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In HBO Max's "The Way Down," one evangelical church preaches dieting as the way to salvation

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"We just thank you for this teaching that has given us freedom, and kept our weight off after all this time, God," says one of the women praying on her knees in the opening of new HBO Max docuseries "The Way Down."

The series follows Gwen Shamblin Lara's rise as an evangelical preacher through archival footage, depositions and interviews with former members of Remnant Fellowship Church, which she founded. The documentary's full title – "The Way Down: God, Greed, and the Cult of Gwen Shamblin" – makes it clear that this is not the typical exposé of an evangelical church. Here, diet culture prevails.

But before delving into that peculiar aspect of the church, one other detail makes this story particularly fascinating right now. Shamblin Lara died unexpectedly in May at age 66 in a plane crash shortly after takeoff.

That grim turn of events had an unforeseen effect on "The Way Down," which opens with footage of the search and rescue team sent out after Shamblin Lara's private jet crashed into Percy Priest Lake in Tennessee, killing her and five other church members aboard. And although director Marina Zenovich never was able to interview her subject for the series directly, many of those who were afraid to speak out about their experiences with Remnant Fellowship while Shamblin Lara was alive have now come forward. This sparked the need for two more episodes of the series, which will follow in 2022.

For now, HBO Max has released the first three episodes, which go into detail about the ways that Remnant Fellowship controlled former members, including allegations of child abuse and, in one case, accusations of the killing of one child by his parents. There's behavior that the series characterizes as cultlike, such as mega worship services with a charismatic leader, whom people both love and fear. But throughout the series, one of the oddest........

© Salon

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