©2022 By Amy Haben
Death, manipulation, emotional and body shaming, female preacher and sugar mama, murder, anorexia, prophets, God, Trump, a former Hollywood actor, racism denying, Q-anon… This story has everything…
Gwen Shamblin-Lara built wealth and a church off her weight loss cult. She looked like a human cartoon. Her huge hair swallowed up her head, followed by a tiny body dressed in sexy clothing and platform pumps, with tons of stark white make-up splattered on her face that didn’t match her tan body. Sometimes she would even wear see-through halter tops while preaching the Lord’s word in her videos. Her female followers were taught to dress feminine, wear make-up and be skinny for God and their husbands. Many would go on to call her and her congregation, The Real Housewives of Tennessee.
There is a HBO documentary on Gwen and her church– but it sucks. It’s slow and boring. Take it from me, go to YouTube and watch the channel, “Not The Good Girl.” This person made a better documentary about Gwen titled, “The Millionaire Preacher With A Weight Loss Cult.” The main screen has a photo of Gwen with flames around her.
Back to the story, Gwen taught basic portion control methods and slow eating. It got weird when she taught prayer in lieu of nourishment. She believed that overeating was adultery against God. People were not allowed to eat until their stomach started growling, and even then, over nine bites was shamed. Many of the same starvation tricks that Gwen preached can be found on pro-anorexia websites.
This Christian Medium of Tennessee works in spirituality as well, but instead of channeling an Italian families Cousin Vinny, Gwen channeled God to help people with weight loss. Gwen was born in Memphis to deeply religious parents. Her father was a surgeon who inspired Gwen by telling her that he takes the bad out of people. She decided she would make it her life’s purpose to do the same using spiritual methods. It all started off innocently enough, Gwen went off to college and obtained her Master’s degree in nutrition from Memphis State University. She went on to get a job counseling students at the same college, teaching them to fight the weight they gained while studying.
This is where her book, the Weigh Down came into fruition. Her teachings became workshops which were so popular that they were taught in various churches. She was featured on multiple TV shows, including Tyra, and Larry King Live.
Gwen felt like she could cure all addicts with God’s help who she said spoke to her making her a prophet. An example of her over the top statements was said to Larry King: “When you’re going from softcore, to hardcore, to you’re sick and now you’re messing with children.”
Excuse me?? When did simply watching porn on your computer make you a pedophile? This lady lived for extremes.
In another disturbing quote from Gwen Shamblin-Lara she brought up the Holocaust in relation to dieting: “When people were in prison camps and ate less food, they lost weight. All of them.”
Gwen opened Remnant Church on 40 acres in Brentwood, Tennessee telling her followers that her church is the only one God wants them to attend and they won’t get to heaven otherwise. With her new tax-exempt status, Gwen bought her seven-bedroom plantation home and started other companies under the Remnant umbrella: a home-schooling program, a financial planning company, a car repair company, a wedding venue, a real estate company, and a contracting company named Exodus. The cultish red-flags started when Gwen encouraged people to move to Brentwood and work at one of her companies. She also told followers to detach from family members that attended other churches. Isolating members into submission. Scientology anyone?
“You don’t make the church look good if you are overweight or your children are not obedient.” -Gwen Shamblin-Lara
The churches view on divorce was that it was a sin. Even if your husband cheated on you or abused you, you had to figure out a way to make things work. Until strapping Joe Lara came to town. He had played Tarzan in a B-movie in the Eighties. Born to a wealthy family held up by his rich step-father in Newport Beach, California, Joe did not have aspirations besides being an actor and country singer. He decided to date older wealthy women to keep up the lifestyle he was accustomed to. Joe was much younger than Gwen making her his new sugar mama. All of a sudden, Gwen divorced her husband of many decades breaking up her family which included daughter Elizabeth and her son Michael. She paid her ex three million dollars besides splitting their eight properties which totaled over twenty million dollars. Soon after, she became engaged to Joe, making an over-the-top video showing Joe proposing in a gazebo covered in lights and surrounded by white carnations. Fireworks lit up the night sky while she acted surprised by this news in front of a camera crew and hundreds of dressed up followers waiting to congratulate her. Seems her acting was as bad as her new husband to be. Joe was never a religious man, but that Gwen’s riches brought him closer to the spirit above.
Joe Lara’s ex’s were all angry at him. He had previously dated an older actress who set his Harley Davidson on fire after kicking him out. Natasha, was a glamorous ex-Miss California who had immigrated to the US from Yugoslavia. She had dated Joe Lara and had a daughter with him. Natasha fought Joe for child support which he didn’t want to pay. Joe was so angry he made false allegations that Natasha hurt their child and she was arrested. Yet she was cleared of all charges soon after.
