Heaven’s Gate cult

The Heaven’s Gate cult was started by Marshall Applewhite and Bonnie Nettles in the 1970’s. Applewhite was born in Texas in 1931. He was gifted musically and had a great talent for public speaking. In 1952 Applewhite graduated college and got married. After attempting to become an actor in New York City in the early 1960’s, he decided instead to work as the choir director and assistant professor at the University of Alabama. Not long after that, Applewhite returned to Texas to work in a university in Houston. After having two children together, Applewhite and his wife got a divorce in 1968 (“Marshall Applewhite”).  

Bonnie Nettles was born in 1924 in Houston, Texas. Nettles graduated from the Herman Hospital School of Professional Nursing in 1948 and worked as a registered nurse. She married and had four children. In 1966 she started to attend meetings of the Houston Lodge of the Theosophical Society in America. This group liked to discuss new philosophies and things of the occult nature. When Applewhite and Nettles first met in 1972, Nettles was also struggling through a divorce (“Nettles, Bonnie”).  

After Applewhite’s divorce, he started to suffer mental illness. After a severe mental breakdown, he even was hospitalized and then met Nettles (Colurso). Applewhite and Nettles quickly became friends and even started the Christian Art Center in Houston. Here they taught religion, art, and music classes. In 1973, just a year after they met, Applewhite and Nettles moved to California. They felt they were being called on mission and believed they were the two witnesses in Revelations 11:3. (“Nettles, Bonnie”) Since they were superior to others, Applewhite and Nettles also claimed superiority over earthly law. They were arrested for credit card fraud in 1974, Applewhite was put in jail for six months for theft of a rental vehicle. While Applewhite sat behind bars, they took this time to sort out their beliefs. They believed that Heaven was another location in space where they, as the two witnesses, had come. They had to tell others about the “Next Level” or “Level Above Human” on their journey and, in completion of their mission, a UFO would return to earth and take them back to the “Next Level” (“Marshall Applewhite”).  

Throughout the year of 1975, they gathered followers in California and Oregon and began to make their way to Illinois spreading their news. Most of the public rejected their beliefs, including the media (“Nettles, Bonnie”). Applewhite and Nettles sent their followers out as missionaries to get more people to join their group. The cult had only about 200 followers at its peak. Applewhite and Nettles questioned the new members and their dedication so they spent years living in campgrounds and made the group rid themselves of luxuries and selfish pleasures. Member were not allowed to participate in sex, drinking, or smoking. Applewhite and some of the men were even castrated. Everyone in the Heaven’s Gate cult wore the same baggy clothing and had their hair cut short to all stay uniform in their transition to the “Next Level”. Gradually the group’s numbers dwindled to just 40 members (“Marshall Applewhite”). In 1985 Nettles died of cancer and the group was deeply saddened. They were torn over the thought of not being able to all transition together to the “Next Level” (“Nettles, Bonnie”). 

The Heaven’s Gate cult has so many errors but one of the main issues that stands out with this cult is the source of the teachings. Applewhite and Nettles devised all their own beliefs and teachings out of their own imaginations. All their teachings are based on their own human imaginations and dreamt up by human beings. “Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ;” 2 Corinthians 10:5.  

In 1995, scientists discovered the Hale-Bopp comet, and Applewhite decided that it was a sign the spaceship or UFO was coming soon. By this time the group had a website to attempt to attract more followers, giving them a way to Heaven, hence the name of the Heaven’s Gate cult. On March 21 of 1997, 39 remaining members ate their last supper together, believing the comet was the closest to earth it would get. A day or two later they all took a mixture of poison and vodka and were all found dead on March 26 (“Marshall Applewhite”). All bodies were found wearing black uniforms and black and white Nike shoes, with purple shrouds covering them (Colurso).  

Suicide is sin against the sixth commandment. God in instituting the ten commandments would not have commanded us not to kill if He wanted us to commit suicide to get to heaven. God would be contradicting Himself and that is impossible because God is perfect as stated in Matthew 5:48, “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.” 

No one, no human being knows when Christ is coming. It is foolish to try and predict when Christ will come to gather His elect to the new heavens and the new earth. As Jesus said in Matthew 24:36, “But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only.” When Applewhite claimed to know that the end was coming, he claimed to know when Christ was coming which of course is impossible for any human being to know.  

Christ Himself will come to gather His elect. We know this from 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 which reads, “For the Lord Himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God; and the dead in Christ shall rise first; Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord.” Christ will return in the clouds and with a shout. All the world will know when Christ comes again. Reprobate and elect will both acknowledge the very end of time. No UFO or spaceship. “Behold, he cometh with clouds; and every eye shall see him, and they also which pierced him: and all kindreds of the earth shall wail because of him Even so, Amen.” Revelations 1:7. 


Colurso, Mary. “7 Creepy Things We Learned about Marshall Applewhite.”, 14 Dec. 2020, 

“Marshall Applewhite.”, A&E Networks Television, 17 July 2020, 

Melton, J. Gordon. “Heaven’s Gate.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 2021, 

“Nettles, Bonnie Lu Truesdale (1924-1985).”, Elite Cafemedia Publisher, 2019, Accessed 31 July 2021.  


Archivist’s note:

This article was submitted to a Beacon Lights writing contest, with the prompt to “Give a summary and description of a cult or other non-Christian religion of your choice, focusing on the errors of the group and giving a biblical defense against the errors.”  The article above was selected as one of the top 5 submissions in its category.