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Sect Leader Continues to Spread Word Despite Uproar Over Forecasts : New Age: People were alarmed when Elizabeth Prophet's group set up in Montana amid talk of nuclear holocaust. She says fears arose from media distortion.

February 23, 1991|JOHN DART | TIMES RELIGION WRITER

"She is one charismatic person," said Ted Peters, a professor at Pacific Lutheran Seminary in Berkeley who engaged in a theological debate with her in Montana last October. "She has a mesmerizing ability with a voice that carries both authority and sophistication," Peters said.

Prophet, a self-taught student of Christian Science during her adolescent years, in 1961 met Mark L. Prophet (his real name) and eventually married him. He had founded the Summit Lighthouse in Washington, D.C., in 1958 after brief associations with Self-Realization Fellowship and a Rosicrucian order. After his death in 1973, she assumed the leadership of the church and its growing publishing arm.

She said she has sold 1.4 million books and that several of them have sold more than 100,000 copies. Her latest is "The Astrology of the Four Horsemen, How You Can Heal Yourself and Planet Earth," a 620-page paperback published by her own Summit University Press.

"All the royalties and lecture fees go to the church," she said, adding that all she receives is a monthly salary of $1,700.

Murray Steinman, a public relations aide to Prophet, said that her "keepers of the flame" are spread around the world but that no membership figures are disclosed.

"I would love to see her places all around, but all you can do is read her books or go to her lectures," said Marilyn Bircher of Monterey. Bircher, who said she was raised a Catholic but has tried many churches as an adult, added that she came down to Pasadena specifically to hear Prophet's lectures and dictations.

In expounding on the "lost teachings of Jesus," Prophet cited legendary material about Jesus' early years and relied heavily on Christian Gnostic accounts of Jesus and his favored women disciples found in 1,600-year-old manuscripts discovered in 1945 near Nag Hammadi, Egypt.

Speaking before 200 admirers, Prophet also said the Roman Catholic Church's policy on priestly celibacy was "sick" and that "Mother Mary told me in a dictation that celibacy is the source of trouble for the (Catholic) church." Celibacy and the Christian teaching of original sin "are doctrines of the devil," Prophet declared.

Elizabeth Clare Prophet "is saying what I always knew, especially about the Catholic Church," Bircher said.

As for Prophet's dictation from Jesus Christ, Bircher said she accepted it as the authentic voice of Jesus. "I have no reason not to believe it," she said.

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