the rift between them and his wife, Olivia. He objects to the way the parents talk to and treat his wife. But I think Olivia kind of brings some of that treatment on herself. She deliberately does things to undo the Plath parents’ “work”. We see her encouraging Ethan to drink alcohol and try a Coke, and hiring sixteen year old Moriah to help her with her wedding photography business so she can “break out” of that sheltered environment and visit San Francisco. The Plaths don’t necessarily approve, but they did allow Moriah to go on that weeklong trip. They could have vetoed it. I think Jim Bob Duggar would have forbidden his daughters from going on a similar trip with a more “worldly” sister-in-law.

I do think Olivia, who is absolutely beautiful, by the way, instigates a lot of problems. It’s understandable that she would, though. She’s still very young and had a different upbringing. I can see why Ethan wants to protect her and have her back. That’s admirable. I can also see why Ethan is a little bit “annoying” to her, too. He’s very childlike and a bit stunted. It’s entertaining to see him drink a mixed drink for the first time. But then, I can see how that reaction to so many new experiences could get irritating, such as when Ethan is shown trying to make pancakes while Olivia is trying to work. It’s as if Ethan is trying to cram a lot of experiences normal people would have had way before marriage. It’s exciting for him, but old hat for his wife. I hope their marriage survives.

Getting back to Kim and Barry– it is true that the Plath parents “kicked out” their son, Micah, and seventeen year old daughter, Moriah, because they didn’t want them influencing their youngest children. But I look at the way Moriah dresses and Micah’s career as a male model. Moriah and Micah visited them to confront them about their upbringing. Moriah was wearing what I think is a bit of a scandalous outfit– red and black leggings, a skimpy top, and tons of makeup. I don’t see her parents forcing her to cover up around the younger kids. I think Jim Bob Duggar would have probably refused to let Moriah come over dressed like that, if she were his daughter. I also doubt that Moriah would have dared to do that, because I have a feeling Boob is heavy on corporal punishment.

I can also understand why two religious parents would not want that in their home, even if I personally disagree with their religious views and policies. I do agree that the Plaths are too strict and too sheltering, but I don’t think they’re as controlling as Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar are. And I don’t think their lifestyle is all that weird, to be honest.

Also… I think people forget that Kim Plath is clearly very traumatized by her upbringing. I grew up with an alcoholic parent myself. I know what that was like for me. I was fortunate enough to have another parent who wasn’t an alcoholic, though. Kim’s mom was all she had, and she grew up in chaos. It makes sense that she would be controlling and try to offer her children something she didn’t have growing up. She probably finds comfort in offering that very orderly, strict home environment, because growing up with an alcoholic can be quite the epic shitshow. I think anyone who doesn’t understand this should read up on adult children of alcoholics, and how a parent’s alcoholism affects children.

Remember, too, that Kim Plath lost a child directly due to her own negligence. She faced a horrifying situation. I don’t even know how someone recovers from causing their own child’s death. I would assume that losing a child in that way would make any parent neurotic and obsessively overprotective. Can you even imagine the guilt and horror of that? She probably has some PTSD going on after that experience. And Barry also lost a child, and as Kim puts it, a wife. She says she wasn’t “present” in the months after Joshua was killed. I would be very surprised if she ever got any mental health counseling, either, to help her process such a terrible loss.

Sad…

I actually had a childhood neighbor who ran over and accidentally killed her daughter. The incident happened in 1995, when my neighbor was 24 years old and her daughter was 2. They were at Walmart and, for whatever reason, my neighbor let her daughter stand up behind the seat of the car as she coasted forward with the door open. The girl fell out of the car and was under the car’s tires. My former neighbor is now dead herself, because she had Huntington’s Disease. I’ve wondered if maybe the disease was starting to be symptomatic when that accident happened. She had three children, only one of whom is still living. Her eldest child, a son, died at age 21 in a car accident. Sadly, because of Huntington’s Disease, it’s possible that the little girl wasn’t destined to live a long life in any case. I have always been haunted by the sad circumstances of that family and wondered how my former neighbor and friend could go on after that accident.

I don’t necessarily agree with Kim and Barry’s parenting decisions. I can understand why their children chafe at the way they were raised. I can see why they want to go their own ways so soon after they become adults or, in Moriah’s case, even before then. But I also can understand on one level why Kim and Barry are concerned about their older children “corrupting” the younger ones– even if I don’t agree that the children should be that sheltered. When it comes down to it, they’re the parents, and they should have the right to raise their children according to their beliefs without having to worry about Ethan’s wife overriding their decisions. The time will come soon enough that the youngest kids will be making their own decisions. We can see that the Plath parents have allowed the oldest children to be adults and make those choices. I didn’t see Ma or Pa Plath yelling at Ethan when he drank beer at the “surprise party” Olivia arranged (unbeknownst to them) for Moriah. Imagine if one of the Duggar sons had done that! Jim Bob would have thrown a huge fit. The Plath parents just shot a disapproving look at Ethan, rather than making a scene.

