Southern Utah is teetering on the brink of a human rights crisis as the towns of Hildale and Colorado City shed hundreds of refugees who have lost their homes and their families.
As citizens on the border of our state suffer, the majority of Mormons are silent on this issue. Why?
In late winter of 2014, Elizabeth Steed (name changed) committed a radical act–she met her husband of 15 years in a secret location and together conceived their 5th child. Three years earlier, their prophet Warren Jeffs had dissolved all the marriages in the FLDS community. This mandate was designed to ensure that no children would be
born unless fathered by designated FLDS leaders. It is rumored that FLDS women are impregnated in a secret ordinance where an appointed priesthood holder “plants righteous seed” while her husband stands as witness. Babies born outside of this ordinance are considered children of perdition and their parents are systematically kicked out of the group, losing their home and other children in the process.
The Steed family had been questioning Jeffs’ leadership for months. Worried that they would be separated by one of Warren’s edicts, they decided to defy the rules and have another baby, an act that was seen as apostasy.
“We knew that this was going to get us kicked out, but we would be sent away together. It was the only way we knew we could stay together as a family.”
The Steeds’ story of defiance is just one of thousands of stories of FLDS members who have found their power under increasing oppression. On July 4th, 2015, several thousand Mormon Fundamentalists met together at Cottonwood Park in Colorado City, Arizona to celebrate “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.”
Although the day traditionally honors America’s Independence, families gathered in the park that had been closed for nearly 13 years to show their own independence from religious dogma. Music and the smell of grilled hamburgers wafted over the town where less than a block away, faithful FLDS boys and men were obediently building a mysterious 9-foot cinderblock wall around the FLDS chapel.
It was a stark contrast–half of the community tearing down metaphorical walls in celebration while the other half built literal walls to avoid them. Just 13 years earlier, both groups would have been happily enjoying the holiday together as family and friends.
The wall is just one of a growing number of concerns for those who have been following the activities of the FLDS since their prophet Warren Jeffs was incarcerated for child sexual assault.
It is largely believed that Warren Jeffs continues to control the community, dictating “revelations” (instructions) from prison, which are carried out by his brother Lyle Jeffs. Some of these revelations involve new restrictions, including the banning of toys and all play in parks and other recreational areas. Other dictates involve strange building projects, harsh dietary restrictions (beans and rice are currently banned), and rumors of a new FLDS “code” where faithful elite, including children, are taught different meanings to words and behaviors so they will be unable to communicate with outsiders. As a practice, FLDS families are “reassigned” and separated and the majority of residents in Hildale and Colorado City are not living in their original home, with their original parents, spouses, or siblings.
Mothers are increasingly sent away, forced to leave the community for committing “sins” like miscarriage, which is considered murder in the FLDS group. Fathers, too, are being sent away, while children are threatened with being abandoned into the “lone and dreary world,” a world they are told will always rape and kill them. Children whose parents are sent away are mistreated, abused, and punished for fraternizing with their own siblings while under the care of women in the community. Many are prohibited from eating the same food as the faithful, and the majority live in extreme poverty. Women and children do not have access to health care or basic sanitation. Utahns spend a lot of energy and money defending “the family.” Does “the family” include all Utah families?
Why the collective apathy to this crisis? It is easy to condemn oppression from other distant regimes, but harder when the oppression is closer to home. Do our own ghosts of polygamy prevent us from looking in this mirror? The history of Utah is fascinating, and if probed beyond the most superficial level, reveals our connection to and complicity in the situation in Hildale and Colorado City.
The settling of Utah was driven by the practice of polygamy. While the federal government followed Mormon settlers with distrust, Mormon polygamy shaped the American West. The Mormon church officially distanced itself from the practice in 1890, and then again in 1904, but its manifestos did not put a final end to plural marriage, even among its own apostles. The transition from the Mormon polygamous church to the LDS monogamist church has been slow and messy, leaving lingering shame and hostility towards the polygamist history of Utah. Many practicing Latter-day Saints are uncomfortable dealing with polygamy because of this painful history. The LDS church and the State of Utah have tried to ignore an estimated 38-100,000 Mormons who still engage in the practice.
Although Americans wax on about religious freedom, we are unsure about how it interacts with this faith and with this people. The crimes of Warren Jeffs, too, have encouraged the mindset that FLDS are not really people, but strange criminals who should be kept at arm’s length.
Every Utah citizen, every Mormon, needs to wake up to this growing crisis. Our neighbors in Hildale and surrounding areas should not be ignored because their lifestyle is confusing or uncomfortable. The children of Hildale deserve our outrage. The mothers of Hildale deserve our support. The fathers of Hildale deserve our understanding. You can help by educating yourself on the history and the issues, supporting organizations already doing the work, and making a visit to the city to patronize local business, and respectfully interact with Hildale’s citizens to help integrate the town with the modern world.
If you would like to be more involved in helping this situation, click here to read about Year of Polygamy’s latest service project.
I always hear about how great the fruits of the church are. However, members are really quick to skip over the fruits of polygamy. Colorado city as well as other FLDS communities with their accompanying oppression and heartbreak are ABSOLUTELY 100% some BITTER FRUIT that came directly from Joseph Smith and his abominable practice of polygamy. You can’t only claim the good fruits people. “Sister Smith, where did the practice of polygamy come from?” Her answer to the sister who asked the question?….”Straight from hell madame, straight from hell.” Stop claiming only the good things, you have to own it all.
