By Eric Johnson
One of the most controversial splinter groups of Mormonism, the Latter Day Church of Christ, has been led by members of the Kingston family since it was founded in 1935. The church has received notoriety in two main areas: 1) A polygamous lifestyle and emphasis on arranged incestuous marriages between close relatives, and 2) the use of its church’s many business enterprises, several of which have been used to launder money and cheat the government out of tax revenue. There is also a large amount of control in this organization, with leaders emphasizing compliant obedience to those in authority.
|Church Name||Latter Day Church of Christ. Leaders refer to the church as the United Order or Davis County Cooperative Society while some outside the group call it the “Kingston Clan” or “Kingston Cult.”|
|Founder||Charles Elden Kingston|
|Current Leader||Paul Elden Kingston (beginning in 1987)|
|Date of Founding||1935 (incorporated in the state of Utah in 1941)|
|Membership||5,000 (with one estimate that the number could be as large as 10,000)–the church is secretive about the number of members|
|Main places of faith||Northern Utah, including Salt Lake City and Bountiful|
|Doctrine||Many teachings are similar to the LDS Church, including belief in preexistence, Plan of Salvation, and three kingdoms of glory; differences are mainly in authority (Kingstons in control), current polygamous practice, and United Order|
|Scripture||The Bible (as far as it is translated correctly), the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price|
|Eternal Destiny||Celestial kingdom for those who are members of the Order and involved in polygamy; hell for everyone else. Sons of Perdition are former members destined for Outer Darkness|
|Church’s Main Focus||The practice of polygamy and making money with its many businesses|
|Main principles||Law of One Above Another and Law of Satisfaction|
Founding of the Church
This religion is known officially as the Latter Day Church of Christ—the name was incorporated in 1977—but is also called the Davis County Cooperative Society or United Order. Some outside the church have referred to the group as “the Kingston Clan” or the “Kingston Cult,” although leaders believe that these terms are “inaccurate and derogatory.” They also claim theirs should not be considered “a fundamentalist Mormon organization.”
The church had its beginnings in the person of Charles W. Kingston (1884-1975). As a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Kingston felt that the Utah church was in error because it had abandoned the teaching of plural marriage. He co-authored a book titled Laman Manasseh Victorious: A Message of Salvation and Redemption to His People Israel, First to Ephraim and Manasseh that talked about his beliefs. Kingston was excommunicated by the LDS Church in 1929.
In 1935, Charles’s son Charles Elden founded the Latter Day Church of Christ. Since its founding, there have been just three main leaders:
- Charles Elden Kingston (1909-1948): He took the leadership reigns when the church began on January 1, 1935. He claimed that he was visited by six different personages whom he said came to him at different times. In the early years, followers wore unique outer garments with no pockets, causing others to call them “blue coats.” Not having pockets was meant to signify that the members were not tied to worldly wealth. The followers also were bareheaded and barefoot. As a businessman, Kingston was the one who first pushed the church’s business agenda. He died of cancer in 1948 at the age of 40.
- John Ortell Kingston (1919-1987): Brother to Charles Elden and son to their father Charles, John guided the church from 1948 to 1987. He created the name of the church (Latter Day Church of Christ) in 1977 and had an even better business sense than Elden. He promoted incestuous marriages that distinguishes the church today. He had 13 wives and dozens of children.
- Paul Elden Kingston (1959- ) (photo at right): Known as the “Watchman on the Wall” who claims to hear from God regularly, Paul is the son of John Ortell. He inherited the top leadership position in 1987. A recent estimate is that he has 34 wives and more than 500 children, as several of his wives have had as many as 16 children each! He is an accountant and attorney as well as the Trustee-in-Trust of the Davis County Cooperative Society that is run by the church.
The Order has many similar teachings of the LDS Church, including:
- The church website explains, “Through our belief in God, we understand there are Universal Principles of Success which govern all things, and that each person’s success is based on their ability to understand and apply these Principles.”
- God is a man with flesh and bones
- Free Agency
- The website says, “We believe that all individuals have the right to do whatever they choose as long as they do not force, suppress, restrain, deprive, jeopardize, or interfere with the rights of others; and that persons who commit acts of this kind should be punished according to the law of the land in which they reside.”
- A belief in four scriptures: The Bible (except for “translation” problems), the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants and the Pearl of Great Price. Anything written by LDS leaders after 1889 is rejected, including Official Declarations 1 and 2 that are found in LDS scripture.
