The people who have less trouble with the deceitful lies that keep you overeating are the people who watched Weigh Down’s Orientation Video and decided from the start that I was a leader from God, so they submitted themselves freely to the teachings on the tapes and followed EVERYTHING. They did not arrogantly pick and choose some of the teachings, but ALL of them, because they knew they were from the Lord1Weigh Down Workshop archive e-mail #29, Subject: Solid Food, Thursday, April 20, 2000 1:28 PM
There seems to be a common characteristic (and technique) among deceivers and false teachers of different stripes. They formulate an idea that resonates with unwary hearers but is not biblical in spite of having a biblical “feel” to it. The newly concocted concept or claim is or appears to be, loosely connected to a faith question, and the clear suggestion is that “The Church” has completely fallen down on the job in its teaching in this supposedly crucial area. Therefore, it is claimed, the Lord has supposedly elevated (anointed) the particular false teacher – fill in the blank – to a type of prophet status to save the sheep from the lax shepherds in their church and “The Church” at large.
Gwen Shamblin rode into prominence on the towering cultural wave of Physical fitness – or lack thereof. In Shamblin’s world, true spirituality can and should be measured by one’s weight. Thin is Godly – carrying extra weight is a grave and spiritually dangerous indication of one’s refusal to submit to the Lord. The overweight had already for decades been made to feel somewhat inferior in secular culture – now they would learn that God Himself is rejecting them for their failure to keep their weight in check. Gwen started her “ministry” – and made huge money – teaching in churches. Of course, churches were not tying godliness to one’s desire and determination to stay trim. As her following grew among Christians, this was the proof Gwen Shamblin needed to support her claim that God had called her to rectify this by taking out a remnant of true believers from among them. She condemned the very churches who had brought her to prominence and great wealth and convinced her staunchest followers to leave them to go with her.
Once her followers embraced her claim to an exalted status they unquestioningly followed “EVERYTHING” she taught because her teachings “were from the Lord.” Prophets of the Lord cannot be questioned, and Gwen clearly claimed “prophet status” for herself.
“I feel like I have the same calling that Ezekiel, Jeremiah, Amos, Zephaniah, and Micah all had…”2Weigh Down Workshop archive e-mail #29, Subject: The Key to this Treasure, Friday, May 12, 2000 10:20 AM
Gwen Shamblin brought many unsuspecting believers into bondage in the late 1990s, and like a pied piper, led them right out of their churches and into her newly formed church cult, Remnant Fellowship.
The new and compelling HBO Max documentary, “The Way Down: God, Greed and the Cult of Gwen Shamblin” details only a little about her beginnings and her rapid growth and enrichment that occurred within the churches.
A fuller picture would detail her beginnings in 1992 when Shamblin began distributing audio and video cassettes and began peddling workbooks of her “weight loss program” to churches. Twenty churches signed up almost immediately. The program quickly crossed denominational lines and throughout 1992 about twenty churches per month were added to her stable. By January of 1993, this number grew to sixty per month and secular media started to pay attention to her success. Over the next several years, Gwen was featured in major periodicals and newspapers, such as Woman’s Day, the New York Times, US News and World Report, Self, USA Today, and National Enquirer. In 1997 her first book, The Weigh Down Diet, was published by Doubleday and sold more than a million copies. Soon she appeared on Hard Copy, A Current Affair, James Robison, the 700 Club, ABC’s The View, 20/20, and Larry King Live. She gained international renown by being interviewed on foreign media outlets. In 1998, she launched a second program called Out of Egypt to deal with other types of addictions. In 2000, Thomas Nelson Publishers published Shamblin’s second book, Rise Above. It was launched with a 25-city publishing tour with expected sales of 2,000,000.
