COLORADO CITY, Ariz. — Lori Chatwin thought she was following the prophet Warren Jeffs‘ teaching to “reach out, love each other,” when she invited a 17-year-old girl she was corresponding with to be her husband’s second wife.
“We’ve been told we need to live the laws of Sarah, Abraham’s wife,” said Lori, 32, who has six children with her husband of 12 years, Ross, 35. “I look at it as a friendship, a closeness of working together for a common cause, common goal.”
The girl, after asking Ross Chatwin if she could keep her hairdo and listen to the music she liked, accepted the invitation, Lori Chatwin said. But when Ross Chatwin went to see Jeffs, he was told “don’t reach out that way.” No letters, the prophet said, should be allowed between Lori and the girl.
On March 30, Chatwin was ousted from the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, which controls most the Colorado City area’s land and property through a trust, United Effort Plan. And on Tuesday, FLDS church attorney Rod Parker ordered Chatwin to leave his house on church land within five days. If he defies the order, Parker said, a lawsuit will be filed “at any time” this week.
“All I’m doing, all we are doing, is what we are told to be doing,” said Chatwin, who has appeared on such national programs as ABC’s “Good Morning America” and CNN’s “Paula Zahn Now.” “I’m not going to submit. That would make Warren more powerful.”
Chatwins’ defiance came barely two weeks after Jeffs expelled 21 men from the FLDS church, which has about 10,000 members in the border towns of Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz. The men, including then-Colorado City mayor Dan Barlow, were stripped of their priesthood, their wives and children and their right to live in town. At least four other men have since been expelled, including Spencer Johnson, 82, who has lived for 72 years in the area.
In previous eviction cases, some tenants, like Milton Holm in Colorado City, have fought in court and won. But Parker said Chatwin’s case will be different. Holm built his home, but Chatwin’s house was built by his brother, David, who left to follow Winston Blackmore in Canada. The UEP, which took control of the house after David left, let the Chatwins move into the house from “a squalid auto shop,” Parker said.
But the Chatwins, who moved into the house on Jan. 2, 2001, said they traded their smaller home for the basement quarter of David’s house. Following church teachings, they said they planned to have a big family. Determined to fight in court, the family is looking for a public defender or an attorney who will work pro bono.
“I’m going to pursue it all the way,” Chatwin said. “I’m not going to stop. And Warren will find out that I’m not going to lay down and die like everybody else does. They have just destroyed themselves.”
While Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff has said he wanted to protect civil rights in the area, Parker said the state of Utah has no business to touch matters that “fall in the religious freedom box.” The FLDS church, he argued, has the right to make membership decisions.
Chatwin, Parker said, was kicked out because he pursued girls for plural marriages. While polygamy is a central tenet in the church, Parker said, marriages are arranged after a woman and her father have an interview with the prophet, who bases his decision on divine revelations.
“Men are not permitted within the church to even ask for a wife,” he said. “Courtship in general is not permitted, because those kind of relationships are supposed to be put together by the prophet.’”
Contrary to the Chatwins’ account, Parker said Ross tried to stalk two girls — the 17-year-old and her 15-year-old sister — who didn’t want to become his wives.
Two months after Chatwin was ousted from the church, the girls’ father obtained a restraining order from Moccasin Consolidated Court. When the Chatwins challenged the protective order on Nov. 24, 2003, the girl, who had turned 18, obtained a protective order against Ross.
Before the girl made the decision in court, Lori said, she had turned to her father and asked, “What do you want me to do?”
Standing in her kitchen with white cabinets Wednesday, Lori held nine-month-old baby Kimberlina in her arms, eyes cast down. “We were no threat,” she said.
But church followers have treated them like a threat, shunning them in stores. Some teenagers have called Ross on the phone, cursing him and abruptly hanging up.
The family, which bought and sold everything from automobiles to disposable diapers bought on e-Bay, now can rarely find customers. The family has had trouble paying their car loans, utilities and credit cards. Before a trip to St. George on Wednesday afternoon, Ross had to borrow money to get gas.
But Lori said she will stay with Ross, against Jeffs’ warning that “women do not have to follow an apostate husband to hell.” In most excommunication cases, women and children are reassigned to other men.
“He washes dishes for me,” Lori said. “I love him more than I love Warren. That’s what it comes down to.”