As Warren Jeffs increased in power over the FLDS, when his father was ill, he introduced an alarming practice, the reassignment of women to new husbands. In previous years, women would remarry after the death of a spouse or divorce, or when a man left the church for serious reasons, but these reassignments were now made at the whim of Jeffs. The rationale used is that the prophet owns the children and women and if the husband loses his priesthood (standing in the church) the women and children need to be sealed to a faithful man in the church who can take them to heaven.
This break-up of families has shattered the lives of hundreds of FLDS men and in most cases made the lives of the women and children worse as they have had to adjust to life in the homes, new families, and new household rules. The women are not given a choice, are assigned to a man who Jeffs chooses, and must obey or risk losing her standing in the faith. Some women refuse to leave their husbands and instead leave the church, but most choose their religion over keeping their husbands.
The family is instructed to destroy all pictures of the man, never see him again, and never speak of him. As they are reassigned, the mother marries her new husband and the children take the name of the new man. They must now call him “father.” Many of the children who were at the YFZ Ranch are children who have been reassigned to new fathers.
What religious justification would Warren Jeffs have for breaking up these families? For years, Jeffs believed that his people needed to be cleansed and that the wicked should be cast out. With time so short, his people needed to be worthy to be lifted up when the apocalyptic destructions started. He no longer had patience for men to repent and change their ways over time. Instead he would cast them out, take their homes, reassign their families to stronger men, and prepare his people for the second coming of Jesus Christ. He believed he had this right because the women and children belong to the priesthood (prophet) not the man.
Many times the men are given no reason why their families are being taken away. They are told that the Lord revealed the reason to the prophet (Jeffs). They are told to “repent from afar,” (away from the community). They must send a list of their sins to Jeffs, and he would decide if the man could return. After sending the confession of sins in, the man usually never hears from Jeffs again and in the meantime, his family is moved, reassigned, and he never hears from them again.
In July 2005, several conversations were recorded. At that time, Lyle Jeffs, brother of Warren delivered the tragic news to numerous men. "Uncle Warren has sent me to give you a message of the Lord thru the Prophet. The Lord has judged that you do no hold the Priesthood and by so doing your family is automaticaly released and will come under the immediate care of the Prophet thru the Bishop. If you will receive counsel you will remove from a distance and avoid settling in apostate element. If you desire to have Priesthood in you life, repentance is available is to get your letters of confession in as soon as possible.... This is the message of the Lord to you in the spirit of love, in a gathering effort, to protect your family." (7/12/2005 - message to Richard H. Cooke, Short Creek Assignments).
Men were told to move away further than St. George and Cedar City because of apostates in that area, but certainly another motivation was to gain seperation between the man and his former family.
Sometimes the man is given reasons for having his priesthood removed. Reasons can include:
- Immorality: adultery, incest, viewing pornography, “immorality in your heart”
- Speaking ill of the prophet
- Not having control over his family (bickering wives, rebellious children)
- Abusing wives, unhappy wives
- Having sex with wives at times other than ovulation
- Not paying assessments to the church
- Alcohol abuse
- Living like the gentiles (viewing TV, movies, music)
- Not living the dress code
- Not obeying directives from the prophet
- Associating with apostates (former members, kicked out family members)
- Refusing to give up a child for marriage
- Viewed as a threat to the leadership of the church
- Any other reason the prophet can think of
In one sad case in 2005, a man at the YFZ ranch confessed to Warren that he was attracted to other men's young wives in his thoughts. He had not acted on those thoughts. Warren decided the man would lose his Priesthood, his wives and children, and had to move away.
Contrary to clear procedures specified in the FLDS scriptures, the man is given no trial or a fair chance to defend himself. The word of the prophet is enough.
The families are usually reassigned to chosen bloodlines. There is a lot of nepotism involved. Jeffs believes that certain families have unworthy blood running through their veins. “Warren preached that when a family remarried to another man, God changed their blood and DNA to match that of the priesthood man they now belonged to. If we did not have worthy blood running through our veins, we could not gain entrance into the kingdom of heaven.”
