I was approached by KULR’s (Billings, MT) Kathy Weber back in June to do an interview regarding CUT’s 50th anniversary.Given all the hoopla surrounding the event, I thought it would be a good idea to speak forthrightly on the subject. As far as I can tell, Kathy did a really balanced job. I haven’t timed it, but I think Kate Gordon and I got about equal screen time. Who was more credible? You decide.
The series aired in five parts, and in part four I was able to get in a strong statement about my atheism. Following are some text highlights. [The video interviews have been taken down by KULR, and I don’t have a copy–Ed.]
Part 1 – A Question of Faith
A church like no other cradled in the mountains north of Yellowstone National Park. Church Universal and Triumphant; some call it a doomsday cult, others the path to salvation. Whatever you call it, they say they are here to stay.
Kate Gordon, CUT’s current co-president says the group has moved past the hatching stage. “We see blue skies ahead.” Thousands are expected to celebrate The Summit Lighthouse’s 50th anniversary this week at the group’s international headquarters in Corwin Springs. Kate Gordon: “we are simply going about our mission of spreading the word from Elizabeth Clare Prophet and Mark Prophet our founders into every corner of the world.”
In the next installment, an insider’s look at the church from the founder’s son, Sean Prophet. “I remember saying to myself, if this nuclear war doesn’t happen, the church is screwed.” He shares some never before broadcast video from a documentary in the works. And we’ll have a closer look at the tension between his claims: “I was there when this stuff was basically being made up.”
Part 2 – Sean Prophet Talks About CUT
Sean Prophet, the firstborn son of Mark and Elizabeth Clare Prophet says his parent’s assertions of divine contact led them down an historic path. “Since my mom claimed to be the mouthpiece of God, no one could question her and that led to some problems.”
Sean Prophet grew up in CUT, became a minister, and an engineer who helped build the controversial nuclear fallout shelters. And eventually one of its biggest critics. He says, “We all braced for a nuclear war and it didn’t happen. And the justification was that it was all averted through prayer, but to me it just didn’t wash. At some point I began to realize whoever my mom was talking to wasn’t right. And I wasn’t about to live my life based on it anymore.”
Sean says engineers asked his mother for divine guidance while building the bomb shelters. “I was in the engineering department and engineers would have questions about what kind of impact we were going to face, different measurements necessary and we’d write down a list and ask her and she’d go channel el Morya or God and come up with an answer on how we should proceed.”
The buildings drew environmental lawsuits and disdain from neighbors and the suspicion of many. During that time, Sean Prophet says members embarked on an unorganized gathering of weapons. “Because if the mouthpiece of God tells you you are going to be the only ones with shelter, you need weapons to protect yourself from people who will want what you have.”
He says he was under the impression federal investigators were watching cut during the shelter cycle and at various points, the group may have been on the brink of a Waco-like demise. “We were not trained in combat. Now during that time when we were in the shelters and armed to the teeth and if the feds were watching and a shot went off, it could have been very dangerous.”
Though many believe Elizabeth Clare Prophet’s doomsday prediction was a clear indication she was off the mark, current members believe disaster was averted through prayer. They feel though Elizabeth Clare Prophet was indeed bold, she was not off the mark at all. Gordon, “She took all the criticism and went ahead with it. And Tuesday 20 years later we can say we’re glad she did it and it was indeed a wise decision.”
Gordon says if you need proof, all you need to do is look at current events. From rising nuclear tension with Iran, terrorists seeking components for nuclear weapons, to massive earthquakes and catastrophic storms she says there’s obviously a need for everyone to have a place of safety in mind. “Our prayer is that we never have to use them, but they are there and they bring about peace of mind.”
King Arthur’s court, a new multi-million dollar temple is a sign to the world the church is taking root in new ways. In addition, the Summit University Press is the group’s publishing arm and boasts of millions of readers around the world, pumping out the dictations of Elizabeth Clare Prophet in 23 languages.
In addition, the Summit University wing of the organization is planning the curriculum for a four year college in the works. Summit University’s Director, Carla Groenewegen says a four year, faith based college has been a dream of the organization since the 1970’s. “I have asked my staff to research the necessary steps to becoming accredited.”
CORWIN SPRINGS – Sean Prophet admits a unique childhood as the child of self-proclaimed prophets.
“My father started the organization in 1958 and my mother went to a few meetings and well, the rest is history.” While his mother and father proclaimed a direct line of communication with God and later founded the Church Universal and Triumphant, Sean Prophet has taken a radically different route. “I am an atheist.”
He says his doubts were substantiated by a stunning revelation from his mother when she admitted regret to him for abusing the power she held over followers.
“It was shocking because I didn’t think she would admit that. It was a shocking and towering admission in my mind and basically said to me she had made a lot of this up. There was compassion and anger. People got married, had children, drained bank accounts, emigrated, immigrated, went to school and did any number of things based on her recommendations. I think it destroyed a lot of people’s lives. I always thought that may have been the case but to hear her admit it was another thing altogether.”
Today, Sean Prophet says he has many friends still in the church and he isn’t trying to tear them down, but to free them from what he calls a belief system with a faulty foundation.
“I grew up with these people and I love them. And it’s a hard decision to come from. It’s hard to see people who have been there 30, 40 years and have nowhere to go.”
