As I’ve previously mentioned I’m slowly reading Carolyn Jessop’s Escape; I’m about half-way through. Mostly I’ve just been reading a couple of chapters on the train after I finish the paper. It’s very interesting so far, and it is fascinating to get an inside glimpse at FLDS religious culture.
One thing that really threw me for a loop was repeated references to drinking alcohol and coffee. When Merrill Jessop would take his wives to a steakhouse, they would all have a glass of wine with dinner, stuff like that.
On the third weekend of the month there would be a priesthood meeting in SLC. After the meeting, there was always a pizza party at the home of Leroy Jeffs, one of Rulon’s sons and the one most people at the time thought would succeed Rulon (as opposed to Warren). There was pizza, of course, and chicken and lots of junk food. But the big attraction was the alcohol. The women would arrive about 45 minutes before the men and gather in the living room, and really wouldn’t touch the food (the Jeffs had a strict rule against obesity among the women). But they would hit the beer; even the nursing mothers. After several bottles of beer they were laughing and preaching the gospel about keeping sweet and loving your sister wives. They quickly went from being nervous and irritable to having a gay old time.
When the men arrived they would sit around a big table in the dininig room. They would eat the pizza and chicken and junk food, but also drink the beer. As the men drank more and more, their moods shifted as well, and they would start complaining about their wives. Even Uncle Rulon (the prophet) joined in, and started bitching about one of his wives who was obese after having born him 16 children, which he felt was a sign of pure rebellion towards him. Then the other men started complaining about their fat wives as well.
It seemed very strange to me that the FLDS elite, including the prophet himself, would sit around drinking alcohol. I envision fundamentalists as uber-conservative Mormons. If mainstream Mormons won’t touch alcohol or coffee (and some caffeinated sodas), I figured fundamentalists would go one step further; maybe no soda pop whatsoever or something like that. I thought it odd that they would be more liberal on such a matter of practice than mainstreamers. I found it counterintuitive.
But there is a rationale that kinda makes sense. It’s not just that fundamentalists are conservative in general, but they are preserving (or trying to preserve anyway) the 19th century ways. Our modern strict interpretation of the WoW is largely an inheritance from Heber J. Grant, whom FLDS obviously do not recognize as having any sort of prophetic authority. So the FLDS follow the more laissez-faire attitudes of the 19th century towards beer, wine and coffee consumption in contrast to the strict observance of the mainstream.
I’m trying to imagine our 1P and Q12 sitting around kicking back a cold one after their Thursday meeting in the temple…