“There is no force in our religion” is a mantra that has been heard over and over again from the FLDS women who have been put in front of the media. They deny that anyone is being forced to marry or forced to do anything. Yet, we hear experience after experience from both former and current members about coercive tactics that have been used in recent years to keep the FLDS members in line and do the bidding of Warren Jeffs.
It appears what we have here is a definition problem similar to “It depends on what the meaning of the word 'is' is.” Well, I guess it depends on what the meaning of the word “force” is to the FLDS.
Are force tactics used by the FLDS?
One FLDS member explained: “We tell the world we don’t force marriages. Is what we do is invite people to obey. The prophet then tells them which guy to marry. There’s no force involved. People choose to disobey. They have the right…. When they disobey they make a choice and the Lord tells the prophet to tell them to leave town. He has the right to forbid them to ever speak to even their families again. If a family chooses to disobey the prophet then they choose to disobey. If they choose to disobey then they make a choice to leave. They weren’t forced because they made that choice.”
This sounds like coercion rather than persuasion.
Certainly most Christian religions have rules. All would probably agree that Jesus Christ doesn’t force people to obey the rules. Are there consequences for breaking the rules? Yes. Does Jesus in the New Testament use coercion or persuasion? Does he still love those who break the rules?
A big difference among the FLDS is that the rule-breaker appears not to be truly loved anymore. They are branded as apostates. They are cast out, shunned, and there is no effort to seek after the “lost sheep.” They lose membership, property, and family.
One person explained: “Most religions have that theology (obey rules). The difference with the FLDS is they are told what to do in a lot more areas than most other religions from to they way to comb their hair in the morning down to the private thoughts they think. They always have that choice before them where most other people are given more options to choose from on a daily basis and that particular choice is all encompassing the little choices.”
It is important to realize that the FLDS didn’t always use these coercive tactics. Under leader LeRoy Johnson, the disobedient were cared for and given help. Under Rulon Jeffs the disobedient were tolerated. Under Warren Jeffs the disobedient were kicked out of the Church, evicted from UEP property, and families reassigned to other “more faithful” men.
One former member described the immediate changes felt as Warren Jeffs took over leadership: “I could smell rats right as soon as Uncle Rulon [Jeffs] passed away. Everything just started getting real cloudy when they started telling us to not ‘question authority.’ I mean to me that sounds like He didn't trust people to believe him when he self proclaimed himself as his fathers successor, I never heard his Father or Uncle Roy (LeRoy Johnson) say that kind of stuff.”
Another member: “President Johnson would not marry any girl that did not come and ‘turn herself in’ first. This was basically her saying ‘I am ready to be married and want you to do it.’ Warren has done away with this process and they have 5 minutes to decide or they are considered ‘Half-Hearted’ and not for the Prophet.”
An FLDS member counters with an opposing view: “No one is forced to marry at any age in the FLDS. The girls go to their good fathers when they want to get married. If he and their mother approve, then they would go see the Prophet. Every one of my sisters actually waited a while after they turned themselves in for marriage. Even after they seek the prophets council they have the option to say who they want to marry, or they can say yes or no to the man the prophet suggests without any recourse whatsoever. I saw it many times. The FLDS people seek to be inspired from heaven in all things, and most especially when it comes to this, the most important act in life. In heaven there is only peace. There is never force, ever. It is the opposite of the FLDS religion to force. We were taught that the devil was cast out of heaven because he wanted to force us to be good.”
Perhaps that was the way things were before the Warren Jeffs era.
What are the coercive FLDS rules? Here are some.
1. You must obey the prophet in all things. “The prophet is God with us and God over us. To obey the prophet is to obey God.” (WSJ 11/20/95) “We should consider any disobedience to the prophet as though it was death.” (WSF 12/21/95). With Warren Jeffs, those who didn’t obey the prophet lost their membership, property, and family.
2. All marriages must be arranged by the prophet. “You can only get married and be a priesthood family if he (the prophet) says whom you should marry." (WSJ 10/31/1995). “If a boy and girl agree to get married and just go do it, they can never be gods, because you must be married by revelation through the prophet.” (WSJ 11/1/95). Under Warren Jeffs, any who are not married properly they most likely lose their membership and are shunned by their family. They have no hope of going to heaven. There is no freedom of choice as to who to marry.
3. Boys and Girls must not date or interact together socially. “Don't date secretly with boys, you're just tricking yourself, ladies. You want a husband who is close to the prophet.” “I have been instructed that any young man who will not leave our girls alone is to be sent away and not allowed to be among us, even before they destroy the girl.” (WSJ 11/97)
A current member explains, “I did have a 17 year old cousin who did not want to get married but was very heavily pressured by her parents to enter the relationship. She did but left a couple months later."
Finally here is a sad story told by a former FLDS woman about herself. She remains anonymous, hasn’t written any books, and hasn’t gone before media.
“There once was a girl born of a good family who was good, obedient and prayerful. She loved her prophet, and yearned above all things to become a mother in Zion as the wife of a good priesthood man. But this girl was also mortal and she beheld one day a boy who was good and kind and perfect. Now, the good girl knows she is to have no contact or even thoughts about this boy and every time she thinks of him pushes the thought aside and thinks of her prophet instead. She wants to be good and do what is right. But, somehow, no matter how hard she fights it, the girl finally has to admit she loves the boy. Her only hope is to be good enough that maybe, someday if it is the Lord's will, she may be given to the boy as his eternal wife.”“But time wears on and the good girl is weak. She knows in her heart if the boy would only ask it of her she would leave with him forever. Her parents are suspicious and watch her and guard her in the name of protecting her and her salvation. Finally, when she can not take it any more, she asks her Father how to stop loving someone. Her father asks who she wants to stop loving, and the good girl tells him she wants to stop loving the boy so she can give herself to her husband- whomever he might be.”“The good girl's father uses her confession and plea for help as a weapon against the boy, taking the matter before the prophet. The girl's father pleads and pleads with the prophet to marry his daughter off soon for he fears she will be lost.”“So, the prophet sends a man over for the good girl. A man who is well known by the family for he is also married to her sister. The family knows he has been cruel to the sister- starving her into obedience when she was obedient already in the name of priesthood, yet they hope he has changed. He has been kind to the sister in recent years. Maybe he will be kind to the girl, too.”“The good girl marries the man, with the glory of heaven in her mind's eye, and when at the end of the ceremony she turns her head away from his kiss, she is greeted with laughter for her pure and innocent ways. The man grasps the good girl's face in both his hands so she cannot turn away from his kiss. The audience looks on happily as they seal their vows with this kiss. After all, the good girl said the words "of my own free will and choice," didn't she? It must be true. She gave up the boy to do what was right, didn't she? This must be what she wanted.”
Force or choice?
Prior to her marriage, here is how her parents treated her once they found out she loved a boy. “I was nineteen and I was living in near lock-down. My parents refused to let me get my drivers' license and no one else would help me get it. If I wanted to go anywhere, I had to first ask for permission, and then be accompanied by an older married adult (preferably female.) If none were available, I could not go. I could not use the telephone without permission, and my Father answered all incoming calls. There was no radio, Internet, or TV. My parents kept my social security card and my birth certificate locked away in a file cabinet and the key was hidden. So, I could not leave even if I had wanted to. I was also terrified of anything or anyone that was not FLDS.”
Force or choice?
A current FLDS member proclaims: “If a woman wants out, then she can leave, as parents, when they are still minors, we have to be responsible for them, but even then I have never seen any of the people I know force them to stay. . . . There is no force in our religion!!”
It depends on what the definition of “force” is.