Name: Church Universal and Triumphant, originally founded as the Summit Lighthouse.2
Founder: Mark Prophet founded Summit Lighthouse. His wife, Elizabeth Clare Prophet later renamed it the Church Universal and Triumphant. 2
Date of Birth and Death: Mark Prophet was born in 1918 and died in 1973. Elizabeth Prophet was born in 1939 and is still living.3
Place of Birth: Mark Prophet's birthplace was Chippewa Falls, WI. Elizabeth Prophet was born in Red Bank, New Jersey.4
Year Founded: The Summit Lighthouse was founded in 1958. Its name changed to the Church Universal and Triumphant in 1974.5
Sacred or Revered Text: Climb the Highest Mountain, by the Prophets, and other dictated texts by the Ascended Masters. 15
Size of Group: The church claims to have over 200 groups in 38 countries.16 There are an estimated 2,000 to 3,000 residents living on the group's primary ranch in Montana. 17 According to Elizabeth Prophet in 1985, the group's membership was between 75,000 and 150,000, but she refused to be any more specific.18
When Mark Prophet was 17 years old, he was supernaturally contacted by El Morya, who is called an "Ascended Master."6 Ascended Masters are people who, through reincarnation, have perfected themselves by passing the tests and trials of life on earth. Through this pursuit of perfection, the masters have balanced their karmas and ascended to God, ending their cycle of rebirth.7
Jesus, among many others, is considered an Ascended Master. The masters are part of the "Great White Brotherhood," with "white" referring to the color of their auras, or halos. They communicate to those on earth through the use of messengers who act as intermediaries between the masters and humans. The messengers bring news of the "lost teachings" of Jesus and of predictions for the future. Mark Prophet became one of these messengers and founded Summit Lighthouse, whose primary purpose was to publish the messages of the masters.8
Elizabeth Clare Wulf also had a supernatural experience in her teenage years with the Master Saint Germain and was compelled to devote her life to spreading the masters' teachings. Mark Prophet and Elizabeth met in 1961, and they were married two years later.9 In 1966, Summit Lighthouse was relocated from its original location in Washington, DC, to Colorado Springs, Colorado. In the following years, the group established its own primary and secondary schools and relocated several times to locations in California.10
After her husband's death in 1973, Elizabeth Prophet renamed the group the "Church Universal and Triumphant."11 Mark's death raised questions as to her position as the group's leader, however dictations from the masters condemned her rivals and reaffirmed her position as the sole representative of the Great White Brotherhood.12 In their most recent move, the group relocated to a 32,000 acre ranch in Montana where the headquarters is based and where regular speaking engagements are held.13 Elizabeth Prophet spreads the word of the masters through regular publications and multiple weekly television programs seen nationwide.14
According to the Church Universal and Triumphant, all of creation is an expression of the duality of God. This duality consists of the matter comprised in the individual human and the spirit contained within it. They believe that there is an inner spiritual self which is part of a higher, unchanging being. The physical body is the lower, changing being. The power of the higher self, which is connected to all matter, space, and time, may not be transferred to the lower self until the individual has been proven worthy. Therefore the physical self is in a constant state of purification that takes place during multiple lives, made possible by reincarnation.19
The Church Universal and Triumphant embraces many of the teachings of "I AM" religious activity . The name "I AM" comes primarily from Exodus 3:14 where God states that His name is "I AM." The beliefs of "I AM" consist of receiving messages from the Ascended Masters and from decreeing.20
The reception of messages from spiritual beings who have purified themselves through multiple reincarnations is based in the beliefs of Theosophy . Guy Ballard, the founder of the "I AM" movement, was contacted by the same Ascended Master who would eventually contact Elizabeth Clare Wulf, and, like those involved in Theosophy, began to receive dictations from the spirit world. Ballard increased the prominence of the "I AM" movement in America through many of his dictations which were addressed specifically to the United States.21
The second activity of the belief is called decreeing. Originating with the Christian Scientists, it is a form of prayer where an individual makes a positive statement as if it had already come true. However, the founder of the New Thought movement, Emma Curtis Hopkins, built upon this notion. She elevates decreeing by not just making a positive statement, but by demanding that the cosmic powers make the affirmation true. In the case of the "I AM" beliefs, whenever someone makes a statement, such as "I am a successful person," he or she is invoking the "I AM," or God, part of their higher being. Hopkins' cosmic powers are replaced by God for those in the "I AM" belief.22
In addition, believers in the Church Universal and Triumphant call on the violet flame , which is the "energy of freedom," to aid in this purification by warding off negative karma. Proper lifestyle and invocation of the violet flame lead to balance in life, which results in the ascension of the soul to God, where it is reunited with the "I AM" Presence. This event is the ultimate goal and breaks the cycle of reincarnation.23
The Church Universal and Triumphant is an organization which incorporates ideas of the Ascended Masters and the "I AM" Presence. While members do believe in Jesus, they state that He is just one of many masters. For them, The Bible does not contain all of Jesus's teachings. His "forgotten messages" are revealed from the masters. Members' salvation ultimately come through cleansing, ritualistic ceremonies that connect them with the "Christ consciousness," leading to their ascension to God.24 25
Issues and Challenges
