RIVERSIDE, Calif. (CN) - A cult called Emissaries of Divine Light made one of its members work for free and pay monthly fees to live in her own home, and now is trying to sell the property out from under her, she claims in court.
The cult encouraged the married woman to have sex with its leaders and to participate in threesomes, to "purify herself" and "'handle and protect' the man's spiritual expression," according to the complaint.
Linda Grindstaff sued Emissaries of Divine Light (EDL), a "global spiritual network," on claims of breach of contract, fraud and intentional infliction of emotional stress.
The mission of the cult, which began in 1932, is to "assist in the spiritual regeneration of humanity under the inspiration of the spirit of God," according to the lawsuit.
Grindstaff, who had inheritance money, claims she helped the cult buy a campus in Glen Ivy, Calif. by providing $50,000, one-half of the down payment. She hoped to make a profit, as the network leased a natural mineral springs and spa on the property to Glen Ivy Hot Springs, a popular destination in Southern California, she says in the complaint.
Grindstaff later spent $150,000 to build her own house on the Glen Ivy property and was told she would be able to live there unconditionally for the rest of her life and have full use of the amenities, including fruit trees, horse stables, and the Glen Ivy Hot Springs, the complaint states.
It took Emissaries more than three years to complete the home because they were using Grindstaff's money for their expenses, she claims. Grindstaff also had to pay $48,000 for "upgrades," such as bathtubs, toilets and a stove, and bought a mobile home to live in while she waited for her home to be finished, the lawsuit states.
Despite Grindstaff's requests that the oral agreement regarding the purchase of her house be put in writing, she was also told that Emissaries "could not be bothered with such paperwork for the benefit of its members" and that it could lose its status as a nonprofit corporation if it did so, the complaint states.
After Grindstaff paid the money for her house, she was asked by John Gray, the then-president of the board of directors, "when she was 'getting on the community work schedule and going to work.' Grindstaff was completely taken aback and shocked as this was never mentioned as a term of the agreement, but EDL and EDL CA already had her money. Gray said, 'What did you think you were going to do when you came to live here?'" the complaint states.
Grindstaff says she began working six days a week, 7½ hours per day - mostly as a kitchen worker or doing laundry for the single men and cleaning bathrooms. She was not paid because she was told "she had enough money already," she says.
Grindstaff was told "that she was 'volunteering' for the good of the whole, but in her own experience she felt she was being forced into slavery, expected to work as long hours as those who were employed and had their room and board paid for as well as receiving a stipend. She received nothing and could not come and go as a 'volunteer' would expect to be able to do," the complaint states.
Grindstaff had to pay for her and her daughter's food and medical expenses. She paid monthly fees to the network and her husband had to pay guest fees when he came to visit, the lawsuit states.
Grindstaff says she was manipulated "into believing she was going to enhance her service to the Lord and the Asian branch of the EDL ministry" by paying these fees.
Emissaries leaders made Grindstaff feel afraid to complain about her situation or tell any of the other community members about her arrangement. Whenever she told the leaders that she was feeling mistreated, they told her "it was all in the name of service to our great Lord and King," she says in the complaint.
Emissaries was also responsible for the end of Grindstaff's 20-year marriage, as she was often not allowed to take time off to visit her husband and the network advocated sexual promiscuity, the complaint states.
As part of the cult's teachings, Grindstaff was told that "in order to be a 'good Emissary wife' men represented 'God in the flesh' while women represented what was rising up from the Earth to meet God. EDL teaching made a distinction that man had to be awakened as all those who were designated to be 'Servers' most assuredly were. By having sex with a man who 'represented God' a woman could offer herself up and commune with God," according to the complaint.
Emissaries doctrine encouraged "triangles," which consisted of one man and two or more women having sexual encounters, because this would "handle and protect" the man's spiritual expression and spiritually purify the women, Grindstaff says.
Her husband, Stan, was often assigned to "counsel" women and share "attunements" - a "personal spiritual practice" - during which he would have sex with them. Stan had sex with many women throughout the couple's marriage, an activity sanctioned by Emissaries, the complaint states.
While Grindstaff was waiting for her home to be built, she had a renter, Carolyn, move into her other home in Oakland to help with her income. Stan got involved in a sexual relationship with Carolyn and later told Grindstaff that he was going to be spending one weekend a month with Carolyn and that she was going to be part of his life forever, the complaint states.
"This was very upsetting to Grindstaff even though she was aware of their sexual relationship. Stan said, 'Many married men in points of leadership in EDL had other women in their lives and he didn't see why this would not work for us.' Grindstaff then divorced Stan," the lawsuit states.
Stan and Carolyn were then married at Glen Ivy and Grindstaff was forced to prepare the reception room for their wedding. The community leaders told Grindstaff that she should be supportive of God's decision to bring together Carolyn and her former husband, Grindstaff says.
To add insult to injury, the Glen Ivy housing department assigned Stan and Carolyn to live next door to Grindstaff, though there were other options available on the 80-acre land, the complaint states.
Last year, Emissaries agreed to sell the Glen Ivy property for approximately $40 million. Grindstaff expect to lose her home, since her interest in the house was never put down in writing,.
Grindstaff believes that her interest in the house is worth $1.5 million, which includes $721,000 for the structure and $861,000 for the value of the amenities.
"Only now, after defendants are trying to take away her home, can Grindstaff finally acknowledge that she has been living her entire adult life within the context and beliefs of a destructive cult," the complaint states. (86)
Grindstaff seeks quiet title to the home, an accounting, rescission of purchase, a constructive trust and punitive damages for adverse possession, breach of contract, fraud, negligent infliction of emotional distress and intentional infliction of emotional distress.
She is represented by Mark A. Mellor in Riverside.
According to Emissaries' website, its goal is "to contribute to the individual lives of people who participate with us, and to the destiny of humanity as a whole."
"All people have the opportunity to deepen their attunement with the universal wisdom and love within them. That connection allows us to know ourselves more fully, and to express who we are in the world. The future of our planet depends on this for humanity as a whole," the website states.
Emissaries claims to guide people "as they build the emotional intelligence that lets them fulfill the highest potential for their life."
The site includes the article, "My View of Cults," by David Karchere, a "writer, poet and speaker on spirituality that transcends religion," and the Spiritual Director for Emissaries.
In the article, Karchere writes: "The spiritual groups I know about certainly have the potential to be a cult, and that includes Emissaries of Divine Light. But Emissaries of Divine Light is not, in any way, unique in this regard. All spiritual and religious groups, large and small, and indeed all cultures, can display the worst qualities of a cult."
He adds: "It is easy to think of a cult as something that happens to someone. If we are talking about children, I agree with that view. If we are talking about adults who are participating together by choice, then I believe it is far more creative and empowering to view cultic behavior as something that people have decided to accept and act out."
Karchere writes that he believes "there has been cultic behavior in the context of Emissaries of Divine Light. I have seen some leaders who take advantage of, and disempowered, followers. And I have seen some followers who were eager to give responsibility for their life to someone else. I've come to understand that people are people wherever you go, including in this program. And still, as far as I am concerned, I have not heard a more empowering, inspiring teaching in all the world."