Church Universal and Triumphant
CHURCH UNIVERSAL AND TRIUMPHANT
CHURCH UNIVERSAL AND TRIUMPHANT is a modern movement that has its roots in various New Age predecessor groups, such as Theosophy, New Thought, and the Saint Germain Foundation. The movement started its existence in 1958 as Summit Lighthouse, a Washington, D.C.-based group founded by Mark L. Prophet (1918–1973). Prophet was a follower of the teachings of Guy Ballard (1878–1939) and Edna Ballard (1886–1971), founders of the Saint Germain Foundation, and of two spin-off groups, Bridge to Freedom and Lighthouse of Freedom. The mission of these three groups was to publish hidden spiritual teachings from higher planes of existence to guide the world at a critical moment in human history. The Ballards alone published over three thousand discourses given to them by the "ascended masters," who were seen as disembodied adepts responsible for the spiritual progress of humankind. For the Ballards, the key ascended master was Saint Germain, who was believed to have contacted Guy Ballard on Mount Shasta in northern California in a 1930 vision. Saint Germain designated Ballard the messenger of the ascended masters for the coming Seventh Golden Age of spiritual realization. Following Guy Ballard's death in 1939 and a prolonged prosecution of the Saint Germain Foundation for mail fraud, the Bridge to Freedom was founded by a disgruntled New York member, Geraldine Innocente (d. 1961). Innocente claimed contact with the ascended masters and published her "dictations" under the pseudonym of Thomas Printz. Prophet, a one-time follower of Innocente, became another claimant to messenger status and decided to publish his own "dictations" through Summit Lighthouse. Prophet announced that he had received the mantle of "messenger" from the ascended masters for the dawning Age of Aquarius.
During this early period, Prophet published Pearls of Wisdom, small booklets containing his messages from the ascended masters. He also organized the Keepers of the Flame Fraternity for a committed inner core of disciples. The Keepers made a monthly tithe and were sent a graded series of spiritual instructions that laid out Summit Lighthouse's central teachings.
The first of these teachings concerned a practice known as decreeing. This practice has its roots in the New Thought movement of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Emma Curtis Hopkins (1849–1925), a prominent purveyor of New Thought doctrines, taught that verbal affirmations using the biblical name of God, "I Am," connected students with their inner divine nature and assured that what was affirmed would manifest in the material universe. Both the Saint German Foundation and Summit Lighthouse adopted this practice and made it central to their respective ritual repertoire. The attraction of decreeing was the belief it gave students that they could overcome negative conditions in their lives and bring about both physical and psychological healing. A derivation of this teaching would be adopted by modern-day "prosperity gospel" proponents such as Robert Tilton, Kenneth Copeland, and Robert Schuller. In Summit Lighthouse's version of decreeing, the affirmations were vocalized at a rapid pace that sounded like a buzzing with indistinct phrases. To take one example:
I AM Light, glowing Light, Radiating Light, intensified Light. God consumes my darkness, Transmuting it into Light. This day I AM a focus of the Central Sun. Flowing through me is a crystal river, A living fountain of Light That can never be qualified By human thought and feeling. I AM an outpost of the Divine. Such darkness as has used me is swallowed up By the mighty river of Light which I AM!
A second central teaching detailed the path of ascension. This teaching traces its roots to Christianity and to the writings of New Thought teacher Annie Rix Militz (1856–1924). Militz taught that the goal of human existence was the union of the human soul with the divine being in heaven, an experience she termed ascension. This exalted state was the birthright of every human soul and the crowning stage of evolution. Summit Lighthouse adopted this concept and articulated it in a spiritual anthropology that posited a tripartite human nature consisting of the I AM presence (the divine spark or God self), the Christ consciousness (an interior mediator between the human and divine planes of existence), and the human soul (a mortal component that could become immortal if ascension was achieved). Summit Lighthouse (and later Church Universal and Triumphant) taught that the carefully graded path of initiation freed disciples from negative karma, wed them to the Christ consciousness, and led them to final ascension.
