Latter-day Saints/Under the Banner of Heaven
I read Under The Banner of Heaven by Jon Krakauer this summer. After reading it my views about the church as change and it was one of the factors that drove me away from the Episcopal church and to atheism.
Anyway, I have a couple of questions
1. What is the church's official stance on polygamy?
2. How are the Lafferty brothers different than normal mormons?
3. What did Joseph Smith do before he became a prophet?
Patrick, I appreciate your questions, and will give them a stab, but first, let me say that Krakauer's book, while very interesting, it offers one perspective (a well-researched one for sure), on the history of the religion, and one case from the recent past.
Okay, let's get to your questions:
#1. The Church does not officially discuss polygamy because it is not a practice that is acceptable by this or any other Western government. My guess is that the practice, which is very ancient in its philosophy, is something that will remain non-negotiable for discussion as long as it is considered out of favor by "civilization" as we call it today. I live in Malaysia--an Islamic nation, and Polygamy is very common among the Muslims here. But then again, it is considered an Eastern philosophy as well. So I don't think the Church will be allowing it back into the mainstream any time soon. The Mormons moved to the western territories to be left alone and to be able to practice their faith how they felt. The region was not part of America at the time, and it wasn't until the U.S. annexed the region that things got dicey, and ultimately, the practice discontinued. Many Mormons did not like or agree with the leadership's shift, and this created fissures in the faith.
#2. Interestingly, I was a Journalism student at BYU, having just arrived to Utah when that story broke, and I was involved in covering the Lafferty trial back in 1985. In fact, it was my former sister-in-law who saved Ron Lafferty's life when he tried to hang himself in jail. Very sad, very horrible, the story of all of that.
The Lafferty's were nut-cases, and the problem actually stemmed from something that had happened, which Krakauer could not have known in his research time. Ron was a faithful LDS Church leader, but had an affair with the wife of another church member. The results from that were not positive for Ron, as he was excommunicated, which offended him to the point of his losing his family and everything around him. He tried to justify his actions later, and of course, things spun out of control, and he got Dan involved and the rest is so very horrible. The bottom line, though, was that Ron was trying to justify bad choices and bad behavior, by feigning "Revelation" as his means of justification.
#3. Joseph Smith was only a young boy of 12 when he experienced his vision of God the Father and Jesus Christ. He was a simple farm boy, who worked in Vermont, on his family's farm, and then in upstate New York, when they moved there.
There are a lot of mystic ideas and ideologies that surround the early days of the Church and its leaders, but I will just say that if you are at all curious about the LDS community, take a look at my book (don't laugh) "The Complete Idiot's Guide to Understanding Mormonism"--perhaps my "outsider's" perspective will offer further perspective.
Hope this helped!