‘The Way Down’: Inside the Shady Past of Gwen Shamblin Lara’s Second Husband Joe

ARTICLE HIGHLIGHTS

  • ‘The Way Down’ tells the story of Gwen Shamblin Lara’s rise to cult-like fame in the Remnant Fellowship Church
  • Gwen preached for years that divorce is not an option — until Joe Lara came into her life
  • ‘The Way Down’ highlights Joe’s shady past and his nasty custody battle that took place with Gwen by his side
The Way Down God, Greed, and the Cult of Gwen Shamblin
‘The Way Down God, Greed, and the Cult of Gwen Shamblin’ | HBO Max

The HBO Max docuseries The Way Down tells the incredible true story of Gwen Shamblin Lara. In the late 1980s, the Tennessee native combined a weight loss program with her conservative Christian religion to create The Weigh Down Workshop.

But Gwen didn’t always follow the strict rules she preached. Most notably, she got divorced and quickly married her second husband, Joe Lara. A man with quite the shady past.

Gwen Shamblin Lara turns her weight loss program into a cult in ‘The Way Down’

Gwen Shamblin Lara grew up in the Church of Christ, an ultra-conservative Protestant movement that doesn’t allow women to speak, pray, or preach in public. After struggling with her weight throughout childhood, she went to college to study nutrition and become a dietician.

In 1986, Gwen combined her religious beliefs with an extreme dieting plan that taught her followers to eat only when they feel hunger pains. The goal was to convert the love of food to love for the Lord — and she was quite successful.

The Weigh Down Program started popping up in churches all over the country. And by the late 1990s Gwen was ready to turn her program into a way of life. But when she created the Remnant Fellowship Church, the Weigh Down Workshop program turned into a cult.

The Remnant Fellowship Church was about more than God and weight loss

Gwen started believing that what she was teaching didn’t just work for dieting. She used her church to start infiltrating every aspect of her followers’ lives. She was a cult leader preaching thinness and beauty to her congregation. And it was all about keeping up appearances and being the perfect example of God’s chosen people.

The dietician had strong beliefs about divorce, and for years made it clear to her congregation that it wasn’t an option. She married David Shamblin in 1978, and he was heavily involved with the Weigh Down Christian dieting workshop. But despite his involvement — and the fact he had a master’s degree in Divinity — David stayed completely hidden after Gwen founded Remnant Fellowship.

‘The Way Down’ reveals Gwen Shamblin Lara divorced her husband of 40 years to marry Joe Lara

Gwen occasionally mentioned David, but he never attended church services and avoided all church events according to the HBO Max documentary. The speculation is that he stayed out of the spotlight because he didn’t subscribe to his wife’s religious philosophies. And because he was overweight.

Whatever the reason was, Gwen suddenly filed for divorce from David after 40 years of marriage in 2018. Then, she turned around and married Joe Lara just a few weeks later. And she did all this, despite preaching for years that women weren’t allowed to divorce their husbands. Even in cases of abuse or repeated infidelity.

Joe Lara was an actor in the 1990s

Joe Lara grew up with an extremely wealthy stepfather. And the HBO Max series claims he had a history of dating wealthy women who could support his lifestyle. Many former members of Remnant Fellowship claim Joe was with Gwen to gain access to her money and influence. Not to mention the church’s recording studio. At the same time, Gwen saw a marriage to Joe as an opportunity to have a publicly supportive husband by her side.

Before he met and married Gwen, Joe was a mostly out-of-work Hollywood actor in the 1990s. His most notable credit was starring as Tarzan in the 1989 TV movie Tarzan in Manhattan and the series that followed, Tarzan: The Epic Adventures. In 2002, Joe retired from acting and moved to Nashville to pursue a country music career. In 2009, he released the solo album Joe Lara: The Cry of Freedom.

‘The Way Down’ chronicles Joe Lara’s nasty custody battle

Joe’s music career never took off, but he did become a dad when he welcomed a child with actress Natasha Pavlovich. A woman he had dated on and off for decades. While pursuing his music, Joe worked as a handyman. And that’s what led him to Gwen and Remnant Fellowship Church.

He cut things off with Natasha for good, and married Gwen on August 18, 2018. Joe and his baby momma then got locked in a nasty custody battle. He even went so far as to accuse Natasha of sexually abusing their daughter, which was a lie.

But while they were in the middle of that custody battle, Joe, Gwen, and five other members of the Remnant Fellowship Church were killed in a plane crash. On May 29, 2021, a Cessna Citation 801 private jet crashed into Percy Priest Lake near Smyrna, Tennessee. Everyone on board was killed. And Joe was suspected to be the one flying the plane.

The Way Down is available to stream on HBO Max.

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