- Three kingdoms of glory (Celestial, Terrestrial, and Telestial kingdoms)
- Celestial godhood with family relationships is available in the celestial kingdom
- The website says, “God is a man who spiritually evolved to the point that He became omnipotent and omniscient. He created children in spirit form and desires that they also evolve into perfect beings.” Because those who hope to attain this celestial state require physical bodies, the Plan of Salvation is that God created an earth where those in preexistence could live and be obedient to gain the celestial kingdom; like in Mormonism, the other two kingdoms are the terrestrial and telestial kingdoms.
According to Dr. Amy Osmond Cook in her book Why They Believe: A Case Study in Contemporary Polygamy (Sourced Media Books, 2011), the church claims to be the one true faith and others (including The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and dozens of non-affiliated polygamous groups) are wrong. The church teaches in the importance of unity, which is necessary to gain heaven.
The first law to achieve unity is known as the “Law of One Above Another.” Elden Kingston wrote, “To be one with each other means that each one of us is one with the one above.” The chain begins with “Heavenly Father, Jesus, Bro. Paul, numbered men, etc.” Those who understand this principle and respect the chain of command are able to draw upon the power of God to help them in their lives. The idea is important even for children, as one church Sunday School manual explains:
When we think of the principles of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the first thing that we should think about is obedience. We should always do what our parents and teachers want us to do. Brother Elden taught us that the Law of Obedience to the one over us is one of the first principles of the Order. We should be obedient to our brothers and sisters.
The second principle is called the “Law of Satisfaction,” which is also called The Golden Rule. According to the church website,
As a parent, a manager or a leader, individuals must exercise their position through patience, long-suffering and service to others, never by force. Each individual should create a place where others can thrive, treating them as they would like to be treated. Finally, with regard to our peers, do unto them as you would have them do unto you. Support them in their endeavors and empathize with their challenges.
This means that not only should a person be obedient to those above him or her but there needs to be an attitude to do whatever the one in authority says “willingly and appreciatively,” even when there is disagreement; not having an enthusiastic willingness and appreciation is considered a “major crime.” “Pleasing Obedience” is thinking first about the church’s needs. “First time obedience” is doing what a person is told the first time and feeling good about doing it. To show the importance of obedience to the person above, Charles W. Kingston wrote, “Every individual. . . no matter what authority, standing or station he is in, is responsible to the one above him in exactly the same way as if that individual was the Savior himself. . . We must look at the one above us in the same light we look at the Savior.”
Putting these two principles together (“Law of Obedience” and “Law of Satisfaction”) will provide “pleasing obedience” and allows the leaders control over its compliant membership. Those who obey believe that “through strict obedience to the laws and principles of the organization, they will be given the opportunity to evolve to a higher spiritual level and eventually achieve godhood as part of a family unit.”
The Kingston organization stresses the importance of complete loyalty to the organization in thoughts, words, and actions. This loyalty is felt internally as organizational identification and expressed externally through organizational behavior that is consistent with organization goals and directives.
There are three types of organizational loyalty: loyalty in thought, loyalty in words, and loyalty in actions. Cook explained,
The organization encourages loyalty in thoughts by advocating that members restrict their thoughts and school their feelings. Members are taught to discipline their words by refraining from criticizing organizational leaders, withholding information from outsiders, and sometimes lying to protect the organization. And members are taught to adhere to all organizational objectives with “pleasing obedience.”
The first three points under the “Marriage, Lifestyle & Age of Consent” section on the church’s website page titled “Our Beliefs” reads:
- We believe marriage is a lifelong personal decision and should not be coerced. An individual should be well informed to make a mature and thoughtful decision before entering into a marriage.
- We believe marriages should be conducted within the legal age of consent.
- We believe marriage to be a cornerstone of our social fabric and stable relationships bring stability to our society as a whole.
Based on these points, one would almost assume that the church is monogamous. However, the fourth point hints to the polygamy that the church teaches as a true doctrine:
- We believe personal relationship between consenting parties should not be regulated by the State so long as they are free of coercion and are entered into by the free agency of both parties.
