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The Way Down Pastor Takes Credit for HBO Max Woes: This Is a Big Win

The Aug. 6 address before the assembly at Remnant Fellowship — delivered to an in-person gathering in Brentwood, TN, and via webcast to anyone who might want to watch — began typically enough, with congregants watching an old video sermon from Gwen Shamblin Lara, the church’s late founder who died in a plane crash on May 29, 2021.

What happened after the video portion ended, though, was unusual. In a portion of the sermon, obtained by Variety, Elizabeth Hannah, Lara’s daughter and a leader at Remnant, called in, as she sometimes does. But instead of her usual teachings for Saturday service, Hannah delivered a homily of schadenfreude aimed directly at HBO Max, the enemy of Remnant and the Shamblin family.

Hannah’s grudge against HBO Max has a specific and pointed history. On Sept. 30 of last year, the streamer dropped the first three episodes of Marina Zenovich’s investigative docuseries “The Way Down: God, Greed, and the Cult of Gwen Shamblin,” which detailed its subject’s rise from being a diet guru with her Weigh Down Workshop (launched in 1986) to her founding of Remnant Fellowship in 1999. After being married to Hannah’s father, David Shamblin, for 40 years, she remarried Joe Lara in 2018, and took his name. Lara was piloting the plane that crashed in which they and five other Remnant leaders, including Hannah’s husband, died; the final two episodes of “The Way Down” were re-edited to incorporate the accident and its aftermath, and were released on April 28 on HBO Max.

“The Way Down” featured a number of ex-congregants and diet followers who alleged that Shamblin Lara wielded a destructive power over their lives — controlling their finances, their marriages, how they parented, and their contact with the outside world. Former Weigh Down Workshop members also alleged that Shamblin Lara encouraged disordered eating, as she equated weight gain with sin.

On the Remnant website, there’s a lengthy comment about “The Way Down,” which denies the “absurd, defamatory statements and accusations made in this documentary,” and disputing specific allegations within the docuseries.

The Aug. 6 service at Remnant was only days after Warner Bros. Discovery’s earnings presentation, the first since Discovery acquired WarnerMedia (and HBO Max). In the lead-up to the presentation, the Hollywood rumor mill had gone into overdrive, with doomsday scenarios about HBO Max’s future that appeared to have reached Hannah.

So for more than three minutes, as another Remnant leader held a microphone up to the phone, Hannah exulted in HBO Max’s troubles. Prefacing her comments by saying, “This is a big win,” Hannah implied that HBO Max will soon be “replaced next year by a new service combined with Discovery+,” a strategy of the conglomerate’s streamers that had been announced in March. Hannah then celebrated the company’s Aug. 5 stock drop the day after the earnings announcement  — which was followed by a 34-second standing ovation by the congregation. (Hannah’s full remarks are included below, as well as audio and video of that portion of the sermon.)

She goes on to say that while she has no grievances with “any particular news station or any particular social media or any particular, you know, media streamline,” HBO Max “chose to go up against my mother,” and therefore she has been “praying so hard to God would close the mouths of the enemy.” Hannah could have prayed for something much worse, she made clear, citing the example from the book of Kings in the Bible when Elisha “called down something, and 42 people were mauled by a bear.”

“And I didn’t ask for that!” Hannah said. “I didn’t ask for anything super difficult for the enemy. And all I asked was that their mouths would be closed. And in much love, I just asked that they would go away. And I believe that God is answering those prayers. So this is exciting!”

Hannah then stepped straight into the recent news cycle surrounding HBO Max: how the streaming service would soon be dropping titles, or as she put it, “hundreds, if not thousands, of videos that have not produced high ratings — and so if everyone will pray that our particular, you know, show will be brought down.”

When reached for comment, a spokesperson for Remnant sent Variety a statement from Hannah reiterating her remarks: “I have been praying that any false, defamatory accusations from any media source would be silenced — and that more truth could be shown to the world about the Remnant Fellowship and Gwen Shamblin Lara.”

HBO Max and “The Way Down” producers declined to comment on Hannah’s sermon. But the company did confirm that a previously announced scripted adaptation of the series by Michelle Dean (“The Act”) is still very much in active development.

This is a big win. But what I heard on Wednesday night — along with a rainbow being across the back of the church — was that HBO Max will be replaced next year by a new service combined with Discovery+. And it was reported that the HBO’s owner had the largest one-day drop in its stock price in history yesterday. [APPLAUSE, 34-second standing ovation.] Yes, yes, yes! Well, I will go ahead and conclude today, because I know that our Father in heaven must be pleased. And again, this is nothing against any particular news station or any particular social media or any particular, you know, media streamline — and anything like that. But because that particular channel chose to go up against my mother [CHUCKLES] — and all of us, and those that I believe are following the spirit of God — I have been praying. I have been praying, and I have been praying so hard to God would close the mouths of the enemy. And like I’ve said before, when I prayed over it, over the ocean, a double rainbow came when I prayed that God would close the mouths of the enemy. And I could have prayed anything! There were leaders in the Bible that prayed — I mean they prayed some serious curses. I mean, like, tough —really tough. The double prophet called down something, and 42 people were mauled by a bear. And I didn’t ask for that! I didn’t ask for anything super difficult for the enemy. And all I asked was that their mouths would be closed. And in much love, I just asked that they would go away. And I believe that God is answering those prayers. So this is exciting! It’s exciting, and I know that as they switch over to a new service, they are going to be eliminating — this is what I heard — was hundreds, if not thousands, of videos that have not produced high ratings. And so if everyone will pray that our particular, you know, show will be would be brought down. Who would have guessed? Who would have guessed that inside one year that God could even eliminate it? You know, it’s just unbelievable — unbelievable victories! So we must be doing something right, my friends! So I love you all. And I back up authority forever. And I pray you all join with me, because I’m not stopping. So I hope you’re coming with me. I love you guys! Amen. 

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