Warren Jeffs’ grip on FLDS sect likely to remain

Polygamous sect leader Warren Jeffs, to his followers a prophet who speaks directly with God, is likely to continue to lead his church from behind bars after being sentenced to life in prison on child sex assault charges, says the Associated Press:

“The vast majority are just not going to leave,” Atlanta-based polygamy historian and writer Ken Driggs said. “They’ve got family ties and marriage ties and a culture deeply rooted in their faith.”

Followers of Jeffs’ Utah-based Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints are likely to still revere him as a prophet, despite evidence presented in the Texas case that he had sex with girls from the sect as young as 12, former church members and experts say. Jeffs, 55, was sentenced by a Texas jury Tuesday and will not be eligible for parole until he is at least 100 years old.

There was no mass exodus in 2007 after Jeffs’ conviction on Utah sex assault charges. Most members remained loyal. As he spent almost five years in various jails, Jeffs continued to spiritually direct the faith, counsel followers and lead Sunday services by phone.

His legal grip on the church also remains strong.

Last week, the Utah Department of Commerce reaffirmed Jeffs as the head of the corporations that make up the FLDS after a church bishop unsuccessfully sought to seize control. Commerce officials said William E. Jessop ultimately failed to prove he was ordained by the previous prophet to control the church.

Elissa Wall, a former FLDS member and the victim in Utah’s 2007 case […] said it is unlikely church members even know much about the Texas case and the evidence against Jeffs. He has banned television and all books except scripture. He has counseled members against reading newspapers or using the Internet.

“They probably have zero contact with the outside world. I wouldn’t be surprised if they don’t know yet,” Wall said. “And if they do know, I’m sure they are being blamed for this verdict. It’s their fault … they weren’t faithful and obedient enough.”

Wall said many parents may believe it to be an honor, the holiest of privileges, to have their young daughters selected by Jeffs for marriage.

“That religious power is ten times more powerful than anything else,” Wall said.

Willie Jessop, Jeffs’ former spokesman, said the FLDS community remains in denial but that Jeffs’ conviction could be the “beginning of a crisis.”

He considers himself an active FLDS member, but refused to speak anymore on Jeffs’ behalf after he became aware of the Texas child sex charges. Jeffs then attempted to remove him from his home in the FLDS community of Hildale, Utah, and reassign his wives and children, but Jessop refused to leave.

He said Tuesday’s life sentence for Jeffs may start a process of “deep soul searching” for some church members.

Note that the former Jeffs spokesman is Willie R. Jessop. Willie E. Jessop, the man whom Warren Jeffs indicated was the true FLDS prophet, is a distant nephew of Willie R. Jessop.

Earlier CBS News reported that according to former FLDS member Flora Jessop

there are several people “waiting in the wings” to fill Jeffs’ leader role in the fringe Mormon sect, including his brother, Lyle Jeffs.

Jessop says Lyle Jeffs will likely take the helm of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (FLDS) — and says he will to continue Warren Jeffs’ practices if he’s not stopped. […]

Jessop says more people need to be held accountable in this case to deter others.

She says not only Warren Jeffs’ wives should be prosecuted, but the mothers and fathers who turned their children over to Jeffs.

Jessop said, “The 12-year-old that was on the tape we listened to in that courtroom, her father is the one who performed the ceremony, giving her to Warren Jeffs.”

After Warren Jeffs was apprehended in August 2006, one cult watcher reportedly predicted the arrest would mark the end of the church.

But cult experts and others familiar with the FLDS thought that not only the sect would continue to exist, but also that Jeffs would retain his grip on the cult’s followers even from jail.

Research resources on the FLDS

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Religion News Blog posted this on Wednesday August 10, 2011.
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