Breaking the Faith

As the unofficial Bloggernacle chronicler of TV shows about polygamy, it’s about time that I put up a post about the latest entry in the genre, TLC’s “Breaking the Faith,” which is about eight or so young refugees from the FLDS living in a safe house in the Salt Lake area and trying to acclimate to gentile life.  I have not seen all the episodes, but I just watched several on On Demand.

The show is modeled after Breaking Amish, and it comes with some of the same caveats.  The people being portrayed are genuine ex-FLDS, and while the story arcs are in general based on reality there is still scripting involved.  So it’s not exactly a documentary; rather, it gives you the feel of what it’s like for these young people to leave their homes, their families, the only lives they’ve ever known, and go to what they’ve been taught is the dregs of Babylon.

One aspect of their experience that is consistently portrayed is how ill equipped these young people are to have normal relationships of any kind with the opposite sex, much less to date.  FLDS don’t date, and so they have no experience in that kind of setting, and it shows.  One FLDS boy asks an LDS girl who obviously likes him out for a hike.  She is interested, and off they go.  But instead of the easy hike she’s expecting he leads her on a fairly difficult climb up the side of a small mountain.  The view is beautiful and worth the strenuous journey, but when she asks when they are going back he indicates that they’re not, they’re going to camp up there over night.  (He never bothered to disclose this plan to her in advance.)  For dinner he has two cans of cold beans and a can opener; no tent or sleeping bags or other preparations.  She says she doesn’t know what he has in mind, but she’s not staying up there on that mountain with him overnight.  He seems flummoxed by his mistakes.  She tells him that if he wants to get closer to her, he should go with her to church.  He agrees to give it a shot.

In another scene the boys in the house want to encourage the girls to give up their prairie dresses and upswept hair, so they decide to take them out to a dance club.  This is a terrible idea, as the girls are in no way prepared for such an environment.  One big guy with a beard who looks like Brother Brigham comes up and asks one of the girls to dance, but she is repulsed.  The evening is a disaster.

One of the girls becomes friends with a group of LDS girls and hangs out with them quite a bit, which the other ex-FLDS girls do not approve of.  At one point one of the LDS girls comes over and gives her ex-FLDS friend a gift she picked up at the mall–a biography of her church’s current prophet.  (They don’t name the prophet or show the book, but presumably it’s the Thomas S. Monson bio.)  This results in a fight among the ex-FLDS girls, who are mortified she would read a book about the LDS prophet, and she counters that she can read the book without necessarily joining the Church.  (As an aside, I really hope that story arc was just a bit of ham-handed scripting, and not a real story.  It’s fantastic for the LDS girls to be open to the ex-FLDS and become their friends; it is less than helpful for them to revert to their proselyting instincts in this particular context.  There will be plenty of time for them to consider the LDS option later should they want to; for right now what they need is a friend, not a gung ho missionary.)

One of the weird things about the show is that every now and then they play actual Warren Jeffs audio clips, which are appropriately enough creepy as hell.

Also, Carolyn Jessop, author of Escape, makes an appearance as a sort of mentor to the young people.  The LDS girls had referred to the FLDS as a cult, which offended a couple of the ex girls, who were still protective of much of their religious culture.  Carolyn took the position that the FLDS are indeed a cult, and when one of the girls asked how the LDS are any different, she started to list differences like being able to choose for yourself who you will marry and not being compelled to marry at age 14, and so forth.  Still, the ex girls seem unconvinced.

There’s one scene where one of the ex girls finally decides to give up her FLDS uniform.  She goes clothes shopping (and is rather flummoxed by the variety) and lets her hair down, and the transformation is dramatic.  Even though she’s still conservatively dressed, she feels naked, but she believes this is a transformation she needs to make and she goes through with it.

Well, that’s pretty much the gist of the episodes I watched.  Have any of you seen this show?  If so, what did you think?  And do you agree with me that missionary efforts to ex-FLDS fresh off the crick are not what is needed in that particular context?  (I realize the idea that missionary work could ever be inappropriate is completely foreign to our way of thinking.)

Comments

  1. Kevin Barney says:

    I didn’t see the episode, but I’ve read online about an encounter that a couple of missionaries had with the ex-FLDS boys, and the elders were completely flummoxed that the ex guys knew the BoM way better than they did. Which conveys a useful point; your average missionary is in no way prepared to have a religious conversation with a Mormon fundamentalist.

