By Carolyn Jessop with Laura Palmer
Broadway Books, 2007
Carolyn was the first woman to escape from the Colorado City FLDS community with all of her children. Her autobiography is a desolate moonscape of unrighteous dominion gone mad.
The real horror is the likelihood that the men in this true story who pervert the notion of spirituality to an obscene degree sincerely believe they are honoring their priesthood.
A turning point in the horrifying tale occurs when Carolyn, for the first time, is told by a person outside the community that her husband is abusive. It has simply never occurred to her to associate that adjective with her priesthood head. ?
I told him Meriil had never hit me.
Doesn ?t matter. It doesn ?t have to be physical abuse. Emotional abuse is just as bad. I ?ve never seen a man more emotionally abusive than your husband. He ?s dangerous. ?
This was all new to me and not easy to process.
I ?d known Merril was dangerous from the moment I met him. But I ?d never had the right words for it until I heard James describe it.
I felt like the gravity had been stripped from my world. What James was saying undermined a main premise of my faith: That only my husband could determine whether or not I was worthy enough to enter into heaven. James did not comprehend what I knew in my bones to be true.
James wasn ?t finished. I know the kind of man your husband is. I have seen his like before. You ?re going to end up dead if you don ?t wake up and get away from him. ?
Men like him start out with abuse but they will eventually kill their victims. ?
The story is the tale of Carolyn ?s unprecedented escape, executed when she was nearly dead from complications of childbirth, and caring for a critically ill toddler and a premature newborn. I have never routed so desperately for a rebel. This is the true story of an amazing woman.
It is also a detailed story about everything that can go wrong in a totalitarian society. I hope it is also a cautionary tale about the social consequences of perverting scripture. John 13:35 is a clear example. We are taught in John 13:35 to recognize followers of Christ by their love for one another. If we think for a moment about the people in our lives who demonstrate that discipleship, we know in our bones, ? as Jessop puts it, what this sort of Christlike love looks like in real life
Merril Jessop and Barbara, his cruel first wife, say they must beat and starve their children because they love them and it is their responsibility to discipline them, to keep them focused on God ?s work. I think they believe every word of it, as they brutally batter a screaming four-year-old until he is trembling, vomiting, and too exhausted to cry.
Carolyn Jessop explains that she is amazed, over and over, at the kindness she sees in the world outside the complex. Strangers go out of their way to anticipate her needs, comfort her and protect her children. She gradually sees for herself that nonmembers of her cult are not the diabolical monsters she was warned about. In fact, as she endures unimaginable trials, she sees for herself that it is actually the other way around. She has believed ridiculous lies. The notion of discipleship has been contaminated beyond recognition in her family. It is not until she has finally escaped and triumphed in her custody battle, that counselors begin to teach her to demonstrate affection for her children, whom she loves with all her heart. Physical affection between parents and children was not permitted in the FLDS community, and she didn ?t know how to hug.
How can people be so vulnerable to such blatant deceit?
I have read that victims of certain brain injuries can be told to perform a simple task, but the area of the brain that processes linear logic does not communicate with the area that heard the verbal cue. When they are asked why they opened the book or closed the window or walked across the room, they don ?t recall the instruction, but they always know the reason. They were looking for a shopping list tucked in the book, or they felt chilly, or they needed to stretch their legs.
One conclusion, from observing this phenomenon, is that our brains are remarkable at inventing a narrative that will explain our actions. We believe these fictions ourselves. We are not consciously aware that we are weaving alibis to explain or excuse our behavior.
If this is accurate, then it is credible that unstable people might sincerely believe they are following a prophet of God when they commit hideous atrocities and/or allow their lives to be savaged by increasingly demented tyrants. We tell ourselves stories to convince ourselves that our behavior is logical and justified.
If you read Escape, or if you have known people who left radical fundamentalist cults, you will want to scream, How could you allow yourself to be sucked into such obvious madness? ? It is a question worth asking, and you will find an explanation in Jessop ?s story. I believe the allure of excuses and lies is one important reason why our leaders have always emphasized that every member, from childhood, should read and re-read the scriptures, search, ponder and pray.
1 Corinthians 13:4, might protect us from some of the elaborate alibis we spin for ourselves, to make it OK to be sarcastic to a waitress or to snub a colleague who we find annoying. It might lift us up when we have an impulse to say something cutting about a difficult person in the ward or a family member who has disappointed us.
Most of us will never confront anything like Carolyn Jessop ?s passage through hell. But her story reminds us that abusers are among us; that we ourselves are capable of abusive impulses; and that God has given us scripture power ? against evil, and the light of Christ to guide us.