Imprisoned Warren Jeffs imposes change on polygamous sect

By Jennifer Dobner

Associated Press

Published: Sunday, Jan. 15 2012 12:00 a.m. MST

From prison Jeffs shepherds his flock through messages passed to visitors, letters and phone calls, including two on Christmas Day that were played over speakerphones to followers gathered at a meeting house in Hildale, Utah. That violation of prison rules earned Jeffs a 90-day suspension of his phone privileges.

Jessop said Jeffs' "United Order" requirements were once loosely used as conditions for living at the faith's Yearning for Zion Ranch near Eldorado, Texas.

But about a year ago, Jeffs said the rules would be globally imposed on church members living in the twin towns along the Utah-Arizona border, Hildale and Colorado City, Ariz., and in church enclaves in South Dakota and British Columbia, said Jessop.

As the end of 2011 approached, the pressure to meet the standards increased, former church members still living in Hildale and Colorado City say.

"We started to hear about (church leaders) kicking people out," said Isaac Wyler, who was excommunicated in 2004. "We heard that at the end of the year (members) were going to be destroyed if they weren't chosen."

Among the newly reinforced rules: No Internet access, no recreation equipment or toys and no sexual relations between spouses without Jeffs' permission, which mean no children being born in the community.

Members are also expected to give 100 percent of their earnings to the church, meeting only their basic needs through goods obtained from a church cooperative known as the Bishop's Storehouse.

Former FLDS member Richard Holm, who was excommunicated by Warren Jeffs, believes the recent crackdown on members shows a level of desperation among the church's senior most leaders that's not been previously seen by the FLDS community.

"I think there's an evolution taking place that is a major change," said Holm, whose brother remained a senior church leader until he, too, was ejected about six weeks ago. "I'm really glad to see people one by one break free of it."

But the evolution will come slowly for some, Jessop predicts.

Obedience and a mistrust of the outside world run deep in FLDS culture. Church members trust each other and their prophet above all others and many don't believe news reports — if they have seen them at all — about Warren Jeffs' sexual misdeeds with underage girls are true.

In addition, Jessop said, Jeffs' previous criminal conviction in Utah was overturned — seemingly proving the church leader's predictions that prayer and obedience would set him free. Then and now, he's told members he remains imprisoned because they are not keeping church covenants and living worthy lives.

Most FLDS have also had few personal interactions with Jeffs, whom Jessop said worked overtime to keep the flock from knowing all that he did.

"What he teaches is so opposite of what he did," said Jessop. "You never got to see the man behind the curtain and there were so many curtains and so much secrecy."

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