Thursday, August 31, 2006
Woman still believes in religion but not Jeffs
Warren Jeffs is in a jail cell. But most of his thousands of followers remain in the twin border towns of Colorado City, Arizona and Hilldale, Utah.

I have now been in those towns several times. It has been an unfriendly place to be as a reporter, but now it's quite hostile. Warren Jeffs' followers believe outsiders (and particularly politicians and the media) are out to persecute them. Now that the man they believe is a prophet to God is in jail, they feel very besieged and confused.

When we try to talk to them to get their opinions, they either run away from us in fright -- they are told not to talk to outsiders) -- or mutter angry and derogatory things at us.

But we have discovered some exceptions. I walked up to Elsie, a 23-year-old woman. She is the mother of two, the only wife of a man who may ultimately marry more women, and a member of Jeffs' FLDS church. I asked her how she felt about Jeffs' arrest, and she nervously told this stranger she wasn't sure. But she warmed up to us, and she invited us into her modest home that like most FLDS (Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints) houses has no television.

Elsie then told us that although her conservative lifestyle and religion are still important to her, she and her husband no longer love Warren Jeffs. Ever since he's been on the run, they say they realize he is dishonest, and no longer regard him as a prophet.

Elsie says Warren Jeffs presided over her wedding. She says Jeffs told her you will marry a man whom we have picked for you; a man she hadn't yet met. I asked Elsie how long after that introduction the marriage took place, and she told me five minutes later! I thought she was kidding, but she was not.

However, three years later, she says she has indeed fallen in love with her husband, Robert, and she remains grateful to Jeffs for matching them up. Nevertheless, she does believe Warren Jeffs is a hypocrite and not the man she once thought he was.

Hours after we interviewed Elsie, she told me she talked to her father who was not happy that she spoke with us. Elsie's parents are still devoted to Jeffs, and the parent-daughter relationship has suffered because of Elsie's independent views. Elsie told me she is sorry she hurt her father by talking with us, but adds she was always taught to be a nice person, and believed she was being nice by talking with us.

Elsie has undoubtedly lived a conflicted life. But whatever she has gone through, we did indeed find her to be very kind to us.
Posted By Gary Tuchman, CNN Correspondent: 10:35 AM ET
  31 Comments
God Bless Elsie. With calm sincerity, I am able to state that she has endangered herself and her family by speaking with you. If you pray, pray for her. If you don't, use your freedom of choice and hope for the best, please.
Posted By Anonymous Nicole Thomas, Helper, Utah : 11:26 AM ET
Hi Gary, I saw your interview with Elsie last night and I feel bad that she is now having problems because of it. I doubt she will speak up again though. She seems happy enough now but wait till her Husband starts marrying other women, maybe she will want to get out then. I hope that Warren Jeffs is convicted and never gets out of prison so he can ruin the lives of more young people in that church.
The problem is that whereas Jeffs is an extremely bad person, the guy from Canada interviewed last night does seem to be much different and the people there are liable to think Jeffs was just a bad apple out of a bunch of good ones.
Posted By Anonymous Bev Whitby ON Canada : 11:27 AM ET
If you looked at the early history of the Mormon church, back in the 1830s and 1840s, there were several times in Missouri and Illinois where Joseph Smith was locked up. I'm sure his followers felt they were persecuted. But, obviously, some/most (I don't have statistics) kept believing in him and stayed with the church. It obviously didn't go away because of those events.

Fastforward to today and things haven't changed all that much with the FLDS. You get the fight over whether to continue to follow Jeffs in jail or to go with someone else. I suppose it comes down to whether you believe Jeffs is held on trumped up charges or not.

