The tradition of false teachers and abusive leaders trying to use the government as a club to threaten or crush leaders God has called goes back millennia. We see Sanballat employ the threat of reporting Nehemiah as treasonous and seditious in an attempt to stop Nehemiah (Nehemiah 6:5-7). Haman is another example we read about in Esther 3:7-10. Haman ended up being hung by his own noose. We find in the book of Daniel a similar attempted use of governmental power in Daniel 6:4-9 which ended up landing Daniel in the lion’s den. He emerged unharmed and then the plotters and their families were given their turn as dinner guests in the lion’s den. They didn’t fare as well. Today, particularly in Western nations, it is easier for false teachers to employ the weapon of government than in times past. They don’t need the ear of the king but can simply file a lawsuit against detractors. The Local Church of Witness Lee with the support of CRI attempted this tactic against Harvest House Publishers and authors John Ankerberg and John Weldon. Scientology has used this vehicle for years. Recently a new player has ventured into the arena of trying to silence critics via the courts. In November of 2006 Gwen Shamblin and a number of her followers in Remnant Fellowship filed suit against Anonymous Blogger and Rafael Martinez. No one seems to know who “Anonymous Blogger” is but Rafael Martinez is the Co-Director of Spirit Watch Ministries.
For those who have not heard of Gwen Shamblin, Weigh Down Workshop or Remnant Fellowship a brief overview may be helpful. Gwen was a nutritionist who developed a weight loss plan that she claimed was biblically based. In 1992 she began marketing video tapes of the program and over the next eight years she made her mark in Evangelical churches around the world and across all denominations as well as being a regular in the secular media due to her meteoric rise and accumulation of personal wealth. She had over a million participants at $103.00 per person go through her program in addition to her book sales (Weigh Down Workshop and Rise Above) as well as other WDW trinkets and paraphernalia.
In August of 2000 we at MCOI received a number of phone calls and emails from folks attempting to verify Gwen Shamblin’s view of the Trinity. Since we don’t really track diet programs we hadn’t heard of Gwen Shamblin or Weigh Down Workshop. After looking at her website I called and spoke with Gwen. She was very firm that the doctrine of the Trinity was of pagan origin and taught by false teachers in the apostate church. MCOI issued a press release which within days brought this to the attention of the church. We also pointed out that she had started her own church, Remnant Fellowship. In researching how she was able to infiltrate the church virtually unchecked we began looking at her material. In her “Remnant Fellowship Introductory Video, 2000” Gwen tells the viewer that for 20 years her plan was to sneak in to the back door of the churches:
For the last twenty years I’ve had concerns about the state of the church and my first response was Weigh Down which was a message that sent lordship, total lordship, into the back door really of churches.
We have looked at Gwen’s teachings and claims at some length in our articles, “Weighed Down with False Doctrine” in the Fall 2000 MCOI Journal, “Gwen Shamblin: Weighed and Found Wanting,” in the CRI Journal, “Weigh Down Workshop – A Cult?,” in the Winter 2001 MCOI Journal and “Camping with Gwen: Or Will the True Remnant Please Stand Up?” in the Spring/Summer 2002 MCOI Journal. In addition Rafael Martinez and Spirit Watch have continued monitoring and commenting on Gwen and her movement. He has compiled a great deal of information on his website, Spiritwatch.org in the section titled “About Gwen Shamblin and Remnant Fellowship.” Gwen’s teachings are a matter of public record and in the spirit of 1 Timothy 5:19-20 Gwen and the Remnant Fellowship leadership have been publicly exposed and rebuked. As pointed out, by her own admission she had to sneak in under the doctrinal radar through the back door of the churches and she did so under the guise of a weight loss program. She is very clear that she views all churches except hers as Babylon and the pastors as well as discernment ministries are regarded as false prophets and false teachers.
With her core teachings and beliefs being fairly well known and accessible through the Internet, Gwen is experiencing a more difficult time in growing her church than she did in garnering a following in her weight loss business. Even though she has managed to get a few television appearances recently, interviewers such at Matt Lauer, raise the question of her being a cult leader. Although she laughs it off it would cause concern in the minds of the television audience. Add to that the adverse press which was generated after her followers, Joseph and Sonya Smith who live in Georgia, were arrested and accused of beating their son to death. The results of the trial may prove interesting to the future of Remnant Fellowship.
Along Comes the Lawsuit
Reading the lawsuit is a little intriguing. Most material is about “an anonymous writer/publisher of a website…” The anonymous blogger began blogging in August of 2006. At first they were copying and pasting the writings of an individual from a private online discussion group. They interspersed their own thoughts with this material and used a few cut and paste pieces from Rafael’s writings. The lawsuit was filed on November 6 and by November 28 all of the entries had been removed and instead two links to Remnant Fellowship websites were in place. Anonymous Blogger also posted a long apology to Remnant Fellowship and Gwen Shamblin amidst claims that the devil made her/him do it (visions of comedian Flip Wilson).
