MJS Archive Contents

The Meredith J. Sprunger Archive

Major Growth Steps in the Urantia Movement

3/14/92; Revised 1/28/98

I. Freedom from Oligarchy and Authoritarianism and the Triumph of Democracy and Openness

During the first forty years of its existence the Urantia movement has evolved from a handful of readers of The Urantia Book in Chicago to hundreds of study groups and thousands of readers throughout the world. Without mass media publicity or promotion over 300,000 copies of the book have been purchased and grass root foundations of the movement have been established. But perhaps the most important development during the early years has been the triumph of spiritual freedom and participatory democracy.

When I first started attending General Council meetings in the early sixties, everything was preplanned, predetermined, cut and dried. No one was expected to interject anything new or different. After being in the group for a while, I recall I had the audacity to suggest that we initiate a Newsletter. One of the "old timers" got his feet and facing me with pointed finger told me in no uncertain terms what a ridiculous ideas that was. Fortunately, not long after that, the Executive Committee did start publishing a Newsletter. But I had learned my lesson. If you wanted to propose something, go to a member of the controlling oligarchy to get it approved.

Another key factor in the development of the Urantia movement was the early loss of its most creative and effective leaders, such as Bill Sadler and Warren and Alvin Kulieke. As a result of this loss of creative leadership and Dr. Sadler's death, the temperament of the second-order Chicago leadership became increasingly conservative, defensive, and fearful. Policies and activities were geared to protect the status quo and decisions, in my judgment, were made more out of fear than guided by wisdom or spiritual direction.

When I became president of the Brotherhood, one of my central objectives was to establish the principles of participatory democracy, openness, and freedom in Brotherhood activities. We fairly well succeeded in starting the process but it took many years for it to be fully accepted and flower in the Fellowship. This was a foundational growth step in the Urantia movement.

II. Freedom from Charismatic Control and the Ascendancy of Evolutionary—Rational Direction

Most people in the Urantia movement are acquainted with the Vern Grimsley-Clayton incident. Vern was a gifted person with exceptional oratorical abilities. He founded the Family of God Foundation and established an extensive radio ministry. For years his inspirational talks were the highlight of conferences. His charismatic eloquence captivated many people. Since I had introduced Vern to The Urantia Book, I followed his career with great interest. Early on, I became concerned about his clever manipulative control in the Urantia movement. I observed Vern increasingly building a power base of influence in the Brotherhood, but always gave him the benefit of my doubts and concern.

In late 1983, a year after Emma Christensen (the last Contact Commissioner) died, Vern announced that he was receiving special messages telling of the imminent beginning of World War III and urged the Executive Committee of Urantia Brotherhood to move their headquarters to his place in Clayton, California which, he assured them, would be safe. I immediately warned the Executive Committee and General Council against this deception. There ensued considerable confusion, fear, and agitation among the readers of The Urantia Book and it took years for the scene to clarify. The Family of God disintegrated and Vern was deserted by all but a few people.

This was a sobering but healthful and strengthening experience for the new movement. As a result, it is highly unlikely that any charismatic person or channeling phenomena will ever be able to capture the Urantia movement. Evolutionary-rational thought and solid experiential judgment has triumphed over charismatic emotionalism and psychic delusions.

III. Freedom from Legalistic Power Control and the Growing Dominance of Cooperative Team Work

In the l960's Martin Myers was invited to move in with Dr. Sadler and Christy to help with chores and activities of the Foundation and Brotherhood offices. Following Dr. Sadler's death, Martin increasingly took over leadership influence at the Chicago office. In some ways Christy became a captive of this situation and at times discussed it with me. She felt there was little she could do about it; however, she did prevent Martin from quitting his bank job to take over formal direction of the headquarters offices as he wished to do.

As Martin Myers' influence increased, he was soon elected as a trustee of the Foundation. As a result, legalistic thinking and legal counsel began to direct Foundation activities. Legal minds devised a method through the registered marks to control the entire movement. Under Martin's direction the Foundation became increasingly autocratic. On Several occasions he implied or directly threatened to take away the service marks from the Brotherhood if they did not follow his advice. Over a period of years he became the center of controversy. Finally, in l989 three Foundation trustees resigned and two professional office administrators handed in their resignations because they could not work with him and maintain their spiritual integrity.

During this same period the Executive Committee of Urantia Brotherhood informed Martin that they would no longer tolerate his autocracy. After a series of exchanges in which the Brotherhood refused to follow his directives, Martin took away their license to use the service marks and terminated their office lease at 533 Diversey Parkway.

This action brought about the advent of the Fellowship of Readers of The Urantia Book and finally freed the Urantia movement from legalistic and authoritarian control. It is highly unlikely that the Urantia movement will ever again be shackled by legalism and autocratic domination.

IV. Freedom from Centralized Organizational Control and the Awakening of the Power of Individual Effort and Pluralistic Outreach

We have made great strides in opening the Urantia movement to the freedom of spiritual guidance and to the dynamics of participatory democracy. We have matured and gained strength through traumatic experiences that have educated us to the dangers of charismatic manipulation, legalistic power control, and channeling fantasies. As great and important as these growth steps are, there still lingers in the minds of many the illusion that the march of the Fifth Epochal Revelation into the world is dependent on the plans and directives coming out of "official" organizations in Chicago.

Recent events demonstrate that the Urantia movement has come of age. The Fifth Epochal Revelation has left the protective confines of centralized control in Chicago and has gone out into the world. Local societies and study groups are no longer waiting for official directives to determine their outreach ministry. Independent organizations like the Asoka Foundation, the Jesusonian Foundation, The Christian Fellowship of Students of The Urantia Book and others are breaking ground for the spread of a diversified, pluralistic outreach ministry.

We should contemplate hypotheses as to how or why these errors and discrepancies occur.

V. The Growing Significance of a Socioreligious Expression of The Fifth Epochal Revelation

Over the year many of us assumed that wide-spread interest in The Urantia Book would bring a spiritual renaissance in our society. After forty years of interfacing with mainline religious leaders in the hope of getting them to undertake a critical examination of The Urantia Book, it is obvious that the spiritual paradigm shift of the Fifth Epochal Revelation is too great for them to undertake at this time. It will probably be generations before The Urantia Book will be recognized as an acceptable resource for study in the Christian Church.

At the same time there has been a growing hunger among readers of The Urantia Book for identity in a bona fide religious organization along with its spiritual ministrations from birth to death. We are beginning to realize that the viability of the Fifth Epochal Revelation must be established through indigenous religious institutions. I am confident that sooner or later such new religious organizations will evolve. It will be interesting to see the many forms and types that these groups will take. The Urantia movement is now launched on the high seas of evolutionary spiritual adventure.