FRANKLIN — The leader of the Remnant Fellowship Church says her critics and police are using a child abuse investigation into an 8-year-old’s death to bring down her ministry.
”It’s an unfortunate taking advantage of the tragic death of a child so they can whip Remnant Fellowship and Gwen Shamblin,” she said in her office at the Weigh Down Workshop.
The workshop in Franklin is headquarters for the Christian diet program she created in 1986 and temporary home to the church that grew from it five years ago.
Police are investigating the church and its connection to Joseph and Sonya Smith, church members from Mableton, Ga., who are accused of child abuse in their son’s death last year. But Shamblin said it’s the Smiths who are being abused by law enforcement, cult experts and the media.
She said critics have fooled former Remnant members into believing they were part of a cult. Shamblin accepts the label of prophet — defining it as someone who leads people to repentance — but laughs at the idea that she is a cult leader who uses mind control on her flock.
”Why are we having to defend ourselves? It’s because these religious experts have gotten these people riled up,” she said. ”This is their occupation. They can’t wait. They talk about me every day. I can’t believe that kind of focus; it’s sick.”
Rafael Martinez of Spiritwatch Ministries in Cleveland, Tenn., has called Remnant Fellowship a cult and ”as abusive a religious group as any I’ve seen.”
She said she ignored such allegations until Spiritwatch and former Remnant members got involved in the case against the Smiths.
Former Remnant members suggested to investigators and reporters that the Smiths abused their child because of church teachings about discipline that include the use of corporal punishment.
Shamblin said she believes the Smiths’ contention that the boy ran into a banister, hit his head and had a seizure that led to his death the next day.
She said she believes a Georgia detective ”did not have enough evidence to wrap up his theory that the family were murderers” and was contacted by disgruntled former members and the anti-cult leaders. That led to the church raid.
Former members also accuse Remnant leaders of condoning beatings with glue-gun sticks and locking disobedient children in their rooms with only a Bible for company.
Shamblin said the church leaves discipline to parents but believes in spankings as a last resort.
Shamblin said she used a wooden spoon on her children and has never advocated glue sticks but doesn’t think there’s anything wrong with it.
”We are the opposite of what has been portrayed. We are a God-fearing group of people that teach loving discipline. As far as a glue stick goes, I’m sitting there going, ‘Please, for heaven’s sake, we’ve got some generations that used paddles. Here we’re using something like a licorice stick.’ ”
She said her congregation includes people who wouldn’t condone child abuse — including pediatricians, a doctor who sits on a child death review board, and teachers who have reported abuse in their classrooms.
But Shamblin said she accepts the possibility that she could be arrested, as were Jesus and several biblical leaders.
”If I’m imprisoned because of this, if they take my home, whatever, I believe that my calling is to write in clear terms how to fall in love with God. And I have been true to that calling, even in the midst of all this,” she said.