Lifetime’s latest ripped from the headlines movie is Gwen Shamblin: Starving for Salvation. The new Jennifer Grey Lifetime movie casts her as Shamblin, the creator of a weight loss program who turned peoples’ desire to lose a few pounds into a full-blown megachurch and holy crusade.
As with many Lifetime movies, Starving for Salvation proclaims to be based on true events — but how much of this truly wild story is really true? Let’s break it down.
Is Gwen Shamblin: Starving for Salvation based on a true story?
Yes, Gwen Shamblin: Starving for Salvation is based on a true story. Following Shamblin’s shocking death in a plane crash in May 2021, her story reached new notoriety thanks to the docuseries The Way Down on HBO Max.
What is the true story of Gwen Shamblin and the Remnant Fellowship Church?
Shamblin first introduced her weight-loss program, the Weigh Down Workshop, in 1986. By the mid-’90s, the program had been adopted by a number of churches across the country despite skepticism and concerns from other dietitians. Now heavily affiliated with churches, the program evolved to use spirituality as a means to resist overeating. The Weigh Down Diet book was released in 1997, going on to sell 1.7 million copies. And in 1999, Shamblin founded the Remnant Fellowship Church in Franklin, Tennessee — a church that is still active today, after her death.
Photo: HBO Max
As detailed in the docuseries The Way Down, members of Remnant Fellowship and the Weigh Down method associated thinness with holiness, adhered to a strict Christian ideology that forbade divorce, and sought to keep women subservient to men. The church also advocated for extreme disciplinary methods for children, including corporal punishment. In 2003, two members of the church — Joseph and Sonya Smith — were charged with murdering their 8-year-old son, which caused authorities to raid the church and investigate potential connections between the church’s teachings and the Smiths actions. The couple is currently serving out a life-plus-30-year sentence in prison.
Who was Gwen Shamblin’s husband Joe Lara?
Joe Lara was an actor most known for playing Tarzan in the ’80s and ’90s, starting with the TV movie Tarzan in Manhattan and continuing into the TV series Tarzan: The Epic Adventures.
Keller Siegel Entertainment / Co
He left acting behind to pursue a career in country music, which led him to Tennessee and, ultimately, to Gwen Shamblin. The two were married in 2018, following Shamblin’s controversial divorce from her first husband. Lara was among those who died in the plane crash that also killed Shamblin. Whether or not Lara, a trained pilot, was actually flying the plane when it crashed is unknown since another victim was also a pilot.
Is Remnant Fellowship Church still active today?
Yes. After losing both her mother and husband in a plane crash, Gwen Shamblin’s daughter Elizabeth Hannah emerged as the church’s new figurehead. The church responded to the Lifetime film in a press release stating:
The 2023 Lifetime dramatization titled Gwen Shamblin: Starving for Salvation claims to be “based on a true story,” yet it is a complete fabrication of Gwen’s life. Any person who has ever personally known Gwen or been a part of Remnant Fellowship Church will immediately recognize this. Gwen always taught others — and showed by her own example — how to treat people with kindness and love, always pointing them to God and Christ with every action and reaction.
Furthermore, there’s an entire page devoted to their response to the various documentaries, comments, statements, accusations, etc. that have been made via the HBO Max docuseries The Way Down, the Lifetime movie, and beyond.
Is there a Gwen Shamblin documentary?
If you finish Starving for Salvation and want to know more about Shamblin, you can switch over to HBO Max and watch all of The Way Down: God, Greed, and the Cult of Gwen Shamblin. The 5-part docuseries unfolds in two halves; the first three episodes all premiered in 2021 just four months after Shamblin’s shocking death. Then, in April 2022, two more episodes were released that covered the plane crash that killed Shamblin, her husband, her son-in-law, and four other church leaders.