Much uncertainly about FLDS cult purge; some followers said to have ‘vanished’

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On Christmas day cult leader Warren Jeffs — who despite being jailed for life maintains an iron hold over the followers of his Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints — imposed a deadline: demonstrate your loyalty by the end of the year, or be destroyed in the apocalypse Jeffs says will happen if he is not released from prison.

Last August Jeffs was sentenced to life in prison for sexually assaulting two underage followers he took as brides in what his church deemed “spiritual marriages.”

Jeffs’ ominous warning came amidst a flurry of new rules: girls under 18 are no longer to hold jobs or have cellphones, followers would have to give up their children’s toys, they must sign over all their possessions to FLDS bishop Lyle Jeffs — the cult leader’s brother — and refrain from sex.

The reason for the latter edict was that Warren Jeffs has reportedly dissolved all marriages among his polygamous followers.

Some ex-members, including those who have recently left the insular community in disgust over the latest set of restrictions, say they were told they could not have sex until Jeffs has been released from prison.

“He has predicted that the walls in the prison where he’s at will fall and crumble,” said Joni Holm, who has many relatives in the polygamous FLDS faith.


According to Holm, Fundamentalist LDS Church members also face their faith’s most severe punishment, excommunication, if they conceive a child.

Others report that husbands and their wives have been forbidden to have sexual relationships unless it is for procreation (and only then with  the approval of Jeffs).

Ben Winslow at KSTU Fox 13 reported on December 30

A deadline set by Fundamentalist LDS Church leader Warren Jeffs for his members to reaffirm their commitment to the faith is prompting some people to walk away from the polygamous church on the Utah-Arizona border.

Other FLDS members are simply vanishing once they are re-committed to the faith, ex-members and observers told FOX 13.

Jeffs, who is imprisoned in Texas for child sex assault related to underage marriages, has ordered his followers to be questioned by FLDS leaders. They’ve had to fill out questionnaires, confess their sins and be re-baptized into the faith, only after church elders deem them worthy, ex-members said. […]

“They’ve been going into the meetings, the big meetings every single day since Saturday,” said ex-FLDS member James Barlow.

Outside the FLDS Church’s meeting hall and at a local school, the parking lots are packed. FLDS faithful were photographed scurrying in and out of the buildings. If members don’t recommit to the church, they will be excommunicated, Barlow said. He walked away from the church last month.

“A lot of them I know are going into repentance,” he said. “They’re going off to wherever, and working and trying to go back to it.” […]

Observers believe that Jeffs’ New Years deadline will come and go without any incident. Indeed, ex-members told FOX 13 that church leaders hadn’t even interviewed all of the estimated 10,000 members by the deadline.

But groups that work with those in Utah’s polygamous communities said some of those who have been re-baptized into the faith have simply vanished.

“Parents that have dropped off their girls for interviews, they go to pick them up and the girls have been sent off to a ‘safe place of refuge’ is what they’re being told,” said Tonia Tewell, the executive director of the group Holding Out Help. “And the families haven’t been deemed worthy or unworthy yet. But they have no idea where their children are disappearing to.”

The exodus, amid increasing restrictions in the church, has prompted more calls for help for those who may leave the FLDS Church with nothing but the clothes on their backs. […]

While some are leaving Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz., others are deciding to stay in their homes, even if they’re kicked out of the FLDS Church. The land the homes sit on is part of a united order, which was taken over in 2005 amid allegations that Jeffs and other FLDS leaders mismanaged it. It is now under court control.

Holding Out Help and other groups are working to get resources to those who choose to stay, once they are cut off from the church’s resources. They were gathering food, clothing and other necessities. 

“We need beds, we need cots, we need blow-up mattresses,” Tewell said. “A lot of basic stuff.”

Tewell was also trying to find family law attorneys who could deal with pending custody battles, if families were split apart by FLDS leadership. In addition, Holding Out Help and the Safety Net Committee (a coalition of government agencies, social service providers and representatives of Utah’s many polygamous communities) were seeking people willing to volunteer their homes to host people kicked out.

More information on how to help those in the polygamous communities can be found at holdingouthelp.org and the Family Support Center, which runs the Safety Net at http://www.familysupportcenter.org/safetyNet.php

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This post was last updated: May. 9, 2014