The Truth About The Way Down HBO Documentary - Remnant Fellowship

The Truth About The Way Down HBO Documentary

Press Release: Official Response to HBO Max Documentary

Remnant Fellowship categorically denies the absurd, defamatory statements and accusations made in this documentary - yet another Hollywood attack on religion.

Over the last 20 years, countless celebrities and public figures have had to endure allegations of child abuse, eating disorders, sexual abuse and more. While many of these situations might be accurate, there are definitely situations where people are falsely accused. In today's society, everyone should be highly discerning regarding anything they see on any media. We insist that the allegations made against our church are completely false and defamatory.

Our Christian beliefs are Bible-based. Our church is a place based on love, care, mercy, and kindness shown to people from all walks of life. We have helped thousands to find a relationship with God.

The church has also encouraged members to find their own personal relationship with God and has proven to restore numerous broken marriages and other relationships.

Our teachings have helped thousands to overcome strongholds, vices, and addictions.

Remnant Fellowship vehemently denies any accusation of child abuse in any form.
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Children here are happy and healthy, being raised with the most love, care, support, and protection imaginable. The church’s stance is that parents should determine how they set boundaries and guide their children based on their own family decisions, as long as it is founded on love and protection. There is no harshness in God nor Jesus Christ – there is only gentleness. Countless parents have shared that they are more loving and kind to their children after they started attending Remnant than they were before.

Our membership includes a high number of professional “mandatory reporters” who would be required by law to report any signs of abuse or concern, including over 90 medical professionals (including doctors, nurses, and psychologists), 7 legal professionals, 4 law enforcement professionals, and over 20 educators. These mandatory reporters have never reported any concern regarding the health or safety of any children at the church.

Young Josef Smith passed away in 2003 of a staph infection and high fever; the presence of this infection was verified by hospital technicians in court. However, his parents, church members Joseph and Sonya Smith, were accused of outrageous acts of child abuse that led to his death.
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From 2003-2007, Remnant Fellowship, Gwen Lara, and several church leaders were thoroughly investigated by a variety of State and Local officials. Despite years of focused investigation, zero evidence was ever found linking the church to child abuse, and no charges were filed against any church leaders in any way. During the Smiths’ trial in 2007, police testified under oath there was no link found between the child’s death and the church’s teachings. The Leadership of Remnant Fellowship felt this was a false accusation towards an inner city African American family that was in part due to racism, so they felt the need to defend the innocent who were not able to defend themselves at their income level. The Bible states that we are to defend the innocent and those who cannot defend themselves (Prov. 31:8) - and this is precisely what the church was trying to do. Remnant Fellowship maintains that the Smiths are innocent of this horrible accusation. For more information, please see https://www.thesmithsareinnocent.com.

Regarding HBO’s "expert" testimony, their "expert" never visited the church, never spoke with Gwen, and never talked with any current members. HBO originally interviewed cult-expert Dr. Gordon Melton, who cleared Remnant Fellowship’s name of having anything to do with being a cult.
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Dr. Melton is a nationally-known, well-published, credentialed professor of American religious movements. He visited the church multiple times over the past ten years, spent hours interviewing Gwen and countless church members, and is very familiar with the church’s materials. Based on this extensive research, Dr. Melton states Remnant is not a “cult” by any means, stating, “The church presents itself as just another suburban Protestant congregation, not unlike the Baptist, Adventist, Methodist, and Presbyterian churches.” The fact that HBO features an “expert” who has never interviewed Gwen, never visited church, and never interviewed current church members is very telling as to HBO’s true agenda.  Please read Dr. Melton’s statement in full on this page.

We do not body shame or bully anyone, as we know that God created all of us uniquely with different sizes, shapes and weights. We also do not approach anyone about weight, but we help those who approach us wanting help. Otis Rickman, a Pulmonary and Critical care physician who attends Remnant, sums this up well: “Everybody’s different. God made us all different. We have big, sturdy, muscular people; we have thin, wispy people. We have all kinds of people.”

