Thousands Flock to Funeral of FLDS Leader

The Salt Lake Tribune, Sep. 13, 2002

COLORADO CITY, Ariz. — With most members of the polygamous church the late Rulon T. Jeffs used to lead attending his funeral services on Thursday, this Arizona hamlet just over the Utah state line became a virtual ghost town.

Jeffs, who served as president of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (FLDS) since 1986, died on Sunday in a St. George hospital at age 92. A successor has not been named and no indication was given Thursday of who might be chosen to lead the sect that claims to have its roots in the Mormon faith.

“The First Presidency will continue to lead the church,” said Colorado City Mayor Dan Barlow at a news conference following the two-hour service, attended by more than 5,000 people, the largest congregation to ever fill the church’s main meeting house.

Barlow, who also is a church member, did not know when a new president would be named. He said there is no mechanism or timetable in place for choosing a leader of the church, which never disavowed polygamy as practiced by the members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints until the church banned it in 1890.

Many believe that the new church president will be either Jeffs’ son, Warren Jeffs, 45, or longtime patriarch Fred M. Jessop, 95, who helped establish Colorado City and neighboring Hildale, Utah, in 1933. The men comprise the church’s First Presidency.

As Barlow talked to reporters — who were not allowed to attend the services — FLDS faithful streamed out of the Leroy S. Johnson Meeting House to the nearby cemetery where Jeffs was buried.

Barlow said Thursday’s services were led by Jessop, who emphasized Rulon Jeffs’ catch phrase, “Keep sweet no matter what.”

“He followed his testimony and lived a clean, pure life, never saying bad of others but living the attributes of God,” he said.

Security was tight during the proceedings as officers of the Colorado City-Hildale Police Department patrolled the parking lots and guarded the meeting-house doors.

Such security measures are necessary, according to Barlow, to minimize false perceptions of the church that has been routinely criticized from outside for its practices, including polygamy.

“Most of the allegations have no foundation,” Barlow said Thursday.

As Thursday’s services were being conducted inside, former church member Jason Williams lingered briefly outside in the parking lot.

Williams, who now lives in Hurricane, 22 miles to the northwest in Washington County, said he unsuccessfully tried to sue the church for alienation of affection. He claimed that while he lived in Colorado City in 1999, church leaders persuaded his only wife to leave him and become the second “wife” of another church member.

Even so, Williams traveled to the meeting house to pay his respects to Rulon Jeffs but was told at the door he was “not invited” and was turned away.

He understands the church’s position and suspicion they harbor of outsiders, especially the news media.

Barlow acknowledged that the future holds challenges that will test the faith and commitment of the latest generation of church members.

“The biggest threat from the world is the liberal influence of media and entertainment — which threaten all religions — turning people away from holy, good principles,” said Barlow. “But we believe in free agency and if young people want to leave the church for the outside world, they have that privilege.”

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Religion News Blog posted this on Saturday September 14, 2002.
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