Church Universal and Triumphant
|Type||New Religious Movement (Ascended Master Teachings religion)|
|Founder||Elizabeth Clare Prophet|
Church Universal and Triumphant (CUT) is an international New Age religious organization founded in 1975 by Elizabeth Clare Prophet. It is an outgrowth (and is now the corporate parent) of The Summit Lighthouse, founded in 1958 by Prophet's husband, Mark L. Prophet. Its beliefs reflect features of the traditions of Theosophy and New Thought. The church's headquarters is located near Gardiner, Montana, and the church has local congregations in more than 20 countries.
The Catholic Church originated the phrase "Church Triumphant" to refer to Christians in Heaven. The name "Church Universal and Triumphant" was announced by Elizabeth Clare Prophet on July 2, 1973, in a message from the ascended master Portia. In 1895, Mary Baker Eddy used the terms "universal" and "triumphant" in her first Church Manual as referring to the church she founded. In the 1903 edition of this work, she capitalized these terms, referring to her church as the "Church Universal and Triumphant." In 1919 Alice A. Bailey, in what some students of esotericism view as a reference to the future organization, prophesied that the religion of the New Age would appear by the end of the 20th century and that it would be called the Church Universal.
The church has never released membership numbers, and total affiliation is difficult to estimate due to the decentralized, international structure. One author has estimated that the membership peaked at about 10,000 active participants, but sharply declined following a series of crises and controversies in the early to mid-1990s. However, this author seems to have overlooked growth in international membership. An article in People magazine in 1985 claimed that Elizabeth Clare Prophet estimated that church members numbered between 75,000 and 150,000.Gordon Melton, a leading authority on new religions in the United States, estimated membership at between 30,000 and 50,000, including international members, in 1993.
The church's theology is a syncretistic belief system, including elements of Buddhism, Christianity, esoteric mysticism, the paranormal and alchemy, with a belief in angels and elementals (or spirits of nature). It centers on communications received from Ascended Masters through the Holy Spirit. Many of the Ascended Masters, such as Sanat Kumara, Maitreya, Djwal Khul, El Morya, Kuthumi, Paul the Venetian, Serapis Bey, the Master Hilarion, the Master Jesus and Saint Germain, have their roots in Theosophy and the writings of Madame Blavatsky, C.W. Leadbeater, and Alice A. Bailey. Others, such as Buddha and Confucius, are historical religious figures. Some, such as Lanto, Lady Master Nada, Lady Master Lotus, and Lanello, are Ascended Masters who were first identified as such by Elizabeth Clare Prophet. All in all, she identified more than 200 Ascended Masters that were not identified as Masters of the Ancient Wisdom in the original teachings of Theosophy.
Mark Prophet, and later his wife, claimed to be Messengers of the Ascended Masters. As such they are able to communicate with the Masters and deliver their instruction to the world. Dictations described as coming directly from the Masters were published weekly as Pearls of Wisdom.
Group members practice prayers, affirmations, mantras and a dynamic form of prayer known as "decrees". These serve many purposes: devotion, calling on angels for protection, calling forth the light of God on the earth, praying for healing, for wisdom, seeking to know God's will and for the transmutation of negative karma. One of the most important uses of decrees is to invoke the violet flame, claimed to be the most effective method of balancing karma built up in the past. The doctrine of the Seven Rays is also taught, as well as teachings about the chakras and reincarnation.
Mark Prophet claims he was first contacted by the Ascended Masters at the age of 18. In 1945 he joined the Rosicrucians under Max Heindel, working in a branch in Saint Louis, Missouri. He later affiliated with the Self-Realization Fellowship. In 1952 Prophet founded a group known as the Ashram, sending out periodic letters received from the Ascended Masters, in particular El Morya. In about 1956 Mark Prophet came in contact with The Bridge to Freedom, an offshoot of the I AM Activity led by Geraldine Innocente. Innocente had been a member of the I AM Activity, but left in 1951 to begin her own group. Prophet studied with the Bridge until 1958 while also continuing with his own Ashram group. On August 7, 1958, Mark sent the final communication to the members of the Ashram, announcing the establishment of The Summit Lighthouse. The founding meeting of The Summit Lighthouse was held in Philadelphia on August 7, 1958. The headquarters was in Washington, D.C.
