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The LDS Restorationist Movement,
including the Mormon churches

"Blood Atonement" in the LDS Church
and elsewhere in LDS Restorationism

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"Blood atonement" in other Christian denominations:

In most Christian faith groups, the term "blood atonement" refers to the concept that the torture-execution of Yeshua of Nazareth's (a.k.a. Jesus Christ) made it possible for some persons to have their sins forgiven and thus attain eternal life in Heaven. This includes some of those who lived before, at the time of, and after his death. Various theories have been presented to explain the mechanism by which the atonement functions. They all involve the transmission of the responsibility for, and punishment of, sin from the guilty to the innocent. This is a theme that runs throughout the Bible from Genesis to Revelation, and is rejected by most secular and religious moral systems.

In recent years, some Black, feminist, liberal and other Christian theologians have rejected the idea of a blood atonement. They are troubled by the possibility of a link between classical violent theories of the atonement, and violence, murders, genocide, persecution of Jews, and other evil acts at the present time. They base the atonement on the life and teachings of Jesus, rather than the circumstances of his death.

The Mormon movement uses the term "individual blood atonement," which is generally contracted to "blood atonement." However, they have a unique and very different definition. It is not Jesus' spilled blood and death that results in God forgiving the sinner. In the case of serious sins, it is the murder of the sinner and the literal mixing of his blood with the earth that results in forgiveness.

Brigham Young's blood atonement sermon of 1856:

Joseph Smith, (1805-1844) was assassinated fourteen years after he founded the Church of Christ -- the first of the Mormon churches. Two years later Brigham Young (1801-1877 CE) became the second prophet of the church and led about 19,000 Mormons to Salt Lake City, UT.  A minority of members, totaling about 1,000 stayed behind and eventually formed the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, now called the Community of Christ.

On 1856-MAR-16, Young is recorded as having delivered an instruction to the bishops. Referring to a hypothetical man who violated the solemn covenants he had made in the Temple, Young said:

"You say, 'That man ought to die for transgressing the law of God.' Let me suppose a case. Suppose you found your brother in bed with your wife, and put a javelin through both of them. You would be justified, and they would atone for their sins, and be received into the kingdom of God. I would at once do so in such a case; and under such circumstances, I have no wife whom I love so well that I would not put a javelin through her heart, and I would do it with clean hands...."

"There is not a man or woman, who violates the covenants made with their God, that will not be required to pay the debt. The blood of Christ will never wipe that out, your own blood must atone for it; and the judgments of the Almighty will come, sooner or later, and every man and woman will have to atone for breaking their covenants." 1

(Emphasis not in original)

Young indicates that Jesus' death on the cross can never wipe out an individual's serious personal sin. The sinner's own blood must be shed to atone for the sin.

Brigham Young's blood atonement sermon of 1867:

On 1867-FEB-08, Young is recorded as having delivered a second important discourse in the Tabernacle at Salt Lake City on the topic of "blood atonement" He confirmed that concept that God cannot forgive serious sins unless the sinner has been killed and his blood mixes with the earth. He also expressed confidence that the end of the world as he knew it would occur in his immediate future. If the transcription is accurate, he was wrong about at least the second belief.

Young said in part:

"....the time will come, and is now nigh at hand, when those who profess our faith, if they are guilty of what some of this people are guilty of, will find the axe laid at the root of the tree, and they will be hewn down. What has been must be again, for the Lord is coming to restore all things....it is one of the laws of that kingdom where our Father dwells, that if a man was found guilty of adultery, he must have his blood shed, and that is near at hand. But now I say, in the name of the Lord, that if this people will sin no more, but faithfully live their religion, their sins will be forgiven them without taking life...."

Referring to the possibility of any believer in the congregation committing a serious sin, Young continued:

"...suppose that he is overtaken in a gross fault, that he has committed a sin that he knows will deprive him of that exaltation which he desires, and that he cannot attain to it without the shedding of his blood, and also knows that by having his blood shed he will atone for that sin, and be saved and exalted with the Gods, is there a man or woman in this house but what would say, 'shed my blood that I may be saved and exalted with the Gods' ?"

