“The Horrifying True Story of ‘Keep Sweet: Pray and Obey’, and the Cult of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints” – Laura MARTIN

ESQUIRE, 8 June 2022

A four-part documentary directed by Rachel Dretzin, Keep Sweet: Pray and Obey tells the story of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (FLDS), and its disgraced leader, Warren Jeffs. But what’s the true story behind the religion and how did it end up in the unholy place it is now?

How did the FLDS start?

The FLDS comes from the initial religion of the Mormons, otherwise known as Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. While the Mormons did away with polygamy (the practice of allowing men to marry more than one woman) in 1890 so they could get a statehood for Utah, one fundamentalist splinter sect moved away in the 1930s and settled in Short Creek, also known as Colorado City, Arizona.

This group, the FLDS, still believed in polygamy, and carried it out. It was believed the more women a man married, the closer he would get to God. Within the sect, women were forced to dress the same: long prairie dresses that covered every part of their body, and their hair tied back in a bun. Women were made to pray on the hour every hour – the brickwork of one of the main buildings has ‘pray and obey’ written into it – and all members were completely forbidden from going to or knowing anything about the outside world. Anyone who was seen to be breaking the rules, or who the leader (known as ‘the prophet’) wanted rid of was cast out and ex-communicated on a whim: mothers had their children effectively kidnapped and trafficked, other young people were thrown out of their families with no support, no money and no idea how the world worked outside of the FLDS doctrine.

The authorities had been aware of the illegal activities of the group since 1953, when 36 men, 86 women, and 263 children were either arrested or taken into custody during a pre-dawn raid in Arizona. But it wasn’t enough to disband the sect, as after promising to stop practising polygamy, the men were place on probation and almost all of the women and children who were made wards of the state returned back to the Arizona ranch… [+]