In 1961, Mark met Elizabeth Clare Wulf; they married in 1964 and had four children. Wulf, subsequently Elizabeth Clare Prophet, had grown up under influences including New Thought and Christian Science.
In January 1966, the Prophets moved their church to Colorado Springs, Colorado. In 1970, a second major center of the organization was established in Santa Barbara, California. The first session of Ascended Master University – a religious study center for teaching of the ancient wisdom – was held there in July 1970. (Ascended Master University was later renamed Summit University.)
On November 2, 1971, the church opened a branch of Montessori International, a private school based on the principles of Italian educator Maria Montessori. In later years, the school was expanded to provide a full program from preschool to Grade 12. On May 1, 1972, the church opened the Four Winds Organic Center in Colorado Springs, a health food store and organic restaurant. On February 26, 1973, Mark Prophet died, leaving his wife as leader.
Church Universal and Triumphant was initially incorporated as a separate organization on May 1, 1975, later becoming the parent organization for The Summit Lighthouse. The organization moved its headquarters to Pasadena, California, in 1976. In 1978, it moved to "Camelot," a 218-acre (0.88 km2) property in the Santa Monica Mountains, outside of Los Angeles.
In 1981, the organization purchased a 12,000-acre (49 km2) property in Montana, on the northern border of Yellowstone National Park, which it named the Royal Teton Ranch. Camelot was sold and the organization moved its headquarters to Montana in 1986.
The church became well known during the late 1980s when it predicted a period of heightened danger of nuclear war at the end of that decade. Members were urged to prepare by building fallout shelters and supplying them with food and other necessities. Some adherents incurred significant debts in preparing shelters. When nuclear war failed to occur, Prophet claimed that the community had averted the war through their prayers. Prophet's prediction received some vindication when U.S. government sources revealed in 1993 that a war between India and Pakistan in early 1990 was very narrowly averted, and they were concerned that the war could well have gone nuclear.
With changes in employment laws for non-profit organizations and a decline in U.S. membership, the church was forced to downsize its headquarters staff in the late 1990s and the first years of the 2000s. In July 1996 Elizabeth Clare Prophet handed over the day-to-day running of the organization to a new president and board of directors, who oversaw this major restructuring of operations at the church headquarters. Portions of the Royal Teton Ranch were sold to the U.S. government as part of a complex sale and land-exchange agreement. A second large property that had been purchased in 1983 was sold on the open market, along with other smaller landholdings.
Since the early 1990s church membership has fallen in the United States. Controversy in the media and Prophet's retirement were likely significant factors leading to this decline. However, the CUT remains a significant presence in the area of its headquarters, and centers continue to be active in large cities across the nation. During this period, international membership has grown significantly.
Due to health reasons, Prophet retired in 1999.
Along with many other new religious movements, Church Universal and Triumphant has received criticism as a "cult," especially in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Articles and letters critical of the church were published in the local newspapers the Livingston Enterprise and the Bozeman Chronicle. Several of the letters were written by former Church members who raised lawsuits against the church. A number of church members were kidnapped and subjected to coercive deprogramming attempts by individuals connected with the anti-cult movement.
Public scrutiny intensified in 1989 when it was discovered the Church Universal and Triumphant was building fallout shelters and that members of the church, including vice president and husband of Elizabeth Clare Prophet, Edward Francis, had purchased weapons illegally. (The weapons were legal to purchase, but Francis and other members used a false identity to purchase them in an attempt to avoid negative publicity for the church.) The Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, state, and local law enforcement agencies subsequently investigated the church. The BATF investigation resulted in Francis being sentenced to one month in prison and three months' house detention and another member being sentenced to three months' probation. As a result of the government scrutiny, the church made several changes in its operations, including the appointment of a number of independent directors to its governing board.
In the summer of 1993, a team of academic specialists conducted an interdisciplinary study of the church and its members. They published their results in Church Universal and Triumphant in Scholarly Perspective, edited by James R. Lewis and J. Gordon Melton. As a result of this study, the scholars rejected the negative stereotype of the organization as a cult. Lewis characterized the organization and its leaders as one that was "trying to do the good" and as "one of the most intrinsically interesting religious communities to have come into being in this century,"
Elizabeth Prophet developed Alzheimer's disease in the late 1990s, and in 1999 retired from active involvement with the organization. From then until the time of her death, she lived in Bozeman, Montana under house care. The church continued its work under the direction of presidency with a board of directors and a council of elders. She died October 15, 2009 at the age of 70. Prophet's legal guardian, Murray Steinman, said she suffered from advanced Alzheimer's disease and died at her apartment.
