Increased scrutiny for polygamous FLDS cult

A polygamous cult of Mormonism, whose prophet is serving life in prison, is coming under increased scrutiny by U.S. authorities.

About the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints

With an estimated 10,000 followers, the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS) is the largest among dozens of Mormon splinter groups.

Most of these groups separated from the Mormon Church after it was forced to abandon polygamy in the mid-1800s.

Until then, polygamy had been one of founder Joseph Smith’s most important doctrines — so much so that it is canonized as Section 132 of The Doctrine and Convenants, one of Mormonism’s primary scriptural texts.

In his book, Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith, Jon Krakauer writes

The revered prophet described plural marriage as part of “the most holy and important doctrine ever revealed to man on earth” and taught that a man needed at least three wives to attain the “fullness of exaltation” in the afterlife. He warned that God had explicitly commanded that “all those who have this law revealed unto them must obey the same … and if ye abide not that covenenant, then are ye damned; for no one can reject this covenant and be permitted to enter into my glory.”

While Mormon doctrine has undergone significant changes throughout the church’s history — based on its belief that God provides ongoing revelations which may or may not contradict his earlier ones — it is the abandonment of the doctrine of plural marriage that led to the formation of a number of splinter groups.

Members of these groups are known as Mormon fundamentalists. They believe that in keeping what they consider to be the fundamental doctrines of Mormonism, plural marriage included, they hold to a purer form of the faith than the mainstream Mormon Church. In all, there are an estimated 37,000 Mormon Fundamentalists.

Meanwhile, despite its officially name — The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) — is itself considered to be theologically a cult of Christianity, because its core teachings and practices violate the essential doctrines of the Christian faith.

Most Mormon Fundamentalist splinter groups fly under the radar, but a few have had run-ins with the law. Of these, the FLDS has captured much attention for its practice of forced marriages, including marriages arranged between underage females and older followers.

Due to the extreme hold the leadership of the FLDS has over its followers, the group is not just theologically a cult of the Mormon Church (and by extension also a cult of Christianity), but can be considered a cult in the sociological sense of the term as well. [Understand the differences between theological and sociological definitions of the term ‘cult’]

In August 2012, a jury in Texas sentenced FLDS leader Warren Jeffs to life in prison for sexually assaulting two underage followers he took as brides in what his church deemed “spiritual marriages.”

Despite being imprisoned, Jeffs still rules his followers with an iron fist — aided by the fact that they believe him to be a prophet sent by God.

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