NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — Newly obtained video shines new light into a controversial Brentwood church that has faced repeated accusations of being a cult.
That video, obtained by NewsChannel 5 Investigates, shows Remnant Fellowship founder, Gwen Shamblin Lara, testifying under oath in 2019 about her beliefs, about her own controversial wedding, even about allegations that her church financed divorces filed by Remnant members against non-Remnant spouses.
"I think we are the most highly investigated church in the United States," Shamblin insisted.
The video deposition was taken two years before Shamblin, her husband Joe Lara and five Remnant Fellowship leaders would be killed when their small business jet slammed into Nashville's Percy Priest Lake shortly after takeoff.
Shamblin was called to testify in a child custody case involving a child that Joe Lara had fathered years before their 2018 marriage.
An attorney for the child's mother pressed Shamblin about the controversies surrounding Remnant Fellowship.
"Are you aware that a lot of folks, at least online, have expressed that they think Remnant Fellowship is a cult?" he asked.
Her response: "I'm not aware 'a lot.' It's kinda like, "a lot of people,' no. You'd have to define 'a lot.'"
A recent HBO Max docuseries - "The Way Down: God, Greed and the Cult of Gwen Shamblin - has put a new spotlight on Shamblin and the Remnant Fellowship.
Remnant has condemned "the absurd, defamatory statements and accusations made in this documentary - yet another Hollywood attack on religion."
But the 2019 testimony revealed a church so worried about its image that, Shamblin acknowledged, Remnant Fellowship had a web team dedicated to trying to manipulate its Google search results.
She was asked, "Was the purpose of this Google placement to push negative web sites down in the searches for Remnant Fellowship?"
"Or to push the truth of what it is about us to the top," the Remnant founder answered.
Shamblin was an exalted figure inside the church she founded back in the late 90s, coming off the success of her Weigh Down Diet plan.
"Come home to true religion that is simple but powerful," she urged followers in a video that called the Remnant Fellowship the "one true church."
NewsChannel 5 Investigates had asked Shamblin in 2004 about allegations that she was viewed as a prophetic figure by her followers.
We inquired, "Are you a prophet?"
"I don't believe I know what my gift name is," Shamblin said. "so I will tell you I am still wrestling with that. I've been told that for years."
Watch 2004 interview below:
But 15 years later, in the video deposition, she was asked, "What is your position with Remnant Fellowship?"
"I am one of the leaders," she replied.
"Do you have any kind of official title with the church?"
After years of portraying herself for years in a prophetic role, in the deposition, Shamblin resisted any such labels.
"Do you consider yourself to be a pastor though?"
"Honestly, my background, Church of Christ, being a female, I've tried to resist any title but Gwen."
Watch 2019 deposition below:
Video posted on Shamblin’s social media shows the night in 2018 that she became engaged to Lara - right after divorcing David Shamblin, her husband of 40 years.
This was the same woman who told NewsChannel 5 Investigates in 2001 that she was forming her own church, partly, because mainstream churches had become too lenient on divorce.
"America is in trouble here," Shamblin said in a tour of her Weigh Down Workshop offices in Franklin, Tenn.
"We've got just as much divorce inside the church as out. The church has morphed into the world."
Watch 2001 interview below:
But Shamblin’s new views on “divorce and remarriage” - posted to the church’s website around the time she decided to divorce her own husband - insisted that "God himself divorced Israel, His Bride" for turning away from the faith.
As a result, she concluded, “there should be no judgment toward Saints" - meaning Remnant members - "as they strive to help build a pure church.”
Her wedding, less than two months after her divorce was finalized, became a high church event.
The wedding video, also posted online, boasted that Remnant followers had traveled from around the globe to be there for Gwen’s wedding.
In the deposition, Shamblin was asked: "Did you pay for the wedding?"
Watch 2019 deposition below:
The Remnant leader explained that one of her church's ministries involves members producing beautiful weddings for other members.
As for whether it was all free, she was asked, "Did you have to cut any personal checks to pay for this wedding?"
"Talking about my dress? I don't recall. There are some things obviously that I purchased."
In fact, long before the HBO docuseries, Remnant Fellowship had faced accusations of breaking up families when one person joins but other family members refuse.
In a 2004 divorce case out of Connecticut, Homonnay vs. Homonnay, the court quoted the Remnant wife's statements that: “We must take God’s work seriously, and we must take everything his prophet Gwen and the other leaders are saying seriously.”
The wife also said, “Leaders in Remnant have to be willing to stand up and get rid of even relatives who are idol worshippers.”
Shamblin was asked, "Do you think that Remnant Fellowship has been responsible for the breakup of any families associated with the church?"
"No," she mumbled.
In the Homonnay case, the court said Remnant Fellowship provided $10,000 to help with the wife’s legal fees.
"When Remnant members go through divorces, do you ever fund litigations for those folks?" the attorney asked
"Me, personally, no," Shamblin responded.
"Or through any organization you're associated with?"
"OK, if you are asking about how Remnant churches are set up...."
Shamblin went on to explain that Remnant has a committee that addresses requests for financial help from members, including help with legal fees.
Yet, when the attorney tried to get into the details about specific examples, Shamblin’s lawyer, Remnant leader Russ Morgan, objected, citing what he called Tennessee’s pastor’s privilege.
"I'm going to instruct her not to answer," Morgan interjected.
The lawyer for the child's mother asked, "It's not like spiritual guidance though, is it?"
"Could be, yeah. I'm instructing her not to answer it. You can take it up with the judge."
It's not clear if the judge presiding over the custody case was ever asked to rule about those questions.
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- Both engines, more human remains recovered
- Pilot breaks down tape of crew talking to air traffic control
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- Gwen Shamblin interviews reveal late Remnant leader's thoughts on divorce, child spankings and cults