While Remnant Fellowship has always honored the Godly sanctity of marriage, our church has never supported abusive or oppressive situations.
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Unlike some legalistic religions that do not approve divorce even in situations of sin or adultery, we believe those situations can lead to the abuse and oppression of both men and women. There have been instances of divorce in our church dating back to when the church was established in 1999. These were personal choices and always handled with gentleness and respect. If someone seeks out the church’s guidance regarding difficulties in their marriage, we encourage counseling to help the marriage stay together, upholding the sanctity of the union. However, when issues involve unfaithfulness or abuse (which comes in many forms), it can be devastating to the marriage. While the decision of divorce should never be made quickly, if abuse or unfaithfulness continues and there is no peace, then this is grounds for divorce. Remnant Fellowship has always upheld privacy and dignity for everyone; thus, we do not share individual situations.”

Thousands have said that their lives have benefited from the mere-Christianity message of Remnant Fellowship and the Weigh Down Ministries, but we know that there is no one message that can ever please everyone.

Over 40% of our resources are given away to members at zero cost, including free scholarships for classes or summer camp activities.
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Regarding tithing or donating, in our 20+ year history, tithing has been spoken about very few times. We have never passed a collection plate in any service; in fact, we address this aspect so infrequently, new members often have to inquire HOW to donate or tithe. Remnant Fellowship has never required any member to purchase any resource, book, or class. Money tithed to Remnant, like any other church, is used to help the needy, hurting, and poor, and to keep the basic church ministry operations going.

As any other church, Remnant Fellowship operates under all U.S. guidelines and laws.

Our Church’s services and assemblies are webcast each week and viewed by people all around the world at no cost. Anyone seeking to learn more are always welcome to visit anytime online or in person. This is a place full of love and mercy with welcome, open arms to everyone around the world!


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Expert Testimonies


J. Gordon Melton, Ph.D.

Distinguished Professor of American Religious History, Baylor University
Dr. J. Gordon Melton was interviewed at length by the producers of the HBO documentary, yet they refused to include any of his testimony.
In my duties as the author of the Encyclopedia of American Religions, I have researched and monitored the Remnant Fellowship for more than a decade. It is a relatively new movement that grew up around the work of the late Gwen Shamblin (1955-2021), the author of two best-selling books in the 1990s that explored the relationship between Christianity and diet.
Read More from Dr. Melton
A dietitian, Ms. Shamblin went on to educate herself in Christian theology, as many of the readers expressed a desire to continue the conversations on the Christian life that the books had initiated. Meanwhile, Ms. Shamblin had reached some theological insights that separated her from her upbringing in the Churches of Christ. Most notably, she had developed a non-trinitarian theological perspective and had become a Sabbatarian (believing that primary weekly worship should be on Saturday rather than Sunday). Her mature beliefs brought her into a closer resonance with the Seventh-day Adventist tradition than any former church affiliations.

Remnant Fellowship developed in stages in the early years of the new century as it transitioned from an idea to a small group that began to meet weekly, to a growing congregation in its own church building in Brentwood, Tennessee. From an original membership of several dozen, the congregation has grown to some 1800 members. The majority of these members meet locally in Tennessee, although there are many small groups across the United States and globally that participate in the weekly Sabbath and Wednesday worship services through electronic streaming.

In my visits to the Nashville area congregation over the years, I have had the opportunity to attend various worship services at Remnant and interact with members and attendees. As other colleagues have found, the church presents itself, apart for its few unique beliefs, as just another suburban Protestant congregation, not unlike the Baptist, Adventist, Methodist, and Presbyterian churches with whom they share space in the city. Members attend worship weekly and may participate in a small group through the week. They otherwise live a perfectly average life in the secular work of a conservative Tennessee town. Their children attend public schools, participate in a variety of extracurricular activities, and upon graduation, move on to college and careers.

Yet, in spite of the averageness of its members, the Remnant has been accused of being a “cult.” While one could spend much time examining that charge, two conclusions have emerged from my observations. First, the term “cult” is one that the academic community discarded some decades ago. It is such a confusing term, being used in so many ways by so many people in public discourse, often tied to the abandoned idea of “brainwashing,” that it has lost any value in the study of religious groups. It has devolved into a mere label to denounce groups quietly apart from any effort to actually study and evaluate them. It wrongfully invites association of Remnant with a variety of well-known groups with which the Fellowship shares no likenesses in belief or behavior.

Second, even if one accepted the popular definitions of “cult” offered in the 1970s to describe groups such as the Unification Church or the Hare Krishna movement, the Remnant Fellowship bears none of the more negative characteristics attributed to these groups. Remnant does not separate itself from the culture; the members maintain close relationships with family and friends whom are not a part of the group; children and youth are socialized in the larger culture; and no communal patterns of living are adopted.

