July 9th, 2009
08:40 PM ET

"The affairs of Mormondom"

Editor's Note: This is an excerpt from Jon Krakauer's book "Under the Banner of Heaven" about the Mormon faith. Krakauer is also known for his other books "Into the Wild", "Into Thin Air" and "Eiger Dreams". He won the Academy Award in Literature in 1999. Two Americans recently killed in Mexico, Benjamin LeBaron and Luis Widmar, lived in a Mexican township founded by ex-communicated Mormons.

Jon Krakauer

From "Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith"

Balanced atop the highest spire of the Salt Lake Temple, gleaming in the Utah sun, a statue of the angel Moroni stands watch over downtown Salt Lake City with his golden trumpet raised This massive granite edifice is the spiritual and temporal nexus of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS), which presents itself as the world's only true religion. Temple Square is to Mormons what the Vatican is to Catholics, or the Kaaba in Mecca is to Muslims. At last count there were more than eleven million Saints the world over, and Mormonism is the fastest-growing faith in the Western Hemisphere. At present in the United States there are more Mormons than Presbyterians or Episcopalians. On the planet as a whole, there are now more Mormons than Jews. Mormonism is considered in some sober academic circles to be well on its way to becoming a major world religion–the first such faith to emerge since Islam…

The affairs of Mormondom are directed by a cadre of elderly white males in dark suits who carry out their holy duties from a twenty-six-story office tower beside Temple Square. To a man, the LDS leadership adamantly insists that Lafferty should under no circumstances be considered a Mormon. The faith that moved Lafferty to slay his niece and sister-in-law is a brand of religion known as Mormon Fundamentalism; LDS Church authorities bristle visibly when Mormons and Mormon Fundamentalists are even mentioned in the same breath. As Gordon B. Hinckley, the then-eighty-eight-year-old LDS president and prophet, emphasized during a 1998 television interview on Larry King Live, "They have no connection with us whatever. They don't belong to the church. There are actually no Mormon Fundamentalists."…

There are more than thirty thousand FLDS polygamists living in Canada, Mexico, and throughout the American West. Some experts estimate there may be as many as one hundred thousand. Even this larger number amounts to less than 1 percent of the membership in the LDS Church worldwide, but all the same, leaders of the mainstream church are extremely discomfited by these legions of polygamous brethren. Mormon authorities treat the fundamentalists as they would a crazy uncle–they try to keep the "polygs" hidden in the attic, safely out of sight, but the fundamentalists always seem to be sneaking out to appear in public at inopportune moments to create unsavory scenes, embarrassing the entire LDS clan.

Filed under: Religion
soundoff (22 Responses)
  1. Kendall

    Unless you live in Utah, Mormonism is hardly the "quintessential" American religion. The geographic variations (Texas=Baptist, Mass=Roman Catholic, and I suppose nowadays in certain parts of Michigan=Islam) are enormous.

    July 10, 2009 at 10:18 am |
  2. Jim

    Religion, the major distraction in my relationship with God..

    July 10, 2009 at 5:50 am |
  3. XPolygamistWife

    I believe the number of polygamists in and around the state of Utah number closer to 100,000. It's unfortunate that Utah Mormons aren't doing more to stop this corrupt lifestyle, like enforce welfare laws and marriage laws. Mainstream Mormons are far more interested in abolishing gay marriage than doing anything to protect the tens of thousands of innocent victims trapped in polygamy, mainly women and children.

    And now my relatives in Mexico are being murdered by drug lords and my heart goes out to them. I hope the men in LeBaron get their women and children to safety in the United States until Colonia LeBaron is a safe place to live once again.

    Laurie Allen
    Executive Producer
    "Follow The Prophet"
    Red Road Productions

    July 10, 2009 at 1:58 am |
  4. Matt

    Benjamin LeBaron is the brother of some of my closest friends. He was a good man who was simply standing up for his family and community against violent drug cartels.

    As far as his religion, does it matter? What if he was Catholic, would that detail be so important? I'm sorry to see so many comments about it and disappointed CNN made it an integral part of the story. It's too bad.

    July 10, 2009 at 1:36 am |
  5. skshello

    In April and in October there is a conference in which the entire world can listen to the leaders of the LDS Church. If you want to really know what a person is, get to know him.; In this case, listen to the leaders. Then anyone can examine the Church, its' beliefs and how it encourages the members to do good in the world. From a multi million dollar donation by the members to the starving people in Ethiopia in the mid 80's to every day service in local and international crisis, we have immediate response teams to respond to any need. Earthquakes, fires, floods, hurricanes, and anything else that requires quick action. As President Hinckley said, it makes no dfference who has need, we will serve, as long as there are resources to help.

    This is in similitude of the person for whom our Chur+ch is named, Jesus Christ. He served, gave, and paid the ultimate price.

    I cannot say anything about the FLDS,

    July 10, 2009 at 12:02 am |
  6. Kathy Jo Nicholson

    The Lebarons kill each other. The murder I imagine was commited by a polygamist in a 'Splinter Off' group of the original Lebaron church. Read Susan Ray Schmidt's book: His Favored Wife. She lived the violence inside the Lebaron family for years.