On the website it is argued that “although some members believe in plural marriage, the majority of adults in the Co-op are not in polygamous relationships”:
Although not in the majority, some men and women in the Co-op have chosen to enter into lifelong relationships that include multiple women. The DCCS reaffirms their belief that relationships between consenting parties is a matter of personal choice so long as they are not coerced and are entered into by the free agency of both parties. The State does not recognize these plural relationships as marriages and those obtaining licenses for marriage are encouraged to do so lawfully and within the guidelines given above.
Do only a minority of church members practice polygamy? I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt, since the Kingston males generally have more than one wife–they obviously get “first pick” of the available women– and there are only so many females in the group to go around. Yet, whether every single member in the group practices plural marriage or if this number really is a minority, polygamy remains a church requirement to enter the celestial kingdom. What will happen to those male members (the majority) who are not fortunate to have any women available to them? Like other polygamous churches, the first three presidents of the LDS Church are accepted as legitimate (Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, and John Taylor), and this is something all of them taught. Beginning with fourth president Wilford Woodruff’s 1890 Manifesto that eliminated the acceptance of polygamy, it is taught that the LDS Church became apostate.
Early fundamentalist leaders that the church considers authoritative include John W. Wooley, Orrin C. Wooley, and John Y. Barlow. It is claimed that the church did not break off from any other group, although some say it had once been loosely affiliated with the Short Creek fundamentalist (FLDS) in the 1930s. The church denies this, however, saying “the DCCS is not and has never been affiliated with the FLDS or Warren Jeffs.”
The marriages within the group are arranged, as top leader Paul Kingston, along with his brothers Daniel, David, and Jessie, must agree on any marriages taking place within the group; the fathers of both children must also agree. Those males who are married and ordained are called “Numbered Men,” which comes from the group’s interpretation of Revelation that only 144,000 “men” will be allowed to rule in heaven under God. Each man is designated by numbers, such as “Brother #1,” “Brother #2,” etc. The lower the man’s number, the more holy and important he is considered in the church. When a numbered man dies, his number can be given again to another worthy male member.
Then, when that man gets married, his children are numbered along with the wife who produced each one. To explain this numbering system, we’ll use “Brother 98” as our example. If a woman gets married to this man as his first wife, she is known as #198. The first male child would be #1981 while the first female child is #1982, etc., with the males getting even numbers and the females receiving odd numbers. The second wife’s children would be #2981 (male), #2982 (female), etc., with the boys getting the odd last numbers and the girls the even last numbers. This is the Order’s way to keep track of wives and children, especially since so many wives and children take different last surnames from their husbands/fathers.
It is taught that people can become gods only in the celestial kingdom, the place where families can exist into eternity. Only those who are part of the Kingston group and marry polygamously can enter this kingdom. The Kingston family members are believed to have superior genetics because their lines originate with Jesus. According to the belief, Jesus was married to several wives who bore his children, a common teaching in 19th century Mormonism.
Incest has played a major role in this church, which originated with the research done by John Ortell Kingston who had worked on dairy farms and created theories on genetics through the inbreeding of his cattle. He believed his study could help create a “Pure Bloodline.” His research is responsible for members of the group marrying close relatives, including half siblings, uncles and nieces, and cousins. Many children have had birth defects due to this inbreeding.
There have also been charges made that some plural wives and their children have had to live in deplorable conditions, even having to resort to “dumpster diving” in grocery store garbage bins to find food. Welfare fraud has also been a complaint, as the “other” wives (who are technically unmarried because their husband was married to his first wife) have filed for welfare benefits. While Ortell Kingston did not admit guilt, he ended up once having to pay the state $250,000 for evading taxes and getting financial benefits not due his family from the state. After many investigations, however, the authorities were not able to prove this charge in a court of law. In 1983, five years before he died, Ortell Kingston was said to be worth $70 million.
The idea of having the plural wives apply for state welfare benefits because they (and their children) have no official ties to the husband/father who is legally married to just the first wife is a teaching called “bleeding the beast.” In other words, this is an idea of making the government pay for the many wives and children will cause economic harm to the U.S. government and cause its destruction. However, the church denies that this idea has ever been promoted, as it states on its website:
This type of doctrine has NEVER been endorsed by the Davis County Cooperative Society (DCCS; Co-op) or Latter Day Church of Christ’s (LDCC) leadership. It has been a long standing policy, that DCCS “members are self-sustaining by means of their own labors” if at all possible.
