Celestial marriages detailed in bigamy trial of former FLDS president

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Religion News Blog — Wendell Loy Nielsen, 71, a former president of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, faces three counts of third-degree bigamy, punishable by two to 10 years in prison. He is currently on trial in Texas.

Matthew Waller at the San Angelo Standard-Times reports

Former polygamist sect member Rebecca Musser said she was the 19th wife of the “prophet” Rulon Jeffs in 1995. That prophet would eventually have 65 wives, she said.

Musser, once a member of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, saw her own records of that marriage on the fourth day of the bigamy trial of former FLDS President Wendell Loy Nielsen on Monday. […]

Musser was there to authenticate FLDS documents. She described their importance.

“Within the culture, it is required for them to have certain ordinances and blessings. They had to be recorded. If there was no record, then it would not be acknowledged in the heavens,” Musser said. “Without that record you could not gain your eternal salvation.”


Musser described the marriage ceremony, and Special Prosecutor Eric Nichols had her focus on the verbiage of the ceremony calling the marriages “legal and lawful.” Musser demonstrated a marriage handshake for jurors with a legal assistant, holding the index finger extended down the other person’s forearm.

She explained that marriage and complete submission to her husband were necessary for a woman’s salvation.

“Does that require physical submission?” Nichols asked.

“Yes,” she said.

“Mental submission?”

“Yes.”

“Emotional submission?”

“Yes,” Musser said. […]

Ezra Draper, another former FLDS member, also gave testimony about what it means to be in a celestial marriage. He and his wife, to whom he is still married, received a marriage license and were then married with a celestial marriage later.

“The civil marriage was a steppingstone to a higher vow,” Draper said.

Nielsen was one of 12 men indicted for crimes including child sexual assault, bigamy and performing an illegal marriage after an April 2008 law enforcement raid on the sect’s Yearning for Zion Ranch in Texas to check on accusations of sexual assault.

The Standard-Times says

According to documents from the state, Nielsen allegedly married 34 women in addition to his legal wife. Among those he allegedly married were sets of mothers and daughters and groups of sisters.

The document also states that Nielsen performed the ceremonies in which Warren Jeffs married 16- and 12-year-old girls, that Nielsen has been named a witness in 258 allegedly bigamous marriages and that he has been involved in the marriage of 37 girls ages 12 through 16, 29 of them bigamous.

In August, 2011, Warren Jeffs was sentenced to life plus 20 years in prison for his ‘spiritual marriages’ to the teenage girls.

Last October Nielsen pleaded no contest to the bigamy charges and was sentenced to 10 years probation. However, when he could not get his probation transferred to where his son lives in Colorado, Nielsen said he did not agree to the terms of his probation. He then revoked his plea and asked to go to trial.

Nielsen was reported excommunicated — along with several other FLDS leaders — in February 2011, when the cult’s jailed leader, then still awaiting trial, retook his position as president of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.

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This post was last updated: May. 9, 2014