All members were told to be happy and look perfect at all times. Mental health medications were looked down upon as a sin. Therapists weren’t allowed. Followers had to seek church leaders for counseling. One woman, had to sneak Prozac behind everyone’s backs. When she showed up at church crying, Gwen told her to get over it and go put some make-up on and smile next time she comes to church. Gwen went on to say that if she keeps being sad, she will cry for her when her husband leaves her for having to put up with that behavior.
Members were not allowed to have social media or watch TV or listen to music that wasn’t approved by Gwen. In the evilest act possible, Gwen forced members to only listen to her son Michael’s rap music. Besides having unlistenable beats, it was full of disgusting, racist lyrics. Gwen also denied the idea of the Holy Trinity which had many Christians up in arms.
“Spare the rod, spoil the child.” This Bible quote was taught in more of a corporal punishment way by Gwen. She encouraged the use of hot glue sticks to beat their kids with, as it feels like a switch but doesn’t leave marks. (It’s like a lesson on how to stay away from jail. Hey starving people, I know that you’re mad because you’re hungry– just take that rage out on your kids!)
The Remnant church sanctioned child abuse came to a head when eight-year-old Joseph Smith was murdered by his parents. His mother Sonja Smith had called Gwen to ask for discipline help. Under Gwen’s advice, Sonja took all of his toys away and kept him locked in his room for three days which just a Bible for entertainment. Sonja’s husband, Joseph Smith Sr. had a rage problem and it is alleged that he would keep the child in a small crate at times and beat him senselessly. The church taught that to keep hitting the child harder until they stopped crying (A.K.A. unconsciousness or death.) After the death, Gwen made a website claiming that Joseph and Sonja Smith were innocent of their charges. It seemed more to cover the backs of her church than these people. The FBI investigated Remnant church after the child’s death. The Smith’s didn’t believe they were wrong for disciplining and believed the death was an accident. One former member came forward with an audio tape they made during a disciplinary session where you can hear Gwen saying, “Harder! Harder!” Egging on the parent who was not hitting his child hard enough for her.
Gwen denied allegations of child abuse to an investigative journalist while on camera. She downplayed it as a couple spankings. Yet there is audio evidence of Gwen coaching Sonia Smith on the isolation tactics. Gwen said it was falsely edited. Another member claims he was taught by Gwen and other church members to beat children for an hour if they don’t stop crying. They needed to learn a lesson and are spoiled. This abuse compiled with the complete inability to express their emotions without punishment has caused many former children of the cult to have PTSD and need therapy.
“If they’re not scared of a spanking, you haven’t spanked them.” Gwen Shamblin-Lara
As if that wasn’t bad enough, when bad news or death befell a family of the congregation, Gwen taught that it was due to their sins. That God was punishing them. Seems the rules apply to everyone else but Gwen. When her granddaughter suddenly died mysteriously, Gwen didn’t talk about it during the next church service. Everyone found this odd and creepy. When she did speak of it, she blamed her members for their sins bringing bad luck to the church as a whole and her family.
Most days, Gwen seemed very friendly and loving which is why a few ex-members called their time at Remnant the best time of their lives. Many of these people came from broken homes with a lack of love. They were ripe for the picking. Gwen may have had good intentions in the beginning of her career but became power hungry and evil once she became more famous and richer. Her alt-right values which became more extreme after she met Joe, didn’t help things. She preached that racism wasn’t real and that you are playing the victim if you think you’ve been treated bad due to your race. Many of the usually obedient congregants got angry, yelled back at her and left the church right then. Some believe that Gwen had taken on Joe Lara’s inhumane beliefs. Joe was into Q-anon and believed that Trump was sent by God to save us.
Soon Gwen and Joe wanted to be nationally famous and made a pilot for their reality show, The Lives of Gwen and Joe. The cheesy images of Gwen and Joe holding hands while flashing their perfect Colgate smiles and playing around their dining room table like children was never picked up by a major station.
May 29, 2021 was an overcast, cloudy day. Donald Trump was holding a rally a few states away. Joe was fired up and convinced Gwen and four other Remnant head members to board a small plane he was piloting to visit the rally. The plane was fourth years old and had been passed through multiple owners quickly, giving the impression there were problems with it. Joe had his pilot’s license from when he was living in California but it was long expired. Pilots have to renew every two years. While in the air, it’s assumed by other pilots that Joe turned right into a cloud and had spatial problems. He sped up over fifty knots over the maximum speed the small plane could handle. When this happens, the plane is at risk to break apart. Authorities believed the plane broke around the six people in mid-air. The wreckage was found in Piercy Priest Lake in Nashville, Tennessee. Everyone in the plane was deceased.
I wonder if God intervened to stop these false prophets from spreading hate, violence and unhealthy behaviors once and for all? Or maybe he just wanted to teach them that Trump was not sent by him.
Either way, I thank God Gwen and Joe Lara aren’t around to hurt anyone anymore.