Book Review - Lambs to Slaughter

This article is an electronic version of an article originally published in Cultic Studies Journal, 1995, Volume 12, Number 2, pages 203-207. Please keep in mind that the pagination of this electronic reprint differs from that of the bound volume. This fact could affect how you enter bibliographic information in papers that you may write.

Book Review - Lambs to Slaughter: My Fourteen Years with Elizabeth Clare Prophet and Church Universal Triumphant. 

John Joseph Pietrangelo, Jr. Self-published (available from John Pietrangelo, 1039 E. Gifford Dr., Tucson, AZ 85719), 1994, 143 pages.

Lambs to Slaughter is a self-published book about the author's 14-year hiatus as a devotee of Elizabeth Clare Prophet and her Church Universal and Triumphant (CUT). This is a story about manipulated devotion and mind control from the perspective of a former true believer. It is also an intimate look at a prophet-guru during her formative years as the leader of her own marginal religious movement. As with nearly every notorious cult leader in recent decades, this story includes the misuse of power, sex, and money by a less-than-genuine, self-proclaimed spiritual leader of the planet.

Pietrangelo first met Elizabeth Prophet in 1969 when her group was called "The Summit Lighthouse" in Colorado. He was a young and spiritually ambitious college student from Mississippi who quickly fell under the allure of Elizabeth Prophet and her then-husband, Mark Prophet, who founded the church in the late 1950s. Mark and Elizabeth were spirit mediums who called themselves "messengers." After their marriage in 1961, they claimed to be the sole living messengers of the ascended masters of all the world's religions, including some whose names are idiosyncratic to the cult. In New Age parlance, they "channeled" beings like Saint Germaine, Jesus, Buddha, K-17, Morya, Quan Yin, Afra, Hercules, Mighty Victory, Astrea, Shiva, Pope John XXIII, and so on--more than 35 by my count.

In actuality, today Elizabeth Prophet heads one of the more successful sects that stem from Rosicrucianism and, more specifically, from the Theosophical Society founded by Helena P. Blavatsky and others in 1875. Prophet's church has between 5,000 and 15,000-plus adherents, with diversified commitments worldwide. The core group of several hundred staff members is supported by an estimated one to three thousand devotees living in Montana, where the sect is headquartered.

Such sects and channelers all claim to represent a Great White Brotherhood (GWB) of ascended masters who allegedly are guiding all of humanity into a new age of human and planetary advancement. This new era is variously called the New Age, the Aquarian Age, higher consciousness, a paradigm shift, or the seventh cycle or round. Other noteworthy GWB sects are the Ramtha group led by J.Z. Knight near Seattle, Washington, and the Order of the Solar Temple which performed a ritual murder/suicide in October 1994 (and again in 1995), when more than 60 devotees in Switzerland, Canada, and France died. CUT's parent group, the nearly defunct I AM Activity, founded in 1934, has experienced a minor revival since 1980.

Pietrangelo became a church staff member in Colorado in the early 1970s, when he took a position as a chef in the kitchen which served a staff of 70. "My salary was twenty dollars per month gross. So compensation for an assistant chef, who labored some four hundred hours per month, was a grand total of five cents an hour ... plus room and board," writes Pietrangelo (p. 18). His room was a shared barracks in the attic of the church center. Throughout the history of CUT, staff members have been expected to make similar sacrifices. The leaders, however, have always lived well.

The author recounts the two most significant relationships in his life as a result of his initiation into the Summit Lighthouse, later renamed Church Universal and Triumphant as a tax shelter (p. 84). He met his wife, Susan, during his early years as a devotee. They had five children and remain happily married despite their harried existence as cult members. He also met Randall (Kosp) King, the man who became Elizabeth Prophet's young, third husband after Mark Prophet died in 1973.

Pietrangelo's first-person account exposes the reader to a very personal journey into what the author once believed was the most important position any human being could have--that of serving the one person who stood at the crux of human destiny. In order to establish herself, Elizabeth Prophet has claimed an incredible array of past lives including many queens and saints. Her devotees call her "Mother," and believe she wears the crown of the World Mother (p. xvi). Pietrangelo recounts his struggles with the Prophets, both of whom exhibited loose tempers and a highly manipulative style of leadership, using "crisis management" and deception: "Life in the organization, as in all cults, was a roller coaster ride with incredible highs and fearful lows. There is never a dull moment, never a let-down of emotional tension" (p. 72). For instance, just before Mark Prophet's untimely death and afterwards, the members were required to buy survival equipment, gold and silver, and guns because of a predicted collapse of the economy and the onset of a war. This activity was called "Operation Christ Command," and the Prophets maneuvered to profit from sales of supplies to the devout. Pietrangelo points out that the church sold products at inflated prices, 40% to 50% higher than retail, to the naïve "chelas" (literally, slaves) (p. 73).

