The idea of combining a weight loss program with prayerful religion may sound like an ideal plan for thousands of Christians struggling with their bodies. In 1986, Gwen Shamblin Lara decided to blend her knowledge as a dietician with her personal Christian belief system to create a cult-like group. Gwen — along with her creation of Remnant Fellowship Church — is the focus of a new HBO docuseries called The Way Down.
While Remnant Fellowship Church is still in existence, the group was hugely affected when Gwen Lara died in a plane crash in May of 2021. Gwen Shamblin Lara's husband — actor Joe Lara — was also on that fateful flight, and some think he may have been partially responsible for the crash.
Gwen Shamblin Lara married her husband Joe Lara in 2018.
Joe was an actor who starred as Tarzan in the series Tarzan: The Epic Adventures, which aired from 1996–1997. He also appeared in several films such as Steel Frontier and American Cyborg: Steel Warrior. In 2002, Joe Lara announced his retirement from acting and soon started to dedicate his time to another passion: Music. He released a solo album in 2009 entitled "Joe Lara: The Cry of Freedom."
Prior to his relationship with Gwen Shamblin Lara, Joe had a child with actress Natasha Pavlovich. They had one child together. Joe Lara and Gwen Shamblin Lara married in 2018. They were still married at the time of the fateful plane crash that claimed both their lives and the lives of several leaders of Remnant Fellowship Church.
On May 29, 2021, Gwen Shamblin Lara, Joe Lara, and five other church leaders — including Gwen Shamblin Lara's son-in-law Brandon Hannah — were traveling to Palm Beach, Fla. in a Cessna Citation 801 private jet. The plane crashed into Percy Priest Lake near Smyrna, Tenn. Everyone onboard was killed.
The cause of the crash is still currently under investigation, but one interesting fact about it is that Joe Lara was actually a pilot. Immediately following the crash, reports stated that Joe Lara's aviation medical certificate had expired back in 2019, but those reports turned out to be false. It also has not been confirmed whether Joe Lara was the one flying the plane at the time of the crash, as another passenger also had a pilot's license (although they did not have the certificate required to operate the Cessna).
Why is Gwen Shamblin Lara's program considered abusive?
There’s a fine line between encouraging people to eat healthy while following scriptures in the Bible and leading them down dangerous paths that could result in hospitalizations. Gwen was so extreme with her teachings, that some women who followed them ended up developing eating disorders. One even ended up in the hospital trying to follow the rules without getting in trouble.
One of the major issues with the program is that for some people, guilt about food and unrealistic expectations about how rapidly one should be losing weight can lead to extreme cases of self-hatred. Throughout her time being a leader of this group, Gwen was even questioned about her morals – but she always defended her actions and repetitively denounced any criticism that would come her way.
HBO Max released the first three episodes of the true crime docuseries The Way Down on September 30, 2021, and the final two episodes will premiere at the beginning of 2022.