“Keep Sweet: Pray and Obey,” is a 2022 Netflix documentary limited series, directed by Rachel Dretzin and Grace McNally. It focuses on the criminal case of the infamous FLDS prophet, Warren Jeffs, but it draws your attention to many other aspects too. It is disheartening to see how Jeffs was able to brainwash and abuse the women in his community for years, and nobody dared to go against a frail-looking man with the fear of being persecuted by the Almighty and not being able to secure a place in Zion. Even worse than the abuse that the women were being subjected to in the FLDS community was the fact that they believed that the so-called prophets were not wrong in doing so, and that it was an essential attribute of every good woman to serve her male counterpart unconditionally. The word “unconditionally” meant that they could be used and abused according to the whims and fancies of their husbands, and if they tried to raise their voice, or speak up against the barbaric and inhuman conditions they were subjected to, then the Prophet would question their character, and they wouldn’t be welcomed in Zion. These women were like birds who didn’t know that the wings they had were meant for flying. They believed in the narrative that they belonged in the cage, and that they couldn’t ask for anything better. The docu-series enrages you, makes you feel helpless, and often makes you realize how one’s faith could be used against them.
The Immortal Rulon Jeff And The Placement Principle
First and foremost, it is important to say here that an outsider who is ignorant about the ways and meanings of the religion called Mormonism might not understand the clear distinction between the Mormons and Fundamentalist Mormons. Hence, it is our duty to not fall under the vice of stereotyping and put each and every person under the same bracket. The Mormons (LDS), though, believe in the teachings of Joseph Smith, have evolved with time and adapted to more contemporary practices while keeping the sanctity of their religion intact. The fundamentalists (FLDS), on the other hand, uphold the teachings and customs that were prevalent in the times of Joseph Smith, the founder of the religion. One of the most significant differences between the two is that, unlike LDS, the FLDS community practices polygamy.
The president of the FLDS church, Rulon Jeff, was often heard saying that he was immortal. “The Prophet” was the representative of God on earth, and whatever revelations he got had to be blindly followed by each and every member of the Mormon fundamentalist group. He taught his disciples that it was their duty to keep multiple wives, as only then they would be able to go to Zion (paradise). In the narrative followed by the FLDS church, the opportunity of becoming a prophet of God was only available for the males of society. Women, in general, had no rights but had ample amounts of duty as compared to their male counterparts. Their main objective in life was to serve their husbands, talk sweet no matter how harsh the circumstances get, obey the commands of their husbands and do whatever is told by the one true Prophet, i.e., Rulon Jeffs.
As a matter of fact, everything in the FLDS community was about the “heavenly father” and chasing that eternal dream. Seeing any spiritual leader who misuses the powers vested in him, you realize how convenient it is to have your way without even getting blamed for it. Rulon Jeffs, like any other FLDS prophet, used to interact with the almighty on a daily basis through what they call “revelations.” Whatever sinister vice the old imposter wanted to indulge in, he could do it with ease, as it was always a command from God. It was strange that he only got revelations that were aimed at fulfilling his desires, and the followers conjectured that it must be the will of God. “Keep Sweet: Pray and Obey” is the story of those few girls who defied their God and fought for their lives. Rebecca Wall Musser was born to Lloyd Wall and Sharon Steed. She was forced to marry Rulon Jeffs, as, according to the placement principle, the Prophet had the power to decide who a girl married. It was a matter of pride for her family, as the 86-year-old Prophet had chosen the 19-year-old to be his wife. She was expected to cherish this moment as, apparently, it was all a girl could ask for. There was a kind of barter that happened in the FLDS community. When Rulon Jeffs married Rebecca, he gave a girl to her father also to get married. Lloyd Wall was happy as he was always told that more marriages meant you were closer to attaining that godly status. Rebecca was physically and mentally abused by Rulon Jeffs and lived in a state of constant fear. In the documentary “Keep Sweet: Pray and Obey,” she recounts how there was a line of sister-wives outside the Prophet’s bedroom to wish him good night, and how he would pick one wife from the lot, with whom he wanted to stay the night. The God, who was supposed to be immortal, died in 2002, at the age of 92. More than grief, there was a state of confusion among the people, who were still not ready to take their Prophet as any other normal man. This was the perfect opportunity for a man who was lurking in the shadows until now, but was pretty much-controlling everything while keeping Rulon Jeffs in the forefront. Warren Jeffs, son of Rulon Jeffs and Marilyn Steed, decided to take the mantle and be the light that guides the innocent souls to the promised afterlife named Zion.
What Was The Aim Of Warren Jeffs?
