When Flora Jessop (pictured here) hitched a ride to Kansas City as a runaway teen-age bride in the 1980s, she was a mess. Just imagine:
* She was one of 28 children born to her father and his three wives inside a community of the polygamist Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (FLDS), a sect that broke away from Mormonism.
* She feared that her father, who she says had sexually and emotionally abused her for years, would find her where she had been temporarily hiding in Las Vegas and drag her back to her large, in-bred family.
* She was broke and knew no one here in Kansas City.
* She had recently left her teen-age husband, who was also her cousin.
But Kansas City proved to be a Godsend to her. As she told me when we spoke by phone a few days ago about her new book, Church of LIes, "I learned to believe in people in Kansas City. I learned to believe in good again. Kansas City has a very special place in my heart."
Church of Lies, which Flora wrote with help from author Paul T. Brown, is a compelling and heartbreaking -- but hopeful -- read. It describes life behind the Polygamist Curtain in the twin towns of Colorado City, Ariz., and Hildale, Utah. Many of the residents of those towns have since moved to Eldorado, Texas. It was that community that Texas child protection authorities raided last year after allegations of child abuse, polygamy and underage marriage.
Flora's two-year Kansas City interlude found her living first in Raytown and later near 35th and Troost. She worked odd jobs, first in a grocery store where she met Terri Routh (now Stine), a friend she's still close to today, and later as a waitress. But, as Flora told me, it was in Kansas City where she also "got involved with drugs." Indeed, the book describes her life-threatening descent into cocaine and alcohol abuse.
Flora lived with Terri and her family off and on during her stay in Kansas City, and nothing about the experience was easy for Terri.
"I got the rollercoaster ride," Terri told me, able to laugh about it now. "I thought she was crazy."
In fact, Terri didn't believe the stories Flora told of her FLDS life -- until, that is, a crew from the CBS news shows "60 Minutes" showed up at Terri's house with Flora's permission to interview her about the polygamous life from which she came.
What Flora had to say to CBS -- and what she continues to say in her new book -- about the FLDS is devastating. To her it's a sect that teaches people to be afraid of God and to abide by insanely rigid rules that favor males who follow a powerful "prophet." Underage girls get married off to become the third or fifth wife of much older men and then they begin having baby after baby with almost no medical care. Flora's mother had to give up several of her own babies to be reared by someone else in the community.
All of that led to Flora's determination to escape. It took several tries, but finally she succeeded.
Because of FLDS doctrine, she told me, "I absolutely hated God. The conscious decision I had to come to was that I was willing to damn myself for eternity to escape the pain."
Flora, now a Phoenix resident, no longer believes she's going to hell for escaping the FLDS and she's been working hard for years with the approval of her understanding husband to help other girls escape the FLDS and to find new lives.
Some people believe that all FLDS beliefs and actions are protected as matters of religious freedom guaranteed by the Constitution. Flora is right to see things differently: "Religious freedom is not the right to harm. When that belief becomes harm to others, there's a line that is drawn. I don't believe the freedom to practice religion is the freedom to abuse. They (FLDS leaders) believe they are above man's laws."
Today Flora does not belong to any church but has a deep faith in a God quite different from the one the FLDS taught her about: "I discovered that God was not the evil monster that I had been raised with."
As for her rebellious nature: "I think God gave it to me."
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ISLAM'S PURITANICAL KILL-JOYS?
The strict Wahhabi religious leaders of Saudi Arabia don't want the kingdom's Muslim citizens to celebrate St. Valentine's Day. But they have a hard time enforcing the rules, as this report suggests. No surprise. In my experience, romantic love trumps theological doctrine almost every time in almost every culture. Maybe even among some FLDS followers.
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