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Before HBO Max: Explore NewsChannel 5's Gwen Shamblin, Remnant Fellowship investigations

Posted: 3:53 PM, Sep 30, 2021
Updated: 2021-09-30 18:28:28-04
Shamblin Documentary Tight.jpeg

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — A new HBO Max documentary series is putting a renewed spotlight on controversial Christian diet guru Gwen Shamblin Lara and her Brentwood church, the Remnant Fellowship.

That series, "The Way Down: God, Greed and the Cult of Gwen Shamblin," was produced by award-winning filmmakers Marina Zenovich and Nile Cappello.

It explores how Shamblin's Christian-based diet plan, the Weigh Down Workshop, evolved into its own religion.

"Despite a carefully curated image," Shamblin and Remnant Fellowship, "soon fielded accusations of emotional, psychological, and physical abuse, and exploitation for their alleged cult-like practices," says the promotional description for the film series.

SPOILER ALERT: Do not proceed if you wish to watch all three episodes first.

In May 2021, Shamblin's plane crashed into Nashville's Percy Priest Lake, killing her, along with her husband, former Tarzan actor Joe Lara, and five church leaders.

It's a story that's quite familiar to longtime NewsChannel 5 viewers.

In 1997, anchor/reporter Amy Marsalis first introduced Shamblin's Weigh Down Workshop "where counting calories and fat grams are not part of the daily ritual."

Gwen and Amy interview

Two years later, in 1999, Shamblin created the Remnant Fellowship.

A year later, three former Weigh Down Workshop employees sued Shamblin, alleging that they were fired from their jobs for resisting her efforts to force her religion on them.

That lawsuit, which was ultimately settled, resulted in Shamblin giving hours of sworn testimony during a videotaped deposition.

In July 2001, relying partially on Shamblin's deposition, NewsChannel 5 Investigates questioned Shamblin's claims about money from the Weigh Down Workshop: "half of it goes to the government, the other half goes to keep it going so someone else can be helped."

Weigh Down interview

Then, in 2004, the Remnant Fellowship story took a tragic turn.

Church members, Joseph and Sonya Smith of Atlanta, were arrested for the child-abuse death of their 8-year-old son, Josef.

Following up on Josef's death, NewsChannel 5 Investigates uncovered the church's controversial practices for disciplining their children, including an internal recording in which Shamblin had praised the Smiths for how they treated Josef.

New Gwen Shamblin Firm Beliefs clip

That "Firm Beliefs" investigation also revealed other controversial practices, including demands that followers not take psychiatric medications to deal with mental illness.

Gwen Shamblin mental health package

In a follow-up to that 2004 report, NewsChannel 5 Investigates also revealed how Remnant Fellowship followers considered Shamblin to be a "prophet."

The Remnant leader admitted during an interview with NewsChannel 5 that she would be willing to lie to protect her church.

Gwen Shamblin Prophet

Then, in May 2021, there was yet another tragic development.

A plane carrying Shamblin, Joe Lara and five Remnant leaders crashed into Percy Priest Lake shortly after takeoff from the Smyrna airport.

Joe Lara was piloting.

Air traffic control recordings, obtained by NewsChannel 5 Investigates, did not reveal any sign that Lara knew that his aircraft was in trouble.

Sky 5 pilot explains ATC tape with crew, while divers find airplane components, human remains on Sunday

As part of the coverage of the crash, NewsChannel 5 Investigates reviewed the years of controversy that had surrounded Shamblin and Remnant Fellowship.

Controversy surrounded Brentwood church, founder for years; Gwen Shamblin Lara among those presumed dead

The filmmakers say they are continuing to work on additional episodes, partly focusing on the plane crash, which occurred as they were finishing production on the first phase of the project.

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