John Kraukauer's mega-hit 2003 non-fiction book, Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith is going to be a movie. The name of the book refers to a speech given by the third president of the Mormon Church in 1880, saying that polygamist marriages are condoned by God, if not by the United States government. The book tells two converging story, the first about the murders of Brenda Lafferty and her infant daughter, Erica. The second gives a brief history of the Mormon Church.
Before the book even came out, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints criticized it, saying that Kraukauer hated religion generally and the Mormon Church in particular. The movie will certainly draw similar criticisms by the church. Dustin Lance Black, the writer of the polygamist HBO show Big Love and the movie Milk, is slated to write the screenplay with Ron Howard directing. The leads will be Jason Bateman of Arrested Development fame and Stephanie Davis, a country music singer.
The part of the book about the murders is certainly its most controversial element. Brenda Lafferty was married to a man named, Allen. He had two older brothers Dan and Ron, who believed that Brenda was the reason that Ron's wife left him. Ron's wife probably actually left him because he insisted on a polygamist union with another woman. The brothers became radical believers when they joined the School of the Prophets, an offshoot of the Mormon church. Ron started believing that he had received a revelation from God to kill Brenda and her baby. The brothers brought the revelation to the School of the Prophets, asking for help in removing the woman and her baby, but the church members refused. The brothers then took matters into their own hands, slitting Brenda's and Erica's throats.
The other part of the book was a Mormon history lesson. It remains to be seen if Black & Co. will weave this into the movie version of the book. Kraukauer talks about the life of prophet Joseph Smith. Early Mormons faced persecution in the United States because of their closed-off lifestyles. The hatred towards Mormons during the early church caused fights between Mormons and non-Mormons. In one clash in 1844, Josheph Smith was killed. Brigham Young took Smith's followers from Illinois to Utah, which was under Mexican rule at the time. Soon after the Mormons' belief that they would be left alone in Utah was dashed when the Mexicans ceded Utah to the United States.
One of the biggest comparisons Kraukauer makes throughout his book are his comparisons between mainstream and radical Mormon groups. He speaks to the murder of a number of people moving from Arkansas to California by wagon train by a number of Mormons. The Mormon Church tried to distance itself, but a member of the church John D. Lee was executed for his involvement in 1877. Kraukauer insists on tying the mainstream Church with its extremely conservative offshoots like the School of the Prophets.