Inside the scandal that shocked America.
Who Is the FLDS Church?
FLDS is an acronym that stands for the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Although they are technically an offshoot of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, the official name of the Mormon church. It’s important to recognize that the official Church Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints is not associated with the FLDS, nor do they condone their teachings. Although the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints did practice polygamy for a short period of time, the official LDS church has condoned such practices, they have not condoned polygamy since 1890. The practice of polygamy has been used, along with other methods, to retain control over members and perpetuate a culture of oppression.
A Culture Built around Marriage
Under Rulan Jeffs, girls would “turn themselves in” when they were ready to be married. However, there is a lot of evidence to suggest that underage marriage did take place, but it became much more frequent once Warren Jeffs became the prophet. Many of these women were told that marriage was the highest Earthly calling, and there was an enormous social pressure for these young girls and women to be obedient and loving wives, even to men that they had not wanted to marry. In some cases, they begged to be released from the responsibility of marriage. However, many of these young girls did go through with the marriage due to pressure and fear.
Keep Sweet, Pray, and Obey
It was Warren Jeffs’s father Rulon Jeffs who popularized the phrase, “keep sweet.”
Women were reminded to refrain from emotional outbursts, and other acts that were seen as immoral. Although women were certainly treated as second class citizens under Rulon Jeffs, things became much worse when Warren Jeffs took over. Under Warren Jeffs, women were not allowed to wear patterns, or certain colors. Warren Jeffs even went as far as dictating the way women needed to wear their hair. Warren often said “perfect obedience is led by a hair,” meaning that his followers ought to be so obedient that they could be led by a hair, without the hair breaking.
You may wonder how anyone can end up in a religious cult. However, it’s important to understand the psychological component of the situation. Not only were they subjected and conditioned to be afraid of the spiritual consequences of leaving, many of these people–both men and women–were not equipped with the education or skills necessary to survive outside of the FLDS compound. In many cases, the FLDS church owned the houses that the members were living in. So members who were disobedient could be left homeless if the church decided to kick them out of their homes. Although there were likely many, many people who wanted to leave, most people found that, logistically speaking, leaving the FLDS was not feasible. Women who were considered to be more independent and rebellious were often married very young and were forced to become pregnant in order to keep the women around.
Wait, Why Was This Allowed?
Polygamy is illegal. However, polygamy can be difficult to prove, especially when victims are in a society that is very standoffish. Many of those within FLDS groups do not associate with those outside the FLDS. Due to the amount of secrecy, it was very difficult for authorities to gather evidence against the FLDS. Furthermore, it was even more difficult for authorities to get convictions because many of the victims did not want to testify against their family members. Many of these FLDS communities were located in remote areas where Warren Jeffs was able to choose his own police officers and officials. So there were people who knew what was going on, but those people did not feel inclined to report it. Furthermore, it’s very difficult for authorities to convict individuals when there isn’t a lot of evidence, or victims willing to testify. However, once victims of underage marriage came forward, it became easier for authorities to file charges.
Though it seems difficult to get out of the FLDS church, it’s not impossible. If you’re currently in a religious group in Utah, and you need help leaving, there are resources available to you.
Remember, if you’re trying to get out, there is a way out.