In mid-August of 2000, we began receiving phone calls and emails with questions about an updated Statement of Faith on the Weigh Down Workshop website. We (MCOI) are a mission to cults and non-Christian religions and weight loss programs do not normally fit into either of those categories. As a result, we hadn’t heard of Shamblin or Weigh Down Workshop. In this case, however, the question was a doctrinal one. The new statement seemed to be denying the doctrine of the Trinity and deity of Christ. At the time, her program was in 30,000 churches across 60 denominations in seventy countries had been featured on the 700 Club and published by Thomas Nelson. In short, Gwen had fully achieved the Evangelical imprimatur. We at first assumed she had been doctrinally vetted and that perhaps the statement reflected mere ignorance on the subject. Perhaps Gwen might have been employing imprecise or incorrect language without understanding the issues involved.
In an effort to be helpful and head off a potential crisis, I called Weigh Down Workshop on August 23, 2000. The receptionist answered, “Weigh Down Workshop/Remnant Fellowship.” I asked about “Remnant Fellowship” and was informed that Gwen had recently formed her own church of that name. That was surprising to me, and I asked the receptionist if the churches which were hosting her program were aware of her “new church?” Were the churches at all nervous that she might be recruiting from them? The individual didn’t seem to know how to respond. I then asked about the statement on the Trinity and was offered the opportunity to speak directly with Gwen. I had hoped to speak with Gwen, so was glad for the opportunity. I introduced myself and explained what our ministry, MCOI, does. She was pleasant at that point. I explained our concerns and offered to assist in rewriting the statement. To my surprise, she launched into a diatribe that I was a false teacher promoting a pagan doctrine. I thanked her for her time, and we disconnected. Joy, our Senior Researcher Ron Henzel and I discussed it and decided to issue a press release outlining the problem and conversation. We didn’t really expect many would pay attention. As it turned out, Christianity Today saw our press release, and called Gwen to verify what we had said. Her was response was,
People don’t care about this. They don’t care about the Trinity. This is going to pass. What the women want is weight loss3CT included the statement in their October 23, 2000 article by John W Kennedy with additional reporting by Todd Starnes, ‘Gwen in the Balance.” ChristianityToday.com; p3
With that, we were off to the races. Woman were particularly offended by Gwen’s shallow depiction of them. Turns out many women are more concerned about sound doctrine than weight loss. We were informed later by former member/employees that was a major turning point, where she went from sending out a thousand copies of her program a week to having a thousand copies per week being returned.
A few days after the press release Michael Hyatt, Senior VP of Thomas Nelson Publishers called. He was concerned and after introducing himself said, “I hear we have a problem.” I pointed out that “we” don’t have a problem – he does, and I went on to explain the Statement of faith and detail the phone call I had with Gwen. At that point, Thomas Nelson had sold 185,000 copies of the anticipated two million sales of Rise Above and had just finished printing 300,000 copies of Gwen’s next book, Exodus: Out of Egypt, which was about to ship. He said he was meeting with her on that Friday and asked how I thought it would go? My return question was, “Have you ever met with a Jehovah’s Witness elder?” He had not. I suggested he strap himself in, as this will be one of the more difficult meetings of his career. He called back on Saturday and told me the only time Gwen stopped talking was to take a breath. They ended up pulling her book under “mutual agreement.” In a matter of months, she went from hundreds of thousands of followers to a relative handful. However, she was quite wealthy at that point. Well over a million people had participated in the Weigh Down Workshop at a cost of $103.00 for a first-time participant with a $50.00 additional fee for a second family member – in addition to her voluminous book and paraphernalia sales. And, yes, as it turns out, she was using the churches to recruit for her new church. Speaking of her uber spiritual weight-loss “gospel,” Gwen said to her followers,
How and why this message has been left out of the most basic church teaching is a mystery, but in many ways, we now have an opportunity to go back and plant the Good News inside both non-Christians AND the lukewarm pew-warmers that we all have in our own churches. In other words, this is true evangelism and true missionary work, and all of you are planting true holy seeds4Weigh Down Workshop archive e-mail #37, Subject: Pilot Class Update, Jun 15 2000 14:04:39 EDT
In Remnant Fellowship’s recent “Press Release: Official Response to HBO Max Documentary” they claim, “Our Christian beliefs are Bible-based,” but that is a complete falsehood. Her false teaching goes well beyond the doctrine of the Trinity.