I wonder how much of a free press there is in Colorado City. I wonder how many read the news. I wonder how many read.
Posted By Anonymous Paul, Vernal, UT : 11:50 AM ET
That is the first interview that Elsie has done. I think she enjoyed talking to the reporters.
Her biggest concern is if it will strain her relationship with her parents who are still FLDS.
Posted By Anonymous Lori, Colorado City, Arizona : 12:11 PM ET
Hi Gary,
Curious to know how old is Elsie? She looks so young. She also seemed somewhat uneducated. Is this typical in these societies? Do they have schools? What kind of education is offered to these children? Your interview was fascinating but left me with many more questions.
Posted By Anonymous mls, N.O. LA : 12:14 PM ET
While watching the report on Elsie last night on 360, my heart broke a little bit for her. I couldn't imagine being in her shoes and I wonder if she ever thinks of the choices -- the life -- she could have outside of the church. I hope she knows how courageous and admirable it was of her to speak to you. And, I wish her parents would be proud of her ... for being polite to strangers. This was a fascinating, interesting "story."
Posted By Anonymous sarah, brown city, mi : 12:15 PM ET
Why are we so afraid to use the word 'CULT'. This is just another one like the Branch Dividians in Waco, TX. These poor people has little education and will believe these guys who claim all sorts of weird things.
America, please for your own sakes, let's teach critical thinking skills, and not believe in foolish myths and legends that claim so type of supernatural source.
Posted By Anonymous Derek, Springfield, MA : 12:24 PM ET
I will never understand thisbelief system. In fact, I will never understand the motives and thought processes of religious people, period.

I can't conprehend how someone willingly prevents themselves from learning and experiencing the world in a real way. I will never understand why these people shut themselves off from the outside world.

My guess is that it is because they are afraid that by experienceing the outside world and gaining knowledge from sources other than the Bible, their entire belief system may be discredited.

These fundamentalist Mormons, and many other people of many other faiths want validation of their faith so badly that they will believe anything.

An ordinary, yet eccentric guy named Warren Jeffs can proclaim himself a "prophet" and thousands of people blindly believe him?? Are these people even capable of thinking for themselves?? Do they have the ability to ask questions??
Posted By Anonymous Rodd, San Juan Capistrano, CA : 12:33 PM ET
Poor thing. This is a truly courageous woman. It's wonderful to see that she and her husband have a loving relationship regardless of the circumstances of the match (arranged marriages can produce love, who knew that anymore?). Though it's sad to see that her family is angry about her views, it's also good to see her stand up for herself.

If she and her husband are upset over the hypocracy they see in that cult leader, who's to say they will continue in that vein? They may still believe in the basic tenets of the church, of course, and that's their choice. But if they view what he did as wrong, considering that he's mostly charged with endangering young women due to shady polygamous marriages, who's to say that husband will ever take another wife? The times they are a changin'. Maybe, for this family, change happened fast enough to ensure them happiness. Blessings to all those stuck in that cult and blessings to Elsie for speaking up for herself.
Posted By Anonymous Bekah Marie, Coral Gables, Fl : 12:43 PM ET
Gary-
I hope Elsie doen't suffer repercussions from her interview. she came across as just being a girl who is naive, sweet and kind. Hopefully, this open the door for others to talk with you. Elsie was very courageous.
My fear is that Warren Jeffs will try to run the FLDS from behind bars. Purgatory to be exact. There's some irony. Heaven forbid he should order his followers to use violence or mass suicide. Lets hope that Jeffs followers will loose the confused state they seem to currently be in and begin to breathe a sigh of relief that this freak is locked up. Lets hope.
Posted By Anonymous Betty Ann Taylor Nacogdoches, Tx : 1:10 PM ET
Hi Gary,
I just wish Elsie the best. And all the other Elsie's too. We have to at some point just let people live their own lives on their own terms, whether we agree with them or not..I guess the best we can do as a society is have laws to protect and then enforce those protections whenever needed. Help those who are unable to help themselves, but recognize the reality that we can't change anyone who doesn't want to change. Take Care
Posted By Anonymous Lorie Ann, Buellton,Calif. : 1:48 PM ET
God bless Elsie and protect her... I am sure she knew she shouldn't be speaking to you but WANTED to... I am sure she was trying to show you and us a different slant on all of this, and that there may be some good to this lifestyle or religon... Very few agree on how the Bible is interpeted and I think they are entitled to live and believe as they want, as long as it is "free choice"... Marrying off little girls to older men is not only against "free choice" it is against the law... I am sure pedophiles would say what they do is "God's will"... That is when the government should step in... Not when a man marries more than one wife, but when one marries a child... That is what Jeffs should be charged with... This is not God's will, ever! It is our job to protect these children...
Posted By Anonymous Sherry, Sarasota Fl : 1:54 PM ET
I agree with Derek from MA. I'm a spiritual person myself (I even go to church!) but there's nothing wrong with thinking critically about what you're being told is "spiritual truth." Our education system is so behind in the area of teaching critical thinking skills. I would also say that myth and legend have their places, but we need to be careful about it. This is something that kids should start learning as early as possible, along with real science (NOT "creation science"). There's a good reason the Europeans think we're crazy for letting religion take over our brains!!
Posted By Anonymous Linnea , Bloomington, MN : 2:12 PM ET
I agree with Derek, but will take it a step further: all religions are cults. And baseless, I might add.
Posted By Anonymous Michael Harris, Los Angeles : 2:48 PM ET
I appreciate the coverage this story is getting because the true victims are those living a life most of us could not understand.

