FLDS vs. WOFF – The Similarities – Part 1

     “To Follow by faith alone is to follow blindly.” Benjamin Franklin

     In “Lost Boy” (copyright©2009 by Brent Jeffs and Maia Szalavitz, ISBN-978-0-7696-3177-9) , Brent Jeffs outlines the message he heard preached over and over. It was the basis used for the authority over the lives of the members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of latter Day Saints (FLDS). From his account and others, the preaching and practice seemed to match.

“…We, your leaders, know the Word of God; you must obey us. … Whatever God requires is right, no matter what it is, … We know what’s good for you. We are God’s prophets, seers and revelators. Our revelations come straight from God Himself… I love you and want to save you in the Celestial Kingdom of God. So, if you will keep the grand teaching that we are trying to get over: Keep the Holy Spirit of God! Keep sweet! It is a matter of life and death.”  (page 60) (emphasis added by blog author)

     Later in the book when describing a survivalist training class taught at the church school: “Like everything else, it made sense only retrospectively- as yet another way the church leadership terrorized and controlled the people. By frightening us, they ensured we would obey unthinkingly, rather than considering how absurd their prophecies really were. It is amazing how well fear can work to surpress rational thought, something I unfortunately experienced over and over during my time in the church.” (page 99) (emphasis added by author)

     These statements and practices were obviously used as a basis for the power and authority structure of FLDS. As with many cults, the authority over the lives of the members was far reaching and fear based. First and foremost in FLDS was dictating the family structure. Wives and children were assigned to men with no consideration for personal feelings. Other daily matters like dress, hairstyle, job selection and entertainment choices were determined by leadership in the church. (reference pages: 26- living arrangements, 56- television,  72- clothing, 90-clothes during swimming, 102 -relationships, 104- idolatry, in the pictures notice the white shirts on the men in picture of them dressed for church, page 185- job selection, http://tiny.cc/5coTU pictures of children dressed alike and the list goes on…)     

     What was similar to this at Word of Faith Fellowship (WOFF)? Are simple everyday matters of life controlled by Jane Whaley or other lieutenants? Let me begin by noting that not everybody is in the exact same situation at any one given time, in a group like WOFF. New members have been given “more grace” in times past. Also, not every veteran member is required to accept the same control measures from Jane or other lieutenants on every point. My inside knowledge of WOFF stopped July 8, 2008. It actually began to wane before that – starting June 6, 2008. All that being said, I have NO evidence of any major changes within the group from any source either inside or outside.  I am told by a source closer to WOFF, that things for the children have “lightened up”. (more on that later…)   

     So, the degree of oversight or “control” felt by each individual member is different at different times in different situations.  Like FLDS, ” This is the principle on which the government of heaven is conducted- by revelation adapted to the circumstance in which the children of the kingdom are placed“.  (page 60)  

     Now that the disclaimers are finished, we will discuss one area of control exercised in both groups. FLDS: “Reporting in was one of the many ways the church leadership monitored the members. Once a month, every man would report on his life and sins to his priesthood head. Nothing was off limits. You had to tell everything…. You knew it would filter up to Warren if it was bad enough.” (page 120)

     In WOFF, this was called “opening your heart“. It was not limited to once a month and not just to men.  Everyone from children up was encouraged to “tell all” and keep your heart open to the person “taking hold of your life“.  And yes, you knew that “it would filter up to Jane if it was bad enough”… Many times other folks would be implicated and interrogated because of a child’s confession of a matter to an adult that was not their parent. Spouses would tell on spouses and co-workers on co-workers for things done that “may not feel right”..  There was a highly developed reporting system of these “open your heart” sessions.

     “This kept Warren and his henchmen on top of all the gossip and gave them material to use against you if they wanted leverage to keep you in check.” (page 121) The guise was to help, the function and purpose was to control in FLDS and WOFF. More in the posts to come….

P.S. Is there trouble brewing in Brazil?

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FLDS vs. WOFF – the Similarities

     Our next series of postings will be detailing the similarities between the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS) formerly run by Warren Jeffs compared to Word of Faith Fellowship (WOFF) run by Jane Whaley. These similarities will not be in any certain order. By no means will the subject be covered in one post. This subject looks to be an ongoing extended series. This subject matter seems profound and voluminous at this point.

