Church Universal and Triumphant Archive

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Elizabeth Clare Prophet, leader of sect that predicted nuclear Armageddon dies at 70

BOZEMAN, Mont. — Elizabeth Clare Prophet, the spiritual leader of the Church Universal and Triumphant, which gained notoriety in the late 1980s for its followers’ elaborate preparations for nuclear Armageddon, has died. She was 70.

Ms. Prophet suffered from advanced Alzheimer’s disease or dementia for years, and was at her apartment when she died Thursday night, said legal guardian Murray Steinman.
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The church’s beliefs combined icons from the world’s major religions, mixing Western philosophy and mysticism.

Despite her disease, Ms. Prophet’s videos and writings continued to dominate church teaching, transformed into a New Age publishing enterprise and spiritual university.

The church was still prepared for Armageddon in recent years and kept a bomb shelter stocked for 750 people deep in a forest near Yellowstone National Park.
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– Source / Full Story: Leader of sect that predicted nuclear Armageddon dies at 70, AP via the Star-Telegram, Oct. 17, 2009 — Summarized by Religion News Blog

As the charismatic leader of the New Age sect that many considered cult-like, Prophet led her followers along a path that over the years included apocalyptic predictions, run-ins with local environmental groups, legal trouble and even a late-in-life “miracle” pregnancy that resulted in the birth of her fifth child when she was 55 years old.

Prophet retired from the church in 1999, but her followers still call her “Mother” and listen faithfully to the dictations she recorded while channeling messages from the “Ascended Masters” over the years. A much smaller CUT than the one Prophet moved from California to Montana in the mid-1980s continues to operate from its headquarters on the Royal Teton Ranch in Corwin Springs.

Although Prophet led a private life, largely away from the church, for the past decade due to her illness, CUT President Valerie McBride said Friday that the woman who led the church for 25 years will be greatly missed.
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Murray Steinman, former CUT spokesman who, along with Erin Prophet, served as Elizabeth’s legal guardian for the past decade, said despite how the media painted Prophet, she had a brilliant mind and cared about people.
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The church hasn’t been generated much in the way of news since Prophet retired, noted Carlo Cieri, a Park County commissioner from 1985 to 1995, the years when the CUT was making a lot of headlines..

“Now, they’re kind of a real low profile,” Cieri said.

Prophet, born in Red Bank, N.J. and also known as Guru Ma, became the church’s leader after her second husband and founder of the group, Mark Prophet, died in 1973. Mark Prophet had founded the group in 1958 under the name The Summit Lighthouse. Mark and Elizabeth had four children together.

After Mark’s death, Elizabeth Clare took over the teachings, which involved an eclectic mix of karma and reincarnations, belief in celestial beings that spoke through her, and bits and pieces of Christianity, Buddhism, Taoism, astrology and Confucianism.

Prophet was said to have extraordinary abilities, capable of serving as an earthly conduit for the “Ascended Masters.”

Even those who weren’t followers noticed her ability to mesmerize a crowd.
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She intended to create an exclusive, self-reliant community on the ranch just north of Yellowstone National Park. Church members and their leaders considered the ranch their promised land, and moved — some from as far away as Europe and South America — to Park County in numbers that caught locals off guard.
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But many locals had a hard time with the New Age theology Prophet was preaching, including the CUT’s emphasis on dictations from religious and historical figures that ranged from Jesus Christ to an obscure French count, St. Germain, who in past lives was believed to be Jesus’ father Joseph, from Merlin the Magician to Christopher Columbus.

Prophet also believed in reincarnation and told followers that in past lives she had been Marie Antoinette, King Arthur’s Queen Guinevere and the Biblical figure Martha.

After moving the organization to Royal Teton Ranch, Prophet put her staff and members to work building the largest private underground bomb shelter in the United States. CUT leaders were also quietly amassing an arsenal of weapons and armored vehicles, led in part by Prophet’s fourth husband, Ed Francis.

All of this revolved around Prophet’s prediction that the end of the world was imminent and that her followers needed to be prepared.

Construction of the 756-person bomb shelter, however, brought the CUT a lot of unwanted attention.
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The state stepped in and did an environmental review, ultimately giving the CUT the go-ahead for the shelter.

