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Gwen Shamblin's 'Weigh Down' gets a wet kiss from CNN

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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:

beforeafter

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:

  1. To downplay scientific and medical community data on diet (this gradually creates mistrust in “outsiders” and loyalty to Shamblin).
  2. 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.”
  3. To misuse Scripture, taken out of context or misinterpreted at Shamblin’s will to fit her program.
  4. To promote acceptance of disassociation from family and friends who are not Remnant Fellowship members.
  5. 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.


Comments (30 comments)

gadfly / August 6th, 2007, 7:15 pm / #1

This couple belong to a murderous CULT .. the editors of CNN need to hang their heads in SHAME for not doing their research and letting a CULT use the Sorrells and others as their skinny sockpuppets painted up brightly to lure others into their cult.

http://www.spiritwatch.org/RFblingmedia.htm

lizzyleux / September 4th, 2011, 8:32 pm / #2

The Sorrells are the best people I have ever had the pleasure of knowing and they truly love God and only eat between the bounds of hunger and fullness. I am not a member of remnant fellowship but I am friends with the Sorrells and think that their story is amazing.

Georgia / November 9th, 2007, 6:28 am / #3

I didn't see this on CNN… My ex-best friend joined this whole cultic movement in 2003. Prior to that- her mother was overweight and was doing Gwen's plan- (which tells you to 'wait for the hunger growl' then take one bite.. wait a few more hours before having more'..)Anyway- my friend- was SKINNY- approx 125 lbs or so- but joined because she was searching for something spiritually… after being involved with it for about 6 months- she packed up her family (husband and 2 small kids) and moved down there to Tennessee to live amongst them. Much to EVERYONE'S shock. I have tried CONTINUALLY to reach her.. she gave me her email and all- but she never writes back.. I emailed the main office and asked after her- they told me "yes, she's down here and doing GREAT! I will tell her you asked about her!"

It's sad.. because she has KIDS and this is truly some really twisted stuff. Hopefully someone will crumble her whole operation befor anything else horrible happens..

hunter day / February 23rd, 2011, 4:00 pm / #4

hey whats her name? i go to this church and it isnt twisted she teaches to eat when you are truely hungry and stop when your saticfied not eat one bite and wait a few hours. you should come out here to some church services and see the difference in people. and its not just food its also drugs and other stuff, you should really here the testimonies it's amazing! and al the kids LOVE worshiping God and when we go over to someones house without adults were still talking about God! and when ever some leadership come over to the house to check up on us it makes everything even more fun! you have to here the messege for yourself befor you take other people word. :)

PLEASE!!!!! come viset the church!! just to see for yourself

Pat / August 14th, 2015, 7:02 am / #5

My daughter moved to Brentwood and started the program……she came to visit awhile back…..has now lost 122 pounds…….such a different person…….so sweet and caring

Pat / August 14th, 2015, 7:05 am / #6

Our daughter moved to Brentwood last May………joined her best friend since Jr High and her husband………wow what a difference………she use to be so hateful……..now sweet and loving……I don't know what all the fuss is……..if our families want to lose weight and praise God while doing it……sounds very sensible to me

BlackSun / November 13th, 2007, 4:44 pm / #7

Georgia, that sounds all too familiar. Unfortunately we can’t save people from themselves. I hope she comes to her senses. I really wish there were legal structures in place to prevent this sort of thing. But unfortunately, it would require infringing on civil liberties.

That’s why the only defense is information and critical thinking.

All the best…

Sonja / February 2nd, 2008, 9:32 am / #8

I have read all the information about the Weigh Down workshop and I was scared but tried an 8 week class for myself. I am a very sceptical person and I questioned everything Gwen said. I have to admit that she basically just shows you what is written in the Bible and she doesn’t say you should just take one bite of food and then wait a few hours before taking another one as Georgia was saying. It basically is just to eat when your hungry and stop when you are satisfied. I just signed up for another class and I have seen nothing so far that is characteristic of a cult. I still question everything she says and I don’t just use the NIV Bible, I use any Bible I can find. I hope that this gives people a view from both sides and everyone can make up their own minds.

BD1421 / February 10th, 2008, 8:42 am / #9

Sonja (and others),

The cult characteristics are not found in the original Weigh Down program. Rather, Weigh Down is something of a stepping stone to yielding spiritual and psychological control. Losing weight, no matter how much, is an emotional experience. When one can look and feel better without those extra pounds, a burden is lifted and psychologically, we feel better about ourselves. This lift can create a great deal of gratitude and loyalty for the one who inspired the change, that is Gwen. Additionally, as the weight loss program is coupled with scripture, prayer and a sense of increased closeness with God, the participant begins to connect Gwen with their relationship to God. Seeking more materials (and more "success" and "happiness") from Gwen, one is quickly led into the Remnant movement. And Remnant is where one will easily find all of the cult characteristics you mention.

