Warren Jeffs and Joseph Smith… alike?
Polygamist Mormon sect leader Warren Jeffs shares some qualities with founder of Mormon faith
Warren Jeffs, leader of a Mormon sect called the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints (FLDS), was convicted on August 4 of child rape. The victims of the sex crimes, two girls who were 12 and 15 when the crimes were committed, were forced into Jeffs’ harem of polygamous wives at the Yearning for Zion Ranch in West Texas, a compound owned by the FLDS. Among other forms of sexual misconduct, these underage “spiritual wives” were coerced into participating in “heavenly comfort” training sessions in which they performed sexual acts with Jeffs to, as he claims, revive him spiritually and bring them closer to God. Due to the severity of his crimes, Jeffs will serve a lifetime sentence in prison and will not be eligible for parole until he is 100 years of age.
The conviction and sentencing of Jeffs brings about the long-awaited end to a trial which began when he was extradited to Texas in December of 2010 in order to be tried for the aforementioned sex crimes which he committed. The two victims comprise a small fraction of Jeffs’ 24 underage wives, of a total of 78 polygamous spouses he is reported to have.
This is not the first time Jeffs has appeared in front of a judge and jury for criminal misconduct. In May of 2006, Jeffs was placed on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted List when he fled his home state of Utah to avoid going to court after being accused of arranging the unlawful marriages of underage girls. Jeffs was arrested by August of 2006 and, little more than a year later, was sentenced with two counts of rape as an accomplice. Between the time of Jeffs’ arrest and conviction, a Mohave County court found him guilty of two counts of sexual conduct with a minor and two counts of incest in a completely separate pair of crimes.
Jeffs routinely justifies his sexual abuse of underage women in religious terms; a tape played during the prosecution catches him referring to the sex acts he performed with his victims as a gift from God and a method of purification.
In addition to enforcing strict modes of antiquated dress and living, FLDS leaders like Jeffs have been know to redistribute wives amongst its male members and excommunicate men from the faith altogether to reduce competition for potential wives. The FLDS, which claims to have over 10,000 members and left the mainstream Mormon faith over 70 years ago, openly accepts polygamy and the marriage of underage girls; many of the young women Jeffs married were happily given away by their parents.
Despite his sect’s split from mainstream Mormonism, Jeffs likens himself to Joseph Smith, the founder of the Latter Day Saint Movement and the Mormon faith. While conventional wisdom sees Jeffs’ actions and beliefs as reprehensible, it is not unlikely that Smith might not have felt the same were he alive today.
Both men were advocates of “celestial” plural marriage, where men are required to take multiple wives in order to reach the highest levels of “exaltation”, or godhood, in heaven. Both men firmly believed that adherents of their faiths should have the ability to disregard laws which run contrary to their religious practices. Smith even preached the idea that “congress has no power to make a law that would abridge the rights of my religion,” a concept which both Smith and Jeffs used to justify the breaking of laws. Like Jeffs, Smith frequently had trouble with the law throughout his life. Among other things, Smith was tried for pretending to find lost treasures, marrying other men’s wives, and suppressing free speech.
While many may believe that no modern, conventional religion incorporates beliefs or practices akin to the FLDS’ cult-like and law-breaking ones, the modern-day Mormon faith is the successor to a long lineage of a bizarre spirituality. Here are some of the founding principles of the Mormon church, as preached by Joseph Smith, which modern-day Latter Day Saints still believe in.
Joseph Smith was visited as a teenager by God and Jesus. They told him that the Christianity of the day had been led astray by Satan and that Smith would one day found the “true church”.
An angel by the name of Moroni visited Smith and told him of an ancient Hebrew history which lay buried near his home in New York. Through the guidance of Moroni, Smith was able to recover several golden tablets, on which this history was recorded, and translate them from the “reformed Egyptian” language which Smith claimed they were written in using specialized seeing stones called “Urim and Thummim”. These translations were formed into the Book of Mormon, which is considered to be scripture by Mormons.
The Hebrews who left the golden tablets were led by God front the eastern end of the Mediterranean Sea to America in three groups between 2200 BC to 600 BC. Amongst these Hebrews were prophets of God and people who were inspired by Jesus Christ (even though he would not be born for another two thousand years).
Smith claimed that American Indians were the descendants of non-believers who traveled with the God-following Hebrews to America and then wiped out them out through a long series of conflicts.
Jesus visited the Americas during his short lifespan and converted its inhabitants, according to Smith.
Smith received revelations from God throughout his life. These revelations were transcribed into a book called Doctrine and Covenants, which is considered to be scripture by Mormons.
The only true Christian church is the Mormon church, as Smith was able to restore the “true church” through the revelations he received from God.
The Universal Life Church Monastery has prepared this article to point out the dangers of religious fundamentalism, the bizarre nature of Smith’s teachings and to draw a connection between the man who started the Church of Latter Day Saints and a man who now claims to be his spiritual descendant. While Jeffs’ religious justification for the immoral treatment of women in the FLDS may seem reprehensible to most, over ten million Mormons throughout the world follow the teachings of Joseph Smith, a man who advocated similar practices and propagated unconventional – and sometimes questionable – Christian beliefs. If Smith was able to convince millions of people throughout the world to adhere to his peculiar belief system, could a man like Jeffs do the same in the future with his perverted take on Christianity (especially given the similarity between the LDS and FLDS)? Could a cult-like organization like the FLDS one day evolve into the next home-grown American religion?
While Mormons claim Joseph Smith died as a martyr for his beliefs in a jail in Carthage, Illinois, there is significant historical evidence that Smith was killed in a gun battle with a mob he had incited by urging the destruction of a newspaper which published unflattering statements about him. If it were given the opportunity, the ULC would urge Jeffs to decide whether or not Smith was wrongfully assassinated as a true man of God or if, as a self-styled prophet who believed he was not beholden to the laws of the land, Smith was an unfortunate victim to animosity he created.
Note: this piece was not meant to bad-mouth Mormons or the Mormon faith… just the crazy ones.