However, we are confusing this illegal and immoral organization with the much different LDS (Mormon) church that exists today. Current Mormons stopped polygamy over 100 years ago- and those who continue to practice, or even preach it, are excommunicated. The current Mormon church in no way supports Jeffs.

One man posted here a comparison of Jeffs to Joseph Smith, the early Mormon leader. The difference between Jeffs and Smith was that Joseph Smith was jailed illegally and later exonerated- Warren Jeffs has committed true crimes and was arrested lawfully.
Posted By Anonymous Ken Gertson, Atlanta, GA : 2:56 PM ET
I saw the interview last night and I was moved to tears for this brave woman who allowed you into her home because she had been taught to be kind to strangers. She had a rare deep beauty you don't see every day, in her eyes, you see joy. I hope that indeed she will find joy, and I hope she will not suffer ramifications of any kind for her kindness towards you.
Posted By Anonymous Christine Hunt Aurora, Ontario : 2:57 PM ET
Thursday's 360: "A look at a reunion between polygamist Warren Jeff's former followers and believers. Can they convince them it's safe to leave?"

Leave for where? While I'm sure a lot of FLDS members have relatives and friends elsewhere, why would they want to leave their homes?

And what would they do? Many of the women have had no education to speak of at all. How are they supposed to compete for jobs?

360 has had Caroline Jessup on numerous times without asking her some questions that are far more relevant that replowing old ground about her escape.

To wit: How is she learning to live in a more open society? Has she gone back to school? gotten a job? How are her kids adjusting to a world with cable television and the internet? The culture shock must be enormous.

What would she recommend to other women wanting to follow her example? What kind of social services are required for women who want to break free of a patriachal polygamous sect?

For all the coverage 360 is giving to this issue, I'm not hearing these questions raised or answered.
Posted By Anonymous Arachnae, Sterling VA : 3:20 PM ET
Elsie is a very brave woman who should be commended for her honesty. Her society may react quite harshly to her being forthright. Yet it is she, not the "prophet" that speaks from God, and I admire her taking a stand. Having lived in Arizona and followed this story for over 10 years, it takes enormous courage for woman to say what's on their mind in the FLDS -- a right the rest of us women take for granted every day. God bless Elsie that she stay safe and strong.
Francesca
Posted By Anonymous Francesca Phoenix, AZ : 4:04 PM ET
You mean like... the Bible, Derek from Springfield? I agree completely. Let's quit teaching our children to believe in myths.

It's a pity that people feel the need to condemn the lifestyle of others, when they obviously don't understand it, don't want to understand it, but simply disagree with it. So it must be wrong.. right?!
Posted By Anonymous Alex, Columbia, SC : 4:44 PM ET
Gary, Gary, Gary. I have always enjoyed your stories, but I think that this interview crossed the line for journalistic integrity. I feel that you took advantage of an unsuspecting and naive woman in order to weasel into her home, then you twisted her words around. She never said that Warren Jeffs was a hypocrite, you asked her if he was and she said "hmm hmm". Now, understandably, she is upset that she talked to you. Next time, pick on someone your own size.
Posted By Anonymous Cathy, Minneapolis, Minnesota : 5:06 PM ET
Hey Gary! Got to give you kudos for your determination to get us the viewpoint on this church and their beliefs...I'm sure it's been a rough rode for you! The more I learn about this religion and culture, the more I'm sickened by the obvious fate of these poor women. Who would believe that in this day and age, we would be witnesses to a belief that doesn't allow women to speak, think, or do for themselves without major consequences.
Posted By Anonymous Jolene, St. Joseph, MI : 6:36 PM ET
Gary,

I have been laughing for several days regarding your assignment in Colorado City for this story. I am amazed that you have not lost your confidence as a reporter with so many doors slammed in your face. But, you continue to persevere and not let the rejection affect your reporting. If I had that assignment, I would start laughing every time I asked someone about Warren Jeffs. I do not expect for you to post this, but I am a new fan of yours because of this story!
Posted By Anonymous S.A. Street, of Seattle, WA : 8:41 PM ET
I know this is going to sound horrible, but I must get my opinion out there and do not mean to insult anyone...it is just my opinion! Here goes.....

