Power struggle for control of FLDS cult appears headed for court

As suggested earlier the fight for control of jailed polygamous cult leader Warren JeffsFundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS) appears to be headed for court.

The Associated Press says the internal tug-of-war

may force Utah courts to walk a constitutional tightrope that experts say could tread a little too close to separation of church and state.

The presidency of the 10,000-member Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints has been in question since March 28, when church bishop William E. Jessop filed papers with the Utah Department of Commerce seeking to unseat Jeffs as president of the church corporation. Under state law, the move automatically put Jessop in power.

That set into motion a flurry of filings from Jeffs loyalists removing Jessop and claiming that some 4,000 church members have pledged their loyalty to their incarcerated leader.

Monday marks the deadline set by commerce officials for both parties to resolve the dispute or a legal showdown might be set in motion since, if no agreement is reached, the state says power will revert back to Jeffs.

George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley told the Associated Press that the “last thing a judge wants to do in a nation committed to the separation of church and state is to become the arbiter of questions of faith.”

Jeffs said he is not the prophet

Be that as it may, fact is that Warren Jeffs himself declared — in a videotaped jail-house phone conversation that not he, but rather Willie E. Jessop is the sect’s legitimate prophet. Jeffs stated that he “never was the Prophet” and that “Brother William E. Jessop has been the Prophet since father’s passing.”

Shortly after that conversation, Jeffs attempted to commit suicide. Then, in February 2007, he retracted his statements saying he had “experienced a great spiritual test.” That claim directly contradicts Jeffs’ videotaped remarks in which he says — stating that ‘the Lord’ is ‘dictating’ his words — “this is not a test.”

Jeffs father, Rulon T. Jeffs, was the fundamentalist Mornon sect’s previous prophet and leader. He died in September, 2002. After his death a power struggle for the leadership position ensued.

Some say Warren orchestrated Rulon’s dismissal of Winston Blackmore as leader of the FLDS’ Canadian branch in 2002, removing both a rival and a more senior leader, the Salt Lake Tribune reported in March 2004:

With Jeffs’ ascendancy, the mantle of authority passed not to the next most worthy senior man, as it has historically, but in the father-to-son ascendancy of a monarchy.

“What we witnessed was a power play,” said Ezra Draper, one of Rulon Jeffs’ many grandchildren, who moved last June from Colorado City to Bonners Ferry, Idaho, after becoming disillusioned with Jeffs.

“Through careful manipulation he was able to disqualify, on false accusations, one person after another.”

That article also relates how Jeffs rules the sect with an iron fist: “His discipline has hardened into law, and his goal is perfection on earth. To err is to risk one’s eternal salvation.”

Some believe it is Jeffs himself who has risked his ‘eternal salvation.’ Jeffs is currently in a Texas jail awaiting trials later this year on charges of bigamy and aggravated sexual assault tied to alleged relationships with underage girls. The FLDS cult has also been in the news for allegedly arranging child marriages.

Meanwhile, AP says:

Historically, fundamentalist groups whose religious roots are tied to the early teachings of the mainstream Mormon church have either relied on patterns of succession that award the presidency to the next most-senior church leader or through a declaration from a living prophet who names his own successor.

Jessop has called for a fair process through which church members could make their own decisions in some sort of election, but experts say developing a process for something that has never occurred could be a challenge.

It’s unlikely a court would set ground rules for church elections, Turley said, but it is possible a judge could rule on legal criteria for determining who is actually the church’s leader.

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Religion News Blog posted this on Monday May 2, 2011.
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