Less than a year later, word got out that Prophet was predicting the world would end in March 1990.
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On the night of March 15, 1990, hundreds if not thousands of CUT members entered the bomb shelters. Some had quit jobs and run up big debt, anticipating the apocalypse.
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But nothing happened.

Church officials maintained the next day the whole thing had been a drill.

In its heyday, the church had 600 employees at Corwin Springs and many hundreds of followers in Park and Gallatin counties. It operated construction, engineering, food process and printing businesses.
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But after the apocalypse never came, the church began to shrink.
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Today, CUT President McBride said there are thousands of members who belong to 250 chapters across the globe and hundreds who attend the church-owned ranch in Corwin Springs. Church literature is printed in 29 different languages.
[…more…]

– Source / Full Story: Leader of controversial church group dies, Amanda Ricker and Karin Ronnow, Bozeman Daily Chronicle, Oct. 17, 2009 — Summarized by Religion News Blog

See Also:

Montana Doomsday Religious Cult — “Church Universal and Triumphant”

The GAO investigators found a 1989 case in Montana in which members of a “doomsday religious cult” had stockpiled many weapons, including several fifty caliber weapons. The cult is called the “Church Universal and Triumphant” (C.U.T.), and its leader is Elizabeth Clare Prophet. The cult was in the process of building underground bunkers to prepare for the end of the world. This investigation began because Ms. Prophet’s husband and another cult member used birth certificates of deceased individuals to obtain driver’s licenses so they could purchase and stockpile weapons.

In an ATF crackdown, agents found that the cult members had illegally acquired hundreds of weapons and thousands of rounds of ammunition. Among this stockpile were ten semi-automatic fifty caliber weapons purchased with the false identifications. The cult members were convicted of illegally purchasing firearms. According to GAO, Ms. Prophet continues to lead the cult and was not charged in connection with these offenses.

– Source: Suspect Organizations and Individuals Possessing Long-Range Fifty Caliber Sniper WeaponsPDF file Minority Staff Report, Committee on Government Reform, U.S. House of Representatives, August 17, 1999

In memoir, daughter of CUT leader comes to grips with where church went wrong
CUT undergoes change of perception

In memoir, daughter of CUT leader comes to grips with where church went wrong

Elizabeth Clare Prophet’s daughter writes book to expose the flawed thinking that led to her mother’s “apocalyptic prophecies”

Erin Prophet was 15 when she first set eyes on Montana in 1981, a passenger in a single-engine Cessna flying into Billings Logan International Airport.

Piloting the plane was her soon-to-be stepfather, Edward Francis. Sitting behind him was Prophet’s mother, Elizabeth Clare Prophet, leader, spiritual mother and prophet to the thousands of members worldwide of the Church Universal and Triumphant.

The small group was in Montana that September to tour the newly purchased 12,500-acre ranch at Corwin Springs, in the Paradise Valley south of Livingston. The church known as CUT moved its headquarters there five years later.

Erin Prophet had no idea that not quite nine years after that plane ride, she and members of the by-then-infamous New Age sect would head into underground shelters they had built, believing the world was about to descend into nuclear chaos. Or that she would help set the date when that momentous action would take place.

Or that just two years after that, her mother would exhibit signs of dementia and eventually be diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.

Despite the fact that Elizabeth Clare Prophet’s mind has deteriorated to the point where she can no longer care for herself, let alone lead the religious group she founded, CUT remains in existence, still based in Corwin Springs. The longtime leader now lives in a basement apartment in private care in Bozeman.

Erin Prophet, 42, is no longer part of CUT. She lives in a suburb of Boston and works as a project manager in the quality improvement department of a Boston hospital.

The Lyons Press has just released Prophet’s memoir, “Prophet’s Daughter: My Life with Elizabeth Clare Prophet Inside the Church Universal and Triumphant,” which details her tumultuous life. The book provides an inside account of the life that she, her mother, brother and two sisters, her husband and the others lived first in Colorado and California, and then in Montana.