In recent years several former members of the church have come forward claiming to deliver dictations from the Ascended Masters. In 1995 former minister Monroe Shearer and his wife, Carolyn, founded The Temple of The Presence, now based in Tucson, Arizona. In 2005, another former church official, David C. Lewis, set up his own new Ascended Master Teachings group called The Hearts Center which is headquartered in Livingston, Montana. Lorraine Michaels has also claimed to be a messenger of the Ascended Masters and continues to publish dictations based on the alleged truths of the Ascended Masters on her websites.
Mark and Elizabeth Prophet both spoke about plans for future messengers to follow after them, and the organization has a mechanism by which future messengers may be recognized. However, no other claimant to the office of messenger has thus far been recognized by the church.
In popular culture
- Like many real-world organizations and people, the Church Universal and Triumphant figures in S.M. Stirling's post-apocalyptic Emberverse series, where it becomes a proxy for malevolent supernatural forces.
- Author Pete Rock's "The Shelter Cycle" is a fictional work based on a series of interviews with former members of the Church Universal and Triumphant. Rock worked at a nearby cattle ranch while the church built their shelters.
Since a recording by the church entitled "Invocation for Judgement Against and Destruction of Rock Music" appeared on the record Sounds of American Doomsday Cults Volume 14, it has been sampled many times by various musical artists—mainly in electronic genres. Among the most prominent of these:
- Negativland, in "Michael Jackson", from the 1987 album Escape from Noise. Negativland also sampled Elizabeth decreeing against various record companies, particularly Island Records, on 1995's Copyright Infringement Is Your Best Entertainment Value, which was included with Fair Use: The Story of the Letter U and the Numeral 2.
- Fatboy Slim, in "Michael Jackson" from the album Better Living Through Chemistry.
- Mylo, in the title track of the album Destroy Rock & Roll
- O.S.I., in "Set It On Fire", from the album Free
- Violet Flame, an hour-long two-part documentary, was originally recorded and produced by Brenda Hutchinson for New American Radio in the Winter of 1993. Hutchinson lived for three months at the headquarters for the Church Universal and Triumphant where she met and recorded members of the Church. The piece explores the political and religious philosophy from over 40 hours of recordings of chanting, services, rituals and the recorded stories and conversations with Church members and Officials, including Elizabeth Clare Prophet. Brenda revisited the Church ten years later, primarily to interview the growing and grown children she first met during her earlier visit. This New Violet Flame was commissioned and first broadcast on National Public Radio by Soundprint in 2002. It was awarded the Gracie Allen Award for short documentary from the American Women in Radio and Television in 2003.
- Kenneth and Talita Paolini, parents of Inheritance cycle author Christopher Paolini, were once members but later left the organisation. They have since written the book 400 Years of Imaginary Friends: A Journey Into the World of Adepts, Masters, Ascended Masters, and Their Messengers, which discussed their experiences of the sect as well as a history of it related to other groups.
- Lewis, James R., and J. Gordon Melton, eds. (1994). Church Universal and Triumphant in Scholarly Perspective. Center for Academic Publication. pp. 1-2. ISBN 978-0-8191-9634-7.
- Prophet, Elizabeth Clare, Pearls of Wisdom, vol. 16 no. 51, December 23, 1973.
- Wright, Helen M. "Mary Baker Eddy's Church Manual and Church Universal and Triumphant". Mary Baker Eddy Science Institute. Retrieved 15 April 2013.
- Bailey, Alice A. (1957). The Externalisation of the Hierarchy. New York: Lucis Publishing Co. p. 510.
- Partridge, Christopher, ed. (2004). New Religions: A Guide: New Religious Movements, Sects and Alternative Spiritualities. New York, NY: Oxford University Press. pp. 333–334.
- William Plummer, "Turmoil in a California Camelot." People Weekly 1 July 1985: 74.
- Lewis, James R., and J. Gordon Melton, eds. (1994). Church Universal and Triumphant in Scholarly Perspective. Center for Academic Publication. p. 21. ISBN 978-0-8191-9634-7.
