Some background on FLDS polygamy:
There are a lot of misconceptions about the FLDS community. A lot of people mistakenly lump FLDS polygamists in with the LDS Mormon faith. The “F” in FLDS stands for fundamentalist, in that they strictly adhere to what was originally a tenant of Mormon faith (being polygamy), while the LDS church has since disowned the practice.
Unlike the mainstream polygamists you may have seen on the TLC show Sister Wives or in the HBO show Big Love, FLDS polygamists mostly live in isolation in Hildale, Utah and Colorado City, Arizona. They also have communities in Eldorado, Texas, Bountiful in British Columbia, and Pringle, South Dakota, among others. This isolation may due be in large part to the incarceration of the church’s current leader and prophet, Warren Jeffs, who’s serving a life sentence for being an accomplice in two rapes.
All that being said, here are some things you may not have known about the FLDS community before.
1. 57-year-old Warren Jeffs remains the leader of the FLDS church, even though he’s behind bars for two felony counts of child sexual assault.*
How it came to be: Upon his father’s death in 2002, Warren succeeded him as the leader and prophet of the church.
*He’s serving life in prison as a result of being an accomplice in the rapes of a 12 year old and 15-year-old girl. He was also charged, though not convicted, on counts of incest and rape himself.
2. Warren Jeffs allegedly has something like 80 wives.
This is a photo of some of Warren’s wives, in their Easter best*!
*Just kidding, they wear pastel all the damn time.
3. The FLDS church has anywhere between 7,000 and 10,000 followers, it’s kind of hard to keep track.
How it came to be: In the early 20th century, the FLDS church splintered off from the mainstream Mormon faith and took up shop in the twin border towns of Colorado City, Ariz., and Hildale, Utah. Based off of a census of those two areas, the population looks to be approximately 7,547. However, since the church has other outposts in Colorado, South Dakota, Texas and British Columbia, that number could be much higher.
4. FLDS polygamists are allowed to drink alcohol and coffee, even though regular LDS Mormons can’t.
How it came to be: You may remember devout Mormon Mitt Romney saying that he’d never tried alcohol because, “It’s a religious thing. I tasted a beer and tried a cigarette once, as a wayward teenager, and never did it again.”
Even though a little nip may be against the LDS Mormon rules, it’s not the same for the FLDS. The FLDS managed to split from the mainstream Mormon church before they began their strict enforcement of the faith’s health code against alcohol, tobacco, tea and coffee. Many polygamist compounds have coffee shops and even bars to drink at. So, bottoms up!
5. The FLDS believes that some sins require blood atonement.
How it came to be: Back in the early days of Mormonism, one of the original prophets, Brigham Young, taught that for certain sins you could shed your own blood for forgiveness. However, he extended that beyond personal sacrifice, and also encouraged his followers to spill the blood of others who committed serious sins.
And before Warren Jeffs’s incarceration, it was reported that he often preached a type of blood atonement that said you could kill a sinner in order to gain access to heaven. So, watch your backs, heathens!
6. The FLDS doesn’t vote in the presidential elections, because they believe Warren Jeffs is the President of the United States.
What this means: Here’s something weird: While FLDS members in Colorado City cast plenty of votes for the U.S. Senate, U.S. House of Representatives, and state and local races, they don’t really vote for the president. If they did vote in the 2012 election, it was for Mitt Romney, obviously, but in general there were very few presidential votes cast.
Why the FLDS don’t vote for the president: It might have something to do with the fact that they believe Warren Jeffs is the President of the United States.
7. If you live in the FLDS community, you’re probably aged 19 or younger.
How it came to be: The census data for Colorado City, the largest FLDS enclave, revealed that 67 percent of the population there is 19 or younger. Additionally, the median age is 12.6.
8. Very few people who raise families and live in the FLDS community ever own their own homes.
How it came to be: The good folks at The Salt Lake Tribune did a little digging and found that in Colorado City only 10.6 percent of the homes are owner occupied, compared to 70.4 percent for the state of Utah. So, why such a big disparity? Likely it’s because the FLDS-created trust, the United Effort Plan, owns most of the properties. (Which means they can kick you out at any time, too.)
9. The FLDS doesn’t celebrate Valentine’s day anymore. :(
How it came to be: Sure, this is a tough holiday for anyone, but it must be a little tougher when you’ve got a couple of wives to make happy. Currently, the FLDS doesn’t celebrate much, but they used to have the poly kids make their moms and dad a card. And way before that, some of the poly communities even held dances and socials to bring the community together.