As I and other scholars who have studied Remnant have concluded, there is nothing in the church to indicate any “cultlike” tendencies. The Remnant Fellowship is much more analogous to other Protestant congregations (each of which share their own unique sectarian attributes) than it is to any of the new religious groups that became famous in the cult controversies of past decades. We have also found nothing of a sinister nature in the Remnant congregational life that would raise a red flag for anyone considering joining the group.

J. Gordon Melton
Distinguished Professor of American Religious History
Baylor University
Waco, Texas 76712
September 30, 2021

Donald A. Westbrook, Ph.D.

Religious Studies Scholar; Lecturer, San Jose State University & University of Texas
I’ve had the chance to visit Remnant Fellowship twice, read through their literature, attend worship services, observe children’s activity groups, sit in on a men’s study group, meet with leaders and members, get acquainted with the Weigh Down program, and listen to dozens of hours of Gwen Shamblin Lara’s sermons and video messages. Nothing in my research has led me to conclude that Remnant Fellowship is fundamentally anything other than a Bible-based Christian church with members in both Brentwood, Tennessee and across the country (and world). I have found its members to be incredibly welcoming and open to sharing information about the church—answering any question I had and touring me through church facilities.
Read More from Dr. Westbrook
Scholars of religion generally know better than to throw around the word “cult,” which is really little more than a slur for a group you and others might not happen to like. As the old saying goes, one’s person “cult” is another person’s religion. As far as I’m concerned, the word “cult” is subjective to the point of meaninglessness, and it usually leads to monologue rather than dialogue, especially in our divisive and digital age. The sensationalism and one-sided nature of “anti-cult” documentaries only contribute to misunderstanding, hysteria, and even persecution. If anyone wishes to learn more about Remnant and its practices, I invite them to do what I did: visit the church’s website, attend a service for yourself, meet members, read Gwen’s books, listen to sermons, and understand the group’s theology and practices on its own terms. It must be remembered that there is tremendous diversity in Christianity, including differences of belief about the nature of God, Jesus, and salvation, and differences in church practices and church leadership. Remnant Fellowship may not be your church or how you prefer to express your Christian faith, but for many in and outside Brentwood it is their spiritual home (in many cases for over 20 years) and it should be respected as such and as afforded by the First Amendment.

Finally, I should add that I had the chance to meet Gwen Shamblin Lara, Joe Lara, and most of the others who tragically lost their lives in the plane crash. I was shocked and saddened to learn of their passing. Remnant is a grieving church, but it is also a resilient church, and I’m confident that its members and leadership will continue to carry on in the face of this loss and misunderstandings about its message.

Testimonies on Topics Covered in the Documentary

No Remnant Fellowship Members were Interviewed on the HBO Documentary.

A Statement from Elizabeth Shamblin Hannah


Elizabeth Shamblin Hannah

Daughter of Gwen Shamblin Lara
In every action, deed, and word, my mother lived for God alone – no matter what false accusations came her way. She was kind, loving, and gentle, and she never turned away from anyone in need. She donated so much of her time, energy, and personal finances to the building and grounds of Remnant Fellowship, and Michael and I were fully behind those decisions.
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I am eternally grateful to God Almighty and His unbelievable Son, Jesus Christ, for a life full of joy and peace – with happy, healthy children and a beautiful Church fellowship. My precious four children consist of Grace, Gweneth, Gloria, and Charles Grantham. We are all extremely happy with vibrant personalities, and I praise God for the fun and very active lives we get to live. I enjoy swimming, running, dancing, and biking with my children, and we get up daily and pray to God that we can please Him in all that we do. We lean on God and on each other, as well as so many friends for encouragement thru suffering or painful times. My children are my best friends, which follows the example of how my mother, Gwen Shamblin Lara, and I were best friends for my entire life. I shared everything with my mother because she was the most understanding, gentle, and loving mom, and there was nothing that she would not help me with. I strive to be a parent like that, and it has been an honor to continue passing this love down to my children.

I was married to their father, Brandon Hannah – the most upright man I’ve ever met – from 2003 until his unfortunate passing in 2021. It was an incredible honor and joy to be his wife. Brandon’s every waking moment was filled with seeking God’s will and passing that down to his children. He was the most doting and loving husband, and the most fun dad of all times! He helped me raise my children to LOVE God first and to be kind to others, and we continue with that focus to this day. Brandon’s upright, pure, and holy legacy will remain as an example to the world always.

