What "Under The Banner of Heaven" Gets Right About Latter-day Saint Culture

The Hulu/FX show Under the Banner of Heaven has been both praised and marked with controversy as it adapts the book under the same name written by Jon Krauker, and details the story of the murder of Brenda Lafferty and her baby by brother Dan and Ron Lafferty. The book and show have been polarizing in their portrayal of members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and focus at times too much on the history of the Church rather than the actual case. 


As someone who is a member of the Church and actively watching the show, I can't help but feel that the conclusion that the writers are trying to give the audience is "If you are a member of the Latter-day Saint faith, you can be radicalized to do such deeds." It's the same argument as "All Germans are Nazis" and "All Muslims are Terrorists." It's just not true, but I can't help but feel that is the angle the writers are trying to convey. 


Still, with that being said, even if the portrayal of those in the Latter-day Saint community isn't 100% accurate, there are some cultural aspects that the show points out that are still prevalent even now in Church culture. 


For example, when the character of Detective Jeb (played by Andrew Garfield) is interrogating Brenda's husband as he is the prime suspect of her murder, he points out the tension that plays in Latter-day saint families when members decide to leave the Church. It's not just a stressful time for the couple, but also for the outside family members involved. This tension is one of the main plot points in the series, as it revolves around members of the Church leaving the faith in various fashions. 


Similarly, the feeling of "us vs them" is presented throughout the whole discourse. While it's true that we hear the saying "come to Church in your cigarette smell and coffee stained shirt because all our welcome," the reality is that this isn't true. Latter-day Saints are very good at pointing our discrepancies amongst others even those who are IN the faith. Latter-day Saint culture is filled with a lot of judgemental members constantly trying to one-up each other in holiness. While this is slowly fading away in the younger generation, it still can be felt on all levels. 


While the series Under The Banner of Heaven is not a perfect portrayal of Latter-day Saint members nor does it come close to even being a good culture of the gospel or The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, it is a good portrayal of what happens when one takes religion to a selfish extreme. The Lafferty brothers thought that they were above the leaders of the Church and the gospel, and believed that the "revelations" they received were from a God who believed that it was okay to murder a young woman and her child. 


All in all, should you watch the show? It really depends. While I find it enjoyable as a viewer, I do find the misrepresentation of the faith pretty hard. Hopefully, Latter-day Saint members can show the world that we're not as peculiar as the show makes us out to be.