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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bad TV, religion, scams

Repost: TBN=Total Blasphemy Network

Here’s another repost. I wrote this Epinions review of the Trinity Broadcasting Network on August 11, 2003 (!!). I am reposting it because it’s kind of entertaining, and again, has NOTHING to do with current events. Perhaps the next post will be fresh. Waiting for inspiration now.

Pros: Unintentional comedy makes the comedic quality of the programming even funnier.

Cons: Paul and Jan Crouch. Tasteless. Constant pleas for $$$$! 

The Bottom Line: A few gems scattered in a pile of rubbish. Dig deep to find them.

Well… maybe that title is a little harsh, but goldarnit, I’m not usually inspired by the Holy Ghost when I watch TBN. Usually, I’m just inspired to laugh my hiney off for a good long while. Why do I watch it? Usually because there’s nothing else on and I’m tired of watching Fox News or 7th Heaven on ABC Family Channel. I hate to admit it, but TBN is darn funny sometimes… although I do think that it does occasionally teeter on blasphemy. The network uses God and religion to squeeze people for money. Love gifts? Yeah right… do love gifts go to pay for those ugly monstrosities of furniture that sit on the stage? Tsk tsk tsk…

A mildly entertaining cartoon I saw on TBN.

The first time I ever spent any time watching TBN was in a Microtel motel room (see my review) last Labor Day weekend. I was lying in the sweltering, stinky room, drinking a Red Stripe beer, and watching some Christian musical group sing some sappy song about Jesus called “That’s Him”. At the bottom of the screen was a telephone number. I noticed that the number was NOT toll-free. The camera was panning over the audience, which was staring at the singing group, dreamlike. I expected to see someone pull out a lighter and hold it up. It reminded me a little bit of the old Nashville Network back in the 1980s. I was fascinated by the spectacle, but had to turn the channel… only to flip it back later. Superbook was on! For those of you who don’t know about Superbook or Flying House, these are cartoons about the Bible. They’re both very similar– Japanese anime, where two little kids, a boy and a girl, find a Bible up in the attic and take trips along with a robot. At least I think that’s what happens… Anyway, I found myself watching the stories of Adam and Eve and Cain and Abel. The cartoons were entertaining, but still a little bit creepy! And what was it about them that made me want to watch?

When we got back from our trip to Tennessee last year, I’d find myself flipping to TBN occasionally. And one day, I caught Pastor Paula White on the tube. Pastor Paula has perfectly coiffed blonde hair and wears very expensive suits. Her audience is very multi-cultural and, I have to admit, the woman is quite a dynamic speaker. If I closed my eyes and listened to her, I’d think I were listening to a sister in the ‘hood, but Paula looks very much like the classic Barbie doll (with short hair, of course). Her appeal is that she’s easy on the eyes, but she relates to the people. She stands up at the pulpit and shouts, “Turn to the woman next to you and say, ‘Girl, you been pregnant! You got a dream about to be born!'” And I have to admit, sometimes the woman makes sense. But the sermon lasts about twenty minutes– albeit an energy packed, hyperactive twenty minutes in which Pastor Paula gets so excited that she sounds like she’s about to hyperventilate and maybe pass out. To hear the rest of the sermon and see if she actually does, in fact, faint dead away, you have to order her tapes, which cost an ungodly amount of money. Or you have to send her a “love gift”. Do the love gifts pay for those expensive suits or the fortune she must spend on her hair?

A recent clip of Pastor Paula White, speaking in tongues.

If you ever catch Pastor Paula during a TBN fundraiser, you’ll no doubt be treated to watching her speak in tongues while she lays hands on people! One time she did this and one of her goons (they typically stand behind people to catch them when they inevitably fall backwards from the sheer power of her touch), wasn’t paying attention and dropped someone! I hate to admit it, but I had a good long laugh at that one (I’ll bet that goon caught some serious hell afterwards)! Paula White mentions in every broadcast that she was molested when she was a little kid and her daddy committed suicide when she was seven. Well, not to belittle her experiences, but must she bring it up in every broadcast? And after she mentions all of these unfortunate events, must she then speak a few words in tongues? It seems a bit contrived to me.

The late Paul Crouch, speaking touchingly about “doctrinal doo doo!”

I also enjoy watching when Paul Crouch, who, along with his wife, Jan, is one of the station’s founders, comes on to beg for money. He wears these weird looking ties to go along with his funky combed over hair and the extremely tasteless gold furniture on the set. I watched last night while he begged for money to help set TBN up in China! The other night, Paul Crouch claimed that the government of Fiji demanded that TBN set up more stations there. But to do that, they needed more satellites and for that, they need more of your money, so call now, PLEASE! Apparently, TBN is all over the world now, spreading all over the place like a virulent disease! And are these folks in third world countries pledging money to support the TBN kingdom in Santa Ana, California? If they are, is this the best use of their hard earned money? Come to think of it, is pledging money to TBN the best use of anyone’s hard earned money?

