NewsChannel 5 Investigates: Firm Beliefs

Indictment Reveals New Details About Child Death Case

News Channel 5, Nashville/September 5, 2006

NewsChannel 5 Investigates has uncovered new details about the death of 8-year-old Josef Smith. Those details -- in a new indictment -- point to some old questions about a Brentwood church's firm beliefs about how to discipline children.

Christian diet guru Gwen Shamblin has been enjoying a bit of a national comeback with appearances on the Today show and Fox News.

Those appearances sidestepped questions about the Remnant Fellowship -- the church she founded that some have called a cult.

Two years ago, NewsChannel 5's chief investigative reporter Phil Williams questioned Shamblin.

"Do you think it's possible that you have inadvertently encouraged child abuse?"

"No, no, no," she replied.

But the new charges filed against two Remnant Fellowship members, Joseph and Sonya Smith from Atlanta, may raise even more questions.

The Smiths are accused of killing their 8-year-old son Josef.

The new indictment claims that not only did the Smiths beat Josef, they also had locked him up in some sort of a wooden box.

And, in charges that could reflect back on their church's teachings, they're also accused of cruelty to children and false imprisonment -- specifically for confining him in a small room.

It's an idea that, in a church tape obtained by NewsChannel 5 Investigates, Sonya Smith told Shamblin that she'd learned from another Remnant leader.

"We got everything out of there and locked him in there from that Friday until Monday and only left him in his room with his Bible," Sonya Smith boasted.

Shamblin told us, "Remnant does not advocate any of that."

But here's what she told Sonya Smith:

"That's a miracle. You've got a child that's going from bizarre down to in-control. So praise God."

In addition, Joseph Smith, who is shown in one of Shamblin's videos with an older son, is still charged along with his wife with child cruelty for allegedly beating young Josef with rod-like glue sticks.

"Glue sticks are actually sort of common within the Remnant Fellowship culture to be used to physically discipline children," said former Remnant recruit Adam Brooks.

Former members say it's an idea they heard at church.

"Because they hurt like switches, that it really hurts, but it doesn't make marks on your children," former member Teri Phillips recalled.

Shamblin insisted it didn't come from her.

"It came from a member somewhere, someplace else and then it went around."

Two years ago, investigators raided Shamblin's offices looking for even more tapes. At the time, Remnant Fellowship shared offices with Shamblin's Weigh Down Workshop.

With this new indictment, that could shine an even brighter spotlight on her teachings, when the parents of little Josef finally go on trial.

At the time of his death, investigators say Josef had bruises all over his body.

But his parents felt that evidence -- including the use of glue sticks -- was just a part of the discipline they had learned from their church.

Right now, no trial date has been set.

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