Fellowship Of The Bling: How The Remnant Fellowship
Cult Uses The Media
by Rafael Martinez, Co-Director, Spiritwatch Ministries
it works, it must be O.K.”
many times have you heard that before? If some new way of doing things gets
results, so this popular wisdom goes, who are we to question it? Whatever
works, right? Different strokes for different folks – testimonials can’t
be wrong, either! It’s an almost universal response by those who encounter
some unconventional wisdom that seemingly achieves amazing results. And
nothing engages the attentions of Americans more than the allure of new
diets that offer hope to men and women seeking the health and happiness that
a new, slender self must surely bring. Billions of dollars annually spent in
our nation show that there are millions of people willing to give
“whatever works” a try to shrink waistlines and sculpt bodies.
such diet that promises “permanent weight loss” not to mention an inner
makeover of the heart and spirit has been making the rounds across American
media markets that we believe should be looked at very closely. Complete
with heartfelt testimonials of dramatic weight loss and an ensemble of well
dressed, slender and enthusiastic people praising the program, it does
indeed seem to “work.” But does that mean it really is “okay?” We at
Spiritwatch Ministries believe an alternative perspective on its
accomplishments needs to be seriously considered by those contemplating
involvement with it.
On July 20, 2006 Gwen
Shamblin, the founder of this program called the Weigh Down Workshop (WDW)
appeared on NBC’s
“Today Show” (click to watch clip) with host Matt Lauer (1) in a promotional
spot. Along with
them appeared a young couple who lost over 500 pounds between
the two of them while on the diet. What wasn't explained at
the same time is that Shamblin is also the “prophet” and leader of the
controversial Franklin, Tennessee-based religious movement called Remnant
Fellowship (RF). This is one of several facets of Shamblin’s background
that are usually overlooked - or ignored - by those features editors who
interview her for their publications or broadcasts. Since 2001, Weigh
Down’s results have won it attention from many newspapers, in several
in August, 2005, on the CBS “Morning Show” (click to watch clip)
as well with former Miss America Debbye Turner interviewing Shamblin and
some of her Weigh Down participants for a health spot. On August 23,
Shamblin dropped in on the Fox Network's "Fox And Friends" morning
show (click to watch clip) with a radiant testimony of how you can
"pray your pounds away." Some true believers of Weigh Down see its
ability to gain media attention as almost providential ... even as a new
movement of spiritual awakening.
While we realize that
diet programs are a perennial focus for media attention, in Weigh
Down’s case, there is profound reason for caution as well as concern –
for not all that glitters is gold, no matter how laudable the results may be.
We are reminded that the now defunct Enron Corporation also had impressive
results, as did the inspirational mulling of James Frey’s self-recovery
bestseller “A Million Little Pieces.” Both seemed to be “working”
and working well for so many people until the realitybehind the
“results” became public. This fits with the
Western civilization's deferral to pragmatics as the new standard for
smoke and mirrors were finally cleared away, the reality behind the
overstatement, distortion or outright fabrication could then be seen by a
world stunned by the breathtaking deception, then sobered by how empty the
claims turned out to be.
The Weigh Down Workshop (WDW)
has gained the following it has because of its simplicity of approach. It promotes a stabilized food intake regulated by what
calls “God’s boundaries” of “hunger” and “fullness”(concepts
pioneered by the Christian "Thin Within" diet long before Shamblin
even finished college). You eat
only when your stomach growls and signals actual hunger and you stop eating
when you feel full. In Shamblin’s approach, no food is off limits, meaning
you can gobble all the broccoli or chocolate you want so long as the
“natural” impulse to stop eating when full is obeyed. You can then
minimize one’s portions to accelerate weight loss as desired. But above all
there must be complete faith in Shamblin’s homespun spiritual teachings
that she says will enable anyone to undercut urges to binge or overeat. The basic principles of her revelation proclaim that a
“genius God” has created humanity to eat according to these boundaries,
stands ready to help it abide by them but who will also hold it accountable for
not doing so.
While the Weigh Down diet
may facilitate weight loss by curbing appetite through spiritually motivated
self-discipline, it is by no means a balanced
program. The primary factor
for weight loss is a scrupulous attention to one’s digestive cues that
they are physically hungry: Shamblin explains that “the body was
made perfectly - you will be learning to listen to it and trust God’s
programmed signals” (2). Scrupulous attention to these
“signals” are part of a required obedience to what she calls “God’s rules for eating .. (which show) you the futility of
man-made rules.” (3). Even though she is a dietician by training,
she discourages attention
to counting calories and limiting foods of high
fat or sugar content, nor is there much concern for planning balanced diets
with nutritional value. Weigh Down dieters are excused from reliance upon a
personal exercise regimen also – these are all downplayed as being part of
a worldly wisdom that ultimately falls short of “God’s rules.” All of
these underlying deficiencies, however, render the diet’s
as questionable at best since more conventional dietary wisdom takes into account
both food content and exercise which Shamblin intentionally neglects
(read her biographical paragraph in this section).
