LDS Church feels ‘tarred’ by the book

Seattle Post-Intelligencer, July 28, 2003
John Marshall
» See Also: Two powerful experiences changed the focus of Krakauer’s book

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is strongly critical of Jon Krakauer’s approach in “

Under the Banner of Heaven

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America’s fastest growing church, with an estimated membership of nearly 12 million believers worldwide, is galled that the best-selling writer has focused on Mormon fundamentalists, legions of excommunicated believers who include murderers Dan and Ron Lafferty. The church thinks Krakauer is smearing it with the excesses of these renegade factions.

As Michael Otterson, director of media relations for the Mormon Church in Salt Lake City, said last week in a telephone interview, “We would regard people like the Laffertys as the most extreme examples of fundamentalism. Why are they in the same book with the LDS Church?”

So outraged are church leaders that they took a step that probably ensured even larger sales for Krakauer’s book, which is now a national best seller. The church mounted a pre-publication attack against the book via a lengthy e-mail sent to media outlets following laudatory early reviews in general publications.


Otterson explained, “It was obvious that, with this very well-known author published by Doubleday, they would sell a great many books whether we did something or not. But there were too many errors and misstatements to ignore, even at the risk of making the book more controversial and increasing sales. It was more important to us for readers to read the book with a critical eye.”

Several minor factual errors already are being corrected in new printings of the book but that will do little to narrow the gulf between church and author.

Even the number of fundamentalist Mormons remains in dispute between them, with the church putting the total at 30,000, while Krakauer cites 100,000 or more. This is no minor quibble since the fundamentalists are the primary focus of “Under the Banner of Heaven.”

Otterson’s e-mail to media outlets criticized Krakauer as “a storyteller who cuts corners to make the story sound good. … He finds sufficient zealots and extremists in the past 150 years to help him tell his story, and by extrapolation tars every Mormon with the same brush. The exceptions are the rule by his standards … so Krakauer unwittingly puts himself in the same camp as those who believe every German is a Nazi, every Japanese a fanatic and every Arab a terrorist.”

Krakauer stands behind his approach: “The fundamentalists are less than 1 percent of Mormons. Among those, the truly scary are a small percentage of that, but that’s still a significant number. Mormons try to divorce themselves from the fundamentalists, but they still believe in polygamy in the afterlife and that doctrine (repudiated by the mainstream church in 1890) is at the heart of the religion.

“What the fundamentalists do is give license to marginal characters, a road map. I doubt that Dan Lafferty would have been a murderer if he hadn’t been a Mormon fundamentalist. It is disingenuous for the church to say that has nothing to do with doctrine.”

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Religion News Blog posted this on Monday July 28, 2003.
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