     Before we start, I want to extend a “Presidential type shout-out” to all the good readers at WOFF. One of them called me a couple weekends ago to confess he had been reading my work. He had some “concerns” and for some of them- I want to say “Thank you!”. His call was ended abruptly when my phone died. But, I do appreciate the “help” as the motivation to share what I have learned went through the roof! Thanks, for the encouragement.  🙂

     Again, the material for this series comes from several sources. The main book source for FLDS material is “Lost Boy”  by Brent Jeffs with Maia Szalavitz ( Copyright 2009). The main source for WOFF material is my own experience and remembrances of my direct involvement in WOFF. These “life events” span a period of about sixteen years from 1992 to 2008. Since taking notes during church services became prohibited at some point a few years ago; (more on that later…) I do not claim total accuracy with dates and order of events. However, the main point of the material will be as acccurate as my memory allows. Any subsequent versions of the following events may be debated and could certainly be a great subject of open and free debate. (if any members of WOFF wish to participate…)

     While at WOFF, it was preached several times: “No one can take your experiences away from you…”. The concept was first introduced when we were being coached on our “personal testimony” and how to share with others. The time frame may have been when the “Faith Freedom Fund” contributor’s listing was published in the local newspaper, a few years ago. Each name and local community was read aloud and everyone was asked if they knew that person. If you knew that person; you were instructed to go “give them truth”. That meant tell them why contributing the Faith Freedom Fund was bad likewise also including some of your own “personal experience” at WOFF. 

     As a matter of principle, I still adhere to that statement “No one can take your experiences away from you”.  Certainly, I also hope no one in their “right mind” either inside or outside of WOFF will attempt to dismiss without further inquiry, my experiences recorded in this series. The introduction is over… on to the series….

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FLDS vs. WOFF – the Differences

Let’s look at the differences in these two groups. Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS) formerly run by Warren Jeffs compared to Word of Faith Fellowship (WOFF) run by Jane Whaley. The basis for the comparison is information gathered from materials I have read about FLDS from those who were a part versus events and experiences I had while inside WOFF for 6 years (2002 to 2008) and traveling from Greenville, SC to attend services and seminars (1992 to 2002).

Location: FLDS is located in Utah, Arizona and Texas. WOFF is located in North Carolina along with affiliated churches in Brazil, Ghana (Africa) and Denmark. There may be followers in other locations that the author is not aware of.  The location is important because the communities where these groups function can either limit their activities or allow them to continue. Since the historic stand off called “Short Creek” ( read more here.. http://tiny.cc/ihTCw ) in July 1953; FLDS members have been allowed to continue on with polygamy. Many turned a blind eye and the social and sexual devastation has continued for years.

The 1995 infiltration of WOFF by a hidden camera toting young man was their “Short Creek”. “Inside Edition” showed scenes from inside church services that raised many questions. ( read a list of articles here.. http://tiny.cc/Yql1j ) Videos surfaced that caused many to wonder if the church was indeed safe for children. Stories surfaced of child abuse. The local DSS became involved at some point.  There was the Shana Muse custody case with its ups and downs. (http://tiny.cc/t8WVV) In a case filed against the local DSS – WOFF won a settlement in the Federal Appellate Court and had several folks from the local DSS barred from the church property as well as having DSS pay a portion of the WOFF attorney’s fees.

So, the differences between FLDS and WOFF: FLDS is run by a man or men. WOFF is run by a woman and mainly women. Within FLDS, women are considered as property to be traded or possessed. In WOFF, women are revered and their needs addressed.

FLDS membership is much larger in numbers, thousands versus locally, less than 500 for WOFF. FLDS had at one time a land trust worth over $100 million. WOFF owns several properties right around their main church property on Old Flynn Rd. The author does not suppose the holdings would total $100 million.

FLDS practices polygamy as well as underage marriage. WOFF is run by Jane Whaley. There is much control exerted over relationships between young people and married couples, but no plural marriages or condoning of sex outside of marriage that the author is aware of.

According to accounts written by survivors of FLDS, FLDS is prejudice against people of other races or nationalities. WOFF embraces people from many nations. At one time during the author’s time at WOFF; there were 19 different nations represented at WOFF.

FLDS teaches the doctrine from the Bible and the Book of Mormon. WOFF uses the Amplified version of the Christian Bible with an occasional reference to the King James version of the Bible.

FLDS has several websites to explain their views. WOFF has no such presence on the web – as far as the author can find.

Those are the main differences. Doctrinal issues not being discussed here. We will next look at the similarities between the two groups.

