FUNDAMENTALLIST CHURCH OF JESUS CHRIST OF LATTER-DAY SAINTS
Cult News Summary - September 2000 - Seven articles from September dealt with a "fundamentalist" Mormon cult known as the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, a polygamous offshoot of the Mormon Church. The incident that aroused the interest of the media in this normally insular group was the sudden decision of hundreds of members to pull their children out of the public schools in towns along the Utah-Arizona border -- "preparing, perhaps, for the end of the world." The AP wrote on September 12:
Only about 350 students have enrolled in the four schools in the desert towns of Colorado City and Hildale, Utah, compared with 1,400 last year. Dozens of teachers belonging to the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have also quit. They acted at the direction of Warren Jeffs, who speaks on behalf of his aged father, Rulon Jeffs, the church's prophet. In mid-July, Warren Jeffs ordered followers to take their children out of school and cut off contact with former church members. [According to Fritz Thompson of the Albuquerque Journal (9-24-00), Warren Jeffs is said to have 60 wives, and his father, Rulon, to be married to as many as 100 women --- LAP.]
Church members said they are taking charge of their children's education and schooling them at home, just like other parents across the country. Other people, parti- cularly former members, said the Jeffs' followers are preparing for the apocalypse their leaders say is at hand.
DeLoy Bateman, a former church member and a science teacher at the Colorado City high school, said church leaders are preaching that the towns will be lifted into heaven with the Second Coming of Jesus Christ.
Around the twin communities, the End of Days is rumored to be either a few days or a few months away. In a statement issued through their Salt Lake City attorney, the Jeffses said: "The Fundamentalist Church and its officers have not made any predictions in regard to the exact date of the Second Coming. It has long been the teaching of the church that no man knows the hour or the date of that event."
The twin towns were settled in the late 1800s by ranchers who followed the Mormon doctrine of polygamy. In 1890, the mainstream church disavowed the practice of plural marriage under pressure from the federal government, which threatened to refuse Utah statehood if it didn't.
But some people have clung to the practice -- among them the fundamentalist sect, founded in 1929 -- and have been excommunicated by the Mormon Church as a result. Polygamy remains illegal, though it largely goes unpunished, a crime prosecutors say is difficult to prove and usually victimless. Still, members of the sect are wary of outsiders and hostile to those who have broken with the faith.
The Associated Press faxed a dozen questions to church leaders. Two were answered. The rest were ignored. Church leaders are said to have prophesied several dates for the Second Coming, only to see them come and go. In 1993, Rulon Jeffs told high school graduates not to attend college since the world would end before they could finish, according to Bateman.
Since the start of the school year two weeks ago, many classrooms have been nearly empty. Attendance was down so much at one middle school that authorities closed it and sent the remaining youngsters to another school. Most of the sect's youngsters are being schooled at home instead. Colorado City Mayor Dan Barlow, a church member, said the decree issued in July was merely "a suggestion that people take that responsibility for themselves." He started home-schooling his children a year ago. "I just felt like I could do much better teaching them the things I know and give them some spiritual teaching as well," he said.
More than 6,000 of Rulon Jeffs' followers live in Colorado City and Hildale. An estimated 2,000 to 6,000 more are scattered around the western United States and Canada, according to Mike King, an investigator with the Utah attorney general's office. In 1942, members signed over ownership of their homes to a trust established by the church, which now has tens of millions of dollars in land and in businesses spread across the West and into Canada. The two desert towns are modest, with wandering dirt and paved roads lined with houses clad in untreated plywood. Because residents do not own their homes, they cannot borrow the money to improve them. Toys and bikes litter the often grassless yards where children -- girls in pigtails and long dresses, boys in jeans and plaid shirts -- watch outsiders with suspicion. Rulon and Warren Jeffs live in large gated homes in Hildale and are said to have dozens of wives.
Lenore Holm, a former member, said Warren Jeffs moved back to Hildale from Salt Lake City about two years ago and has been tightening his grip on the flock, arranging marriages with young women -- sometimes as young as 15 -- and driving those who challenge him, like Holm, out of the church. "Since Warren moved down, that's when everything went wacko-Waco," Holm said. "It's felt more and more like a cult." About six months ago, Holm said, she refused to let her 16-year-old daughter become the second wife of a 39-year-old handyman who did work on Warren Jeffs' home. She said the church excommunicated her and is trying to evict her and her 10 children living at home. "Because we didn't break the laws of Arizona, they want our home and they want our children on the street," Holm said.
