A polygamous cult of Mormonism, whose prophet is serving life in prison, is coming under increased scrutiny by U.S. authorities.
Authorities believe marshals in Colorado City, Arizona — a town dominated by the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints — are preventing women from leaving the polygamous sect.
“Women who wanted to escape have been forcibly held by the marshals against their will,” Attorney General Tom Horne said during a news conference.
In February 2012 authorities were so concerned about the behavior of police officers in Colorado City that the Arizona Legislator discussed a bill which would force the city to disband its police force.
At the time the Arizona Republic wrote,
Investigators and former church members complain that town officers ignore the law and instead carry out directives from spiritual leaders.
According to Arizona’s Peace Officer Standards and Training Board, Colorado City averages 10 officers at any one time. A half-dozen of them have been decertified in recent years, some for misconduct with minors and others after declaring their allegiance to the FLDS prophet above the law.
The church does not have a spokesman to speak on its behalf, and [Warren] Jeffs, who is said to still rule the sect, is imprisoned for life in Texas after convictions on child sex and bigamy charges.
The criminal probe announced Tuesday mirrors the one that landed Jeffs in prison.
Ruby Jessop Barlow, sister of anti-polygamy activist Flora Jessop — herself a former FLDS member who escaped the cult in 1986 — told state authorities she was forced into a marriage at age 14 and held against her will for 12 years before escaping in December.
According to the Arizona Republic Flora Jessop said Barlow’s ordeal illustrates the cultish control exercised by self-proclaimed prophet Warren Jeffs, who continues to lead the church from behind bars.
Called “Stand Against Legalizing the Subjugation of Women Through Polygamy,” the petition is hosted by Change.org.
The petition is in response to an attempt by the Kody Brown family — stars of the pro-polygamy reality show Sister Wives — to have polygamy decriminalized in Utah.
The Sound Choices Coalition is led by Kristyn Decker, a former polygamist wife who is now a polygamy opponent.
Earlier this month the Salt Lake Tribune reported that Decker is trying to buy a group home for other women and children trying to leave polygamy.
The paper writes she hopes to orchestrate a fundraiser through the HOPE Organization, a southern Utah-based nonprofit dedicated to assisting survivors of abuse within polygamous relationships on their courageous journey to personal freedom.
The paper says the ‘Sister Wives’ arguments covered old polygamy ground, and Whitehurst provides more details of the hearing on her blog.
For the last four and a half years they have been trying to get a water hook-up to the Northern Arizona home they share with their three children, but the FLDS refuses to hook them up.
The Cookes have also documented with their own cameras several incidents in which FLDS men and boys have come to their home to harass and intimidate them.
During one such incident an FLDS man drove a backhoe on to their property and started digging up their front yard while FLDS cops stood by protecting the backhoe driver.
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’]
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.