Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS)

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The Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS) is one of the largest sects that splintered from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints over the practice of plural marriage.

Plural Marriage and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

The practice of plural marriage, also known as polygamy (but correctly called polygyny), began quietly during the 1830s and 1840s. The Prophet Joseph Smith had received a lengthy revelation on the doctrine of marriage for eternity, which was dictated in 1843 and is now known as Doctrine and Covenants section 132. However, plural marriage was revealed to Joseph Smith as early as 1831, while he worked on his translation of the Bible. Questions came to his mind as he studied the passages of ancient patriarchs and prophets who had more than one wife:

“Verily, thus saith the Lord unto you my servant Joseph, that inasmuch as you have inquired of my hand to know and understand wherein I, the Lord, justified my servants Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, as also Moses, David and Solomon, my servants, as touching the principle and doctrine of their having many wives and concubines—.”[1]

Joseph Smith was hesitant to teach this new principle and did not even share it with his closest associates for years. According to later statements by Lorenzo Snow and Brigham Young, Joseph was himself repelled by the idea, and not until an angel of Lord appeared to him and ordered him to practice it and teach it, did he begin. This apparently took place sometime after 1839 when the members of the Church had been driven to Nauvoo, Illinois. Only a few select men and women began to practice plural marriage. However, some members of the Church, such as John C. Bennett and William Law, began to publicly attack the character of Joseph Smith because of this practice. Plural marriage was also perverted by some members of the Church for their own selfish lusts.

It wasn’t until August 29, 1852, in Utah Territory, that the Church began to practice polygamy openly and the revelation was published. The practice continued until 1890. For a more thorough discussion of the Church’s practice of polygamy, see Mormon Polygamy.

Edmunds Tucker Act

In 1887, the Congress of the United States passed the Edmunds-Tucker Act, which, to name a few, disincorporated the Church of Jesus Christ and the Perpetual Emigrating Fund Company, with assets to be used for public schools in the Territory; required an anti-polygamy oath for prospective voters, jurors and public officials; required civil marriage licenses to aid in the prosecution of polygamy; disenfranchised women; replaced local judges with federally appointed judges; and prohibited the practice of polygamy and punished it with a fine of from $500 to $800 and imprisonment of up to five years. Seizure of Church property under the act was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court. The act was a culmination of twenty years of legislation aimed at the Church against the practice of polygamy.

Revelation Ending the Practice of Plural Marriage

Some conclude that the act pressured the Church of Jesus Christ to cease the practice of polygamy, but the move was not made until the Lord commanded it. Church president Wilford Woodruff said:

I have had some revelations of late, and very important ones to me, and I will tell you what the Lord has said to me. Let me bring your minds to what is termed the manifesto . . .
The Lord has told me to ask the Latter-day Saints a question, and He also told me that if they would listen to what I said to them and answer the question put to them, by the Spirit and power of God, they would all answer alike, and they would all believe alike with regard to this matter.
The question is this: Which is the wisest course for the Latter-day Saints to pursue—to continue to attempt to practice plural marriage, with the laws of the nation against it and the opposition of sixty millions of people, and at the cost of the confiscation and loss of all the Temples, and the stopping of all the ordinances therein, both for the living and the dead, and the imprisonment of the First Presidency and Twelve and the heads of families in the Church, and the confiscation of personal property of the people (all of which of themselves would stop the practice); or, after doing and suffering what we have through our adherence to this principle to cease the practice and submit to the law, and through doing so leave the Prophets, Apostles and fathers at home, so that they can instruct the people and attend to the duties of the Church, and also leave the Temples in the hands of the Saints, so that they can attend to the ordinances of the Gospel, both for the living and the dead?
The Lord showed me by vision and revelation exactly what would take place if we did not stop this practice. If we had not stopped it, you would have had no use for . . . any of the men in this temple at Logan; for all ordinances would be stopped throughout the land of Zion. Confusion would reign throughout Israel, and many men would be made prisoners. This trouble would have come upon the whole Church, and we should have been compelled to stop the practice. Now, the question is, whether it should be stopped in this manner, or in the way the Lord has manifested to us, and leave our Prophets and Apostles and fathers free men, and the temples in the hands of the people, so that the dead may be redeemed. A large number has already been delivered from the prison house in the spirit world by this people, and shall the work go on or stop? This is the question I lay before the Latter-day Saints. You have to judge for yourselves. I want you to answer it for yourselves. I shall not answer it; but I say to you that that is exactly the condition we as a people would have been in had we not taken the course we have.
. . . I saw exactly what would come to pass if there was not something done. I have had this spirit upon me for a long time. But I want to say this: I should have let all the temples go out of our hands; I should have gone to prison myself, and let every other man go there, had not the God of heaven commanded me to do what I did do; and when the hour came that I was commanded to do that, it was all clear to me. I went before the Lord, and I wrote what the Lord told me to write . . . (Doctrine and Covenants, excerpts from three addresses by President Wilford Woodruff attached to Official Declaration 1; ellipses in the original).[2]