Jesus is COMING!

There were about eight middle-aged guys standing behind Crouch last night, and a couple of guys were in three-piece suits. One guy in a three-piece suit (ETA: I later learned it was Roger McDuff) who regularly appears on TBN fundraisers looks just like a big ole Q tip. He has curly white hair that sits atop his head; when he sings, he looks like he’s either going to take a big dump or have a heart attack. There’s another guy with a goatee and bleached blond hair who always sings a song called “Come On In”, which sounds like it was written for Branson, Missouri. The other guys look like they missed out on Nashville and became aluminum siding salesmen instead. They appear to have come fresh from a convention. As I watch them on stage, singing about Jesus, I get the feeling they’re all heading for a bar for some bourbon (probably Jim Beam) and soda after they’re finished with their musical numbers. The camerapeople never miss panning over the audience, though, to catch folks singing along, or closing their eyes in reverence or powerful swooning as these fools in their suits sing their pseudo country songs about Jesus. Of course, sometimes the songs are more R&B influenced. In my opinion, there’s nothing wrong with programming religious music that’s more mainstream, but if you’re gonna do it, at least invite singers who look like they believe in the words they’re singing. Some of these ding a lings look about as sincere as game show hosts.

She’s pissed that nativity scenes can’t be displayed on public property. Happily, she no longer cares about such Earthly trivialities.

I was spared the sight of Jan Crouch and her pink hair and flashy, sequined clothes last night, but I’ve often seen her on other nights. She reminds me a little bit of a warped game show model, sort of hovering by, looking on supportively as her husband wheels and deals for cash. Sometimes I wonder what kind of a life she leads. What was her wedding day like? Yes, I know… I have too much time on my hands. She wears so much makeup that under all those hot lights she looks like a plastic doll that was held too close to a flame. Half her face melts off in the heat. Any day now I expect her pink hair to melt down like a big wad of cotton candy after a summer storm.

The point of all of this ranting? I don’t get the feeling that this network is about worshiping God or Jesus at all. I get the feeling that this network is about cheating people out of their money, occasional entertainment, sometimes good, but often pretty laughable and mediocre, and tasteless and tacky behavior. My husband and I were flipping channels one day and we actually caught an extremely garish wedding being broadcast. It must have cost well over $100,000, it was such a production. And despite all of the dancing in the aisles that went on, I didn’t get the feeling that the ceremony had anything to do with two people joining together in the presence of God. What’s more, it was on cable TV for all the world to see.

I remember watching this wedding on TBN. It was between Juanita Bynum, a self-described “prophetess” and Stephen Weeks. The marriage did NOT last, despite all of the money spent and religious people involved.

For all its money grubbing, though, TBN does have its sterling moments. Sometimes there’s a good religious show on with a pastor who has a worthwhile message from the Bible that speaks of something besides tithing. Not only are the messages sometimes good, but the person delivering them is often a pretty good speaker. The Saturday morning lineup is okay sometimes, although I think if I were a kid, I’d probably rather watch another channel. If you’re a Davey and Goliath fan though, TBN is the place to be on Saturdays.

Do I recommend TBN? Not if you’re serious about wanting to praise or worship God. If you want a laugh, then yes, TBN is fine. Every once in awhile, you might even come upon an inspiring program where a pearl of wisdom will be imparted onto you. Sometimes you’ll laugh. Sometimes you’ll see some bizarre things that will make you wonder. But I do caution you to be careful. Some of this programming might be dangerous if you don’t keep yourself grounded in reality. There are some people who can’t seem to do that. Unfortunately, those poor souls are the ones that keep TBN in business.

And here are the comments from that post. One person apparently thinks I’m going to Hell.

10 comments:

  1. AlexisARApril 12, 2013 at 6:16 AMI think the Q-tip head guy might be Roger MacDuff, or something similar to that.My mom was telling me several TBN stories 9To be honest, I haven’t found the channel yet since we moved. I need to find it.) Someone was hosting the fall or spring praise-a-thon (the big findraisers)- I think it was Dean Brown of the Dean and Mary Brown singing duo. He spoke on the microphone to a woman on the stage who happened to be Roger’s wife. He asked her if she was a singer. She said, “No, my husband’s a singer.” He laughed and said , “You call Roger as singrer?” obviously jokingly, although those of us with discerning ears might have fund truth in his words.Roger’s wife found neither humor nor truth in Dean Brown’s words. “I most certainly do consider Roger a singer.” she practically exploded.

