|Polygamy church prepares for end of the world|
Martin Kettle in Washington|
There is speculation that a polygamous sect which split from the Mormons more than a century ago may be preparing for the end of the world - perhaps as soon as this month. Concern arose when hundreds of the sect's children failed to turn up at the beginning of the school year.
Last year there were 1,400 pupils at the four schools which serve the remote desert towns of Colorado City in Arizona and Hilldale, Utah. This year only about 350 have enrolled, and dozens of teachers who belong to the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have also quit.
The two small towns were settled at the end of the 19th century by polygamous Mormons. When the main Mormon church officially disavowed polygamy in 1890, so that Utah could gain statehood, they went their own way. Polygamy is widespread among the 6,000 local members of the sect.
The decision to withdraw children from school was taken on the orders of Warren Jeffs, who speaks on behalf of his father, Rulon Jeffs, the church's prophet. Sect members say they are cutting contact with non-believers and preparing for the apocalypse Mr Jeffs says is at hand.
This is not the first time that Mr Jeffs has told his followers to prepare for the end of the world. In 1993, too, he told pupils to abandon their classes because they would not be there to finish their studies.
Now the towns believe he has again warned that the second coming of Jesus Christ may be only days away. DeLoy Bateman, a former member and local science teacher, said Mr Jeffs had prophesied that the two towns would be lifted bodily into the heavens.
Colorado City's mayor, Dan Barlow, himself a member, said the decree was "merely a suggestion that people take responsibility for themselves".
Originally published September 16, 2000
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