NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — Long before Gwen Shamblin divorced her husband in 2018 and remarried less than two months later in a lavish ceremony, she saw divorce as a sign that mainstream churches had lost their way.
That is one of the many discoveries from two extensive interviews with Shamblin recovered from NewsChannel 5's video archives. The Brentwood, Tennessee, religious leader, who died in a May 2021 plane crash, is the focus of a continuing HBO Max docuseries, "The Way Down: God, Greed and the Cult of Gwen Shamblin."
Shamblin's journey — from a dietitian to becoming someone considered by those in Remnant Fellowship to be a "prophet of God" — began with her creation of a Christian-based diet plan, the Weigh Down Workshop.
"We're not playing games here. This isn't just about weight loss," Shamblin told NewsChannel 5 Investigates during a July 2001 tour of the Weigh Down Workshop offices in Franklin, Tennessee.
At the time, Shamblin was in the process of building her Remnant Fellowship.
"This is truly about taking a message, not just to the people, but to leadership and to the churches, saying, look, America is in trouble here. We've got just as much divorce inside the church as out. The church has morphed into the world."
Watch Weigh Down tour (2001):
Oddly, during that tour, Shamblin led NewsChannel 5's camera right past her son Michael (standing in the hallway) without an introduction, claiming seconds later that he was out of the office in a recording studio.
Shamblin passes son during tour (2001):
At the time, Shamblin was facing a lawsuit from some former employees of the Weigh Down Workshop who claimed they were fired for not subscribing to the boss's religious views — a lawsuit that she would later settle.
During an extended interview, the Weigh Down founder insisted her company was more of a ministry than a business, with all of the money going to God.
"Everything that I've got is his, and I'll be responsible for every bit of it going back to him. I believe that every dollar is dedicated back to God because it's all his anyway," she said.
"I don't teach others to not be indulgent and then be indulgent. I pray about every move I make and everything that I've got. And everything that I own is totally the Lord's. From house to anything I own, it's an open book."
As NewsChannel 5 Investigates recently revealed, Shamblin left behind an estate to her children potentially worth millions of dollars. Many of her real estate holdings had been placed into the names of various trusts that made the ownership difficult to track.
Shamblin on her business (2001):
During that 2001 interview, NewsChannel 5 Investigates pressed Shamblin on a claim she made to CNN's Larry King that “this money, half of it goes to the government, the other half goes to keep it going so that someone else can be helped."
NewsChannel 5 asked, "That’s not completely true, is it?”
“Yes," she insisted, "it’s completely true."
Shamblin on 'half and half' claim (2001):
At the time, Shamblin was already facing accusations that her Remnant Fellowship had become a cult — an accusation that she dismissed based on the argument that she was so Bible-focused that she could not possibly be considered to be leading a cult.
"That can't be a cult leader, that's not a cult leader," she insisted.
"A cult leader could tell you to drink Kool-Aid that's poison, and they'd follow it and not look into the Bible to check it out."
She refused to acknowledge that many cults have been linked to leaders who claim divine interpretation of the Bible.
Shamblin on cults (2001):
Shamblin's response to the questions, both during and following the interview, was to express concern for the reporter's spiritual well-being.
"I don't know if it's real good for anyone to be combative to someone who has spent their life trying to help people," she said.
NewsChannel 5 Investigates followed up, "So if someone says they speak for God, then I shouldn't question that?"
"No," Shamblin answered, "I'm just saying that I would, you know, get the information or just be gentle about it or, you know, not to assume anything. Look into the heart of someone as an investigative reporter, and look in and see what is in the heart of this person."
Shamblin calls reporter combative (2001):
That interview ended suddenly when NewsChannel 5 Investigates pressed Shamblin on her use of the Holocaust as proof that weight loss was simply a matter of eating less food.
"I'm not talking about that. That's a terrible scene of great crime," the Weigh Down founder claimed.
NewsChannel 5 noted, "You have used the example of the Holocaust over and over again."
"This is not true that I've used the Holocaust over and over. It's somebody who told you that," Shamblin continued.
"I have not. Let's just move on."
Still, we pressed. "If I have videotapes of you saying it, it's not true?"
Shamblin started backtracking.
"No, I have used it. I have absolutely used it."
As NewsChannel 5 continued to try to get Shamblin to address the question about whether such comparisons to the starvation of the Jews were appropriate, her attorney picked her up from her chair and led her from the room.
That was the end of the 2001 interview.
