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|Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints|
The FLDS temple at the YFZ Ranch near Eldorado, Texas
|Membership||6,000 – 10,000 or more|
|President / Prophet||Warren Jeffs|
The Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (FLDS Church) is one of the largest Mormon fundamentalist denominations and one of the largest organizations in the United States whose members practice polygamy. The FLDS Church emerged in the early twentieth century when its founding members left The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church). The split occurred largely because of the LDS Church's suspension of the practice of polygamy and its decision to excommunicate its members who would continue the practice.
The FLDS Church is estimated to have 10,000 members residing in the sister cities of Hildale, Utah and Colorado City, Arizona; Eldorado, Texas; Westcliffe, Colorado; Mancos, Colorado; Creston and Bountiful, British Columbia; and Pringle, South Dakota.
The FLDS Church headquarters were originally located in what was then known as Short Creek, Arizona, on the southern border of Utah. The settlement eventually expanded into Utah and became incorporated as the twin municipalities of Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Arizona. Since 2004, however, news reports have suggested a possible shift of the church's headquarters to Eldorado, Texas, where a temple has been built by FLDS Church members.
From 2007–2011 the leadership of the FLDS Church was unclear. On November 20, 2007, after the conviction of Warren Jeffs, attorneys for Jeffs released the following statement: "Mr. Jeffs resigned as President of the Corporation of the President of The Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, Inc."This statement does not address his position as prophet of the church, but merely addressed his resignation from his fiduciary post as president of the corporation belonging to the FLDS Church. According to a Salt Lake Tribune telephone transcript, there is evidence that, when incarcerated, Warren Jeffs made statements naming William E. Jessop, a former first counselor, as his successor or, alternatively, that Jeffs had told Jessop on January 24, 2007 that he had never been the rightful leader of the FLDS. Many press accounts have suggested that Merril Jessop, who has been leading the Eldorado, Texas compound, is the de facto leader of the church. Additionally on January 9, 2010 documents filed with the Utah Department of Commerce name Wendell L. Nielsen as the president of the sect. The FLDS incorporation charter does not require the church president to be its Prophet. However, traditionally the President of the FLDS church was also the religious head. FLDS leaders have refused to clarify who is considered the Prophet of the FLDS church. To add additional confusion to the issue of succession, a 2012 CNN documentary insists that Jeffs still leads the church from prison.
Prior to November 20, 2007, the church was being led by Warren Jeffs, who succeeded his father, Rulon Jeffs, in 2002. For nearly two years, Warren Jeffs had been wanted on sex-crimes charges. From May 2006 until his arrest in August 2006, he was on the FBI's Ten Most-Wanted List. On September 25, 2007, Jeffs was found guilty of two counts of being an accomplice to rape and was sentenced to ten years to life in prison. This conviction was later overturned. On January 28, 2011, Jeffs again asserted his leadership of the denomination.
Warren Jeffs has since been sentenced to life in prison plus 20 years along with a $10,000 fine after his conviction on aggravated sexual assault and sexual assault charges.
The exact number of members of the FLDS Church is unknown due to the relatively closed nature of the organization; however, its population has been estimated at between 6,000 to 10,000 in the twin communities of Colorado City, Arizona and Hildale, Utah.
Since the purchase of land now called the Yearning for Zion Ranch 6 miles (9.7 km) northeast of Eldorado, Texas, there appears to be a shift in the headquarters of the church, along with a large exodus of the "most faithful" church members. Other newer church settlements are 15 miles (24 km) southwest of Pringle, South Dakota and 6 miles (9.7 km) north of Mancos, Colorado.
Members of the FLDS Church have owned machine shops that have sold airplane components to the United States government. From 1998 to 2007, the receipts of these airplane components totaled more than $1.7 million.
The residents in the area of Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Arizona, have a long history of practicing plural marriage, dating to the mid-19th century. Brigham Young, then President of the LDS Church, once visited the area stating, "This will someday be the head and not the tail of the church." The twin cities were once known as Short Creek, officially founded in 1913 as a ranching community.
The FLDS traces its claim to spiritual authority to accounts, starting with a statement published in 1912 by Lorin C. Woolley, of a purported 1886 divine revelation to then–LDS Church President John Taylor. They see this 1886 revelation as precluding validity of the 1890 Manifesto against new plural marriages by church members, issued by Wilford Woodruff, whom the LDS Church recognizes as Taylor's successor. After the formal abandonment of plural marriage by the LDS Church, many members around Short Creek and elsewhere continued, and even solemnized, plural marriages. In 1904, the LDS Church issued the Second Manifesto and eventually excommunicated those who continued to solemnize or enter into new plural marriages.
