Tom and I are living in Mormon country. We are surrounded by members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. For the most part, these folks are just like everybody else: hardworking, friendly, respectful, and doing their best to live in ways that please God. Within the area, however, there are also members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS). This is a fringe group of Mormons led by “prophet” Warren Jeffs that still practices polygamy. In the book, “Breaking Free,” Rachel Jeffs describes her life growing up in the FLDS.
One of the things that Tom and I have noticed about the Latter Day Saints is their emphasis on obedience. Not only are children raised to obey their parents, they are also raised to obey the leaders of the church. In the FLDS this obedience is taken to extremes as adults and children live in obedience to the orders of the prophet. Just as “Breaking Free” tells the story of Rachel’s life in the FLDS, it also describes Warren Jeffs’ descent into madness. How far would you follow a madman?
In “Breaking Free,” Rachel describes a childhood that was almost normal, until her father started sexually abusing her. Because no one is allowed to disobey the prophet, Rachel had no one to tell about her abuse. She finally escaped the abuse when her father ordered her to marry at the age of 16. Although Rachel was the second wife of her husband, she loved him and had five children with him.
But the prophet, Warren Jeffs, was on the run from the federal government. His increasingly bizarre behavior included having sex with multiple underage girls, all of which he claimed as wives. Once Jeffs was arrested and convicted to life in prison for rape, incest, and sexual assault, the FLDS continued to follow the orders he sent from prison. These pronouncements included ordering husbands to refrain from sex with their wives. Women, including Rachel, were separated from their husbands and children as punishment for disobedience. Men who stood up to Jeffs were banished from the community.
Desperate to be reunited with her children, Rachel did whatever was necessary to make amends. She feared being separated permanently from her children. She also believed that if she left the FLDS, she would be turning her back on God. Although she knew her father was insane, she didn’t believe she had any legal recourse. Members of the FLDS are taught from childhood to fear the federal government and any law enforcement officials.
Finally, in an act of great courage, Rachel arranges an escape with some relatives who have left the FLDS. She takes her children and finds refuge among other conservative Mormons who have broken away from the cult. The book concludes with her struggles in trying to fit into a world that is very different from the one she left behind.
People today are fascinated by the FLDS and polygamy. Polygamy is still illegal in the United States, but as long as the women are 18 or over when they get married, and no one is being abused, polygamists are usually not prosecuted. Polygamists who rise in the public eye, such as the family in the TLC program “Sister Wives” might be prosecuted for a misdemeanor and fined.
“Breaking Free” is a first-hand account of living in and escaping the FLDS community. Rachel Jeffs tells her story courageously, knowing she will face backlash from the FLDS community. This book, along with programs like Lifetime’s “Escaping Polygamy,” is helping victims escape the abuses of polygamy. I found it helpful as I work and live in a community where members of the FLDS live.