SALT LAKE CITY — A new edict issued by imprisoned polygamist leader Warren Jeffs is raising alarm among some ex-members of his church.
The document, shared with FOX 13 News by several people, appears to call for some people to return to the Fundamentalist LDS Church and bring their children with them. Others, church observers say, are then sent away.
The revelation issued in June purports to be from Jeffs himself but says it was distributed by a son, Helaman Jeffs.
"Pray that Warren Jeffs will go free, and he can meet you in your congregations soon, all peoples who desire to be members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on earth," the document states.
It states that baptisms and "sealings in Celestial Plural Marriage unions will take place for those the Lord revealeth to mortal Keyholder Warren Steed Jeffs who is worthy." It appears to call for some to return to the faith declaring that "fathers desiring restoral can gather with their birth children, and only who was their wives on earth, with the birth children present in family groups classes in your several family homes where they dwell…"
But it also warns that some may be cast out.
"I, the Lord, loveth all, yet I cannot allow sin living to dwell among my Church membership any longer. Zion meaneth the pure in heart souls well tested, pure, faithful and true, living by every word of Jesus Christ," it states.
It also asks members to send letters with photos and information about themselves and their families.
Jeffs is currently serving a life sentence in a Texas prison after he was convicted of child sexual assault, related to the practice of underage marriages. He has routinely sent out entire books filled with his revelations, but it had died down until recently.
The Texas Department of Criminal Justice said Jeffs remains incarcerated, but the agency declined to comment on Jeffs' communications with visitors or anyone else, citing privacy guidelines.
For ex-FLDS members and observers, the latest directive is concerning because of the real-world impact it may have on peoples' lives.
"I have family members who have had their children taken away within the last few weeks," said Brenda Nicholson, an ex-member of the FLDS Church. "People are being told they’re no longer worthy enough to have their children. Children are being taken and re-distributed to others."
In the past, Jeffs has told some people they are unworthy to be a member and they have been sent away — cut off from family ties and sometimes income and housing. Others have had their families split up, with wives and children moving in with other families. That has sometimes triggered custody issues with one relative in the church, and another outside the faith.
"They get a phone call from this convicted pedophile, convicted of raping children. He gives them a call and says hand over your children and they are," Nicholson said. "It’s not what they want to do. They don’t feel like they have a choice. There’s no consent when it’s coerced."
Alina Darger, who runs the nonprofit group Cherish Families, said she has heard of people returning and others leaving the FLDS Church.
"There are people being called back to their families that have been faithful and waiting for this call for 10, 15 years or longer. And they’re elated," Darger told FOX 13 News. "And then there’s some who are called and get their families back together and they are sent away again within a week of gathering their family up. And I’m also hearing people that have said 'Thank you, but no thank you. I’ve moved on with my life.'"
Cherish Families takes no position on people's religious beliefs or feelings on polygamy, but offers resources to help those in need. Darger said she has already received phone calls from people who might be impacted by the direction the church may be going.
"We’re going to need more housing, we’re going to need more food and emergency supplies," she said. "It’s always a need that’s evolving, but we’ll see what goes on."
Many of Jeffs' loyal followers have left Hildale and Colorado City for other parts of Utah and surrounding states, a result of years of political and legal pressure from the federal government, Utah, Arizona and Texas authorities and litigation brought about by ex-FLDS members.
The Utah Attorney General's Office told FOX 13 News it was aware of Jeffs' latest edict and looking into it, but the agency declined to comment further.
Nicholson said she would like to see law enforcement take a more aggressive stance.
"Put pressure on the authorities to actually protect these children," she said. "I get really, really tired of the idea that the so-called religious freedoms of a few men to practice their deeply held beliefs, gets to trump the basic human rights of women and children. You know, laws are useless if they aren’t enforced. So far, nobody has been really willing to enforce the law."