10. You’ll never see an FLDS woman’s ankles.
How it came to be: The practice of wearing prairie dresses and covering every inch of flesh didn’t actually start until after a 1953 raid on the Colorado City compound.
Why their clothing’s restricted: According to some, there are a few practical polygamy reasons. Firstly being that a uniform dress discourages fellow wives from feeling jealous of each other. Secondly, it prevents men who aren’t your husband from throwing lustful glares. And lastly, they’re trying to get the attention of very important NYC fashion designers who might model their fall shows after the looks*.
(*I made that up, sorry.)
11. The FLDS community has its own genetic condition, which leads to a lot of unfortunate infant deaths.
How it came to be: In a small community where men are marrying a couple of women and there are only so many folks to choose from, the problem is that they might be related to some of those women. So, what happens when cousins marry each other, or even closer relations in some cases? Genetic issues come into play.
In fact, the Colorado City/Hildale area has the world’s highest incidence of something commonly known as “Polygamist’s Down’s,” but more scientifically called fumarase deficiency. It’s an extremely rare genetic condition that only occurs when there’s, well, a lot of genetic inbreeding.
12. Polygamist women never cut their hair, like, ever.
How it came to be: It’s not because they all want to be princesses, it’s because they plan to use their hair to wash Christ’s feet during the Second Coming. That’s not a joke. Also? They will wash their hubby’s feet with it in heaven. Also, not a joke.
13. There’s a free zoo in the Colorado City polygamist community, that features a zebra, elk, and a camel.
How it came to be: Named the Fred M. Jessop zoo after the last founding father of Colorado City, it’s rumored to be an easy diversion for the town’s kids.
14. The color red is forbidden!
Why it’s forbidden: It’s not for the obvious reason that red is a sultry color. No, the FLDS followers can’t wear red because that’s Jesus’s fave color. OK, maybe not his fave, but it’s believed to be the color Jesus will wear when he returns to earth at the end of days.
Fun fact: Warren Jeffs was driving a red car, when the FBI picked him up in 2006, even though he banned the color.
15. By marrying three or more wives, you’re getting yourself a ticket to heaven.
How it came to be: While it’s not required, at least three wives is the ideal number to have in order to reach the highest level of heaven. In terms of when polygamy was introduced, that goes way back to the founding of Mormonism. It started as early as the 1830s, when founder Joseph Smith started teaching the practice as a heavenly thing to do.
Fun facts: Along with a minimum of three wives, in order to grant yourself a heavenly pass, all families must practice FLDS, marriages must be arranged by the prophet, and, at the end of your life, the prophet has to give his approval for you to enter heaven. Yeesh, them’s a lot of things.
16. FLDS mothers are discouraged from hugging and kissing their children
How it came about: In the FLDS church, there’s a belief that the only people who should make a child feel valued are the head of the household (read: the father) or the prophet.
17. The mantra of the FLDS is “Keep Sweet.”
How it came about: The prophet Rulon Jeffs, Warren Jeffs’s father, made the phrase popular in the early ’90s, and it meant to fill yourself with the Holy Spirit. However, the meaning changed dramatically as Warren took over.
What it means: Today many FLDS members recognize “keep sweet” as a reminder to keep control of your emotions. Which comes in handy when you’ve got to deal with a bunch of sister wives.
18. The FLDS think African Americans and regular Mormons are the devil.
How it came about: As the FLDS community became increasingly isolated from the outside world, teachings increased about the evils of “gentiles,”(non FLDS members), and the corruption they bring through idol worship (i.e. totes loving TV and cell phones).
What it means: According to the FLDS, the worst of the evil gentiles are African Americans. The reason? Their evil rap music. (Not a joke.) They also call regular LDS Mormons, including Mitt Romney, part of the “abominable church of the devil,” since they let African American members take the priesthood.
19. FLDS men can’t have sex with their pregnant wives.
How it came about: The FLDS believe sex is strictly for procreation, so if your wife is already with child there’s no point to it.
Fun Facts: Recently the prophet Warren Jeffs issued an edict that says married couples aren’t to have sex or even touch. Think that sounds bad? If a woman wants to get pregnant, Jeffs has hand picked 15 “trusted” men from the community to father potential children. So, to summarize: No sex with your hubby, but you get your pick of 15 other dudes.