It’s supposed to rain today, and I’m expecting a package from Apple. Bought myself an Apple Touch because the 160 GB Classic iPod I have is becoming obsolete. The Touch will handle a lot more music, too. Since I don’t want to go out before the delivery gets here, I’ll probably go watch more of the Plathville episodes. I might change my mind about Kim and Barry Plath after seeing more of season 2, but at this point, I think people are being pretty tough on them. I don’t think they come close to being as dysfunctional as the Duggars are. At least they allow some dissension and will even discuss issues with their children, even if it’s uncomfortable or unpleasant. That, in my book, makes them healthier than some of the other families that have been presented on TLC. However– I do think that any family that agrees to be profiled on TLC is probably a bit on the fucked up side, regardless. But then, that would describe a lot of families, whether or not they are on reality TV. In the Duggar family’s case, I think maybe reality TV helped make them a little more “normal” than they might have been otherwise. But then, some of those kids might not have been born if Boob and Michelle hadn’t needed storylines to keep the gravy train rolling.

Anyway… I think as TLC families go, the Plaths are probably more real than some. And at least I can understand why they are the way they are, to some extent. I’m sure their faith in God helps them deal with the pain of what they’ve been through. Of course, I write all of this realizing that what we’re seeing is a heavily edited TLC product. I’m sure off camera, things aren’t always necessarily the way they appear.

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book reviews, religion

Repost: Jim Bakker and his fall from grace…

I am inspired to repost this book review I wrote for Epinions.com, back in 2010, about the book Forgiven: The Rise and Fall of Jim Bakker and the PTL Ministry. The reason I’m inspired is because, today, I watched Fundie Friday’s excellent video about Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker. I was reminded of this very comprehensive book by Charles E. Shepard and how much I learned about Jim and Tammy Faye’s ministry before it all fell apart in the late 1980s. I also reposted this review in 2014, so I’m going to post the whole thing as/is. At the bottom of this post, look for Fundie Friday’s video. It’s a good one!

From 2014

I was about fifteen years old when televangelists Jim Bakker and Tammy Faye Bakker ran into big trouble when they were discovered to be misusing financial “love gifts” sent by their viewers.  I never forgot seeing Jim Bakker curl up in a fetal position when he was sentenced to 45 years in prison for fraud.

In 2010, I found a fascinating book about the rise and fall of Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker and the PTL  network.  I wrote a review of the book Forgiven: The Rise and Fall of Jim Bakker and the PTL Ministry.  This book is currently out of print, but if you are interested in the Bakkers in the 80s, it’s a great read.  It’s very comprehensive and informative and if you have the time and the inclination, well worth your attention.  I bet you can find used copies on Amazon, too.

And now the review, circa 2010…

A couple of weeks ago, I was on YouTube watching old videos from the 1980s, when I ran across a video of televangelist Jerry Falwell addressing members of the PTL Club.  The year was 1987 and the PTL Club was in the midst of a scandal involving its founder, Jim Bakker, and his wife, Tammy Faye.  On the YouTube video I found, Jerry Falwell was explaining to the audience about the situation that developed with Heritage USA, Jim Bakker’s overly ambitious and overextended project.  

Heritage USA was supposed to be a sort of Christian oasis, where Christians could live, work, worship, and play together.  Jim Bakker was planning to build hotels, theme parks, churches, TV studios, and restaurants.  Unfortunately, Bakker’s vision lacked proper financial planning and the whole thing ended up collapsing.  What’s more, the Charlotte Observer, a local newspaper, had discovered an unfortunate tryst Bakker had had back in 1980 with a 21 year old church secretary named Jessica Hahn.  In 1987, Jim Bakker and the PTL Club were going down in flames.  And Jerry Falwell had been called in to help salvage whatever could be saved.

The videos that prompted me to read this book in 2010.