Shamblin on Holocaust (2001):
In 2004, Shamblin sat down for another interview with NewsChannel 5 Investigates after the child-abuse death of 8-year-old Josef Smith of Atlanta. Josef's parents, Joseph and Sonya Smith, were members of Remnant Fellowship.
NewsChannel 5 confronted Shamblin and Remnant leader Tedd Anger with quotes from a recording in which Shamblin had praised Sonya Smith for locking little Josef up in an empty room from Friday to Monday one weekend with only his Bible.
On the recording, the Remnant founder had praised Sonya Smith for her approach.
"I totally deny that has ever been said by anyone, and we do not endorse any of that," Shamblin told NewsChannel 5.
She falsely claimed the recording had been altered.
In that same conversation, Shamblin acknowledged that she would be willing to lie, if necessary, to protect the church, quickly turning to a scripture as justification.
"I believe that, if God calls you to, that you had better protect Jerusalem," Shamblin said.
"If you are doing it just to protect yourself, I believe it is a sin. But I believe that there are so many cases in here where people did that very thing to protect Jerusalem, and so they were rewarded."
Shamblin on lying (2004):
During that same interview, NewsChannel 5 Investigates asked Shamblin and Anger to explain the meaning of the term "showdown spankings."
"That's a very good question. What is a showdown spanking?" Anger responded, seemingly confused about the term.
Shamblin quickly added, "A showdown spanking to us would be a one point in your life, if you have a child that you have lovingly, you have done the positive reinforcement, you have done the negative reinforcement and then, at one point, you get in there.
"I had it. I had it with my parents."
NewsChannel 5 Investigates pointed out to Anger that he had just claimed not to know the meaning of the term.
"We are saying we don't know what you mean by it," Shamblin suddenly replied.
"None of us recall those words," she said, then continuing: "A showdown spanking would be one that a child knows that you're the parent and that they're the child. But that shouldn't have to be more than once in their life."
Shamblin also claimed that the use of glue sticks for spanking children was "not from here," later saying that the idea had originated from the membership, not from Remnant leaders.
Shamblin on showdown spankings (2004):
As the 2004 interview continued, NewsChannel 5 confronted Shamblin with her own statements that children needed to "fear" spankings.
"This is God's word. I didn't come up with spankings," she said.
We also asked her about whether it would be appropriate to spank a two-year-old child "over and over and over and over and over and over" in one night.
"That is not what we teach here," Shamblin insisted.
"You are listening to someone who is not, you're getting things twisted."
In fact, in an audio recording obtained by NewsChannel 5, another Remnant leader, David Martin, had told Remnant women about engaging in that kind of "showdown" with his own daughter - and Shamblin had praised him.
Shamblin on child spankings (2004):
As we had in 2001, NewsChannel 5 again returned to Shamblin's view of religion, specifically recordings in which she claimed to have completely left sin behind in her life.
"You know, Phil, you have a lot of tapes here," she noted.
"So you have to be getting them illegally because it's a closed thing — or you are coming in and taping them — or you're tapping into a phone line."
That statement was made on a Remnant Fellowship tape distributed among its members and provided to NewsChannel 5 Investigates.
Shamblin on sin (2004):
NewsChannel 5 Investigates also quizzed Shamblin on the belief within Remnant Fellowship that she was a prophet sent by God.
"I don't believe I know what my gift name is. So I will tell you that I am still wrestling with that," the Remnant leader said.
"I've been told that for years, but I have never - on any tapes that I know of — ever, ever said it. People say it."
Shamblin continued that she believed "God has called me to say a message."
Shamblin on being a prophet (2004):
As NewsChannel 5 was wrapping up the 2004 interview, Shamblin introduced us to her children, Elizabeth and Michael. Elizabeth is now believed to have assumed a key leadership position in Remnant Fellowship following her mother's death.
Asked about the criminal investigation into Josef Smith's death, Shamblin suggested it was all part of God's plan.
"Do you know what I believe is going on?" she asked.
"I do believe that we are onto things. I believe that God is making public what we're doing."
Shamblin on Smith controversy (2004):
- Plane crashes into Percy Priest Lake
- Controversy surrounded Brentwood church, founder for years
- Recording reveals possible cockpit alarm
- Both engines, more human remains recovered
- Pilot breaks down tape of crew talking to air traffic control
- NTSB releases preliminary report of deadly plane crash in Percy Priest Lake
- Shamblin's will leaves nothing to her Remnant Fellowship church