The FLDS Ranch in Texas is named “Yearning for Zion.” What is the significance of the name and what is “Zion.” What are they yearning for?
The FLDS refer to Zion as “heaven on earth.” Before the second coming of Jesus Christ a city of Zion will be built by the righteous and Jesus will reign from this city. The FLDS believe that the righteous among them will have the opportunity to build that great city.
In Mormon and FLDS theology, Enoch, during the days of Noah, was a great prophet who built a city of holiness that was also referred to as Zion. Zion was a place of safety for the righteous. The people of that city were so righteous that the entire city was eventually taken up into heaven before the flood.
The FLDS yearn for the day when they can live in such a righteous city, be protected from the wicked world, and be lifted up to greet Jesus Christ. Several times their prophets predicted that they would be lifted up, but those prophesies went unfulfilled and the leaders blamed it on the unrighteousness of the FLDS people.
Building YFZ was likely an important preparatory step where they could learn to live in righteousness, and either be taken up into heaven or prepare for the time when they could help build the city of Zion.
Warren Jeffs taught: “Now, we are to become a united people that will build a city called Zion, heaven on earth. First, we must have a heaven in our heart, body and mind. Then, by keeping the spirit of God, our homes will become pure. Gather families together, build a city, then build more cities - the people having children and those children keeping sweet, getting married and having families. Then there are more cities on the land where there's a heaven on earth and it will grow and grow until the earth changes.” (WSJ 2/8/96)
So YFZ is likely one of those cities in Jeffs’ plan. He taught over and over again to the young people that they must obey the prophet perfectly, prepare to live plural marriage, and keep away from the wicked Gentile (outsider) ways.
“You are preparing to make a heaven on earth. The Lord is about to wipe the wicked off this land and He will only protect and preserve those who can make a heaven on earth. You want to be part of it, young people. You must come out of the world - set aside the ways of the world. You must study the priesthood way of life, love it and live by it, for if you become like the world, you must be left behind. You can't be part of the heaven on earth unless there is a heaven in you.” (WSJ 2/8/96)
Jeffs placed fear in the people’s hearts that they could be left behind if they weren’t perfectly obedient. They wouldn’t be chosen. “The Lord will clean up this people and will choose from among us, those who will prepare. Be warned, if you hear these truths and do not apply them to your life - be warned, the Lord won't use you.” (WSJ 2/8/96)
Jeffs likely truly wanted YFZ to be another “city of Enoch.” “Anyone who was righteous enough to live with Enoch's city in Noah's day was lifted off this earth and taken up to that other earth. Believe, young people, that we live in the day like unto the days of Noah. Let us be good and clean, is what I'm trying to convince you to do.”
An important part of his plan was to only invite the most righteous to YFZ, those who were the most loyal followers. Also, he knew that he needed to cast out the wicked FLDS. He believed that Enoch did this in his city -- that he threw out those who weren’t righteous or doubted his authority. "The only reason that Enoch was able to perfect a people was simply because he labored hard to cast out of the midst of his, men and women who would entertain in their minds, a doubt. . . All you need to do to be removed from this work is to just think what president Jeffs says, can't be done. You can't be used. The Lord is choosing now, who will go forward with complete faith that what the prophet says, can be done. Enoch had to cast men out because they persisted in leaving people with a doubt in their minds.” (WSJ 11/19/95)
In Jeffs’ efforts to cleanse his people, he forced people out of Colorado City and took their families away from them. (See Casting out Evil). "Warren has been enforcing perfection. That is why people have been getting kicked out. It used to be we worked with each other to help and improve. Warren says there is no more time to repent."
The FLDS believe that the original city of Enoch will one day return to the earth during a 1,000 year period of righteousness when Jesus Christ returned. Jeffs promised his people, “You can live to see Enoch's people.”
Where will this ancient city return? It is possible that the FLDS believe a questionable third-hand quote that originated with Mormon prophet Joseph Smith. He is quoted as saying that after the City of Enoch was taken into heaven, that it left behind a huge gulf – the Gulf of Mexico.
