He once thought I was 'the devil.' Now, he's telling me his story — and the story of Gwen Shamblin

'You were like Enemy No. 1 there for a while, and I can't believe how far I've come now to ... wanting to speak to you.'

WTVF News Channel 5, Tennessee/February 15, 2024

By Phil Williams

Nashville, Tennessee -- It's an interview I never thought I would do. Michael Shamblin — the son of Gwen Shamblin — sat down with me, decades after I dug into a religion of his mother's own making in Brentwood.

Michael Shamblin was blunt.

"Phil, 20 years ago, early on in Remnant, you were the devil. You were Satan incarnate to the Remnant. Of course, Gwen was telling us all of that."

Gwen was Gwen Shamblin, the controversial Christian diet guru who created her own church, the Remnant Fellowship, in affluent Brentwood, Tennessee — a church that some now consider to be a cult.

Watch an excerpt from Phil's exclusive interview in player above

Michael was her son.

In 2001, he had been there as I vigorously questioned Gwen Shamblin, who got her start with the highly popular faith-based diet program, the Weigh Down Workshop. At this point, it was starting to morph into her own religion.

In 2004, Michael Shamblin was there with his sister Elizabeth when I questioned Gwen Shamblin about the child abuse death of a Remnant Fellowship boy.
Three years later, I returned with lots of tough questions about the child abuse death of an 8-year-old Remnant child whose mom and dad were taking their cues on parenting from the church. I also examined some of Remnant's controversial views, including suggestions that Gwen was viewed as a prophet sent by God.

"We were seeing the interviews and seeing everything happen to her," Michael Shamblin told me. "You were like Enemy No. 1 there for a while.

"And I can't believe how far I've come now to say, wanting to speak to you."

Realizing that I was not the devil, Michael admitted, took years — and lots of soul searching about his mother's teachings.

"I've come so far — full circle — that I now appreciate what you were doing because getting to the truth can be very uncomfortable. And it takes somebody like you. You were asking the right questions," he added.

Now, he's ready to speak his truth about what he witnessed with his mother and within the Remnant Fellowship where he was once considered one of the leaders.

These days, he believes "it's a cult."

At the end of a lengthy interview at his home, we posed for a photo — a photo that neither of us had ever imagined might happen.

Michael, who carries an artist's vibe about him, was serious.

"Do you want to smile?" one of my colleagues asked.

"I don't know that I've smiled a lot in the last few years," Michael answered.

There's a reason why.

The stories on Michael Shamblin simply aren't one piece.

Gwen Shamblin was a controversial Christian diet guru and the leader of what some call a cult right in the middle of Brentwood.

But Shamblin was also a mom and now, for the first time anywhere, her son is speaking out about what he witnessed at her side through almost all of that controversy.

Michael Shamblin, now 43, saw it all — and he said he also regrets it all.

How does one process the feelings of betrayal by a religious leader — especially when that religious leader is also family?

That's something that Michael Shamblin — son of the late Gwen Shamblin, the controversial religious figure from Brentwood — is still trying to figure out.

"People wonder, how do people buy into cults or how do they buy into these churches or charismatic leaders? It was my mother, and I went along with everything," Shamblin said in an exclusive interview with NewsChannel 5 Investigates.

Michael Shamblin, who's now trying to create a new professional identity under the name Michael S. Black, noted that his mother was once almost a "rock star" in the Christian diet world. Her Weigh Down Workshop found a home in thousands of churches.

She later founded her own church, the Remnant Fellowship.

Not only did Michael Shamblin go along with it, he and his sister became part of Gwen's Remnant Fellowship show. Michael brought the musical talent, while his sister brought the eloquence for public speaking.

"Looking back on it, we were used," Michael said. "Me and my sister were used, and [Gwen] would tell us this stuff. She used us to pull people into the Remnant because she would use us as examples: look how loyal and good my kids are."

So when Gwen Shamblin was killed in a plane crash three years ago along with other Remnant leaders, Michael Shamblin said he did not feel he had lost a mother.

That had happened years before.

"When was the last time she felt like she was your mother?" we asked.

Michael appeared stumped.

"Golly, I'm having to go back a long ways. A lot of stuff has happened."

"Do you remember the last time that you told her you loved her?"



"No. It would have been, like, college."

Michael said that to really see the woman who was his mother, you have to go back in time before the family moved to Brentwood.

"I think there was a time when we lived in Memphis in the early days, there was a more humble Gwen Shamblin at one point. I would definitely say that."

And what changed?

"She started getting the praise from people, she started getting lifted up."

Her Weigh Down Workshop, which she and her husband David had created, began sweeping the nation.

"Just like so commonly happens, the ground started falling lower beneath her high heels, and I think it changed," Michael said. "All of a sudden it became the claps and the praise ... I think people can get addicted to that."