My mother, Gwen Shamblin Lara, founded the Weigh Down Ministries, which has set thousands of people free from addictions by helping them to replace a love for worldly things with a love for God instead. She, her two children (Michael and I), and the David Martin family founded the Remnant Fellowship Church back in 1999 as a place based on love for God first, His son Jesus Christ second, and all of mankind next.

In every action, deed, and word, my mother lived for God alone – no matter what false accusations came her way. She was kind, loving, and gentle, and she never turned away from anyone in need. She donated so much her time, energy, and personal finances to the building and grounds of Remnant Fellowship, and Michael and I were fully behind those decisions. She helped the poor and daily asked, “Who are the needy and how can I help?” Because of my mother’s example, I wake up daily looking to the needs of the hurting and needy as well. I know that Gwen would give credit to God and the examples in the Bible such as Jesus Christ, Peter, and Paul as some of the people who lived as examples of how to live a selfless life.

She was truly the most caring mother, and as a child she directed my thoughts to only care about what GOD thinks instead of those around me. If I was made fun of at school, she would get low and pray with me, and these moments were where I began learning how to rely on GOD and not mankind. Gwen was what I truly call “The Genuine Article” – someone who truly put GOD first in every aspect of her life. Her example and legacy of a heart fully devoted to GOD will live on and on because it changes peoples’ lives for the better when they put it into practice.

Remnant Fellowship is a place where husbands are kind and appreciative of their wives, and women are so in love with their husbands. Children here are healthy and encouraged daily thru amazing relationships and friendships. Parents are inspired to treat children with the most love and respect. Since 1999, this church has continued growing in love, gentleness, restored marriages, and respectful, joyful children and families. There have been countless testimonies of all kinds of unhealthy dependencies and addictions being laid down here, and that freedom feels incredible!

We judge no one here at Remnant, because instead, we have been taught to look inward and change ourselves as needed. Despite false accusations, the truth is that there is no body shaming in this Church. We believe God made everyone differently and beautifully, and that people come in all kinds of sizes, shapes, and weights! We do not look down on anyone — whether they are large, medium, or small-framed. Instead, we are taught to follow the Bible’s scripture in John 7:24: “Stop judging by mere appearances, and make a right judgment.” We are taught to look at the HEART—not the body—and my mother always taught that. What we desire here is a freedom of the heart to be in love with God, not a particular size or weight. Again, we do not body shame others…and so we simply ask that others do not body shame our church members in any way.

We encourage anyone to come join along in this journey to the heart of the Father. We pray you will come and visit, and see for yourself the love and joy of Remnant Fellowship Church – for it is undeniable! Be encouraged if you are weary or if you feel stuck in an addiction or are depressed with life – for so many people have actually FOUND FREEDOM and JOY here, because they have turned to GOD as the answer to fulfill their hurting hearts…and this approach makes these wonderful changes PERMANENT. People in our church have laid down anger, drugs, anxiety, nicotine, hopelessness, gossip, pride, over-shopping, over-drinking, over-eating, eating disorders, jealousy, praise of man, over-gaming, sexual lusts — and any other addictions in the heart that separate us from the love of God. Have hope for your marriage if you are struggling – for so many marriages have been healed and families have been brought back together! We have beautiful relationships inside this church, as well as outside the church! We have family and friends all around the community who attend other churches, and we love those relationships deeply as well! Hearts and minds have been strengthened, and HOPE HAS BEEN RESTORED by turning to God instead of to the things of this world!

At this time in my life, I am absolutely honored for the opportunity to follow in my mother’s footsteps in serving others around the world to find God! I will do my best to keep this message moving forth – and I would have it no other way. I will forever be grateful to God Almighty, to His Son Jesus Christ, to the beautiful examples in the Bible, and to my most beloved mother — for all of these have paved the way for me personally to live a life full of JOY, LOVE, and HOPE, forever and ever.

To those who are seeking — keep seeking and never give up, my friends. Search this website, and come and visit Remnant. We are based on nothing but the Holy Bible, always digging for the Truth…. “For the truth shall set you free….”

Much respect to each one of you, because no matter what your background, race, religion, or church affiliation, you are my friends if we seek the Lord’s will together.

Much love forever, Elizabeth Shamblin Hannah

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