|Art Bulla, Founder and Head of the Church of Jesus Christ|
Art Bulla is Mormonism’s Loneliest Prophet.
For over forty years, the Calexico- and Baja-based would-be Patriarch has had a direct line to the Lord Himself, and has busily transcribed hundreds of revelations he’s received from the Most High. Much like Joseph Smith, Bulla has anthologized them into a Holy Book that supplements the canonical Bible of the Christian faith. And much like Brigham Young, he has sought to establish a New Zion in the American West based on the teachings of the Holy Bible and the Book of Mormon, as well as his own revelations and prophecies.
The problem is that hardly anybody seems to be listening to his words, much less heeding his call.
Yet Bulla is far from alone in his mission. He is just one of many self-appointed leaders in the Mormon Fundamentalist subculture – a shadowy underground of the Latter-Day Saints’ church and society that has existed almost from the sect’s earliest days.
Far from being a monolithic movement, Mormonism has been rent by schisms from the beginning. According to researcher Steven L. Shields, at least a dozen Mormon splinter groups existed at the time of Joseph Smith’s death, and currently over 100 churches, sects and cults claim to be the true inheritors of his spiritual vision. They range from the quarter-million strong Community of Christ, which rejected Brigham Young as Smith’s successor and hunkered down to await the Second Coming in Missouri, to lone visionaries and self-declared prophets like Bulla, who compete for a small pool of potential followers dissatisfied with mainstream Mormonism.
Of the schismatic Mormon bodies, the so-called “Fundamentalists” are among the most noteworthy and notorious. These groups reject the 1890 Church Manifesto that banned polygamy among Mormon faithful, even though it had been taught as a revealed truth by Joseph Smith in the faith’s earliest years, and had been practiced officially and openly by Brigham Young and other Church leaders for decades afterwards.
Along with “plural marriage”, Mormon Fundamentalists also adhere to traditional Church teachings later deemphasized or rejected by the mainstream LDS denomination, and tend to live in isolated parts of the American West or Mexico, where they can practice their faith unmolested by the establishment Church or the law. Notable polygamy-practicing Fundamentalist groups have included Utah's low-key Apostolic United Brethren, Texas’ much-beleaguered Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, and Ervil “The Mormon Manson” LeBaron’s murderous Church of the Lamb of God.
Although a by-the-book Fundamentalist, Art Bulla is a desert-dwelling loner with no wives, and his Church of Christ has few (if any) genuine disciples. Bulla himself is both the spiritual and lineal descendant of itinerant religious dissidents, and traces his own ancestry to Irish Quakers who immigrated to Lancaster County, Pennsylvania around 1680, seeking the religious freedom promised by the New World. Later, they relocated to North Carolina, and it was there that future Prophet Artis Brent Bulla was born on August 2, 1948. Years later, Bulla claimed that his father had prayed “that a servant of the Lord should be born unto him,” and that his birth was God’s answer to the petition.
Raised as a Baptist in Greensboro, Bulla attended the University of North Carolina, graduating with a Bachelor’s Degree in Biology in 1969. Shortly thereafter, he enlisted in the U.S. Army.
Bulla was on his way to the Raleigh, N.C. armed-forces induction center when he, like Saul of Tarsus on the Damascus road, was struck down with an overpowering vision of God. Says he:
It seemed that I, Art Bulla, was removed out of my body, or whether in the body or out of it I could not tell, and I beheld his face, and He spake unto me face to face as one man speaks unto another for forty-five minutes or an hour, and whether in the body or out of it, I could not tell, for I beheld his glory, which surpasses all understanding, and spake while in the vision, in a much better tongue than any spoken by man at this time, which I supposed to be the Adamic Tongue…. it seemed that I was transfigured before Him of whom I speak, my God in whom I bear record as others have before me, that He lives, for I too have seen Him. And tongue cannot express his matchless might, glory, power and intelligence, and I shall forever adore his glory, for having once beheld his face and felt of his love and might and power and beheld things which I cannot convey, for there is no language, I must, I MUST obtain his presence, and I shall not be content with anything else, this world or its allurements. And having been ordained unto the Holy Order of God which is after the Order of Melchizedec, even the Holy Apostleship, the keys of which I hold, I bear record of my Father, for I have seen Him and conversed with him, and I testify that He shall return in this the Latter Day….
