I lost 86 lbs. following Gwen Shamblin’s Weigh Down Diet.
I joined a Weigh Down Workshop group at church in 1998. It changed my life.
I finished the group in 1999, and moved on with my life. Honestly, I never thought much about it again until this past May, when Gwen was tragically killed in a plane crash. My thoughts turned to my time watching her videos and listening to her tapes over 20 years ago. I was deeply saddened by her death.
I re-ordered the Weigh Down Diet book from Amazon and re-read it in June. It was convicting. A lot has changed in the last 20 years…our culture worships both food and thinness now more than ever. Compared to 1998, it seems like we have 100x the number of restaurants and fast food stops today. America’s collective weight has sky rocketed and obesity has become an epidemic. But, what’s the solution? We know it isn’t working out or going to the gym, as numerous scientific studies and books have debunked that myth.
I was intrigued when I saw “The Way Down: God, Greed, and the Cult of Gwen Shamblin” documentary series pop-up on HBO Max last night. I immediately watched the three episodes. And, then I watched them again for a second time.
I was entertained, shocked, fascinated, skeptical, amused, angry, disillusioned, saddened, and perplexed all at the same time.
The only thing I knew going into the documentary was some kind of scandal about her not believing in the trinity and that she started a church. Both of which I really knew nothing about. I was in for a ride. I wrote down several of my brutally honest thoughts while watching. I would encourage you to watch it for yourself, as I think there’s a lot to unpack and learn from.
9 Honest Thoughts About The Gwen Shamblin Documentary
1. It’s Wild
Kids being murdered, sex, affairs, divorces, more sex, lies, lawyers, depositions, hurt ex-members, custody battles, and more. My head is still spinning. I had no idea it was going to be this crazy of a story.
2. Happier Times
I was reminded of the happier times when the Weigh Down Workshop was new and just starting to explode. There were classes in thousands of churches across America. People were actually losing weight and changing their lives for the better. It was not uncommon to meet people who had lost 50+ pounds on Weigh Down. The book instantly sold 400,000+ copies. Gwen was showing up on Larry King Live, Good Morning America, and dozens of talk shows…there was excitement in the air.
3. Gwen Shamblin’s Hair (and personality)
The hair seemed to get bigger as the years went by.
I was reminded how much I loved Gwen’s personality. She had charisma. She was likable. She was all about tough love…she reminded me of the female version of Dave Ramsey, only instead of finances, it was about food.
I vaguely remember some scandal about Gwen Shamblin’s belief in the trinity in 2000. At the time, it seemed like a gotcha game of semantics. I had already stopped attending meetings, there was no social media or news sites like today, and it was more of a ‘word of mouth thing’ than anything. The documentary helps explain where the train left the tracks and the fallout it created. Churches started dropping the program in droves.
5. Remnant Fellowship Church Seemed Like a Good Idea
In 2000, Gwen announced she was starting Remnant Fellowship Church in Brentwood, TN. It sounded like a good idea at the time. She’s built a huge following with Weigh Down Workshop, she’s got zeal for the Lord, she has strong opinions for what a church should look like, she’s a great teacher, and she has the financial resources to make it happen. Why not try it?
After all, who am I to judge someone who wants to plant a church? Hundreds of churches get planted every year by well meaning Christians.
6. Remnant Fellowship Church Seemed Like a Very Bad Idea
Ugh. This church felt like Jim Jones’ Jonestown. It was all about us vs. them. According to Gwen this was God’s one true church on earth. A statement like that should make anyone run for the hills. The holy trinity of the church seemed to be “money, prestige, and power.” Behind the curtain, it looked like a great way to avoid paying taxes. The money appeared to be funding Gwen’s ego and lust for more. In short, the money seemed very funny. Remnant had ‘cult’ written all over it.
Why not just have a great diet program and leave it at that? What was her motivation? It didn’t seem to be about the money. She did seem very image conscious. She did seem like she wanted power and control. But, why a church? Why not just build a weight loss empire? I was left feeling perplexed.
7. Very Weird Family Stuff
I thought it was odd that Gwen’s first husband seemingly didn’t attend the church. He was like a ghost. Gwen’s divorce and remarriage to Joe Lara seemed very strange. He seemed like a stoned actor playing the part of Gwen’s husband. One man described him as a ‘bought and paid for escort’ to Gwen. The story about Gwen’s son shooting at the church at night was scary. The affairs, custody battles, and subsequent divorces by other members was very troubling. But members beating their children literally to death was the most troubling.
I know people everywhere are messed up…but it was very creepy seeing just how weird things were. I felt very sorry for all the former members and peripheral people caught up in the wake of destruction caused by the church.
The documentary was very well done. But, I felt torn. You could easily make a documentary like this about any church in America. I think every church I’ve ever attended has had some mixture of affairs, divorces, sex scandals, child abuse, custody battles, weird family stuff, lack of financial transparency, etc. The church is just people, and all people are messed up no matter where you go.
What’s the difference between Gwen Shamblin’s church and any other church in America?
I think the short answer is power.
But, there’s no easy answers. It’s a slippery slope. Every church leader I’ve ever known doesn’t want to be told what to do. Most churches are private with their finances. Every church claims to follow the Bible and most have elders. I think the real differences are very subtle. Every church has the potential to go off the tracks.
I’m also torn because she and those who perished with her should be allowed to rest in peace.
9. I Want To Be Thin Again
I kept thinking about how good I felt when I was thin. I slowly gave myself back over to food as the years crept by, and the weight snuck back on. If I’m honest, I would say my stomach has become my god. Social media helped microwave the process. Taking pictures of food, celebrating decadent meals, bragging about culinary masterpieces and top restaurants…sharing my food with the world became an addictive routine.
I don’t want to throw the baby out with the bath water. I think Gwen had a message worth holding on to: Don’t make food your idol.
…To Be Continued
It appears that they made the documentary before the plane crash. The end of the third episode says “To be continued,” and concludes with a statement from Remnant Fellowship Church. A longer version of the statement was posted on the church’s website.
The church dismisses the documentary as another “Hollywood attack on religion.” Gwen appears to say it’s okay to lie in defense of the church (Jerusalem) in the series, so how can we trust them?
I think their response is flawed. Why not own up to it and say, “Yeah, there was honestly some weird stuff going on. It’s been an embarrassing and sad season for us. Here’s how we’re changing.”
Right now, they’re still in Jim Jones’ mode in my humble opinion.
Article Written for Stuff Christians Know by Nevan Hooker
Nevan graduated from Regent University in 2004. He spent 14 years building a publishing company that was acquired by Salem Media in 2018. He is now a full-time investor who lives in Las Vegas with his dog Arizona.