Shortly after this all began for us, we read Gwen’s book, Rise Above, published by Thomas Nelson. We discovered that in addition to denying the doctrine of the Trinity, Gwen essentially taught a view of God remarkably like one from the Greco-Roman pantheon. Her God is incredibly handsome and perhaps smart but not omniscient.
God is so good-looking, so athletic, so powerful, and so charming that upon first sight, we would all immediately bow down and adore Him. So, He made Himself invisible to make the contest a little more fair. On top of that, He is such a humble gentleman that He took us to Egypt and allowed us to meet His rival face-to-face.5Gwen Shamblin, Rise Above, Thomas Nelson Publishers. 2000, p24-25
However, there was a price to pay for her God making Himself invisible which he had not foreseen, according to Gwen.
He is going to let us “date around” – that’s plan A – so we can appreciate what a great choice He is. But unfortunately, some of His children – in fact, a lot of His children – have lost their focus and become distracted, and therefore found their hearts enslaved to Egypt, with no idea of how to get out of this relationship. This was not part of Plan A. So, God had to resort to Plan B: a duel – a boxing match – a fight.6Gwen Shamblin, Rise Above, Thomas Nelson Publishers. 2000, p25
Her God is “the great CEO” and according to Gwen, has a “magic chair.” From time to time Her God would be out of the office (we don’t know where He goes) and Satan, His employee, would sneak into the office, sit in the magic chair which gives more power to whoever sits in it. Two short video clips of Gwen waxing eloquent on this might be helpful. The first clip has the employee sitting in the Magic Chair.
The second clip tells us that the Great CEO was unaware and was shocked when He returned.
The recent HBO Max documentary is an extremely helpful piece, and quite fascinating, but of course its focus is on the sad stories of those caught up in Remnant Fellowship and the great difficulty they had extracting themselves – and often their children – from Gwen and her cult. This blog is already longer than usual, but we intend to focus our attention on some of these horrendous personal stories in a future blog. Those who want more info might be interested in reading “Weighed Down with False Doctrine,” “Weigh Down Workshop a Cult?,” and “Camping With Gwen or Will the True Remnant Please Stand Up?”, all of which can be found on the MCOI website.
The error of the churches that contributed much to Gwen’s meteoric growth and success amongst Christians in the pews has nothing (of course) to do with their neglect of “weight loss spirituality” but sadly does point up a shocking laxity in allowing a false teacher and/or teachings access to their churches and people without proper and vigorous doctrinal vetting. We in the church tend to rely overmuch on the assumption that surely other churches or Christian publishers or SOMEONE must have checked the popular teacher out for grievous error since they are in so many church venues. Hence Gwen Shamblin, the popularity in the church today of the Enneagram, Critical Race Theory, and so on. But the Lord, through the apostle Paul, puts this sobering burden squarely on the individual church’s elders, not supposed Christian publishers or the “church circuit.”
Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them. Therefore be alert (Acts 20:28-31a)Ω
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|↑1||Weigh Down Workshop archive e-mail #29, Subject: Solid Food, Thursday, April 20, 2000 1:28 PM|
|↑2||Weigh Down Workshop archive e-mail #29, Subject: The Key to this Treasure, Friday, May 12, 2000 10:20 AM|
|↑3||CT included the statement in their October 23, 2000 article by John W Kennedy with additional reporting by Todd Starnes, ‘Gwen in the Balance.” ChristianityToday.com; p3|
|↑4||Weigh Down Workshop archive e-mail #37, Subject: Pilot Class Update, Jun 15 2000 14:04:39 EDT|
|↑5||Gwen Shamblin, Rise Above, Thomas Nelson Publishers. 2000, p24-25|
|↑6||Gwen Shamblin, Rise Above, Thomas Nelson Publishers. 2000, p25|