- Melton, J. Gordon Encyclopedia of American Religions 5th Edition New York:1996 Gale Research ISBN 0-8103-7714-4 ISSN 1066-1212 Chapter 18--"The Ancient Wisdom Family of Religions" Pages 151–158; see chart on page 154 listing Masters of the Ancient Wisdom (Ascended Masters); Also see Section 18, Pages 717–757 Descriptions of various Ancient Wisdom religious organizations, including the Church Universal and Triumphant
- Prophet, Elizabeth Clare and Prophet, Mark (as compiled by Annice Booth) The Masters and Their Retreats Corwin Springs, Montana:2003 Summit University Press "Profiles of the Ascended Masters"--Pages 13–394 More than 200 "Ascended Masters" are listed
- These subjects are discuss in many of the Elizabeth Clare Prophet's books. See, for example, Lords of the Seven Rays (1986), Your Seven Energy Centers (2000), and Reincarnation: The Missing Link in Christianity (1997).
- El Morya, Ashram Notes (Corwin Springs, Mont.: Summit University Press, 1990)
- Prophet, Elizabeth Clare (1 May 2008). Pearls of Wisdom 51 (9).
- The History of The Summit Lighthouse: "The Past Is Prologue". The Summit Lighthouse. 1994.
- Prophet, Elizabeth Clare (2009). In My Own Words. Gardiner, Mont.: Summit University Press. pp. 52–62, 106–15, 131–48. ISBN 978-1-932890-15-0.
- Lorraine Locherty. "Church under fire". Calgary Herald.
- Hersh, Seymour M. (29 March 1993). "On the Nuclear Edge". New Yorker. 56-73. Hersh quotes Richard J. Kerr, deputy director of the Central Intelligence Agency in 1990, as saying: "It was the most dangerous nuclear situation we have ever faced since I've been in the U.S. government. It may be as close as we've come to a nuclear exchange. It was far more frightening than the Cuban missile crisis." Robert M. Gates, President George Bush's deputy national security adviser in 1990, reportedly told Hersh that "Pakistan and India seemed to be caught in a cycle that they couldn't break out of. I was convinced that if a war started, it would be nuclear."
- Wald, Matthew L. "Federal Land Deal Protects Yellowstone Herd and Geysers". New York Times. Retrieved 15 April 2013.
- Andree Brooks (April 26, 1986). "'Cults' And The Aged: A New Family Issue". The New York Times. "What is believed to be the first jury decision in this area was handed down this month. Gregory Mull, a 64-year-old architect, was awarded $1.6 million in damages in a suit against the Church Universal and Triumphant, a spiritual organization with headquarters in Malibu, Calif."
- Jeanie Senior (March 17, 1990). "Montana Residents Leery Of Activity Around Church Universal Property". The Oregonian. "Chris Gilbert, 16, who is a junior at Park High in nearby Livingston, told the Livingston Enterprise that after he moved in with a Livingston family, his mother visited him at his part-time job to warn him 'something might happen.' He said she invited him to rejoin his family in the church's fallout shelters. Church members have built a network of more than 40 such shelters."
- Accounts of two kidnappings may be found in Pearls of Wisdom, vol. 35, nos. 23 &24, June 7 & 14, 1992.
- Eng, James L. "Montana Church Member Spared Jail Time for Illegal Weapons Purchase". AP News Archive. Associated Press. Retrieved 15 April 2013.
- Lewis, James R., and J. Gordon Melton, eds. (1994). Church Universal and Triumphant in Scholarly Perspective. Center for Academic Publication. pp. vii-xiv. ISBN 978-0-8191-9634-7.
- Associated Press, Oct. 16, 2009.
- Church Universal and Triumphant. Articles of Incorporation. p. Article X, Section 1.The mechanism for recognizing future messengers is largely unchanged since the original Articles of Incorporation for the church were filed with the state of Montana on May 1, 1975. The church's Council of Elders is the governing body responsible for recognizing future messengers.
- White Paper – Wesak World Congress 2002. Acropolis Sophia Books & Works 2003.
- Sponsored Ascended Master Organizations. Theosophia Publishing 2009.
- Stirling, S. M. (2007). The Sunrise Lands. New York, NY: Roc Books.. Stirling, S. M. (2008). The Scourge of God. New York, NY: Roc Books.. Stirling, S. M. (2009). The Sword of the Lady. New York, NY: Roc Books.
- Former Church Universal and Triumphant Members Publish Book