A third central teaching of Summit Lighthouse concerned the collective mission of the ascended masters, Summit Lighthouse, and the United States in spearheading a Golden Age of spiritual freedom and illumination for humankind. This mission had its roots in Prophet's Gnostic-inspired version of creation, in which a creator deity had emanated perfect replicas of itself into the universe at the beginning of time. These divine sparks, in turn, had become enmeshed in the material world and had forgotten their true identity and ancestry. It was the mission of the ascended masters and of Summit Lighthouse to reveal the truth of the human condition and to furnish a path whereby humanity could be restored to its spiritual heritage.
The United States played a central role in this mission. According to Summit teachings, America has been sponsored since its beginnings by the ascended master Saint Germain, the Lord of the Seventh Ray of Freedom. Prophet claimed that Saint Germain was the inspiration behind the U.S. Constitution and that he had anointed George Washington as the country's first president. The country's unique role as a "New Atlantis" and forerunner of planetary spiritual illumination, however, was threatened by "fallen ones," who were seeking to weaken the United States through socialism, rock and jazz music, tobacco, alcohol, gambling, and abortion. Summit Lighthouse (and later Church Universal and Triumphant) adopted a nationalistic political outlook that cast the movement as a spiritual army commissioned by the ascended masters to do battle with the "dark forces" threatening the nation's entry into the prophesied Golden Age. The church's elitism, utopianism, and millennialism would result in an increasingly paranoid outlook and a cycle of apocalyptic extremism that threatened its very existence in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
During the early 1960s, Prophet had a small coterie of followers who attended his classes in Washington, D.C., or who belonged to Summit study groups around the country. In 1963, Prophet divorced his first wife and married a young student, Elizabeth Clare Wulf (b. 1939). While Mark Prophet was clearly the public spokesperson and "messenger" for the movement, behind the scenes he began training his new wife as "comessenger." The couple left Washington and moved to Colorado Springs, Colorado, in 1966. As the counterculture emerged during this period, many young people were drawn to Summit's teachings. A select group of these students moved into the Prophets' handsome mansion, La Tourelle, where they lived in spartan simplicity and assisted the Prophets' increasingly ambitious national outreach.
Part of this outreach included four seasonal conclaves, at New Year's, Easter, the Fourth of July, and Columbus Day, which brought together disciples from around the world. In 1970, the Prophets established Montessori International, an alternative educational system based on the teachings of Maria Montessori (1870–1952) and a potpourri of progressive educational theories. They also founded Ascended Master University (later called Summit University) in 1972 to provide new members with an intensive and extended exposure to the group's spiritual teachings. Students lived and ate in common, participated in decreeing and dictation sessions, and enjoyed one-to-one sessions of spiritual counseling with the Prophets. Summit University would undergo myriad refinements in both curriculum and mission over the next thirty years, perhaps reaching its apex in 1977 with Camelot, the movement's New Age mystery school constructed on the 218-acre campus of the former Thomas Aquinas College near Malibu, California.
Following Mark Prophet's sudden death in 1973, Elizabeth Clare Prophet took firm control of the movement, which she renamed Church Universal and Triumphant in 1974. Summit Lighthouse became the movement's increasingly successful publishing subsidiary. The key movement publications of this period were Climb the Highest Mountain (1972) by Mark and Elizabeth Clare Prophet, and The Great White Brotherhood in the Culture, History, and Religion of America (1976) by Elizabeth Clare Prophet. While acknowledging the movement's roots in Theosophy and the I AM Activity, these books were asserted as crucial new revelations from the Ascended Master El Morya for the Aquarian Age. They also proclaimed Church Universal and Triumphant as the true church of the "ascended masters" Gautama Buddha and Jesus Christ. Elizabeth Clare Prophet moved the church to southern California in 1976 and was successful in establishing study groups and teaching centers across the United States.
During the late 1970s and early 1980s, Elizabeth Clare Prophet was a nationally known purveyor of New Age spirituality who made regular appearances on television and radio. Her national tours, billed as "Stumping for Higher Consciousness," used state-of-the-art audiovisual technology and included dramatic dictations, decreeing, and initiatory blessings. Prophet advocated her conservative positions on such controversial social issues as pornography, abortion, terrorism, and America's need for a strong civil defense. Although nationalistic and nativistic in the tone of its public pronouncements, the church was inclusive in its membership, which reflected a wide spectrum of socioeconomic, ethnic, and national backgrounds.
