The Mormon presence in America has been historically influential to the nation, but is often overlooked or understated in non-Mormon institutions despite the fact their existence dates back to 1823. Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith by Jon Krakauer is a non-fiction historical account of the Mormon religion, from its birth under the prophet Joseph Smith, to present times with the polygamy practicing fundamentalists and the milder mainstream Latter Day Saint church existing with identical core beliefs, but on opposite sides of the spectrum in terms of practices.
The section of the book regarding the extreme fundamentalists, their history, and their current practices was an interesting look into a very different way of life. The split in the Mormon Church presented itself when the principle of polygamy was retracted by the prophet Wilford Woodruff. Those that accepted this revelation are the mass that is now called The Church of Latter Day Saints.
Those that felt the church only banned polygamy to try and gain acceptance by the United States government still felt that it was a divine principle necessary for getting into heaven, and scattered to secluded areas across the North American continent to practice their lifestyle. Several factions of Mormon extremists exist in Canada, the United States, and Mexico. The primary reason that so many factions exist is based on one of the basic building blocks of the church. All Mormons followers have a close relationship with God and are able to speak with him.
The laws of the church can change as the prophets receive their revelations. Essentially, anyone can declare themselves a prophet, and anyone can receive a revelation. As self proclaimed prophets received divine revelations they would take a group of followers and establish their own settlement to reproduce more members. The most well known of these factions if the Fundamentalist Latter Day Saints (FLDS) with approximately 10,000 members located in Colorado City, Arizona and Hildale, Utah. The FLDS territory, formerly known as Short Creek, was founded by John Y.
Barlow to preserve the sanctity of polygamy. After Barlow’s death Joseph Musser was the next prophet in line of succession. He presided over the sect during the Short Creek Raid of 1953 when Arizona state police officers and the National Guard invaded the compound and arrested every member of the church, regardless of age or gender. Leroy Johnson, or “Uncle Roy” as he was affectionately called, led the sect from 1954 to 1986. After the death of Johnson in 1986 Rulon Jeffs, also called “Uncle Rulon” took over as prophet.
Uncle Rulon was thought to be “the one mighty and strong” that would live forever, rule at the end of days, and carry the church to eternal salvation as stated by the book of Mormon. This considered it was a shock to the FLDS community when Uncle Rulon died in 2002 at the age of 92. Warren Jeffs, one of Rulon’s sons out of an estimated 60-65 children fathered by the late prophet, assumed leadership after his father’s death. He ruled by fear and tyranny. Under his term, the number of young boys thrown out of the church for minor infractions increased exponentially.
These “Lost Boys” would be kicked out for violations such as having a crush on a girl, or wearing a shirt with sleeves that were too short, or if the prophet just decided to deem them unworthy. A church member then drives the teenage boys out of town and dumps them off at the side of the road with
The FLDS is currently under the leadership of an unknown prophet after Jeffs was sentenced on November 20, 2007 to 10 years to life in the Utah State Prison on charges of sexual conduct with minors and rape as an accomplice. To this day in Colorado City it is common for cousins, stepfathers and stepdaughters, non-biological uncles and nieces, or fathers and adopted children to marry. Incestuous relationships have caused an unusually high rate of birth defects. Three wives is the minimum for a man to receive the highest level of salvation in the afterlife.
The first marriage is considered legal by law. All marriages after are “celestial marriages” only recognized by the FLDS. The women bound to men by celestial marriage are able to collect welfare for all of their kids because they are single parents. This practice is called “bleeding the beast” and is encouraged among members. The rules of dress are strictly adhered to: men wear long sleeved shirts and pants in all seasons and women wear ankle length long sleeved dresses. Both sexes clothing is very plain and they must wear long underwear at all times.
Under the Banner of Heaven was unbiased and fact based. Krakauer included personal accounts of stories of the religious fanaticism that has led to practices in the FLDS that range from horrifying to intriguing. It was difficult to imagine the level of strength and conviction that motivates members to live out their everyday lives in this community. Krakauer was able to deliver these stories and the historical statistics behind them in a non-judgmental or opinionated manner, which gives the book a genuine and legitimate base.
He does not come off as a religion hater or Mormon racist that is condemning the choices made by the prophets or the people. The historical account of the Mormon religion as a whole was detailed and deliberate, which was helpful in understanding how one religion ended up existing in such a multitude of diverse sects. It was an experience to be introduced to a different view of American history; one that is definitely not discussed in the standard textbooks. References Krakauer, Jon (2004). Under the Banner of Heaven, A Story of Violent Faith. New York: Random House, Inc..