A Westlake Village man’s rejection by the spiritual leader of a Calabasas-based church was “almost like a death” for him, a rabbi who counsels former cult members testified Tuesday in Los Angeles Superior Court.
Rabbi Stephen M. Robbins, 41, said that Gregory Mull, once resident architect for the Church Universal and Triumphant, was permanently scarred by his involvement with the sect and its 46-year-old leader, Elizabeth Clare Prophet, known to her thousands of followers as Guru Ma.
Robbins, a rabbi in Beverly Hills, said he has counseled more than 300 people involved in various cults. He characterized the Calabasas church as a cult. Such groups, he said, create in their members a need for the rituals of the cult analogous to an addict’s need for drugs.
Robbins testified that Mull, 64, continues to experience “the spiritual and emotional pain of both his membership and his expulsion” six years after Church Universal and Triumphant leaders asked him to leave Camelot, the sect’s headquarters in Calabasas.
Left Church in 1980
Mull split with the church in 1980 after a dispute over money and a final interview with Prophet, the woman he said he believed was “God incarnate.”
“At the core of that pain was what he first experienced as the love of Elizabeth Clare Prophet and then her total rejection of him,” Robbins said of Mull. “He must live with a sense that somehow God rejected him, and must go on living with that.”
Robbins appeared as a witness for Mull, the plaintiff in a $253-million suit alleging that he was defrauded and harmed by the church. Mull sued the organization after it sued him, alleging that he failed to repay about $30,000 he had borrowed.
“In my opinion, he will have a very difficult time finding his place in the world and, more specifically, any sense of spiritual wholeness, which will replace the aching sense of loss as a consequence of this experience,” Robbins said of Mull.
Sense of Powerlessness
Robbins described Mull as a spiritual seeker who originally thought he had found the ultimate answers in Prophet, who preaches a blend of Eastern and Western faiths and claims to receive messages, or “dictations,” directly from Jesus, Buddha and other so-called Ascended Masters.
Loss of that faith left Mull with a pathetic sense of powerlessness, Robbins said. “I think his fear, ultimately, is that he might find it again and somebody might take it away,” the rabbi testified.
In an interview, Robbins defined a cult as a religious community that expects its members to abdicate their personal autonomy “to a single individual or small group of individuals who claim to have total and complete access to the truth . . . with the authority of the divine.”
Cults inevitably revolve around a charismatic leader, according to Robbins. Prophet is the “leading woman cult leader in the country,” he said.
Robbins distinguished between cults and mainstream religions. “Major conventional religions are involved with empowering an individual to enhance the quality of his or her life and then the quality of life of the community,” he said. “In a cult it’s the other way around. You enhance the quality of the community and your own life is either secondary or meaningless.”
Robbins said he believes virtually anybody can be manipulated by a cult.