Short Creek soon became a gathering place for polygamist former members of the LDS Church. In 1935, the LDS Church excommunicated the Mormon residents of Short Creek who refused to sign an oath renouncing polygamy. Following this event, John Y. Barlow began to lead a group of Mormon fundamentalists who were dedicated to preserving the practice of plural marriage. The location on the Utah–Arizona border was thought to be ideal for the group because it allowed them to avoid state raids by moving across the state line.
Some of the locally prominent men in Short Creek, after being excommunicated by the LDS Church, later became leaders of the Mormon fundamentalist movement, including Lorin C. Woolley, J. Leslie Broadbent, John Y. Barlow, Charles Zitting, Joseph White Musser, LeGrand Wooley, and Louis A. Kelsch. In 1932, these leaders created the organization known as the Council of Friends, a group of seven high priests that was said to be the governing priesthood body on Earth. The Council of Friends became the governing ecclesiastical body over the Mormon fundamentalists at Short Creek.
The early years of the movement were contentious and saw many differing interpretations and opinions among leaders as to how plural marriage should be practiced. These contentions eventually led to the subsequent schisms that created the multiple Mormon fundamentalist organizations that now exist, including the FLDS Church, the Apostolic United Brethren, and the Latter-day Church of Christ or Kingston group. It is commonly believed by all of these sects that the early leaders of the fundamentalist movement received revelations from God commanding that plural marriage should not cease.
One researcher has suggested that the concept of the FLDS as a separate church entity did not fully arise until a 1987 lawsuit, when the full name of the church first appears. According to this interpretation, the original authority conferred by Lorin C. Wooley was only for the purpose of initiating plural marriages, not for the establishing of a new church, and many early Short Creek polygamists continued to regard the LDS Church as authoritative but "out of order" on the matter of polygamy. Such members held hope that the LDS Church would one day come back "into order" and re-establish the practice of polygamy.
In 1984, a schism formed within the FLDS Church just before the death of Leroy S. Johnson. A small group of FLDS (known as the Centennial Park group) took issue with the "one-man rule" doctrine that altered the leadership structure of the church and that was implemented fully when Rulon Jeffs assumed his position as sole leader of the organization. These followers took up residence just south of Colorado City, in Centennial Park, Arizona, calling themselves "The Work of Jesus Christ," or "The Work" for short.
Also in 2002, after Warren Jeffs assumed leadership, Winston Blackmore, who had been serving in Canada as the Bishop of Bountiful for the FLDS Church, was excommunicated by Jeffs in an apparent power struggle. This led to a split within the community in Bountiful, British Columbia, with an estimated 700 FLDS members leaving the church to follow Blackmore.
The FLDS Church has been led by a succession of men regarded as prophets, who believe themselves to have been called by God to lead. The first leader of the FLDS Church was John Y. Barlow, who led the community of Short Creek until his death on December 29, 1949. He was succeeded by Joseph White Musser, who was the church's leader during a government crackdown on polygamy known as the Short Creek raid, in 1953, in which all the FLDS Church members of Short Creek were arrested, including 236 children.
Musser led the community until a contentious appointment of Rulon Allred to a high position of authority in 1951 angered some members of the Short Creek community. Musser had appointed Allred to be his successor, but Allred was not accepted as his successor by the Short Creek community. This led to a schism, with many followers breaking off and joining Allred; this offshoot became known as the Apostolic United Brethren. The core group in the Short Creek area instead followed Charles Zitting as its leader.
Zitting died in 1954 and Leroy S. Johnson was chosen to lead the church in Short Creek. Johnson led the FLDS Church until his death in 1986. He was succeeded by Rulon Jeffs, who assumed the position of prophet, a title his predecessor refused to use. In Jeffs' later years, his poor health led to his son Warren serving as leader of the church in his stead, and upon Rulon's death in September 2002, Warren Jeffs became leader of the FLDS Church. However, immediately after the state of Utah convicted him of being an accomplice to rape, it was widely reported in the press that Warren Jeffs resigned his leadership of the FLDS Church, though the statement made by his attorneys only addresses Jeffs' resignation from his fiduciary post as "President of the Corporation of the President of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, Inc."
In early 2011, Jeffs reasserted his leadership of the church. Since no public statements had been made by church officials indicating Jeff's successor, it is not known who led the FLDS Church in the interim, although it is possible that Warren Jeffs remained at the church's helm during this period as well.
The following individuals held (or claimed) high leadership positions as of late 2011.
