In September of 2021, HBO Max premiered the docuseries The Way Down, a deep dive and exposé of controversial Remnant Fellowship founder Gwen Shamblin Lara, whom many have described as a “cult leader.” Shortly before production wrapped on the stranger-than-fiction story, Shamblin Lara was involved in a plane crash that claimed her life as well as the lives of her husband, son-in-law, and fellow church leaders.
The docuseries was released as scheduled, and as such, not much was said about the aftermath of the accident. With new episodes of the docuseries not set to air until April 28, many viewers have been left with one question: What became of the Remnant Fellowship?
Who Was Gwen Shamblin Lara?
Born in Memphis in 1955, Shamblin Lara grew up to study nutrition, which combined with her faith, led her to found a weight-loss-based Bible study called “The Weigh Down Workshop,” soon amassing a large enough following to create what was dubbed “The Weigh-Down Diet.” The diet swore by spirituality as a way to free oneself from cravings and food temptations.
Following the combined success of these endeavors, Shamblin Lara founded her own church, which she called the Remnant Fellowship.
What Is The Remnant Fellowship?
According to their website, the Remnant Fellowship is “an international community of people who are finding renewed hope, profound love and deep purpose by putting the undiluted teachings of Jesus Christ into practice.” Though based in Brentwood, Tennessee, the church has over 1,500 members in over 150 congregations across the world. What sets the church apart from other Christian denominations is its divisively strict adherence to the teachings of the Bible: The church teaches that “husbands are kind like Christ, women are submissive, and children obey their parents.”
The church found itself in hot water in 2003 when two members of its congregation were accused of killing their eight-year-old son through repeated “discipline,” comprised of beating and locking the child in a chest for hours. In the docuseries, ex-members of the church allege that Shamblin Lara herself advised parents to beat their children with glue sticks, belts, and wooden spoons to get them to obey.
Remnant Fellowship was raided as part of the police investigation into the death, but no legal action was ultimately taken against the church. The child’s parents were each sentenced to life in prison in 2007.
The Remnant Fellowship once again made headlines on May 29, 2021, when a plane crash claimed the lives of Shamlin Lara, her husband Joe Lara, her son-in-law Brandon Hannah, and three other church leaders. The plane was piloted by Joe Lara, and an official cause of the crash has yet to be determined.
Is The Church Still Active Today?
In a statement released by Shamblin Lara’s daughter, Elizabeth Shamblin Hannah, it was written that she would be taking over the leadership role from her mother. In addition to losing her mother in the crash, Shamblin Hannah also lost her stepfather and husband. Shamblin Hannah wrote, “At this time in my life, I find myself with the wonderful opportunity to follow in my mother’s footsteps in serving our beautiful church, and I am grateful for her example of decades of laying down her life for others.”
Controversially, it was found that none of the millions Shamblin Lara amassed from patrons of the church over the years was left to the church in her will. In fact, all of it was left to be split between her two children. Despite this, the church is still active today under not only the leadership of Elizabeth Shamblin Hannah, but tens of other deacons and pastors who can be found on the church’s official website.
Episodes 4 and 5 of The Way Down are set to be released on HBO Max on April 28, 2022. It is anticipated that these episodes will focus more on the plane crash and how the church has handled the aftermath of the event.