In the official declaration, known as the Manifesto, President Woodruff wrote:

Inasmuch as laws have been enacted by Congress forbidding plural marriages, which laws have been pronounced constitutional by the court of last resort, I hereby declare my intention to submit to those laws, and to use my influence with the members of the Church over which I preside to have them do likewise.[3]

A second manifesto was declared in 1904 after it came to the attention of Church president Joseph F. Smith that a number of members were continuing to enter into or solemnize polygamous marriages. In it he announced that all such marriages were prohibited and anyone who transgressed this law would be excommunicated.

The Break from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

The beginnings of the founding of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS Church) occurred when members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints left the Church largely because of the suspension of the practice of polygamy and the Church’s intent to excommunicate members who continued the practice. Those who left the Church of Jesus Christ relocated to an area near the Utah border called Short Creek, where the settlement eventually grew into two in Colorado City, Arizona, and Hildale, Utah. When threatened with government raids, the community could flow from one state to the other. Communities in Eldorado, Texas, and Bountiful, British Columbia, also drew followers. Others were located in Mexico.

The Mormon Fundamentalist movement experienced breakaways, such as the Apostolic United Brethren (often called the Allred Group), led by Rulon Allred; the Church of the Firstborn, led by Alma Dayer LeBaron Sr.; the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Colorado City, Arizona, and Hildale, Utah); and Church of the Firstborn of the Fulness of Times (located in Mexico). The movement continues to splinter with sects existing under various names and in various locations.

Leaders of the FLDS Church

  • Lorin C. Woolley was head of the first main Mormon fundamentalist group, the Council of Friends, or the Woolley Group or the Priesthood Council. He died in September 1934.
  • J. Leslie Broadbent, whose leadership was short: from 1934 until his death in 1935.
  • John Yeates Barlow, excommunicated from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, led the fundamentalist group after the death of J. Leslie Broadbent until his own death in December 1949. At the time of his selection, Elden Kingston splintered from the group and led the Kingston Group, known also as the Davis County Cooperative Society and the Latter Day Church of Christ.
  • Joseph White Musser was an active and prominent member of The Church of Jesus Christ who continued to practice polygamy and perform plural marriages. He was excommunicated on March 21, 1921. He was ordained an apostle in the Council of Friends, led by Lorin C. Woolley, who was the leader of the Mormon fundamentalist movement. Musser led the group from 1949 until his death in 1954.
  • The Short Creek group splintered in 1954 when some fundamentalists rejected the leadership of appointed successor Rulon Allred. Those true to Allred were located in Mexico and the Salt Lake City region. Those who weren’t followed LeRoy Johnson.
  • LeRoy Johnson organized the sect into the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints and led from 1954 until his death in November 1986.
  • Rulon T. Jeffs became prophet after the death of Johnson and led the FLDS until his death in September 2002.
  • Warren Jeffs, son of Rulon Jeffs, became prophet on September 8, 2002. Although incarcerated for life for his conviction of aggravated sexual assault and sexual assault, Jeffs is the spiritual leader of the sect. News accounts have suggested that Merril Jessop, who has been leading the Eldorado compound, is the de facto leader of the church (2007 to 2011). On January 9, 2010, documents filed with the Utah Department of Commerce named Wendell L. Nielsen as the legal president of the sect. Traditionally the president of the FLDS church was also the religious head, but the FLDS incorporation charter does not require the church president to be its prophet. A 2012 CNN documentary insisted that Jeffs still leads the church from prison.

The FLDS Church Updates

The FLDS Church continues to be a subject in media outlets as it apparently crumbles under Jeffs’ leadership and government-ordered evictions from its Utah-Arizona community. The state of Utah seized control of the UEP Trust, which owns most of the homes and properties, including the 53,000 square-foot meeting center, in Colorado City and Hildale. According to one report, members are worshipping at home on their own.[4] The Yearning for Zion (YFZ) ranch (which includes the sect’s temple) once owned by the FLDS Church, outside Eldorado, Texas, is for sale after the state of Texas seized it in 2014.

Members of the FLDS Church call themselves "Mormons," but they have no affiliation with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, often erroneously called the Mormon Church. The Church of Jesus Christ has denounced the polygamous sects and excommunicates members who attempt to practice polygamy.