FLDS Leadership Battle Is Predicted

The Salt Lake Tribune, Sep. 12, 2002
http://www.sltrib.com/BY BRANDON GRIGGS

Members of the nation’s largest polygamist church say God will choose the successor to leader Rulon T. Jeffs, who died Sunday in St. George. But a former church member said Jeffs’ successor will emerge through less divine means: a power struggle between two rival leaders.

Jeffs, who led the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for nearly 16 years, will be buried in Colorado City, Ariz., to day. R. Scott Berry, an attorney for the church, said an announcement about Jeffs’ successor would not come before the funeral. Beyond its First Presidency, the church has no formal chain of command, he said.

But former member Ben Bistline, who lives in the Utah-Arizona border community where the sect is headquartered, said the new president will be either Jeffs’ son, Warren Jeffs, or longtime patriarch Fred M. Jessop.


Warren Jeffs and Jessop comprised the FLDS Church’s First Presidency along with the late Jeffs. Warren Jeffs, 46, has managed church affairs in recent years as his father’s health declined, although Jessop, 92, is more popular with church members in the twin towns of Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Bistline said.

“The group here is . . . half loyal to Warren and half loyal to Fred,” he said. “My personal opinion is that Warren won’t be the leader. He doesn’t have the support. Fred’s the one who’s got the [people’s] devotion.”

The FLDS Church has at least 6,000 members, most of them in Hildale and Colorado City. The isolationist communities have been dominated since 1935 by polygamists who split from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which abandoned plural marriage more than a century ago.

Rulon Jeffs, a former accountant who for years lived in a polygamous compound at the mouth of Little Cottonwood Canyon, was estimated to have at least 19 wives. He died at age 92.

The f uneral service is set for 3 p.m. to day at the FLDS Church’s 4,000-seat meetinghouse in Colorado City.

In the mainstream LDS Church, the senior member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles traditionally ascends to the presidency following the death of a prophet. The succession process within the secretive FLDS Church is more mysterious. Church theology dictates the current prophet must handpick his own successor, but if Jeffs did so before he died, church officials are not saying.

“The leader is chosen by the Lord. It will be revealed to the First Presidency in time,” said Colorado City Mayor Dan Barlow, who acts as FLDS Church spokesman. Barlow said the towns’ mood since Jeffs’ death has been subdued but purposeful. “I don’t think there’s any unrest,” he said.

Bistline disagreed. The Colorado City man, who left the polygamous church in 1987, predicted “turmoil” as Warren Jeffs and Jessop grapple for leadership.

Although Jessop is only four months younger than the late Rulon Jeffs, he rode a horse in the desert towns’ July 24 parade, Bistline said. Warren Jeffs, who until 1998 spent most of his time in Salt Lake City, is less familiar to people in the twin polygamist towns.

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