Continuing anti-fundamentalism week, this one from Jon Krakauer's 2003 investigative non-fiction Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith.
Straddling the Utah-Arizona border, Colorado City is home to at least three Mormon Fundamentalist sects, including the world's largest: the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. More commonly known as the United Effort Plan, or UEP, it requires its members live in strict accordance with the commandments of a frail, ninety-two-year-old tax accountant-turned-prophet named Rulon T. Jeffs. "Uncle Rulon," as he is known to his followers, traces his divinely ordained leadership in an unbroken chain that leads directly back to Joseph Smith himself.
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Uncle Rulon has married an estimated seventy-five women with whom he has fathered at least sixty-five children; several of his wives were given to him in marriage when they were fourteen or fifteen and he was in his eighties. His sermons frequently stress the need for total submission. "I want to tell you that the greatest freedom you can enjoy is in obedience," he has preached. "Perfect obedience produces perfect faith."
Like most FLDS prophets, his teachings rely heavily on fiery screeds penned in the nineteenth century by Joseph Smith and Brigham Young. Uncle Rulon likes to remind his followers of Brigham's warning that for those who commit such unspeakable sins as homosexuality, or having sexual intercourse with a member of the African race, "the penalty, under the law of God, is death on the spot. This will always be so."
Polygamy is illegal in both Utah and Arizona. To avoid persecution, typically men in Colorado City will legally marry only the first of their wives; subsequent wives, although "spiritually married" to their husband by Uncle Rulon, thus remain single mothers in the eyes of the state. This has the added benefit of allowing enormous families in town to qualify for welfare and other forms of public assistance. Despite the fact that Uncle Rulon and his followers regard the governments of Arizona, Utah, and the United States as Satanic forces out to destroy the UEP, their polygamous community receives more than $6 million a year in public funds.
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"Uncle Rulon justifies all that assistance from the wicked government by explaining that really the money is coming from the Lord," says DeLoy Bateman. "We're taught that it's the Lord's way of manipulating the system to take care of his chosen people." Fundamentalists call defrauding the government "bleeding the beast" and regard it as a virtuous act.
Uncle Rulon and his followers believe that the earth is seven thousand years old and that men have never walked on the moon; film clips showing Apollo astronauts on the lunar surface are part of an elaborate hoax foisted on the world by the American government, they say. In addition to the edict against watching television or reading newspapers, residents of Colorado City are forbidden to have any contact with people outside the UEP -- including family members who have left the religion. DeLoy, as it happens, is one such apostate.
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Upon arriving home DeLoy considered the enormity of what had just occurred: "Uncle Rulon spoke to God on a continual basis. All his wisdom and knowledge supposedly came straight from the Lord. But in a matter of moments it had become apparent to me that this man wasn't really communicating with God, or he would have known that what he accused me was a lie. Right then and there I decided to leave the Work, even though I knew it would mean the end of my life as I knew it."
When DeLoy failed to show up for the weekly priesthood meeting on the following Sunday, within twenty-four hours Uncle Rulon dispatched someone to DeLoy's house to take away his wives and children. According to UEP dogma, wives do not belong to their husbands, nor do children belong to parents; all are property of the priesthood and may be claimed at any time. Uncle Rulon declared that DeLoy's wives and progeny were to be given to another, worthier man immediately.
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Said Arizona Governor Howard Pyle after a 1953 anti-polygamy raid:Here has been a community entirely dedicated to the warped philosophy that a small handful of greedy and licentious men should have the right and the power to control the destiny of every human soul in the community.
Tags: Krakauer, Under the Banner of Heaven, fundamentalism, faith