1. Yes, I do feel very bad for Elsie,
would not wish her life on antother
human being. How do we educate
Elsie and other women like her? This
life style has been drilled into her
from birth.

2. Why is it that most of the religions
in this world cause the most damage
both mentally (and in some cases
physically) to people?

3. Is there no way to check on the
credentials of the people in charge
of various religions? We are, as
Americans, constantly checking on
our governmental officials which is
as it should be, but why not subject
religions to the same standards? I
believe anyone in America can call
themselves Rev, Pastor, Father,
etc. whenever it suits them. Why do
we not have checks and balances on
religions?

4. This article happens to be about the
Mormon church, but Americans have
been abused physically, mentally,
sexually, etc. by many different
religions (not to mention the TV
religious personalities).

5. Unfortunately, it appears to me that
most (if not all) religions are
about CONTROL.

6. Perhaps through education people
can learn to think for themselves
and not be subjected to any force
that claims to be THE ONE AND ONLY
RELIGION!
Posted By Anonymous Moe, Liverpool NY : 9:15 PM ET
Just a thought: if the law can't do anything about THIS cult, how would (will) America react to a hypothetical cult of terrorists espousing not plural marriage, but terrorism as a way of life. This is a test, folks, to those who think this issue non-important.
Posted By Anonymous Lauren R., Wheeling, WV : 9:35 PM ET
I'm watching your show and you keep saying "considers himself a prophet" like it's unusual--it isn't. In the LDS church they have "prophets" and even thought they don't practice polygamy, they still exert mind control. The "prophet" in the LDS church is the one that keeps track of the tything and accounting. So, the only difference between this man and the LDS prophets is that the LDS prophets don't practice "the principle or plural marriage."
Posted By Anonymous Francisco, Oxon Hill, Maryland : 11:09 PM ET
I can't believe we have this problem in this country.
Posted By Anonymous Ryan, Toronto, Ontario : 3:30 AM ET
Even though I consider polygamy wrong, polygamy is not what I am going to condemn. The main problem here is that women and underage children are bought sold and traded like farm animals.
What we have here is a sect using religion to further their own goals instead of the word of GOD. If people would open their eyes, they would see that this is rampant among the religions in the US.
Posted By Anonymous W.D.Russell East Liverpool Ohio : 7:23 AM ET
How can one learn critical thinking skills if one is homeschooled by a parent who wants their child to think and believe in a certain way, or is school privately by those who will indoctrinate the child into that sect?
I applaud Elsie's courage, and hope and pray she is safe and OK. She showed Christian kindness and answered questions. Maybe if others offered the same kindness the rest of the public would back off a bit. They certainly wouldn't be the media targets they are now, because the novelty would wear off. The public would find something else to fixate on.
Posted By Anonymous Sue, NYC NY : 11:47 AM ET
W.D.Russell writes "Even though I consider polygamy wrong, polygamy is not what I am going to condemn. The main problem here is that women and underage children are bought sold and traded like farm animals."

EXACTLY! Polygamy and those practices are different things which can be found together or separately. Many of us practice polygamy without engaging in such horrible practices. Further, many of us are not FLDS or particularly religious.

Another thing to note: Warren Jeffs was not wanted by the police for polygamy.
Posted By Anonymous Karen, a polygamist in Sacramento, California : 3:13 PM ET
I cannot believe this actually happens, it makes me sick and I pray something will be done to stop this. I pray for the people that are being fooled by Jeffs, he is not a prophet, God would never approve of this behavior. I don't have much faith in the legal system for punishing this man, but I know God will give him what he deserves when his time on earth is done.
Posted By Anonymous Sonia, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada : 1:50 AM ET
Gary, I saw a rebroadcast of your interview with Elsie, and I feel that I was wrong when I said you twisted her words around. I think you did portray her words correctly. But I still can't help feeling that she's probably been taken advantage of all her life, and that she was taken advantage of again in this interview.
Posted By Anonymous Cathy, Minneapolis, Minnesota : 12:05 PM ET
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