On the Web, church chats up a storm

 

Note: This article is a sidebar to this issue's feature story.

If you want a good look at the internal debate over the Church Universal and Triumphant's new direction, go to cyberspace, where a pair of Web sites are dedicated to airing viewpoints pro and con.

People speculate about the sex life of CUT guru Elizabeth Clare Prophet, rehash her alleged misdeeds going back as far as the 1970s, and argue about the future of the church. They express their dedication, their hostility or their indifference.

One site, http://members.aol.com/ohanakula, attracts mostly criticism of the church and its leaders, past and present. It recommends books critical of the church, debates topics like "mind control" and whether the church practices it, and lets former members catch up with each other and swap stories.

Another site, http://origin.org (then click on The Phoenix), is more sympathetic to the church but acknowledges that members are having problems adapting to the new way of doing things.

"We will work for reconciliation among the existing members of the church, playing the role of healer and advisor," the site's opening page says.

"It's a healthy process that people need to go through to strengthen the church," said church spokesman Christopher Kelley.

"I don't care what they were doing in the 1970s," site Webmaster Bruce Schuman of Santa Barbara, Calif., said of church leaders in an interview. "I want to know what's going on in 1999 and 2000." He calls his site The Phoenix, because "it's rising from the ashes."

Schuman belonged to the church in the 1980s but drifted away in 1986, when CUT headquarters moved to Montana. "They wanted to go to Montana and build bomb shelters," he said. "I didn't want to do that."

He said the church is dropping the "radicalism" of the past and he wants to help it become a part of a more mainstream, modern, worldwide mysticism. "They have to find new ways of doing things," he said. "And in the meantime, they go a little nuts."

The transition is painful and difficult, he said, but worth it. "It's a disciplined, demanding path that expects a lot from people," he said. But with discipline, "you're going to find that your life is blessed."