All mankind love themselves, and let these principles be known by an individual, and he would be glad to have his blood shed. That would be loving themselves, even unto an eternal exaltation. Will you love your brothers or sisters likewise, when they have committed a sin that cannot be atoned for without the shedding of their blood? Will you love that man or woman well enough to shed their blood? That is what Jesus Christ meant. He never told a man or woman to love their enemies in their wickedness, never. He never intended any such thing.... Jesus Christ never meant that we should love a wicked man in his wickedness...."

"I could refer you to plenty of instances where men, have been righteously slain, in order to atone for their sins. I have seen scores and hundreds of people for whom there would have been a chance (in the last resurrection there will be) if their lives had been taken and their blood spilled on the ground as a smoking incense to the Almighty, but who are now angels to the devil, until our elder brother Jesus Christ raises them up'conquers death, hell, and the grave. I have known a great many men who have left this Church for whom there is no chance whatever for exaltation, but if their blood had been spilled, it would have been better for them...."

"This is loving our neighbor as ourselves; if he needs help, help him; and if he wants salvation and it is necessary to spill his blood on the earth in order that he may be saved, spill it. Any of you who understand the principles of eternity, if you have sinned a sin requiring the shedding of blood, except the sin unto death, would not be satisfied nor rest until your blood should be spilled, that you might gain that salvation you desire. That is the way to love mankind." 2

Thus, it would be an act of love to murder anyone who you felt had committed a serious sin which God could not forgive in any other way than to have the person die and his or her blood mixed with the earth.

Additional quotations supporting blood atonement:

The Institute for Religious Research website lists 14 quotations from the Journal of Discourses that support the doctrine of blood atonement. 4 However, many Mormon historians suggest that the Journal of Discourses is not particularly accurate and should not be relied upon.

Church historian and later President Joseph Fielding Smith taught the following about blood atonement:

"Man may commit certain grievous sins?according to his light and knowledge?that will place him beyond the reach of the atoning blood of Christ. If then he would be saved, he must make sacrifice of his Own life to atone?so far as in his power lies?for that sin, for the blood of Christ alone under certain circumstances will not avail.... Joseph Smith taught that there were certain sins so grievous that man may commit, that they will place the transgressors beyond the power of the atonement of Christ. If these offenses are committed, then the blood of Christ will not cleanse them from their sins even though they repent. Therefore their only hope is to have their own blood shed to atone, as far as possible, in their behalf." 9

Author Fann Stenhouse's description in 1874:

Norma Najacht of the Custer Country Chronicle wrote:

"Fann Stenhouse in 'Tell it All,' published in 1874, wrote, 'The doctrine of the 'blood atonement' is that the murder of an apostate is a deed of love! If a saint sees another leave the church, or if even he only believes that his brother's faith is weakening and that he will apostatize before long, he knows that the soul of his unbelieving brother will be lost if he dies in such a state, and that only by his blood being shed is there any chance of forgiveness for him; it is therefore the kindest action that he can perform toward him to shed his blood - the doing so is a deed of truest love. The nearer, the dearer, the more tenderly loved the sinner is, the greater the affection shown by the shedder of blood - the action is no longer murder or the shedding of innocent blood, for the taint of apostasy takes away its innocence - it is making atonement, not a crime, it is an act of mercy, therefore meritorious." 3

Recent status of the blood atonement:

Bruce R. McConike, one of the foremost experts in the LDS Church, has written that there are no references to blood atonement in the history of the that church. References that do exist are only false and slanderous stories made up by enemies of the various Mormon denominations by extracting a sentence here and there from Mormon leaders' writings and stringing them together to make a convincing story that blood atonement was real. This accusation is why we quoted at length from various sources 4

McConike did state in his book:

"President Joseph Fielding Smith has written: 'Man may commit certain grievous sins -- according to his light and knowledge-- that will place him beyond the reach of the atoning blood of Christ. If then he would be saved, he must make sacrifice of his own life to atone -- so far as in his power lies-- for that sin, for the blood of Christ alone under certain circumstances will not avail'."

