The Church of the Firstborn (or, the "LeBaron order") is a grouping of competing factions of a Mormon fundamentalist religious lineage inherited, adherents believe, by a polygamous Latter-day Saint family community that had settled in Chihuahua, Mexico, by Alma Dayer LeBaron, Sr. by 1924. Factions accepting leadership succession by some of Dayer senior's sons self-describe as members of the Church of the Firstborn without a legally formalized organization. What became over time the most substantial faction is that of Church of the Firstborn of the Fulness of Times, often shortened as the Church of the Firstborn, which has been founded in September 1955 by three of Alma's sons, Joel, R. Wesley, and Floren LeBaron. Since its founding, the order's most notable enclave has been within the jurisdiction of Galeana Municipality, Chihuahua. The LeBarons christened the LeBaron ranch Colonia Le Barón in the 1950s. Especially in more recent years, it is a minor segment of the order that engages in the actual practice of polygamy. A substantial fraction of residents residing on and nearby order members' landholdings at Colonia LeBaron are not affiliated with the order, many of them identifying themselves on census reports as Roman Catholic and most of the remainder as evangélico (Protestant).
The LeBaron family, led by Alma Dayer LeBaron, Sr., affiliated with the leadership of Mormon fundamentalist leader Joseph White Musser beginning in 1936. In 1944, the LeBarons were excommunicated from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church) for teaching and practicing plural marriage. For the next 11 years, a number of LeBarons associated themselves to various degrees with Rulon C. Allred's Apostolic United Brethren.
Soon thereafter, various LeBarons declared that their family was possessed of especial priesthood keys of authority to a pre-millennial demi-messianic office or offices, in the restored earthly kingdom of God, with their ultimate leader said to possess this Right of the Firstborn becoming variously titled for example the One Mighty and Strong, the Presiding Patriarch in All the World, and so forth, the LeBarons' believing him the rightful heir of Joseph Smith Jr.'s mantle as leader of the early Latter Day Saints' Council of Fifty (via early Latter Day Saint Council of Fifty member Benjamin F. Johnson). On 21 September 1955, Joel LeBaron and his brothers Ross and Floren visited Salt Lake City, Utah, and there organized the Church of the Firstborn of the Fulness of Times; Joel was ordained President of the Church, with Floren as first counselor in the First Presidency and Ross as head patriarch. Shortly thereafter, Joel reported being visited by nineteen former prophets, including Jesus, Abraham, Moses, Elijah, and Joseph Smith. In early 1956, the LeBaron brothers returned to Chihuahua. Their father Alma and brother Ervil became the fourth and fifth members of the new church; their mother Maud also eventually joined. Several months later, Ervil LeBaron published a pamphlet titled "Priesthood Expounded", which became a foundational text for the order.
A rival organizational structure for the order – which is named, in full, the Church of the Firstborn – additionally was formed in 1955 by Ross Wesley LeBaron, which Wesley thereafter led from its headquarters in Salt lake City, Utah. Wesley believed he had been sent to prepare the way for the One Mighty and Strong, who would be "an Indian prophet" Joel and R. Wesley respectively claimed their especial "Firstborn order" priesthood lines of authority from Alma Dayer LeBaron, who had been ordained by Dayer's grandfather Benjamin F. Johnson, who had received these priesthood keys from Joseph Smith. LeBaron invited Allred and his followers to join their new order, but their invitation was rejected.
Three notable followers have been Fred Collier, Tom Green, and Robert Black. This sect has attracted fewer adherents than had the earlier Firstborn faction co-founded by Wesley and headed by his brother Joel. Since Wesley's passing, some would-be successor groups generally are not termed as being "LeBarons" or the like; e.g., as of 2004, there were about 100 members of the Collier branch of the Firstborn order branch in Hanna, Utah with additional sect members living in Mexico; likewise, the Tom Green group consider themselves heirs to the Wesley LeBaron-founded organization.