The procedure for reassigning wives was done quickly without any input from the wives. Warren recorded on such occurance in 2005: "I first sat Alice Black and Ramona Steed down and told them,I said these words, 'I have a message from the Lord for you two ladies. Truman Barlow, your former husband, has lost the Lord's confidence and is not able to exalt you. And the Lord has revealed where you belong for time and eternity. Do you receive this message?' And they both said, 'Yes.' I told them that when a man loses Priesthood like Truman Barlow did but I told them for their piece of mind I would give them a release. And I first had Alice Black stand up. . . and said 'Sister Alice Black, in the authority of the Holy Melchizedek Priesthood, and by the keys and powers thereof I release you from your sealing for time and all eternity with Truman Ianthus Barlow, in the name of the Father and of the Son, and in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.' Then I did similar with Ramona Steed releasing her formerly. Then Tom Cox came in Alice Black was sealed to Thomas Alma Cox, and then Ramona Steed was sealed for time and all eternity to Alma Thomas Cox." (Record of President Warren Jeffs, p. 451, August 25, 2005).
Warren Jeffs referred to men who were kicked out as men who had "been handled." Those on the outside referred to these men as being "kicked."
One son removed from his father wrote, “Very few of the men that have got kicked out did anything to warrant the punishment they received. I think it is just Warren's sick way of maintaining control over the people. Pretty soon, the only last names out there will be Jeffs, Steed, and Jessop. He is totally obliterating any other family lines. It's only a matter of time before only those with "pure blood" can reproduce and have a family.”
One example, Fred Jessop was a counselor to the prophet. He had four wives but no children because he was sterile due to mumps as a child. Before he died, he had about 18 wives and nearly 100 children, all children of other men.
The number and frequency of these reassignments has been stunning in recent years. This practice never happened expect under extreme cases during the leadership of LeRoy Johnson. One former member wrote: “[LeRoy Johnson] believed that anyone that was still alive could repent, thus he left a man with his wives to work out their salvation. When a group decided to stop coming to meetings in the early 80's President Johnson left their wives alone. Many men along the way that stopped coming to meetings, he left their wives alone. After many years some of these men came back, had President Johnson stripped them, they never would have come back and been a joy to him. Now Warren can't seem to leave anyone's wife alone and they don't even have to leave [the church] first. Warren moves more wives around in one week, than President Johnson was forced to handle, because of moral issues, during his whole administration.”
The impact of the reassignment on children can be severe. Most of them dearly love their father and they are told to forget him and now love a new man, often a much older stranger.
“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." As a child, I was willing to adapt; I accepted it and pretended it was so. Then my father changed, again and again. The whole experience hurt me very deeply.”
A son wrote: “I saw it firsthand. I was there when Warren started ripping families apart. I met with him (Warren) the day he took my dad's family away from him, and he read me some phony, psychotic "revelation," in which he accused my dad of aspiring to the leadership of the church.”
“One young boy told of how his Dad gathered the family together and told them he was leaving and that he didn't know if he would ever see them again. He packed up his books and bed and clothes and left three years ago and has not been seen since.”
Another story: “My friend lives next door to a man who has taken several wives of other men. One evening while working in her yard, she stopped to watch a group of children. One little boy sadly said ‘I don't like that man in there, I want to go back to our father.’”
The merging of families introduce new difficulties. “It is one thing to get a new wife, it is a whole nother ball of worms to get a family. Instead of love and warmth, the boys are separated from the girls and the girls are never to be left alone and double duty for each mother. Don't let the girls talk to the boys and yet you are supposed to be family?”
“I could never believe in a God that would enforce such organized adultery and destruction of families. I do believe that the young children now will be known as a fatherless generation. I believe that their psyche is being damaged and that when they grow up they will believe in nothing. A child has a lifetime history with their parents and to try to break that off for no just reason is extremely dangerous to the minds of children. The true victims here are as elsewhere, the children.”
This “musical families” can happen over and over again. “Several women are on their third husband and there have been those who have had as many as five. Whatever happened to being married for 'all time and eternity'?”
Amazingly, most of the men go away without fighting. One explained, “I never want anyone to lose their family, but when I had to choose, I chose to separate from them. I did not want my wife to have to choose between me and her religion. But I did that, and I cannot change that. I accept the correction, and I will let God decide. I love them enough to want them to stay in the religion I know is true, with or without me. I would rather die than to see my mistakes hurt someone else ever again. That is much more manly if you ask me.”
Another repentant believing man wrote: “Everything Warren Jeffs does, he does to help and improve the people. Even I who have been sent out, it was done to improve me, and the people I left behind. Although it definitely has been painful, I feel it was the best thing to happen to help me, if not to my family. Everything is a growing experience. I know it hurt him to need to do it, and I take full responsibility for it.”
