Mar 3, 2013

FLDS Splinter Group Takes Root in the Desert

Crossposted from Reflections Journal.

A very long, convoluted, lede-burying set of articles and blog posts in the Salt Lake City Tribune profiles William E. Jessop, the leader of a growing group of FLDS apostates. Not to be confused with Willie Jessop, William E. Jessop was born William E. Timpson but an earlier splintering of FLDS caused him to become a Jessop. I suspect this story would be easier to sort out if FLDS weren't so inbred and didn't keep playing musical chairs with the wives and children.

Apparently William E. Jessop was ordained by Rulon Jeffs, father of the currently incarcerated Warren Jeffs. The ordination is dubious, however, because the elder Jeffs had had a number of strokes which by his own rules disqualified him from ordaining anyone. Even so, Jessop was one of Warren Jeffs's top lieutenants and the bishop of Short Creek. He was often called upon by Jeffs to do his dirty work, like delivering his capricious excommunications. Jessop also acquired the wives of a number of excommunicates.

Jessop acknowledged taking some of those women as his own wives. Records seized by Texas authorities in the 2008 raid of the YFZ Ranch show Jessop had 11 wives as of 2006. Jessop says he has many fewer wives now.

Within his new group, polygamy is still practiced, but Jessop has condemned the practice of compelling young girls to marry. Teenage girls are to be provided with options and if they choose to marry, are to be warned of the implications.

"We do not want to do anything that breaks the law," he said.

On the topic of marriage, he later added: "We’ll encourage [girls] to be of age and learn the qualities of life and to enjoy life and not get into something they regret."

Jessop also advocates work and education as options for women.

Jessop has more to go on than his dodgy ordination by Rulon Jeffs and one-time favor of the jailed prophet. In 2007 Warren Jeffs apparently tried to hand him the leadership role, declaring himself to be too "wicked" to continue as the leader of FLDS. Jeffs was in jail for a different rape related offense than he is currently incarcerated for. When he called Jessop, he confessed to incest and pedophilia, and handed over the reigns.

Okay. I have this message. The lord has intervened and detected me to myself. He has shown me that I have not held priesthood since I was 20 years old, having been immoral with a sister and a daughter. And father pointing his finger to me was father’s test on all of us.

I know of your ordination, that you are the keyholder and I have sent a note with my signature verifying it so that there is no question, according to Section 43, although not valid.

All the ordinance work since father’s passing has to be redone and there’s many men that were sent away that do hold priesthood and their families will need to be put back.

And then to say this to you. I am one of the most wicked men on the face of the earth since the days of Father Adam.

Shortly thereafter, Jeffs thought better of his abdication, and excommunicated Jessop instead, sending him to Wisconsin to repent for unspecified offenses.

Now one might think that such a series of events would have convinced Jessop that Warren Jeffs was not a leader worth following, but one would be wrong. After thirteen months of Wisconsin exile, he was readmitted and directed to readmit some other men who had been previously expelled. He stayed in the fold, despite nagging concerns about Jeffs's paranoid proclamations from prison and the increasingly poor, barren conditions of the flock.

In early 2011, Willie Jessop showed him evidence of Jeffs's crimes, including his sexual abuse of a 12 year old girl.

"The voice that I was hearing was not the voice of God," Jessop explained.  

Jessop attempted to seize the FLDS presidency and assets but Jeffs countered and maintained his legal title. So Jessop started his own congregation in Short Creek and invited the members of FLDS to leave the diseased organization and its pedophile leader. He has attracted a following to his kinder, gentler FLDS Lite. (His new church doesn't have a name yet.) His followers are free to eat things other than beans and water, play games, and one assumes, have sex with their spouses... however many of those they may have. In other words, they can return to a lifestyle prohibited by Jeffs, as he requires his membership to share in his jail cell suffering.

Jessop's following is made up of people who were excommunicated by Jeffs and there is a lot of fear among these apostates, as he continues to exert his influence.

Many of the families in Jessop’s congregation are small for a polygamous community. Few men appear with multiple wives, and no one has more than a handful of children. Several adults even sit alone.

Attendance at the meeting is a testament to the conflicts that have ripped through Short Creek in recent years. After Warren Jeffs took control of the FLDS church in 2002, he unleashed mass purges. Many men were kicked out and their wives and children ordered into new families. Husbands, wives and children were separated. Today, even from a Texas prison, Jeffs reportedly continues to control the church and expel members for any reason, including attending Jessop’s Sunday services.

Many, but not all, members of Jessop’s congregation are consequently secretive. They eschew media attention, and attendance this day may have been smaller due to the presence of Salt Lake Tribune staffers. Several group members pointed to white security cameras on nearby buildings, saying they exist to catch people attending Jessop’s congregation or engaging in other activities barred by Jeffs’ self-described revelations.

FLDS is on an ugly and dangerous path to self-destruction, but it still seems to count thousands as members, at least that's the claim. It will be interesting to see how many of its refugees wind up in the Jeffs-free version of their church and what that will look like down the line.

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