    My mom said another time during the fall or spring praise-a-thon the collective group of singers was just sort of jammming on songs they all knew, acompanied mostly by m/ary /brown on the piano. Mary Brown is a versatile pianist with a good ear who changes keys and songs at will. Someone had invited an obnoxious trumpet player who was olaying some sort of micro-trumpet. The trumpet isn’t the ideal instrument to accompany a grrup of singrers jamming to gospel songs or anythig else. The trumpet has its place, but that place is not an impromptu vocal jam. Mary Brown apparently agreed with my mom, so she was modulating all over the place in a very successful attempt to lose the trumpet player, ho lacked the skills and ear to keep up with her key changes. 9They were harmonically sound changes, my mom said, with seamless transition chords. The singers could hear it and follow, but the poot trumpet player didn’t have a prayer f following aloing. Mary Brow and her husband Dean must have disagreed on the appropriateness or necessity of having the trumpeter play along. At onepoint a cameraman or controller slipped up (or maybe they showed it on purpose; who knows?) and showed Dean Brown shaking his fist at his wife Mary.

    Do you remember Nancy Harmon and the Love Special? I’ve seen her on videotape. Nancy Harmon may be still alive and kicking and maybe even performing, or she may be six feet under. I haven’t a clue. nancy had whatactually sounded like not a bad black gospel singer voice, although she was about as white as Lee Harvey Oswald. She tended to have a lot of young people on her program who were not exactly overloaded with talent. I have to give her credit for trying to give them all their big breaks.

    At one point, rumors concerning Nacy harmon’s person life were apparently circulating. She devoted the mojority of one show to addressing those responsible for passing these rumors. she and all her young bsack-up singers were quite vtrioli in calling these rumor mongers to repentance. My best guess id that someone in the rumor circuit had accused ms. Harmon, a singlewoman, of being a lesbian, but the topic of the rumors was never addressed.

    I’ve seen a coul eof videotapes of LaVern and Edith tripp’s show. Edith Tripp (Edith Tripp was supposedly part Indian princess. Why is it that no one is a descendant of common Indian stock, but, instead, of Indian royalty?) had a solo every week, yet you could walk into a random IHOP and pick the first person you saw and hand him or her a microphone, and the person’s performance would be superior to that of edith tripp.
  2. knottyApril 12, 2013 at 1:19 PMSince I wrote that review, I have pretty much given up on watching TBN. We moved a few months later and our new cable service didn’t air TBN. I got out of the habit. I will admit that religious programming can be very funny, though. And of all the networks, TBN seems to have more comic moments than others.
  3. AlexisARDecember 10, 2013 at 8:41 AMDo you know who the guy is with the goatee and bleached blond hair?

    my mom’s best friend lives nd teaches in a part of California that has a lot of dust Bowl Oklahoman and Arkansan descendants, and it’s essentially an extension of the Bible Belt. she got so tired of one woman on her staff sending out mass emails promoting one of Pastor Paula’s appearances that she forwarded the emails to the district technological director and complained. the offensive emails were stopped, but now the God-squadders hate my mom’s best friend (how Christ-like of them) but she’s fine with that as long as she isn’t bombarded with any more offensive emails. 
    1. knottyDecember 10, 2013 at 3:19 PMPerhaps I should take a similar action with my uncles who keep sending me emails full of racist political bullshit.  

      I don’t know who most of the people on TBN are… but I do get quite a kick out of watching that network!
  4. UnknownApril 16, 2014 at 12:36 AMPaul Crouch recently passed away…one of the sons is now running the station (he and his wife look like the younger versions of Paul and Jan). The older son has been exiled since his daughter is suing the network for financial abuses and sexual misconduct. With all the money this network is worth, one can only imagine the amount of corruption there is in that organization. BUT, if you REALLY want a laugh, you ought to tune into SBN, the network of Jimmy Swaggart (yes, he’s still around)! He’s maintained control through generational incest (Jimmy, the son Donnie and his son Gabriel). They’re all alike! One show that will really give you a laugh is called “Frances & Friends.” It’s Jimmy’s wife, Frances, and a “panel” of sycophants who discuss doctrine and current events! The ignorance of these people is astounding…I’ve never seen anything quite like it on TV! It’s actually quite sad because it confirms every negative stereotype that’s out there regarding Christians! I am one, so it makes me cringe to think that anyone (however dishonest) would buy that ALL Christians are like that! Anyway, check it out! You might have to search hard…some areas don’t list them as SBN, but instead the station is carried on a series of stations all called “Shop Zeal.” Good luck!
    1. knottyApril 16, 2014 at 1:15 AMLOL… Thanks Thurza! We seem to have a number of religious stations where I live and every once in awhile, I pass them on the dial. We very well might have Swaggart’s station. I’ll look for it!
  5. UnknownAugust 25, 2015 at 1:22 AM“Do not touch My anointed ones” Ps 105:15 and I Chron 16:22; very dangerous
  6. knottyAugust 25, 2015 at 7:12 AMHuh?
    1. AlexisARAugust 3, 2017 at 9:47 AMI didn’t see Cici girl’s reply earlier. She’s one of the people who takes psalms 105: 22 and 1st Chronicles 16:22 (“Touch not mine anointed, and do my prohets no harm”) literally and assumes they plainly refer to the hustlers on TBN. Wouldn’t it be nice to have the faith (and intelligence) of a small child?
    2. knottyAugust 3, 2017 at 9:52 AM😀 That would be so nice.
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