As I read through the complaint, it appears that what Rafael is guilty of is living in Tennessee and having an anonymous person quoting portions of his material without his permission or consultation. On page 2 of the “First Amended Complaint” the last sentence of point 1 reads:
Additionally, Plaintiff’s bring an action for defamation by the Defendant Rafael Martinez who writings are related to the postings on the aforementioned website.
Point 4 of the same page declares:
The Defendant, Rafael Martinez, is a resident of the State of Tennessee.
The next several pages cite sample statements from the website and make accusations about “Anonymous Blogger” but it isn’t until we get to point 7 of page 5 that Rafael is brought in to play again with the one sentence:
The Defendant, Rafael Martinez, has written numerous false and hateful statements regarding the Plaintiff’s and their religious beliefs that are related to the postings by Anonymous Blogger.
So far, no examples of his supposed misdeeds are given with the exception of the crime of living in Tennessee. Finally, on page 6 point 16 the document supposedly gives examples of Rafael’s objectionable statements. Point 16 reads:
Defendant, Rafael Martinez, published one or more written false statements that were intended to impeach Plaintiff’s honesty, integrity, virtue, and/or reputation. The false statements expose the Plaintiff’s to hatred, contempt, and ridicule. The defamatory statements include, but are not limited to the following and have the same objective as the aforemention website of the Anonymous Blogger:
The three quotes which follow were not taken from Rafael’s site but from the Anonymous Blogger’s site. Shamblin’s attorney, Samuel J. Harris, is not actually dealing with the truth and/or validity of the statements in context but is charging Rafael on the basis of how someone else may have used or misused them. Even though that is the case looking at them can be helpful:
a. “She won’t tell you about the marriages that have ended, the children who have been starved and the family relationships dissolved directly due to her application of “God’s Rules.”
Even though this is a cut and paste statement it should be demonstratably true in a court of law. There are a fair amount of phone calls and emails that MCOI and Spirit Watch as well as other ministries receive on a fairly regular basis from parents whose adult children have cut off all communication. In other cases they are threatened to have all communication cut off if anything questionable is said about Gwen Shamblin and Remnant Fellowship. In some cases the followers move to Brentwood, TN to be in the “New Jerusalem” as Gwen calls it. In other cases a distraught spouse whose husband or wife has been told to join the group or face divorce calls in desperation. I suspect this is one case that the witnesses who desire to testify will be so numerous that they will have to draw straws in order to determine who will get the opportunity in order to keep it down to a reasonable number. Having this sort of testimony in court documents will also be helpful in demonstrating the truthfulness of these claims from a neutral source.
b. “Furthermore, Remnant Fellowship teachings are dangerous and destructive. Over the past five years, Remnant members have lost dangerous amount of weight, with extreme fasting often advocated (even 14-21 day fasts). Family relationships are often damaged because any family member who tries to convince a Remnant Fellowship member to leave the group is cut off.”
The second part of this has already been commented on but the first part is again a matter of public record. She has stated on a number of occasions that she based her diet theory on the Holocaust. I am fairly confident that Gwen would stop short of saying that Hitler was just running a very successful diet program but she has been fairly clear that at least parts of her ideas are based on the examples of those who lost weight while in the prison camps.
The third is also a matter of public record:
c. “The most disturbing development of Remnant Fellowship’s teachings include its advocacy over the past couple of years of extreme discipline for children raised in the movement, included repetitive and harsh spankings and whippings for children who disobey and do not maintain emotional control.”
Phil Williams of News Channel 5 in Nashville has done some very good work on this as well as other questions on Gwen Shamblin’s teachings. In his stories on the death of Joseph and Sonya Smith’s son Josef, he was able to show that one of the teachings of Remnant Fellowship leadership at that time was the showdown spanking which could last for hours and may include repeated spankings until the child stopped crying. He also points out that Remnant Fellowship members use glue sticks (rods used in glue guns) to punish their children because they inflict a great deal of pain but do not leave marks. The description and confirming sources are cited in Phil Williams report and I won’t repeat them here.
The fourteen count indictment filed against Joseph and Sonya Smith on June 15, 2006 includes beating their son Josef with a glue sticks and locking him in a box among other charges.
Gwen Shamblin and Remnant Fellowship may have gotten themselves in between a rock and a hard place on this one. If they back down it will serve to embarrass her before her followers. On the other hand, if they proceed with the suit against Rafael they will be embarrassed before the court and have the evidence enshrined in the court documents. Rafael’s response makes me smile and I am glad to call him friend. He ends with these words:
So who says Gwen doesn’t believe in Christmas? She sent me an early gift, one I took with humility and rejoicing (Matthew 5:11-12). The unvarnished truth is my defense, as well as the fortress of my One True God in Christ by the Spirit and it will be all established in a way beyond refutation .. thanks to this frivolous opportunism by a cultic movement finding itself increasingly under scrutiny.