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‘Under the Banner of Heaven’ Unravels Disturbing Truths of Fundamentalism




“Under the Banner of Heaven” and “Keep Sweet: Pray and Obey” unravel disturbing truths of fundamentalists in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (LDS). These docuseries retell tragic stories of misguided faith and debauchery based on actual events.

The fundamental sin of radicalism is found in every religious denomination globally; it discourages logical reasoning and the ability to recognize extreme behavior. Fundamentalist ideologies can be thought of as mental parasites,” according to Dr. Bobby Azarian. “Under the Banner of Heaven” and “Keep Sweet: Pray and Obey” spotlight how these “parasites” disrupt the lives of those involved and their families and friends.

While the stories differ, the objectives of those involved are similar. In each circumstance, the goal is heaven, but they placed their salvation on a man instead of God — they idolized Joseph Smith, the LDS founder, and his outdated and illegal doctrine. They lived to emulate him.


Courtesy John (Flickr CC0)

In the early 1830s, he used polygamy from Abraham and other Old Testament prophets to justify the practice. “Smith taught that a righteous man could help numerous wives and children go to heaven by being ‘sealed’ in plural marriage,” reports Joanna Brooks for The Conversation.

They returned to Smith’s 1843 doctrine: “Large families multiplied a man’s glory in the afterlife,” Brooks added. Like him, these men practiced and promoted polygamy, which was banned by Morman leadership in 1890 and the United States in 1892.

‘Under the Banner of Heaven’

The bestselling book “Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith,” by author Jon Krakauer inspired the seven-episode true-crime limited series was inspired. FX’s docudrama depicted a side of the LDS church many members would like to forget exists; they have a saying, “doubt your doubts,” something repeatedly stated in the HULU exclusive program. The creator, Dustin Lance Black, said Mormans complained that the story unfairly depicted their religion but growing up in the church, he understood their position.

“Under the Banner of Heaven” centers around the Lafferty family, Detectives Jeb Pyre and Bill Taba, and brutal double murder. Detective Prye, an LDS member, takes the lead in the investigation. His investigation unravels a tale of a seemingly average family. Some of the Lafferty sons are seduced by the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (FLDS or “fundies”). This offshoot of the faith is a libertarian-focused wing of Mormon fundamentalism. The boys decide to embrace the LDS Patriots for Freedom’s stance against government interference of taxes, socialism, and haughty women who do not know their place.


Courtesy of Matthew Bembridge (Flickr CC0)

At the same time, they become obsessed with the “true history of the church” and begin to practice and promote polygamy. This path leads them to believe the only way to correct a wayward wife is to change her behavior no matter the cost, finally murder.

“Under the Banner of Heaven” writers wove the church’s traditions into the binge-worthy docuseries creatively and educationally. As a result, viewers will learn some of the hidden truths about the LDS religion.

‘Keep Sweet: Pray and Obey’

Rachel Dretzin’s new 4-part docuseries tells the story of an FLDS polygamist “cult” led by Warren Jeffs. She explains the point of her program is “to give Jeff’s victims and survivors a chance to tell their stories for the first time,” writes Amanda Richards. “Keep Seet: Pray and Obey” focused “on the experience of being in that cult” and the people affected, particularly the women. They accomplished a “pretty miraculous and incredible” feat when they defied and escaped from Jeffs’ clutches, who fancied himself a prophet.

He inherited the sect after his father, the previous prophet, died. His “family” included 78 wives; some of them were his father’s widows. In 2008, the FBI raided the Yearning for Zion Ranch in West Texas. They sought to investigate sexual, physical, and psychological abuse allegations and rescued over 400 children.

The Netflix series features never-before-seen archival footage and interviews with some of Jeffs’ victims and survivors. One of them explained the premise behind polygamy: “The more wives, the more children, the higher in heaven you will be.”

Written by Cathy Milne-Ware


TUDUM: Documenting Mormonism’s Darkest Hour; by Amanda Richards
IndieWire: ‘Keep Sweet: Pray and Obey’ Trailer: True Crime Docuseries Uncovers Abuse in Radical Mormon Sect; by Samantha Bergeson
The Conversation: Explaining polygamy and its history in the Mormon Church; by Joanna Brooks
World Population Review: Countries Where Polygamy Is Legal 2022
Psychology Today: How Religious Fundamentalism Hijacks the Brain; by Bobby Azarian, Ph.D., Reviewed by Jessica Schrader

Featured and Top Image Courtesy of Thomas Hawk’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License
First Inset Image Courtesy of John’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License
Second Inset Image Courtesy of Matthew Bembridge’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License

Cathy Milne-Ware is a seasoned writer and editor. Her background: Journalism for online and print newspapers, new website content from the about page to blog posts, newsletters, book reviews, and social media content. She enjoys writing Health, Entertainment, and Political news stories.

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