FX miniseries, Under The Banner of Heaven, explores the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and the grisly true crime story involving Mormon fundamentalist brothers Ron and Dan Lafferty. The roots of the crime lay deep in an American religion practiced by millions.
The series is adapted from John Krakauer’s novel, Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith. It stars Emmy nominee, Andrew Garfield in the lead role as Detective Jeb Pyre, the detective in charge of the violent double murder case that shocked the small town in Utah.
The narrative is based on the gruesome murders committed by the Lafferty brothers in 1984. Ron Lafferty, a self-proclaimed ‘prophet’, claimed to have received a divine revelation ordering him to kill the two victims - his sister-in-law Brenda Wright Lafferty and her 15-month-old daughter Erica - alongside his brother Dan.
As the case proceeds and the investigations gradually unveil the terrible truth, Detective Pyre is wracked with guilt as he continually questions his Mormon upbringing every step of the way. The more he learns, the more the revelations send him spiraling into a crisis of faith. The series creator, Dustin Lance Black, also had a similar first-hand experience with Mormonism.
The series juxtaposes the dramatic establishment of the Mormon faith in the early 1800s by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (LDS) founder Joseph Smith Jr with that of the Lafferty family members and their crimes.
Joseph Smith Jr’s tryst with the Mormon faith came into existence following a series of ‘visions’ he had of God and Jesus Christ who convinced him that modern churches had strayed too far from the gospel. As a result, Smith established a new Christian faith and was identified as a messianic figure amongst his followers, known as the prophet.
Smith and his Book of Mormon have been consistently questioned by academics and critics for a variety of unpleasant reasons. The ostensible purpose around each was to establish divine legitimacy to actions that would otherwise be considered immoral including,
Of course, church-mandated abuse isn’t an alien concept to the world at this point in time. Recently, former 'Spotlight' investigative journalist, Michael Rezendes, broke a story for the AP News detailing seven years of sex abuse to which the Mormon church looked the other way.
In 2016, a child pornography racket in New Zealand revealed a gruesome video posted on the internet showing a man raping his 10-year-old daughter. After tedious global investigations, the video was traced back to a US Border Patrol employee living in Arizona.
Paul Douglas Adams was arrested soon after. He confessed to raping his daughter and her infant sister repeatedly and posting videos of the same on the internet. 4,000 photos and 1,000 videos of child sex abuse were uncovered.
Adams admitted that he confessed to sexually abusing his daughter to an LDS church, back when the abuse had first started. The bishop was among many church representatives who knowingly turned a blind eye to the abuse, redirecting Adam to a “helpline”, not involving law enforcement and keeping the abuse a secret.
MJ and her adoptive mother asked the Associated Press to use only their initials because videos of abuse posted by her father are still circulating on the internet.
Over time, journalists and writers, who shed light on the horrific variants of Mormon history, have been subject to large-scale witch hunts by the Mormon community; the author of Under The Banner of Heaven, John Krakauer, is a testament to that fact.
Historically, it isn’t that all men of faith are predators. However, what most certainly holds true is that predators will gravitate towards environments where masculine authority is not to be questioned and shame can be leveraged to their advantage.
As more and more abuse victims surface, the Mormon church has continually taken the defensive, redirected blame and shunned accountability. In its attempts to cover for the abusers, who have thrived right under their noses, the church has denied abuse survivors, a means to end their trauma.