Recently Netflix added Keep Sweet: Pray and Obey. It seemed to be a boring docuseries about Warren Jeffs and his descent into controlling a sect of Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-Day Saints (FLDS). Since I am not a Mormon and had no idea who Warren Jeffs was or even the difference between FLDS members and LDS (non-fundamentalists) members, I decided this would be an easy watch that would induce a nap. I was incredibly wrong.
Insane is an understatement for this magnificent show directed by Rachel Dretzin. Opening with the chilling statement “Wifes, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord” ripped straight out of Ephesians 5:22, sets the horrifying tone which is so prevalent in our society today. This four-episode limited series will keep you on the edge of your seat and will leave you utterly confused and disgusted at the end.
Warning: going forward, there will be spoilers for this docuseries, so stop now if you’re interested in watching the show without being spoiled. Also, there are some very sensitive topics in this article and in the show, so please be aware when reading.
Before I begin, I want to address that this is not a critique of the Mormon faith and that there is a very distinct separation between FLDS members and LDS members. I am not trying to promote any type of discrimination of any person. I recognize that since I am not a member of the Mormon church myself I cannot fully understand some of the topics addressed in this documentary. If you are interested in learning more about the Mormon faith I highly suggest you get your information about them from actual Mormons.
Growing up in Salt Lake City and being an active member of the LDS church, Rulon Jeffs fell off the bandwagon around the 1930s when he decided that he wanted to practice Fundamentaist ideals. Most significantly he wanted to practice polygamy (having multiple spouses). In 1890 the LDS church split from the FLDS church over this main issue, along with some other issues such as following certain federal laws and paying taxes. In 1941, Rulon Jeffs was excommunicated with the LDS church and became fully a part of the FLDS church. He would go on to become a highly influential part of the FLDS church that was in Salt Lake City.
In 2002 Rulon Jeffs, President of the FLDS, passed away. At this time he had about 65 or so wifes, some of whom were under the age of 16. This tradition was passed down to his much more influential and much more insane son, Warren Jeffs. His son would take his place as President, then move to the Prophet, and then to Father himself (even though it was never official).
Jeffs, the latter, took part in insane amounts of statutory rape and was an accomplice of this to many other men who were in his sect of FLDS members. Once the outside world heard of this, he went on the FBI’s most wanted list along with Osama Bin Laden. Though, this did not discourage him because he was using church funds to go to Disneyland and Mardi Gras! I personally don’t think God would be sending a person to Disneyland on a mission, but maybe the Father wanted to meet Mickey Mouse. Caught on the side of the road with his brother and his favorite wife, Warren Jeffs was convicted of two counts of sexual assault of a child and sentenced to life in prison plus twenty years later because he was an accomplice to statutory rape of a child in 2011.
The victims of Rulon Jeffs, Warren Jeffs, and the FLDS church speak out in Keep Sweet: Pray and Obey with their own stories of what happened to them. Their retelling of the not so distant past is harrowing and heart wrenching. The idea that this was happening a little over 10 years ago and still happens today disgusts me. There are literal children being sexually consummated to men in their 80s! There are families who put all their faith in the desires of one man who could change anything he wanted with the story that God told him to do it.
It has always fascinated me that people would be complicit to this, but that is the exact problem. I was wrong, people are complicit because they are victims. They have no way out. If they leave, they have no one on the other side. In their mind there is no other side. We must be willing to change the way we view people in cults or who are experiencing the effects of things like this, in order to help them.
We cannot force someone to believe something because belief is not a choice. People don’t choose what to believe in or what not to believe in. I can’t say I choose to believe in Budda or I choose to believe in Santa Clause because I don’t! If I said that I would be lying. Belief requires convincing. That is the only way that people will be able to leave a cult and it is the only reason people stay in them. They are convinced that if they leave, there will be no one there waiting for them and there will be no one willing to accept what happened to them.
Keep Sweet: Pray and Obey has truly changed the way I think about true crime and how extreme religion influences violence. It’s, once again, a beautifully made docuseries that does a wonderful job at destigmatizing voicing when someone is experiencing violence of any kind.
Plus, if you enjoyed this you may also like Under the Banner of Heaven on Hulu starring Andrew Garfield, which is a docudrama of solving the murder of Brenda Lafferty.