Illicit Marriages and Births
When it comes to marriages to under-aged children, there has been evidence that girls as young as 13 have been forced into marriages with older men who already had one or more wives. A former member of the group, LuAnn Kingston, was forced to marry her first cousin in 1995. She said, “The joke used to be that if you weren’t married by 17, you were an old maid. . . . Some want to be married. Some had to be. Girls are always trying to please. All they know is what they’ve been told.” Source In recent years, however, it appears the church leaders don’t want to get into legal trouble and are requiring the girls to wait until they are older before they get married.
Many examples of teenage girls marrying exist. For instance, Jason Ortell Kingston, who is Paul’s youngest brother, was 16 when he married his 15-year-old half-sister Andrea Johnson; she became pregnant in 1992. However, complications ended up killing Johnson. The baby was saved, though he ended up having cerebral palsy. Johnson’s condition (preeclampsia) is normally easy to treat, but medical care came too late because the family was fearful that the incestuous relationship would be discovered. The hospital records were mysteriously lost, although they were later found at University Hospital in Salt Lake City in 1998. A distrust in hospitals is common with members of the group, as there is a fear that their polygamous ways will be discovered.
In 2018 the Salt Lake Tribune published an in depth article explaining the underage marriages that have taken place in recent years:
Since the start of 1997, The Salt Lake Tribune found 65 marriages among members of the Kingston Group in which the bride was 15, 16 or 17. The two most recent of those marriages, according to wedding certificates, occurred in April (2018). Source
When it comes to marrying close relatives, leaders and some members defend the practice. In 2006, Rachel Young—a member of the clan—told one court,
We are a small group of people. We encourage our young people to choose companions within their own faith. This makes some related marriages inevitable. To deny the right to marry within our faith would in effect deny us the right to exist. Source
As mentioned earlier, a number of different types of birth deformities have been documented in the group. For instance, six sons and two daughters of Ortell Kingston and his second wife LaDonna Peterson (of 13 total wives) married at least 20 half sisters, nieces and first cousins, which created many genetic deficient children. Their seventh son Hyrum Dalton was polygamous but did not marry incestuously.
Church’s financial holdings
The church holds to the law of consecration, which was first created in 1831 by Joseph Smith. This means that members sign away control of their possessions and give the church leaders full financial control; members deed their homes, bank accounts, and other valuables to the church. The United Order (also called United Order of Enoch) is also practiced, meaning that business holdings of the church belong to the group.
Under “Cooperation & United Order,” the website reads,
We promote the economic welfare of the membership to increase their talents and abilities by utilizing their united funds and efforts for the purchase, distribution and production of commodities and the performance of service in their interest in the most economical way. We encourage members to patronize the businesses of other members where possible, while maintaining ethical, fair and vigorous competition. Members are encouraged to sell products and services based on their merit, superior quality, functionality and competitive pricing for the market, always thinking of ways to bring value to the customer.
The leaders have been prolific in creating several hundred different businesses controlled by the Davis County Cooperative Society, which some estimate to be worth as much as $300 million. (Like the holdings of the LDS Church, however, these numbers are just estimates; I for one think the total worth of the businesses could be much higher.) Among the co-op’s holdings are a 300-acre dairy farm in Davis County; a 3,200-acre farm in Idaho; a coal mine in Emery County; 1,200 acres in Idaho; and a grocery store and restaurant supply company in cities including Tucson, Phoenix, Denver, Las Vegas, Boise and Portland. Under the website section titled “We Look Toward a Future of Prosperity,” it states,
We believe in supporting a stable, functioning and growing economy; with our members offering a financially tax positive population to the states we reside and to the United States of America. We have been well integrated with our friends and neighbors in our communities for over 85 years and we look forward to success in serving them for many decades to come.
According to Wikipedia, here are just several of the active businesses, many of which are in Utah:
- A-1 Disposal
- AAA Alarm
- AAA Security
- Advanced Copy
- Advance Vending
- American Digital Systems
- ANR Company Inc.
- Arrow Real Estate
- Coalt Inc.
- Davis County Cooperative Society Inc.
- Desert Tech
- Johns Marketplace
- Family Stores True Value
- Fidelity Funding Corp.
- Hiawatha Coal Co. Inc.
- Holtz Inc.
- National Business Management Inc.
- P.M.C. Inc
- Premier Catering
- Specialty Consulting Services Inc.