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Update on Three Jailed Cult Leaders

“To Follow by faith alone is to follow blindly.” Benjamin Franklin

Tony Alamo of Tony Alamo Ministries was sentenced to 175 years in Federal prison for his conviction on 10 counts of taking young girls across state lines for sex. Recently, his attorney was allowed to withdraw from his case… read here http://tiny.cc/NGab9  

Alamo Ministries website is still active, but for how long?  http://alamoministries.com/

America’s Most Wanted has put out a piece on John Erwin Kolbek. He was Tony Alamo’s enforcer and is wanted to face charges. http://tiny.cc/iHUFd  He is on the run from authorities.

Michael Travesser also known as Wayne Bent, was sentenced to ten years in prison stemming from his conviction of sexual misconduct with two young girls. He was the leader of a group called “Strong City” based in New Mexico. See more here http://tiny.cc/VAUNC 

The website for this “ministry” is still active here.. http://strongcity.info/

Prudence Welch is a survivor of this cult and has a website with more info here – http://www.travesser.info/  There also has been a special posted at National Geographic- you can learn more here.. http://tiny.cc/oXEkR

Warren Jeffs of FLDS has been sentenced to two 5 year to life sentences on two counts of being an accomplice to rape in Utah. He will serve at least 10 years for that conviction. Read more here..  http://tiny.cc/6mgiG Last January, court documents say Mr. Jeffs tried to hang himself in his cell. He is awating trial for charges in Arizona and possibly more charges in Texas. Read more here.. http://tiny.cc/i4jGr 

Warren Jeffs bio has been removed from the church website here.. http://tiny.cc/2YK72 

There is a website that shows pictures and videos of the 400 or so children being removed from YFZ Ranch in Eldorado, Texas…  http://www.captivefldschildren.org/

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Reflections from “CHURCH OF LIES” – Flora Jessop

Flora Jessop had a struggle when she left FLDS, that hopefully no one will have to repeat. She tried many vices and suffered much hurt. After eight years, she came to the realization that it was time to stop running.

A quote from her book.. “After eight brutally hard years in the real world, I’d begun to have a glimmer of hope– maybe I really was worth something. I might be destined to burn for eternity, but I sure as hell was here now.  (new paragraph) I’d never give up what those first years on my own taught me. ..I learned that thinking for myself wasn’t such a bad thing after all.” (page 154)

Yes! There was an idea I could identify with. It was “thinking for myself” that had led to my exit from Word of Faith Fellowship. The two thoughts I had in May of 2008- “The people of the church were more afraid of Jane Whaley than God and that is what made us open to being called a cult”. Next, I had been looking up information on “shepherding movement” on the Internet. Though I had heard some about that movement a few years previous, I did not know the particulars. I began to see that much of what went on in that movement was going on at Word of Faith Fellowship. Intentional or not, it was the same in many regards.

Weeks later in June of 2008;  I shared my thoughts and doings with one of the church leadership. I knew sparks would fly and the consequences may be severe. So, two hours later I got a call from this person saying “I called Jane and told her about our conversation. She says you are out of the church. You need to get your heart right.” So, there I was kicked out. Turned out to be shakey at first. But, that was the common result for “thinking for myself” and not doing as the church preached- “submit your thoughts to God’s authority”.  That was code for only voicing good thoughts about Jane Whaley, her decisions, others in the church. If you had a “stray thought”, you were to come tell someone in leadership so it could be “dealt with”. You were to come “get Truth on the matter”. Critical thinking was not allowed or encouraged. Many times it was insinuated and in some cases voiced- “your own thoughts will take you to hell.. Don’t you know that the natural mind is an enmity against God!” That of course was meant to put fear in everyone for not having their thoughts “checked out”.

Flora Jessop shares in her book the struggles of other children coming out of FLDS and learning to think for themselves. She recounts the struggles of one girl just to decide how to pick up her clothes off the floor in her room. These girls had been told EVERYTHING to do and HOW to do it for years. Simple decisioning was a major struggle. (pages 181 and 213) This is the result of being under mind control and not having any confidence in your decisions without Church leader control.

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What is “Shunning”?

What is “shunning”? 

 shun – to keep away from; avoid scrupulously or consistently.
(Webster’s New World Dictionary)

– to keep clear of; avoid. (Funk and Wagnalls Standard Desk Dictionary)

Flora Jessop in CHURCH OF LIES  (see previous post..)  tells about her experience with “shunning”…

When she returned from running away with her friend, she expected to be shunned. (page 65) She defined shunning according to FLDS beliefs as “all love and affection is withheld”.. In her mind, she deserved it. But, her mother just put her arms around her and loved her. Her Dad on the other hand, reacted differently.

