Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints
FLDS Intro: Terminology,
Overview, & Organization
There are approximately 100 faith groups in the U.S. that consider
themselves to be the true spiritual descendents from Joseph Smith's original
church founded in 1830: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. They
are often referred to as part of the LDS Restorationist
movement. Many of
the denominations regard themselves as the only "true" successor to Joseph Smith's
church. Two high-profile denominations are:
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (a.k.a. the LDS Church,
Mormon church) is by far the
largest denomination in the LDS Restorationist movement. They regard themselves as the
true spiritual descendent from Smith's original church. They consider the term "Fundamentalist Mormon" as a
contradiction in terms, since they don't regard themselves as Fundamentalist,
and they don't acknowledge any other Restorationist denominations to be truly Mormon.
The Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS)
their group to be the only true descendent from Smith's original church.
They refer to themselves as the "Original Mormons" or "Fundamentalist Mormons."
Prior to the year 1890, plural marriages in which one male Mormon married multiple wives was a treasured component of the culture of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
(LDS). That year,
the fourth president of the Church, Wilford Woodruff, issued a manifesto which
suspended the solemnization of Mormon plural marriages for an
indefinite interval. This resulted from what Mormons believe was a revelation from God that became known as the "Great Accommodation."
Utah was admitted as a state shortly thereafter.
The Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of
Latter Day Saints (FLDS) was formed in 1935 by two polygynist
Mormons who had been excommunicated by the LDS. (Polygyny is one variety of
polygamy in which one man marries more than one woman.) The group was, and
remains, committed to plural marriages as a foundational teaching of their founder Joseph Smith.
There are an estimated 6,000 to 11,000 thousand members of the FLDS in the
U.S. The group also has a single colony of about 1,000 members in Canada. Together,
they form a significant percentage of the estimated 30,000 Mormon polygynists in
Utah, and the estimated 60,000 in the U.S. 2
About the FLDS organization:
The FLDS was founded in 1935 by two ex-LDS Mormons: John Y. Barlow
and Joseph White Musser. Barlow subsequently became the group's first leader. Roulon T Jeffs
suceeded him. When Roulton Jeffs died in 2002 at the age of 92, his
son, Warren Jeffs, (1956 -) took over control. Warren was previously the
principal of Alta Academy, a FLDS religious high school which is now closed.
The FLDS' U.S. organization is centered
in the twin cities of Colorado City, AZ and Hildale, UT.
"According to FLDS accounts, Brigham Young visited the site of
Hildale and Colorado City and stated that 'this is the right place [and it] will
someday be the head and not the tail of the church [and]...the granaries of
the Saints'." 4
In 2004-MAY, the FLDS announced that a new base for the church would be
established at their YFZ (Yearning for Zion) ranch in Schleiser County, TX, about four miles northeast of Eldorado.
By 2008, they had erected 35 buildings on the ranch, including a large temple.
The state of Texas has no history of widespread polygyny and marriage of child
brides as does Utah. This may have contributed to their decision to
seize 416 children at the ranch during 2008-APR. 3
A separate colony of about 1,000 FLDS
members live in Bountiful, British Columbia,
Canada. There has been a high level of inbreeding in that group; almost
everyone in that colony are descendents of six men.
Unfortunately there is little precise information about the FLDS available to
outsiders. By all accounts, the FLDS is run as a dictatorship under Jeffs and
has not given interviews to non-FLDS members. He allegedly
even refused a request to meet with Mark Surtleff, the Attorney General of Utah. As a result,
most of the information comes from critics of the FLDS or from ex-FLDS members
who have left the group. These can be unreliable sources.
Jeffs had allegedly:
Forbidden members to use television sets,
VCRs, video games or to have connections to the Internet.
Banned boating, fishing and other water
Instructed parents to throw away most
children's books including the Bible and Book of Mormon storybooks.
Terminated community and holiday celebrations, such as observing the
birthdays of previous leaders and Pioneer Day.
Stopped dances, socials and other get-togethers.
Warned members that laughter causes the spirit of God to leak from their
bodies. He based this belief on an obscure statement by Joseph Smith.
Expelled many men and reassigned their wives and children to other
Expelled large numbers of teenage boys from his areas of control in order
to artificially increase the ratio of females to males. Only by discharging
young males does polygyny become possible.
After his conviction for sex crimes involving under-aged females, he received two lengthy jail sentences. Wendell Nielsen, 69, is now president of the FLDS and of the corporate entity that handles the faith’s business activity. The status of Jeffs is being kept secret. Some commentators have speculated that he may remain the FLDS prophet. 5
The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above
essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.
Suzan Mazur, "Seven brides for one brother: Plural marriage is rife
in the western United States," Financial Times, 2000, at: