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

An offshoot of mainstream Mormonism, known for its practice of polygamy and controversies involving its leaders.

The Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (FLDS) is a religious sect that splintered from the mainstream Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church), primarily over the issue of polygamy. The FLDS is often classified as a fundamentalist Mormon denomination and has been the subject of significant legal and societal scrutiny.

Origins and Early Development

The FLDS traces its origins to the early 20th century, following the LDS Church’s 1890 Manifesto, which officially discontinued the practice of plural marriage among its members. Despite this, a segment of Mormons continued to believe and practice polygamy, viewing it as a vital tenet of their faith. The FLDS regards a purported 1886 divine revelation to John Taylor, then LDS Church President, as legitimizing the continuation of polygamy. The community around Short Creek (now Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Arizona) became a hub for such polygamist former LDS members【22†source】.

The FLDS Church was formally organized in the early 1930s under the leadership of John Y. Barlow and other prominent polygamist leaders. They were part of a larger movement of Mormon fundamentalists who sought to continue the practice of polygamy and other original doctrines of Mormonism. The sect’s authority was derived from what they believed to be a continuous line of priesthood authority separate from the mainstream LDS Church【22†source】【23†source】.

Warren Jeffs and Leadership Controversies

Warren Steed Jeffs emerged as a prominent figure within the FLDS, eventually taking over leadership from his father, Rulon Jeffs, in 2002. Warren Jeffs’s tenure as the prophet of the FLDS was marked by authoritarian control and a series of legal troubles. He enforced strict rules, dictating many aspects of members’ lives, including marriage arrangements. Jeffs was accused of various crimes, including sexual abuse of minors, and was placed on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted list in 2006. He was arrested and convicted of two counts of sexual assault on a child in 2011【24†source】【26†source】.

Legal Issues and Government Raids

The FLDS has been the subject of numerous legal actions and government raids. In 2008, the Yearning for Zion Ranch in Eldorado, Texas, was raided by Texas authorities, leading to the temporary removal of over 400 children from the ranch on allegations of physical and sexual abuse. The raid was initiated based on a phone call alleging abuse, which was later determined to be a hoax. However, investigations into the sect’s practices continued【24†source】【26†source】.

Doctrines and Practices

The central doctrine of the FLDS is the practice of plural marriage, which they believe is necessary for salvation and exaltation in the afterlife. Warren Jeffs taught that a devoted church member is expected to have at least three wives to attain exaltation. The FLDS also practices a strict lifestyle, with dress codes and other regulations that distinguish them from mainstream society and even from mainstream Mormons【22†source】【26†source】.

Societal Impact and Criticisms

The FLDS has faced widespread criticism for its practices, particularly concerning polygamy and the alleged abuse of women and children. The sect’s teachings and practices have been condemned by various human rights groups and have led to societal and legal challenges. The sect has also been criticized for its insularity and the control exerted over its members’ lives.

Current Status

The FLDS Church has undergone significant changes and challenges, especially following the arrest and imprisonment of Warren Jeffs. Despite these challenges, the FLDS continues to exist, with a membership that extends across the United States, Canada, and Mexico. The group’s practices and beliefs continue to diverge significantly from those of the mainstream LDS Church, which officially abandoned polygamy in 1890.

The FLDS Church’s history and practices represent a complex and controversial chapter in the broader context of American religious movements. Its adherence to polygamy and the legal and ethical issues surrounding its leadership have made it a focal point of discussions on religious freedom, legal rights, and social norms.