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1. Gwen Shamblin Lara (Scott Sabo via Wikimedia Commons)
LETTER FROM TENNESSEE about religious diet guru Gwen Shamblin and her Weigh Down Workshop. . . The Weigh Down Workshop, which is based in Franklin, Tennessee, is now a multimillion-dollar business, and Shamblin has taken the controversial step of broadening her message beyond her weight-loss base. She argues that her method of renunciation can be applied to all manner of other sins, such as alcohol abuse or dependence on prescription drugs or homosexuality or the claims of wives to be on equal footing with their husbands. Having criticized the diet industry for encouraging an impious obsession with food, Shamblin has now unleashed her wrath on the church, which she views as overly permissive. In 1999, she and a small group of like-minded believers established their own church, the Remnant Fellowship, at which they sing songs of praise and read Scripture and testify about their passionate submission to the will of God. . . Shamblin is a petite and pretty woman with shoulder-length blond hair swept into a two-inch bouffant in a manner that passes for subtle among Southern ladies. She is given to wearing tight cashmere sweaters cinched at the waist, and slim black skirts that hide the skinny legs about which she professes embarrassment. When she speaks, she sounds like Dolly Parton channelling Dr. Laura. "There is no restraint in this country—somewhere along the line, Americans forgot to behave," Shamblin told me in the first minutes of our acquaintance, one morning last October. "People in this country have gone to great depths to make everything change but themselves. . ."