Randy and Janet Rice of Oklahoma City learned about Weigh Down Workshop in 1998. They lost some unwanted weight, Mr. Rice says, and learned to satisfy the hunger in their souls by loving God. In July they watched a promotional video for Weigh Down founder Gwen Shamblin's plan to start a new denomination, "Remnant Fellowship," designed to have frequent public confessions and no elders or pastors. "It was like the Lord really spoke to me," said Mr. Rice. "I really felt like I got a call to start a Fellowship." The feeling disappeared after he discovered that Mrs. Shamblin rejects the doctrine of the Trinity, the belief that God is three persons in one being. After questions about her beliefs erupted at her annual Desert Oasis Conference in Nashville in July, she posted a series of statements on her website to clarify her position. In an e-mail message to her Workshop list on Aug. 14 she stated that "the Trinity was a message formed in a society that believed in polytheism and it was done in an attempt to make sure no one mistakenly believed that Christians worshipped several gods." She posted on her website on Sept. 15 objections to "man-made Trinity teaching." A message Mrs. Shamblin posted on Sept. 12 and expanded on Sept. 15 includes this question she addressed to herself: "According to the Trinity, Jesus and God are the same being. What do you believe?" Her answer: "I believe that Jesus and God are two separate beings." Another question she asked herself was, "Do you believe that Jesus is equal [to the Father] in power and glory?" Her answer: "No." The controversy has polarized the 10-year-old, privately owned Weigh Down Workshop, Inc., and prompted former allies and partners to distance themselves. WORLD has contacted dozens of pastors, local Workshop coordinators, and participants who report that churches across the country, including Moody Memorial Church in Chicago, College Park Baptist Church in Indianapolis, and Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Ft. Lauderdale, have cut the program because of this doctrinal issue, while others are reviewing whether to continue hosting it. Thomas Nelson Publishers, which committed the largest marketing budget in its history for her 1999 bestseller Rise Above, last month canceled publication of Mrs. Shamblin's upcoming book, Out of Egypt, citing "the recent controversy created by [Mrs. Shamblin's] doctrinal position." Mrs. Shamblin has not said whether she has another publisher. Lifeway Christian Bookstores announced two weeks ago it will no longer carry Weigh Down material. Church Communication Network of Mt. View, Calif., had scheduled Mrs. Shamblin to speak this fall at the Secrets of a Great Marriage seminar. But CCN President Bill Dallas said that after he discussed her doctrinal convictions with her, they came to a "mutual understanding" that she would not participate. "We would not ask her to speak again on the network," he added. Mrs. Shamblin declined to respond to four phone requests from WORLD for interviews, but her Sept. 12 statement argues that her ministry has helped thousands of people troubled by obesity, alcoholism, bulimia, and other problems. She also asserts that God has given her wisdom: "I believe that this understanding that God has given me of Himself, His Son, and His Spirit will make total sense and clear up many confusing passages." In a promotional audio tape for her Remnant Fellowship she said, "You could ask me to speak and I could start speaking. And the Bible actually opens where I'm wanting to go. And that is a gift. I don't have to work at it." Mrs. Shamblin's Franklin, Tenn.-based organization has undergone numerous changes this year. Former Weigh Down staffers Mike Mosketti and Sandra Holmes say at least 36 employees have been fired or pressured to resign since January, when about 100 workers were on staff. These two former staffers, along with former Outreach Director Sara Sampson, say they felt pressured to join Remnant Fellowship to keep their jobs at Weigh Down. Four of the organization's top administrators (Chief Financial Officer Rick Betts, Director of Human Resources Randy Betts, Assistant Director of Human Resources Lori Norman, and Accountant Betty Cooke) submitted letters of resignation on Aug. 30. "Just about everybody is gone now except the people that go to her church," said ex-Supervisor of Outreach Carney Hawkins. Mrs. Shamblin denied in a statement posted on her website in August that anyone was pressured to join Remnant Fellowship, but added that employees are expected not to be "in disagreement to the direction of the management of this office."
-Christopher Mann is a fellow of the World Journalism Institute and a business manager at the Hudson Institute