Bahá'ís Under the Provisions of the Covenant
The Bahá'ís Under the Provisions of the Covenant (BUPC) is a small Bahá'í sect founded originally by Leland Jensen in the early 1970s. The claims of the BUPC focus on a dispute in leadership following the death of Shoghi Effendi in 1957, and a subsequent dispute among the followers of Mason Remey. As a follower of Remey, Jensen believed that the majority of Bahá'ís were deceived, and attempted to create a new administration. Jensen also made specific predictions for worldwide catastrophes, including a specific date in 1980 for the apocalypse, where followers were observed by researchers as a study in cognitive dissonance.
Researchers from the University of Montana who observed the group in various studies over the course of 16 years noted that from 1980 to 1996 membership fluctuated, but probably never exceeded 200 nationwide. Adherents were mostly concentrated in Missoula, Montana, with groups at times in Wyoming, Arkansas, Minnesota, Colorado, and Wisconsin. The group consisted of roughly 150 people leading up to 1980, but declined in size significantly following the disconfirmed prophecy, with almost all of the believers outside of Montana eventually rejecting Jensen's teachings. By 1990 the researchers claimed the BUPC probably had fewer than 100 members. With defection accelerating in the 1990s, they noted that in 1994 a membership phone list showed 66 members in Missoula, Montana, and less than 20 in other states,. A schism over leadership of the group in 2001 resulted in other defections and an unresolved court battle for control of funds. Researchers documenting religious groups in Montana in 2003 noted a community of 30 members in the headquarters of Missoula, Montana.
The BUPC profess adherence to all the writings of the Bahá'í Faith's central figures: the Báb, Bahá'u'lláh, and `Abdu'l-Bahá, as well as Shoghi Effendi. The religious differences between the BUPC and the Bahá'í Faith are essentially over leadership, although certain teachings introduced by Jensen do differ greatly, which are not accepted by the wider Baha'i community.
Unique to the BUPC, Jensen taught that the institution of the guardianship is the continuation of the Davidic line, which he claimed Bahá'u'lláh passed onto his son, who in turn passed the lineage on to the institution of the guardianship.
Charles Mason Remey, one of Shoghi Effendi's Hands of the Cause, declared himself the successor to Shoghi Effendi in 1960. His claim was rejected by his fellow Hands, with the reasoning that he was not a descendant of Bahá'u'lláh, or Aghsan, nor did he have a clear appointment to the position by Shoghi Effendi. Remey based his claim on his being the president of the International Bahá'í Council appointed by Shoghi Effendi in 1951. The result was that Remey and any followers were unanimously expelled from the Bahá'í community by the Hands of the Cause. The Universal House of Justice later announced that it could not appoint or legislate to make possible the appointment of a second Guardian to succeed Shoghi Effendi. Jensen was among the Bahá'ís who accepted Remey to be the 2nd Guardian, and to reconcile the requirement that Guardians be Aghsan he believed Remey had been adopted by `Abdu'l-Bahá, and further that Remey's adopted son Pepe was the third Guardian, a point denied by Pepe.
In 1963 Mason Remey set up a National Assembly in the United States, which was dissolved in 1966. Leland Jensen was among the members elected in 1963, and in 1964 he left the group during a time of disputes among the members and moved to Missoula, Montana. In 1969 he was convicted of performing "a lewd and lascivious act" for sexually molesting a 15-year-old female patient, and served four years of a twenty-year sentence in the Montana State Prison.
It was in prison that Jensen claimed to have a revelation, and converted several dozen inmates to his idea of being the "Establisher" of the Bahá'í Faith, stemming from his belief that the administration of the religion had been corrupted, and that he was chosen by God to re-establish the administration. According to Jensen, shortly after returning to his cell,
"I felt a presence only. I saw nobody. I saw no dove, no burning bush or anything of that nature. It talked to me- not in a physical voice, but very vividly expressing to me that I was the Promised Joshua."
Jensen began teaching as early as 1971 that in 1980 the world would be cleansed of evil by a nuclear holocaust. Jensen gained national attention when on April 26, 1980 he led a group of followers into fallout shelters, expecting an apocalyptic nuclear holocaust. He went on to predict that Halley's Comet would enter earth's orbit on April 29, 1986, and collide with the earth exactly one year later. With Jensen's approval, in the early 1990s his companion Neal Chase made a total of 18 predictions which pertained to small-scale disasters that he claimed would lead step-by-step towards the Apocalypse, as well as dates for a nuclear attack on New York City by middle Eastern terrorists.
