Utah polygamous church leader dies of a heart attack

Salt Lake Tribune/July 13, 2013

James Dee Harmston, leader of the True and Living Church of Jesus Christ of Saints of The Last Days, died June 27 in Sanpete County.

Last week, The Sanpete Messenger published two stories on Harmston and his church. I encourage you to buy a copy of the paper if you're in Sanpete County or go to the Messenger website if you're not. But here are a few important points from the coverage.

The Messenger had some more details on how Harmston's views developed in the early 1990s and his excommunication from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The newspaper quoted Greg Maylett, who was the Manti Stake President at the time, about the study groups Harmston and other Mormon church members were having.

"They started talking about things that perhaps had been in the church, but had been discontinued," Maylett told The Messenger.

In his stake alone, there were 60 or 70 communications over the group's views, Maylett said.

At some point, the Sanpete County Sheriff's Office and Utah Attorney General's Office investigated whether Harmston had a "spiritual" marriage to a 16-year-old girl. No charges were ever filed.

John Llewyllen, a former sex-crimes investigator who has researched the TLC, told The Messenger he expected the group to dissolve without Harmston.

"But you know, in most of those groups there's too much power and money to be had for it to just die out," Llewyllen added, "so I suspect there will be somebody who will want to take over, and I suspect there will be some competition."

Harmston has his supporters. The Messenger quoted follower John Pratt, who explained Harmston's divisiveness as being part of a great religious leader.

"In fact, Jesus himself says, 'I come not to bring peace,'" Pratt told the newspaper. So being divisive, "that's the earmark of a true prophet. And that's been the earmark of prophets all throughout the course of history."

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