I was 15 years old at the time of the PTL scandal.  Though I’ve always been interested in the unseemly world of televangelists, as a teenager, I didn’t really pay that much attention to what was going on with Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker.  Watching that video on YouTube and hearing Jerry Falwell get screamed at by an angry man in the PTL Club audience made me want to learn more about Jim Bakker’s story.  So off I went to Amazon.com, where I found Charles E. Shepard’s very comprehensive book, Forgiven: The Rise and Fall of Jim Bakker and the PTL Ministry

Forgiven was published in 1989 and is now out of print.  Nevertheless, I found it very interesting and well worth reading.  Shepard follows Jim Bakker’s life from his beginnings in Muskegon, Michigan all the way to his very public disgrace in the late 1980s when the world watched the collapse of his $160 million empire built on love gifts and the sale of bogus lifetime partnerships to loyal supporters of the PTL ministry.  Shepard also covers the late Tammy Faye Bakker Messner’s life, from the time she and Jim Bakker met at North Central Bible College in Minneapolis, Minnesota, to the end of the ministry, when Bakker’s shady and sordid dealings were uncovered. 

Indeed, after reading this book and seeing Tammy Faye Bakker Messner on television in the years before she died of cancer, I have some empathy for what she must have gone through during the scandal.  Aside from having an affair with Jessica Hahn, Jim Bakker also allegedly had a number of homosexual trysts with men who worked in his ministry.  All of this dirty laundry, coupled with Tammy Faye’s own problems with drug abuse and people who mocked her for her tears and heavy makeup, must have been humiliating for her.  Shepard doesn’t really give Tammy much empathy in his book and, to be fair, I probably wouldn’t have either had I written it.  Back in 1989, Tammy Faye Bakker wasn’t a very sympathetic character.  But in the years since the scandal, she revealed a very sweet, kind-hearted side of herself that wasn’t overshadowed by her ex husband’s massive ego.  I think Tammy Faye died in 2007 a redeemed woman.  

A raging narcissist   

As I read about Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker’s enormous salaries and bonuses, constant purchases of new cars and houses, expensive clothes and makeup, and ostentatious displays of extravagance, I couldn’t help but wonder if Jim Bakker was a narcissist.  The way Shepard describes Bakker’s behavior and the way he treated people, it sure seemed that way to me.  And lo and behold, at the end of the book, Shepard does offer the opinion that Bakker probably suffers from full blown narcissistic personality disorder.  Granted, Shepard is no mental health professional, but the signs were clearly evident to him.  He describes Bakker as a creative, charismatic person, the kind of man who needs to surround himself with loyal admirers whom he can exploit at will.  While I’m not really a mental health professional either, I have done my share of studying narcissistic behavior and I think Shepard is spot on about Jim Bakker.  Only a true narcissist could expect to get away with the blatant abuses that Bakker did for so many years.

Another reason this book was interesting to me   

I happened to grow up in Gloucester, Virginia, not at all far from Virginia Beach, Virginia, where Pat Robertson’s Christian Broadcasting Network’s headquarters were located.  I grew up watching Robertson’s local Christian channel 27, WYAH. Based in Portsmouth, Virginia, WYAH happens to be the very same channel where Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker got their big break as televangelists.  Shepard includes some interesting information about Pat Robertson’s ministry as well as how his show, The 700 Club, got started with Jim’s and Tammy’s help.  I also learned how fellow televangelist Jimmy Swaggart, supposedly offended by the opulent spectacle of Bakker’s ministry, worked to bring him and the PTL down.  Having done some more reading about Swaggart and his ministry, I think he must be among the world’s biggest hypocrites.

Overall 

If you’re interested in learning more about the televangelists of the 1980s, I highly recommend Charles E. Shepard’s Forgiven: The Rise and Fall of Jim Bakker and the PTL Ministry.  This book takes an exhaustive approach to the subject, includes plenty of pictures (even one of Tammy Faye with no makeup on), and plenty of dirt. 

He took over Heritage USA with a splash…
Falwell was quite the scumbag… but I think his son may be even worse.

And this is the excellent “Bakkermania” video done by Fundie Fridays… I like that she praises Tammy Faye, who really did seem to redeem herself, while showing that Jim Bakker is just as narcissistic as ever…

Pretty much…

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religion, videos, YouTube

A Christian diet cult crashes and burns…

Until last week, I had never heard of Gwen Shamblin Lara, or her husband, former Tarzan actor, Joe Lara. I didn’t know anything about their “church”, either– Remnant Fellowship— located in Brentwood, Tennessee. The couple came into my consciousness a few days ago, when news reports broke about how their 40 year old Cessna 501 airplane crashed into Percy Priest Lake in Smyrna, Tennessee, just east of Nashville. They had been headed for Palm Beach, Florida, home of many wealthy people and white Christians.