Unlike Saul, however, Bulla didn’t immediately follow the vision into apostleship. He served faithfully in the Army as a Medical Technologist, and married Cathy Washam, who would eventually bear him five children. Knowing of her husband’s spiritual visions, Cathy introduced him to the Book of Mormon, and while stationed at Fort Sam Houston, Texas, he joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.
|Bulla's current calling card|
Mormonism was a perfect religious home for Bulla. One of the faith’s central tenets is that God still speaks through His prophets in the Church, beginning with Joseph Smith and continuing through the current Church president, who is also known as the First Prophet. Although one of Smith’s earliest Divine revelations was that “No one shall receive commandments and revelations in this church excepting my servant, Joseph Smith, Jr.”, successive Church leaders and visionaries have nevertheless claimed direct lines of communication with God, and ongoing revelations are an important part of the Mormon spiritual experience. The canonical ones are anthologized in The Doctrine and Covenants, which rivals the Book of Mormon as the sect’s most important text.
An eager convert to Mormonism, Bulla began to evangelize his fellow servicemen. One time, Bulla says, he was preaching to a group of soldiers when a hulking Green Beret sergeant snuck up behind him, intending to mock or prank the evangelist. All of a sudden an angel appeared above Bulla’s head, and then grabbed the sergeant, “hurled him off his feet picking him up effortlessly and setting him on his back on the floor, with great force.” Another time, a First Sergeant was ridiculing Bulla’s testimony when “a voice of thunder proceeded forth as it were from heaven and the ground felt as if it would split open and swallow the asshole whole, for it was the voice of God which spoke with such effortless power and authority that the element would have moved if it had been his will….”
The experiences convinced Bulla that he was indeed under the power of the Holy Spirit, and gifted in prophecy as Joseph Smith had been. Unfortunately, he was only able to attain one disciple during his military service – “Jim”, who would later join the mainstream LDS church and repudiate Bulla.
Released from the Army in 1974, Bulla and his family moved to Provo, Utah, where he attended Brigham Young University. There, Bulla received a revelation that the Mormon Church had committed apostasy when it rejected the so-called “Adam-God Doctrine”. This was Brigham Young’s contention that the First Man had been a Deity who had incarnated on Earth (along with “one of his wives”, Eve), but then lost his divine powers in the Garden, started the human race, died and returned to Heaven as the God of the Earth, and then incarnated once more to become the literal Father of Jesus. The doctrine was later downplayed or reinterpreted by mainstream Mormonism, but it became an article of faith among Mormon Fundamentalists, who felt it, along with polygamy, were two core concepts that defined the faith of the Latter-Day Saints.
Bulla became even more alienated from the Church later that year. Ordained to the Seventy – the Mormon order of priesthood that answered directly to the “stake president,” or regional Church leader – Bulla brought new converts into the Latter-Day Saints, and was even asked to join the Third Quorum of Elders in his stake. One of his converts was a young hitchhiker, whom Bulla picked up and then housed at his home for two weeks. (Like most Mormons, Bulla practiced hospitality to strangers, in accordance with Hebrews 13:2’s words about “entertaining angels unaware.”) Yet when the young man applied to be baptized into the Church, the local Mormon elders rejected him because of his period-1974 long hair, and his “indigent circumstances.” When Bulla went ahead and baptized the convert himself, local stake authorities stripped the evangelist of his titles, and threw him out of both the local ward (a Mormon parish), and BYU.
Bulla and his family relocated to Salt Lake City, where he attended mechanical-engineering classes at the University of Utah. Although he was allowed to attend a local ward, and was eventually taken back into the priesthood, Bulla soon ran up against political opposition once more.
This time, the issue was the integration of the Mormon Priesthood. The Church had recently decided to admit African-Americans to its clergy after a 140-year ban. Unfortunately, Bulla had just received his first two written revelations from God on the issue, both of which upheld traditional Mormon teachings about how “the black race of Cain” could never comprehend nor preach the spiritual truths of Joseph Smith and Brigham Young. When Bulla revealed this to his superior, the man attacked him, breaking his nose and blackening his eyes. The fight was blamed on Bulla, and when he attended a Church trial to answer for his actions, he packed a 9MM automatic pistol in his briefcase, fully expecting to be martyred in a firefight like Joseph Smith himself.
Nothing so dramatic happened. Instead, he was excommunicated from the LDS Church. Frustrated, Bulla and his family moved back to North Carolina, where he vowed to continue his ministry. By now, the revelations were coming faster, sometimes as often as two or three a week, and Bulla struggled to transcribe them, and to also incorporate them into his vision of a restored Mormon Church.
The Tarheel State was unimpressed by Bulla’s ministry, and he was soon in trouble with the law as well. When he tried to preach to the local Protestant “Charismatics”, he was “mobbed on one occasion by them, and almost killed.” Worse still, when he accused President Jimmy Carter of using the IRS to force the Mormon Church to integrate its priesthood, the Secret Service came to his house and interrogated him. Finally, his family decided he was insane, and tried to have him committed. Although a judge ruled in his favor, Bulla was subsequently charged with other crimes, and fled North Carolina with Sheriff’s deputies hot on his trail.