Following a bitter lawsuit brought by a disgruntled ex-member and a spate of negative publicity, the church moved its international headquarters to southern Montana in 1986. The move was also occasioned by fears of earthquakes in California and of nuclear attack by the Soviet Union, and by zoning battles with the church's Malibu neighbors. Prophet extolled the new Royal Teton Ranch property as a site where members could work together under the ascended masters' protection to neutralize impending negative karma for the earth and thus ensure the safe entry of the planet into the Golden Age of Aquarian illumination.
The church entered a period of increased apocalyptic anxiety during the late 1980s after warnings from the ascended masters about a possible nuclear war with the Soviet Union between 1989 and 1991. Members frantically constructed a network of fallout shelters on ranch property high in the foothills of the Teton mountains and called on its far-flung membership to move to the adjacent Paradise Valley. When a series of prophesied events failed to materialize in early 1990, the group found itself dubbed as a "doomsday cult" by the international media. Prophet tried to calm fears that the group was a "dangerous cult" about to implode by appearing on national television programs such as The Oprah Winfrey Show, Nightline, and Larry King Live, and defending her church as a patriotic group that wished to live in harmony with its neighbors. She also publicly disavowed any specific doomsday prophecies, while maintaining that the Soviet Union still posed dangers to the United States.
This period of intense apocalyptic expectation and subsequent collective exhaustion resulted in a mass exodus of church members and a severe downsizing of the organization's Montana staff. By the mid-1990s, the church was beginning to sell off parcels of its property simply to meet ongoing operational expenses. In 1996, Church Universal and Triumphant's board of directors appointed Gilbert Clairbault, a Belgian management consultant, as its president and began a wholesale reconstitution of the church and its mission. The group has moved away from its prior ideology of apocalyticism and hyper-patriotism and now represents itself as a mainstream church whose mission is to make the Prophets' considerable body of New Age teachings available to an international audience in the form of both print and electronic media. Another aspect of its new mission is to engender the creation of spiritual communities around the world whose members embrace the church's esoteric teachings and alternative healing, educational, and spiritual practices.
A further crisis enveloped the church in 1999 when Prophet disclosed that she was suffering from Alzheimer's disease. This was a severe blow to a movement that had seen its leader as the one true spokesperson for the ascended masters and as a spiritual master who had balanced her karma and was ready for ascension. In July 1999, Prophet turned over both her temporal and spiritual authority to a leadership group consisting of a president, a board of directors, and a 24-member council of elders. The church has embraced entrepreneurial currents found in other New Age religious groups and is actively marketing its myriad products around the world. To keep its worldwide membership in regular communication, the church broadcasts its decreeing rituals and public meetings to subscribers via the internet.
Elizabeth Clare Prophet is now fully retired from church work and resides in Bozeman, Montana. As the movement strives to routinize her considerable charisma in various ministerial and organizational offices, she remains a revered figure in the movement. Groups of disgruntled members maintain contact through various newsletters, chat rooms, and conferences, and there has been an ongoing battle between those who advocate a more corporate culture for the group and those who seek to retain the charismatic atmosphere and governance of the church's founding period.
Lewis, James R., and J. Gordon Melton, eds. Church Universal and Triumphant in Scholarly Perspective. Stanford, Calif., 1994.
Prophet, Elizabeth Clare. The Great White Brotherhood in the Culture, History, and Religion of America. Colorado Springs, Colo., 1976.
Prophet, Elizabeth Clare. The Lost Years of Jesus: Documentary Evidence of Jesus' 17-Year Journey to the East. Livingston, Mont., 1984.
Prophet, Elizabeth Clare. The Lost Teachings of Jesus. 2 vols. Livingston, Mont., 1986.
Prophet, Mark L., and Elizabeth Clare Prophet. Climb the Highest Mountain: The Everlasting Gospel. Colorado Springs, Colo., 1972.
Prophet, Mark L., and Elizabeth Clare Prophet. Science of the Spoken Word. Colorado Springs, Colo., 1974.
Whitsel, Bradley C. The Church Universal and Triumphant: Elizabeth Clare Prophet's Apocalyptic Movement. Syracuse, N.Y., 2003.
Phillip Charles Lucas (2005)
"Church Universal and Triumphant." Encyclopedia of Religion. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 18, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/environment/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/church-universal-and-triumphant
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