If we put it in short, Warren Jeffs was a totalitarian who wanted the complete subservience of the people. The docu-series, “Keep Sweet: Pray and Obey,” shows us how he camouflaged his fantasies as revelations and pretended to be the Savior who would guide them at the end of days. The Olympics were going to happen in the United States of America in 2002, and Warren Jeffs told the FLDS community to shift to a place called Short Creek if they wanted to stay alive and survive the doomsday. In Mormon theology, it was believed that during the end of days, the whole earth would burn in fire, apart from a part of the land that would rise above the rest. It was said that only the faithful and worthy would be allowed on that piece of land. The members of the FLDS community believed Short Creek to be that land. But nothing happened, obviously, and Warren needed an excuse that made sense so that people didn’t undermine his position. He told the people that God was just trying to test them and that they all passed with flying colors. Basically, what Warren wanted to do was to move everybody to a secluded location so that he had better control over them and could maintain a safe distance from the U.S. authorities. Warren knew that he could be convicted of what he was doing. He married a lot of wives of Rulon Jeffs, after the latter died, and established a strict code of conduct for the girls. They had to dress and carry themselves in a manner prescribed by the church. He started marrying a lot of underage girls, presuming that nobody would speak against him or try to question his authority. Rebecca’s younger sister, Elissa, was forced to get married to her cousin, Allen Steed. She was only 14 at that time, and she did try to raise her voice against the regime, but to no avail. The property and businesses of all the FLDS members were owned by the church, and so Warren Jeffs had complete control over them. Warren started targeting each and every individual whom he believed had the potential to question his authority and who had seen life outside the FLDS community. Lloyd Wall, the father of Elissa and Rebecca, was one such man. He was a convert and owned an engineering enterprise. Warren ordered that his wife and children be removed from his custody and placed with Fred Jessop. Even his business was taken over by the church. Warren wanted to brainwash the newborns at a tender age. He knew that if they were completely cut off from the outside world and their curriculum was curated in a manner that corresponded to the FLDS beliefs, then it would be hard for the U.S. law enforcement authorities to get testimony from them. There was no denying that Warren Jeffs was an efficient schemer, as he was always a step ahead of those who wanted to pin him down.
Elissa Wall had tried time and again to report the physical abuse she was being subjected to by Allen Steed, her cousin, and also her husband. Instead of helping the traumatized woman, who was not feeling safe amidst her brothers and father, Warren questioned her relationship with Lamont, who was a friend of hers. Lamont was the first person with whom she felt safe and that was the reason her friendship was transformed into love, and why wouldn’t it? Unlike other FLDS men, Lamot was treating her like a human and not an object, whose sole purpose was to adhere to the extremely derisory commands of a fake prophet and an abusive husband. Elissa ran away to a town named Hurricane in Utah, and started her new life with Lomont. But little did she know that just by closing her eyes, the horrors of her past would not vanish.
‘Keep Sweet: Pray and Obey’ Ending Explained – How Did Elissa And Rebecca Get Warren Jeffs Convicted?
Warren Jeffs never thought that he would be caught. He knew that nobody had the courage to speak up against him, as he brainwashed them quite well, and instilled in them a fear of persecution by the almighty if they even uttered a word against him. Mike Watkiss, an investigative reporter, had started looking into the matter as his intuitions were telling him that there was a gross violation of human rights being carried out in the community. The problem was that victims thought that this was how life was supposed to be as they had been cut off from the outside world. They were not aware of the fashion trends, the lifestyle, the culture, the social references or, as a matter of fact, even who the President of the United States was. Even if Mike and other journalists knew that underage marriages or child abuse was being carried out, they didn’t have the evidence to support their argument.
Warren knew that he was under the radar, so he had fled from Short Creek and was constantly on the move. He had bought a huge piece of land outside Eldorado, Texas, and named it the YFZ (Yearning for Zion) ranch. Whoever Warren trusted from the community was brought to the ranch and told that they were the chosen ones. He started segregating families, and the ones who were left back at Short Creek had no clue as to what was happening.
In the 3rd episode of “Keep Sweet: Pray and Obey,” we see a transformation happening in Elissa, who had decided to approach the authorities and stand against the abusive Prophet, who believed himself to be infallible. But the authorities didn’t have any clue about the whereabouts of the man. Till the first half of 2006, the news had spread like wildfire, and finding Warren had become a priority for the state. On August 28th, 2006, the FBI found Warren Jeffs and took him under their custody. The trial began at a Utah court, and, with the help of the testimony given by Elissa, Warren Jeffs was found guilty of 2 charges of rape but only as an accomplice. Victims thought that it was the end of the abusive Prophet, but as a matter of fact, he was merely being charged as a conspirator, and that wasn’t enough to charge him with a life sentence. The FLDS community still vested their faith in him, and he used to carry out his sermons from the prison itself as his visitors used to write and record whatever he said and henceforth follow his commands. Actually, being imprisoned helped his cause, as the people became even more defiant against the authorities. That was when Rebecca was contacted by Sheriff David Doran, who wanted her help to find more evidence against the man and hold him accountable for all his wrongdoings. He knew that he needed to find the church records that had every bit of incriminating information they needed.
In the 4th episode of “Keep Sweet: Pray and Obey,” Texas authorities got a hoax call that informed them that child abuse was still happening in the FLDS community. The authorities arrived and took every kid away from the facility. The FLDS leaders launched a PR movement where they told the world how the authorities in Texas had separated them from their kids without any rhyme or reason. The innocent-looking women told the world how they had been mistreated by the authorities, but in reality, they were being forced to fabricate the truth. But the sham couldn’t go on for long as the Sheriff and his team, together with Rebecca and Elissa, found the church records that proved beyond reasonable doubt that Warren Jeffs had committed child abuse and orchestrated the marriages of many older men to minor girls. Warren Jeffs finally got a life sentence on August 9th, 2011.
Though the case ended, and Rebecca and Elissa, together with all the other victims, got justice, they knew that they would have to start afresh, and the wounds of a terrifying past would take some time to heal. All the women who were treated as second-class citizens knew that life had given them a second chance. They had finally gotten freedom, and it was about time that they became the masters of their own destiny.
“Keep Sweet: Pray and Obey” is a 2022 Documentary series streaming on Netflix.