In November I heard Anna Maria Tremente interview Rachel Jeffs on the CBC radio program The Current. Rachel, a former member of the Fundamentalist Church of Latter Day Saints has written a book called Breaking Free and Anna Maria was talking to Rachel about the story she shares in that book. I purchased the book last week and read it quickly, partly because the story was so troubling I wanted to get it finished. Rachel’s life experience demonstrates how easily religion can be used as a tool to imprison people. Rachel experienced love and care and support in her FLDS homes from her siblings and mothers but she was also at the mercy of her mentally unstable father Warren Jeffs, who was the prophet or leader of the FLDS movement and had to be obeyed unquestioningly. Warren had 70 wives some of them as young as twelve. Her father began sexually abusing Rachel when she was eight. When Rachel was eighteen her father arranged for her to marry a FLDS man who already had two other wives. Rachel’s father was arrested in 2008 for aggrevated sexual assault and imprisoned for life but he continues to run his religious empire from his prison cell. It was his edicts from prison that forced Rachel to be separated from her own children for months at a time and the last time her father issued an order that she be put into isolation, Rachel knew she had to flee her FLDS faith family in order to protect her children.
One wonders why nothing can be done to break up this religious group. But its members have been so brainwashed they believe the imprisoned Jeffs must be followed blindly if they want to acheive eternal salvation. That makes them prisoners too and is why their group continues to exist.
I think part of what is so unsettling about this story is that it makes me think about the dangerous and destructive behaviors of my own church in the past, forcing women to be submissive by not allowing them to assume any sort of leadership, pastors using their power over women to take sexual advantage, congregations ostracizing LGBTQ people and saying they must change to part of the church, and scaring children into obeying by telling them if they don’t they will go to hell. That’s a troubling legacy as well.
Stories like Rachel’s remind us that religion can be used for both good and evil and the line is never as black and white as we might think.