Witnesses describe sect run by Warren Jeffs as kind, empowering for women

ST. GEORGE — Faithful members of the polygamous sect led by Warren S. Jeffs gave jurors another view of their religion Tuesday, one that emphasizes kindness rather than force, makes women partners in their marriages and gives them ultimate say in sexual matters.

A total of nine members took the stand, describing their courtship, sex lives and counseling from Jeffs. The women all said they were married at their own request and set the timeline for sexual intimacy in their relationships.

The defense will call additional witnesses Wednesday.

Prosecutors rested their case against Jeffs earlier Tuesday. He is charged with two counts of being an accomplice to rape related to a 2001 marriage he conducted between a 14-year-old girl and her 19-year-old cousin.

Jane Doe, as the now 21-year-old woman is known, has testified she objected to the marriage and sexual relations with her husband but was trapped by religious and social repercussions in the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.

Jennie Pipkin, the first witness called by Jeffs’ attorneys, said she asked to be placed in marriage at age 17 but was told by her father to finish high school first. Days after graduating, she again asked to have her name given to then-prophet Rulon T. Jeffs.

Pipkin said she met with his son Warren, then first counselor, and was told the elder Jeffs “liked to ask ladies if they had someone in mind.”

She gave the name of a 17-year-old man she had received an “impression” was to be her husband. She received word through her father that the prophet had approved the marriage, and she was married a day later.

Her description of her life — she owns an Internet marketing business — and decision-making ability came across as the opposite of a powerless woman.

From the start of her marriage, Pipkin said, she understood it was her decision when to start having children.

With the contents of her IPod projected on a courtroom screen, Pipkin described the central message of the 769 teachings and hymns shown as focused on learning to obey God through scriptural study.

Women, she said, were to obey their husbands only if they acted righteously. “Force is against our religion in any means,” she said.

Asked if a husband had the right to demand anything he wanted from his wife, Pipkin answered: “No, that would be hypocritical. What if he wanted to go psycho or something?”

Pipkin said that after the couple had five children, she wanted a break from childbearing because of health problems and told her husband so.

“I was serious. I told him he couldn’t hug, kiss or touch me at all,” she said.

When he continued to nag her, Pipkin began searching scriptures and the faith’s teachings for a way to respond to the unwanted advances. She found a lesson given by Jeffs in 1999 that said sexual relations were to be at the woman’s invitation.

“I felt empowered by his statement that I was to be in charge,” she said.

Pipkin later told her husband that “I was supposed to be the person who invited marital relations” and that he “had no right to force me.”

Pipkin wrote a letter to Jeffs when her husband persisted. “He responded with an answer for both of us,” she said. The nagging stopped, she said, and “I was grateful for that.”

But one night, Pipkin said her husband removed her clothes and began touching her as she slept.

She contacted Jeffs and asked to be released — the FLDS term for divorce –from her husband. Two months later, Jeffs granted her request.

“I felt like I had the prophet on my side,” Pipkin said. “I turned to him and he responded.”

Prosecutors asked Pipkin about how specific she was in her complaints to Jeffs about her husband. She said she had voiced objections twice, once saying she was being nagged to have sexual relations and later, in her letter, that her husband was “touching me in my private parts” without invitation.

Pipkin said she got to know Jane Doe’s former husband before the two married and that he was the “kindest boy” and “very gentlemanly” — a “goody-goody” who never flirted with or bothered girls.

She said Jane Doe had treated her husband poorly early in their marriage, but that 18 months later, during a camping trip together, seemed to be happy.

“She was communicating well to him,” Pipkin said, describing the couple as happy and saying Doe had even showed off a negligee she had brought along.

Ken Thomas, the defense’s second witness, said after his marriage at age 23, he told his then-20-year-old wife that initiation of sexual relations was up to her — something he was taught by Jeffs in his priesthood history class.

“There is no timetable for that,” Thomas said of having children. “It is whatever the husband and wife decide.”

Thomas also said the faith teaches members they “have no right to force anything on anybody” and are told to exercise “persuasion through love.”

He described his wife as a partner and help mate, saying they jointly make decisions in their life.

After the state had rested earlier on Tuesday, defense attorney Walter F. Bugden asked 5th District Judge James L. Shumate to dismiss the two charges against Jeffs. Bugden argued the state had not shown Jeffs knowingly and intentionally was an accomplice to rape.

The judge disagreed, ruling there is sufficient evidence for the jury to consider the case.

As their final evidence on Tuesday morning, prosecutors had played a recording of a church talk given by a sect member in April 2002. A transcript of the statement by Sam Barlow, warning of a coming conflict with authorities over polygamy, is available at www.sltrib.com/polygamy, titled “The FLDS Battle for Plural Marriage,” part one and two.

Barlow at one time served as a town marshal in the sect’s home base of Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz.

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Religion News Blog posted this on Wednesday September 19, 2007.
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