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Keep Sweet: Pray and Obey

Keep Sweet: Pray and Obey is a chilling look at the polygamous sect of Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Yet it is not without redemption, as viewers are inspired by the steely courage of the men and women who have escaped the sect’s brainwashing and abuse. 

This four-part series has the feel of a true crime documentary, because FLDS leader Warren Jeffs committed heinous crimes. It also has shades of horror, especially when Jeffs is speaking. There is something sinister and even demonic about him. 

Keep Sweet’ shows how oppressive patriarchy can be in its most extreme forms. From birth on, Jeffs’ followers are taught to fear him above all else, even the rule of law or God himself, as Jeffs is their god. Self-described as “The Prophet,” Jeffs ruled with an iron fist, especially over women and girls who were forced to become his wives as young as 12. Women were forced to wear old-fashioned, prairie-style dresses that covered every inch of their bodies and to wear their hair in odd Victorian updos.Their purpose in life was to be subservient to their husbands and hopefully breed large families. They were married off at tender (and illegal) ages and had zero understanding of the ways in which the world operated outside of the walls of the cult or of their own basic human rights. In one haunting scene, young women sing a sugary, hymn-like song about what it means to “Keep Sweet,” unsullied by the outside world as long as they dress and behave the way they are expected to. You ache for them and long to help them gain their freedom.  

This series is hard to watch but also hard not to once you’ve viewed the first episode. You want to find out what happens to these image bearers, and you root for them to get out alive and reclaim their dignity as human beings. Director Rachel Dretzin wisely intersperses the horrifying with the hopeful, in the form of survivors’ testimonies. If one can stomach the depravity, the saving grace is the incredible bravery of those who managed to escape Jeffs and the FLDS, despite unbelievable obstacles. It’s their stories that will linger in viewers’ minds long after the series’ closing credits. (Rated TV-MA, Netflix)

Our Father

Jacoba had always wondered why she had blonde hair and dark coloring when everyone in her family had brown hair and olive skin. Like countless people all over the world, Jacoba’s life changed after she took an at-home DNA test. But instead of finding a cousin she never knew existed, Jacoba learned a shocking and devastating truth: She was not who she thought she was—and neither were the seven half siblings she found.

Jacoba’s research leads her to a terrible conclusion: That her mother’s fertility specialist, a well-regarded, churchgoing man named Dr. Donald Cline, had repeatedly used his own sperm to inseminate his unknowing patients. At the time of this writing, there are at least 94 biological children that exist from Cline’s deceit.

The film interviews several of Cline’s victims and their children. It’s heart-wrenching to witness the total dismantling of their identities. One particularly moving scene centers on one of the dads of Cline’s biological children, who is shattered to learn his beloved daughter was not his own blood-related child. 

Adding insult to injury, the victims’ campaign for justice is pitted with legal loopholes and gaps. Pinning a crime on Cline would prove to be daunting. 

One ally shines: Angela Ganote, a local Indianapolis TV journalist, is unrelenting in her pursuit of the truth for Cline’s victims. 

Christian viewers have much to reflect on here. One of Cline’s motives for inseminating his patients stemmed from his involvement in the Quiverfull movement, an extreme patriarchal group that believes above all else that adherents are to be fruitful and multiply. It’s dismaying to consider how Cline and his church twisted sacred Scripture for their own ends. 

But this film can also be an opportunity to reflect on God the Father to the fatherless, who always runs toward his children, not away, as Cline did. We as God’s children are always safe, kept, and loved. No matter who a DNA test might reveal our biological father to be, God is our real and everlasting father. (Rated TV-MA for strong language, sexual references, Netflix)

The Jesus Music

The Jesus Music is an engrossing look at the history of Contemporary Christian Music, from its counter-cultural roots in the hippie era to its current iteration of Bethel Music and artists such as Lauren Daigle. 

I thought of my straightlaced dad, a Christian bookseller, who loved nothing more than to relax with a glass of buttermilk and a toe-tapping listen to the latest album by the Chuck Wagon Gang. He became a bookseller only a few years after the birth of “Jesus Music,” which was considered by many parents and pastors to be a tool of the devil. Yet my dad got behind all of it, including controversial artists such as Larry Norman (“Why Should the Devil Have All the Good Music”), U2, Stryper (a heavy metal band who wore spandex and makeup and threw Bibles at their screaming fans), and Amy Grant.

Yes, Amy Grant was controversial, both for her “crossover” into mainstream music with her No. 1 hit, “Baby, Baby” (which was literally about her baby, Millie), and her divorce and remarriage. Grant, who serves as an executive producer on the film, is emotional as she reflects on the firestorm of accusations lobbed her way as many of her fans turned on her. 

Michael W. Smith, Kirk Franklin, Hillsong United, Lecrae, Steven Curtis Chapman, Bill Gaither, TobyMac, and others also are interviewed. 

One of this film’s strengths is that it examines CCM through a fairly honest and self-critical lens, not through rose-colored glasses. The splintering of DC Talk, for example, is scrutinized, as is Russ Taff’s alcoholism and the lack of racial parity in the Christian music industry. 

On the latter topic, though, they didn’t go far enough. The filmmakers, brothers Andrew and Jon Erwin, made a choice to avoid, for example, the fact that the Dove Awards (CCM’s annual awards ceremony) edited Kirk Franklin’s speech about the death of Atatiana Jefferson, to which Franklin responded by boycotting the awards show. 

I finished the film with renewed appreciation for some of my favorite artists, including Amy Grant, as well as for my dad, who, in his own way, acted in a countercultural way by selling and promoting any band or artist with genuine Christian meaning to their music. For him, the message was the most important thing of all. (Rated PG-13, Hulu)

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