In the book’s preface, Prophet writes that one reason she penned the account is to expose the flawed thinking that led to her mother’s “apocalyptic prophecies” and the shelters built in their wake.
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Prophet doesn’t believe that CUT, which she said “had a basic respect for secular authority,” ever would have ended up at the same deadly place as the followers of David Koresh in Waco or the Jonestown murder-suicide victims. But she doesn’t blame others for drawing the comparison between those extremist groups and CUT.

“Our actions were informed by the same sense of spiritual superiority that has led others to pace street corners with sandwich boards reading, THE END IS NEAR,” she wrote. “And the reasoning behind it is more similar to that of the other groups than I have been comfortable admitting.”

In a telephone interview, Prophet talked about her earlier years as part of CUT, which intimately shaped her life and affected the lives of others in the sect, as well as the land and its neighbors.

And though she has separated herself from CUT, she holds warm feelings toward her mother.
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The problem, Prophet said, is that her mother couldn’t resist the temptation to claim to be more than she was, to stray into prophecy and eventually lead her followers into spiritual and financial bankruptcy.

The Summit Lighthouse, started by Mark Prophet, was transformed by his second wife, Elizabeth Clare, into the Church Universal and Triumphant.

The group took ideas from Buddhism, Hinduism and Kabbalah, and blended them with the beliefs of a 1930s group known as the “I AM” Religious Activity that used chanted decrees.

There was the belief in “light,” spiritual energy that could be invoked from above and manipulated in different ways, thrown, poured and directed. There were also specially chosen messengers who had exclusive links with “ascended masters,” and shared gleaned wisdom with followers.
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Elizabeth Clare Prophet’s first prediction of a nuclear first strike came in 1987, saying the United States had two years to develop the capacity to turn back warheads launched by the Soviet Union. To protect itself from that, CUT turned its energies to building blast-proof bomb shelters

Erin Prophet, in her budding work as a messenger, directed where and what size the shelters should be. A large shelter was built at the ranch itself, and individuals who lived at Glastonbury, a subdivision CUT built 20 miles away, near Emigrant, also constructed dozens of private shelters.

When it was apparent the main shelter couldn’t be finished by the October date, she received a new date for the cataclysmic event – March 1990. The “ascended master” could hold back the karma a bit longer.

The predictions, the building of the shelters, the environmental protests – all of it provided fodder for articles that appeared in Montana news outlets in the late 1980s and early ’90s. The national press jumped on the story when Francis and CUT member Vernon Hamilton were arrested for using false identification to buy an arsenal of weapons.

Though at the time both claimed that Elizabeth Clare Prophet knew nothing of the transaction, Erin Prophet, in her book, said her mother was aware of the purchase from its conception through the attempted deed.

When March 14, the predicted date for the nuclear strike came, members of CUT filed into the shelters – just a drill, they told law enforcement and the media. They took part in a second such drill on March 26.

When nothing happened by the evening of that day, Prophet said, her mother called staff together to call down judgment on the United States.

After it became clear that no catastrophe was in the offing, members emerged from the shelters – some of them disillusioned – and planned their exit from the sect. That group included Erin Prophet, her husband and two sons. She and her husband divorced not long after.

Some CUT members spent their life savings and had little left. Elizabeth Clare Prophet didn’t seem to comprehend their losses, her daughter said, which added anger to their pain.
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As to how the sect continued even after the failed prophesy, Prophet turns to sociology for an explanation.

Failed prophecy, she learned, may provoke a crisis of faith, but it doesn’t necessarily destroy a group. Many factors play into whether it will survive, including how it deals with the failure.

If the group spiritualizes the prediction – by saying it was a spiritual test that the group passed because of its faith – it can actually strengthen a group, she said.

“If you have to believe that someone or something is always right, then you simply transform the way you were right,” Prophet said. “If someone can’t fail, you have to reinterpret what was supposed to have happened.”

Prophet said she wants people to understand the mindset of a sect such as CUT. Such a group turns its attention inward, remains insulated from the world and sees itself as having a unique place among people.

“You get the idea that somehow you’re preferred or special,” she said. “There are all kinds of religious texts you can apply to yourself in those situations.”

Perception becomes reality, and the reality of the outside world fades away.

– Source: In memoir, daughter of CUT leader comes to grips with where church went wrong, Susan Olp, Billings Gazette (Montana, USA), Oct. 28, 2008 — Summarized by Religion News Blog