When NewsChannel 5 Investigates first met Shamblin in 2001, she was in the process of creating her own church, telling her Weigh Down employees they could either join Remnant Fellowship or find new jobs — even chastising us for daring to question her actions.

"So to accuse me of being deceptive is a very strong language because I've been led by God to do this," Gwen Shamblin said in 2001.

During a tour of her headquarters at the time, she led us right past her then-20-year-old son, claiming he was out of the office.

"That was a big day for us. I'm not sure they knew what was about to happen," Michael Shamblin said.

"But she's talking about you, like you were not standing right there," we noted,

"Yeah, I was used to that."

So what motivated Gwen Shamblin?

"Praise, power, she loved the attention, she loved the spotlight."

And the spotlight was what she found as the head of Remnant Fellowship.

NewsChannel 5 Investigates noted that "some inside Remnant viewed her as a prophet. But when she was asked, she never would answer that question directly."

In 2004, we had asked if she was a prophet.

"I don't believe I know what my gift name is. I will tell you that I am still wrestling with that. I've been told that for years," she answered.

Then, in a 2019 deposition in a lawsuit, she was asked her official title within Remnant. Her answer: "I'm Gwen."

"I believe she absolutely saw herself as a prophet," Michael Shamblin said. "I believe she saw herself as having the answer to all of life's problems."

It was the person portrayed in the HBO Max docuseries "The Way Down: God, Greed and the Cult of Gwen Shamblin," where one person described her as "Gwen Almighty."

We were curious.

"Were you and your sister ever told that you had special religious significance — or a special role?"

"Yeah," Michael acknowledged.

He related how "there were so many times that I tried to get out of the church, but there was a time when I tried to go back and finish my college degree."

Michael said the message that he could not leave Remnant and go back to college was delivered by another Remnant leader.

"And he had been told by Gwen to sit me down and say: 'You cannot leave, you're anointed.' They would use that word very commonly."

"Anointed? Meaning?"

"Meaning it is destined by God, it's ordained by God. It was ordained by Gwen."

But then, her son said, his mother decided the rules didn't apply to her.

"Gwen, over the years, she starting loosening her morals that she had been preaching to other people."

Because her husband David had not bought into her church, she decided he had to go. She divorced him, and David Shamblin was immediately replaced when she became engaged to Remnant member and actor Joe Lara in an elaborate scene captured on church video.

"She goes and she changes the church doctrine on divorce. So all of a sudden, God has a more favorable opinion on divorce," Michael recalled.

"And the church leaders went along with it," we noted.

"They went along with it."

The wedding became another Gwen Shamblin production.

"It was all about her. It was so about her — someone who was claiming to be taking care of the church."

"And you're sitting there, and your reaction is what?"

"I was already upset because of the divorce with my dad. It was just yet another shocking chapter in Gwen's life."

Michael had also watched her physically morph into someone he no longer recognized.

"Gwen started making herself look bizarre. It was frightening. Her eyes were frightening."

"The big hair started getting bigger?

"But it became almost white and her eyes became frightening blue, scary blue."

Now, Michael Shamblin wonders if anything he ever believed about his mother was true.

"She used to sing this song to me. And, at first, I always thought she was kidding. I don't even know where she got it," he recounted.

"She'd come in and go, 'Nobody loves you but your mother and she may be jiving too' — and she would kind of do this little hip swing. And I'm like, yeah, it's funny.

"And then years later, I'm like, was she kidding?"

The stories on Michael Shamblin simply aren't one piece.

A threat delivered with a sniper's bullet.

"People wonder, how do people buy into cults or how do they buy into these churches or charismatic leaders? It was my mother, and I went along with everything," Shamblin said in an exclusive interview with NewsChannel 5 Investigates.

That's just one of the startling claims from the son of controversial Brentwood religious figure Gwen Shamblin in an exclusive interview with NewsChannel 5 Investigates.

Michael Shamblin said the threat was delivered by Shamblin's new husband, former "Tarzan" actor Joe Lara, sometime after their 2018 marriage. Lara, who was proficient with a sniper's rifle, reportedly took Michael out behind the plantation-style home that Shamblin owned in the affluent Brentwood community.

"I'm going to say this, and the people of Remnant are not going to like this."

That was how Michael Shamblin began his thought. The son of Remnant Fellowship founder Gwen Shamblin, Michael is the highest-level defector to ever leave and blow the whistle on the controversial Brentwood church.

Michael Shamblin, who was once listed among Remnant's leaders, now calls it "a cult."

"If the Remnant members sitting in that building realized how much information that these people have on them, there would be no one left in those seats," he told NewsChannel 5 Investigates.

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