In 1991 Jensen appointed 12 members to a second International Bahá'í Council (sIBC) modeled on the International Bahá'í Council set up by Shoghi Effendi, and Jensen registered it in 1993 as a non-profit corporation in Montana. He intended for it to evolve into the elected Universal House of Justice with the Guardian as its president. Believing Joseph Pepe was the Guardian, Jensen invited him to be the president of the council, but Pepe steadfastly denied being the Guardian and had no involvement with the group. After Pepe died in 1994 Jensen began hinting that Neal Chase might be the next Guardian. Years later, justifying his claim to leadership, Chase claimed to have been secretly adopted by Pepe. After Jensen's own death in 1996, the council remained the head of the BUPC, but without a clear candidate for Guardian, and without Jensen, no new members could be appointed to the council.
In 2001, a long-running dispute about the identity of the Guardian broke the group into schism. Since Pepe died in 1994 the identity of the Guardian was ambiguous to Jensen's followers, and Neal Chase claimed the title in 2001. The treasurer of the council responded by declaring Neal Chase a Covenant-breaker, and Chase subsequently claimed that failing to recognize him as the Guardian amounted to Covenant-breaking.
The majority members of the sIBC filed a complaint on April 26, 2002, seeking an order granting damages against Chase, including interest and attorney's fees; and an injunction forbidding Chase to represent the council. Chase filed a motion to dismiss on July 15, 2003, arguing that a judicial resolution would require a court to interpret religious doctrine. The motion was granted September 29, 2003. The case was appealed to the Supreme Court of Montana in 2004, and a decision came February 15, 2005,
"Chase argues that the Guardianship, a religious office, vests him with the presidency of the corporation, a secular one, and that it is through holding the latter that he rightfully controls the corporate property. The presidency thus serves in this instance as the temporal nexus between the world of faith, represented by the Guardianship, and the secular world, in which laws define the relationships between persons, corporate or otherwise, and property."
"This dispute revolves around two basic issues: the composition of the Board, and the powers of the presidency in relation to the church property... The District Court has no power either to anoint a successor to any religious office, or to invalidate any claim thereto. If these two issues can be resolved on purely secular grounds, then the District Court can apply corporate, property, and tort law in deciding the merits of the Board’s conversion and other claims against Chase."
The case was remanded to the lower court for further proceedings.
- Stone 2000, pp. 269
- Stone 2000, pp. 271
- stone 2000, p. 280
- stone 2000, p. 132
- Hyslop 2004
- Smith 1999, p. 292
- The Universal House of Justice, Letter of 6 October 1963, Messages from the Universal House of Justice 1963-1986 p. 14
- State v. Jensen, 153 Mont. 233, 455 P.2d 631 (Montana, 1969)
- Stone 2000, p. 277
- Stone 2000, pp. 272
- stone 2000, p. 282 note 5
- Opinion/Order, Montana Supreme Court, 2/15/2005 Case No. 04-214. Cases are accessible online at State Law Library of Montana.
- stone 2000, p. 282 note 6
- Hyslop, Scott (2004), Pluralism Project, Harvard University Study of Religion
- Rabbani, Ruhiyyih, ed. (1992), The Ministry of the Custodians 1957-1963, Bahá'í World Centre, ISBN 0-85398-350-X
- Robins, Tom (1997), Millennium, Messiahs, and Mayhem, New York, New York. 10001: Routledge
- Smith, P. (1999), A Concise Encyclopedia of the Bahá'í Faith, Oxford, UK: Oneworld Publications, ISBN 1-85168-184-1
- Stone, Jon R. (ed) (2000), Expecting Armageddon, Essential Readings in Failed Prophecy, New York: Routledge, pp. 269–282, ISBN 0-415-92331-X
- "Bahá'í: Deer Lodge Sanctuary" (January 29, 1991). The Missoulian. Front page.
- “Local Bahá'í Leader dead at 81”. August 8, 1996. Missoulian p. B2.
- "Millennial Fever" (July 17, 1997). Missoula Independent. Front Page.
- “Ezekiel’s Temple in Montana!” (9 February 1991). The Montana Standard. Front Page.