By: Robin Murray-o'hair Re: Philadelphia Cult Raided PHILADELPHIA CULT IS RAIDED Kids Work

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By: Robin Murray-o'hair Re: Philadelphia Cult Raided PHILADELPHIA CULT IS RAIDED Kids Worked All Week in Church "Carpet Cleaning" Business for $10 by Conrad F. Goeringer On April 19, police raided the Philadelphia headquarters of a religious cult after receiving reports that kids were being held against their will. The Church of Bible Understanding (COBU) has been in the news since the mid-1970s. It was founded by former vacuum cleaner salesman-turned-prophet Stewart Traill. In 1982, four members of the group (known as "Lambs") were convicted of beating Traill's 12-year-old son with a belt and a stick after he allegedly stole an item from a hobby store. In 1985, a Manhattan court ordered COBU to stop taking in homeless children so they could work in the church's carpet-cleaning business, which paid a miserly $10 a week. The church owns three large properties in Philadelphia and buildings in New York City, Rochester, and Baltimore. It also has four airplanes. One church critic says that the carpet business funds the hobbies of the group's leader, Traill, which happen to be photography and aviation. The Philadelphia Inquirer quoted one cult observer: "Traill basically teaches that he's the only one who understands the Bible, that it can only be understood through him or his followers . . . He has a very figurative interpretation of Scripture. Words don't mean what they appear to mean. They mean what he [Traill] says. Like, stone doesn't mean stone, it means backsliding Christian . . . " Another cult-watcher, Professor Chris Hatcher of the University of California, said that COBU was known to be aggressive in its recruiting methods, but not violent. Merchants in the popular South Street area of Philadelphia have been upset with a Church of Bible Understanding outreach in their area called the "Kluttrbox." The second-story office is apparently a base for COBU recruiting in the neighborhood. Church leaflets are scattered around the streets, and some residents complain that they are even followed by proselytizers. After the raid, officials say they found no evidence of abuse or kids being held against their will. "Benign Cult Abuse"? COBU is one of hundreds, if not thousands of groups, that, while probably not engaging in direct physical abuse, nevertheless have benchmark-traits of being psychologically unhealthy. The reliance on a charismatic leader as a "source" of truth, long hours devoted to religious study and physical work which benefits the group, immersion in group activities, constant renforcement of the group's beliefs through peer-pressure and other techniques all are warning signs, according to experts who track the cults. On the other hand, many of these same cult-trademarks exist in mainstream religions, but are considered more socially acceptable. The proliferation of such groups, especially in the United States, a trend which some describe as "do it yourself religion," seems to be blurring the traditional distinctions between "acceptable religion" and "fringe cults." After all, Church leaders ranging from the pope to the president of the Mormon church claim they talk to "god." COBU founder-prophet Stewart Traill's airplane collection is probably not as valuable as the personal holdings of many TV evangelists. Cult or "religion," who makes the distinction? --30--

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