Do Dan Lafferty and Osama bin Laden have anything in common? ‘I’ve asked myself that’, Dan acknowledges. In prison with his brother Ron for the gruesome murder of their sister-in-law and her baby, Dan is reflective but unrepentant.
‘Is that what I’m like?’ His personal answer is an emphatic ‘No’. His reasons? The major reason is that, unlike himself, Osama bin Laden ‘is a child of the devil’. Dan develops the point extensively.
For example, from 1995 he came to believe that his brother Ron was ‘a child of the devil’ and an ‘agent of Satan’ (p.310). Over several months even in prison, Ron attempted to kill Dan. Why did Ron want to do such a thing? ‘The basic reason for it was his father’, the devil, is Dan’s answer.
Sheep and goats
He views mankind as being divided into two major categories, namely, the righteous and the wicked. At this point, of course, he is biblically correct. The Lord Jesus distinguished two groups of people and two different destinations (Matthew 7:13-14).
At the Final Judgement, the Lord says people will be separated ‘as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats’, referring to the division of believers from unbelievers (Matthew 25:32-46).
However, Dan Lafferty proceeds to introduce a strong fatalist note: ‘Some people were chosen to be children of God’, he explains, ‘and others became children of the devil. Either you’re a brother – child of God – or … a child of the devil. And you can’t do anything to change it’.
His language here is misleading. Yes, God chooses those who will be saved (Ephesians 1:4; 2 Thessalonians 2:13). His choice is sovereign, free, gracious, unchangeable and effective. Those who are not chosen to salvation are left to be dealt with appropriately and justly by God for their sins.
Commanded to repent
However, this is not fatalism. True, we cannot modify God’s electing purpose – yet we are all accountable to God and responsible for our own sin. Furthermore, it is the sovereign God who ‘now commands all men everywhere to repent’ (Acts 17:30).
And there is no contradiction here. For the God who elects to salvation is ‘not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance’ (2 Peter 3:9). Each person who turns to God in genuine repentance and faith will be saved.
No one, insists the Lord Jesus, will be turned away who comes believingly to him (John 6:37). Unbelievers, therefore, are not locked into a deadly fatalism as Lafferty implies.
Another reason why Dan believes himself to differ from bin Laden is motivation: ‘I believe his real motivation isn’t a quest for honesty and justice, which maybe were his motivations in earlier life’. Instead, Dan claims, the terrorist is ‘motivated by greed and profit and power’.
After further reflection about bin Laden and his followers, Dan admits that these ‘terrorists were following their prophet. They were willing to do essentially what I did. I see the parallel’.
Well, what in his view is the difference between them? ‘The difference between those guys and me is, they were following a false prophet, and I’m not’.
But it was precisely because of his fascination with the false prophet Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon, and then with the early history of Mormon Fundamentalism (MF), that Dan had been led astray.
He has turned from the truth of the Bible to embrace alleged private divine revelations – which were in fact figments of human imagination or messages from the occult world.
There are other indications that Dan, like bin Laden, is deceived. ‘I believe I’m a good person,’ he insists. ‘I’ve never done anything intentionally wrong. I never have’.
The Bible, of course, contradicts him: ‘There is none righteous, no, not one … All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God’ (Romans 3:10, 23).
And in thinking of 24 July 1984 when he and his brother murdered a woman and her young baby, he is unrepentant: ‘Did I feel God’s hand guiding me?’ ‘Yes’, he replies with spine-chilling confidence, ‘I was guided by the hand of God … I did the right thing’.
Deceived. That is how one must describe Dan Lafferty. ‘You shall not murder’ (Exodus 20:13) is God’s command to us in the Bible. No individual has the authority to murder another individual. That is the objective command of God.
Only government has authority to punish and take life – and then only when upholding the law and protecting its people (Romans 13:1-7). And no alleged private revelation can be allowed to overrule the clear command of Scripture.
If God’s command is broken then it is sin, which Jesus says arises from within the sinful nature of the individual (Matthew 15:18-19; see also Galatians 5:19-21).
The story of Mormon Fundamentalism, which Jon Krakauer has researched in his enthralling book, Under the banner of heaven: a story of violent faith, is in many ways distressing but also informative and relevant.
One important message in the book is the danger inherent in rejecting the supreme authority of the Bible and giving credence to alleged private and direct ‘revelations’. For the Lafferty brothers and others, the danger became a dreadful reality resulting in murder, lawlessness, misery and imprisonment.
Alongside the growth of the main Mormon organisation, Krakauer anticipates that ‘fundamentalists are bound to pull more and more converts from the Mormon Church’s own swelling ranks’ (p.322).
What evidence does he have for this? Pointing to communities like Colorado City and Bountiful, Krakauer argues they ‘will continue to win adherents from among the most fervent Saints’.
His reason basically is that ‘there will always be Mormons who yearn to recapture the spirit and all-consuming passion of the founding prophet’s vision’.
Krakauer has specific evidence for his claim. He points, for example, to a Mormon like Pamela Coronado. In 1984, when she was in her early forties, she and her husband David joined MF.
Their reason? Like the Lafferty brothers, they wanted to return to the original teachings of Joseph Smith, including polygamy. They also disagree with recent changes in Mormonism which, for example, allows black men to enter the priesthood (p.323).
It is far too early for us to check the accuracy of Krakauer’s prediction concerning Mormon Fundamentalism and how it will impact upon its parent body. Christians, however, need to be aware of these tensions and developments within Mormonism, especially for the purposes of evangelism and apologetics.
Mormons, whether fundamentalists or not, need to hear and embrace the one and only gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ, and that includes Mormon missionaries, wherever they operate.
No further revelation
Krakauer’s useful book ends with his ‘author’s remarks’; the last two pages particularly make for sad reading.
Brought up in his early years alongside many Mormons and familiar with their beliefs and practices, his research into the subject has confused him even more. ‘I don’t know what God is… I don’t know if God even exists’ (p.338).
Nor does he know the purpose of life. He is gripped by uncertainty and confesses he is ‘in the dark’ (p.339) concerning these ultimate questions of life and death.
In common with others, he fears death and ‘yearns to comprehend’ how and why we are here in the world. Interestingly, he shares openly how ‘most of us ache to know the love of our creator’.
I appeal to Krakauer and any readers who feel this ‘ache’ and ‘yearning’, to turn to the Bible, where God has spoken – infallibly and authoritatively. Outside the Bible there is no further revelation. And there is no need for such revelation, for the Bible provides us with a sufficient revelation of God and his redeeming purpose in Jesus Christ.
Amazingly, God has not only spoken in the Bible but has sent his only begotten Son into the world to be our teacher and prophet and, supremely, to die on the cross for our sin and to reconcile us to God.
Here we see supremely the love of our creator God. Christ’s words are as relevant today as when they were first spoken: ‘I am the light of the world. He who follows me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life’ (John 8:12).