Although without a family, penniless, jobless, and on the run, Bulla began to believe that he was more than a mere Mormon prophet. Around 1983 he began preaching that he was the so-called “One Mighty and Strong” whose arrival Joseph Smith himself had prophesied over 150 years earlier:
[I]t shall come to pass, that I, the Lord God, will send one mighty and strong, holding the sceptre of power in his hand, clothed with light for a covering, whose mouth shall utter words, eternal words; while his bowels shall be a fountain of truth, to set in order the house of God, and to arrange by lot the inheritances of the Saints, whose names are found, and the names of their fathers, and of their children enrolled in the book of the law of God: while that man, who was called of God and appointed, that putteth forth his hand to steady the ark of God, shall fall by the vivid shaft of lighting….
Smith’s prophecy was later declared canonical, and can be found in Section 85 of the Doctrines and Covenants. Although the modern Church interprets the prophecy as only concerning events in early Mormon history, many contemporary Mormons believe it predicts the coming of a righteous Prophet who will set an apostate Church in order. Since the death of Joseph Smith, dozens of his would-be successors, as well as self-declared church reformers and eccentric Mormon visionaries, have declared themselves the One Mighty and Strong. The title has been particularly popular among Fundamentalist Mormon leaders seeking to return to the days of polygamy, a White-only priesthood, and a “United Order” socioeconomic system that operated wholly apart from Gentile society.
As the self-proclaimed One Mighty and Strong, Bulla believed that he “held the Keys of the Kingdom of God”, and that he was the head of the true Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, rather than the apostate body currently headquartered in Salt Lake City. Bulla dubbed his ministry “The Church of Jesus Christ,” and traveled to Utah to preach to establishment-Mormonism’s lost sheep.
For over ten years, Bulla preached his revelations and asserted his spiritual authority across the Beehive State. During much of this time, he lived in a tent in the mountains, testifying to a largely-uncaring Utah populace long accustomed to self-proclaimed redeemers of Zion. For a while, he ran a small book store in Provo, where he sold The Revelations of Jesus Christ, his self-published anthology of teachings and divine prophecies.
|Foreword of The Revelations of Jesus Christ|
The Revelations of Jesus Christ opens with passages from the Holy Bible, the Book of Mormon, the Doctrines and Covenants, as well as scattered writings of historical Mormon figures that Bulla interprets as supporting his claims. It then reprints scores of revelations received by Bulla from God Himself, all delivered in the lyrical Jacobean English of the King James Bible and the Book of Mormon, concerning His teachings and how to interpret and apply them. Many are addressed specifically to individuals Bulla knew. Others deal with the historical doctrines of Mormonism, and how far the current LDS Church has strayed from them.
A few sample section titles give the general flavor of the revelations that Bulla received during this period:
SECTION 3. REVELATION on life after death. Future state and progression of souls of all men and women delineated. Pre-existance [sic] of spiritual bodies. War fought in this state among spirits. Rebellious spirits cast out. Memory blotted out concerning events….
SECTION 10. REVELATION received May 6, 1982 on the association of man and woman after death. Marriage, under certain conditions, to continue forever. Sexual union denied in the resurrection to the majority of men and women because of disobedience and rebellion….
SECTION 13. Prophecy concerning the destruction of the descendants of Ham (the Negro) upon this the American continent by racial conflict. Warned to flee to land of fathers. Boundaries and habitations of men determined before foundation of the world….
Bulla was also a regular on Utah’s radio talk-shows, calling in to promote his teachings and rebuke the established Mormon Church and its leaders. On one program, Bulla heard a man named Richard Lewis say that he considered himself a Mormon Fundamentalist, and that he was fascinated by Smith’s prophecy of the One Mighty and Strong. Bulla called the station and passed on his contact info to the host. They set up a meeting, and when Lewis met Bulla in person, he was convinced the 40-year old itinerant preacher was “God’s Anointed Servant”. Shortly thereafter Bulla baptized Lewis in Provo Canyon, passed on the “Melchizedek Priesthood” to him, and appointed him as an Apostle. Lewis and Bulla teamed up, and eventually gathered a small group of faithful followers.