In 2003, the church received increased attention from the state of Utah when police officer Rodney Holm, a member of the church, was convicted of unlawful sexual conduct with a 16- or 17-year-old and one count of bigamy for his marriage to and impregnation of plural wife Ruth Stubbs. The conviction was the first legal action against a member of the FLDS Church since the Short Creek raid.
In November 2003, church member David Allred purchased "as a hunting retreat" the 1,371-acre (5.55 km2) Isaacs Ranch 4 miles (6.4 km) northeast of Eldorado, Texas, on Schleicher County Road 300 and sent 30 to 40 construction workers from Colorado City–Hildale to begin work on the property. Improvements soon included three 3-story houses, each 8,000 to 10,000 square feet (930 m2), a concrete plant, and a plowed field. After seeing high-profile FLDS Church critic Flora Jessop on the ABC television program Primetime Live on March 4, 2004, concerned Eldorado residents contacted Jessop. She investigated, and on March 25, 2004, Jessop held a press conference in Eldorado confirming that the new neighbors were FLDS Church adherents. On May 18, 2004, Schleicher County Sheriff David Doran and his Chief Deputy visited Colorado City, and the FLDS Church officially acknowledged that the Schleicher County property would be a new base for the church. It has been reported in the media that the church has built a temple at the YFZ Ranch, which is supported by evidence, including aerial photographs of a large stone structure (approximately 88 feet (27 m) wide) in a state of relative completion. A local newspaper, the Eldorado Success, reported that the temple foundation was dedicated January 1, 2005 by Warren Jeffs.
On January 10, 2004, Dan Barlow (the mayor of Colorado City) and about 20 other men were excommunicated from the church and stripped of their wives and children (who would be reassigned to other men), and the right to live in the town. The same day two teenage girls reportedly fled the towns with the aid of activist Flora Jessop, who advocates plural wives' escape from polygamy. The two girls, Fawn Broadbent and Fawn Holm, soon found themselves in a highly publicized dispute over their freedom and custody. After the allegations against their parents were proven false, Flora helped them flee state custody together on February 15, and they ended up in Salt Lake City at Fawn Holm's brother Carl's house.
In October 2004, Flora Jessop reported that David Allred purchased a 60-acre (240,000 m2) parcel of land near Mancos, Colorado, (midway between Cortez and Durango) about the same time he bought the Schleicher County property. Allred told authorities the parcel is to be used as a hunting retreat.
On July 29, 2005, Brent Jeffs filed suit accusing three of his uncles, including Warren Jeffs, of sexually assaulting him when he was a child. The suit also named the FLDS Church as a defendant. On August 10, former FLDS Church member Shem Fischer, Dan Fischer's brother, added the church and Warren Jeffs as defendants to a 2002 lawsuit claiming he was illegally fired because he no longer adhered to the faith. Fischer, who was a salesman for a wooden cabinetry business in Hildale, claimed church officials interfered with his relationship with his employer and blacklisted him. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of the company and found that Fischer was not fired from his job, but quit instead. The district court ruling was overturned in part on the basis that Fischer was discriminated against on the basis of religion when he reapplied for his position and was denied employment because he had left the FLDS church. The parties eventually settled the case for an agreed amount of damages to Shem Fischer.
In July 2005, six young adult "Lost Boys" who claimed they were cast out of their homes on the Utah–Arizona border to reduce competition for wives, filed suit against the FLDS Church. "The [boys] have been excommunicated pursuant to that policy and practice and have been cut off from family, friends, benefits, business and employment relationships, and purportedly condemned to eternal damnation," their suit says. "They have become 'lost boys' in the world outside the FLDS community."
On August 28, 2006, Warren Jeffs was captured on Interstate 15 just north of Las Vegas, Nevada, after a routine traffic stop. Jeffs was tried in St. George, Utah, and a jury found him guilty of two counts of being an accomplice to rape.
The mayor of Colorado City, Terrill C. Johnson, was arrested on May 26, 2006, for eight fraudulent vehicle registration charges for registering his vehicles in a different state than he lived, which is a felony. He was booked in to Purgatory Correctional Facility in Hurricane, Utah, and was released after paying the $5,000 bail in cash.
In the morning of July 26, 1953, 102 Arizona state police officers and National Guard soldiers invaded the fundamentalist Mormon community of Short Creek, Arizona. They arrested the entire populace, including 236 children. Of those 236 children, 150 were not allowed to return to their parents for more than two years. Other parents never regained custody of their children.
The Short Creek raid was the largest mass arrest of polygamists in American history, and it received a great deal of press coverage. After the raid, polygamists continued to live there; in 1960, Short Creek was renamed Colorado City.
