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CUT’s Change in Plans

The cold weather and equally cold reception of Paradise Valley, Montana residents forced the Church Universal and Triumphant (CUT) to hold its July 4th conference on its 218-acre headquarters in the Santa Monica Mountains of California rather than on its newly acquired 12,000-acre “Royal Teton Ranch.” (CUT, led by Elizabeth Claire Prophet, or Guru Ma, was originally founded in 1958 as the Summit Lighthouse. The church blends Eastern doctrines, such as reincarnation, the divinity of mankind, and revelation from “ascended masters” with Western Judeo-Christian beliefs.) The church had originally planned on housing 3,000 to 5,000 of its members on the $7 million Montana property, but as one local resident said, “There was too much opposition to them here. I think there would have been trouble in Paradise.” CUT’s business manager (who is also Guru Ma’s husband) cited financial reasons--the costs for the conference being far less in California and a $1.5 million mortgage payment due in Montana--for the group’s decision to shift conference grounds.

Fear of the unknown appears to be the root of the Paradise community’s standoffishness. Said a local gasoline station and grocery store co-owner, “It’s the uncertainty of what their intentions are. It’s the wonder and the worry more than anything else.” Added to those fears are the group’s recent actions; for example, dividing their ranch into 20-acre tracts, a step they had vowed earlier they would never do. Whereas only 40 members currently live on Royal Teton Ranch, CUT plans on developing the property into a “self-sufficient community centered on farming, ranching and perhaps some cottage industries” (US News & World Report, 5 July 1982). The County Commissioner is wary of the influence 400 to 500 CUT members could have on future local elections. But a neighboring rancher takes a more objective approach. Says Leonard Sargent, “They’re working damn hard, and they’re farming the place better than the previous owners. Until we find out something to the contrary, let’s treat them as good neighbors.”