There are only a few situations in which having coffee with your friends is a revolutionary act. Being in the FLDS is one of them. And it’s something you may not even be able to contemplate until your sister is forced into marriage with another man.
Content note for forced marriage, spiritual abuse, and financial coercion.
It’s been a long time since we’ve seen Carolyn’s sister Linda. She and her husband have fallen on hard times and, with no other options, moved back to Short Creek. The sisters’ father offers to help her financially, but only if she divorces her husband (who’s on the wrong side of the FLDS schism) and allows herself and her child to be assigned to another man. Pregnant and out of options, she agrees.
Parents: you should never, ever coerce your children into marrying someone else under the threat of starvation. I don’t care what your religion or culture says – that is fucked up.
And as if that’s not bad enough, Warren Jeffs is spreading this idea through the community that if you’re perfectly obedient, your life will be perfect, and every problem you have is because you weren’t obedient enough. Of course, it’s mostly women who need to be obedient to their husbands. And a woman can’t ask questions to find out what her hubby wants so she can obey: no, she’s supposed to magically know by listening to “God’s whispers.”
But even if a woman did exactly what her husband demanded, he could still find fault with her and accuse her of still not being in perfect harmony with him, because otherwise she’d have understood what he really meant.
If you see that as a system specifically designed to set women up to fail, congratulations: it is.
So this is the shit Linda’s returned to, and on top of being coerced into divorcing her first husband, she’s forced to marry a dude with three small children. She has to quit working because she now has five very young kids to care for instead of her toddler and newborn. Her husband is away on business quite a lot. So she starts having some ladies over for coffee a few mornings.
Well, yeah, typical housewife stuff, this coffee klatch thing, you might think. Completely ordinary. Not in the FLDS, though: having your friends over for a coffee and chitchat session is a subversive act. This is running with a bad crowd. Especially since these ladies who latte are talking about – GASP – problems in the FLDS.
The women still revere Rulon, but extend his son no such courtesy. But it’s too dangerous to outright rebel. Instead, they talk about how to take perfect obedience to its extreme logical conclusion. They share the true story of a woman who was so obedient that she dared not ask her husband for clarifying details when he told her she needed to push a stalled car with their van. He Just said to push it, and that the smaller car would start at 40 miles per hour. Sooooo….
The wife got behind the wheel of the large van and her husband got into the car. He waited, but there was no push. When he turned around, the van was gone and he couldn’t figure out what had happened. After a few moments the van appeared in his rearview mirror, bearing down on him at forty miles an hour. He leaped out of the car just before she pulverized it.
The ladies share a hearty laugh, and laugh again in agreement when Carolyn concludes, “Killing our husbands through perfect obedience is a lot more practical than trying to woo them by being fascinating.”
They’re joking, but only partly. They’re almost that desperate to make the abuse stop. FLDS husbands are incredibly lucky their wives haven’t gone in for wholesale slaughter.
These coffee klatches make Carolyn realize some important things:
We were being dangerously honest with each other and we knew it. I realized how much freedom I had lost since I’d been married. I hadn’t had such fun with other women since high school….
I was wary about a lot of the new ideas that were circulating in the community, but I didn’t have any sense of how fast they could take hold. Even if Warren Jeffs seemed to have some weird ideas, Uncle Rulon was still the prophet, and I had complete faith in him.
Cracks are forming, slowly, in her prison walls. It’s incredibly hard to question the faith you’re raised with and immersed in, especially when it controls every single aspect of your life, but she’s getting there.
Meanwhile, power-hungry Merril keeps sacrificing his daughters to Rulon Jeffs for power and prestige. He’s already condemned two of them to marriage to a man nearly four times their age: his next victim is Merrilyn. She’s in her early twenties, a sweet, pretty young woman who cries when Merril tells her she’s been assigned to marry the prophet. She begs her father not to force her to go through with it. She’s terrified, and she knows that this marriage to a man sixty years her senior will end her dreams of having a loving husband and children. But Merril forces her to go through with the ceremony, telling her not to defy God’s will. The girl who had so eagerly anticipated her eventual wedding day that she’d made three different wedding dresses while waiting for a husband is crushed: she wears the least fancy of her three dresses, obviously no longer dreaming of her happily ever after.
I don’t need to tell you how fucked up and wrong this is, do I?
So, in a very short period of time, we’ve seen two women forced into marriages they didn’t freely choose, and seen that something as simple as sharing coffee and banter with your women friends is incredibly subversive. This culture is rotten to the core. Everyone suffers abuse of some sort.
We’re about to see how awful Merril gets now that he’s traded three daughters to a palsied prophet for his own prestige. But Carolyn is resourceful, and smart, and through with this shit.
I want to explore the last half of this chapter in some detail, so we’ll pause here. Go get yourselves some emergency kittens, and we’ll meet again next week.
Bring coffee. We’ll make it a revolution.