Polygamy sect may need time to reach accord on new leader

New York Times, via the Arizona Republic, Sep. 15, 2002
Michael Janofsky

COLORADO CITY – In their Sunday best, men in black, women in pastels, they came by the thousands last week to honor their leader, a man they considered a prophet.

Outstanding he was, by some measure. President Rulon T. Jeffs, of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, was 93 when he died last Sunday after a long illness. He is survived by 19 or 20 wives – no one could say for sure – and about 60 children and hundreds of grandchildren. At least 33 sons were pallbearers, including two of his namesakes, Rulon F. and Rulon H.

Jeffs led the largest religious group in North America that still practices void in church leadership that could take years to fill. Fundamentalists warm to their prophets rather slowly, and for now two church members are in the running: Fred M. Jessop, 92, a longtime bishop, and one of Jeffs’ sons, Warren S. Jeffs, 45.

“It could take months, even years,” said Raymond Scott Berry, a Salt Lake lawyer who represents the church but is not a member. “It’s not a political decision. It’s based on a subtly growing consensus that evolves from their faith and prayerful attitude.”

About 10,000 people in the United States and Canada belong to the Fundamentalist Church; the largest concentration of them, 4,000, live in the adjoining border towns of Colorado City, Ariz., and Hildale, Utah.

Dan Barlow, 70, an elder of the church and mayor of Colorado City for the past 17 years, said the church owns about 85 percent of the land in the two towns.

“Our biggest threat is the liberal world,” Barlow said. “It changes our young people, turning them away from holy and good principle. They are free to go out into the outside world. That’s one of the very principles of our gospel, a person is free to do something different.”

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Religion News Blog posted this on Sunday September 15, 2002.
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