This list does not represent the only errors in this episode. There are simply too many inaccuracies, misrepresentations and outright fabrications to address them all. Viewers would do well to keep the series' disclaimer in mind: this series is inspired by an actual crime, but characters, scenes and dialog are invented "for creative and storyline purposes."
Under the Banner of Heaven: Season 1 Episode 1 “When God Was Love”
Episode Synopsis: Detectives Jeb Pyre and Bill Taba investigate the brutal, sinister murders of Brenda Wright Lafferty and her baby daughter in Utah’s typically serene Salt Lake Valley in 1984.
Question: Is it true that Mormons can’t eat French fries?
NOT TRUE. There’s actually very little Mormons are not allowed to eat for religious reasons and French fries are not among those. In fact, many members love French fries,
especially with fry sauce (a combination of mayonnaise, ketchup, sometimes
Worcestershire sauce or barbeques sauce) which was created in Utah.
Question: Is it true that women serve lemonade, and the men do the work?
NOT TRUE. I personally can’t relate to such a ridiculous stereotype regarding Mormon women because that’s not what I knew growing up in California in the 1970s. We had as
a church project a large vineyard near Fresno. The grapes were grown to turn into raisins and when it came time to pick the grapes and spread them on trays to dry in the sun, men, women, boys, and girls would go together to work in the vineyard. The women didn’t serve lemonade and watch the men work. Everyone pitched in.
- For more information, see Men and Women Working Towards Zion: The Early Saints, 1847-1930
Question: Why were Officer Pyre’s girls wearing pioneer dresses? Do Mormons dress in pioneer clothes?
Brenda Wright Lafferty was killed on 24 July 1984. The 24th of July is celebrated as
Pioneer Day in Utah and among members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day
Saints, because Brigham Young and the Mormons arrived in the Salt Lake Valley
on 24 July 1847. Quite often little children will dress up in pioneer-style clothing to pretend they’re pioneers crossing the plains.
MISLEADING: The problem with the show was they did not clearly identify why the little girls were dressed in the pioneer-style clothing, just giving the false impression that members of the LDS Church regularly dress that way, which they do not.
- For more information, see “Ask Us: Top Five Reference Questions about Pioneer Day”; “Modesty”
Question: Why did Allen Lafferty keep saying “Peculiar men with beards were taken with my family. Like Bible or Book of Mormon prophets,” “Men with beards corrupted my family,” and talking about strange men in beards? Didn’t he know who they were?
MISLEADING: The real Allen Lafferty was well aware that his brothers had affiliated with a group of would-be Mormon Fundamentalists calling themselves “The School of the
Prophets” because his brothers had tried to convert him to this break-off group from the LDS Church. He at least knew the names of some of the men involved. For the series to portray him as not knowing who they were is inaccurate.
- For more information, see Chronology of Modern Polygamy and Mormon Fundamentalism and Independent Polygamists and Fundamentalists
Question: Does this dialogue represent the doctrine of the Church and the actual attitude of Mormon men?
LDS women are taught to be obedient. To serve their husband, to obey. And okay, Brenda wasn’t that. Did that make her deserving of this?
Then you might not be as good of Mormon as you think.
NOT TRUE. That is not the doctrine of the church, nor is it a prevailing attitude among church members. With over sixteen million members, there may be some with that attitude, but they would be in the significant minority and such attitudes toward the women of the church would be frowned upon and rejected by the majority of members, both female and male.
[to Pyre} They’ve hidden our truth with their secret combinations. If you
still think your God is love, then you don’t know who you are, brother. This
faith…our faith, breeds dangerous men.
Question: Does Mormonism really breed dangerous men?
NOT TRUE. The short answer is no. Men and women in the church are taught to obey the laws of their nation and, even more importantly, to live the gospel of Jesus Christ — which is to love the Lord their God with all of the might, mind, and strength and to love their neighbor as themselves. There is no room for hate and intolerance.
- For more information, see Becoming Like Jesus
Question: Were the Lafferty’s really the “Kennedys of Utah?”
NOT TRUE. The Lafferty family was not even close to being the “Kennedys of Utah.” No doubt Watson LeRoy Lafferty (1914-1983), his wife, Claudine Jones Lafferty (1919-2016), and their children were liked and respected in their town of Provo in Utah County, Utah by those who knew and interacted with them. However, they were not a prominent family in terms of either ecclesiastical or civic position or influence. Furthermore, the Lafferty’s did not have a recognizable surname indicating church importance of current and former leaders of the church (such as Smith, Young, Pratt, Richards, Cannon,
Kimball, Benson, Hinckley, etc).
Note: the mini-series is an adaptation of the 2003 book. The process of adaptation to film and interpretation by performances and direction necessarily creates differences in the end result. Details of the reviews of the book may or may not hold true to the adaptation.
Here are some resources to help you become acquainted with the actual event:
“Your dedicated anti-Mormon has a repertoire of horror stories. If we think of our critic as an escapee from the reportorial staff of the National Enquirer, we may be on the right track. First, we cannot be at all sure that the allegation is true. Think flying saucers landing on the Church Office Building but seen only by one highly favored witness. Even if the negative incident can be substantiated, our critic studiously avoids addressing the question of how representative it is. The Lafferty brothers on death row in the Utah State Penitentiary–there, according to some, are typical Mormons. The critic may make the argument less ridiculous by saying, “Yes, they are extreme, but”–and here we need the low, chilling music used in terror movies–“they show what Mormonism can lead to!”
“Does it occur to critics who revel in such hate speech when directed against Mormons, and the readers who chortle with delight as they read it, that their own group might not emerge spotless if studied through the worst possible examples?”