What Really Happened To Gwen Shamblin Lara?

Dolly Parton may have coined the phrase, "The higher the hair, the closer to God," but Gwen Shamblin Lara ran with it –for better or for worse. With blonde hair that was teased to the heavens and a very done-up face, Shamblin Lara didn't exactly look like how a typical church leader would. But she also didn't have very orthodox teachings or congregations either. Instead, Shamblin Lara created a weight-loss empire based on morality, God, and strict discipline. And while her life is getting a revival again with other projects, Shamblin Lara's story is still baffling.

As Elle reported, the Tennessee native struggled with weight in her college years. This prompted her to learn about diets and counseling, and she started her Weigh Down Workshop in the 1980s. The program basically conflated weight with morals and urged patrons to "pray away" their fat. "What I do in this program is teach people how to stop bowing down to the refrigerator and how to bow back down to him," she said as seen in the HBO docuseries, "The Way Down," according to People. After the success of her book "The Weigh Down Diet," Shamblin Lara founded the Remnant Fellowship Church in 1999. 

While her practice had more than questionable morals and teachings on its own, the congregation that she built has also been likened to a cult. But what really happened to Gwen Shamblin Lara after the success of her work?

Gwen Shamblin Lara died in a plane crash in 2021

Gwen Shamblin Lara's preaching empire came crumbling down on May 29, 2021, when she died in a plane crash along with her husband Joe Lara. According to Esquire, their son-in-law Brandon Hannah and four other Remnant Fellowship leaders died with them as they crashed in Percy Priest Lake in Tennessee. Lara was flying the aircraft to the "We The People: Patriot's Day" MAGA rally in Florida at the time.

This left Shamblin Lara's daughter, Elizabeth Hannah, to take over her ministry. Elizabeth lost her mother, stepfather, and husband in the crash, and had to go on with a brave face and little to no grief shown. She seemed intent on stepping into her mother's leadership role but is simply listed on the leadership team at Remnant instead of as the church's leader. According to the HBO documentary, "The Way Down," Elizabeth only attends services virtually instead of in person. Shamblin Lara's son, Michael Shamblin, previously involved at the church, left Remnant altogether since her death (via Esquire).

There have been multiple projects about Gwen Shamblin Lara

When there's a figure as fascinating and harmful as Gwen Shamblin Lara, there are bound to be movies and exposés made. The first mainstream look at her empire was HBO's docuseries, "The Way Down: God, Greed and the Cult of Gwen Shamblin." The series looked at the life of Shamblin Lara, her controversial workshop, her subsequent congregation, and Remnant's impact — the positive and the negative. For example, the church's teachings about disciplining children allegedly led to the death of patrons Joseph and Sonya Smith's young son, Josef, in 2003, per Bustle. The series also touched on Shamblin Lara's sudden death in 2021, which happened mere months before the premiere. In April 2022, HBO Max added two more episodes looking at the aftermath of her death and where the Remnant Fellowship Church stands today, according to Deadline

Now, almost two years after her death, Shamblin Lara's life was also turned into a Lifetime movie with the release of "Gwen Shamblin: Starving For Salvation." As Entertainment Weekly reported, the Lifetime movie stars Jennifer Grey of "Dirty Dancing" fame as Shamblin Lara and premiered on February 4. It is basically a dramatization of Shamblin Lara's life and journey to becoming a weight-loss counselor and Remnant's founder. It also touches on lawsuits the worship leader faced, her relationship with Joe Lara, and the eventual cracks in the church's foundation.