Apocalypticism was once part of the mainstream of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints but, as was the case with polygamy a few years prior, Church leaders successfully pushed it to the periphery of the faith in the early twentieth century. In the digital age, a network of authors, visionaries, conferences, and internet communities have forged a unique subculture immersed in prophecy and prepping for imminent disasters.
This is not to say that the average Latter-day Saint doesn’t believe in an approaching second coming—they do—but such beliefs are vaguer and set to occur in a remote future. Through a series of books, the earliest of which gained popularity during the Y2K panic, the LDS prophecy subculture developed its own unique expectations for the end that would become increasingly foreign to that of their fellow Latter-day Saints. Particularly influential titles include Roger K. Young’s As a Thief in the Night (1990), John Pontius’s Visions of Glory: One Man’s Astonishing Account of the Last Days (2012), and Julie Rowe’s A Greater Tomorrow: My Journey Beyond the Veil (2014).
The media has given this prophecy subculture unparalleled attention since December 2019 when apocalyptic fiction author and visionary Chad Daybell and his new wife, Lori Vallow—sometimes referred to as the “doomsday couple”—began to appear across various platforms. The details surrounding the disappearance of their children and three mysterious deaths, including their former spouses,are available at any number of major news sources across the country. But few of these outlets have been able to offer much insight into a document released last week, a numbered list that Chad sent to Lori in January 2019 entitled, “Seven missions to accomplish together,” which reveals how their beliefs relate to this larger movement.
The list as it appears in the document is as follows:
- Translate ancient records
- Write the book about the translation process
- Identify locations in northeast Arizona for white camps
- Presidency of the Church of the Firstborn
- Help establish the food distribution as the tribulations start and the[n] delegate
- Ordain individuals to translation as the camps begin
- Provide supplies to righteous members of families
The first two missions, to “Translate ancient records,” and to “Write the book about the translation process,” clue us in to how Chad and Lori Daybell perceive themselves. Latter-day Saints acknowledge Joseph Smith, the founder of their faith, with the four-part title Prophet, Seer, Revelator, and Translator. For Chad and Lori to translate ancient records would be a feat capable of proving their prophetic bona-fides. Since Joseph Smith translated the Book of Mormon from an ancient record in 1830, Latter-day Saints have looked forward to further scriptures.
The most likely scenario is that Chad and Lori expected to translate the “sealed portion” of the Book of Mormon, a part of this quintessential LDS scripture that’s been held back for the Last Days. In his novel, The Great Gathering, the first installment in his Stand in Holy Places series, Chad wrote about the discovery of these ancient plates in Guatemala.
The reference to a book that explains the “translation process,” probably indicates that Chad planned to continue to produce apocalyptic literature, in this case about how some individuals would become immortal before the Second Coming.
For the third mission, Chad and Lori were to find “locations in northeast Arizona for white camps.” The idea of “tent cities” or “cities of light” are a common theme in the literature of the Latter-day Saint prophecy subculture. The term “white camps” likely refers to the white tents that are often seen in visions, thoughit might also refer to the divine protection these tent cities will receive.
The idea of locating a site to weather the difficult time period preceding the Second Coming of Christ is a revival of nineteenth century efforts to gather in the Rocky Mountains for safety. This concept of “gathering,” in the Latter-day Saint tradition, is how God protects the righteous during the apocalypse. Several authors, including Chad Daybell himself, have described how these camps would be organized after the leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints issue a “call out,” directing the church’s membership to leave their homes. Chad and Lori would be appointed to organize the camps in northeast Arizona, just as other visionaries have seen themselves organizing camps in other regions.
“Presidency of the Church of the Firstborn,” the couple’s fourth mission, concerns the presidency of the Church of the Firstborn. Among Latter-day Saints, the Church of the Firstborn refers to those in the highest degree of heaven, the Celestial Kingdom. For this reason, it has also been the name of several Latter-day Saint schisms, including the infamous LeBaron brother group that made the headlines in the 1970s for a handful of murders.
Despite speculation to the contrary, the Daybells have nothing to do with any of these groups. In the contemporary prophecy subculture, it is often believed that the Church of the Firstborn will be established on earth during the apocalypse as a successor of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Apparently, Chad and Lori believe they will establish an actual hierarchy over this Last Days church.
Their fifth and seventh missions, to, “Help establish the food distribution as the tribulations start and the[n] delegate,” and to “Provide supplies to righteous members of families,” suggest that Lori and Chad would eventually need to move on from their leadership over the camps, arranging for food distribution and then delegating that responsibility to other “righteous” leaders.
Lori and Chad’s sixth mission is to “ordain individuals to translation as the camps begin.” In other words, they would officiate in a ritual that would make select people immortal. The selection of these translated persons relates to Joseph Smith’s understanding of the Book of Revelation’s 144,000. Smith believed this body would be a missionary force that would be sent out at the time of global cataclysm “to bring as many as will come to the church of the Firstborn.” (D&C 77:11)
The selection of the 144,000 is a recurring scene in apocalyptic visions and fictional writings popular in the LDS prophecy subculture. In Chad Daybell’s novel The Celestial City, published in 2008, he described how the Latter-day Saint prophet would send word to individual camps with the names of those who should be appointed as part of this “vast group of high priests—144,000 of you—who will search the earth for the pure in heart.” However, it would appear that twelve years later Chad and Lori came to believe that they might take the lead in this process themselves.
What these seven missions detail is the founding of a Last Days community, whose members would find safety together while American society would be overcome by natural disaster, disease, riots, foreign invasion, and religious persecution. This is, of course, a general outline of their intentions as there are still mysteries surrounding Chad and Lori Daybell’s beliefs and how they may relate to the disappearance of JJ Vallow and Tylee Ryan, along with the the suspicious deaths of Tammy Daybell, Charles Vallow, and Alex Cox.
What we know for sure with the new document is that the “Doomsday Couple” sees themselves as benevolent messianic figures preparing the world for the apocalypse. Fortunately, the list of their missions didn’t include any murders. Perhaps there’s still hope that Chad and Lori’s elevated sense of self-importance hasn’t led them to add more sinister deeds to their list.