The family unit is highly valued by the FLDS. It is the foundation of their belief system. Unfortunately in their leaders’ zeal to protect the family, they have highly restricted freedom of choice, and destroyed hundreds of families along the way as obedience to the prophet in all things takes precedent.
The FLDS believe families can be eternal, that is, that they can exist after this life. “Here, you earn the right to live as family in the next life. In time, you will be raised out of the grave and live in families in heaven” (WSJ 10/31/95)
But families are only eternal under certain conditions.
- The family must be FLDS.
- Men must receive the Melchizedek priesthood. (Authority bestowed by the prophet).
- A family must be created by the prophet. (see arranged marriages). “A family can only be a family by appointment of the prophet. You can only get married and be a priesthood family if he (the prophet) says whom you should marry.”(WSJ 10/31/95).
- The family must live plural marriage.
- Families must be faithful and obey the prophet in all things. “No father, can go off and make up his own rules. For him to stay a faithful father, he must live the prophet's rules. Nobody can be their own big boss and get to heaven, right up to our Savior, direct. You only get to heaven through the living prophet in your time. Because of this great power President Jeffs holds, he is everything to us.” (WSJ 11/20/95)
- Families must live together in harmony during this life. “In heaven, everyone is organized into families. If you've done evil, fought and quarreled, you will live separate. Here, you earn the right to live as family in the next life.” (WSJ 10/31/95) “The righteous and faithful are organized in the family and are in perfect harmony. Death doesn't separate family unless you are rebellious. If wicked, you won't live with the faithful in a family.” (WSJ 10/31/95)
- After this life, the prophet must give approval for you to go to heaven where you can still be a family. “You can’t become a god and go up to heaven unless you have the permission and approval of the prophet in the day you live. He (the prophet) holds the keys of the priesthood - meaning, he can turn the keys in your favor. He can give you a blessing that is eternal. If you don't get your blessings through him, then you don't have anything.” (WSJ 11/1/95)
Because these conditions are so narrow, it motivates FLDS leaders to put into place restrictions that in their view will protect the family members from wicked outside influences. (see Gentiles). Critics maintain that these restrictions are just a vehicle to control the people, but there does seem to be some logically rational behind things such as modest dress, no TV or movies, boys and girls not socializing, etc. The restrictions are rationalized as being needed to ensure family members are on a path to be faithful in receiving priesthood, entering an arranged marriage, entering plural marriage, having children, and living a good life. Where this falls apart in the FLDS society are the penalties for coming up short, the unjust internal persecution, and the lack of second chances.
When a daughter is married, she is no longer part of her father’s family. He has no claim on her anymore. She is now in her husband’s family. After this life, the fathers will bring forth their families in the after-life resurrection. “The father will take hold of the hand of his wives - he will raise them up, one by one, out of the grave because he was... then he will go to his sons and raise them out of the grave. I'm talking about faithful fathers, mothers, and sons. The girls will be raised out of the graves by their husbands - not their earthly father.” (WSJ 10/31/95)
If a father is deemed to be unfaithful, his family can be taken away from him by the prophet and his wives are assigned and married to other men who are viewed as faithful. Hundreds of families have been broken up and dissolved by decree of the FLDS leaders. This obviously has a deep impact on the father, but the family left behind have serious difficulties adapting to their new family life. One FLDS member wrote: “I had the experience as a child of my mother remarrying several times. I got to feel first hand what it was like to be told ‘He is not your father any more. This is your Priesthood Father, your only father.’ I accepted it and pretended it was so. Then my father changed, again and again. The whole experience hurt me very deeply.”
Curiously, the FLDS don’t seek after their “lost sheep.” Instead they turn their backs on them, let them stray, and forget about them.
Those who are shunned most often lose their faith in the FLDS beliefs, but they don’t lose their love for their families. One former member wrote: “I miss my family out there too. Some days I want to cry, but the tears don't come, because I KNOW that underneath all the stuff that is between us, my family really does love me. And it is hard, but I don't have to see them to remember. I know they are just trying to do what they think is right, and I don't think it is my place to push them to believe what I believe. I only need to understand. And, I keep things. I keep the last birthday present my mother gave me and it's on my dresser every day so I can remember that she loves me and every year that goes by without a phone call, I know she is thinking of me and loving me, and maybe shedding a few tears for me that day. And that is enough.”