I didn’t initially pay much attention to the news about the crash. I had heard that Gwen Shamblin Lara’s ministry focused on breaking people out of addictions– particularly food addictions. I had noticed Gwen’s crazy high hair, and realized that she reminded me a bit of the late Jan Crouch, who famously had big pink hair and was seen on Trinity Broadcasting Network with her late husband, Paul. Those factors alone should have attracted me like a magnet to Gwen’s story. But I didn’t learn much about her until yesterday, when I caught Katie Joy’s videos about the Remnant Fellowship. I was pretty gobsmacked by them.

What’s with the hair?
Kudos to Katie Joy for dishing on this couple.

If you are interested in learning more about Gwen and Joe, I highly recommend watching Katie Joy’s videos from Without a Crystal Ball. I know a lot of people seem to have a problem with Katie Joy, but I think she did a good job covering this story. I watched and listened with some shock and disgust as I learned more about this couple, who claimed to be Christians, yet lived in extreme opulence and evidently promoted abuse and eating disordered behaviors.

In one clip Katie Joy provides, the skeletal looking Gwen is wearing a tank dress that is clearly at least a size too big for her. She stands with her hands in the air, the dress shifted to one side and the strap falling off her shoulder. Her voice is thick with a southern accent as she commends one mom for spanking her child. Another mom, Sonya Smith of Mableton, Georgia, followed Gwen’s advice to punish her son, locking him in his room with a Bible for days (starts at 8:20 in the second video). Gwen commends Sonya Smith for not “spoiling” her child.

In 2007, Sonya Smith, and her husband, Joseph, ultimately went on trial for the 2003 death of their eight year old son, Josef. In October 2003, Josef Smith passed out without ever regaining consciousness as the family had gathered in their kitchen to participate in a prayer session over the Internet. When Josef collapsed, father Joseph touched him, noting that the boy was “warm to the touch” but sweaty. He thought Josef was overheating, so he carried him outside to the carport and laid him down on the concrete. When that didn’t help cool off Josef, the family called 911 and Josef was brought into the dining room. Paramedics first encountered the child there; he wasn’t breathing and was without a pulse. They took him to a hospital, where he was determined brain dead. A day later, he was dead.

Medical examiners determined that Josef Smith had died having suffered extreme abuse from his parents. The police stated that the child was frequently locked in a closet and forced to pray to a picture of Jesus. His parents admitted to striking him with a glue stick, although they didn’t think the punishment was abusive. See the featured photo for an example of what a glue stick looks like. The ones in the photo are about a half inch in diameter and 12 inches long, but they come in different sizes and colors. Before I started learning more about fundie Christians, I had never heard of people spanking their kids with glue sticks. I always thought of them as being much smaller and in a plastic push up tube. Even the hot glue sticks I’ve seen were a lot shorter than the ones used by fundies to discipline their kids.

I always thought the “rod” was the gospel, not an actual rod…

Many devout Christians are particularly enamored of the Bible verse about sparing the rod and spoiling the child and take it very literally. I’m not sure if Gwen and Joe were fans of Michael and Debi Pearl’s controversial book, To Train Up A Child, but that book is infamous for its strong emphasis on corporal punishment for the purpose of “training children” to be obedient Christians. It goes as far as advising parents what implements they should use for spankings. It sounds to me like the Remnant Fellowship, which, like the LDS church, claims to be the “one true church”, might be in favor of the Pearls’ teachings about breaking children’s wills to turn them into good little Christian robots.

If you listen to Katie Joy’s video, at around 9:19, you hear Gwen Shamblin Lara preaching about not spoiling children and being sure to “spank” them to show love. But then you look at how she lived. She and her husband had a huge mansion decked out with gilded furniture, and they owned their own airplane… which ultimately led to their demise. And here she is telling her followers not to “spoil” their children, when she herself appears to be very pampered, living a lavish lifestyle on donations from her flock. Ultimately, her privileged lifestyle led to her early death, didn’t it? What a hypocrite!

Sonya and Joseph Smith became members of Gwen Shamblin Lara’s church in 2000. The Remnant Fellowship Church is an offshoot of Gwen’s “Weigh Down Workshop”, which is a diet program she started in 1996. The church is known for its focus on saving souls from Hell and reforming people with addictions to drugs, alcohol, and food. However, according to Katie Joy’s expose, this church’s methods are extremely controlling and abusive and many people have been harmed by it. The Smiths’ case led to authorities raiding and investigating the Remnant Fellowship Church in 2004; the church supported the Smiths in their legal fight.