One FLDS member seems to believe that the City of Enoch would return to the Gulf of Mexico and that the YFZ Ranch will be nearby. “Yearning For Zion, which city will come next door in the great Gulf when Enoch returns. So they are in the exact right location for the yearning.” Perhaps that is a theological reason for Jeffs choosing Texas for YFZ.
Warren Jeffs wrote words to a hymn he named, “Yearning for Zion.” In that hymn are the words:
Imagine the people of Enoch of old, trained in the order of heaven
A beautiful city the Lord called his own and forever made his abode
Coming to join with the Zion on earth when finally the earth finds its rest
A kingdom established in celestial laws, a people the Lord can accept
A New Jerusalem it will be, a land of refuge, a city of peace
The FLDS believe that if they continue to live plural marriage and have all things in common, that one day their city of Zion can be joined with the people of Enoch.
Even Warren’s father taught that this city would be built. "The call of God Almighty is on me to establish the holy united order in Zion and that's what I'm about to do...God being my helper....I am going forward and . . . God is going to handle anyone who fights against it." (RTJ, 2002)
It all sounds so wonderful, but the kicker is, that the people are taught to greatly fear the consequences of not being perfectly obedient. If they didn’t, they would be left behind.
First, people in Colorado City who believed all this were constantly worrying that they Jeffs would leave them behind. If they didn’t live up to every one of Warren Jeffs edicts, they were not only in jeopardy of being left behind but also of being cast out of the Church as he cleansed the community.
The invitations to move to YFZ started coming. Homes full of families one day, would go empty the next. Complete structures would disappear. For example, this home turned up empty, thought to be among Jeff’s families: “A 19-bedroom, 23-bathroom mansion in Hildale with three kitchens, one stocked with commercial-grade equipment. The bathrooms have oversized or Jacuzzi tubs. The living room is large enough to accommodate an orchestra, maybe two.”
Imagine the feelings of the hundreds and thousands who weren’t invited to go. Surely they would push their families harder and harder to obey the prophet’s words. “Warren had everyone playing 'musical houses' and buildings started to disappear into thin air and No one knew (or would say) where they went or why. I even heard rumors that the apostates (recent ones) had taken them - and I knew that was a complete lie. I read in the newspaper about the land that had been purchased in Texas. I didn't believe it at first- not until I saw pictures of the temple as it was being constructed. And I felt SO BETRAYED.”
The greatest fear about being left behind is that they might receive the same fate as the rest of the world. “All the gentiles will be killed, but among us, the priesthood people, not all of us will survive. It will only be those who keep sweet. We don't want to go down with the wicked. We want to remain with our prophet.” (WSJ 11/15/95) The streets of Salt Lake City would flow with blood.
When Warren Jeffs taught school at the Alta Academy, he really put fear into the hearts of the children. “Several times a year he would give us the ‘death and destruction’ sermons and some of the stuff he would tell us would scare us to death. Many of us had nightmares because of his description of the destructions. He we tell us about the blood and gore of all of the dead people in the Salt Lake Valley, and many other gory and gross details. He said many things that should have never been taught to young children.”
The FLDS built a temple in their secluded city, invited only certain people, Jeffs’ most favored, and believed they were yearning for Zion. But then the “wicked” gentiles intervened and crushed their hopes and dreams. Their prophet is in prison, their temple desecrated, and so many of their children are in “captivity.” YFZ now stands quiet and mostly empty.
What is next for the FLDS Zion? Will Rulon Jeffs’ words come true? “God is going to handle anyone who fights against it."
I believe in a former member’s prediction several years ago: “Some of the zealous young people within the FLDS organization need to be made aware of the implications of acting in a rash manner. Anything you do that might harm another individual will bring down a thorough investigation of this people. The very religion you are trying to protect will be exposed beyond your wildest imagination.”