The Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (FLDS) split from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) after the church renounced plural marriage. FLDS members wanted to continue practicing polygamy, so they broke off from the Mormon church and established themselves in the twin cities of Colorado City, Arizona, and Hildale, Utah.
FLDS shunned liberal decisions by LDS, including the original church’s acceptance of black congregants and clergy.
Netflix’s Keep Sweet: Pray and Obey looks at the authoritarian rule of the FLDS’s leader Warren Jeffs. Warren took over from his father and ruled using an oppressive system filled with sexual, physical, and psychological abuse.
The FLDS church is still around and run by Warren Jeffs from prison
After Warren’s father, Rulon, died in 2002, Jeff’s dissolved the council, becoming the sole leader of FLDS. He controlled worshippers’ finances, banned interactions with the outside world, and promised harsh treatment to absconders.
Warren parceled out young children as wives to his loyal followers. “Young girls were like a commodity owned by the church,” the show’s trailer states. Warren wed about 80 women and children before his arrest in 2006.
In 2005, an Arizona jury indicted Jeffs for forcing a 16-year-old girl to marry a 28-year-old man. He fled the state, leading to his inclusion on the FBI’s most-wanted list. Jeffs was arrested in August 2006 near Las Vegas.
In April 2008, Rozita Swinton, a 33-year-old woman from Colorado Springs, prank-called a local abuse hotline claiming that she was a 16-year-old FLDS member who’d experienced sexual abuse.
The call prompted a raid on the Yearning for Zion Ranch, the church’s second headquarters, near Eldorado, Texas. Investigators found that FLDS forced young children into marriage and some of the children were already mothers.
Prosecutors charged Jeffs and other FLDS members with bigamy and sexual assault charges. They received sentences ranging from six years to life imprisonment. Jeff was handed a life sentence plus twenty years for raping two underage girls.
Many thought that the church would crumble after the shocking crimes came to light and the imprisonment of its leaders. However, Esquire alleges that over 10,000 people are still part of FLDS.
People find it difficult to leave FLDS because one gets treated like an outcast by their loved ones. “Three of us are out,” Lola Barlow, a former member, said on the Netflix show. “The rest of everybody’s still in. I could just drive to their house and talk to them but they won’t talk to me.”
Warren Jeffs still rules from prison and has made followers believe he will resume physical leadership once he gets out. “He [Warren] was the prophet before he went into prison and he’ll be the prophet when he comes out,” a FLDS member told The Guardian.
Short Creek is slowly moving away from FLDS ideals
The FLDS controlled Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Arizona, collectively known as Short Creek, for nearly a century. Most of the remaining FLDS members live there, but Short Creek is slowly moving away from FLDS ideals.
In November 2017, Hildale elected its first female, non-FLDS mayor. Several months later, a grand jury ruled that the previous police force, made entirely of church members, was guilty of discrimination and appointed a police chief with no connection to the area. The town also opened its first bar.
Briell Decker purchased Warren Jeffs’ mansion and turned it into a place for excommunicated members. The $1.2 million property also became a haven for homeless people, at-risk youth, addicts, and struggling families.
In January 2021, a judge ordered the sale of FLDS’s 140-acre compound near Pringle in Custer County. There were about twenty people led by Seth Jeffs, Warren’s brother, in the compound. Tim Goodwin, a state rep, told KOTA that the group was starting to fracture:
“It’s starting to fracture, and we’ve seen it fracture for a long time now. And the Sheriff down in Custer County has done a great job coordinating with them and doing everything.”
The state of Utah’s takeover of the houses owned by FLDS has forced some of them to leave town. Authorities allowed owners to keep the homes in exchange for a monthly charge of $100 to a communal fund, but some refused to pay, leading to their eviction.
“We’re never going to have that [community] back, because they’re driving us out,” a church member told The Guardian. “It’s religious persecution.”