Friday, May 15, 2009

FLDS History 101 - Self-proclaimed Prophet

Warren Jeffs has been referred to in the media as being a self-proclaimed prophet. His rise to leadership has always been controversial. Jeffs in prison, even admitted that has hasn’t been the valid prophet. What is behind all of this?

Many years ago, the group that eventually became known as the FLDS were led by a group of men in a “priesthood council.” The man who had been in the priesthood council the longest, was recognized as the senior member. The senior member on occasion ordained additional members to the council to replace those who died before them. They were ordained as high priest apostles.

In the 1970s, there were five members in this council, with LeRoy Johnson as the senior member. During the late 1970s, Johnson and Rulon Jeffs (also on the council) pushed the rest of the council to accept a “one man rule” doctrine, to recognize LeRoy Johnson as the single person who held all the groups’ authority from God. The other three members would not go along with this concept. Finally when one of the three died, the split was two to two. LeRoy Johnson removed the other two men from the council and this resulted in the “priesthood split” where 1/3 of the followers could not accept LeRoy Johnson’s one man rule and followed after the spurned former council members. This group became known as the “Second Ward” or Centennial Park Group.

For those left, LeRoy Johnson was recognized as the prophet. Rulon Jeffs was the only other high priest apostle left in the group. Johnson never ordained others, and when he died, Rulon Jeffs became the prophet because he was the only remaining “apostle.”

Rulon Jeffs prophesied that he would live until Jesus Christ came again, who he would turn the keys of authority back to. He didn’t feel the need to ordain others to the apostleship. This left the group without a clear successor if Uncle Rulon really did die. Around 1990, Jeffs finally organized this group into a formal church he named the FLDS. He had two counselors (assistants), Parley Harker and Fred Jessop.

Where was Warren? Warren was an elder in the church and the principal at the Church’s school, the Alta Academy, in Salt Lake City.

As Rulon Jeffs became elderly, he had a stroke and Warren stepped in to be his father’s spokesman and controlled access to him. In 2000, when Parley Harker died, Warren became the 1st Counselor to his father in the presidency. Prior to this Warren always taught the people that if the prophet died, the counselors were dissolved and no longer held leadership in the hierarchy. However, after he became a counselor, he stopped teaching this.

Warren implemented many changes, demanded that the church members recognize his leadership and started to excommunicate and evict members from the community who couldn’t accept him or were suspected of immorality. He claimed that Rulon Jeffs supported all these actions.

In 2002, Rulon Jeffs died, despite his prophecies to the contrary. He was the last High Priest apostle in the FLDS. Who would be the next leader? Most hoped for Fred Jessop, who was like a father figure to the church. But with the loss of the President, the councilor positions were dissolved. Warren was only an elder in the church again and Fred was a bishop.

At a meeting with about 2,000 members, Fred Jessop understood that he wasn’t an apostle and didn’t have the right to take over church leadership. He said, “I look Warren for guidance in these uncertain times.” Warren said, “Uncle Fred is the better man.” Warren seized the opportunity and proclaimed himself the leader. He made it clear that the men should “keep their hands off father’s wives.” Within a week, Warren moved right in and secretly started to marry many of his “mothers.”

This greatly confused the people. Had Rulon Jeffs appointed Warren to be the next leader? And if he had, why didn’t Rulon ordain him to be an apostle? For several years Rulon was so ill, that he really couldn’t function much. Warren had been running the day-to-day operation of the Church. But where was his authority?

During October 2002, in general meetings, Warren invited up speakers who stated that Warren should be their leader. One was Isaac Jeffs, Warren's brother. He told the people that Rulon had "confidence" in Warren and wanted him to be his successor.

On December 1, 2002, Warren made his case to the members in a general meeting that Rulon had chosen him as the successor. Interesting that Warren supporters were at the doors of the meetinghouse and only let in those who professed support. Warren said at the podium, "Unbeknownst to me, Father has prepared witnesses for this time." As witnesses, two of Rulon’s wives Naomi and Mary, who had nursed Rulon, testified that Rulon wanted Warren to be the next leader. (Naomi had already became Warren’s wife and was with him when he was arrested several years later.) Naomi implied that Rulon Jeffs had returned to the people in the form of his son Warren. Rulon had prophesied that he would never die, that he would be "renewed." Naomi claimed, "He (Rulon) told me many times before and after his stroke that I would be called as a witness, and he told me many other things that are too sacred to repeat." She recalled in instance when she, Warren, and Mary were in Rulon's room. "Warrn walked out into the hall and I looked upon him and I saw Father's holy light shine on him. I felt the same feeling on Warren that I had felt on Father. . . . I bear witness that Warren Jeffs is the prophet."

This was a tough claim to swallow for many, because for years the FLDS blasted a previous ordination of an apostle many years ago, Rulon Allred, who was ordained by the senior council member (Joseph Musser) who was ill from a stroke. A woman also testified of that ordination. For years the FLDS preached that a woman’s witness couldn’t be used, and that Allred’s ordination was invalid because Musser was ill. Now history was repeating itself. How could it be valid in this case? A member commented, “Somehow we got to the point that ‘God and the prophet always and only do right. Don't question what God does.’ We allowed that doctrine to blind us to the point that we did the very things we found fault with in others.”

To further muddy up the waters, it was rumored that Rulon had ordained at least one other man to be an apostle, Willie Timpson (later named Willie E Jessop). Rulon, while ill, was supposed to ordain Willie to be an assistant bishop to Fred Jessop, but he slipped and gave Willie the whole package, including apostleship. Willie was told by Warren to ignore the other things, he was just a bishop.

So Warren claimed to be the new prophet, and claimed apostleship. One former member wondered, “At least he knows that's what's required to administer gospel ordinances. I wonder who he raised from the dead to ordain him?”

Moving ahead in time, Warren Jeffs removed many of his rivals from the church and community, and was later was captured and arrested. While in prison he started to make some incredible statements.

“I am not the prophet. I never was the prophet, and I have been deceived by the powers of evil and Brother William E. Jessop has been the prophet since Father's passing, since the passing of my father. And I have been the most wicked man in this dispensation, in the eyes of God."

And in a phone call to Willie E. Jessop, Warren said: “I have not held priesthood since I was 20 years old, having been immoral with a sister and a daughter. And father [Rulon Jeffs] pointing his finger to me was father's test on all of us. I know of your ordination, that you are the keyholder and I have sent a note with my signature verifying it so that there is no question. . . . All the ordinance work since father's passing has to be redone and there's many men that were sent away that do hold priesthood and their families will need to be put back. . . . I am one of the most wicked men on the face of the earth since the days of Father Adam.”

So there we have it. Warren Jeffs admitted that he was a self-proclaimed prophet. Has this changed anything? Apparently not. The FLDS don’t believe in these statements, still have Jeffs’ picture on all the walls of their homes, and still believe he is the prophet.