This article was originally published in 2000. The group from Manti is, for the most part, splintered and no longer a functioning church. The prophet Jim Harmston died in June 2013. Still, it’s interesting to see how a splinter group of Mormonism came to originate and live for almost two decades. See part 1 here.
It was an event that was supposed to forever change the world. According to leaders of the 350-member Utah-based True and Living Church of Jesus Christ of Saints of The Last Days (TLC)—a church we extensively covered in the Fall 1999 issue of Mormonism Researched—Jesus Christ was supposed to have returned last winter to begin a millennial reign that would have been marked by swift destruction of the world’s wicked.
TLC Prophet Jim Harmston officially founded his Manti, Utah fundamentalist church (a splinter group of Mormonism and therefore not recognized by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) on the premise that the Mormon Church was corrupted in the late 19th century. His April 1999 prophecy stated that everyone not affiliated with the TLC who lived in the Sanpete Valley (where Manti is located) would be swept from the earth between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur (between September 11 to September 20).
Later a coalition of China, Russia, and some Islamic nations was supposed to invade the United States before the first snowfall of 1999. It was predicted that the enemy forces were to be stopped at Manti. In addition, the prophecy stated that the TLC membership would be “translated” (changed) into “terrestrial beings” with special priesthood powers to do miraculous works, even allowing them to travel great distances without cars or planes.
Finally, as TLC leaders have long maintained, the City of Zion was to be established in Independence, Missouri. When the TLC prophecies did not take place in 1999, the predictions were quickly recalculated for the spring of 2000. These too did not take place.
“At one point in time, we did feel that Christ would be back by now,” said church president Dan Simmons, who is second in command to Harmston. “But revelation is a difficult thing.”
An “unprepared people”?
Who is responsible for the unfulfilled prophecies? According to Simmons, who was interviewed by Mormonism Research Ministry on an afternoon during the annual Mormon Miracle Pageant in June, much of the blame for the postponement of Jesus’ return belongs to the TLC membership because they were not sufficiently humble.
“The people were not prepared,” Simmons explained. “It involves all of us, myself included. Spiritually, physically, emotionally…we were just not ready.”
Simmons said those members who were fooled by the false predictions should have properly tested their leaders through prayer and good feelings.
“The problem here is that you should always have the right to test God,” he said. “You always have an avenue, once you hear something from a prophet, if you do not receive a witness from God that what he just told you is true, it is your obligation to go to God and ask if it is true…. If a man who claims to be a prophet of God tells you to do something, and you go do it simply because you are obedient, you didn’t receive a witness from God that you should do it—whose fault is that? Yours or the prophet’s?”
In addition, he said that “a man is only a prophet when he speaks as one. The man is still a physical man. He (Harmston) makes physical mistakes. He’s not perfect in every sense of the word as you would perceive Christ to be.”
Simmons denied that the warnings found in Deuteronomy 18:22 about detecting false prophets through their wrong pronouncements should be applicable to his church’s situation. By abdicating any responsibility, it appears that the TLC leadership would like to foster a “business as usual” approach to the everyday task of operating a 21st century religion.
In fact, leaders are now saying that it might be premature to say the prophecies are in error because God has the power to “fold” time, thus allowing for the possibility that they could be fulfilled in the same timeframe they were predicted.
“God is able to do anything He desires to make the particular (prophecy) come to fulfillment,” Simmons flatly stated. “How do you know God could not perform a miracle?”
Referencing the story of the day the earth stood still in the days of Joshua, Simmons added, “What if your understanding is so limited because of this particular box we live in when God can see the entire 360 degrees?”
When asked if he was proposing that time could go backward to 1999 so that the prophesies could be fulfilled on the correct dates, Simmons nodded and then added, “I believe God can do whatever He needs in order to perform whatever functions He needs. And if I didn’t believe that Jim Harmston was a prophet of God, I sure as heck wouldn’t be here. That’s the bottom line.”
According to Simmons, if God indeed makes time go backward—an event that he admits has never occurred in the entire known history of the universe—then each person would return to his or her former circumstances, age, and position.
A Little TLC History
After informal meetings began in 1991, the TLC was officially organized in 1994. Those who were disgruntled with the LDS Church’s “apostasy,” including the disappointment many faithful Mormons felt when the LDS leaders radically altered the temple endowment ceremony in 1990, made up the majority of the TLC’s early converts. Among the other traits comprising the LDS Church’s apostasy were the abandonment of polygamy in 1890 and allowing blacks to hold the priesthood in 1978.
Harmston claims that his authority stems from a supposed out-of-body vision he had in late 1990 when four angels (Abraham, Enoch, Moses, and Noah) appeared to him. This is a man who is very much an icon to his followers.
Harmston teaches a doctrine called multiple mortal probations. This belief states that those who are alive today “played” the roles of those who are now dead. In fact, Harmston claims his roles include a number of important biblical and Book of Mormon characters as well as ancient philosophers Plato and Socrates, Martin Luther and John Wesley from the Reformation period, Declaration of Independence signer Benjamin Franklin, and even Joseph Smith.
Not only does he have incredible credentials in his reincarnation-like past, but today, as Simmons declared, “Jim is playing the third member of the Godhead, the Holy Ghost.”
However, Simmons denied a local Manti rumor, which said that the church was teaching how Jesus returned spiritually into Harmston’s body. This would have made sense since the idea of Harmston taking on the role of Jesus in the next life has been a long-time church belief.
“Jim Harmston is not Jesus Christ,” Simmons said. “We have never claimed that. If you consider the third member of the Godhead to be a god, then OK, Jim would be a god. But he would not be the God we worship.”
