Order in Tubac prepares for apocalypse

Critics draw parallels to other cultlike groups, say community's leader demands obedience

The Arizona Republic/December 17, 2009

Tubac - The Divine Administration sprawls over 165 acres along the banks of the Santa Cruz River on a historic ranch next to the old Tumacacori Mission.

Here, a man known as Gabriel of Urantia oversees a religious order of about 100 men, women and children who believe that the apocalypse is imminent and that their leader is a prophet ordained to save them from doom and then rule the world.

Members of the Global Community Communications Alliance practice a unique blend of New Age theology, old-style Christianity, Buddhism, American Indian religion, environmentalism and business.

Their community, which they describe as the Divine Administration, includes an organic farm, legal services, a hospice program, a school, psychological counseling, a film studio, a magazine, an art studio, eco-construction and a "soulistic" medical institute.

To join, members must renounce their given names and many of their possessions, steps they say are worth the serenity and security they find with the insular group.

But critics say the alliance is hardly serene. They describe a controlling, narcissistic leader who requires obedience and runs a cultlike community, and they draw parallels between the group and others that have garnered headlines following ritual-related deaths and mass suicides.

The GCCA is led by Gabriel, or Anthony Joseph Delevin, 62, the son of a Pittsburgh steelworker.

He and his female "complement," Niánn Emerson Chase, have attracted followers from four continents, including a lawyer, a doctor, a psychologist and schoolteachers.

They founded a religious order and sanctuary, originally known as Aquarian Concepts Community, in 1989 along Oak Creek in Yavapai County. The organization, which functions as a church, adopted its current name several years ago before moving to southern Arizona. Churches are exempt from paying property taxes under state law, and the Internal Revenue Service does not mandate the filing of public financial disclosures that are required of other non-profits.

One of group's rites, Native American purification, has come under public scrutiny in the aftermath of a fatal sweat-lodge ceremony involving a different group in Sedona two months ago. In that incident, three people died and 18 others were hospitalized while taking part in a Spiritual Warrior event led by self-improvement guru James Arthur Ray. A criminal investigation is pending.

The GCCA conducts similar cleansing ceremonies; although, unlike Ray's group, it does not charge participants huge fees (donations, however, are suggested).

There are other parallels: Ray and Gabriel both have written autobiographies describing years of spiritual searching. Both claim to have been influenced by Hopi elders. And both are criticized by former members and clients for their inflated egos and aggressive leadership styles.

Although Gabriel's group regularly invites the paying public to visit and operates a number of non-profit services, spokeswoman Centria Lilly declined all interview requests for this story, saying she was concerned that any article would not fairly portray Gabriel's 40 years of good works.

"Our only consolation, if this attempt of yellow journalism continues, is that we definitely will . . . put you high on the list along with others of those who misrepresent Divine Administration and Gabriel of Urantia when Jesus Christ returns to set up His planetary government," she wrote. "That's a promise."

Group's beliefs

Members of the GCCA believe that emissaries from outer space gave mankind a revelation known as the Urantia Book, which explains the nature of God, the history of creation and man's purpose.

The scripture dates to the 1930s, when a Chicago psychiatrist purportedly transcribed 2,097 pages of celestial messages. According to the teachings, Earth (known in other universes as "Urantia") is one of 10 million inhabited planets; Jesus Christ has appeared as a savior in 611,121 universes.

The Arizona group goes beyond those teachings to say that Gabriel of Urantia is a channeler who has resumed contact with supernatural space beings. Gabriel refers to himself as the "planetary prince" who will reign after an onslaught of war and catastrophe.

Real-estate records show GCCA owns at least 20 parcels in Yavapai and Santa Cruz counties with a combined 2009 value over $10 million. That includes shops and a ranch with five houses in Tubac, about 50 miles south of Tucson.

According to Gabriel's autobiography, "The Divine New Order," Delevin attended Duquesne University in the 1960s and joined the Roman Catholic charismatic movement before becoming a street minister in Tucson.

In 1987, while camping in the Superstition Mountains, Gabriel says he had his first close encounter of a third kind: a celestial being, Paladin the Finaliter, who claimed to be in charge of 3,000 spaceships waiting to rescue true believers from the Earth.

"You are needed to help us prepare for the evacuation," Paladin announced, according to the autobiography. "It will not be an easy task. . . . You will be called a fraud and a deceiver."

In writings and online interviews, Gabriel claims to have been Peter the Apostle, an Apache chief, Alexander the Great, an African warrior-slave, Martin Luther and George Washington in past lives.

When "planetary headquarters" was in Sedona, Gabriel wrote, it was common "to see smaller spacecraft land, bringing representatives of Christ Michael (Jesus) in human form who walked about the land with me."

Media attention

In 1997, media attention turned to the Arizona sect when Marshall Applewhite and 38 members of his Heaven's Gate cult in San Diego swallowed poison in an attempt to board a spacecraft supposedly hidden behind a comet.

A year later, "Dateline NBC" infiltrated the Arizona group for an hourlong expose.

On tape, Gabriel declared that anyone who does not heed his word is susceptible to disease and death. "I don't like the word 'cult.' I'm the leader of a divine administration," he told an interviewer.

Arizona court records do not reflect any criminal cases involving Gabriel or GCCA. Years ago, a California couple sued the group for custody of a grandchild who lived at the commune with her mother, but the case was dismissed.

Jay Peregrine, executive director of the unrelated non-profit Urantia Foundation, for adherents to the book, said most followers of the scriptures participate in reading groups and do not recognize a church or minister.

He rejected the idea of Gabriel as a contemporary prophet.

"We have absolutely no connection with him at all," Peregrine said. "From my point of view, that's a cult setup in sort of a classic sense."

Rick Ross, who operates a religious-watchdog institute in New Jersey, said of GCCA: "It's a personality-driven group. This (Gabriel) is a guy who has a lot of money, and it's been accumulated through the surrender of assets."

Ross and former group members say those who join must take on a new name and distance themselves from family and friends.

Justine Helminiak, 37, said in an e-mail to The Arizona Republic that she spent seven years with the community before leaving her daughter, stepdaughter, husband and cousin behind in 2005.

Helminiak said she initially was drawn by bonds of family and friendship. Her daughter, the subject of the lawsuit by her grandparents, has since left the community.

Helminiak said that while in the group, she worked as a legal assistant, maid and medical-office manager.

She said money, travel, work schedules and speech are strictly monitored. "Everyone is watched and controlled," Helminiak said. "I eventually felt I had no control over my life."

After leaving, Helminiak said she was banned from the group's property, shunned by members as a "default" and told that she would no longer be protected from Satan.

Dr. Byron Weeks, a retired physician now living in Idaho, said he became one of Gabriel's followers at a time when his life was torn by personal crises.

"He told me I was the reincarnation of St. Luke," Weeks recalled. "I found out it was a pretty evil organization."

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