|Preceded by||Into Thin Air|
|Followed by||Where Men Win Glory|
Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith is a nonfiction book by author Jon Krakauer, first published in July 2003. He investigated and juxtaposed two histories: the origin and evolution of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church) and a modern double murder committed in the name of God by brothers Ron and Dan Lafferty, who subscribed to a fundamentalist version of Mormonism.
The Laffertys were formerly members of a very small splinter group called the School of Prophets, led by Robert C. Crossfield (also known by his prophet name Onias). The group accepts many beliefs of the original LDS church at the time when it ceased the practice of polygamy in the 1890s, but it does not identify with those who call themselves fundamentalist Mormons. The book examines the ideologies of both the LDS Church and the fundamentalist Mormon polygamous groups, such as the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (FLDS Church).
The book was adapted as a limited series of the same name that began airing in April 2022 on FX on Hulu.
The book opens with news accounts of the 1984 murder of Brenda Lafferty and her infant daughter Erica. Brenda was married to Allen Lafferty, the youngest of the Lafferty brothers. His older brothers Dan and Ron disapproved of their sister-in-law Brenda because they believed she was the reason Dan’s wife left him (after refusing to allow him to marry a plural/second wife—his stepdaughters). Both men's extremism reached new heights when they became members of the School of the Prophets, founded and led by Robert C. Crossfield. After joining this group, Ron claimed that God had sent him revelations about Brenda. Communication with God is a core belief of fundamentalist Mormonism, as well as the mainstream LDS Church.Ron showed the members of the School of Prophets a written "removal revelation" that allegedly called for the killing of Brenda and her baby. After other members of the School failed to honor Ron's removal revelation, the brothers quit the School.
Dan claimed that he slit both of the victims' throats. But, at the 2001 trial, Chip Carnes, who was riding in the getaway car, testified that Ron said that he had killed Brenda,and that Ron had thanked his brother for "doing the baby".
After the murders, the police found the written "revelation" concerning Brenda and Erica. The press widely reported that Ron had received a revelation to kill the mother and child. Afterward, the Lafferty brothers conducted a recorded press conference at which Ron said that the "revelation" was not addressed to him, but to "Todd" [a drifter whom Ron had befriended while working in Wichita] and that the revelation called only for "removal" of Brenda and her baby, and did not use the word "kill". The jury at Ron's trial was shown these remarks of Ron denying he had received a revelation to kill Brenda and Erica.
After opening with the Lafferty case, Krakauer explores the history of Mormonism, starting with the early life of Joseph Smith, founder and first prophet of the Latter Day Saint movement. He follows his life from a criminal fraud trial to leading the first followers to Jackson County, Missouri, and Nauvoo, Illinois. While violence seemed to accompany the Mormons, Krakauer notes that they did not necessarily initiate it. Early Mormons faced religious persecution from mainstream Protestant Christians, due to their unorthodox beliefs, including polygamy and ongoing revelation from God through living prophets. In addition they tended to conduct business and personal relations only with other members of their community. There were violent clashes between Mormons and non-Mormons, culminating in Smith's death on June 27, 1844 when a mob shot him after attacking him in Carthage Jail, where he was awaiting trial for inciting a riot after ordering, as Nauvoo’s mayor, in conjunction with the City Council, the destruction of the printing press of the Nauvoo Expositor , a local publication which had been declared a public nuisance.
From Nauvoo, the Mormons trekked westward to modern-day Utah, led by Smith's successor Brigham Young (after some controversy). Arriving in what they called Deseret, many Mormons believed they would be left alone by the United States government, as the territory was then part of Mexico. Soon after their arrival, the Mexican–American War occurred, with Mexico's eventual defeat. Under the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo signed on February 2, 1848, this land and the rest of what would become the American Southwest were ceded to the United States.
Smith's highly controversial revelation of plural marriage threatened to split apart followers of the faith. The Utah Territory was a theodemocracy led by Brigham Young as Governor, where polygamy continued to be practiced for 43 years. Finally, on September 23, 1890, Wilford Woodruff, the fourth president of the Church, claimed to have received a revelation from God (known as the 1890 Manifesto) which officially banned polygamy. Six years later, Utah was granted statehood.
After the Manifesto, some members broke away from the mainstream church to form what eventually became the FLDS Church, the most popular group of fundamentalist Mormonism. The FLDS Church continues to encourage polygamy, as do some other breakaway groups.