  2. Never seen the show, except for one scene where two ex-FLDS boys were telling some other boys about how big their families are (9 moms and 62 siblings, or something mind boggling like that).

    I live in St George, UT. I see FLDS every time I go to Walmart or Costco. Usually it’s one or sometimes two adult women, with a couple children or young teens in tow. I see them so often that when I went to a Costco in WA state recently, I kept wondering where all the polygamists were.

    I’ve drove through the town where they live a couple months ago. The only thing I noticed being odd was that a lot of houses had three cars in their driveways.

  3. Kevin, regarding the fundemantalist scriptural knowledge, I’ve heard the same from missionaries who work with them. There were a couple elders who were practically out in that area full time (not in Colorado City, but nearby) teaching. I’m not sure if that’s changed, but it was the case around a year ago.

    The Elders I talked to were quite impressed with their scriptural and early church history knowledge. But they said the FLDS people they talked to were actually more turned on to the church by our missionary efforts as being a core part of our identity (as it was back in the time of JS and BY). They don’t really have a missionary effort other than to send them on work missions with the revenue going back to the church.

  4. Kevin Barney says:

    Interesting, DQ, thanks for sharing.

  5. Kevin, I haven’t seen the show, but I really like a book called “To Mormons, with Love” by Chrisy Ross – a non-denominational Christian living in Utah County. One of the suggestions she gives is not to make conversation be or appear to be the first goal when dealing with non-Mormons. She says:

    “Long-lasting friendships can be tainted by an early effort to proselytize. A new family in an LDS neighborhood does not want to feel like the first thing everyone wants to do is change who they are and what they believe.”

    When we talked about this in Sunday School (“Building the Kingdom of God” was the monthly topic for December), one of the students shared an experience when he was invited to dinner at a new friend’s house – and the friend’s parents spent the whole time trying to convince him that the LDS Church was bad and that he needed to become Baptist. We talked about how often we don’t stop and think about how we would feel if others did to us what we sometimes do to them.

    So, absolutely, conversion attempts are not appropriate, as a general default, in situations like the ones you describe.

  6. Sorry, “conversation” should have been “conversion”. Huge difference. Conversation is a great first goal; conversion, not so much.

  7. Kevin Barney says:

    Ray, I read a review of that book and agree that her suggestions are terrific and should be taken to heart by our people.

  8. Just watched the season finale. Why are the girls back in the prairie dresses with their hair up in the commentaries they provide after they’ve supposedly had the make-overs and begun wearing “Gentile” clothes?

  9. One possible explanation for that is they’re using interviews shot much earlier. Reality shows do that quite a bit I think. Take something said in one context and use it in another. Its really kinda crazy what they can do with editing.

    One thing no one has mentioned yet is whether these kids are being exploited by the TV producers and what kind of effect it could have on them, considering they’ve lived very sheltered lives and now are on a TV show. Even well adjusted people can get screwed up from that.

  10. Interestingly enough one of the girls trying on gentile clothes and claiming to feel naked already has tan lines from what seems to be a bathing suit or undershirt.

  11. Nicole Hamilton says:

    I also noticed the tan lines and wondered how that could be. Another fake?
    Also, I don’t think the commentary was from earlier because they are talking about things that happened after the transformation. Same thing with breaking Amish…they would be back in their Amish clothing.

  12. Kevin Barney says:

    Yes, the logistics of this show are similar to Breaking Amish, so I think we’re seeing a recreation of her experience rather than seeing it as it first happens.

  13. Carey Foushee says:

    I’ve watched a few episodes and while I agree not everything at everything minute is genuine reality — meaning it would have happened that way without the cameras — then main thrust of their transition from the FLDS culture does come across as “true”.

  14. I noticed the tan lines also, but the girls have come out and said they are recreating events that happened when they left, not showing the event as it happens. What has disturbed me, a non-LDS person, was the mis information that was given as gosple about things like why they wear the temple garments or as they called it “long underwear”. Less educated people will use their statements as ammunion against regular LDS.

  15. I don’t know why they have shows on like this without info on how to help the kids out of the situation….

  16. Hey guys, I am an Ex FLDS member, 21 years old. I am writing a blog using my Diary’s I wrote while still living there. If you want a deeper look into this and what daily life is like there, check it out! I want you (and any exFLDS members) that might see this to realize, this is MY story. Everyone’s life is different there and this is merely mine. myfldsdiary.wordpress.com/

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