We’ve all been hearing about the trials of the women and children of the Yearning for Zion ranch in Texas, but what exactly are they being "saved" from?
By Anastacia Mott Austin
Unless you’ve been living in a cave, or on your isolated religious ranch, you can’t escape the news of the plight of 463 or so women and children who were removed from the Yearning for Zion ranch in Texas last month.
The YFZ ranch, as it is commonly known, is a sect of the FLDS, or the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.
On April 3rd, Texas Child Protective agents and law officials raided the ranch and took custody of about 460 women and children. The exact number is not known, as the women and girls have been uncooperative with authorities in stating their real names or ages. Some of the women who initially left the ranch with the children may be minors themselves.
The women and their children have clearly been through a lot in the last month, including possible constitutional rights violations and separation from each other, sometimes in cases where the children are still nursing infants.
While the case lumbers on, curiosity has risen about the beliefs and habits of these people who have been isolated from the outside world. The women wear uniform long, pastel dresses and identical braided hairstyles. Their children have never watched television or eaten junk food.
Because of a long relationship of suspicion between sect members and law enforcement, members of the group tend to be secretive about their personal lives, and wary of any outside visitors.
However, information has come to the public from former members who have spoken out about the practices and lifestyle of the FLDS.
Once joined with the Mormon church, or the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, the FLDS sect broke off from the Mormons over a disagreement about polygamy, or plural marriages. While the Mormon church officially denounced polygamy in the 1890s, it was not until about 1935 that a new sect made up of excommunicated members of the church began to form.
The tenets practiced by that initial sect have essentially held up through modern times, and one of the central beliefs practiced by the group is the idea that a man can only enter the kingdom of heaven if he has three or more wives.
Former members of the FLDS have said that the more wives a man has, then the more holy he is.
Recently convicted former FLDS leader Warren Jeffs was said to have had as many as 60 wives.
The leader of the sect is believed by its followers to be a prophet of God, one who is given revelations about holy matters as well as everyday issues.
Connected to this view of the leader and the practice of plural marriage is the idea of “placing,” by which a young woman in the group of marriageable age is assigned to a husband according to a supposed revelation by the leader.
What is at issue in the current case against members of the YFZ ranch is what determines “marriageable” age? Girls as young as 13 were reportedly assigned to adult men as wives, bearing children soon after.
Also troublesome is the supposed practice by the sect leader of reassigning wives and giving or taking away of wives and children to particular men as a reward or punishment for their holiness and dedication (or perceived lack thereof) to the church. This is another contributing factor to the confusion surrounding the current charges facing members of the YFZ ranch: officials cannot determine the parentage of the children, because in addition to the refusal by the children to talk, they may share several “mothers” who claim them equally, and may or may not belong to the fathers they were currently living with.
Former members have spoken out against the FLDS, and the YFZ ranch in particular, saying that women and girls are taught to be subservient to men, and they have no rights and no voices of their own.
A woman who only identified herself as Monica insists that the children from the ranch have stable, loving homes, and that no abuse is occurring there. Monica was away when the raid happened, and was not allowed to join her children, who were in Texas state custody. Of returning to her empty home, she told reporters, “Can you imagine what it’s like coming back to nothing?”
Indeed, say former members, women of the sect are taught that their entire lives’ focus is on their children and their husbands.
No one can know what it’s really like to live inside the FLDS ranch unless one is a member of the sect. We can gain glimpses, in the women’s pale dresses and neatly braided hair. But only they know what goes on inside those closed gates.
For the women who remain there, all they know now is that it is a much quieter, sadder place for them than it was a month ago.