Krakauer examines events in Latter Day Saint history and compares them to modern-day FLDS doctrine (and other minority versions of Mormonism, such as the Crossfield School of the Prophets). He examines the 1857 Mountain Meadows massacre during the Utah War, in which Mormons and some local Paiute Indians rounded up and murdered approximately 120 members of the Baker–Fancher party of emigrants passing through their territory. The Mormons went to great lengths to conceal their part in the massacre (including dressing as the Paiute and painting their faces in similar fashion). The Civil War interrupted investigations of the events, and no one was indicted until 1874, when nine men were charged. For nearly two decades the falsehood held that the massacre was due solely to the Paiute. The only person ever convicted in the affair was John D. Lee, a member of the LDS Church. He was convicted and executed by the state in 1877 for his role in the crime.
Krakauer cites information gleaned from several interviews with Dan Lafferty and former and current members of the Crossfield School of the Prophets, as well as other fundamentalist Mormons. He refers to several histories about the formation of Mormonism to tie the origins of the religion to the modern iterations of both the church and the fundamentalists.
The title of the book is drawn from an 1880 address by John Taylor, the third president of the LDS Church, defending the practice of plural marriage:
God is greater than the United States, and when the Government conflicts with heaven, we will be ranged under the banner of heaven against the Government. The United States says we cannot marry more than one wife. God says different.
Charles Graeber of The Guardian listed the book in his top ten true crime books, and described Krakauer as "a master journalist and storyteller who is unfettered and unafraid of the true crime mantle. [He] pries open the golden doors to one of the newest and fastest-growing religions in America to set the stage for the non-fiction drama."
In advance of the book's release in 2003, Richard E. Turley, managing director of the Church History Department of the LDS Church, argued that the book contained historical errors and incorrect assertions, and showed "unfamiliarity with basic aspects" of the Church's history, theology and administrative structure, and criticized the work for lacking a "scientific methodology". He accused Krakauer of "condemn[ing] religion generally".In his 2004 paperback edition of the book, Krakauer responded to these allegations, noting that Turley's pre-emptive "response" preceded the book's release, and that LDS leaders had explicitly advocated the whitewashing of LDS history, amongst other points.
Mike Otterson, managing director of public affairs for the LDS Church, condemned Krakauer's example of religious "zealots" to draw conclusions about all Mormons and any propensity for violence. Otterson said that, after reading the book, "One could be forgiven for concluding that every Latter-day Saint, including your friendly Mormon neighbor, has a tendency to violence. And so Krakauer unwittingly puts himself in the same camp as those who believe every German is a Nazi, every Japanese a fanatic, and every Arab a terrorist."
In July 2011, Warner Bros. purchased the film rights to the book, with Ron Howard directing and Dustin Lance Black writing the screenplay.In June 2021, it was announced that the book was being redeveloped as a limited series for FX, with Black still attached as writer, David Mackenzie serving as director, and Andrew Garfield, Gil Birmingham and Daisy Edgar-Jones to star. The series debuted in April 2022 on FX on Hulu.
In 2015, Amy Berg released her independent documentary, Prophet's Prey , about fundamentalist Mormons practicing polygamy, based on the case of Warren Jeffs, sentenced to life for polygamy and abuse of minors. Krakauer participated in this film and appears on camera, as he continued his own investigation of sects that practiced polygamy. Ron Howard and Brian Grazer, both working on the television adaptation of the book as producers, were also executive producers of the documentary.
Mormonism is the religious tradition and theology of the Latter Day Saint movement of Restorationist Christianity started by Joseph Smith in Western New York in the 1820s and 1830s. As a label, Mormonism has been applied to various aspects of the Latter Day Saint movement, although there has been a recent push from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to distance themselves from this label. A historian, Sydney E. Ahlstrom, wrote in 1982, "One cannot even be sure, whether [Mormonism] is a sect, a mystery cult, a new religion, a church, a people, a nation, or an American subculture; indeed, at different times and places it is all of these". However, scholars and theologians within the Latter Day Saint movement, including Smith, have often used "Mormonism" to describe the unique teachings and doctrines of the movement.
Polygamy was practiced by leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for more than half of the 19th century, and practiced publicly from 1852 to 1890 by between 20 and 30 percent of Latter-day Saint families. Today, various denominations of fundamentalist Mormonism continue to practice polygamy.
John Taylor was an English-born religious leader who served as the third president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints from 1880 to 1887. He is the first and so far only president of the LDS Church to have been born outside the United States.
The Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints is a religious sect of the fundamentalist Mormon denominations whose members practice polygamy. The fundamentalist Mormon movement emerged in the early 20th century, when its founding members were excommunicated from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, largely because of their refusal to abandon the practice of plural marriage after it was renounced in the "Second Manifesto" (1904). The FLDS Church as a distinct group traces its origins to the 1950s in the Short Creek community, where the group is still based.