I know of what I speak. I was part of the Weigh Down staff for years and briefly was a Remnant member. I can say with all certainty that this "church" and everything surrounding it is indeed a cult, by every definition. If it is weight loss you seek through hunger and fullness methods with a spiritual connection, seek out 'Thin Within' – this program and book were around long before Weigh Down (some say Gwen plagiarized 'Thin Within') and lack the cult connection.

Pat / August 14th, 2015, 7:07 am / #10

Sonja what is wrong with someone feeling better about themselves and losing weight to boot? seems praising God while losing weight is a winner……….

Shawn / February 21st, 2008, 9:24 am / #11

I was introduced to Weighdown in 1997. A friend shared some of the tapes from the program with me. A couple of years later I decided to join a class. I loss 26 pounds in 7 weeks. I thought that was great. Over the years I gained some weight back and decided that I should do the class again in 2007. By this time all the materials had changed. While I did not agree with everything in the beginning sets of tapes and videos, I figured that I could exclude those things and just follow the basics of eating when humgry and stopping when I was satisfied. Before completing the new lessons I found myself in disbelief. The teaching had become more legalistic and statements of losing salvation and being rejected by Christ just turned me off, to say the least. I have not been able to look at the materials again without rejecting it. It took me a minuite to really understand why I could no longer exclude what I was hearing from what I wanted to hear. For some reason (because of the Holy Spirit) I could no longer look to the weighdown workshop materials, and I have tried. Reading some of the articles (I did not know, until now were out there) explained it all. I thank God for his protection!

Cheryl / June 17th, 2008, 12:32 am / #12

I lost a great deal of weight on this program. I have visited this church too… It is different but NOT a cult. It’s not even weird… just Biblical and trying to hold close to Scripture. But if you believe the rumors and the hype… oh well. If I lived in Nashville I would certainly go to this church. The families “AND THE CHILDREN” seem truly happy and very open, in spite of the critics.

Without this program, I would have probably died as a diebetic or heart attack victim like my grandparents, uncles, aunts, friends, etc…

I don’t think anybody is truly “ecumenical” unless you go to the same church… so let them up for a minute. Try being like Jesus for a change.

Cheryl…

AmenASHandF / December 19th, 2008, 3:14 am / #13

I hope the truth comes out about this religous organisations contribution to the parents out of line method for dealing with their son! This child didn’t deserve what he endured. All cruelity to children is heart breaking & intolerable! And organisations that contribute to a parents extreme methodes should be held as an excessory to the fact. I speak from personal experience.

FAF / January 11th, 2009, 3:45 am / #14

Gwen says that Jesus Christ is not equal to God the Father in power and authority. Go to Remnantfellowship.org and read the part entitled " The Essence of God" or something like that title. If Jesus Christ is not equal to God the Father in power and authority, and thus also the Holy Spirit equal to them, then she is not teaching the correct interpretation of the Triune Godhead that is one God and yet three entities, which is called the Trinity . She teaches it falsely and does not teach the Trinity equality of the three and yet ONe God . So, no Christian who believes in the equality of the Triune Godhead ( the Trinity) should have anything to do with this teaching or the teacher or Weigh Down or Remnant Fellowship or else you yourself will be under that anointing ( and it's not a good one when there's false teaching) and God is not happy when things are taught about Him that are false and and you may be held accountable yourself as teaching false teaching about God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit also, since you are supporting it. Get out now before there are consequences.

BlackSun / January 12th, 2009, 5:49 am / #15

FAF,

I'm assuming this is not a joke post. If it is, nicely done. But if you're serious, do you know how silly that sounds?

"This invisible pink unicorn at the core of your faith is wearing a bow tie, instead of tying a proper Windsor knot. It's a sacrilege."

Worse than any doctrinal problem is the absolute power Shamblin wields over followers, combined with the arbitrary and capricious nature of her directives. Her empire, like all personality cults, will eventually crumble under the weight of its own self-importance.

People who follow irrational doctrines will find no compelling reason to adhere to any one vs. another. The only solution is to reject all doctrines in favor of rational empirical knowledge.

FAF / April 29th, 2009, 12:39 am / #16

.False teaching (if you have read all the passages in the Bible on false teaching) is no joke. God is not laughing

BlackSun / April 29th, 2009, 12:51 am / #17

Please go read the comment guidelines…

lizzyleux / September 4th, 2011, 8:38 pm / #18

Tell me which scripture in the bible has the trinity in it please I would love to read it??

noteslinger / April 28th, 2009, 8:47 pm / #19

Another MAJOR error in Gwen's doctrine is she does NOT believe that Jesus is God at all but only a human who came to show us how to imitate him so God would be pleased with us… Totally false doctrine here.

Amaterasu / April 28th, 2009, 9:42 pm / #20

What evidence is there that there ever was a Jesus anyway? Major error – "Bible is a True Story" Rubbish.

FAF / April 29th, 2009, 12:43 am / #21

There's evidence when He delivers me from sin and evidence when He teaches me through the Holy Spirit and His Word and He leads me and guides me to a better life. There's evidence by His Spirit that dwells inside of me. There's evidence when He answers my prayers. Please think about giving your life to Jesus today; He is the way, the truth and the life. No one comes unto the Father, but by Him.

