The Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS) is a denomination that is part of the Latter Day Saint family of churches. Completely independent from any other Latter Day Saint church, the FLDS Church is neither ecclesiastically nor organizationally connected to the Salt Lake City based Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. With a total membership of between six and ten thousand adherents, the fundamentalist sect is one of the smaller denominations within the Latter Day Saint movement.
The FLDS Church is part of a phenomenon within the Latter Day Saint religion that is referred to as Mormon fundamentalism. According to legend, LDS Church president John Taylor called together and set apart a group of men in 1877 for a special mission. Much pressure was being brought upon the LDS Church to abandon the practice of polygamy, or plural marriage. Purportedly, this group of men were ordained by Taylor and charged with a mission to continue the practice, even if the institutional church should one day choose to renounce it.
During the early years of the 20th century, what would become known as the FLDS established a community in the area of modern day Hilldale, Utah and Colorado City, Arizona. Named the Short Creek community, the location offered a haven for any Latter-day Saints who remained convinced that plural marriage was a necessary point of doctrine and practice.
In 1935, the LDS Church formally excommunicated the residents of Short Creek, thus completing the split that had begun so many years before. John Y. Barlow took up the cause of organizing the group, creating a central administration to oversee the spiritual and temporal well being of the group. A Presiding Council was formed that, along with the prophet for the group, would interpret doctrine and arrange for the assignment of wives to the men in the group, as well as preside at the marriage or sealing ceremonies that were understood to make the union spiritually valid. The Council continued to function through most of the administration of Rulon Jeffs, although the Council would ultimately be disbanded, placing all authority in the hand of the group’s prophet.
As the spiritual leader for the FLDS, the prophet is responsible for governing what is termed The Law of Placing, which simply means that the prophet will determine which females will be assigned to which male as a plural wife. The prophet also has the ability to cancel the placing and give the female and her children to another man, if her husband is deemed to be unfaithful to the leadership of the church. The church has been attacked for placing underage girls with older men as plural wives, a practice that is not part of the belief system of other Mormon polygamist groups. Along with polygamy, these fundamentalists practice what is known as the United Order of Enoch. Essentially a community where all things are held in common, the United Order owned all properties occupied by members of the church, as well as the buildings used for business. Currently, the United Order used to create the Short Creek community is managed by the Utah Attorney General’s office.
In the early 21st century, the Church purchased property near Eldorado, Texas. Under the leadership of current prophet and president Warren Jeffs, a number of members moved to the property and established a growing community. Named the YFZ Ranch (short for Yearning For Zion), the compound is also the site of the first FLDS temple ever built. Other communities currently remain in Utah and Arizona, as well as some members in Colorado and parts of Canada.
Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints leader Warren Jeffs was arrested in Nevada in August of 2006. Among the formal charges against Jeffs were sexual assault of a minor in 2002, the conspiracy to commit sexual assault on a minor in the same year, and flight to avoid prosecution. In addition, the Church was placed on the hate group list operated by the Southern Poverty Law Center in 2005, based on remarks made by Jeffs to his flock.