In April, 2008, acting on the outcry of an alleged teen victim of physical and sexual abuse at the FLDS compound in Schleicher County, Texas, Texas Child Protective Services and Department of Public Safety officers entered the compound to serve search and arrest warrants and carry out court orders designed to protect children. Over the course of several days, from April 3 through April 10, Texas CPS removed 439 children under age 18 from the church's YFZ Ranch, while law enforcement, including Texas Rangers, executed their search and arrest warrants on the premises. The April 2008 events at the YFZ Ranch generated intense press coverage in the U.S., especially in the Southwest, and also garnered international attention.
On April 18, 2008, following a two-day hearing, Judge Barbara Walther of the 51st Judicial District Court, ordered all of the FLDS children to remain in the temporary custody of Child Protective Services. Judge Walther's ruling was subsequently reversed by the 3rd Court of Appeals in Austin, Texas in a ruling that Texas CPS was not justified in removing every child from the ranch. The 3rd Court of Appeals granted mandamus relief and ordered the trial court to vacate the portion of its order giving CPS temporary custody of the FLDS children. CPS petitioned the Texas Supreme Court requesting that the 3rd Court of Appeals' ruling be overturned, but the Texas Supreme Court, in a written opinion issued May 29, 2008, declined to overturn the ruling of the 3rd Court of Appeals.
The abuse hotline calls that prompted the raid are now believed to have been made by Rozita Swinton,a non-FLDS woman with no known connection to the FLDS community in Texas. Nevertheless, the search warrants executed at the YFZ compound have been determined by the court to have been legally issued and executed, and the evidence seized cannot be excluded on the basis that the initial outcry may have been a hoax.
In November 2008, 12 FLDS men were charged with offenses related to alleged underage marriages conducted during the years since the sect built the YFZ Ranch. As of June 2010, six FLDS members have been convicted of felonies and received sentences ranging from seven to 75 years.
On November 5, 2009, a Schleicher County, Texas jury found Raymond Merril Jessop, 38, guilty of sexual assault of a child. According to evidence admitted at trial, Raymond Merril Jessop sexually assaulted a 16-year-old girl to whom he had been "spiritually married" when the girl was 15 years old. The same jury sentenced Raymond Jessop to 10 years in prison and assessed a fine of $8,000.00.
On December 18, 2009, a Schleicher County, Texas jury found Allan Keate guilty of sexual assault of a child. He was sentenced to 33 years in prison. Allan Keate fathered a child with a 15-year-old girl. According to documents admitted at trial, Keate had also given three of his own daughters away in “spiritual” or “celestial” marriage, two of them at 15 and one at 14, to older men. The youngest of the three went to Warren Jeffs.
On January 22, 2010, Michael George Emack pled no contest to sexual assault charges and was sentenced to seven years in prison. He married a 16-year-old girl at YFZ Ranch on August 5, 2004. She gave birth to a son less than a year later.
On March 17, 2010, a Tom Green County, Texas jury found Merril Leroy Jessop guilty of sexual assault of a child after deliberating only one hour. Evidence admitted at the criminal trial proved beyond a reasonable doubt that Merril Leroy Jessop, 35, sexually assaulted a 15-year-old girl while living at the FLDS Ranch in Schleicher County, Texas. The jury sentenced Jessop to 75 years in prison and assessed a $10,000.00 fine.
On April 6, 2010, Arizona officials executed search warrants at governmental offices of the towns of Colorado City, Arizona and Hildale, Utah. According to one report, the warrants involved the misuse of funds and caused the Hildale Public Safety Department to be shut down. According to another report, city personnel and volunteers were ordered out of the buildings while the search was being conducted, prompting protests from Colorado City Fire Chief Jake Barlow. Despite these protests, public safety did not appear to be affected, as the county law enforcement agencies involved routed calls for emergency service through the county offices. A search warrant was also executed at Jake Barlow's residence.
The search warrant affidavit states that the Mohave County District Attorney sought records relating to personal charges on an agency credit card from the Colorado City Fire Department under the open records laws. Chief Barlow indicated that there were no personal charges, therefore there were no records to disclose. Records obtained by subpoena from the banks involved showed a series of purchases made by Chief Barlow and Darger that are questionable, including diapers, child's clothing, and food, although the firefighters are not fed by the department. No charges have yet been brought.
The FLDS Church teaches the doctrine of plural marriage, which states that a man having multiple wives is ordained by God; the doctrine requires it in order for a man to receive the highest form of salvation. It is generally believed in the church that a man should have a minimum of three wives to fulfill this requirement. Connected with this doctrine is patriarchal doctrine, the belief that wives are required to be subordinate to their husbands.
