Home Opinion Column: How "Under the Banner of Heaven" desecrates the name of the...

Column: How “Under the Banner of Heaven” desecrates the name of the Church

When I found out that Andrew Garfield, one of my favorite actors, would be starring in a show regarding the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I was ecstatic. An actor whose work I love was going to play a member of the religion that I love. It was the best of both worlds. I had heard some negative comments from other members of the Church, but I was still going to watch it. Once I started viewing FX’s “Under the Banner of Heaven”, though, a feeling of uneasiness set in. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I certainly didn’t expect what I experienced.

Instead of the sheer thrill of a true-crime show with breathtaking cinematography and a suspenseful unfolding of events, I was welcomed by constant inaccuracies and exploitations of something I hold dear. Rather than the true story of a double homicide, I experienced the ludicrously ostentatious portrayal of a sacred thing used simply to further the plot.

Released on Hulu as a limited 7-episode miniseries, the show’s premise is based on the true story of Brenda Lafferty and her daughter, Erica, who were both killed in their home in Salt Lake City in 1984. While the trailers seem as if this is the focus of the show, the murders are just an afterthought. After watching the first three episodes, this show aims at nothing more than to attack the Church and drag its name through the dirt.

The Depiction of Misogyny

Anyone who watches the show will get smothered with misogynistic dialogue throughout. While the Church has been known for relying on traditional lifestyles over the years, never has it crossed line into misogynistic tendencies to the degree seen in the show. The show, however, constantly shoves sexism against women down the viewers’ throats before ever allowing them to digest what they’re viewing.

“LDS women are taught to be obedient, to serve their husband and obey,” said one character.

“I didn’t want her to spend her life in a church that would force her to make covenants that would make her obey men all her life,” said the character later in the same episode.

The consistency of misogyny in this show is something that viewers will encounter regardless which episode they watch or where they start. The discrimination of women in this show causes those who don’t know any better to think negatively of the Church. This is just the tip of the iceberg of the constant inaccuracies depicted.

The Holy Temple

Quito, Ecuador Temple
The Quito, Ecuador Temple, one of many temples in which sacred ordinances occur. Photo credit: Grady Ellsworth

Perhaps the most controversial aspect of “Under the Banner of Heaven” is the staging of temple ordinances. Although its a very short scene in only one episode, its something that’s shown out of context and gives a connotation that these sacred ordinances are used to control and oppress women, which isn’t the case.

“Soon I will surrender to Allen for time and all eternity,” said one of the female characters during a scene depicting a temple sealing in which she was marrying her husband.

While one of the most individualistic beliefs of Latter-day Saints is that families are forever, which can be achieved through a temple sealing, is represented in the show accurately, it’s too little, too late.

Before attending a temple ordinance as shown in the show, most members of the Church receive temple preparation classes so they may have a better idea as to what to expect from the holy temple and why. A 2-minute scene with no added context or further explanation for those already unfamiliar with the temple makes for a confusing part of an already inaccurate show, which is why this moment of the show is so controversial. Not just exploiting that which is sacred, but doing so in an absurdly flawed, incorrect manner.

The Biggest Inaccuracy

Another disregarded and consequential inaccuracy of the show is a lack of distinguishing The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints from The Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. According to a timeline of the events, while her killers, Ron and Dan Lafferty, her brothers-in-law, were originally members of the Church, Dan was excommunicated in 1982 for trying to take his 14-year-old stepdaughter as a second wife. His older brother, Ron, was excommunicated a year later for an increased embrace in polygamy. While the show does address the fact that Ron and Dan were Fundamentalist members at the time of the murders, it does not go into detail, at least not enough for viewers that are unfamiliar with the difference to understand. As far as the viewers are concerned, the murderers were devout Latter-day Saints when Brenda and Erica were killed.

By the time the murders occurred in July 1984, Ron and Dan Lafferty had begun their own polygamous sect known as the School of the Prophets. Having only seen up to the third episode, it is possible that they haven’t explained this yet, but due to the constant attacks and negative connotations of the Church throughout, there’s a good chance nothing will be done to defend Latter-day Saints.

What Latter-day Saints Can Do

According to a listicle from Collider, “Under the Banner of Heaven” is currently one of the most popular streamed shows on Hulu. Several people are watching it and don’t know of the exaggerations made about members and other aspects of the Church. The false representation of the Church is not limited to what I have written.

If you’re a member of the Church and are unsure how to protect your faith, the best thing you can do is spread truth. Whether someone asks you about the accuracy of the show or you overhear someone talking about it, set the record straight. The best way to show how Latter-day Saints truly are is by being the example. Show others that this is the true Church of Jesus Christ by responding in a Christlike manner. Just because this show attacks the Church, doesn’t mean we need to attack back. The best way to correct the damage done by this show is to prove it wrong.


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