Polygamist sect leader Warren Jeffs may be serving a life-plus-20-year sentence in a Texas prison, but his grip on most of his 10,000 followers doesn’t appear to be lessening and some former insiders say he’s imposing even more rigid requirements that are roiling the church and splitting its members.
The edicts from Jeffs, head of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, form the basis for what he’s called the “Holy United Order.” An estimated 1,500 men, women and children church members failed to meet the stringent standards by a Jan. 1 deadline, said Willie Jessop, a former FLDS spokesman who no longer reveres Jeffs.
Whether those members were excommunicated outright or have been put on probationary status until they can prove they meet the standards remains unclear, Jessop and others said. Some marriages have been dissolved and families split up as Jeffs works from his prison cell to reshape his church. [...]
But not all FLDS are submissively accepting the “correction” as church disciplinary actions are called.
Some spouses are refusing church-directed breakups and choosing to leave the faith on their own. Some are leaving the community along the Utah-Arizona state line, while many have chosen to remain in their homes.
“What makes this important is that there has never been a time when people in the community have taken this sort of stand against Warren,” said Jessop, who left the church a year ago, but still considers himself FLDS. “I think the church is going through a social crisis that is extremely painful, but in the long term, it’s healthy.”
From his daily conversation with other FLDS, Jessop said he senses a growing confusion among members about the validity of the church’s leadership.
“Warren has created a wholesale distrust of the church,” he said. “Everyone is second-guessing their religion.” [...]
From prison Jeffs shepherds his flock through messages passed to visitors, letters and phone calls, including two on Christmas Day that were played over speakerphones to followers gathered at a meeting house in Hildale, Utah. That violation of prison rules earned Jeffs a 90-day suspension of his phone privileges.
Jessop said Jeffs’ “United Order” requirements were once loosely used as conditions for living at the faith’s Yearning for Zion Ranch near Eldorado, Texas.
But about a year ago, Jeffs said the rules would be globally imposed on church members living in the twin towns along the Utah-Arizona border, Hildale and Colorado City, Ariz., and in church enclaves in South Dakota and British Columbia, said Jessop. [...]
Among the newly reinforced rules: No Internet access, no recreation equipment or toys and no sexual relations between spouses without Jeffs’ permission, which mean no children being born in the community.
Members are also expected to give 100 percent of their earnings to the church, meeting only their basic needs through goods obtained from a church cooperative known as the Bishop’s Storehouse.
Former FLDS member Richard Holm, who was excommunicated by Warren Jeffs, believes the recent crackdown on members shows a level of desperation among the church’s senior most leaders that’s not been previously seen by the FLDS community.
“I think there’s an evolution taking place that is a major change,” said Holm, whose brother remained a senior church leader until he, too, was ejected about six weeks ago. “I’m really glad to see people one by one break free of it.”
Jeffs has had his phone privileges revoked for 90 days after prison authorities concluded he broke rules concerning prison phone use.