The church currently practices placement marriage, whereby a young woman of marriageable age is assigned a husband by revelation from God to the leader of the church, who is regarded as a prophet. The prophet elects to take and give wives to and from men according to their worthiness. This is also called the law of placing.
In general, women do not cut their hair short or wear makeup, pants, or any skirt above the knees. Men wear plain clothing, usually a long-sleeved collared shirt and full-length pants. Men and women are forbidden to have any tattoos or body piercings. Women and girls usually wear monochromatic homemade long-sleeved "prairie dresses," with hems between ankle and mid-calf, along with long stockings or trousers underneath, usually keeping their hair coiffed.
Brooke Adams of The Salt Lake Tribune said "Photographs from the 1953 raid on Short Creek, now the twin towns of Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz., show men, women and children dressed like anyone else of that era." FLDS dress for members evolved as time passed. Early Short Creek community leaders taught that members should wear the style of long, Mormon "priesthood" religious undergarment worn by mainstream LDS up until the 1920s. By the later part of the twentieth century, this more conservative style of modesty became more and more the norm, through custom and eventually through official edicts by the denomination's leadership.
The land and houses occupied by the FLDS Church on the Utah/Arizona border are owned by the United Effort Plan (UEP), which was once a subsidiary organization of the church. The UEP also owns most of the property of the businesses that are controlled by FLDS Church members in that area. The church views this "United Order" as a means of living the traditional Latter Day Saint doctrine of the "Law of Consecration." The Attorney General of Utah filed a lawsuit and seized the holdings of the UEP for the current residents of Colorado City and Hildale. The Attorney General is seeking to distribute the assets of the UEP to the FLDS Church members and ex-members who contributed to the UEP. In 2005, a court order froze the UEP pending a resolution of the lawsuit. At the time of the court order, the UEP was worth $100 million.
In 2000, the Colorado City Unified School District had more than 1200 students. When Jeffs recommended that FLDS Church members pull their children out of public schools, the number declined to around 250.
At the time of his death, church leader Rulon Jeffs was confirmed to have married 22 women and fathered more than 60 children. Current estimates state that Warren Jeffs may have upwards of 60 wives. As the type of polygamy practiced is polygyny, critics of this lifestyle claim that its practice inevitably leads to bride shortages and likely to child marriages, incest, and child abuse.
Critics assert that members of the church are violating laws when they participate in polygamy. Critics claim that incest and sexual abuse of children are prevalent among church members.
Church leaders have encouraged their flock to take advantage of government assistance in the form of welfare and the WIC (woman-infant-child) programs. Since the government recognizes only one woman as the legal wife of a man, the rest of his wives are considered single mothers and are eligible to receive government assistance. The more wives and children one has, the more welfare checks and food stamps one can receive. By 2003, for example, more than $6 million dollars in public funds were being channeled into the community of Colorado City, AZ. In his book Under the Banner of Heaven (p. 15), Jon Krakauer writes that, "Fundamentalists call defrauding the government 'bleeding the beast' and regard it as a virtuous act." Carolyn Campbell ("Inside Polygamy in the '90s,", 102) adds, "The attitude of some polygamists is 'the government is untrustworthy and corrupt, and I'm above it, but give me those food stamps and free medical care.'"
It has been reported by former members that the FLDS Church has excommunicated more than 400 teenage boys for offenses such as dating or listening to rock music. Some former members claim that the real reason for these excommunications is that there are not enough women for each male to receive three or more wives. Six men, aged 18 to 22, filed a conspiracy lawsuit against Jeffs and Sam Barlow, a former Mohave County deputy sheriff and close associate of Jeffs, for a "systematic excommunication" of young men to reduce competition for wives.
In its Spring 2005 "Intelligence Report," the Southern Poverty Law Center named the FLDS Church to its "hate group" listing because of the church's teachings on race, which include a fierce condemnation of interracial relationships. Warren Jeffs has said, "the black race is the people through which the devil has always been able to bring evil unto the earth."
Former FLDS Church member Robert Richter reported to the Phoenix New Times that Warren Jeffs has repeatedly alluded to the 19th-century teaching of "blood atonement" in church sermons. Under the doctrine of blood atonement, certain serious sins, such as murder, can only be atoned for by the sinner's death.
The Colorado City/Hildale area has the world's highest incidence of fumarase deficiency, an extremely rare genetic condition. Geneticists attribute this to the prevalence of cousin marriage between descendants of two of the town's founders, Joseph Smith Jessop and John Yeates Barlow. It causes encephalopathy, severe mental retardation, unusual facial features, brain malformation, and epileptic seizures.
|Wikinews has related news: 401 children from Texas sect compound taken into custody|
by the Dallas Observer's Jesse Hyde