Leaders of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on Wednesday dismissed rumors that the sect was anticipating an apocalyptic event or mass exodus to the church’s West Texas ranch.
Schleicher County (Texas) Sheriff David Doran said the site of the FLDS’ “Yearn for Zion Ranch” was quiet Wednesday, other than dozens of reporters who showed up to investigate rumors that hundreds of members of the church were relocating to Texas and that the world could end.
“They denied any end-of-time prophecy or mass movement of people,” Doran said. “They said they’re going to be praying, but there’s not a church gathering or dedication there today because of the ongoing construction.”
An 80-foot high white temple being built on the sprawling FLDS property has been under construction for months, but remains incomplete. Doran said the exterior appears mostly finished, but the interior still needs work.
Doran said he did not meet or see the reclusive FLDS leader Warren Jeffs on Wednesday, although Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff said Jeffs was believed to be at the ranch near Eldorado.
Based in the twin cities of Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz., the FLDS church moved some of it members to the arid country near Eldorado, Texas, about a year ago. The group initially said it planned to build a hunting lodge, but later, built about a dozens homes and the temple. Many have speculated that Jeffs would select his most devout followers and move them to Texas.
Best known for its practice of polygamy, church members lead quiet, secluded lives, shunning exposure to television, radio or the Internet. Membership is estimated at between 6,000 and 10,000 members.
The tenets of the FLDS faith is rooted in the early beliefs of The Church of Jesus Christ of Later-day Saints. But in the early part of the 20th Century FLDS founders split from the faith because they believed LDS leaders had strayed from doctrine.
Both denominations observe April 6 as the anniversary date of their faith’s founding.
Rumors that Jeffs has said this year’s 175th anniversary would be marked by an apocalyptic event prompted concern among authorities in Utah and Texas and drew dozens of reporters to the gates of the 2,000-acre FLDS ranch.
Hoping to quell any controversy and keep the media frenzy to a minimum, Doran and a Texas Ranger met for 40 minutes with FLDS leaders at the ranch.
While church members acknowledged observing a “holy day” church members said they would do it quietly and repeated their request to be left alone.
“They said rumors are something they’ve become accustomed to although they don’t like it,” Doran said. “Over the years, they say it’s just been one doomsday prophecy after another.”
Doran, who has made eight previous trips there for meetings, estimates that between 80 and 150 people are living there and said it seemed to be business as usual Wednesday, although construction on the temple had been halted.
It was also quiet in Hildale and Colorado City, said Ross Chatwin, an excommunicated church member who still lives there.