It took the author 14 years of sometimes tortured belief before he and his wife finally made the break from CUT and Elizabeth Prophet in 1983. It may be difficult for some people to understand how an otherwise intelligent man could do this. What most people do not understand is the process that someone goes through before and after conversion to any extremist view and allegiance to that view. Pietrangelo intersperses his story with commentary about the persuasiveness of the leaders and how their subtle and not-so-subtle influences led to his mind control, or "brainwashing." Only too late did he realize how much his emotional investment in the group promise could be manipulated.

The promise included not only the ultimate opportunity for personal and planetary salvation, but also the power with which to subvert and conquer all evil. The two most important elements in the CUT formula for salvation are a strong allegiance to Mother and the practice of decreeing. Decreeing is a form of rapid chanting of a large collection of prayers, commands, and invocations used by CUT members for self-improvement, planetary purification, and self-defense. CUT teachings include identifying a host of "dark forces" in the guise of black magicians, spirit entities, and evil, colored rays that become pervasive in the consciousness of the believer. Pietrangelo was caught in this tangled web of forces, which only Mother Prophet could truly identify for him. He had unwittingly entered a psychic minefield with only one way out: through Mother's direction--that is, until 1983 when he had an intimate chat with his longtime friend Randall King.

This is perhaps the most revealing and most controversial portion of Lambs to Slaughter. By 1980 Randall King had been divorced from Prophet and exiled from the cult. After many months of confused existence, King began to collect his wits and his self-esteem. He met with Gregory Mull, another former CUT member, who had been sued by CUT's leader for money. In order to protect himself, Mull initiated a countersuit claiming fraud, psychological slavery, and money owed him from six years of unpaid services as a church architect. Mull had been kicked out by Prophet after he learned that she was using the devotees' written confessions as references when they were supposed to have been burned. King became a star witness for Mull, who won his case against Prophet and CUT. In 1986 Mull was awarded approximately 1.5 million dollars.

Pietrangelo reports that Prophet tried to manipulate him into testifying against King in her behalf, but she made one too many errors. Prophet tried to convince Pietrangelo that King once had threatened her with a knife and drew blood. Pietrangelo confronted King with this information. It was then that King, shocked by the lie, opened up to his friend and told his bizarre tale, a tale that included months of erotic massages and mutual masturbation with Mother, even before Mark Prophet died. According to King, one week after Mark's death, Elizabeth brought forth (channeled) Mother Mary, like a personality puppet, to marry her and Randall in a very private ceremony, after which they had intercourse.

Sex among the Philistines or the unenlightened is one thing, but in CUT teachings, extramarital sexual contact has been strictly forbidden. It was not the sex, however, that bothered Pietrangelo; he was most angered by the ugly duplicity of the woman to whom he had submitted his soul's salvation, albeit a woman he had begun to dislike. He told his wife what he had learned. They both snapped out of their enchantment with CUT and left, never to return.

Pietrangelo's testimony is tinged with remnants of a wounded disciple who is still angry, even though he claims to have recovered. He lacks the cool objectivity of a trained sociologist who might overlook anecdotal evidence in an assessment of CUT. I can imagine some scholars I know dismissing Pietrangelo as merely another disgruntled person seizing on anything that might feed a "reaction formation." I do not see him in that light.

Since 1980 I have interviewed many former CUT staffers and several dozen former members. From 1979B80 I myself was a devoted student of CUT's teachings and attended three CUT conferences, so I have some idea of the nature of the group. Pietrangelo's story is well within the realm of truth--of that I am quite certain. The value of his book is inestimable for the curious new recruit who has doubts, and for the burnt-out staff person who may be wondering whom he or she may have been serving all those years.

Another book was published on CUT earlier in 1994 by more sympathetic scholars (Church Universal and Triumphant in Scholarly Perspective, edited by J.R. Lewis and J.G. Melton, published by Syzygy: Journal of Alternative Religion and Culture). Compared to Lambs to Slaughter, Lewis and Melton's presentation is anemic, lacking all sense of the exaggerated drama within the cult, and provides no convincing analysis of the all-important leader, Elizabeth Prophet.

Prophet's staged grandiosity as well as her childish vulnerability come through strongly in Pietrangelo's portrayal of her. However, he often lapses into an old game that ex-cult members play: Amy guru was better than your guru," meaning that Mother was more conniving, convincing, clever, and classy than other false prophets. He writes, "Elizabeth is unequaled .... A more skillful Sophist can not be found" (p. 38). The suggestion is: AIt took the best to program me. I would not have fallen for just anybody." Of course, such claims are subjective because even the most committed seekers rarely submit to more than two or three gurus before they finally get the point.

If anything, that is the point of the book: once a person is conned into the orbit of a manipulative leader and the system controlled by one, it could be a long time before one realizes how deep the deception and how sinister the manipulation had been. Lambs to Slaughter is the honest confession of one who now does.

Joseph P. Szimhart

Cult Information Specialist/Exit Counselor

Pottstown, Pennsylvania

Cultic Studies Journal, Vol. 12, No. 2, 1995