Saturday, June 28, 2008
Centennial Park, Arizona Polygamist Community Does Not Follow Warren Jeffs And Does Not "Bleed The Beast"
On June 28th, 2008, the St. George Spectrum presented Part I of a two-part profile (Part II is to be published on July 5th) of a polygamist community in Centennial Park, Arizona, just south of Colorado City. But while they believe in plural marriage, they have nothing to do with Warren Jeffs and his FLDS Church. Pictured above left, a typical polygamist home in Centennial Park.
Their group is called "The Work of Jesus Christ", and they believe they practice the true gospel of Jesus Christ as taught by Joseph Smith and as practiced in the early Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. However they believe the mainstream LDS Church has deviated from the teachings of Smith and that they — through the priesthood of The Work of Jesus Christ — have the true authority from God on Earth. They have been the subject of media exploration in the past, most notably by ABC News back on August 14th, 2007, and by Oprah Winfrey the same year. There is also a description of the community in Wikipedia. The primary value of this account is that it is put forth by a local media outlet close to the scene with greater first-hand knowledge.
Joanne Yarrish, a typical member of this community, says she is fascinated by religion. She owns a Koran, a Torah, a Bible and a Book of Mormon. But she says the fullest gospel of Jesus Christ that she has found is within the belief system of The Work of Jesus Christ. “I go to church on Sunday and listen to the brethren (priesthood leaders) and that’s what I receive,” she says. “That’s my manna.”
The practice of plural marriage, or polygamy, is a major element of their faith that sets members of this group apart. Marlyne Hammon, who often acts as a spokeswoman for the group with the media, is in a plural marriage. She is her husband’s first wife and she has “sister wives” as they are called. “I’m converted to what I am,” Hammon says. “I’ve chosen that and it’s worked well for me.”
Hammon often touts the blessings and advantages of polygamy. The group in Centennial Park, which now numbers about 1,000 people, places a strong value on education, especially for women, so you might find many women among the group with Master’s degrees. Because of that education, there are more people in a household to contribute to a higher standard of living.
There are often allegations of welfare fraud among members of polygamous sects but those in Centennial Park say the allegations are false. On a drive through the community you’ll find plenty of large and beautiful homes — the fruits, they believe, of their faith. “The people are hard working,” says Al Yarrish, a former Catholic from the East Coast who was baptized as a member of The Work. “I don’t know anyone on welfare.”
Because they are so well trained in many industries, Al says they don’t use welfare, they get jobs. Joanne, Al’s only wife, runs the local health clinic and says all the welfare programs offered by the state of Arizona are underutilized. “People are very proud of being self sufficient,” she says. “The more ladies that come into a family, the higher the income and the better standard of living that family has.”
How did they evolve? The Centennial Park group split from the greater FLDS community in 1986 after the passing of Leroy Johnson, who was regarded as the prophet by those who practiced plural marriage in the Hildale/Colorado City area. Rulon Jeffs, Warren’s father, then became the prophet and leader of what became the FLDS church but many believed he did not have the authority to lead. Others belonging to the church’s ruling priesthood council — Jonathan Hammon and Alma Timson — split from Jeffs’ followers and created Centennial Park to provide a place for those who felt they couldn’t live in Hildale and Colorado City. Subsequently, the mainstream FLDS group under Jeffs' leadership became more hostile towards the Centennial Park group. They believe the removal of Warren Jeffs from the mainstream FLDS scene could facilitate an eventual reconciliation between the two groups.
Highlights of their lifestyle:
- They do NOT allow underage marriages. All marriages are voluntary. Note: On June 2nd, the mainstream FLDS also formally renounced underage marriages.
- They encourage women to get as completely educated as possible.
- A member of their community is NOT required to practice plural marriage. Members can practice monogamistic marriage.
- They do NOT believe in "bleeding the beast", a practice encouraged by some FLDS people. "Bleeding the beast" means targeting and exploiting as many public benefit programs as possible to "bleed" them. In this scheme, governments are considered "the beast".
- Contrary to the image projected by some FLDS groups, they do NOT believe the U.S. government is the enemy. A U.S. flag hangs at the front of the chapel in Centennial Park. Additionally, many have served in the U.S. armed forces.
- They DO dress modestly, similar to the way mainstream FLDS women dress. This encourages men to respect women, looking upon them as daughters of God to be loved and cherished, rather than cheap whores simply to be used and cast aside.
Click HERE to go to the full Spectrum story.
Analysis: The dilemma here is how to deal with a group whose lifestyle inherently breaks a fundamental procedural law, yet the group is otherwise productive and law-abiding. Marriage to more than one spouse is illegal under the bigamy laws of the states.
For guidance, we should look to the seat belt laws as applied by many states. Wearing seat belts is required, but cops in some states won't stop a motorist simply for not wearing a seat belt. Why is this? Because in such states, seat belt laws are secondary laws mandating secondary enforcement. This means a cop cannot stop you merely for not wearing a seat belt, but if the cop stops you for a primary infraction, the cop can ALSO cite you for not wearing a seat belt.
And this seems to be the smartest approach in dealing with polygamous communities. As long as they are not breaking any other laws, leave them alone. Of course, legal complaints against such a community must be investigated, but the investigation should be restricted to actual accused offenders, and not result in the massive KGB-style roundup perpetrated against the Texas FLDS community by the Texas CPS. That wasn't enforcement - that was an atrocity too much for even the Texas Supreme Court to bear. Indeed, the head of the Texas CPS was chosen this past week to "fall on his sword", although it was billed as a "resignation".