- Sportsman’s Bail Bond Specialists
- Sportsman’s Fast Cash
- Sportsman’s Pawn Shops
- Standard Industries Inc.
- Standard Restaurant Equipment Company
- U.P.C. Inc
- Westmark Inc.
- Washakie Ranch
- Washakie Renewable Energy
Several dozen businesses listed on Wikipedia are no longer operating. Nobody can say exactly how many businesses are controlled by the church. Still, while many businesses go under and others open up, it’s clear that the money brought in from these holdings have helped the leaders become wealthy. A statement on the church website under “Honesty, Integrity, Trust & Credibility” reads, “Individuals and businesses are encouraged to be responsible private and corporate citizens, adhering to their commitments, displaying honesty and integrity and reaching professional and personal goals solely through honorable means.” Answering the question “What is the DCCS stance on fraud, abuse, and crime,” the website explains:
The DCCS has been speaking out publicly against fraud and abuse for decades. We re-affirm to our members that this type of behavior goes completely against our beliefs and principles and we cannot support anyone found to be engaged in this type of behavior. Any individual who is engaged in or becomes aware of any unlawful activity are encouraged to promptly correct any impropriety. Source
The church’s “Our Beliefs” section claims that “we believe in government and being subject to the Laws of the Land.” In reality, however, the church is very secretive and hides information. And there have been cases involving fraud. Probably the largest is Washakie Renewable Energy. In 2019, CEO Jacob Kingston, his brother Isaiah Kingston, and Jacob’s wife Sally and his mother Rachel plead guilty to arranging more than half a billion dollars in fake “federal renewable-fuel tax credits” from 2010-2016 under the umbrella of Washakie Renewable Energy, along with committing “cyber fraud” by laundering money through their other businesses. It is the largest tax fraud scheme in Utah’s history.
The ruse involved applying to a federal program that gave up to $10 for each gallon of bio fuel that was manufactured. Instead of producing its own fuel, the company was selling fuel to foreign countries, including India and Panama, and then repurchasing the same fuel. More than $3 billion was cycled through multiple bank accounts.
Jacob Kingston (pictured right) accepted a plea deal offered by prosecutors and testified during a February-March 2020 trial against Lev Aslan Derman, who was never a church member. Among other things, Jacob and the other Kingstons admitted to money laundering and attempts to bribe government officials along with tampering with witnesses and destroying evidence. They also acknowledged paying $134 million to companies in Turkey and Luxembourg to protect them, as they made an agreement to have protection from the countries who vowed not to honor any extradition requests from the United States. In addition, Jacob said that he and his brother Isaiah—the church’s CFO—sent $30 million in fraud proceeds to the United Order that was used to buy luxury sport cars and million-dollar homes, including a $3 million home in Sandy, UT for Jacob and his wife Sally. For his crimes, Jacob faces up to 30 years in prison.
Derman insisted that the Kingstons were the real fraudsters who were committing their crimes before he came unto the scene. John Huber, the U.S. Attorney for the District of Utah, said, “What brought them down as with many fraudsters was their outsized greed, which was out of control.” In the 7-week trial that ended in March 2020, Derman, 53, was convicted on 10 felony counts and faces 180 years in prison.
For a link on a young former female member who ended up becoming a star witness in this case, click here.
Another company owned by the church was the Lake Elsinore Casino located in Southern California. In May 2019, the 22-table card room casino run by Joseph and Ted Kingston was shut down because it had been illegally operating with only provisional licenses for two decades. The casino was denied a permanent license in July 2019. There was speculation that the casino was used to launder money. The closing of the casino was a blow to Lake Elsinore, as the city’s mayor said it was “a great partner for the city” that employed 274 people, making it the fourth largest employer in the city. There has been an appeal, with no resolution as of March 2020. Source and Source
Historically the United Order is a religion that has depended on growth from within, including the birth of several thousand children that are a result of incestuous relationships. While the top leaders are very wealthy, their money hasn’t all come through hard work. Even though the church makes lots of money with its businesses, some members–especially polygamous wives and their children–live with very little. It appears that this will remain a religion that is beholden to the Kingstons who, as long as they are allowed, will maintain psychological control of the members while living in their own little fiefdoms. Meanwhile, women and children in this organization continue to be harmed by the policies of the church and the dictatorial rule of their husbands/fathers.
To see articles on other splinter groups of Mormonism, click here.