The FLDS (Fundamentalist Latter Day Saints) are a group which believes God did not intend for polygamy to end once restored. They continue to practice it today. In 1930, they were known as “The Work” or “The Priesthood Work.” They changed their name in 1942 to “The United Effort Plan.” It wasn’t until 1991, a very few years ago, that they adopted the name “Fundamentalist Latter Day Saints.”
Their list of church leaders starts out the same as the list for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. They accept the first three prophets of the Church–Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, and John Taylor– as their leaders. However, they then move to their own set of leaders, and at this point, the two groups completely diverge. They do not accept any of the leadership of the Church from the time Wilford Woodruff became the prophet of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 1889. As a result, all changes to the Church since that time are not part of their religion’s beliefs. Also, the FLDS Church has developed new doctrines and cultural practices. Much has happened through the years, and so the religions are very different from each other today. There are about 10,000 members of the FLDS religion, and over 13,000,000 members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon Church).
The history of the FLDS religion is complicated, since it involves many divisions. However, their own website suggests they currently choose not to accept the authority of anyone after the third prophet in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and so we use that dividing line in evaluating how we may differ from them.
The early years of the movement were contentious and saw many differing interpretations and opinions among leaders as to how plural marriage should be practiced. These contentions eventually led to the subsequent schisms that created the multiple Mormon fundamentalist organizations that now exist, including the FLDS Church, the Apostolic United Brethren, and the Latter-day Church of Christ or Kingston group. It is commonly believed by all of these sects that the early leaders of the fundamentalist movement received revelations from God commanding that plural marriage should not cease.
In 1984, a schism formed within the FLDS Church just before the death of leader Leroy S. Johnson. A small group of FLDS took issue with the “one-man rule” doctrine that altered the leadership structure of the church and that was implemented fully when Rulon Jeffs assumed his position as sole leader of the organization. These followers took up residence just south of Colorado City, in Centennial Park, Arizona, calling themselves “The Work of Jesus Christ,” or “The Work” for short.
Also in 2002, after Warren Jeffs assumed leadership, Winston Blackmore, who had been serving in Canada as the Bishop of Bountiful for the FLDS Church, was excommunicated by Jeffs in an apparent power struggle. This led to a split within the community in Bountiful, British Columbia, with an estimated 700 FLDS members leaving the church to follow Blackmore (Wikipedia.org). Warren Jeffs is now in prison, but appears to still be the leader of the FLDS faith and the compounds in Arizona and Texas.
There are thus a number of polygamists groups, and they don’t all share the same beliefs or lifestyles. This website is focusing on the FLDS only because they are currently the focus of most of the confusion the world has about polygamy. The doctrines of the FLDS community center around polygamy as a celestial law. Though doctrines are closely guarded (probably out of fear of ridicule and meddling), it appears that the norm to qualify for exaltation is three or more wives. The church currently practices placement marriage, whereby a young woman of marriageable age is assigned a husband by revelation from God to the leader of the church, who is regarded as a prophet. The prophet elects to take and give wives to and from men according to their worthiness. This is also called the law of placing (Wikipedia.org). This law is unique to the FLDS Church and never existed in early Mormon polygamist practice. Unlike the worldwide Mormon Church, which has a president, twelve apostles, and several quorums of seventy at its head, the FLDS Church has always had a powerful single leader, which opens up the possibility of malevolent leadership and dictatorial practice. This seems to have been the case during power struggles, where underage marriages have been mandated, and in the expulsion of young men from the compounds.
The polygamists in question here live in their own communities, which are not normally open to outsiders, although this is not true of all polygamists in all groups. A unique health situation has arisen because of intermarriage. The Colorado City/Hildale area has the world’s highest incidence of fumarase deficiency, an extremely rare genetic condition. Geneticists attribute this to the prevalence of cousin marriage between descendants of two of the town’s founders, Joseph Smith Jessop and John Yeates Barlow. It causes encephalopathy, severe mental retardation, unusual facial features, brain malformation, and epileptic seizures (Daily Herald, 2/9/2006).
Their standard of dress also differentiates members of the FLDS Church from people on the outside. Women and girls usually wear monochromatic homemade long-sleeved “prairie dresses,” with hems between ankle and mid-calf, along with long stockings or trousers underneath, usually keeping their hair coiffed (Wikipedia).
In contrast, the mainstream Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, is a worldwide church with an active humanitarian aid and missionary involvement all over the world. Its members dress according to the cultural norms in their own countries, do not practice polygamy, and live wholesome, happy lives centered on their belief in Jesus Christ as Creator and Savior of the World. The mainstream Church of Jesus Christ openly thrives in the world, interacting with people of all faiths and no faith every day.
In November of 2013, cable channel TLC announced a series on women’s escape from the Yearning for Zion Ranch. As with most modern media productions, this one is sure to emphasize the lurid details of life within the sect and the immoral behavior of its leaders. It is hoped that viewers will be able to differentiate between this polygamist FLDS cult and the mainstream Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.