Pray and obey takes the real crime to the church
Be Gentle: Pray and Obey shocked audiences when released by Netflix on June 8, 2022. The documentary miniseries, directed by Rachel Dretzin, is about the cult religion that is the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (FLDS) , a fundamentalist Mormon denomination whose members practice polygamy and the rise of its current leader Warren Jeffs.
While semi-fiction Under the banner of heaven on Hulu details similar issues, Be Gentle: Pray and Obey documents these events with unflinching authenticity, as Dretzin interviews survivors who tell the horrifying stories of forced polygamy, arranged marriages, child brides, and their miraculous escapes.
Rulon Jeffs and the FLDS in Keep Sweet
Be Gentle: Pray and Obey begins by giving you an understanding of life in the FLDS under Rulon Jeffs. Rulon Jeffs, known as Uncle Rulon to his followers, was president of the FLDS from 1986 until his death in 2002. Under his rule, the FLDS practiced polygamy and became a patriarchal system that modern Mormons find “inconvenient” for Mormonism. As president, Rulon was considered the “prophet”, who was seen as a direct link to God and the only one who could dictate God’s will.
A former member, Wallace Jeffs, describes how, during the reign of his father, it was believed that the only way for a man to reach the “highest degree of the Heavenly Kingdom” was to have three wives while he lived on earth. Rulon’s followers believed that he would never die and that he knew everything. The Prophet was the only person who could arrange a marriage, and families were expected to present their daughters to Rulon when they were of marriageable age.
In the documentary, Rebecca Musser, an FLDS survivor and former wife of Rulon, said they were taught to believe they were the “one and only true people of God”. As Musser talks about her marriage to Rulon and the horrors she faced as one of his many wives, Dretzin cleverly layers photos from Musser’s wedding day with the Prophet. Musser was just 19 when she married the 85-year-old leader and described how naive she was in everything.
Women were kept isolated and raised to submit to their priesthood (the patriarchal figurehead of the family) with the Rulon-coined phrase, “Keep Sweet, Pray, and Obey.” This was used to show how women are supposed to behave in their marriage and always be in control of their emotions. The mantra was frequently chanted aloud and verses like “Wives, submit to your own husbands as to the Lord” (Ephesians 5:22) were repeated.
The subjugation of women in Keep Sweet
Warren Jeffs was Rulon’s son and Wallace’s older half-brother. Wallace claimed that Warren had a “holier than thou” attitude and was put on a pedestal by his father. Musser said of Warren: “I don’t think he was well liked. He was the clumsy son of a man in power. She continued, “Compared to his brothers, he was nothing out of the ordinary.” When Dretzin asked if Musser knew what he would become when she met him, Musser simply states that Warren understood what people wanted and knew how to manipulate them.
Warren vigorously exercised his authority as principal of the FLDS school, Alta Academy, and created teachings specifically for women. Under Rulon and later under the reign of Warren, Be Gentle: Pray and Obey shows how the FLDS was determined to keep its women obedient. Survivor Elissa Wall, Musser’s sister, says in the documentary:
“Warren had a saying, ‘Perfect obedience is led by a hair,’ meaning a hair is so thin, and true obedience meant you could be led by a hair and not break it. There could therefore be absolutely no resistance to this obedience, for any resistance would cause that hair to burst.
Through multiple interviews with survivors, the film explains how women learned to have nothing in their brains but the will of the Prophet. They were explicitly told not to think about boys or have crushes because that would “obstruct the channel” to the Prophet. At this point, Warren was already beginning his extreme measures of grooming and the documentary underscores how blinded by faith FLDS followers were.
After Rulon suffered a massive stroke, Warren saw his chance and took his father’s place. Around this time, Warren’s teachings began to darken as he began to speak of a coming judgment day. During Wall’s interview, she said they were taught, “If you didn’t subscribe to the FLDS belief system, it would be wiped off the face of the earth, so it would be clean and pure. for the righteous. Warren was able to convince the entire community to sell their homes, give up their business, and move to Short Creek, Utah. When the rapture didn’t come, Warren said it was a gift from God to be more perfect. “We were never good enough,” Wall said of the experience.
The fall of Warren Jeffs
It was under Warren’s rule, which began in 2002 after Rulon’s death, that the FLDS truly became a cult. Warren began kicking out young boys and firing power men who interrogated him. He would strip these men of their wives and children and drive them out with nothing. He imposed certain hairstyles and clothes for women which included long underwear and no red color.
It was during this time that early marriages became the norm. Wall discusses the horrors of traveling across state lines and being forced to marry her first cousin. Dretzin intercuts Wall’s interview with Musser, as Musser describes how difficult it was to consider leaving the FLDS, which very few people ever do. They knew that leaving would cause their family to shun them, and they were taught that leaving would “seal you to damnation.”
It wasn’t until Warren began building his resort in Texas that his world came crashing down. Journalists began to investigate Warren and his movements, as Warren moved from early marriages, which he performed, to outright child abdications. Wall, who had escaped from the church by then, decided to work with prosecutors to bring charges against Warren, and in 2006 he was added to the FBI’s most wanted list.
Most people remember Warren’s arrest in 2006 and the traumatic trial that followed, but like any good crime documentary, Be Gentle: Pray and Obey not afraid of the raw and honest truth. The moving testimonies of survivors give the audience a real insight into how the FLDS brainwashed an entire community. Be Gentle: Pray and Obey shows audiences just how dangerous despicable fundamentalism can become, how difficult it was for these survivors to escape from their prison, and the strength it took to defy the odds to lock up a monster. Be Gentle: Pray and Obey is streaming on netflix.