Colonia Le Baron is located in the northwest of the state of Chihuahua, near the towns of Nuevo Casas Grandes, Colonia Juarez, and Colonia Dublán. It lies thirteen kilometers south of the county seat of Galeana and twenty-one kilometers north of San Buenaventura, its main means of access from Mexican Federal Highway 10. Its geographical coordinates are 30 ° 00'45 "N 107 ° 34'03" W and is located at an altitude 1,480 meters above sea level. According to the results of the Census of Population and Housing 2005 by the National Institute of Statistics and Geography, the population of Le Baron is 1,051 inhabitants, of which 496 are men and 555 are women.
The population of Colonia LeBaron includes several hundred practitioners of the Church of the Firstborn faith. along with additional followers in Baja California, California, Central America, and Utah.
According to the Instituto Nacional para el Federalismo y el Desarrollo Municipal, Gobierno del Estado de Chihuahua, Colonia LeBaron's population was 1,137. Galeana (which includes LeBaron)'s population was 3,763 in 1996. The predominant religion was Roman Catholic, at 80.9% of the population of people over 15, with the remainder principally Mormon (viz., "Latter Day Saint movement members") and evangelico ("Protestant").
The Church of the Firstborn is one of the few Mormon fundamentalist churches to have engaged in active proselytization. While most of their efforts have been focused on attracting Mormon fundamentalists from other groups to join their order, missionaries of the church have preached and distributed tracts at the LDS Church strongholds of Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, and outside the gates of Temple Square in Salt Lake City. The church's pamphlet "Priesthood Expounded" and other tracts became instrumental in the conversion of nine LDS Church missionaries of the church's French Mission to the LeBaron order, an incident that has been described as the "worst missionary apostasy in the history of the [LDS] Church".
By 1962, Ervil LeBaron was the Presiding Patriarch of the church and number two in authority to Joel LeBaron. By 1967 he was teaching that he, not Joel, was the proper head of the church. Joel and other leaders of the church denounced Ervil and released him from his position.
In August 1972, Ervil LeBaron and his followers established the rival Church of the First Born of the Lamb of God. Ervil began teaching his followers that he was the "One Mighty and Strong" prophesied of in the Doctrine and Covenants, and he prophesied that "Joel will be put to death". On 20 August 1972, Joel LeBaron was shot in the head by one of Ervil's followers, becoming one of the victims of the Ervil LeBaron murders (in which members of the Church of the Lamb of God committed dozens of assassinations of both members of its parent LeBaron sect and of other Mormon fundamentalist groups).
The Church of the Firstborn has experienced ongoing leadership succession controversies following its founder's assassination. Joel was succeeded by his brother Verlan, who was killed in an automobile accident in 1981. Precise continuity of leadership within the Church of the Firstborn is unknown, with various groupings of believers' following one or another putative successors to leadership.
In 2009, the LeBaron enclave in Mexico and received national attention in Mexico within the context of war against drug trafficking in Mexico, especially in the northwestern region of the state of Chihuahua. On May 2, Erick Le Baron, 17, was kidnapped for an attempted ransom amount of US$1 million. However, the spokesman of the entire LeBaron community had previously announced its decision not pay any ransom but instead to seek the release of the young man, who was finally freed by his captors on May 10 without there having been made a ransom payment. Throughout this event, the community spoke out publicly, both in the state capital, Chihuahua, and national and international media against the growing insecurity experienced in the region and maintained its intention to continue a policy of refusal to pay ransoms in cases of possible kidnappings.
On July 6, 2009, Erick's brother, Benjamin, and another order member, Luis Widmar Stubbs, were kidnapped and soon thereafter were murdered on the streets of Colonia LeBaron by a group of armed assailants, who left a written message with the victims' bodies message which stated that this crime was in retaliation for Benjamin's activism against the traffickers.
In the immediate aftermath, the Mexican manned a garrisoned in the town. In 2012 Chihuahua state legislator Alex LeBaron began campaigning for change to Mexican gun laws to legalize arming citizens for self-defense.
In 2006, Susan Ray Schmidt, sixth wife of Verlan LeBaron published His Favorite Wife (updated in 2009), in 2007 Irene Spencer, wife of Verlan LeBaron, published Shattered Dreams and in 2009, Cult Insanity, – rebutted in 2011 by Thomas J. Liddiard in Shedding Light: Some Observations of a Book Entitled 'Cult Insanity' – and in 2016 Ruth Wariner, daughter of Joel LeBaron, published The Sound of Gravel about experience in the religious group.