Warren spoke in other ways. He began teaching special priesthood history classes in Salt Lake City where he still worked as the principal at a private FLDS school. The classes were taped, and Tammy’s sister came to our house one day enthusiastically talking about how much information they contained. I wondered why anyone would care about whatever Warren Jeffs had to say. Tammy’s sister said that these tapes were not available to just anybody. Only the privileged could purchase them.
Once the tapes gained exclusive status every family in the community wanted a set. Some people who heard them found them disgusting and said they were little more than Warren’s racist rants. He claimed that the black race was put on earth to preserve evil.
I decided to listen to them myself. Warren based his talks on foundational FLDS. doctrine. He spoke in a strange, trance-like voice that seemed deliberately aimed at hypnotizing the listener. One set of tapes described how God would destroy everyone on the North and South American continents. Then he went on and recited a lengthy list of things a person would have to do before he or she could be lifted off the earth.
Anyone who hoped to ascend had to live with a burning in their chest at all times and that burning was the spirit of God. The tapes were becoming so popular that there was a frenzy among those who were trying to get them. There exclusivity gave them great status and everyone wanted to get hold of a set.
Warren spoke at church and elaborated on how the burning in our chest would presage being lifted from the earth. Those who didn’t have it would be destroyed along with the wicked.
It was around this time when Warren banned the color red. He announced that it was inappropriate to wear the color red or have red items in our home because it was reserved for our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. He preached that when Jesus Christ returns he’ll do so in a red robe and wearing that color prior to the second coming is unholy.
He made the pronouncement one Sunday in church and those wearing red went home immediately and changed clothes. Other families got rid of every red item they owned. This was a hardship for families without much money. Children lost a lot of clothes, coats and boots. Women with red in their dresses had to get rid of them; for some this meant throwing out a sizable percentage of their wardrobe. Some families adapted to this with a more moderate approach; when the red clothes, toys, or household items wore out, they would abandon them. The more extreme families discarded all red items immediately.
One teacher told her students red wasn’t a bad color, it was beautiful. The students reported her rebellion to their parents. The parents complained and asked that the teacher, who was not a member of the FLDS, respect their beliefs and asked that red be removed from her classroom.
Merril had always liked red. In our family we went through the closets and eliminated most of our red clothes. That evening I watched the sunset - a blaze of orange and red. If God wanted red preserved for Jesus Christ alone, did he spread it across the sky in such abandon?
When some of us gathered for coffee later that week at Linda’s the topic of having a burning in our chests as a proof or righteousness came up again. Jane, my high-spirited cousin I played “Apocalypse” with as a child, kicked off the discussion. “Ladies, I have one question. What the hell is this burning in your chest all about anyway? I always thought that burning is mastitis.” (Mastitis is an infection common to nursing mothers.) Everyone laughed. Someone asked Jane how she dared question the requirements about being lifted up. “Well,” she said, “If I have to have a breast infection to be lifted up, then no thank you! I would rather die with the wicked!”
The discussion then became more serious about what felt like a new extremism taking root in the community that felt more radical than anything that we’d known in the past. One of the women recounted a harrowing story about one of the police officers in the FLDS.
(All of the police officers in our community were FLDS members which complicated matters if a woman tried to escape, because she’d get no help or protection from police. It also made reporting domestic violence almost meaningless because the police would always side with the husband.)
I had rarely ever heard a story as disturbing as I did that morning. The FLDS police officer wanted to take his wife up to the Steeds ranch to teach her a lesson in obedience. He put her in a pen with a bull and then tied a rope to the neck of the bull. He told his wife, who was pregnant, that she had to control the bull with the rope on orders of her priesthood head. She tried to hang on to the bull but he ran off and she ended up being dragged until she let go of the rope.
Her husband got into the pen and handed her the rope again and told her she had to hold on. But the bull pulled away from her and her husband became enraged. This time he took the end of the rope and tied it around the neck of the bull and told her she better hang on this time. But it was impossible. The third time he tied the rope to her so she could not let go. She was dragged around the ring again and so badly injured she lost the baby - which then became her fault because she was so disobedient.
When I heard it I told the group I had a burning sensation in my chest—I wanted to kill the guy. The others agreed and we talked about what we’d do if he ever pulled us over. The story was well -circulated in the community because the man’s stepmother became aware of what he’d done to his wife and was so incensed that she started talking about it. No one went to the authorities because we knew the woman would deny the whole thing. We all knew we were powerless when it came to protecting ourselves. I feared that it was an example of hysteria that was manifesting itself in extreme ways. This police officer had carried the notion of "perfect obedience" to a criminal level.
The obedience Warren preached was a woman’s complete submission to her husband. He said women should not work outside the home and should not even leave home unless allowed to do so by her husband.
We’d always kept our coffee meetings quiet, but now we knew we had to be even more careful. We began to be much more circumspect about what we were doing as changes swept over our community. As women were required to leave the workforce because of Jeffs’ new doctrines, it became harder for some families to make ends meet.
The changes Warren Jeffs mandated were obeyed because it was believed he was the voice of the prophet, Uncle Rulon. People did not resist the more oppressive policies he advocated. Instead, it was widely believed that we were being called to a higher way of living the gospel. This wasn’t oppression, this was grace. God was giving us a new and better way of being more faithful to him via the prophet and his mouthpiece, Warren Jeffs.
People who feared these changes and sensed danger, like me, kept quiet. It wasn’t safe anymore to talk about what you were feeling. Women now were not even supposed to go into town without the company of a man. Our husbands were our lord and supreme master who held exclusive power over our lives. It was seen as no longer acceptable for a woman to enter into the same room as her husband without first saying a personal prayer asking God to put the same spirit on her as her husband’s.
I saw this as a real dilemma for because most of the time when I entered the same room as Merril he was usually in a very bad mood. If I had the same spirit that he had one of us might get hurt. This doctrine was one I decided to ignore.