Another quest for Sean Prophet: unraveling how things escalated during the nuclear shelter cycle. “It goes back to this question: how do you convince well-educated people to do something that is so unconventional and seemingly contradictory to common sense and logic.”
He’s interviewed dozens of ex-members in pursuit of finding an answer and is planning to combine those interviews with home video he’s shot over the years to create a documentary film. He expects it will be released in 2 to 3 years.
In the mean time, the church boasts of rapidly increasing tithing, expanding construction efforts and record book sales worldwide. It’s a troublesome prospect to the first son of CUT.
Prophet says, “To think of people hundreds of years from now following this stuff as scripture scares me. Because it’s made up.”
Church leaders say they embrace all faiths from Christianity to Buddhism and beyond. Kate Gordon, CUT’s current president explains, “We have studied the root systems of all of the worlds great religions and it’s no surprise, they all come from the same Cosmic law. Mystical paths are all basically getting at the same thing.”
Gordon says it’s not just church history, these are deeply held convictions CUT members feel. “We strongly believe in it. That it’s a gift and for those who wish to pick it up and explore it it will improve the lives of everyone.”
Members say they’ve faced ridicule, unfair media coverage and religious intolerance over the years. Thursday, they hope to change that tide. Gordon says rumors have always run rampant about the group. “There were stories about our sanctuaries and people imagined all sorts of weird things in them and going on, but we have sanctuaries just like all churches, just like the Catholic church. They are simply places for us to pray.”
Gordon says they have a vision of their church as a source of peace and inter faith tolerance the world needs now, perhaps more than ever as conflicts over religion increasingly turn violent throughout the world. “We may all dress differently, we may have different clothes, but the basics of who we all are is the same.”
As Church Universal and Triumphant’s parent organization, The Summit Lighthouse celebrates 50 years, it’s leaders hope the next 50 years will be greeted with a little less turmoil and a little more tolerance.
Gordon, “Our mission is to take the teachings that Mr. and Mrs. Prophet gave us and to spread them around the world and in the process raise ourselves up to become better people, more giving and loving people.”
Is CUT the world’s next great religion, or a cult based on the imagination of false prophets? That appears to be the ongoing question of faith in Corwin Springs.
Most of Gordon’s responses were altogether predictable. Her goal was to assert that nothing really bad happened, that everything’s OK, they’re just a bunch of peaceful people praying and building a community. And they may well be. The messenger was responsible for the worst of the abuses, and the messenger is no longer in the picture. But the leaders and members all idolize her. The oversized portraits of her and my dad that hang in the vestibule of CUT’s administrative building attest to that fact. Which has led undoubtedly to endless doctrinal disputes and the attempts of the fanatics to run the show. (Remember, Mark, Morya, and Mother are always watching over you from above.) And that still leaves untouched the question of the veracity (or lack thereof) of the teachings.
The discussion of founding a faith university demonstrates their attempt to gloss over any such doubts and mainstream the organization. Doctrine and authenticity can be debated endlessly. But buildings provide an air of permanence and resolution. A university provides the ultimate air of authority. What are they teaching? Doesn’t matter, it’s an accredited university.
Still, who but an ideologue would attend a 4-year religious college in Corwin Springs, Montana when there are so many great universities in the world? What is there that CUT could possibly add to the academic fabric and intellectual development of the United States? The answer is nothing. Nothing but its outlandish, whimsical, plagiarized, and fabricated smorgasbord of theology. Which is to say, again, nothing.
The idea that the shelters averted nuclear war (generically, obedience to divine mandate is always thought to provide protection) is pretty common in millenialist parlance. It’s also been a trend noted by sociologists and students of religious movements: Failed prophecy often precedes a growth surge in such organizations. And CUT is by no means the first nor will it be the last organization to use this ploy.
Since CUT has raised or is currently raising funds ($2.1 million) for a church renovation, I have to ask the question: Instead of squandering the entire church endowment on a nightmare (but divinely revealed) seven-month-seven-year scenario of planetary judgment, wouldn’t it have been better to spend $2.1 million on expedient fallout shelters for 2 weeks, (hedging their bets a little) and the $25 million on the ultimate goal of building a community? CUT had raised funds for the Ranch and promised its members a new home. It had struggled through three years of environmental challenges and had an approved EIS for its master plan in 1989. How can anyone glibly explain away (as prophecy) the decision to scrap the entire project in favor of doomsday?
The Spring Creek development (at the foot of Devil’s Slide) was to be fully funded by the $16 million sale of CUT’s Calabasas, California headquarters in 1986. Instead, that money went into intricate buried corrugated steel, expensive survival equipment, dehydrated food, and dozens of fuel tanks. Without that disastrous and fruitless detour into the apocalypse, the Church’s world headquarters and university campus for hundreds of students would have been fully completed by 1992.
Now it’s 2008 and CUT had to struggle and fund raise to renovate its old steel barn. Nicer than it was, I suppose, but it’s no community. Just a barn with a movie-set church facade. The real fortunes–and life savings of many CUT members–are still buried up in Mol Heron Canyon.
No doubt hindsight is 20-20 on that front. But if they’re authentic–if they’re worth anything at all–isn’t that the kind of foresight prophecy and divine revelation are supposed to deliver?