MANS Order Contends with Occult Image

San Francisco Chronicle/May 26, 1980
By Bob Latta

To its friends, the Hold Order of MANS is a Christian order doing good works. But to its critics, it is a wold in sheep's clothing.

Even though the San Francisco group keeps a low profile in Wichita, it has had representatives in the area for 10 years, has its headquarters for a six-state region in Wichita and has sponsored local choral and dance festivals to aid war torn Cambodia.

The order says it is an ecumenical Christian community dedicated to a life of spiritual renewal and the ways of Christ. Critics say it masquerades as a Christian group to draw upon Christian respectability.

The group says it is plagued by rumor and misconception. One such rumor is that members must give up what they are best at and perform other tasks.

The Rev. Rachel Christus, a leader of the order in Wichita, said it was not true that member have to give up something permanently.

One MANS member for example, is a trained organist, but works as a cook. Christus explained that during a member's initial training it need to be proved that the most important concern is "the kingdom of heaven" rather than talents.

Then, as members start to reorder their lives according to principles of MANS, they can again use their talents, she said.

Donna Capper, executive director of Inter-Faith Ministries-Wichita, of which MANS is a member, said MANS was very active in the city, especially in social services.

She said the group demanded a lot of discipline - a demand that she said could easily be abused. But she said she has nothing but respect for the ministry.

Charles Chipman, pastor of St. Paul's United Methodist Church, 1356 North Broadway, and Howard Johnson, executive director of the Wichita Council for Universal Human Rights, both believe the MANS order is what it says it is.

Christus' Ecumenical Choir practices at Chipman's church and Johnston emceed the order's choral Cambodian benefit April 19. Others, however, aren't as accepting.

J. Gordon Melton, a United Methodist minister and founder-director of the Institute for the Study of American Religions in Chicago, said the order was not an orthodox Christian ministry.

For example, he said, members teach hermetics, which he said, is a system of magic. Melton also claims that most members believe in reincarnation.

MANS is an acronym for four Greek words representing the strivings of the order. The words and the order's definitions for the words are mysterion - the mystery of being; agape - divine love; nous - the mind of Christ, and sophia - the wisdom of the Holy Spirit.

The MANS order was founded in 1968 in San Francisco by the late Earl Blighton. Blighton, a former electrical engineer and self-ordained priest, said the idea for the coeducational religious order cam by "divine revelation."

Melton said Blighton was raised a Catholic, but has a background in occult groups - "but I don't know which ones."

Christus said Blighton was a member of the Rosicrucian Order, a worldwide, nonsectarian, fraternal organization based in San Jose, Calif.

In the 17th and 18th centuries, the Rosicrucians were a secret society said to have occult lore and power. However, a booklet put out by the San Jose order says it is not an occult group.

But Spiritual Counterfeits Project, an evangelical organization in Berkeley, Calif., contends that a glance beneath the "projected public image" will show "the true occultic colors" of the MANS order.

It claims that the order's teachings are more occult and Hindu than Christian.

Brooks Alexander, a director of Spiritual Counterfeits, said it involved the classical occult sciences of alchemy, Tarot, Kaballah and astrology.

Alexander said the order also dealt with the control of reality through manipulation of mind power - such as psychic self-development, ESP and psychokinesis, which is the ability to influence physical objects or events with the mind.

"The basic Christian tenet - that Christ died for your sins - is not in their picture," he said.

Both national and local sources said the group sometimes was mistaken for a Roman Catholic order. Local members wear blue clerical garb with white collars. The group administers sacraments and hears confessions.

"It would be fair to say that the appearance they project, including costumes and lingo, is deliberately designed to put a Christian gloss on a thoroughly non-Christian content, " says Spiritual Counterfeits.

Christus, 33, who converted to Catholicism at 21 and entered the MANS order at 25, says the contention about the Christian gloss "is totally and utterly false. Our content is absolutely Christian.

"What the order believes in is not that much different form what has been a part of traditional Christianity down through the ages."

When asked about reincarnation, she said that MANS didn't teach that, but that members were free to believe it.

She said that some members believed Blighton was a reincarnation of St. Paul. But she said, "it isn't an official teaching." She said Blighton died in 1974 - on Good Friday.

"We have a belief that God is made manifest in all religions, non-Christian included, " said Christus.

But she insisted that Christ, whom she said was both man and God, remains the focal point of the order.

Christus acknowledged that members delve into the realm of mysticism. For example, they study Tarot, although she said that is not required or even encouraged.

Popularly, Tarot is a set of playing cards bearing pictures of certain traditional allegorical figures, used in fortune telling.

As MANS sees it, said Christus, it is a series of pictures that symbolizes the evolution of the spiritual path. This is what it was originally meant for, but it has been distorted and misused.

"Tarot is not central to my life," she said "Jesus Christ is.

"One of the primary aims of the order is uniting all faiths. Because of that, we have to be very careful in explaining what we believe. We don't want to put a stumbling block in the path of my brother the Baptist, Catholic or Hindu."

Some of the new religious groups today are accused of using sensory deprivation - hunger, lack of sleep or isolation from familiar people - in their training.

Both Ronald Enroth, a professor who specializes in the sociology of religions, said MANS was not in the mind-control category.

Enroth, a Westmont College professor in Santa Barbara, Calif., wrote "Youth, Brainwashing and the Extremist Cults" and "Lure of the Cults."

Lowell Streiker, director of the Freedom Counseling Center in Burlingame, Calif., said that he got about four inquiries a year about the order, but that he had never had any complaints about the use of mind control or monetary rip-offs.

Through its Cambodian Rescue Program, the order had attempted to raise relief funds for war-torn Cambodia. A UNICEF official in New York confirmed that the agency had gotten some funds from the order.

The MANS brother house at 1025 N. Market in Wichita serves as headquarters for a sic-state region - Kansas, Texas, Oklahoma, Missouri, Iowa and Nebraska. Christus' husband, Daniel, is director of the region.

Christus said there were 18 "vowed" members of the order in Wichita, some of them novitiates or students in the first part of their training.

In the region, there are four Christian Communities, similar to congregations of lay persons; three centers for brothers and sisters, or members of the Brown Brothers of the Holy Light, and the Immaculate Hear Sisters of Mary, " and quite a few pockets of disciples."

Christus said a disciple was a person undergoing a course of study of the teachings of Christ who had taken on a commitment of discipleship.

But unlike the renunciate - the order's brothers, sisters, ministers and priests who have taken the vows of humanity, purify, obedience, poverty and service - the disciples are a lay group.

She said the order had services at 11 AM each Sunday at 1907 N. Broadway.

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