BlackSun / April 29th, 2009, 1:02 am / #22

Those are experiences, and not evidence. I think you need to study up a little on philosophy to learn how we distinguish feelings and interior thoughts from actual things and actual people.

Many universities, (including Yale) have their courses freely available online.

To really get anywhere, you have to understand in a little more precise terms what is meant by self, god, body, mind, soul, subjective, objective, and what experiences such as the ones you are describing really mean. After seven years in the ministry and another almost ten debating believers, I'm just not going to spend my time trying to argue you out of believing in Jesus, if that's what works for you. But if you want to comment here, I only ask you to try to get a little better grip on what that really means.

There are serious questions about the existence of the historical Jesus. So your belief is really the description of a certain pervasive cultural mythology, in which you participate. . Joseph Campbell has a lot to say on the power of myth. I understand a lot of people seem to derive a lot of happiness thinking the way that you do. But that's not the same as saying it's true for others, or factual in an absolute sense.

FAF / April 29th, 2009, 8:32 am / #23

I will pray for you that you have a life changing experience with the living God. I am happy when I walk with God, spiritually. Happy are ye if you do these things. Jesus is not a myth and I pray that He reveals that to you. It's not true for others, if they are not born-again. In John 3:3, Jesus said " ye must be born-again", if you want to see the kingdom of heaven. The first step is being born-again by asking Jesus Christ to forgive them of all their sin and to come into their life and be their personal Savior. Then to grow in the Lord spiritually , one needs to find a good Bible believing, scripturally accurate church and go there and also read the Bible, pray and have a personal relationship with God through Christ. They can apply the Word to their lives and do the Word, as it says in the book of James. I will ask the real God to reveal Himself to you.

Amaterasu / April 29th, 2009, 9:24 am / #24

I will ask any volunteer who actually does exist to reveal the back door to you and purge you through it. Utterly mad. Don't you know this is a site for sane discussion and not the purveyance of pet dogmas and religious insanity? It's disgusting!

BlackSun / April 29th, 2009, 5:42 pm / #25

Apparently you don't understand English. Now I enforce the comment policy.

BlackSun / April 29th, 2009, 5:42 pm / #26

FAF,

Apparently you don't understand English. Now I enforce the comment policy.

TDC / May 27th, 2010, 1:53 am / #27

There is non-biblical evidance the Jesus lived, historians don't argue his existance. Most historians believe he was put to death. Where they disagree with Chirstians is His resurection. A Christian (myself included) believes he was the Son of God and he died for our sins, he was raised form the dead and is now making a place in heaven for those who trust in him.

Sailor / April 11th, 2010, 4:04 am / #28

I began the Weigh Down Workshop with a desire to lose weight. I found the basic physiologic teaching valuable. It was helpful to see that overeating had to do with greed and desire to avoid uncomfortable emotions. Leaning on God and reading the Bible comforted me through these times of emotional distress. All along I sensed something was not right when encouraged in her videos to question if I truly loved God when giving in to overeating. To be concerned about my salvation if I continue in sin. My heart was right. I wanted to lose weight and not sin. It makes sense that overeating is self abuse….this must be sin. Who is to judge a man's heart but God? This seems to be the real question for all of us. Are you unbelieving because you are addicted to food?

BlackSun / April 11th, 2010, 4:24 am / #29

Well, Sailor, everyone's addicted to food. Air, too. The question is, is your "food addiction" proportional to your calorie expenditure. I don't know how the concepts of "sin" or "salvation" contribute to answering this question.

Vicki M. / October 11th, 2010, 7:22 am / #30

I started doing this program prior to 1999, at that time there was no "church" associated with it. I found the principles of listening to one's body to be helpful, but didn't like the legalism that was involved. For example, I know that certain foods tend to cause cravings in me and make me want to overeat, however on that program you are told it is sinful to have "off limits" foods, or to think about the calorie content of foods.

When I did the program, you were NOT told to take only a few bites and wait hours. You WERE told to wait for physical hunger signs such as a growling stomach, and then take small bites, chew slowly, sip water in between bites, and stop as soon as you were not hungry anymore. I thought that made sense, but also thought that choosing mostly healthy foods would be helpful, this was frowned upon, and I was judged for that approach. The legalistic attitude was growing rapidly, so I quit the program. Within months after quitting, I heard that Gwen had started a church, and that the program had grown very cult-like.

I think that what happened was what often happens with cults. Gwen had personal convictions which worked for her, but she elevated them to the place of law and started judging others who didn't share that conviction. She took what God may actually have spoken to her for her own life, and assumed it was God's will for everyone. Then she went off the deep end by elevating that conviction above God's word, and starting her own "church".

As for the concepts of sin and salvation, she apparently has now defined those for herself, apart from what scripture says, that is the main earmark of a cult, so that is how it relates. I pray for Gwen that she will see the error she has made and will repent before she leads too many more astray.

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