"Joseph Smith taught that there were certain sins so grievous that man may commit, that they will place the transgressors beyond the power of the atonement of Christ. If these offenses are committed, then the blood of Christ will not cleanse them from their sins even though they repent. Therefore their only hope is to have their own blood shed to atone, so far as possible, in their behalf."

"This doctrine can only be practiced in its fullness in a day when the civil and ecclesiastical laws are administered in the same hands." 5

Thus, the blood atonement doctrine could presumably have been implemented during Brigham Young's era when he was both the head of the government and head of the Church.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church) denounced the teaching of blood atonement in 1978. 8 However, it is taught by other denominations within the Mormon movement. The Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS) is one. Warren Jeffs is the current leader of the FLDS. He was on the FBI's ten most wanted list until his capture in 2006-AUG. There are rumors that Jeffs and the FLDS do not practice blood atonement at this time, but expects to be able to perform it in the future. 

Norma Najacht of the Custer Country Chronicle wrote:

"According to the Eldorado Success, Rulon Jeffs, father of Warren Jeffs, told his followers in 1997, "This is loving our neighbor as ourselves; if he needs help, help him; and if he wants salvation and it is necessary to spill his blood on the earth in order that he may be saved, spill it." 3

Robert Richter, a former member of the FLDS says he worked for Jeffs on secret projects in Colorado City, AZ, where the largest concentration of FLDS members live. He allegedly worked on temperature controls for what he has come to believe may be a crematory at the newly built temple at the FLDS compound in Texas. Richter said:

"  ...They kept me uninformed as to what the furnace was for. I do know that I wanted an LCD display for it....They said because where it's going, it's going to be quite dark...It was definitely a furnace. And the thing about the furnace. it was weird. It was real hush hush. I was told to keep quiet." 3

Execution by firing squad:

As of 2006, only the states of Utah -- the state with the largest percentage of Mormons -- Idaho and Oklahoma used firing squads as a method of execution. The prisoner is bound and shot through the heart by a team of marksmen. In Idaho and Oklahoma, firing squads are only used as backup to the standard lethal injection method.

In Utah, firing squads were abandoned in favor of lethal injection on 2004-MAR-15. However, four convicted killers on death row who had previously choose n death by firing squad were allowed to keep their wish. This allows them to die by blood atonement and presumably have their sins forgiven because of the method of their execution.

Since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976, there have been two prisoners executed by firing squad in Utah. Gary Gilmore was killed on 1977-JAN-17 at Utah State Prison in Draper by five executioners. Evidence shows that all five were given live rounds. Often in the case of execution by firing squads, one marksman is given a blank cartridge. John Albert Taylor was also executed in Utah on 1996-JAN-26. 6

References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. "Brigham Young Blood Atonement Sermon," Journal of Discourses, Volume 3, Pages 243 to 249.
  2. "Brigham Young 'Blood Atonement' Sermon," Journal of Discourses, Volume 4, Pages 215 to 221. Online at: http://www.utlm.org/
  3. Norma Najacht, "FLDS reinstituting 'blood atonement'," Custer Country Chronicle, 2006-MAY-25, at: http://www.custercountynews.com/
  4. "Blood Atonement," Institute for Religious Research, 2009, at: http://www.irr.org/
  5. "Doctrines of Salvation," Volume 1, Pages 133 to 138.
  6. "Utah kills off death-row firing squads," Associated Press, Toronto Star, 2004-MAR-18. Page A22.
  7. "Execution by firing squad," Wikipedia, at: http://en.wikipedia.org/ Downloaded on 2006-JUN-17.
  8. "Blood atonement," Global Oneness Foundation, at: http://www.experiencefestival.com/
  9. Joseph Fielding Smith, "Doctrines of Salvation," Vol. 1, Pages 133-138.

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Copyright © 2006 to 2009 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally posted: 2006-JUN-16
Latest update: 2009-NOV-10
Author: B.A. Robinson

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