by David Sisler

Any attempt to understand the thirty-nine deaths at Rancho Sante Fe, California, must start with the man who was found dead and alone in the master bedroom of the $1.6 million estate, sixty-six year old Marshall Herff Applewhite.

Applewhite was not an ordinary man. He was educated and cultured. He was married and the father of two children. He was a seminarian, a music teacher, and an opera singer. He was dismissed from the University of St. Thomas because of a relationship with a male student.

In 1971, depressed, ashamed and hearing voices, Applewhite checked himself into a psychiatric hospital. There he met a nurse, Bonnie Lu Trousdale Nettles, and "The Two" (as they called themselves) began their journey to Heaven's Gate. For Applewhite, that cult was the culmination of a forty-five year spiritual odyssey which ended with a packed suit case, a black uniform and a $5 bill in his pocket.

In the theology of Heaven's Gate, the human body is merely a vessel for an asexual soul that can only find salvation in its home in outer space. Convinced that earth was about to be "recycled" by aliens, Applewhite and his followers sought salvation on a spaceship which they believed was trailing the Hale-Bopp comet. For the followers of Heaven's Gate, and Marshall Applewhite, applesauce laced with phenobarbital was their salvation, their ticket to the Kingdom of Heaven.

Marshall Applewhite demanded absolute loyalty from his followers. A messianic leader, he claimed to have been incarnated on earth 2,000 years ago. In that appearance, he said he was Jesus.

James Lewis, of the Institute for the Study of American Religion, who says he has studied Applewhite and his group for more than twenty years, stated that Applewhite never strayed entirely from his Christian upbringing. One of his major teachings was a distortion of Jesus' teaching that, "Those who are included in the resurrection of the dead will no longer be concerned with marriage." In Applewhite's version, members of Heaven's Gate were directed to abstain from sex, shedding "all human-mammalian behavior" as a precondition for translation to "the Physical Kingdom Level Above Human."

Another requirement for acceptance into Heaven's Gate was the requirement for prospective members to give up all of their personal possessions and cut all ties to their families. Perhaps the first warning sign of cult activity is the requirement to follow one group of first century Christians into a communal lifestyle. If that situation, as described in Acts 4, was God's ideal, why is there no evidence that it was ever used again in the first century by any church that is mentioned? Why does not the Apostle Paul, who founded churches and taught us how to found churches, require that church members live in a commune, share their property in common and each receive from a common pot? Because the moment you eliminate the voluntary feature from any aspect of the Christian life, it is not Christian. It is tyranny.

Nichelle Nichols, who gained world-wide fame as Lt. Uhura on the original Star Trek television series, and who is a paid-promoter of an equally deceptive, and potentially deadly, spiritual practice, a telephone psychic hotline, learned that her brother, Thomas Nichols, was a victim of Heaven's Gate.

Nancie Brown thought her son, David Geoffrey Moore, might have perished in Jonestown, Guyana. Twenty-one years after he disappeared, Nancie learned that David had died with Heaven's Gate.

In 1978, 912 people, intimidated by the charismatic Jim Jones and desperate for spiritual acceptance, mixed poison with Kool-Aid, filled syringes and squirted it into the mouths of their babies and then into their own mouths and died.

Jim Jones called himself, "God." Marshall Applewhite called himself "The Representative," and said he was Jesus reincarnated. Jim Jones was not the first. Marshall Applewhite will not be the last.

The Bible says the whole world will be seduced by a man who will walk into the temple of God and declare, "I am God!"

More false claims than you or I could possibly imagine will spring up and intelligent people will follow them. Why? Because like the people who died in Guyana, and like the people who died in Rancho Sante Fe, there is a yearning for an authoritative voice worth following. There is a yearning to know God. There is a yearning to have peace. There is a yearning to be forgiven and to be accepted. The acceptance that thirty-eight people sought from Marshall Applewhite is the acceptance they could have had from Jesus Christ who is God.

Mark Applewhite, son of the dead cult leader, last saw his father thirty-five years ago. Mark said that he, his wife, and their two children are born-again Christians. That, Mark said, is "the real ticket to heaven."


Published in the Augusta Chronicle 4/5/97

Copyright 1997 by David Sisler. All Rights Reserved.

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