The FLDS and its conflicting views about government
This is the second article in a series in which the Success investigates the beliefs and teachings of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints and how they compare and/or contrast with past and present doctrines of the mainline Mormon Church.
Newcomers to the story about the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS) and its Prophet Warren Jeffs often struggle to understand the complex twists and turns of the tale. Most of them quickly home in on the polygamy aspect of the story, however, especially polygamy as it exists inside the closed society of the FLDS, where the Prophet makes all decisions concerning who will marry whom, and where anyone who questions his absolute authority to do so are promptly excommunicated.
Actually, excommunication may be too harsh a word. Inside the FLDS, errant followers are asked to leave and repent from a distance, but few if any, are ever asked to return to the fold.
Eventually, almost everyone who manages to follow the story for more than a few paragraphs finds themselves asking how a man with multiple wives, and even more multiple children, can provide for such a large family. The answer, according to many who have left the church, is a policy called “Bleeding the Beast.”
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Like other fundamentalist Mormon groups, the FLDS broke away from the mainline Mormon church, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (LDS), in the 1890s, primarily over the issue of polygamy. When the LDS renounced the practice of polygamy, or plural marriage, many conservative believers held firmly to what they called “the principle” and blamed the United States government for pressuring the church.
The government had, in fact, enacted a series of anti-polygamy laws before the Edmunds-Tucker Act of 1887 was passed, disincorporating the LDS church and forfeiting to the federal government all church property worth more than $50,000.00. The action proved to be more than the LDS leadership could withstand. In 1890 President Wilford Woodruff issued an edict, known today as the Woodruff Manifesto, denouncing the practice of polygamy and forbidding it among the LDS followers.
So it was that many ardent polygamy supporters withdrew to remote sections of the American West in order to continue the practice of the principle, while at the same time harboring a deep resentment against the U.S. government. They also shunned any dealings with the new state government in Utah, which most fundamentalists viewed as a lackey of Washington, D.C.
The group of fundamentalist Mormons who settled along the banks of Short Creek on the Utah/Arizona border were no different. They and their leaders went to great lengths to avoid any contact with the government that they no longer trusted. Their distrust seemed to be confirmed in 1953 when Arizona Governor Howard Pyle sent an army of law enforcement officers rolling into Short Creek, arresting 31 of men and detaining hundreds of women and children to be held in “foster care” for some thirty months. The Short Creek Raid, as it came to be known, proved to be a public relations nightmare and Governor Pyle was voted out of office. The families of Short Creek were soon returned to their homes.
In the years following the raid attitudes in Short Creek, or Colorado City, Arizona, as the town soon became known, began to change. Even as the group’s prophet LeRoy Johnson admonished his followers not to accept government help, others within the group began quietly pursuing state and federal assistance, for both public projects and the town’s impoverished families.
“I believe it is within the power of this people to continue to build up and establish the Kingdom of God and come under no other covenant or government…I am more determined today that every before to turn down that enticing element to accept of government aid, because the minute we accept government aid we come under their power,” Prophet Leroy Johnson told his flock on Sept. 25, 1966.
That sentiment was reflected by another FLDS leader, Marion Hammon, according to Ben Bistline, author of “The Polygamists, A History of Colorado City.” Hammon is quoted as saying from the pulpit, “There is nobody here but us chickens,” meaning that it was up to the people of Colorado City to build up their town and that accepting government assistance would give the control of the town over to federal authorities.
Others disagreed, however, and pointed out that the fundamentalist Mormons, who had been victims of government persecution, were owed money by that same government. These men slowly gained the upper hand within the inner workings of the FLDS as they sought ever more inventive ways to access state and federal dollars. Chief among these was Fred Jessop, a community leader who led the effort to incorporate the City of Hildale on the Utah side of the border and who was successful in getting a highway built to the town.
Soon, the informal policy known as Bleeding the Beast took on a life of its own. According to the Aug. 11, 2003, edition of the Prescott Daily Courier, the policy’s ominous name was a reference to a similar practice implemented by LDS founding prophet Joseph Smith and his successor Brigham Young during the height of Mormon persecution,
The practice reportedly spread quickly as it gained acceptance among the FLDS faithful, which happened to coincide with the explosive growth of state and federal assistance programs. Multiple wives, who were married in church, but not in the eyes of the law, began applying for state assistance. Food Stamps and federal programs like WIC, which provide nutritional assistance to low-income women and children, were also tapped. So were healthcare dollars through Arizona’s AHCCCS program, which provides most of the medical insurance for residents in Colorado City AZ. Last year over 4,000 residents were enrolled, reportedly costing the state about $8 million a year.
An in-depth report published in the Daily Courier notes that about half of the fundamentalists in Colorado City receive food stamps, compared to five percent statewide, costing just over $3 million a year.
The report continues, noting that a mere five years ago there were no Colorado City children getting child care assistance, but last year the number stood at about 200 – which cost the state another $600,000. These benefits can reportedly be paid to care-providers who are related to the children, so sometimes one wife can get paid for taking care of another wife’s kids. In all, Colorado City gets back about eight dollars in benefits for every dollar the residents pay in state taxes, while for the rest of Mohave County, Arizona the ration is near one-to-one.
Fire and EMS services in the twin cities of C-City/Hildale, which were nearly non-existent until recent years, have received hundreds of thousands of dollars in state and federal grants. Some published reports put the number even higher, claiming that more than $1.8 million from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has flowed into the town to pave streets, upgrade fire equipment and build a water-storage tank. Hildale got $94,000 for its fire station. And the government-financed airport on the edge of Colorado City costing $2.8 million.
Before long, government was big business in the former settlement of Short Creek, and served as a major employer. It was only natural that FLDS members would dominate the local governing bodies since the church’s members counted for the vast majority of the two towns’ residents.
Recently, the Colorado City School system reported their 2004-2005 budget at $6,794,474.00 to fund a staff of 123 teachers and aides while serving a total of 342 students. That comes to $19,866.88 per student.
Not counted in the school’s staffing number were other auxiliary employees like bus drivers, cafeteria and maintenance workers. It has been noted that while the teaching staff consists almost entirely of non-FLDS members, the administration and all support staff are members of the fundamentalist group that no longer sends its children to public schools.
Jon Krakauer, author wrote in his book “Under the Banner of Heaven” that fundamentalist leaders in Colorado City view the whole process as “creative budgeting.” He says that they regard it as a “virtuous act.”
For her part, Flora Jessop, who says she fled the group in order to escape living a forced polygamous lifestyle, says of the people in Colorado City, “They are told to go on welfare. It’s called ‘bleeding the beast’ and they find it amusing that Satan is supporting God’s work.”
The Success continues to seek input from FLDS leaders, including those currently living and working at the YFZ Ranch near Eldorado. So far, there has been no response from the group.