Written by AmyInTX
Sunday, September 29, 2013
Book Review/Spoilers - "Under the Banner of Heaven" Sister Wives
Under the Banner of Heaven: a Story of Violent faith by Jon Krakauer
Written by AmyInTX
Written by AmyInTX
The author of this book, Jon Krakauer is probably best known for his book Into the Wild which spent two years on the NYT bestseller list. I had read that book and really enjoyed it and was very intrigued when I saw that he had written a book on polygamy.
According to the Author’s notes, he began the book as part of a ‘desire to grasp the nature of religious belief’. He grew up in Oregon among those of the LDS faith. He further states that this is not the book that he intended to write but that he was pleased with the result. The book is written in the tone of a journalist and is heavily indexed and referenced. It is full of anecdotes which I think all of you will find familiar to your (growing) knowledge of polygamy and fundamentalist Mormonism.
The main storyline of the book focuses on the murder of Brenda and Erica Lafferty on July 24, 1984. At the time of her murder, Brenda was 24 years old and Erica, her daughter, was 15 months old. Erica was stabbed to death in her crib by her uncle who then went downstairs and along with another uncle, beat and stabbed Brenda to death. Not incidentally, July 24 is a big day in the Mormon faith, that of Pioneer Day which commemorates the day that Brigham Young and the first Mormons entered the Salt Lake Valley in 1847.
The book jumps around a lot, focusing on the history of the Mormon church, how different sects have broken off, beliefs of the faith, the doctrine of polygamy as well as other crimes committed by fundamentalist Mormons. It doesn't have much of a story line, but is packed full of interesting stories from the Mormon and Fundamentalist Mormon histories and faiths. Instead of following the flow of the book, I will give you some of the high points and will conclude by providing more details on the murders of Brenda and Erica.
First though, I would like to point out some recurring themes from the book that will no doubt be familiar to those who have taken a deeper look into the faith. The Mormon faithful, not unlike members of other faiths, believe that they are a special people, set apart by God. They also have a strong sense of be persecuted and almost seem to enjoy that persecution as a mark of being God’s special people. Further, there is a doctrine within the church that it is appropriate to “Lie for the Lord” and to “Bleed the beast”. In other words, to be dishonest to those outside the church is not considered sinful but something that should be done.
· In 1988, Gordon B. Hinkley, the president and prophet of the LDS Church was interviewed on Larry King Live. He stated that, “They (Fundamentalists) have no connection with us whatever. The don’t belong to the church. There are actually no Mormon Fundamentalists”. However, the author points out that Mormons and Mormon Fundamentalists believe in the same sacred texts and the same sacred history. The primary difference is that Fundamentalists believe that they have a divine obligation to take multiple wives.
· One of the communities mentioned in the book is that of Short Creek/Colorado City . Three sects reside in Short Creek, including the FLDS or UEP (United Effort Plan) headed by Warren Jeffs. (This book was written both during and shortly after the death of Rulon Jeffs, Warren’s father and the husband of the woman featured on the 20/20 Special, Rebecca Musser). Short Creek is also the site of the infamous Raid which is when the US Government, with the support of the LDS church arrested 122 polygamous men in 1953.
· The book also mentions the Kingston group (Kollene’s father is mentioned by name). In May 1998, a girl dialed 911 and told police that immediately after she turned 16, her father, John Kingston, had pulled her out of high school and forced her to become the 15th wife of her uncle, David Kingston, 32. Twice the girl had run away but was caught each time. At one point, she went to her mother for help who returned her to her father. She was then taken to a ‘reeducation camp’ for wayward wives and disobedient children. She was beaten. She fled the ranch and called the police. John and David were tried and sentenced to jail, John for 28 weeks and David for 10 years.
· Another familiar name that appears in the book is Flora Jessop’s. Flora has been involved in the media due to the disappearance of her sister Ruby. Ruby was 14 when she was caught kissing a boy in Colorado City. She was immediately forced to marry an older man in her extended family. After her wedding night, she was ‘hemorrhaging copious amounts of blood’. She attempted to flee, running to the home of one of her bothers. She was allegedly abducted from his home in 2001 by members of the FDLS church. Flora contacted the police to tell them that Ruby had been kidnapped. Upon investigation, the police were told that Ruby was on vacation. The police left. Unsatisfied, Flora continued to press for help. The Utah Department of Child and Family Services meet with Ruby who was accompanied by one of her abductors. In the presence of the abductor she was interviewed and told the social workers that ‘everything was fine’. A quick google search reveals that Ruby was held by the church for the next 12 years before she escaped in earlier this year with her 6 children.
· In 1826, Joseph Smith was sued by the state of New York for being an imposter. He had presented himself to numerous people as someone with the ability to find buried treasure through the use of a seeing stone. Eighteen months after the trial concluded he is purported to have found the golden plates which outlined the Mormon religion.
· In 1831, as Mormonism was growing more popular, the local newspaper reported the following: “We have never been able to learn that any of the (Smith) family were ever noted for much else than ignorance and stupidity…(and) a propensity to superstition and a fondness for everything marvelous.
· Joseph Smith, continually lied about being a polygamist until he was outed within his community. His first wife, Emma despised polygamy and was very vocal on her views. At one point she threatened to take a plural husband if Joseph didn’t give up his wives. In fact, the written text of Section 132 (the polygamy section of the Doctrine and Covenants) refers to Emma by name. I copied the following from the LDS.org website. And I command mine handmaid, Emma Smith, to abide and acleave unto my servant Joseph, and to none else. But if she will not abide this commandment she shall be bdestroyed, saith the Lord; for I am the Lord thy God, and will destroy her if she abide not in my law.
· The murders were committed by two brothers of Brenda’s husband Allen. The mastermind of the murders was Allen’s oldest brother Ronald who believes that he is the one true prophet. He believed that God told him that he must murder Brenda and Erica along with two other people who assisted his ex-wife in leaving him. At one point, he told Brenda’s husband Allen that he had been told by God to kill Brenda and Allen did nothing. He was assisted in the murder by his brother Dan and two friends of theirs. They had discussed the murders with many people before committing them. At one point, the murder was discussed in front of their mother, Brenda’s mother-in-law and Erica’s grandmother, who also did nothing. It gets even more crazy than that, I leave those details to those of you who chose to read the book.
In conclusion I will say that this is long, and it could have been 5 times longer. This book is meticulously researched and packed full of details that are fascinating. A must read, though a bit tedious at times, for anyone who is interested in greater detail.