Gwen Shamblin’s PR department must be celebrating. Score! A heartwarming story from CNN about Maggie and Andy Sorrels, a couple who lost a combined 580 pounds. Here are the before and after shots:
Seems amazing, right? Except that the Sorrels seem to have traded one addiction (food) for another (faith). And that’s not the worst of it. Shamblin’s methods for weight loss seem to have much more to do with group psychology and cult indoctrination than what would normally be labeled as ‘faith.’ It’s interesting that more mainstream Christians seem to be equally outraged. From the Christian site allaboutcults.org:
Followers have to accept Gwen’s belief that to eat outside of the bounds of natural hunger that Gwen has defined is to commit a sin. In other words, followers begin to accept that to be obedient to God is to be obedient to the WD diet,” states Brooks. Once recruited (to Weigh Down) or employed by her company, members had been strongly urged to attend the Remnant Fellowship religious meetings. The Spirit Watch report goes on to say that in time, those who do not attend have been dismissed, resulting in a religious discrimination lawsuits.
Additional testimonies report Remnant’s practices are:
- To downplay scientific and medical community data on diet (this gradually creates mistrust in “outsiders” and loyalty to Shamblin).
- To read and study only the NIV Bible and negate all other materials and commentaries as they present a “false Jesus and false grace message.”
- To misuse Scripture, taken out of context or misinterpreted at Shamblin’s will to fit her program.
- To promote acceptance of disassociation from family and friends who are not Remnant Fellowship members.
- To realize all other modern churches are counterfeit churches.
Not only that, Shamblin doesn’t prohibit the use of radical weight loss tools such as a gastric band. If you’re going to get a gastric band anyway, what’s the point in joining a diet cult? Here’s one story:
“Weight loss advice was overshadowed by the rhetoric implying that overeaters are courting eternal damnation. In class videos, Shamblin was self-righteous, her tone dictatorial. Gradually, I realized that Weigh Down had become a recruitment tool for the church Shamblin founded in 1999.”
To date, approximately 1,200 people have joined Remnant Fellowship; 650 picking up roots and moving closer to Shamblin’s multimillion-dollar estate in Tennessee.
However, Weigh Down and Remnant seem to do more harm to those who join than good. Goals are set, and if they are not met, Newsome said members are told they will go to hell. Guilt and shame are used to keep the members in line, and eternal damnation is said to be the punishment for “overeating.”
Laura Nichols is a prime example of how dangerous the program can really be for someone’s lifestyle and health.
After attending a Remnant retreat in 2002 (she had been teaching Weigh Down classes since 1998), Nichols left her Southern Baptist church to start a Remnant congregation in Houston.
Newsome reported, “When Nichols weight plateaued at 280 pounds, she says Shamblin chastised her for not losing more and told her to ‘stop being a billboard for sin.’ She had already had a gastric band put in and was eating a saucer of food per meal; now she started eating only nine bites of food a day. She lost 13 pounds in 10 days, bringing her total weight loss to 70 pounds. Church leaders wanted more. ‘Gwen told me to quit eating, that I had enough fat on my body to live off for many years,’ Nichols recalls.”
Cult debunker Rick Ross has a complete profile on Shamblin. None of this is news to me. Cults take advantage of members’ legitimate needs which create their vulnerability (previous post). Unwittingly, however, such seekers contribute directly to building the very organization that feeds on their misery. It would be hard to imagine a worse predator than someone who plays on people’s desperate need to lose weight. The obese are quite literally fighting for their lives.
But Shamblin’s extremism has cost lives, most notably the life of little 8-year-old Josef Smith who died at the hands of his parents in 2003. They were convicted of his murder in February, which was committed through beatings with 12-inch glue sticks (used because they inflicted the maximum pain with the minimum bruising), after having confined the poor little boy in his room for days with only a bible, both ‘disciplines’ endorsed by Shamblin’s Remnant Fellowship church.
These horrendous abuses were documented in a series of exposes by NewsChannel 5 (posted here at Religious Freaks). While Shamblin was not directly implicated in the killing, her methods definitely were. The Newschannel 5 expose caught her lying on tape about instructions she’d given for corporal punishment.
It’s only a matter of time before someone dies from Shamblin’s dietary hijinks. One has to wonder what kind of underground favors traded hands in the newsroom at CNN, or whether reporter Jacqueline Adams is a Remnant Fellowship member–or on their payroll? Why would someone write such a poorly investigated and uncritical story? Was her editor sleeping? Could it be possible Adams just didn’t know? All the options leave CNN with serious egg on its face.