According to the TLC genealogical timeline, the polygamist Jesus Christ had many children, and a number of TLC members belong to His literal line. In addition, it is taught that Jesus is the literal father of both Joseph Smith and Harmston.
Who was Jesus’ father? As taken from the teachings of second LDS President Brigham Young, who with Smith are the only LDS prophets that TLC leaders say should be believed in all things, Adam was God Himself who physically sired Jesus.
Manipulation of its flock
Many critics of the TLC say that this church has manipulated its membership and potential converts, including the requirement of new members to sign over their possessions to the church upon conversion. One 50ish-year-old gentleman we met last year had been a member for only a few months, and when he decided to leave, he also left behind the entire life savings he donated when he had become a member.
Another way to control its membership is its use of scriptures, which include Joseph Smith’s Inspired Version of the Bible, the 1830 edition of the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants (including the Lectures on Faith), and the Pearl of Great Price. TLC leaders are able to stack the deck by making these writings subject to the their interpretations.
Every member who joins the priesthood of the church must also swear allegiance to the mysterious and unpublished set of current revelations known as the Manti Revelation Book, even though most members have never seen nor read the book. Individual revelations, meanwhile, are considered to be authoritative only when Harmston agrees that they are true.
Members are led to believe that they can have literal contact with those who are now dead, including their relatives. In a ceremony called “piercing the veil,” spirits are brought up from the grave so they can be individually asked if they would like to have a vicarious baptism. A baptism by a church member takes place only when the spirit answers affirmatively. Only the leadership knows if the spirit contacts are real or contrived.
The doctrine of multiple mortal probations, as mentioned earlier, is a major tenet. There are also several huge framed charts on the wall of the church’s sanctuary that give biblical and Book of Mormon genealogies. Many members are carefully listed on these charts to show who they were in history. Even those who were not personally mentioned in the ancient scriptures are listed. For instance, one member’s claim to fame is having been born somewhere in Bethlehem on the night of Jesus’ birth. Another person sang with the angels to the shepherds, as referenced in the book of Luke.
As a subtle yet firm reminder, the names of those who were excommunicated are crossed out in the places where they were listed. This lets everyone known that these people no longer belong to the “True and Living Church”; however, this does not seem to have any bearing on who they were in history.
Probably the most radical TLC doctrine that has reshaped the lives of the members is polygamy. Although leaders like to claim that women should be considered as “queens and priestesses,” there is a type of marriage pyramid within the church body that encourages women to try to marry the highest ranking member in order to assure a better exalted state. To the outsider this appears to be more like spiritual wife swapping.
Profiting most from this teaching is Harmston, who at current count has 17 wives, up from 12 a year ago. At least several of Harmston’s wives were once married to other TLC members.
For instance, Apostle Bart Malstrom currently has three wives, and he just added two more children this past year to his other 11. But he lost former wife Monique, a younger sister to his current wife Nicole, to Harmston more than a year ago. Simmons, meanwhile, is currently only married to one woman—highly unusual for a top leader of a polygamous church—and his former wife is also now married to Harmston.
The idea of Harmston having so many wives makes sense when the doctrine of “rescuing” is understood. According to TLC teaching, a man with high priesthood authority who wants to help a woman move up spiritually can marry her away from her current husband who holds a “lesser” priesthood. It appears that some women have been married at least three or four times within the body of the church.
The difference in the ages between the 69-year-old prophet and his wives has apparently not meant much. One of Harmston’s wives was just 16 when they married several years ago, and it was reported that he openly bragged about how he was able to satisfy the physical and emotional needs of this new bride.
Operating cautiously for now
The TLC has kept a low profile since April 15, 1999. It took its website off the Internet, and the emphasis on worldwide evangelism has not yet resumed. Leaders have limited their press access, a radical change from the previous few years. It was not uncommon to see the TLC featured on documentaries, some from the media around the world. The most common angle centered on polygamy and its sociological aspects.
At the present time, church meetings remain closed to all but TLC members and serious students who are considering membership. Except for the numerous children who are born to polygamous members, the church rolls have not really grown since 1998. However, TLC leaders are considering returning to the public arena to see if there are additional ancestors of Jewish blood who need the truth that their church has to offer.
“I believe there are a lot of people who believe in Christ but are not necessarily of the House of Israel,” Simmons said. “They’re Gentiles. Because of that, they don’t have the capacity to deal with the truth as they should. Thus the reason for coming back in another round of eternity is to possibly change their status. Gentile blood can be purged from a person, but it takes baptism by fire.”
As far as future predictions of the end of time, Simmons for one is not about to step onto another proverbial landmine. It could happen today, he says, or even yesterday if time were to go backward, but one thing is for sure: It is going to happen very soon.
“Hold onto your seats and let’s see what happens,” he said with a smile. “There are no dates. The Lord will come when He is ready to come. It’s our obligation to be as best prepared as we can to be ready to stand in His presence so that we’re not cut off with the wicked.”
Indeed, Jesus will return. This is something that Christianity has taught from the very beginning. However, Christ will not return in the manner as predicted by the TLC, for its leaders have been shown to be false prophets.
A final word
As of this writing, some new but sketchy information is coming out of Manti regarding some major changes in the TLC. According to our sources, several of the 12 apostles left Harmston’s fold in July, and one apparently is writing a book to warn people how to stay out of a cult. One former member who left the TLC last year says there has been plenty of friction between Harmston and his apostles. Perhaps some eyes are being opened to the deception of this polygamous church.
- For additional information about this church, click here to check out our first article on the TLC.
- Also check out the YouTube Jim Harmston: Polygamous Leader and Fraud. The founder to the “TLC” polygamous church in Manti, UT died in 2013. Eric Johnson tells more of the story from his gravesite in Manti.