But the “before/after”
pictures of Weigh Down participants are legion. Bright-eyed teens and
excited adults aglow with passion still beckon in the introductory videos.
If it works, it must be O.K. Weigh Down’s testimonial subjects, featured everywhere
in Remnant websites
and media kits, press home the challenge: “Look at the fruit! Look at the changed lives!”
We couldn’t fully agree
with them more. The fruit should be inspected most carefully. The
“Change” should be looked at most closely. Let’s see the flip side of
the peel ..
1999, Shamblin’s unveiling of her Remnant Fellowship church vision has
profoundly changed her WDW focus: the underlying motivation for weight loss
as she now advocates it is nothing less than one’s personal salvation. It
remains an unspoken truth held implicitly by Weigh Down Workshop
coordinators but who say nothing to their new recruits during orientation
– who would stick around a diet program if they discovered their diet
“coach” really believed you were in sin for being overweight and in
danger of hell fire? There were faint suggestions of this in her early program
curricula, but after Shamblin’s Remnant Fellowship church was founded that
year, it became clear that in her mind those in churches struggling with
weight loss are guilty
of the sins of gluttonous self-indulgence, carnal rebellion and
hypocrisy. From that year onward, she continually condemns the
Christian Church as apostate, accursed by God and in the bulls-eye of His
impending judgment – and extols her Remnant Fellowship chapters as the
only gatherings of truly sinless and righteous people, where mortal
overweight is assigned a crushing moral weight. In this Remnant worldview,
doctrine” is a cherished belief she has indoctrinated her flock
with which they won't admit to outsiders for all too
What many prospects are
completely unaware of is how “Ms. Gwen” has transformed her Weigh Down
enterprise into a recruiting tool for her new
religion. (click to watch an RF member's testimony demonstrating this).
Every Weigh Down
participant hears Remnant Fellowship upheld as the only possible support
system for the program: “As you’ve learned by now, Weigh Down is simply
mere Christianity, and the seminars are simply gatherings of the sheep or
lambs of God.” (4). With this
of Weigh Down members as divinely chosen, Shamblin defines in her book Rise
this “mere Christianity” actually is: “(a Weigh Down class is) ..
really just a gathering of ‘the called out’ who study God’s Word and
practice repentance. .. We can meet with the group assembled every week and
confess the food we overate.” (5).
into joining Remnant by social contact, WD members' personal weight loss then morphs into a public
issue for group censure: indeed, virtually all of its members joined after
becoming involved with WD seminars. Repentance and confession from the
“sin” of eating “one bite past full” and the exaltation of personal
weight loss as a test of Christian “fellowship” have been in place since
these initial “suggestions” were made. And Shamblin endlessly advocates recruitment
for the diet seminars as Christian evangelistic
work her Remnant flock must be about doing: "Remember that your
outreach can be ministered through the basic Weigh Down
seminars. It is God's evangelism for His Remnant of
He is snatching people out of the fire and saving them from the flimsy
whitewashed walls that have been built by the false prophets. Keep these
outreaches going at all times" (6).
By resorting to this manipulative socializing, Remnant betrays itself as being a
using “whatever works” to attract and retain its members. Alternating
applications of both praise and condemnation are employed to coerce
compliance to Remnant ideals. Members can experience the sweetest
expressions of concern one minute and be verbally pistol-whipped the next by
“Weigh Down saints” for failure to meet the purely arbitrary social
standards of the group(7). In assuming the mantle of a prophet of God,
her apocalyptic vision in which everything not
under Remnant’s control is accursed by God and dismissed as Satanic, beneath
attention or concern (click link to hear Shamblin herself affirm this).
Who could dare question her? The weight loss proves she’s right!
prophecies of the destruction of New York City after September 11, 2001 and the
a post-Katrina New Orleans by hurricane Rita in September, 2006 were fearful oracles meant to
reinforce and further exalt her authority to dictate to her followers what
is true and false, how to live, how to think. The assumption that
Shamblin's feigned prophetic power underlies her ability to identify the
"idolatry" in one's life that keeps you overweight is what draws,
indoctrinates and binds her followers to abusive allegiance.