Members are told not to talk to family members who leave the church and not to do business with apostates, making it difficult for them to find work. Church attorney Scott Berry said apostates distort the facts, but he would not comment directly on her allegations.
Robert Gehrke of the Dallas Morning News wrote on September 17:
The church leaders can flex a lot of muscle to make sure their wishes are followed. Members who cross leaders can be excommunicated from the church, losing their chance at salvation. Apostates, as those who leave the church are called, are shunned in their community and can lose their jobs.
Moreover, in 1942, church members signed over their homes and land to a church- run trust called the United Effort Plan. Today, the trust holds tens of millions of dollars worth of assets. Church members don't speak to outsiders, meaning only dissidents will discuss the inner workings of the FLDS. Church attorney Scott Berry says apostates have an ax to grind and distort the facts. Both Rulon and Warren Jeffs own massive gated homes on the Utah side of town and are said to have dozens of wives. It was Warren who decreed in July that children should be educated at home.
Lenore Holm refused to allow her 16-year-old daughter to become the second wife of a 39-year-old man. As a result, she says church leaders are trying to evict her, her husband and her 10 children from their home. "Because we didn't break the laws of Arizona, they want our home and they want our children on the street," said. Ms. Holm, who is suing to block the eviction.
It's just one of a series of lawsuits leveled against the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, a polygamist group that owns 95 percent of the homes in Colorado City and adjoining Hildale, Utah, through its trust, the United Effort Plan. The former members suing the church say dissension has been on the rise since Warren Jeffs, the spokesman for the church's patriarch, Rulon Jeffs, returned to town from Salt Lake City about two years ago.
Warren and Rulon Jeffs refused to be interviewed, but in a written statement they said the church does not condone young women getting married. Ms. Holm likens what's going on to David Koresh's Branch Davidian sect. "It's felt more and more like a cult," she said.
Warren Jeffs told Ms. Holm her daughter was to marry the man who had done free work on Mr. Jeffs' spacious, gated brick home. Ms. Holm resisted, but Warren Jeffs convinced her that the girl's father, who is divorced from Ms. Holm, wanted the marriage. That wasn't the case. The girl was to be married the next day when the father threatened to sue for custody of the couple's children if the ceremony proceeded.
Ms. Holm called Mr. Jeffs to stop the marriage, and within minutes he had told the family they were excommunicated from the church. "[Mr. Jeffs] said you've lost your priesthood," recalled Milt Holm, Lenore Holm's second husband. "You let your wife rule over you. He said you're no longer a member of this church. You are to move off the property." Since then the Holms have been battling in court to keep their home. The church's Salt Lake City attorney, Scott Berry, denied Mr. Holm's version of events.
In a September 24 article in the Albuquerque Journal, writer Fritz Thompson reported that, media reports to the contrary, "the end of the world was not what the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints had in mind. The church said reports of an impending apocalypse on Sept. 15 were the invention of the media." Thompson continued:
What did happen -- the mass withdrawal of fundamentalist children from public schools -- will likely reverberate off the sandstone spires in the Utah and Arizona desert for some time to come. So might questions about who's going to pay -- financially and educationally.
Thompson described the impact on the neighboring towns of Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Arizona, and their public schools when the FLDS members pulled their kids out:
"I came back for the first day of school and more than half of the students were gone," said Principal Max Tolman of Phelps Elementary School in Hildale. "That same day -- August 31 -- most of my teachers resigned, too." If the powers that be wanted to keep this desert pocket of illegal polygamy low profile, the massive withdrawal did not help advance their plan.
Polygamy is against the law and was long ago denounced by the mainstream Mormon church. And, to the fundamentalists' chagrin, the school situation brought a lot of unwanted attention to their multiple marriages.