Primarily due to its doomsday predictions and attempts to establish a self-sufficient community on its 32,000 acre ranch in Montana, the Church Universal and Triumphant has come into considerable conflict with local residents and federal officials alike. The church was propelled into the national spotlight when Prophet predicted a massive Soviet missile strike on the United States for April 23, 1990. 26 She now states that this date did not mean nuclear holocaust, but rather marked the beginning of a 12 year cycle of negative karma for the organization.27 Nevertheless, members from around the world streamed to the group's ranch, paying up to $12,000 each for space in one of the underground bomb shelters built by staff members. 28 The state of Montana has since banned the church from ever using the shelters again.29
While the prediction came and went, the problems remained. On the same day the world was to be rocked by nuclear war, federal officials ordered the excavation of 35 underground fuel tanks 30 which had leaked upwards of 20,000 gallons of petroleum. Eventually, the church removed over 650,000 gallons of fuel from its ranch. 31 Federal authorities again fostered opposition after they tried to revoke the group's tax exempt status and obtain $2.6 million in back taxes. This stemmed from the government's claims that the church had been stockpiling weapons.32 Sworn statements show that weapons were being purchased as early as 1973,33 but culminated in 1989 when Prophet's fourth husband, the Vice President of the Church Universal and Triumphant, was arrested and served prison time for assuming the identity of a dead AIDS patient and, under that name, purchased military style equipment for the group.34 While the church agreed to dispense of its weapons in return for tax exempt status, it still allows weapons purchased by individual members to be brought onto the property.35 A myriad of other claims have also been leveled against the church, ranging from interfering with bison migration patterns to harboring illegal aliens.36
Trouble has not been confined to just the church, but has also impacted individual members. The most serious of these occurred a few months before the predicted nuclear war. Worshipers returning home from a service in the early morning hours came under attack by sniper fire. While no one was injured, bullets shattered windows and passed dangerously close to passengers in the vehicles. No suspects were ever apprehended for the incident. 37 As is common with many religious groups, rumors abound about the church employees who work long hours for low wages.38 One such story circulating in the community stated that the believers regularly ate a meal consisting of rice flavored with their own urine. However, no proof exists to back this claim. 39
Opponents of the group, one of whom received a $1.8 million judgment against the church on the grounds that he was made a "slave" of the church, predict its demise.40 Their claims are not without reason. Legal bills have depleted financial reserves.41 One of Prophet's daughters has spoken out against her, calling Prophet a "hypocrite."42 Lingering stereotypes of the Branch Davidians in Waco, Texas, have contributed to the negative press about the church. 43 Relatives of deceased church members have challenged wills which left large sums of money to the cult.44 Most recently, Prophet announced a divorce from her fourth husband, a marriage which she had claimed to be divinely inspired.45 Despite these claims, the Church Universal and Triumphant has grown, and its approximate 3,000 local members have become a powerful political force in its 15,000 person home county.46 It has recently undertaken restructuring efforts to cut costs so that it can more efficiently continue to publish and distribute its teachings worldwide.47
Associated Press. "Group gives up weapons for tax exemption." New York Times 5 Jun 1994: 1, 31.
Balch, Robert W. and Stephan Langdon. 1998. "How the Problem of Malfeasance Gets Overlooked in Studies of New Religions: An Examination of AWARE Study of the Church Universal and Triumphant" in Wolves Within the Fold: Religious Leadership and Abuses of Power . Anson Shupe, Ed. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press. 191-211.
Bennett, George. " Montana Sees Old Ways Slipping Away." The Palm Beach Post 14 Apr 1996: 1A.
Branch, Rick. "Church Universal and Triumphant." Watchman Fellowship Profile. Online. World Wide Web. 20 Feb 1997. Available: rampages.onramp.net/~watchman/unipro.html.
Ekey, Robert. "Leaking CUT tanks emptied." Billings Gazette 16 Apr 1990.
Ekey, Robert. "Shots fired at CUT members." Billings Gazette 2 Jan 1990.
"Elizabeth Clare Prophet (ECP) Homepage." The Summit Lighthouse. Online. World Wide Web. 20 Feb 1997. Available: www.tsl.org/ecp.html.
"Feds say Guru Ma knew about weapons." Bozeman Daily Chronicle 1 Jul 1993.
Gottlieb, Alan. " Montana town tense as church makes doomsday preparations." Denver Post 25 Mar 1990.
Jensen, Holger. "Trouble in paradise: a doomsday prophet wears out her welcome." Maclean's 7 May 1990: 33.
Lewis, James R., and J. Gordon Melton. 1994. Church Universal and Triumphant in Scholarly Perspective. Stanford, CA: Center for Academic Publication, 1994.
McMillion, Scott. "A year of rough times, bad karma for Montana sect." Washington Post 15 Jun 1991: B6.
McMillion, Scott. "Church members' gun-buying outlined." Bozeman Daily Chronicle 27 Feb 1995.
McMillion, Scott. "Guru Ma pleads for donations." Bozeman Daily Chronicle 13 Jun 1991.
Melton, J. Gordon. Encyclopedia of American Religions. 4th ed. Detroit: Gale Research, Inc. 1993.
Montana District Court. 221 Mont. 336; 719 P.2d 425. Decided May 27, 1986. Available: Lexis/Nexis.
Pietrangelo, John Joesph Jr. 1994. Lambs to Slaughter: My Fourteen Years with Elizabeth Clare Propher and Church Universal and Triumphant. Self published. Reviewed in AFF's Cultic Studies Journal
Plummer, William. "Turmoil in a California Camelot." People Weekly 1 July 1985: 74.
"Violet Flame." The Summit Lighthouse. Online. World Wide Web. 20 Feb 1997. Available: www.tsl.org/violet.html.
"With the world still intact, sect draws more critics." New York Times 2 Mar 1997.
Created by Donny Wyatt
For Soc 257, New Religious Movements
Spring Term, 1997
University of Virginia
Last modified: 08/30/01