After several years of counsel
with people abusively and heartlessly impacted by Remnant, I personally
know of many documentable and heartbreaking instances of
this. Time and
again, Shamblin and her cadre of
sycophantic “counselors” have preoccupied themselves with an
illegitimate degree of near total control over the lives of many in Remnant.
And who are these "counselors" and what professional
qualifications for the counseling they give out? They are the ones
personally proclaimed by Gwen as having achieved
"purity" through their "permanent weight loss," the only credential for directing people's lives that seems to count in
Remnant social circles.
"fruit" and the "changed lives" Gwen Shamblin won't tell
you about. 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." Instead, the size 6 dress and intimacy
with God are dangled before you. Who could then, being in the dark about the
other kinds of "fruit" and "changed lives" that have
occurred, ask for anything more? Who'd suspect such innocent engagement
ultimately controls hearts and
No one attends a Weigh Down
seminar to be targeted by a cult’s recruiters: that’s the tragedy of the
whole affair. No one directed to Remnant seeks to come under the
psychological bondage of an abusive sect. But the inner compulsion to lose
weight to look and feel better about one’s self in Western society is
profound, deep rooted and for many, an overwhelming preoccupation with an
industry filled with quackery. It drives
them to almost any length to achieve an elusive personal transformation that
would be a dream come true. The obese, unchurched homemaker and the plump,
insecure Church of Christ soccer mom want change
now. They want to do something and feel good about themselves now.
If a loving God's divine aid is appealed to by equally loving, pretty
people, who could refuse? This is why Weigh Down enjoys the hearing it gets:
when it comes to one’s body
image and self-esteem in conflict with the standards of a culture that
despises fat physiques and demands slender figures, there’s very little to
give desperate and overweight people pause.
And even if flickers of
concern dance at the edges of their subconscious mind waving red flags and
suggesting something isn’t quite right or sounds “funny”, many still
reason themselves: If it works, it
must be O.K. They move
ahead and then embrace the Weigh Down perspective with a fervor that borders
on the religious, buying into its’ product line, hanging on the persuasive
words of those who say “Trust me, this really made a difference in my
life!” When the results of
any degree come, praised by a friendly group of fellow dieters that showers
love and attention through phone calls, emails and home visits, the ends
seem to justify the means. The innocent step into the religion of Remnant
Fellowship is then only a breath away, with a “prophet” ready to
“speak the truth” through her coterie of “Remnant saints.” And
another man or woman, without ever suspecting it, is ensnared by cultism
paving a road to hell with the best of intentions - and bringing along
family and children.
Today's media mavens are subject to a fascination with pop trends that usually overrides responsible
research or discernment simply because it sounds right and looks convincing.
Madison Avenue knows this all too well. That’s all it usually takes for a
fanciful new concept to go straight from the junk science that creates it
straight into road shows where passionate, glamorous and attractive speakers hawk glowing testimonials
of how awesome it all is. We see this time and again, so often that
it long ago became part of the mundane fabric of culture today. We’ve seen
the questionable pseudo-treatments of “New Age” alternative therapies
like therapeutic touch and reiki gain and hold medical market share. Who can
forget the apocalyptic shadows of the dreaded Y2K Bug that loomed over
global infrastructure in the late 1990’s and created a vast industry to
battle the phantom menace? In each of these cases, modern obsession with the
fanciful yet seemingly convincing does more than enough to silence sober
examination. If it works, it must be O.K, right?
"professionals" we think should know better betray a shallow credulity.
Too many editors and producers of media
outlets devoting coverage to the fleeting trends relating to health,
wellness and personal improvement have utterly failed to do enough background
research into the WDW-RF connection. Googling "Weigh Down" on a
computer desktop hooked to the Internet would have made that abundantly
clear. But such examination is too much lactual work to do, so the celebrity
treatment of Weigh Down as just another benign “faith based diet”
despite its very real flaws and shady history is to be lamentably
expected – but never excused. Every media organization we've cited
above - from TV networks to magazine editors - is guilty of a towering
irresponsibility and an abysmal lack of journalistic objectivity. Their obsession with ratings and audience market share sweeps aside
any semblance of thorough research they could have done.
always, it seems to be far easier for these people to simply believe what the
all-important first impression communicates without asking too many
the "bling behind the thing", said one unknown postmodern pundit
about the draw of an audience to a shining, polished claim. Andre Agassi
summarized it equally well in a commercial a few years ago:
"Image," he said into a camera behind expensive sunglasses,
"is everything." So it's no surprise that the dramatic WDW
“testimony” of weight loss (complete with before/after photos of
impeccably dressed subjects) is apparently the only criterion advanced to
examine it's claims with. Knowing the image-consciousness of the media she's
seduces, Shamblin knows how to play the game. The glaring rough edges of the “New Jerusalem”
cultic trap door beneath the WDW are then completely unannounced and unexamined.
