By Craig Foster, Newel Bringhurst, and Brian Hales
During the tour on October 28, 2017, we had the opportunity for an in-depth visit to the FLDS Temple. Of all the structures on the Yearning for Zion ranch, none was more striking than the temple.
Like the Salt Lake LDS temple, the clasping hands motif is engraved on the exterior above the primary entrance.
The interiors of LDS temples are known to non-members who tour the facilities prior to dedication or who view official photographs released by the LDS Church. Furthermore, the FLDS undoubtedly consider this building no longer suitable for their ritual observances. While having the utmost respect toward FLDS beliefs in religious space, but in the interest of documenting a fuller history of the FLDS involvement at the Yearning for Zion ranch, a few photos of the temple interior are shown below.
The basement contains a baptismal font that was intended for sacred ordinances for both the dead and living, but may have also been used by Warren Jeffs for less than sacred purposes.
The first floor has rooms with cabinets and drawers, perhaps an area for changing clothes and storing things?
The outer corridors on both ends of the first floor are equipped with several sinks apparently for handwashing. There are no bathrooms in the temple.
The central area of the first floor opens into an assembly hall with pulpits at both ends.
Possibly styled after the Kirtland Temple, a smaller rostrum with multiple levels and pulpits lies at one end.
At the other end is a grander multi-level podium.
The highest level is equipped with a slide-in-place curtain, again reminiscent of Kirtland.
The stairway and décor were lavish considering the outside desolation. With the exception of white carpet seen in a couple of special locations, blue was the only color of carpet seen throughout the complex in every house, building, and room where carpet had been installed.
A single raised bench immediately after ascending to the second floor left us wondering why it was designed and placed where it was. Not knowing for sure, it was suggested the raised bench and steps might have been used for ritual washing feet before entering further into the temple.
Four large rooms comprised the bulk of the second floor. Two were unadorned.
Three short stairs upward lead to a room with wall murals reminiscent of some LDS temples. There were paintings of what appears to be either a setting from Eden or the millennium. Someone had covered the murals, which had been subsequently uncovered.
Through the door and down a few short steps is another room with murals, this time depicting the lone and dreary world where a cougar chases an antelope and lions are fighting each other.
A white spiral staircase ascended to the third floor adorned only in white.
The primary room of the third floor is impressively spacious and no doubt was used as the Celestial Room. The round ceiling elements are skylights that can be opened electronically. The doors at the end lead into three smaller rooms.
A room off to the other end contains a fold up bed. It was not, however, the infamous bed in which Jeffs consummated his marriage with underaged girls. That bed was built to specifications given by revelation from Warren Jeffs to his followers who followed the specifications exactly. The altar-bed was constructed of oak and painted white. Among the instructions Jeffs provided, was “The bed will be a size big enough for me to lay on. … It will be covered with a sheet, but it will have a plastic cover to protect the mattress from what will happen on it.” At the time of the 2008 raid, Texas authorities found the bed, still set up at one end of the large white room. The bed was removed as evidence and is no longer in the temple.
During the tour, we were able to climb up to the tower turret and view the surroundings.
Looking north to the promontory, there is a large fenced field that was to serve as a cemetery. Currently three bodies are buried there and reportedly hamper the ability of the state of Texas to sell the property. While the cemetery represents an opportunity for the FLDS to create difficulties for the state of Texas, it is likely that their respect for their deceased loved ones would make them want to grant a reinternment to a location closer to their current families.
This was an incredible experience for which all three of us are greatly indebted to a kind and dutiful Texas Ranger for taking his valuable time and sharing his knowledge. As an expert witness in the trials, he described three types of FLDS members.
First and foremost is Warren Jeffs, a convicted sexual predator, bedding underage girls in the temple and organizing perversions with groups of young women in other rooms of the temple. These behaviors are documented from recordings he made of the events.
The second group involved 10-12 leaders and prominent men who married and had children with underage women. They were not involved in the ceremonial sexual rituals that were reserved only for Warren. Based upon their conjugal relations with adolescent girls, these too were prosecuted and convicted.
The third class were approximately 1200 other sincere men, women, youth, and children who accomplished amazing things in a short time and under difficult conditions as they followed Warren Jeffs. Our sources tell us he still presides, though imprisoned, over thousands of followers who live unaware of indisputable evidences showing his egregious violations of Joseph Smith’s teachings regarding marriage and sexuality. (Proverbs 29:2).
Photos and commentary provided by Craig Foster, Newel Bringhurst, and Craig Foster. Watch for an upcoming volume from Craig and his co-author, Marianne T. Watson, who are currently working on a book-length historical overview of Fundamentalist Mormonism.
For more information regarding Rulon and Warren Jeffs, the FLDS and the beginnings of Mormon Fundamentalism, see Newell G. Bringhurst and Craig L. Foster, eds., The Persistence of Polygamy: Fundamentalist Mormon Polygamy from 1890 to the Present (Independence, Missouri: John Whitmer Books, 2015). See also Brian C. Hales, Modern Polygamy and Mormon Fundamentalism: The Generations after the Manifesto, Salt Lake City: Greg Kofford Books, 2006.
 Lindsay Whitehurst, “Warren Jeffs gets life in prison for sex with underage girls,” The Salt Lake Tribune, http://archive.sltrib.com/article.php?id=52354441&itype=CMSID, accessed November 2, 2017.
 Karisa King, “Polygamist diary describes secret bed used for sex assaults,” MySA, March 4, 2016, http://www.mysanantonio.com/news/local_news/article/Polygamist-diary-describes-secret-bed-used-for-4078569.php, accessed November 2, 2017.