The Latter Day Saint movement is the collection of independent church groups that trace their origins to a Christian Restorationist movement founded by Joseph Smith in the late 1820s.
Mormon fundamentalism is a belief in the validity of selected fundamental aspects of Mormonism as taught and practiced in the nineteenth century, particularly during the administrations of Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, and John Taylor, the first three presidents of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Mormon fundamentalists seek to uphold tenets and practices no longer held by mainstream Mormons. The principle most often associated with Mormon fundamentalism is plural marriage, a form of polygyny first taught in the Latter Day Saint movement by the movement's founder, Smith. A second and closely associated principle is that of the United Order, a form of egalitarian communalism. Mormon fundamentalists believe that these and other principles were wrongly abandoned or changed by the LDS Church in its efforts to become reconciled with mainstream American society. Today, the LDS Church excommunicates any of its members who practice plural marriage or who otherwise closely associate themselves with Mormon fundamentalist practices.
Polygamy in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, or plural marriage, is generally believed to have originated with the founder of Mormonism, Joseph Smith. According to several of his associates, Smith taught that polygamy was a divine commandment and practiced it personally, by some accounts marrying more than 30 women, some of whom had existing marriages to other men. Evidence for Smith's polygamy is provided by the church's "sealing" records, affidavits, letters, journals, and diaries. However, until his death, Smith and the leading church quorums denied that he preached or practiced polygamy. Smith's son Joseph Smith III, his widow Emma Smith, and the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints challenged the evidence and taught that Joseph Smith had opposed polygamy. They instead claimed that Brigham Young, the head of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, introduced plural marriage after Smith's death. In 1852, leaders of the Utah-based LDS Church publicly announced the doctrine of polygamy.
The Apostolic United Brethren (AUB) is a Mormon fundamentalist group that practices polygamy. The AUB has had a temple in Mexico, since at least the 1990s, an endowment house in Utah since the early 1980s and several other locations of worship to accommodate their members in Wyoming, Idaho, and Montana.
Rulon Timpson Jeffs, known to followers as Uncle Rulon, was an American polygamist and religious leader who served as the president of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, a Mormon fundamentalist organization based in Colorado City, Arizona, United States from 1986 until his death in 2002. He was the father of later FLDS Church leader and convicted felon Warren Jeffs.
The God Makers IIis a documentary-styled film produced by Ed Decker and Jeremiah Films in 1993. The film, a sequel to Decker’s earlier film The God Makers, is intended to be an exposé of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Leroy Sunderland Johnson, known as Uncle Roy, was a leader of the Mormon fundamentalist group in Short Creek, which later evolved into the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, from the mid-1950s until his death.
Islam and Mormonism have been compared to one another ever since the earliest origins of the latter in the nineteenth century, often by detractors of one religion or the other—or both. For instance, Joseph Smith, founder of the Latter Day Saint movement, was referred to as "the modern Muhammad" by the New York Herald, shortly after his murder in June 1844. This epithet repeated a comparison that had been made from Smith's earliest career, one that was not intended at the time to be complimentary. Comparison of the Mormon and Muslim prophets still occurs today, sometimes for derogatory or polemical reasons but also for more scholarly and neutral purposes. Although Mormonism and Islam certainly have many similarities, there are also significant, fundamental differences between the two religions. Mormon–Muslim relations have historically been cordial; recent years have seen increasing dialogue between adherents of the two faiths, and cooperation in charitable endeavors. In terms of a mainstream Islamic as well as Christian perspective, Mormons are sometimes compared to Ahmadiyya in that they are sometimes not accepted as belonging within mainstream Christianity and Islam, respectively.
The following outline is provided as an overview of and a topical guide to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
The following outline is provided as an overview of and topical guide to the life and influence of Joseph Smith:
Anne B. Wilde is an American author and advocate on behalf of fundamentalist Mormon polygamists. She is a co-founder of Principle Voices, a group whose purpose is to counter anti-polygamy messages, build bridges between fundamentalist Mormon groups and outside communities, and for the decriminalization of polygamy.
This is a bibliography of works on the Latter Day Saint movement.
Benjamin "Ben" Granger Bistline was an American historian of Mormon fundamentalism in Short Creek, a community of which he was a part.
Under the Banner of Heaven is an American true crime drama television miniseries created by Dustin Lance Black based on the nonfiction book of the same name by Jon Krakauer. It premiered on April 28, 2022, on FX on Hulu. Andrew Garfield and Gil Birmingham star as two detectives investigating a brutal murder seemingly connected to Mormonism. The series, while reigniting controversy in the Mormon faith, received highly positive reviews.
I availed myself of this rich history by draining my bank account in bookstores near and far.