Millions in the audiences of these same
media outlets are exposed to the subtle deceptions of cultism magnified a
thousand fold by it's powerful ability to manipulate imagery, exaggerate
claims and mask itself as the next New Thing.
We anticipate more of
Gwen's bewitching of the media in the months to come. Her new targets are new
college students caught up in weight gain of the proverbial "freshman
fifteen". NBC's August 25th airing of an expose
of a cultic Puerto Rican pastor on the "Today Show" a
month later after giving the equally cultic Gwen Shamblin a seat of honor on
the same show is a demonstration of how hypocritical and misguided the media
can be. We will not cease demanding a return to
responsible examination of those who make such claims as Shamblin and her
tribe. And we would demand that all media outlets cease and desist from providing
her Remnant Fellowship cult the free promotion it craves that will only result
in shattered families, religious abuse and a replication of her dangerous
dietary doctrine. For the road to hell is often
paved with good intentions and TV Guides as well.
This cultural lemmings' march to the sea
is hardly new: it was anticipated years ago by Christian bard Larry Norman: although
Remnant Fellowship and a cult based around weight loss as Christian
purification were not in his mind at that time, his music captures perfectly
just what kind of "follow the leader" impulse that makes this
fellowship of the bling so appealing:
look to our leaders / They politely yawn / The press gives coverage / And
the world goes on."
(1) The official
"Today Show" website no longer has the page or video linked, but
the Weigh Down Workshop wasted no time in posting to its site off camera
pictures of Shamblin which you can see
(2) The Weigh Down
Diet, p. 32
(3) ibid, p. 4
Rise Above, p. 87.
(5) ibid, p.
(6) Remnant Resource,
p. 8. This is Remnant Fellowship's "Rebuilding The Wall:
Foundational Beliefs" handbook issued initially during RF's earliest
years only to RF members that contained many of the "insider
doctrines" kept confidentially by RF and carefully sanitized or
obfuscated in dialogue with non-RF members. Circulation of the book is now
tightly controlled - it may have been even discontinued.
Note the preserved transcript of Gwen Shamblin's "counsel" she
gave Laura Nichols as preserved in her testimony:
I'm really scared about some things that I have been hearing about you.
You called the office and talked with Jenny and said something about being
pregnant and that you did not want to report your weight to
Leadership...Let me tell you Laura that I was shock when I saw you in
Houston…that you had not lost any more weight that you have since
this past summer. Your body just can't go on in this state.... I
need to have Charlie Crossland call and counsel you cause he lost 330 lbs
in 18 months....There is no reason why you have not lost your weight....
Your weight should be coming off at nearly 10 lbs per week.
Laura, I'm scared for you. Now
remember Laura I could not be saying this to you if I didn't love you so
heard David say, "Amen, Laura we do love you”.
continued: "Mark, you ought to be getting after
her every time she is disobedient. You ought to love her enough and
be scared enough to understand that if she dies, she is lost and you
should be doing all that you can do not to let this over-indulging with
food continue. Mark I want
you to put Laura on the scales every week and call me with her weight
loss. Laura I want you to get
up in front of that Houston Remnant and confess your sin of greed of food
to them and tell them that you are going to step down in leadership and
show them who your God really is. Laura, get the weight off. I
also want you to find someone in your WDA group to take over your class
and you step down as a coordinator. Laura,
I should have put a stop to you 5 years ago and I didn't. You should
have never had this weight on your body this long...but I love you and I
want to help you. Please
understand Laura that I could only say these things to you because I love
you. I want the best for you."
"Amen!" from David Martin)
went on to say "O.K. guys! Mark
are you o.k.?” Mark replied yes.
are you o.k.?”
could hardly speak or even breathe. I
didn't know what had hit me. I
just knew that the words that were fixing to come out of my mouth, Gwen
was going to take the wrong way. I managed to say "I need to
get on my knees.”
goes on "Oh Baby, I love you, I really love
you, everything is going to be alright.
This is going to be the first day of the rest of your life and I
couldn't be more proud of you."
course, David just goes on with "Amen, Laura we do love you and we
are behind you!"
was so numb the only thing I remember was they said good-bye.
I was the last one to hang up our cordless phone.
I slammed in down on a table next to my recliner and nearly broke
it. Mark came in and told me "I know that you are mad, will you
talk to me?" I couldn't say anything to Mark.
I couldn't even look at him. I was paralyzed. It was
the weirdest state I had even been in.
I was raped when I was 18 and this was far worse than any
feeling I had related to that.
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