This article may be unbalanced towards certain viewpoints. (March 2016)
|Type||New Religious Movement (Ascended Master Teachings religion)|
|Elizabeth Clare Prophet|
The 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 Militant and Church Triumphant" to refer to Christians in Heaven. 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 it would be called the Church Universal. However Bailey's phrase was "Church Universal," rather than "Church Universal and Triumphant," and on page 152 of Bailey's "A Treatise on White Magic," she indicated that her "Church Universal" was not a church or conventional organization at all but a subjectivity or mystical entity: "It is that inner group of lovers of God, the intellectual mystics, the knowers of reality who belong to no one religion or organization, but who regard themselves as members of the Church universal and as 'members one of another.'" The name "Church Universal and Triumphant" was announced by Elizabeth Clare Prophet on July 2, 1973, in a message from the ascended master Portia.
The church has never released membership numbers, and its 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 declined following a series of crises and controversies in the early to mid-1990s. According to J. Gordon Melton, the membership of the group is likely around 30,000-50,000.
The church's theology is a syncretistic belief system, including elements of Buddhism, Christianity, esoteric mysticism 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, Confucius, Lanto and Lady Master Nada, were identified as Ascended Masters in the "I AM" Activity or the Bridge to Freedom. Some, such as 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 claimed 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. 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 the historic Gillette mansion in the Santa Monica Mountains. The church renamed the property "Camelot".
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.
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.
Prophet retired in 1999 due to health reasons. She died in 2009.
A 2020 article in Insider stated that the group had largely disintegrated and the majority of the group's assets had been sold off. Several splinter groups exist, near Billings, Montana, and Yellowstone, but they only number a few hundred followers.
Along with many other new religious movements, Church Universal and Triumphant has been described 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 Daily Chronicle. Several of the letters were written by former church members who raised lawsuits against the church. In 1986, the church was accused of using sleep deprivation to control its members.
Public scrutiny intensified in 1989 when it was discovered that the Church Universal and Triumphant was building fallout shelters and that members of the church, including Vernon Hamilton and vice president and husband of Elizabeth Clare Prophet, Edward Francis, had purchased weapons illegally. The FBI, the ATF, 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 Vernon Hamilton being sentenced to three months' probation after spending 11 days in jail in Spokane, Washington. As a result of the government scrutiny, the church made several changes to 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. These 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." Other scholars have cast doubt on these conclusions. Robert Balch and Stephan Landgon, participants in the Lewis/Melton study, criticized it for elements of groupthink, failure to observe frontstage and back stage behavior and other research errors. Others criticized Lewis and Melton for having abandoned their scholarly objectivity and allowing themselves to be co-opted by the Church to the point of becoming effectively spokespersons for the movement.
Elizabeth Prophet developed Alzheimer's disease in the late 1990s, and in 1999 she retired from active involvement with the organization. From then until her death on October 15, 2009, at the age of 70, she lived in Bozeman, Montana under house care. The church continued its work under the direction of a presidency with a board of directors and a council of elders. 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 based in Livingston, Montana. 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.
The Summit Lighthouse is an international spiritual organization founded on August 7, 1958, by Prophet. Today it is the outreach arm of CUT, which was founded in 1975 by Prophet's wife Elizabeth Clare Prophet. The stated mission of The Summit Lighthouse is to "publish and apply the teachings of the ascended masters as taught by Mark and Elizabeth Clare Prophet." Ascended Masters are believed to be individuals who have lived in physical bodies, acquired the wisdom and mastery needed to become Immortal and free of the cycles of "re-embodiment" and karma, and have attained their "Ascension." The Ascension is considered to be the complete permanent union of the purified inner self with the "I AM" Presence - an identity that is the unique Individualization of God of each person--and to have gone to heaven without having to die, termed "raising one's body".
Church Universal and Triumphant is part of an organizational structure that includes:
The goal of Summit University Press is to make the Teachings of the Ascended masters, as delivered through the messengers Mark L. Prophet and Elizabeth Clare Prophet, available to all seekers. They have published many books over the years. Among them are:
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:
Avant-garde sludge metal band The Body utilizes a sample of the Church's rhythmic chanting on the song "Empty Hearth" from their 2010 album All The Waters Of The Earth Turn To Blood. Experimental music artist Jenny Hval also uses this sample in "Why This?" from her album Apocalypse, girl.
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.
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.