Not by Commandment or Constraint

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…

Comments

  1. Randall says:

    Thanks for the insightful post, Kevin.

    It is interesting to contemplate how small changes a century ago have led to such divergent paths. If 2 of the primary differences between my Mormonism and the other strands are polygamy and the Word of Wisdom, I thank God for the inspiration and foresight of Wilford Woodruff and Heber J. Grant.

  2. Interesting, Kevin. You’re right, though, it makes sense. The modern WoW interpretation (the history, for the unaware, is set out in a number of places, like Tom Alexander’s book _Mormonism in Transition_) is essentially the work of Joseph F Smith and Heber J Grant. Both of them, not coincidentally, also seriously cracked down on polygamy (JFS not so much in early years, but definitely once it became an issue in the Smoot hearings.) So it’s not a surprise that the FLDS, who reject those prophets’ interpretation on polygamy, also reject their WoW interpretation.

    (And of course, it’s Tom Alexander’s theory that WoW switch was _related_ to the polygamy switch.)

  3. sister blah 2 says:

    (And of course, it’s Tom Alexander’s theory that WoW switch was _related_ to the polygamy switch.)

    Elaborate? It does seem like both involve increased likelihood of making wives miserable.

  4. sister blah, the idea is that new community boundary markers were needed to replace the very visible marker of polygamy. Kathleen Flake argues that attention to the First Vision as a central faith claim (which dates to the same time period) plays the same role.

  5. Thanks Kevin. I’ve been following a blog by a fundamentalist convert (formerly LDS) and had been wondering about the lack of WoW observance. The HJG wasn’t a prophet explanation fits perfectly.

    But they would hit the beer; even the nursing mothers.

    Beer is a well known galactagogue. One of the best actually.

  6. “It does seem like both involve increased likelihood of making wives miserable.”

    I dunno, sb2. Perhaps the one had an ameliorative effect on the other. You know —

    Husband’s being a polygamous ass? Have another gin-and-tonic and complain about it.

    Can’t keep up with the laundry generated by the sister-wives’ kids? Start the day with a nice coffee kick.

    Unsure about whether to marry 50-year-old cousin Vern? Everything makes more sense after another few wine coolers. :P

    (Actually, JNS has the right explanation.)

  7. While HJG did certainly formalize the Word of Wisdom as a general test of fellowship, the idea that Church leaders would get sauced in the 19th century is absurd. While Walker does show that even Grant temporarily had a 5 danish-beer-a-day habit (I think it was 5), Bishops, Stake Presidents, and certainly apostles were constantly being harangued to obey the Word of Wisdom completely – even coffee and tea (much to the consternation of folks like Lorenzo Snow). The School of the Prophets minutes are probably the best examples of this.

  8. I have an old Deseret Evening Newspaper from 1876 with three liquor sales ads on the front page.

  9. sister blah 2 says:

    “Unsure about whether to marry 50-year-old cousin Vern? Everything makes more sense after another few wine coolers.”

    Now THAT is awesomely twisted. Not sure about the awesome.

  10. Interesting stuff, though I tempted to view Jessop’s accusations much the same as I read Ann Eliza Young’s exposé, Wife No. 19, which makes similar claims about 19th-century church leaders being “beastly drunk.” That is, I take everything Jessop says with a large grain of salt.

  11. I haven’t read Jessop’s book, but doesn’t she also talk about FLDS youth going out and drinking on the sly, fearful that their oppressive elders would find out about their “sinful” behavior?

  12. Kevin Barney says:

    JimD, that doesn’t ring any bells for me. But there’s quite a bit about groups of girls meeting groups of boys on the sly, which was strictly forbidden. One tactic was for the kids to sign up for a theology class that met Sunday evenings. After the opening exercises, instead of going to class these particular girls would go to the bathroom and then slip out the windows, and some boys would do the same, and they would meet at a certain place and hang out. But it was never one on one and there was no touching or anything like that.

  13. I’m interested in the book, but given the accounts of Mormons I’ve read from ex-members (and accounts from ex-members from other groups I’ve been associated with), I have little confidence her stories are rooted in fact.

    Beauticians in Provo won’t cut Martha Beck’s hair without first calling her husband to get his permission.

  14. I agree with Christopher on Carolyn’s major lack of credibility here.

  15. “I’m trying to imagine our 1P and Q12 sitting around kicking back a cold one after their Thursday meeting in the temple…”

    Yep, not working for me, either.

    I always liked the “let the older generations who were addicts when they joined the Church die off and enforce the counsel as command with the new generation” view of the change in the way the WofW was practiced. That idea fits nicely with the “visible new marker to replace polygamy” concept. The Lord seems to distinguish his people in some obvious way, and I’m not sad my generation’s is the WofW rather than polygamy.

  16. So does this mean the next time I see a post about how the Word of Wisdom ranks low on the list of sins, and is looking past the mark, and a shallow way to judge spirituality, etc. can call them a fundamentalist?

  17. “I’m not sad my generation’s is the WofW rather than polygamy.”

    or circumcision without the benefit of modern surgical instruments – or well into adulthood.

    Just sayin’.

  18. I am sure it is just me. But feel a ‘sub plot/thought’ in this thread: If we now can’t judge them on Polygamy, how ’bout beer?. I hope I am reading something that is not there.

  19. “Beauticians in Provo won’t cut Martha Beck’s hair without first calling her husband to get his permission.”

    PRICELESS!

    Actually, there’s a really old state law (Michigan I believe) that says a woman can’t get her hair cut without her husband’s permission . . .

  20. John Hamer says:

    Great observation & analysis, Kevin. Often members from the different Mormon traditions ask questions about their cousins that betray the basic human perception that the way things seemed to be when you were growing up is the way they always were.

    For example, when LDS members find out that it’s quite common for adult members of the Community of Christ to hold the offices of deacon, teacher, and priest, they wonder, “when did RLDS folks stop ordaining 12, 14, and 16 year olds?” As with your Word of Wisdom example above, it is in LDS practice that priesthood office inflation has evolved away from the early church practice.

  21. #13&19: In the 1950s, I grew up at my mother’s feet, as she ran her in home Beauty Shop. Almost all her customers, were the wives of SP, HC, or Bishops. We were from Salt Lake, and she was the only one who “produce” what was considered the proper “Salt Lake City” style.

  22. That’s could “produce”. As I recall, right at the forehead, it looked like they were hit by a pipe just at the right moment.leaving this ‘finger wave’.

  23. Oh, and, I forgot to say,

    Thanks for the kind words, sister blah 2. :)

    (Got distracted arguing with Matt, etc., lost track of this thread.)

  24. Her Amun says:

    “I’m trying to imagine our 1P and Q12 sitting around kicking back a cold one after their Thursday meeting in the temple…”

    They should, those callings are uber tough.

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