The news media showed up, attracted in part by a loosely knit rumor that many people in the two towns believed the end of the world was imminent. Enrollment at Phelps Elementary, the only public school in Hildale, went from 220 students last year to 92 this year. The number of teachers fell from about 15 to four. At the Colorado City school, which runs from elementary level through high school, Superintendent Alvin Barlow said enrollment went from "a little over 1,000" last year to 350 this year. Staffing fell from 185 to 98.
In Colorado City high school classes alone, enrollment went from 238 to 29. Whole buildings have been closed, and one low-slung brick structure appeared deserted. "Funding from the state is based on last year's enrollment," said Kolene Granger of Saint George, superintendent of schools in Washington County, Utah. "We won't be in financial trouble this school year, but next year is a different story. What we do depends on the longevity of this (church) decision." In Colorado City, on the Arizona side, Barlow, a fundamentalist church member who talked sympathetically about the home-school notion, said the Arizona appropriation of $2,600 for each student will stay the same no matter the enrollment.
Home-schooling is legal in Utah and Arizona, but beyond that franchise lies a deeper question. Barlow said home-schooling "speaks to the heritage of family and children." But retired teacher and lifelong Colorado City resident Cyril Bradshaw believes, "Home-schooling requires a lot of one-on-one. It's difficult to do that if you have 16 kids in the house.
Bradshaw said he never bought Jeffs' message about the evils of public schools -- which is one reason Bradshaw has been branded an apostate -- or dissident deserter -- by the fundamentalist church. A number of nonchurch members, like Bradshaw, expressed fear that religious fanaticism will create the fodder for illiteracy and ignorance. "With such large families, I question whether we could do a good job in home- schools," said Bradshaw. "Knowing how to teach is a gift from God, but many people here don't have the background material and the broad knowledge to teach everything." "I know some 8- and 10-year-old home-schooled children here who are illiterate," said Colorado City resident and former fundamentalist church member Lenore Holm.
Neither Arizona nor Utah requires testing of home-school students for progress or scholastic attainment. Arizona passed such a law in 1993 but repealed it in 1995. Meanwhile, high school science teacher Deloy Bateman said children still attend- ing public school "are getting along smoother than before." In Hildale, Phelps Elementary principal Tolman said, "It's like a brand new school -- they are very happy students. Education is the highest priority for them."
Thompson also wrote that the only people in the two towns who would talk publicly about the situation there were excommunicated former members of the FLDS.
"They own everybody here," said Holm, who was tossed after she complained that the splinter church kidnapped two of her 13 children and turned their minds against her. People who have been thrown out said the church works diligently "to force you out of town, too." "They can take away your husband, your wife, your house, your children," Holm said. Fundamentalist church members have been expressly forbidden from speaking to apostates, a ban that can extend to immediate family members and presumably to the news media. Questions about the church, its people and their communities are met with short, non- committal answers or long silences.
Colorado City Mayor Dan Barlow -- a member of the fundamentalist church and brother of school
Superintendent Alvin Barlow and former police chief Sam Barlow -- is not forthcoming during an interview cut short. Surprised in his office at City Hall, Dan Barlow declined to answer questions about the church -- "That's a question for the attorney" -- or the school situation -- "That's a question for the superintendent." As for how people here make a living, Barlow said people here are involved in "all the businesses you would expect to find in any other place." He doesn't pin the economy to anything in particular.
The Salt Lake Tribune, in an investigative report in 1998, said more than a third of the residents of the two towns were on welfare. Both ranked high in reliance on Medicaid and use of food stamps. Hildale received more than $400,000 in government housing grants to refurbish 19 homes on church-owned lands. It ranked dead last in Utah for the amount of income taxes ($651 annually) per tax filer. Elsewhere in Utah, citizens wondered why polygamists were getting public assistance. State officials said they could not discriminate on the basis of religion. One apostate resident said, "I'll tell you how they make a living: six wives, for example -- two stay home and the other four are out bringing home a paycheck."
Thompson concluded his lengthy article with evidence of the consequences suffered by ex-members and those opposed to the group:
Science teacher Bateman agreed to meet a reporter only off school grounds. He gave instructions about where to park and warned about being followed by town police. The police never showed up but Bateman did, and he provided a lunch-hour tour of town, including a new house he is building himself. He is no longer a member of the fundamentalist church, but he has two wives and 17 children. His new house has 18 bathrooms.
