The theology of the Church Universal and Triumphant is a mixed bag of Christianity, Buddhism, New Age mysticism and astrology.
Add in beings called Ascended Masters,
who speak through Elizabeth Clare Prophet, angels and "elementals,"
who embody earth, fire, water and wind.
there are events that can happen on the physical, astral or
psychological plane, where they can't be seen but can be
There are forces of evil, too: fallen
angels, space aliens, discarnates who do the devil's work. Watch
out for them.
It's a challenging mix, one that
current church president Gilbert Cleirbaut said is sometimes too
complicated even for him.
That's why he is
leading efforts to repackage the body of the church's teachings to
make them more accessible to people.
"We have a
lot of teachings, but we've never consistently organized our
material into a coherent theology," said church vice president
Murray Steinman in an interview. "What do you do first, second,
The spiritual goal of church
members is to achieve "ascension," to dwell in the cosmos with the
Ascended Masters. To do this, you must balance your karma, the debt
of your sins from this life and your past
You do that, in part, by "decreeing' -
offering long hours of specific oral prayer. Decrees can "mitigate"
karma, the church says.
Decrees are used for
other purposes as well. People gather in groups and decree to fend
off war or catastrophe, to send "blue bolts of lightning" to
illuminate journalists and critics, or to give judges the wisdom
they need to make favorable rulings in cases affecting the
In 1988, when wildfires from Yellowstone
National Park threatened church property, dozens of church members
gathered in a parkside meadow and decreed for hours, facing the
flames with outstretched hands.
"Roll back the
tide," they intoned, over and over and
While on earth, the spiritual goal is to
get in touch with the "spark of divinity" that is within each
person. Some actions, like homosexuality or oral sex, can set you
"You don't have to die to reunite with
God," spokesman Christopher Kelley said. "You can reunite with him
here on Earth."
Kelley said church officials
still aren't sure how many members there are, because it has yet to
define membership, but the members can be found all over the
Until recently, the church was run by
Prophet, her husbands, her children and a handful of hand-picked
members of the church hierarchy. Now it has bureaucratized, with a
board of directors, an executive board and a council of elders.
Plans call for "democratization" and "empowerment" of far-flung
congregations, but progress has been
Meetings of the church boards remain closed
to the public and to members; no agendas are published in advance.
Church members are required to tithe, with all money going to
headquarters, which is now promising to send paid ministers to some
congregations, or "study groups."
leadership has for years tried to gain acceptance as a mainstream
organization, to be labeled a denomination rather than a sect or
A 1994 book, The Church Universal and
Triumphant in Scholarly Perspective, was an effort to move
perceptions that way. The book said, in a nutshell, that the church
was doing fine and that critics were blowing things out of
proportion. But the book didn't end any
Four years later, one of the book's
writers, University of Montana sociologist Robert Balch, wrote,
"The study's design virtually assured that if malfeasance existed
within the church, it would not be discovered. Even church members
noticed how superficial the investigation was."