As for the Smiths, according to Wikipedia, they were “each charged with four counts of murder, five counts of first-degree cruelty to children, three counts of aggravated assault and two counts of false imprisonment.” On February 12, 2007, which would have been Josef’s 12th birthday, a jury found them guilty on eleven counts: “one count each of felony murder, reckless conduct, false imprisonment; three counts of aggravated assault, and four counts of cruelty to children (two specifically pertaining to glue sticks and others to unknown objects).” On March 27, 2007, Joseph and Sonya Smith were each sentenced to life plus thirty years– the maximum allowed by Georgia law. The case was appealed to the Georgia Supreme Court in 2010, but the original convictions and sentences were upheld. In February 2011, a petition was filed with the United States Supreme Court, asking the justices to review the decisions made by Georgia’s lower courts. The petition was denied.

I would not wish a plane crash on anyone. I’m sure the crash was horrific for everyone on board. Katie Joy said that the aircraft basically “broke” and there’s debris everywhere with no chance whatsoever of any survivors. However, after listening to Gwen Shamblin Lara speak and hearing about Josef Smith’s very sad case, I kind of feel relieved that Gwen will no longer be around to spread her particular brand of “the gospel”.

I’m sure the Remnant Fellowship won’t be going away, but at least now more people know about it and the potential dangers it poses to innocent people. It’s not hard to fall into abusive situations… whether they be abusive relationships with other people or abusive organizations like religious groups or cults. These systems thrive on attracting people who are weakened because they are in trouble. People with financial or health problems… people with low self-esteem or addictions… people who are desperately looking for a way out of a bad situation– these are all examples of folks who might be lured into joining falling into abuse. Sometimes, those situations lead to terrible tragedies involving innocent people like Josef Smith, or plane crashes that kill innocent people, like those who were onboard the private Cessna aircraft with Gwen and Joe.

As I wrote in yesterday’s post about culty churches, Shamblin Lara’s followers were required to close themselves off from other influences. They weren’t allowed to read anything not produced by Gwen or listen to music not made by Gwen’s son, Michael Shamblin. That raises some red flags, right? Gwen also says that her followers should not use antidepressants and they should disconnect from their families. More culty red flags!

For more information about this “cult” of starvation, check out Jen’s Fundie Fridays’ YouTube channel and its lengthy expose of Gwen Shamblin Lara’s “church” and weight loss program that combines religion with anorexic behaviors. This video below was made about a year ago. I wonder if Jan will do another video soon, now that Gwen and Joe are dancing with whatever they found in the great beyond after their plane crashed into Percy Priest Lake.

That hair on Gwen… wow. I like Jen’s style. She has a great sense of humor.

In the above video, I see clips from Gwen’s videos and they all depict her living the perfect, romanticized life, complete with music from Shrek (really?). All of the people are dressed to the nines and there are romantic gazebos and depictions of perfect family living… but that’s all it is. It’s just a facade– a highly staged, manipulated, fantastic facade– that sadly roped in enough followers for the Laras to be able to afford this very anti-Christlike church they promote. It’s obvious that Gwen was idolized by her followers, which is pretty much not what the Bible promotes, right? Idolatry is specifically forbidden, according to the Bible. See below, where it’s spelled out…

Yup… Idolatry is not Christian.

In yet another example of idol worship, Gwen Shamblin Lara even compared herself to Michael Jackson, claiming she was persecuted. But I think it’s fair to say that the criticism she got was warranted. People died following her… a child died! His parents are now in prison for the rest of their lives. She promoted pro-ana ideas, which are extremely dangerous, especially for people who already have tendencies to fall into eating disorders. And frankly, I think her hair was a crime against nature. So, while I don’t rejoice in the death of Gwen and Joe, I am glad that their toxic brand of “Christianity” has been dealt a serious blow. If the church continues, I hope it is run by people who are less dangerous and hypocritical… and culty.

Anyway… a week ago, I had never heard of Gwen Shamblin Lara. And now that I’ve fallen down the rabbit hole, I’m glad I didn’t find her until she was dead. What a toxic load of shit her church is. I thought Teddi Mellencamp’s diet program was abusive and predatory. At least Teddi Mellencamp doesn’t marry dieting with religion. She just charges a lot of money to bully her customers into starving themselves down to a more “acceptable” size.

And she has more normal hair, too. Of course, her weight loss program is also pretty fucked up and dangerous.

In other news… I was successful in getting my second shot yesterday. So far, I feel okay. My arm is a bit sore and I’m a little tired, but otherwise, no sweat. Bill suffered a lot more from his second shot than I have so far. But I hesitate to celebrate too much, since I have heard that the side effects can come on within a day or two. I may be down for the count tomorrow or over the weekend. We shall see. I’m just glad it’s done.

Edited to add: Fundie Fridays posted a new video about a half hour ago (as of June 5, 2021 3:30pm Central European Summer Time)

Very newsy! This video is done by James instead of Jen.
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