The wives are victims of this process too, and some don’t leave their husband. One son told. “My family was ripped apart because my mother was told to leave my dad and they gave her a new husband. My new father was a good man and treated his wives with great respect. Six years after their marriage Warren told my mother that her present husband didn't have priesthood and if she wanted to be under the direction of the priesthood, she had to come from Idaho to Colorado City to live with her father. She obeyed but mourned and ached and tried to get the Spirit back. She was torn to the bone because she knew that she had made covenants with her husband and went against them. Back in Colorado City, her sister came to her one day and said, ‘That was a wonderful sacrifice you made.’ She replied to that comment, ‘I am going back to my husband!’ She told me, ‘Those words just came out as if the Lord had put them there for me.’ So you see she is a victim.”
Other men have fought back and refused to leave without their wife. In these cases, leaders would be sent over to try to coerce the wife to leave her husband. In some of these cases, the “priesthood” has resorted to trying to kidnap the wife away from the man. One man told how he had “to hide my wife for awhile to keep the FLDS goons to keep their distance. There was a failed attempt to steal her behind my back while I was at work that failed simply because the goons didn't know where she was. I had to get home to hide her elsewhere before the goons got there. I don't know what would have happened had not an insider leaked out to me what was going on.”
This woman explained why she refused to leave her husband. “I was once one of those fanatical women who lived and breathed every word that Warren spoke. I would have followed him to the ends of the world, sacrificed everything to recieve his approval. Lucky for me, my husband gathered his family around; and slowly began to read the Book of Mormon, and the Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith. My husband carefully began to ask us the questions he had, about Warren's teachings when they were not matching up with these two books. For two years, my husband diligently taught his family the simple truths of the gospel; and then he was excommunicated. His family was left with the decision to stick by his side, or follow Warren. Nothing could have prepared us for the extreme pressure we faced at that time. Thanks to my husband's patience and diligence in teaching us the true gospel. I went, with the Lord's help, and found a testimony of the true gospel of Jesus Christ for myself. Not Warren's gospel. What my husband did to keep his family together worked for many of us. He helped us to think for ourselves, and see the light.”
Why do other women leave so willingly? One woman explained: “These women have chosen the love of Warren's principles above the love of their husbands so it is not a lack of love per se as much as it is the object of their affections. They are convinced following Warren's principles is the only way to heaven. They are in their minds choosing salvation above their husbands. Many can truly say it was heartbreaking to lose their husband and be reassigned but they convinced themselves they were making the only choice available to them.”
The stress on the FLDS people who are not 100% faithful is incredible. One member wrote: “You know, 25 years ago marriages that were done in Short Creek used to mean something. The men would show love and compassion. The women were happy and showed love back. Both parties know this was for all time and eternity, the bonds of love grew strong. Both parties knew that if they would honor their marriage vows, they would be together forever. Warren has removed all this. Many women are so scared that they are going to be moved that they are slowly losing all their love and affection for their current husband. Don't you think you would lose all affection if every morning you wake up, you feared you would get a phone call and be instantly released with no further contact allowed with your husband. Then the horrible fear would continue knowing that tomorrow, or in a week, or a month, you would be placed in another man's bed with five minutes to say yes ‘Uncle Warren’ or be damned.”
Wendell Musser was one of Jeff’s trusted followers. He was even believed to be among those who cared for some of Jeff’s wives while he was in hiding in Colorado beginning in 2005. Wendell fell from favor after a DUI in Colorado Springs. Musser was sent away to repent from afar and his family was taken away from him and given to another man. Musser was not allowed to see them. He didn’t even know where they went. Later, Musser filed a civil lawsuit against Jeffs in St. George's 5th District Court. The lawsuit asked the court to force Jeffs to disclose his wife and child’s whereabouts. Finally, after a year, fearing the courts, the FLDS allowed Musser to see his wife and 18-month-old son in an auto parts store in Hildale. She wouldn't look at him at first. He said she was like a robot. She was very well coached. She wouldn't let him hold the baby. After refusing to meet privately, his wife peppered her husband with questions and accusations. She asked, “why are you persecuting the prophet?"
Thankfully, the reassignment practice has declined since Jeffs has been in prison. But the broken families have not been repaired. Hundreds are left to ponder, “Why has he taken men who were honest, decent family men and ripped them all to pieces and scattered their families to the four winds?”