Sorry, the actual word I believe was doctrine of polygamy
This mentality starts at the top of the organization! I learned not to care from the prophets and apostles! Sounds dramatic, but you will google in vain about the top 15 men in this church standing up publicly, relentlessly about Christians being beheaded by ISIS. Not a peep on children being sold into sex slavery. Crickets on the humanitarian crisis last year at the mexican/US border or the rape and genital mutalation of women in Africa. And yes, not one word rallying the masses of mormons in Utah to assist with the human rights crisis in their backyard in southern Utah. If you are a mormon, preferably active, you can have access to the Bishops storehouse. Even then, trust me, it can be a humilating process, even after contributing your gross for 40 years. If you are a mormon, we will stop by your house to see how you are doing and drop off a treat or a nice note. When we read scriptures, such as say, John 3:16, we think it only applies to us Mormons. It is a focus issue and it is bred in us. If you aren't mormon, we will help if you will accept this free copy of the book of Mormon. Now, I know we help out in crisis situations all over the world, from Katrina to Thailand sunami. We have allocated 1% of our income over the past 30 years or so to disaster relief, plus many volunteer hours. We are quick to send in photographers to make infomercials for youtube. But it seems, of course just my perspective, that if it isn't mother nature killing people, we just focus on home teaching and making sure our girls shoulders are covered. The focus seems to be ENTIRELY inward except for one area-converting people to our religion. I have seen 1000 quotes on my facebook page from prophets and apostles about going to the temple, reading scriptures and to go see the meet the mormons movie. But not a one on Christians being brutally beheaded an murdered around the Globe. Perhaps if they were Mormons, it might catch someones attention.
Lindsay — thanks for all your work on this topic and outreach to help those encircled in this horrid situation. I’ve listened to some of your podcasts, but not all. Fascinating stuff, and far from the rosy picture always painted at church. It was ugly, messy, power, ego stuff. Keep up your great work. I’m supporting some of the organizations you mentioned.
Excellent response Roger. My sentiments exactly.
So, so accurate.
I honestly believe that some of us with polygamist ancestors want to get as far away from anything to do with polygamy as possible. We want to forget. Ervil Lebaron was my third cousin, and if it weren’t for an amazingly strong grandmother, who stood up to my grandfather and said “no I will not join” back in the 1960’s who knows what would have happened to their posterity. This is eye opening to me though. I hate the idea of these people living in fear and poverty! For those of us who don’t live near Hilldale, what can be done to support them?
Mormon fundamentalism does not include sex. Chastity is fundamental Gospel. Without it, it is not Mormonism. nor is it fundamental (just “fun” and mental). It is a counterfiet, both LDS, FLDS, RLDS, CP, AUB, and the thousands of independants. Nor is Christianity Christianity, if you’re monkeying around inside your pants. Chastity is Christianity (Matt. 5:28).
Not everyone in Hildale or the surrounding areas (Colorado City, Centennial Park etc…) are members of Warren Jeff’s group. The Merry Wives Cafe (pictured) is owned by members of a totally different sect with different leaders and different problems. The actual members of Jeff’s group don’t generally interact with outsiders. Any business that is open in the area will be run by ex members or non members. I still think it’s awesome to interact with all people but conflating the different groups isn’t helpful.
The park has not been closed for 13 years. We have held our annual family reunions there (Cottonwood park) for over ten years. It stopped being maintained by the FLDS church but was never closed. They probably just got sick of us outsiders going there and decided to abandon it. It’s still an awesome park though.
Anyway…like I said, the people in the area are quite diverse and it would be worth our time to actually get to know all the sects. It’s an interesting place for sure.
As for the Jeff’s run FLDS, everything you mentioned is true and there are even worse stories than those. The women are incredibly oppressed and the men are brainwashed. Any extension of help and love possible would be in order as difficult as it might be. My heart breaks for those people.
Sex was banned too, at one point butt that only lasted 10-minutes. So beans and sex… They got tired of people farting out one end, and coming out the other. It just got smelly, especially in church sitting in the pews. Rulon even came to church with his zipper down. Guess he just got done doiner. The photo passed around means nuttin. Adam too was naked AND inmocent (“not ashamed”, says the good book). Keeper clean.
PUUUH-LEEEEASE!!!!! Look into the “great Mormon church” and you’ll find heinous and irrevokably evil actions. Why does the church look down on drinking coffee (caffeine?) yet they own stock in Pepsi. Other questionable things that I could post would only distract from the big issue so I withhold. They are a frickin joke. They are a corporation looking to gain public confidence and trust and they will stop at nothing to own the popular vote. I’m a practicing Christian and love all races, sexes, genders, and believe God put them here for His purpose.
The Mormon church believes in the Article of Faith 11 “We claim the privilege of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may.”
They are hypocrites….Just saying…ALL of us need to look to our own knitting
Beans and rice are banned? I heard they were put on a beans-only diet at some point.
Very good points Roger. I can't disagree with much of what you say. There are LDS elsewhere in the world who are speaking publicly and loudly about many of the issues you have mentioned, however they are not leaders in the Church. Why are the leaders silent on all the issues mentioned? No-one can tell you, but you would have to believe that a good many people would want the Apostles to speak up. Are they afraid of attracting unwanted persection and negative press? We know John the Baptist was killed for speaking out against something so minor as Herod's wife.
Their new song would be flatulent.