SALT LAKE CITY - Polygamist sect leader Warren Jeffs may be serving a life-plus-20-year sentence in a Texas prison, but his grip on most of his 10,000 followers does not appear to be lessening.
Some former insiders say he is imposing even more rigid requirements that are roiling the church and splitting its members.
The edicts from Jeffs, head of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, form the basis for what he has called the Holy United Order. An estimated 1,500 men, women, and children in the church failed to meet the stringent standards by a Jan. 1 deadline, said Willie Jessop, a former church spokesman who no longer reveres Jeffs.
It is still unclear whether those members were excommunicated outright or have been put on probation until they can prove that they meet the standards, Jessop and others said. Some marriages have been dissolved and families split up, as Jeffs works from his prison cell to reshape his church.
Since about mid-November, his brother, Lyle, has been conducting personal interviews with members to determine their worthiness under the new order, the former church members say.
“There are eight questions, but before they get there, they ask, ‘Do you accept Warren Jeffs as God’s mouthpiece and your prophet,’ and if you believe he can rule in all the affairs of your life,’’ Jessop said.
Jeffs is in a Houston prison and could not be reached for comment.
But some spouses are refusing church-directed breakups and choosing to leave the faith on their own. Some are leaving the community along the Utah-Arizona state line, while many have chosen to remain in their homes.
From his daily conversation with other church members, Jessop said, he senses a growing confusion among members.