HILDALE — As the year comes to an end and the followers of Warren Jeffs await the apocalypse he has predicted, they're living under a challenging edict: they're forbidden to have sex until Jeffs is sprung from a Texas prison.
"He has predicted that the walls in the prison where he's at will fall and crumble," said Joni Holm, who has many relatives in the polygamous FLDS faith.
According to Holm, Fundamentalist LDS Church members also face their faith's most severe punishment, excommunication, if they conceive a child.
It's one of the strangest edicts in a season full of them. Jeffs has issued a stream of revelations, prophecies and orders to his congregation in the border community of Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz.
Right now they have all been told that they are not to live as husband and wife. They can live in the same house, but they are not to have sexual relationships until Warren comes out and re-seals them.
–Joni Holm, relative of FLDS members
The recent edicts from Jeffs' prison cell seem to be having two contradictory effects: Many are leaving the FLDS faith in disgust, and those who stay are reported to be increasingly devoted to a man who is serving a lifetime sentence for raping underage girls.
According to numerous critics and outside observers, the imprisoned FLDS leader has sometimes acted through his brother Lyle and other times has spoken directly to his congregation over the phone from prison. He recently banned many of the things his followers enjoy: bicycles, ATVs, trampolines, even children's toys. But the sex edict reaches into the bedrooms of all his devoted followers.
According to Holm, Jeffs declared all existing marriages to be void.
"Right now they have all been told that they are not to live as husband and wife," Holm said. "They can live in the same house, but they are not to have sexual relationships until Warren comes out and 're-seals' them."
The sex ban was the last straw for Holm's brother-in-law. She said he left the FLDS fold three weeks ago after spending 39 years — his entire life — in the FLDS community.
Social service organizations are reporting a surge of people departing the FLDS group, although exact numbers are unavailable. Holm thinks about 100 members have left in recent weeks from the community of 10,000.
"They're leaving," Holm said. "Groups of them are coming out. We're getting families that are coming out now. It's only going to get worse."
She has helped such "refugees" for years, offering a place for them to live temporarily as they try to establish lives outside the FLDS community. Mike Leetham, coordinator of Utah's Safety Net organization, said there is currently a shortage of "host homes" for people trying to leave the group.
Holm said her brother-in-law confirmed reports that faithful members are meeting almost daily and being re-baptized. But they won't be considered married until Jeffs gets out of prison to personally "re-seal" them.
"Until then, they are not have any sexual relationships," Holm said. "It is now considered adultery."
If FLDS members have sex on the sly, any resulting children will be considered "sons of perdition," according to Holm's brother-in-law, and the parents will be instantly excommunicated.
The sex ban will be lifted only if Jeffs' latest prophecy comes true: an apocalypse that will bring down the prison walls and broil the human race.
"They believe that they'll still roam on the Earth," Holm said, "but the rest of us will be burned."
In recent weeks, FLDS members have reportedly faced intense, personal interviews with Lyle Jeffs to prove their loyalty and have been ordered to pay large financial assessments. Some members have been excommunicated. The process seems to be aimed at winnowing the FLDS down to Jeffs' most faithful followers.
Texas officials are investigating whether Jeffs violated his prison phone privileges by calling his congregation.