HBO Max’s new documentaries, The way down: God, greed and the cult of Gwen Chamblin,, delves into the bizarre and disturbing history of the Church of the Residual Fraternities, a religious cult with a toxic emphasis on diet. Founder Gwen Chamblin’s first success was The Weigh Down Workshop, a Christian diet program that preaches extremely intuitive nutrition alongside fundamentalist values. If that sounds bad, it pales in comparison to the horrific abuses that church members have been subjected to. And in case the whole saga wasn’t dramatic enough, Shamblin died in a plane crash earlier this year, along with her husband and several of her aides.
The first three episodes of The way down are available now, while the last two will debut in early 2022. Below are a few key things you need to know about Shamblin before you start overeating.
What was Gwen Chamblin’s weight loss program?
Chamblin, who said she struggled with weight during college, began a diet counseling practice in the 1980s and soon entered the weigh-in. The seminar essentially encouraged people to pray for weight by preaching that if you turn to God, he will “keep you virtuous and keep you from overeating.” This is according to a New York Times a 2004 piece that also notes that Chamblin believes “greed is a moral failure.” (Which should give you some indication of how psychologically healthy this whole program was.)
Chamblin was raised in the conservative Church of Christ, which does not allow female leaders. So in the late 90’s she broke away and created her own.
How did Chamblin found his own church?
After years of success with the Weigh Down program, Chamblin had sold millions of books and appeared Larry King live and The Tyra Banks Show, on The guardian. The logical next step was to expand her brand, and in 1999 she founded the Remnant Fraternities Church, which encouraged its members to pray through hunger and “deviate from the love of food and the love of God.” The Church promises a world in which “husbands are as sweet as Christ, women are obedient, and children obey their parents and find HAPPINESS in it.” according to a note on its official website, written by Chamblin’s daughter, Elizabeth Hannah. The church has more than 1,500 members worldwide.
The amusement church of the remaining fraternities website offers a number of tips on topics such as how to raise a God-fearing family, how to maintain your chastity during courtship, and how to raise obedient children. “While divorce, depression, obesity and uncontrolled children are becoming more common these days, in The Remnant we experience healed marriages, increasing joy, restored health, improved finances, and children who like to follow their parents’ guidance.” Information section. But that’s not all the Remnant members have experienced.
As described in detail in The way down, the church is both a money-making endeavor for Chamblin, and a cult that supposedly encourages violence against children. The first red flag came in 2004, when an 8-year-old child died in Atlanta and his parents, who were members of Remnant, were accused of killing him. According to Times, authorities stormed Chamblin’s office as part of this murder investigation. “A lot of our evidence is that they disciplined their children in ways recommended by the church,” a police captain said at the time. “It is possible that these two parents will take what they have learned to the extreme.”
According to The guardianChamblin had an alarming amount of power over every aspect of church members’ lives, including their finances, their marriages, and who they were allowed to see. The way down contains devastating testimonies from people who have lost family members to the church.
How did Chamblin die?
Just like The way down director Marina Zenovich was finishing the documentary, the story took a dramatic turn. On May 29, 2021, Shamblin and her husband, William Joseph “Joe” Lara, were on a jet with a pilot that crashed into a lake near Nashville, Tennessee. Everyone on board was killed, including Chamblin, Lara (who flew the plane) and five members of the church.
According to New York Times, the crash complicated the documentary series, in part because many more people were suddenly ready to talk to the directors. These include “former congressmen who said they did not want to publicly oppose the church before because they still have family members who are connected and relatives of those killed in the crash who are skeptical of the church and are now feel compelled to share their stories. ”
What did Remnant Fellowship say about the documentary?
IN statement shared last month, the Church of the Remaining Fraternities “categorically denied the absurd slanderous statements and accusations made in this documentary” and specifically denied any violence against children. “The children here are happy and healthy, raised with the most love, care, support and protection we can imagine,” the statement continued. The church also denied that anyone had been embarrassed or harassed by their weight.
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