“The Way Down: God, Greed, and the Cult of Gwen Shamblin” was honestly hard for me to watch. Before I continue explaining how I felt about the documentary, I want to inform all of you to view it with discretion. While it was not gruesome to watch, instead it was saddening to hear people’s stories of rape, abuse and suicide. This documentary explains how Shamblin Lara was able to make a profit off of using God’s word.
The documentary is about the rise of the Remnant Fellowship Church under Gwen Shamblin Lara. Her rise to fame begins with her diet program “Weigh Down.” The program convinced many Americans that they could eat whatever they want and lose weight, and more importantly keep the weight off. The key to this program was to bow down to God and only eat when your stomach growled. People reported losing weight dramatically, an example being a woman who lost 27 pounds in less than two months. As a nursing student, I was able to look at that and go “that’s not healthy.” After her diet program and church blow up, the audience starts to learn about the accusations toward Shamblin Lara. These accusations included abuse, exploitation and having cult-like practices.
This documentary, so far, has three episodes and each episode got me thinking more and more about how messed up people could become. The reason I say this is because Shamblin Lara never went to college to study theology, instead she studied to become a nutritionist. In her childhood she struggled with food issues and she wanted to help other people with problems she had grown up with. She was able to create her diet program and “help” people, but according to women interviewed for the documentary, it instead it caused heart wrenching eating disorders
Shamblin Lara was able to produce a profitable religion by using God’s words in a way that caused families to break. Personally, I was bothered by this. Having to watch and try to understand how she was able to use God’s words the way she did angered me. I’m a Christian. I believe God’s words are not made to profit off of. Those words are made to heal people around me and to look upon good and hard times.
Her religion caused many parents to pick up on the way she “preaches” about handling their children. When it came to punishing a child, Shamblin Lara taped herself talking to a mother about how her children need to be punished by spankings and if it wasn’t working, to spank harder. There was a court case about a husband and wife’s eight year old child found dead because of physical abuse and questionable suffocation was being presented across the news media. That husband and wife were a part of Shamblin Lara’s Remnant Fellowship Church.
The church community was being labeled as a “cult” due to their authoritative ways. As explained in the documentary, the church followed a system of authority. The top was God. Then came Shamblin Lara. Under her came the “Leaders.” Below them came the people of the church. A woman who was interviewed described this way of authority to be life threatening. Different women explain how this system caused rape and brain washing due to the men having more authority over them. All I can say is, I was disgusted to learn the ways of that church.
The directors of this documentary did a fantastic job of outlining each episode. They made sure to give the backstory of Shamblin Lara’s childhood and tie it in with her present self. They also did a great job of handling whether or not people wanted to have their faces be known or not through interviews. Additionally the way the episodes were laid out worked very well, and I was able to catch on to what each and every episode was about.
Each episode explained the title of that respective episode by giving background at the beginning, and the style in which they presented that title had a classy hint to it. They used gold lettering with fancy patterns covering a cream background. I could not understand why they decided to do it that way at first. Then I came to the conclusion that maybe it was to respect God’s righteousness because this documentary was explaining how The Bible was used to make a profit.
The music that was used was very much like other documentaries that I have seen. I’m not saying that it was bad, but it wasn’t anything new and exciting. None of the music really got my heart racing or calmed me down. The music they chose was appropriate for the medium and to that I say good work.
The amount of devastating information I learned about from this documentary really blew my mind. There were a few parts where I can say I was actively rooting for the opposing side of Shamblin Lara. An example would be hearing about an ex-member of the church explaining how she was strong enough to leave her abusive husband.
I cannot say that I was happy about anything Shamblin Lara was presenting. This documentary has not finished in 3 episodes, instead there will be 2 more coming out in 2022. As hard as it was for me to watch this, I am keeping my eyes out to see when the next episodes will be coming out in 2022. I honestly don’t know who I would recommend this to. I would say the people that know about the Remnant Fellowship Church and/or about Gwen Shamblin Lara. Overall a 8/10 would recommend.
The views expressed are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of The Torch.