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Baptist fired from Weigh Down because she wouldn’t attend Shamblin’s church


NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–At least 35 employees of Weigh Down Workshop have been pressured to quit their jobs and a Southern Baptist employee contends she was fired because they would not attend a church created by Weigh Down’s founder, Gwen Shamblin.

Anita Pillow, a member of Park Avenue Baptist Church and a single mom, told Baptist Press she was heartbroken after she lost the position she had held for almost three years but became distraught when Shamblin asked her to lie about her dismissal.

“I was told that because the direction the company was moving towards, my position was being replaced by someone who attended her Remnant Fellowship church,” said Pillow, a former outreach counselor at Weigh Down. “She thanked me for my hard work but said my services were no longer needed. Because I was not a member of the Remnant Fellowship, I was being replaced.”

“In the middle of being fired, Gwen sent me a letter saying that the Human Resources people made a mistake and I wasn’t supposed to be fired, only allowed to resign,” Pillow said. “She asked me to sign this letter saying that I resigned and was never fired. Well, I didn’t sign it because it was not the truth. She called me personally and that’s just what I told her. They told me that I wouldn’t get any money if I didn’t sign those papers.”

Pillow also kept copies of all the letters, including her termination notice and sent them to a Nashville attorney. She is seeking severance pay and attorney’s fees.

Shamblin, who has ties to the Church of Christ, started a new church in Nashville with her husband and several other couples in January 1999. The church, which meets in a warehouse, has about 80 members, mostly Weigh Down Workshop employees.

Since 1992, Shamblin has taken her business from a garage start-up to a multi-million-dollar Nashville corporation. Her 1997 book, The Weigh Down Diet, has sold more than 1 million copies. There are 30,000 Weigh Down Workshop locations meeting weekly around the world, including in thousands of evangelical churches.

In recent weeks, she has come under fire for questionable theological views. The controversy intensified after Shamblin posted a weekly e-mail communiqué to her followers on Aug. 10. “As a ministry, we believe in God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit,” Shamblin wrote. ‘However, the Bible does not use the word ‘trinity’ and our feeling is that the word ‘trinity’ implies equality in leadership or shared Lordship. It is clear that the scriptures teach that Jesus is the Son of God and that God sends the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit does not send God anywhere. God is clearly the Head.”

Last week, Thomas Nelson cancelled publication of Shamblin’s new book, Out of Egypt, scheduled to ship to bookstores in late September.

Pillow’s pastor, Bob Orgeron, said he was very concerned about how she has been treated by the Weigh Down Workshop. “Anita is just a wonderful Christian lady. She is busy in outreach and helps respond to people who need counseling,” Orgeron said. “She’s not out to cause any trouble here. She has a legitimate concern and complaint.”

And Pillow may not be the only employee who was fired or forced to resign from Weigh Down Workshop because of the Remnant Fellowship issue.

A former high-ranking executive at Weigh Down told Baptist Press that at least 35 employees were pressured into resigning from the ministry because they would not join Shamblin’s church and two others were fired.

The executive, who asked not to be identified, said even he was pressured to be a part of her church. “On many occasions, Gwen had spoken to the employees during devotionals and strongly suggested that we all come and share in their worship service,” the employee said. “The last week of my being there, it became more of a ‘you need to be there and support what we are doing or don’t take a paycheck from me.'”

As for Pillow’s allegations, the former executive confirmed her story. “It’s true,” the employee said.

“I resigned because I didn’t agree with the Remnant Fellowship doctrine,” the employee said. “The fact was she was pushing this church on the staff and I didn’t agree with the stance she had taken to pressure people to being a part of that church and not have a choice,” the employee said. “That wasn’t right. I couldn’t condone the direction she was heading.”

The employee’s departure started a domino effect among other workers unhappy with the theological direction of Weigh Down. “This was not a resignation to hurt anyone. I had been very close to her family,” the employee said. “We all would like to know why Ms. Shamblin won’t change her ways. It would be my opinion that the issues to her are power and control. She wants to have it her way.”

Other former employees agreed with that assessment, calling the Remnant Fellowship a cult.

“For a person to say they are the only one teaching truth is a red flag,” Pillow said. “The message we were getting was one of condemnation. If you were overweight, Gwen said that you couldn’t love God.”

Pillow said that when other employees left or were fired, they were told to have no contact with them. “We were told they were against Gwen and they were her enemies. They were being used of Satan,” Pillow recounted.

Another former employee, fearful for personal safety, confirmed Pillow’s story. “Gwen panicked,” the employee said. “She wanted Anita to sign a release saying she had voluntarily quit. She was afraid of Anita and Gwen realized she didn’t have a right to tell people where to go to church.”

While no lawsuits have been filed, several former employees told Baptist Press they have retained legal counsel. For people like Pillow, it’s a matter of getting their severance pay and moving on with their lives.

“I’m still looking for work,” she said. “It’s been tough.”

Orgeron said the congregation at Park Avenue will continue to support Pillow. “Many of our people are trying to encourage her,” he said. “I’m just very concerned about this type of stuff being used in Baptist churches.”

Shamblin told Baptist Press she would not comment about former employees because her company is a privately-held corporation.
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  • Todd Starnes