Prophetic LDS subculture face divisions over leadership scandal

The prophetic subculture within the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints is experiencing new strains and divisions over the alleged crimes scandal involving teachers Chad and Lori Daybell, according to the e-newsletter Sightings (February 27, 2020). The couple are under suspicion for child disappearances and unexplained deaths of family members and have been labeled as “cult leaders” by the mainstream media. As end-times and prophetic teachers and groups within the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints have been marginalized by church leaders, they have retreated into their own subculture, with various digital communities and organizations such as Preparing a People being the most recent outgrowths. Christopher James Blythe writes that there is a tendency among these communities to draw on influences from other prophetic groups that are not usually found among the LDS. For instance, ideas are taken from proponents of new age spirituality and prepper communities. Participants may share by personal revelations, dreams, and visions about the last days. A few visionaries have published or given lectures on their own collections of their revelations. “This is not uncontroversial, but it usually is presented as personal revelation that might be useful to others, rather than the individual establishing themselves as a source of authority outside of the Church of Jesus Christ,” Blythe writes.

Daybell has also revealed that his prophetic gifts began with a near-death experience when he was younger. While near-death experiences have become a common theme in prophetic writings, they are not part of the official discourse of the LDS. Blythe notes that “If we are speaking about the prophecy subculture as a whole, it would be very difficult to claim any of these visionaries are ‘cult leaders,’ at least not in the same category as David Koresh or Jim Jones. This is a marketplace for consumers of prophecy, not a religious organization in the traditional sense.” Even given its marginal status within the church, most individuals involved in this movement consider themselves strongly committed to the church and its leaders. Blythe notes that when popular visionary Julie Rowe was excommunicated in 2019, her audience dwindled rapidly. Chad Daybell would consider himself faithful to the Church of Jesus Christ. Those involved in the Latter-day Saint prophecy subculture are split around their support of the Daybells. “Many believe that Chad and Lori are innocent of any wrongdoing, that there is a custody battle occurring behind the scenes, and that the children are fine. Others have grown suspicious. LDS members involved in the prophetic subculture have seen past visionaries who gained popularity and then did questionable things. Only time will tell, but this controversy unfolding in the media will have a long-term impact on that community.”