Unfortunately, interpersonal strife once again bedeviled Bulla’s ministry. Lewis and Bulla had a falling out, and the little flock scattered, leaving the prophet once again alone in the Utah wilderness. Years later, his erstwhile apostle ended up as a guest of the State of Utah; while behind bars, Lewis reconciled with Bulla, had his apostleship restored, and penned a book, Zion Redeemed, that defended the Bullaite Church of Jesus Christ doctrines. Shortly after it was self-published, Lewis died in prison of cancer.
|Bulla in his controversial appearance in THE GOD-MAKERS II.|
Bulla’s biggest publicity splash of the time was somewhat ironic. The 1993 anti-Mormon documentary movie The God-Makers II featured an interview with the would-be patriarch, and billed him as “Art, Polygamist, Mormon Fundamentalist Prophet and Leader”. The interview took place in front of LDS headquarters in Salt Lake City, which critics maintained was a cheap attempt by the filmmakers to associate Bulla with mainstream Mormonism. Not surprisingly, neither the film’s mostly-Fundamentalist Christian audience nor its LDS-Church critics deserted their respective denominations to join Bulla.
Like the other spiritual mavericks and misfits covered in this volume, Bulla eventually landed in California. He spent some time in San Francisco and San Diego, but finally established his Church in Calexico, an Imperial County border town where its current physical address – a mail drop – is located.
Bulla himself settled in San Felipe, Mexico, over 100 miles south of the American border. Mexico had long been a place of refuge for Mormon Fundamentalists, who established polygamous settlements in remote villages, as well as safe houses for faithful Americans on the run from Church authorities and Yankee lawmen. The Mormon exiles saw their mestizo hosts as Lamanites – descendants of an ancient Hebrew tribe that had immigrated to the New World and populated its lands – and actively ministered to them, often winning converts to their faith. For their part, the Mexican authorities generally left the industrious and otherwise law-abiding settlers and their polygamous communities alone.
With neither a brace of wives nor faithful followers in his tow, Bulla contented himself with a simple mobile-home by the Sea of Cortez. There, he continued to receive revelations, and worked on the theology that would guide his Church of Jesus Christ into the Third Millennium. A veteran’s pension, and the occasional donation, covered his living expenses in the sunny Mexican resort town.
As the Year 2000 arrived, Bulla, like virtually every other living religious visionary, took his ministry onto the Internet, where he competed for attention with countless other would-be electronic-prophets. Bulla updated and expanded The Revelations of Jesus Christ, and converted it into .pdf format so that anyone with Web access could download the two-volume work for free. He also uploaded a three-volume anthology of his talks and teachings, The Lectures on Truth, as well as three other self-published tomes, onto a Web site, artbulla.com. And he did battle with mainstream Mormons, orthodox Christians, and atheists alike on both message boards and YouTube, defending his doctrines in front of a small but vociferous virtual audience of critics and trolls.
|Bulla on a YouTube video|
Yet despite his long hours logged online, and the densely-worded and heavily-footnoted writings that strained his Web site’s capacity, Bulla still had few followers, virtual or otherwise. He lacked the alpha-male leadership qualities of infamous Fundamentalist figures like fellow Mexican-exile Ervil LeBaron or FLDS Patriarch Warren Jeffs, and although he avoided their fates as prison-lifers, he also never maintained multi-generational polygamous tribes, nor made his name synonymous with Mormon Fundamentalism, as they had. Bulla, who had stopped cutting his hair or beard in the manner of the Biblical Nazirites, was much more of a Prophet than a Patriarch, and far more credible as a wild-haired desert visionary than as a suit-and-tie-clad community-leader.
At this writing, Bulla’s hardcore following consists of one San Diego-based apostle who assists him with an Internet-based radio program. Several times a week, the prophet holds forth on www.blogtalkradio.com, discussing subjects ranging from traditional Mormon theology, to his feuds with various LDS Church authorities and apologists, to Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’ theories about out-of-body experiences and life after death. Bulla told the author that he has “many listeners”, but that because they “are afraid of exposing themselves to persecution from the Church and family,” they remain at a distance, unable to help the prophet form the polygamous Mormon-fundamentalist community that would properly apply his revelations and teachings.
Although the most obvious Biblical parallel to the hirsute, ascetic and outspoken Bulla would be John the Baptist, he also invites comparison to Moses. Like the Lawgiver, Bulla has received the direct commands of God to His chosen people, only to wander for forty years in the spiritual desert that is modern America, his followers being not a tribe of escaped slaves, but widely-scattered dissident Mormons and seekers of truth. Bulla nevertheless presses on, his lonely mission spurred by his vision of a Promised Land where he is a prophet with honor to Mormons and Gentiles alike.
www.artbulla.com (Bulla's personal site, with PDF and Kindle-friendly downloads of his books, extensive writings, and links to his other online presences)
Divergent Paths of the Restoration, by Steven L. Shields (Las Vegas, NV: Herald House, 2001)
Melton's Encyclopedia of American Religions - Eighth Edition (Detroit: Gale, 2009)