The pearly gates to Montana's Paradise Valley will soon open. The Church Universal and Triumphant, a New Age religious sect headquartered there, wants to sell 3,000 acres of a 10,000-acre Montana ranch that spokesman Christopher Kelley calls "a kind of Mecca." He says the sale will generate cash for "satellite churches' growing around the world.
The sale doesn't surprise those who watch the church. Jeffrey
Hadden, a sociology professor at the University of Virginia, says
legal bills have depleted the church's financial reserves and
members are leaving, forcing it to cut costs. In the late "80s, the
church and federal authorities clashed over petroleum leaks, weapon
stockpiles and bomb shelters built for a 1990 holocaust predicted
by the church's leader, Elizabeth Clare Prophet.
prophecy renews a religious group, but more often it results in
disillusioned members," says Hadden. He also reports that Prophet
is ill and has family problems.
Wildlife on the
land - which extends from the foothill grasslands of the Trail
Creek Valley to the Douglas-fir forests of Antelope Butte - could
benefit if the church sells to a rancher, says Montana Department
of Fish, Wildlife and Parks biologist Tom Lemke. But developers
could also buy the land, in parcels greater than 600
"If the land is
subdivided or bought by one individual who likes his privacy,"
Lemke says, "public access and state options for managing wildlife
won't function." - Taffeta