Under Warren Jeffs' leadership, many men, women and boys have been cast out of the FLDS Church. Many of them have been forced out of their homes and away from their families.
Excommunication of unfaithful followers (removal of membership) is part of most religions. But the FLDS took this practice to unprecedented severity as they stripped people not only of their membership, but also of their homes and families.
What could be the justification? How did this come about? During the early years of LeRoy Johnson’s leadership, members who doubted or criticized leaders were mostly tolerated with some degree of patience. But in the 1970’s, divisions, contentions, and power struggles arose among the leaders.
In 1976, the first member was forced out of his house in Colorado City. Jim Blackmore was no longer permitted by LeRoy Johnson to live in the house he built in the late 1960s. Jim didn’t back down and filed a lawsuit. Never before had the FLDS leadership taken a man’s house from a man. In the past if someone apostatized, they would get discouraged and leave, but LeRoy Johnson made the decision to start forcing members out of the society if they were out of harmony with him. Blackmore eventual dropped the suit and left because of the legal fees needed.
Sometime in 1980, LeRoy Johnson received a revelation in which the Lord told him to clean up the town. He commissioned local law-man Sam Barlow to make things happen. The first eviction attempt was against a widow with eight children. After much hardship, she finally agreed to leave. Other evictions followed and Barlow stepped up to new levels of intimidation by using a “God Sqaud” of young men to beat up people judged to be apostates.
Things really heated up because of the “Priesthood Split” during the 1980s when 1/3 of the families refused to recognize LeRoy Johnson as the “one man” to rule over them. Fierce legal battles involving the United Effort Plan (UEP) took place lasting many years. The FLDS lost the suit and the ruling confirmed that they did not have the right to evict people from the homes that they built.
Rulon Jeffs, the next prophet, blamed the defeat on the sins of the people. Warren Jeffs later explained, “Uncle Roy told us, all it takes is one or two covenant breakers, in order for the Lord to curse this people. In the midst of the court case where the apostates have tried to destroy the United Effort Plan, one or two years into the lawsuit, President Jeffs called on this people to fast and pray. We were so completely defeated at that certain court hearing. The spirit of the Lord told President Jeffs why... there were many immoral people among us. He stood up in meeting and said, ‘I am calling for this people to confess their evils. If you've been immoral, come and confess and let us clean up this people.’ Within about three years time, there were over sixty cases of immorality that were confessed to him. Because of the sins among this people, we have not triumphed in the courts. I hope and pray that we are cleaning up now, and our prophet will have a people the Lord will protect. By the lifting up process, this people will finally be cleaned up. Those who are not pure will be left behind to be destroyed.” (WSJ 12/26/95)
The FLDS “yearn for Zion,” to live in a society free from sin and contention, where all things are held in common without jealousy -- a heaven on earth. As the FLDS leadership continued to prophesy that the end of the world was quickly approaching, they taught the people that wickedness needed to be purged from their society. Jeffs taught, “One or two covenant breakers can cause the Lord to stop blessing this people. As long as we have evil doers among us, the Lord's blessings will be withheld. Zion must be pure. We can't have evil people among the priesthood for the Lord to appear and bless us like He would like to. Be this a warning.” (WSJ 12/26/95)
Jeffs laid the doctrinal groundwork to justify a cleansing of the FLDS. Their theology teaches that an ancient city led by a prophet named Enoch, was taken up into heaven because of their righteousness. The FLDS believe they can be taken up too as the wicked world is destroyed.
Jeffs stated that LeRoy Johnson taught, “"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." (LSJ book p. 1053)
Who should be cast out? Jeffs explained, “whenever there was anybody who said ‘We need to go out and be like the world a little bit,’ those were the people that Enoch cast out and didn't let be among his people,” and “Enoch had to cast men out because they persisted in leaving people with a doubt in their minds.” (WSJ 11/19/95)
Two reasons were clear: Those who wanted to live “gentile” ways and those who doubted the prophet and would be a threat to the faith of others.
In 2004, the FLDS purge reached new levels as Jeffs removed many who, in his mind, were in opposition to him. During a meeting with 1,500 members, he read off a list of 20 men, asked them to stand, and told everyone that they had been excommunicated from the Church. They were told to immediately remove themselves from UEP property and leave the community. They must leave their wives and children behind to be reassigned to other men.
Isaac Wyler was one of these men. He explained, “Warren looked at us and said, 'You know what you have done,'" Wyler didn't know why. "He told us to keep working, keep sending him money, and to repent from afar. I sent him a 25-page letter of repentance listing anything I might have done. He never answered my letter."
As Jeffs started to build his Zion community at YFZ Ranch in Texas, the purges continued, even while he was in hiding from the law. Leaders would use informants and spies to seek out those who should be cast out. One man wrote, “Isn't it indecent for FLDS grown married men to be spying on my wife and child for 3 hour shifts at a time while I am at work?”
Another member cast out explained: “When we were asked to leave two years ago, some of the brethern were sent to our house to ask if what they had heard about us was true. I was gone, but my husband answered the door. They gave him a chance to admit or deny before quietly asking him to leave as soon as we could find a place to live.”
Warren’s brother Lyle Jeffs, continued casting out members while Jeffs was in hiding. Many men are still “repenting from afar” hoping that they can some day return.
The families they leave are ordered to have no more contact with the person because they are now apostates. (see apostates) “When my father got kicked out, they took all the pictures and burned them. ‘Take the pictures down,’ forget the past acquaintances, and carry on with your life like nothing ever happened. Act like your loved ones never existed.”
After Jeffs' conviction and sentencing, the purges appear to have ceased. But his efforts to build Zion has left behind a trail of tears.
“Who will be Zion, filled with his love, laboring now with the hope of a glorious day, when Zion shall rise, and the words of the prophets unfold. When Zion shall flourish upon the hills, the wilderness blossoming fair as the rose.” From Yearning For Zion by Warren Jeffs.