He is crossways with the church primarily because his three eldest children married into the church. Now they are basically forbidden from contact with him. "I'm allowed to visit with them for five minutes a week.. Bateman said he's not talking out a grudge, "it's just that I want to speak to my children." "The religious leaders here are fanatical," he said, "but the rest (of the church mem- bers) are fine people." For a small town, the houses here are stylishly huge, which seems at odds with the reports on welfare payments. Some homes could be mistaken for small hotels. Con struction seems never-ending. "Marry another wife, have another child, add another wing," Bateman said. Without exception, every woman in town wears an ankle-length skirt, every man wears a long-sleeved shirt, but toned at the cuff and the neck. Marriages are arranged and usually involve teen-age girls and middle-aged men, who may already have other wives. The first marriage is legal, all others are "spiritual" and recognized only by the fundamentalist church.
In addition to being thrown out of the church, Holm said, she was "asked to move far away -- far, far away." She spoke from a modestly large house on a residential street in Colorado City. Six young children, including an infant, played or napped in the living room while she told of her life during the past six months. She has 13 children. She says her 16-year-old daughter was lured away from home by Warren Jeffs himself, or a follower; likewise her 18-year-old son. "I didn't hear from her until I talked to her on the telephone at 10:30 that night. She was talking to me like she was righteous and I was wicked," Holm said. "I went to Warren's house and waited outside for an hour. Nephi Jeffs met me at the garage door and said, 'She'll be staying with us now.' I told him she was underage and I wanted her home. They called my husband and asked him, 'Is you wife an apostate?' "They (church elders) kicked my husband off a job he had with his cousin. They told us to leave town. I told them we don't have any place to go. They got a moving van and we asked them where we were supposed to go, and they said, we'll go where we land." She said the threat never came to pass. "My daughter was very attached to these children," she said. "It's been very hard on them, they miss her a lot. I don't know where she is. "I have lived here all my life, but sometimes I just wish we could move away. I just wish we could make some changes and not allow Warren to be so much in control."
Finally, two articles by Robert Remington of the National Post (Canada) reported on the impact of these events and the resultant publicity on a Canadian branch of the FLDS. According to Remington, members of the Canadian commune feel persecuted and declined to discuss their beliefs or lifestyle. In his September 26 article Remington wrote:
"You have to understand what we have been through recently and the sensitive nature of it," said Merrill Palmer, principal of the school on the Bountiful commune, located in the Creston Valley, just north of the British Columbia-Idaho border.
The commune and school is run by Winston Blackmore, 44, who is alleged to have 30 wives and 80 children. On Friday, Utah's State Attorney appointed a special prosecutor to investigate allegations of child abuse in the 30,000-member fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, an offshoot of the Mormon Church. The fundamentalist branch is reported to have communes on the Utah-Arizona border and here in Lister, just south of Creston.
Mr. Blackmore could not be reached for comment on the investigation or allegations he married several new wives last year, including a 16-year-old American identified as Lorraine Johnson. Mr. Palmer described Mr. Blackmore as an "honest and politically correct man" who is not willing to talk to reporters about the alleged arranged marriages of underage girls to priests in the church. "People will accept alternative lifestyles, but they will not accept our way of life, so you can appreciate here why people are very guarded in what they say."
In an article published the next day, Remington reported that Blackmore is not con- cerned about the U.S investigation into the group. "We've been investigated 49 ways under the sun," Blackmore said. Remington conclude his second article with the following:
In 1992, B.C. refused to prosecute two polygamists from Bountiful, declaring the Criminal Code section outlawing polygamy unconstitutional. Bigamy is prosecuted because it has fraudulent intent, but polygamy is often considered not fraudulent because the parties consent to the arrangement, often for religious reasons, according to B.C. legal experts.
Immigration Canada confirmed in 1993 that it was investigating incidents of women brought to Bountiful from Utah and Arizona, but took no action due to conflicting legal opinions between Ottawa and B.C. "I know it sells papers, but I think people are getting bored with this," Mr. Blackmore said. "We are all struggling in our lives to live the best we can, and I think most people can appreciate that."