Later in the book, Flora describes being shunned for 2 years as she was confined to her room. She had no contact with her Mom or Dad. That was her reward for running away. She would work all day and then be confined to her room. On page 83, she describes the emotional toll the shunning was taking on her. Though my time of being shunned was not that severe, I could relate very much to the emotional toll that shunning and isolation had on her.

Why would Flora “expect” to be shunned? Could it be she had seen others be shunned and had actually shunned those “worthy” of being shunned? Yes, from personal experience, I would say that shunning was no secret to her. She had broken the rules of the sect. She knew how others had been treated when rules were broken. 

My experience in a strong controlling group mirrors Flora’s in many respects. During my time at Word of Faith Fellowship; I had seen others shunned and even participated in shunning. Once a person is put on “church discipline” or “put out of the church”; you didn’t speak to them unless you had permission from authority. This was shunning. I have seen folks go for weeks without contact or conversation with family or friends. This was supposed to “help them repent” and come “back under authority”. One fellow was quarantined for months. He spoke only to one person. He read only his Bible. He had meals brought to him. At times, his friends would take food to him when leadership would forget to feed him.  He stayed in a make shift bedroom at a large metal warehouse/office building. He was brought into the church and allowed to watch the services on a closed circuit television.

Starting in April until July of  2008, I was the subject of shunning. My family and other members of the household did not talk to me or eat with me. Hugs would become off limit and “no chatty conversation”. My wife would talk to me, but only to make her point that I needed to repent and “come back to God”. It was during this time, that I found out what lack of love and contact from those you loved could do to a person. What was even more stark and shocking was that the ones around me seemed to consider this behavior of shunning as normal and acceptable. Even if they had not believed it in their heart, they were pressured to go along with the shunning because that was the prescribed treatment for those like me. I was not following the admonitions of those in “leadership”. In order for them to keep in good standing, they had to shun me or risk being accused of “giving to the same devils” that were in me.

 In July of 2008, I left the controlling group- Word of Faith Fellowship. My family stayed. On June 6, 2008, I had been “put out of the church” and the shunning had gone to a new level. Since that time, contact with my family has been limited. In many regards, I am still being shunned.  

As Flora Jessop recounts in her book (pg 271), that she tried to contact her family once she had left the group. One account tells of a sister refusing to speak civil to her in a parking lot of a grocery store. Flora encouraged her to “..go back and read her books. I guarantee you, God doesn’t say, “Throw your family away like trash.”. (because they believe differently..)  The conversation was all to familiar. The practice of shunning is a common trait of many cult groups.

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Book Review: Church of LIES by Flora Jessop

The book CHURCH OF LIES written by Flora Jessop and Paul T. Brown is revealing and sad in many ways. Once I began reading, it was hard to put it down! Flora was born into the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS). She was born into the sect that would eventually be led by the now imprisioned- Warren Jeffs. She credits many folks for helping her and starts by saying the book’s purpose is not about blame.

What I knew about this cult before reading the book was limited as most folks would have to acknowledge. I had seen the headlines when the State of Texas took the 400 or so children from the Yearning for Zion compound. There were headlines- “FLDS Ruled by Fear”, FLDS leader Warren Jeffs awaits criminal trial in Arizona and Ex-FLDS member: courts making mistake by returning kids.. (see this site for a more comprehensive list… http://flds-news.newslib.com/  )  Shock and disbelief followed as many children were returned though there was compelling evidence for abuse.

The author leaves little if anything out of some very detailed accounts of the abuse she suffered at the hands of her father. She witnessed some cases of abuse of other children and adults first hand. From other accounts and court testimony, she was not singled out. The abuse inside that group has been well documented.

Once she escaped the first time at 14, her struggles to adjust to the outside world were revealing. Her re-entry and the details of her subsequent second escape from FLDS were gripping and shocking. To the group that helped her and still helps others- Thank You!

This book is one of many written by survivors of FLDS, polygamy and controlling religious authority. By writing this book, the author does not claim to be perfect. She NEVER claims to stop loving her family and specifically her mother. She reached out to those of her family that were still in the sect – many times. Her struggles in family relationships were ones I could relate to very well.

In 2004, Brent Jeffs, a survivor of FLDS and later author of Lost Boy; filed charges of molestation against three of his Uncles. One was Warren Jeffs. This was the first time legal charges had been filed against Warren Jeffs. That case proved to be pivotal in bringing Warren Jeffs to justice.

As I read this book I was compelled to take notes. The content of those notes will be in subsequent postings. The work Flora Jessop and others do to help those wanting to break free from FLDS is praiseworthy and admirable in EVERY sense of the word.

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