Church of Lies by Flora Jessop

My reading plan was derailed when Church of Lies by Flora Jessop and Paul T. Brown came in from the library. I put down The Book Thief and picked up Church of Lies, just to have a look at it. My look ended when I finished the book.

This is a non-fiction memoir of Flora Jessop’s life in the polygamous FLDS (fundamentalist Mormon) cult, her escape, recovery from the brainwashing of that group, and efforts to assist girls and young mothers in getting away. It’s a ripping yarn, but more seriously it exposes a Taliban-like group right here in our midst:

After I turned fourteen, I had something else to worry about; being assigned a husband. Every FLDS girl understood that as soon as she turned twelve, she could be married off at the whim of the Prophet. At age fourteen, I was prime predators’ meat, and every man–no matter how old–was a potential spouse. And what was worse, the majority of the men already had more than one wife. The Prophet’s council of old men had been secretly kicking teenage boys out of town for years, fearful of competition for wives and places in the celestial kingdom. The numbers of those poor “lost boys” would only increase as the years went on. (p 73)

Polygamy isn’t an adjunct but the reason for being within this group. They believe that a man gets into the highest level of heaven by marrying at least 3 wives (though recently I heard an interview where one of the leaders indicate that number was now 7). At that level, after he dies he gets to be god of his own planet just as “God” is the god of earth (and “he” has his own god.) His wives get into heaven and become queens of the planet through him.

A woman’s only value is in reproduction. Abuse is rampant in crowded households where 30 children or more are squeezed into a handful of bedrooms, dirty diapers sit untended in pails, food and other resources are scarce while teenage mothers compete with older, used-up wives for what is available for them and their children. Education is limited to the Prophet’s religious teachings. Depression is common in these circumstances, skills few. Violence, fear of the “evil” outside world, and religious brainwashing is used to control the members of the cult.

And all of this is happening not in some third world, but right here in Canada and the United States, primarily Utah, Arizona, Texas and British Columbia. The democratic principle of freedom of religion is manipulated by the leaders of this cult to hide the reality of what they are doing: forcibly marrying close relatives, abusing children and keeping them from access to basic education and information. Books, tv, internet, movies are all forbidden. Medical care is practically non-existent. Welfare fraud is also rampant as families “bleed the beast,” the term used for that practice within the FLDS.

Even those who are sincere within the FLDS struggle to maintain these huge families. Money is always an issue. Some of the leaders are extremely wealthy, but their families are commensurately larger, as status comes from the numbers of wives and children and hence there is still struggle for space and food. Women typically bear 10 or more children each, and with over 7 wives–you can picture the rest.

Warren Jeffs, the latest Prophet of the FLDS is in jail for marrying children as young as 12. But the abuses continue even as the Canadian Supreme Court is investigating Winston Blackmore. (The Canadian community split into two factions when Blackmore, an FLDS bishop was excommunicated by Jeffs in another power play). Tens of thousands of people live under their domination, assisted by their henchmen.

Memoirs like Church of Lies are critically important to exposing the reality. The members of this community are skilled at putting up a front. Children from very young are taught to show no emotion but obedient cheerfulness, called “keeping sweet”. One of the ways that this is taught is by spanking a baby, then putting the baby’s face under running water when the baby cries.

That is the beginning of the child’s sweetness. Are you as outraged as I am?

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4 thoughts on “Church of Lies by Flora Jessop

  1. This sounds atrocious and barbaric.

    1. And what bothers me is the way the media plays it. People see women in long, old-fashioned pastel dresses and men with ties and short hair and everything is surrounded by a golden, nostalgic glow. I’m just glad the edges are starting to crumble, first with Warren Jeffs’ conviction, and more recently one of his cronies, Merrill Jessop (one of his wives left and wrote another fascinating memoir, Escape).

  2. What a horrifying situation. The book sounds fascinating. I’m glad someone is bringing this into the open.

    1. Me, too, Becca. I’ve read a few of these memoirs and there is a large and growing community of ex-FLDSers to help the others.

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