    July 10, 2009 at 12:02 am |
  7. Mark A. Colon

    If the U.S. Government stopped Marijuana prohibition, American dollars wouldn't enrich the Mexican Cartels. Their power over the people of the country of Mexico would go away. It's just that simple. The prohibitionists are causing the death of many people. You can try to control the acts of many people, which is impossible. Or you can just change the law and redirect the money to education and health.

    July 9, 2009 at 11:57 pm |
  8. Darrell

    Until the mexican gov't eradicate corruption within, people who oppose the cartel will always made an example.

    July 9, 2009 at 11:39 pm |
  9. Norm

    Colonia LeBaron (where the polygamist community is located) is 45 minutes away from the "Mormon Colonies" where polygamy is not practiced. My grandfather fled to Mexico in the late 1890's when the U.S. Government cracked down on polygamists in Utah, Arizona, etc. There are many decendants of these early settlers that still live in the area, but do not practice polygamy. They follow the teaching of the Mormon church. The official Mormon Church (Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) outlawed polygamy in 1890; and these "fundamentalists" broke away from the original church. By the way it is commonly called the LDS Church, not the LSD Church. smile....

    July 9, 2009 at 11:23 pm |
  10. Kathleen

    Please stop pairing The Church of Jesus Christ of Latterday Saints with other religions. We live the law of the land. We are Monogamous. It would be helpful if you would use the "legal" name of the Church. Kathleen

    July 9, 2009 at 11:22 pm |
  11. ken corbett

    hello ! Hum! I do think all the denominations are imperfect not even one a true church at all as well as they do think that their churches is true!
    Only One Man named is Lord Jesus Christ ! He did all for us and paid all prices of our sins and failures and even death for us through His Forgiving Blood with His Love for us! Just know and believe Him as the true Saviour of the world and the true Lord that we are required to believe in Him and confess that He is The Lord Of All Men the King of Righteousness and The Everlasting Living High Priest /Mediator for us !
    Only way that we can preach the good news about Him {The Lord Jesus Christ) Now He is standing right side with the Father in Heaven forever!

    July 9, 2009 at 11:04 pm |
  12. Pamela Winge

    Having lived in Mexico as an American expatriate my strong advice would be to simply get out. Leave the area, consider your children and your future. Do not depend upon the policia.....I found them to be unreliable ( to say the least ) .

    July 9, 2009 at 10:34 pm |
  13. Jacob Marco

    Why is this article up here?

    July 9, 2009 at 10:03 pm |
  14. Mark

    Mormonism is one of the fastest growing, and one of the most misunderstood religions in the world.

    July 9, 2009 at 9:21 pm |
  15. mike osteo

    Some mormons prefer to business with people that are also mormon. Talk about a pathetic way to value a person not by moral content but by region.

    July 9, 2009 at 9:14 pm |
  16. Dzidzorli Agbleze

    Mormonism is spreading around the world as never before due to committed adherents who walk from community to community helping the poor and spreading their word as the same time.

    July 9, 2009 at 8:34 pm |
  17. Mercedes

    The LSD church is one of hippocratic convience. Joesph Smith built the Morman church on the belief of polgamy and painfully renounced in trade for statehood. Hitch: trying to convince the rest of the planet they were not the religious model for "Big Love."

    July 9, 2009 at 8:03 pm |
  18. mary

    The son of Mitt Romney's cousin was also recently kidnapped. Isn't this in the same area/community? Why would someone live in a polygamist community and not be a polygamist?

    July 9, 2009 at 7:29 pm |
  19. Carol Hornbaker

    Most religions believe they are the only true religion. Governments believe their way is best for their people. In many aspects of life, we practice what we believe and instill these beliefs in our children and those around us. Naturally we will stand up for those beliefs. Our beliefs are the largest part of our soul.
    Personally I choose to believe in Jesus Christ because he is the only leader and savior who gave first. He did not ask anything of me until he experienced all that I must, then He simply said, "believe."
    Other religions I have studied ask me to follow man made rules interpreted by leaders. The leaders will then decide if I have lived my life according to their rules. This is the reason for so many edifices. Man made statues to be worshipped. The power struggle within.
    All people need admiration and approval. It is found in following a leader who has died first so I can live forever. I am not claiming to know everything about all religions. Personally I choose to believe in Jesus, because He lived the perfect life and then gave His life first so I can live forever. I treasure forever

    July 9, 2009 at 7:23 pm |
  20. Sean -- Utah

    If an employee of a company leaves and starts his own company, would people continue to associate that company with the original 50 years later? Why wouldn't that company now stand on it's own, and why would the original be tarnished if the second was breaking the laws? It makes no sense.

    July 9, 2009 at 7:20 pm |
  21. Nancy

    Quote:Even this larger number amounts to less than 1 percent of the membership in the LDS Church worldwide, but all the same, leaders of the mainstream church are extremely discomfited by these legions of polygamous brethren.

    There are no polygamous members of the LDS church. We abide by the same laws as the rest of the country.

    July 9, 2009 at 7:00 pm |
  22. Annie Kate

    I don't see the appeal of Mormonism, especially one that makes its growth so large as to become the quintensensal American religion. It just seems like another religion to me headed by men and for men, keeping the women subservient to the men. I hope this is a temporary anomaly.

    July 9, 2009 at 6:59 pm |