John-Roger, a self-anointed spiritual adviser and preacher of human potential who founded a New Age movement that for a time achieved an aura of glamour and attracted celebrity adherents while provoking along the way accusations that he was running a cult, died on Wednesday in Santa Monica, Calif. He was 80.
The cause was pneumonia, said Mark Lurie, the treasurer and spokesman for John-Roger’s church, the Movement of Spiritual Inner Awareness. Its acronym, MSIA, is sometimes pronounced aloud as “messiah.”
The church, which was incorporated in 1971, is nondenominational, with familiar religious and New Age tenets at its core. Christ is its leading figure, but in concert with some Asian traditions, it holds that the individual soul, mired in the earthly world, can be liberated with prayer and meditation — or spiritual exercises, as John-Roger called them — and the expression of unconditional love.
John-Roger, who was known as Roger Hinkins until he adopted his hyphenated name after what he said was a near-death experience in 1963, taught meditations that were intended to help adherents reduce stress, gain confidence, banish negative thoughts and feel a connection to God. He was referred to within the church as the embodiment of the Mystical Traveler, a term he coined to describe the spiritual force that is inside everyone.
Are you sure it wasn’t indigestion dear?
Disliking the label guru, John-Roger called himself a “way-shower.” He often simplified his philosophy in aphorisms expressing good will and the possibility of fulfilling one’s potential: “Take care of yourself so you can take care of others.” “Don’t hurt yourself and don’t hurt others.” “Use everything for your upliftment and growth.”
Kind of like Cialis, no?
Charismatic and enterprising, John-Roger expanded his platform. In 1976 he started what is now known as the University of Santa Monica, an unaccredited school operating independently of the church and specializing in what it calls “spiritual psychology”; and the Peace Theological Seminary and College of Philosophy, the educational arm of the church.
In 1978 he started the Insight Training Seminars, popular and enduring self-help programs for adults, teenagers and businesses, and in the 1980s the church began sponsoring an annual event at which it presented the International Integrity Awards to figures like Desmond Tutu, Mother Teresa, Jonas Salk and Stevie Wonder.
All of this gave the church and John-Roger a high profile, especially around Los Angeles, and they attracted adherents including Arianna Huffington, the author, columnist and later founder of The Huffington Post; the actresses Sally Kirkland and Leigh Taylor-Young; and Carl Wilson of the Beach Boys.
Scandal erupted in the 1980s when The Los Angeles Times and People magazine reported that disenchanted former members of the church had denounced it as cultlike and authoritarian and accused John-Roger of a variety of misdeeds, including betraying a vow of poverty, sexual misconduct and threatening apostates with physical violence. He denied the accusations, though he soon withdrew from the public eye.
Susan and Wendell Whitmore, who joined MSIA in the early ’70s, finally decided to leave MSIA in 1983 after several male staff members confessed during an informal group discussion that Hinkins had used spiritual threats and promises to coerce them into having sex with him. The Whitmores claim that MSIA members had been led to believe that Hinkins had taken a vow of celibacy, and therefore did not question the series of attractive young men that stayed in his house. “He always had someone sleeping in his bedroom at night, supposedly to protect his body while he was out of it,” says Whitmore. Former MSIA members charge that staffers who submitted to their leader’s sexual advances were promoted to positions of authority and were praised by Hinkins for their spiritual qualities. Ex-MSIA member Victor Toso, said that although he was not homosexual, he consented to Hinkins’s requests for sex because he feared being expelled from the MSIA staff. “Whenever we fell out of line, having another sexual encounter with him was sort of required to seal us back in the brotherhood,” said Toso
Wesley Whitmore, Wendell’s twin brother and also former MSIA staffer, recalls that in “contrast to his public behavior, Hinkins in private was often angry, vindictive and bizarre, occasionally shouting that he was under attack from negative forces.” He and his wife said that their devotion to Hinkins kept them from addressing these issues.
According to Susan Whitmore, MSIA defectors hesitated to challenge Hinkins publicly even after leaving the movement “because we were made to be afraid.” She claims that Hinkins would declare that people who questioned him had placed themselves “under the Kal (a devil-like spirit) power and its field of negativity, known as the Red Monk,” and would essentially be warning that members who associated with defectors risked spiritual disaster. Whitmore alleges that one woman was told she had had a miscarriage because she had hugged one of the defectors.
The Whitmores also claim that after they left MSIA, their cars were vandalized, they received obscene letters accusing them of homosexuality, and phone calls in which threats were made on their lives. Similarly, Eve Cohen, the daughter of ex-MSIA ministers Matthew and Ellen Cohen, and at the time a teenager, received a letter graphically alleging that her father had had sexual acts with other men. The letter claimed to be from a friend of Eve’s in Los Angeles.
Religion academic and writer David C. Lane claims that in the fall of 1983, after he called Hinkins, who at that time he considered to be a friend, to get his response to the allegations of plagiarism, sexual manipulation, and charlatanism that had been raised by other friends, he was subjected to a series of threats, including several made against his life and the lives of his friends/informants. His home was subsequently ransacked and a number of his research files were stolen. He claims that documentary evidence implicates John-Roger with the robbery, as well as with implementing a smear campaign including threats against Lane and other of his critics. This included setting up a front organization called the “Coalition for Civil and Spiritual Rights”, an act which was eventually traced directly back to Hinkins.
Oh that Kal!
In 1988 he passed the torch as spiritual director of the church to John Morton (who remains in the role), though he retained the title of spiritual adviser and continued to write, make films and appear at book signings, fund-raisers and other events.
The scrutiny of the church eventually waned, though Ms. Huffington’s affiliation with it caused a flurry of publicity in 1994 when her husband at the time, Michael, then a California congressman, ran unsuccessfully for the Senate
Here’s Michael with Arianna
Here he is after coming out.
According to Mr. Lurie, there are currently about 4,100 active “students” within the church, mostly in the United States, but also in Australia, Europe, South America and Nigeria.
John-Roger was born Roger Delano Hinkins on Sept. 24, 1934, in Rains, Utah, a town that no longer exists, to Parley Hinkins Jr., a coal miner, and his wife, Irma. He graduated from the University of Utah, where he studied psychology.
He was the author or co-author of several books, including “Spiritual Warrior: The Art of Spiritual Living,” “Living the Spiritual Principles of Health and Well-Being” and “Forgiveness: The Key to the Kingdom.”
He is survived by a brother, Delile Hinkins, and a sister, Linda Hansen.
In the early 1960s, John-Roger was still known as Mr. Hinkins, a high school English teacher in Rosemead, Calif., near Los Angeles. It was in 1963, he said, that he experienced a revelation that pointed him toward spiritual teaching. It came after he emerged from nine days in a coma, which he told The Los Angeles Times in 1988 resulted from a kidney operation gone wrong.
(In a later documentary film about him, “Mystical Traveler,” he said he had been in a car accident. Mr. Lurie said in an email that both were true: The accident had caused a troublesome kidney stone.)
World’s Worst Kidney Stone!
Or maybe it’s most innovative.
In any case, he told The Times, when he woke up, “there was another being in me, and he called himself John.” He added: “When I opened my eyes, I remember my mother sitting there saying, ‘Who are you?’ and the voice said, ‘I am John,’ and she said, ‘Is Roger there?’ He says, ‘Yes, he’s in here, too.’ ”
And here they are together.
And speaking of dual personalities, Buddy Love will sing us out