Church of Bible Understanding

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The Church of Bible Understanding (first known as the Forever Family) was founded in Allentown, Pennsylvania, in 1971 by Stewart Traill (1936–2018).[1][2] It is a communal organization, teaching a form of evangelical Christianity.[3]


In the 1970s, with its headquarters in New York, it developed into a controversial network of churches with 10,000 members and 110 communes at its peak, but only a few hundred members in later years.[3][4]

Traill underwent a conversion experience in the early 1970s in Allentown, joined a Pentecostal church from which he was expelled, and began teaching Bible and developing a following.[3][5] He changed the name of the "Forever Family" to the "Church of Bible Understanding" in 1976. Ex-members complained that they worked for very low wages, with all the money going to the church. The group had a communal lifestyle, with Traill maintaining that only he can understand the true meaning of the words of God. Traill encourages his group members to break off contact with their families. Over time, the members decreased in number.[6] The group has been accused of being a cult, and it has been estimated that Traill became a millionaire from it.[5]
Rev. Bruce Ritter of Covenant House accused The Church of Bible Understanding of enticing 17 youth out of the shelter with promises of salvation, and a state court enjoined them from housing or transporting youth under age 18 without parental permission.[5]

Business Ventures[edit]

With a carpet-cleaning business, "Christian Brothers Carpet Cleaning", they were the inspiration for Seinfeld's "Sunshine Carpet Cleaning Cult".[5][7] They also started a used-van business as a commercial venture.[5][8]
The group's only successful venture is Olde Good Things, New York City-based retail stores selling architectural salvage goods and antiques. In 2017, the stores funnelled $6.8 million to the Church of Bible Understanding, according to the nonprofit's tax filing for that year.[9]

Haitian Orphanages[edit]

In November 2013, the Associated Press investigated claims that the church was at fault for running sub-standard housing for orphans in Haiti after the two homes the church runs received a failing grade from the Haitian agency that monitors orphanages. "...Even though they claim in IRS filings to be spending around $2.5 million annually, the home for boys and girls was so dirty and overcrowded during recent inspections that the government said it shouldn't remain open."[10]

On February 14, 2020, one "orphanage", run by the organization in Haiti, burned down, killing 15 children; two burned to death and the others died from smoke inhalation, according to a BBC World News report. The cause was alleged to be candles being lit, the facility's generator being inoperative.[11]

Stewart Traill, the long-time leader of the group, died in 2018.[12]


  1. ^ Lewis, James R. (1998). The encyclopedia of cults, sects, and new religions, James R. Lewis, Prometheus Books, 1998, ISBN 1-57392-222-6, accessed February 6, 2010. ISBN 9781573922227. Retrieved March 25, 2010.
  2. ^ McManus, Una; Cooper, John Charles (June 19, 2009). Dealing with destructive cults, Una McManus, John Charles Cooper, Zondervan Pub. House, 1984, ISBN 0-310-70281-X, February 5, 2010. ISBN 9780310702818. Retrieved March 25, 2010.
  3. ^ a b c Chryssides, George D. (2006). The A to Z of new religious movements. Vol. 20. Rowman & Littlefield. pp. 89–90. ISBN 0-8108-5588-7. Retrieved February 5, 2010.
  4. ^ The Concise Guide to Today's Religions and Spirituality, James K. Walker, Harvest House Publishers, 2007 ISBN 0-7369-2011-0. Retrieved February 5, 2010.
  5. ^ a b c d e "The Church of Bible Understanding; Minister Accuses Church of Enticing Youngsters". The Evening Independent. June 11, 1983. Retrieved February 6, 2010.
  6. ^ Larson, Bob (2004). Larson's Book of World Religions and Alternative Spirituality. Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. ISBN 0-8423-6417-X.
  7. ^ Dunn, Brad; Daniel Hood (2004). New York: the unknown city. 146: arsenal pulp press. ISBN 1-55152-161-X.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: location (link)
  8. ^ Yglesias, Linda (December 8, 1996). "Cleaners Handle Rugs and Religion Shagging Souls a la TV's Seinfeld". New York Daily News. Retrieved June 22, 2015.
  9. ^ "Haiti orphanage ravaged by deadly fire linked to 'cult' known for NYC antique stores". 23 February 2020.
  10. ^ "AP News: Haiti faults orphanage run by well-off US church". Associated Press. Archived from the original on 2013-12-19. Retrieved 2013-12-18.
  11. ^ "Haiti: 15 children killed in fire at unlicensed orphanage". BBC News. February 14, 2020. Retrieved April 4, 2020.
  12. ^ "Haiti orphanage ravaged by deadly fire linked to 'cult' known for NYC antique stores". New York Post. February 22, 2020. Retrieved April 4, 2020.

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