Criticism of Mormonism/Books/The Changing World of Mormonism/Chapter 20

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Response to claims made in "Chapter 20: Blood Atonement"

A FairMormon Analysis of: The Changing World of Mormonism, a work by author: Jerald and Sandra Tanner
Claim Evaluation
The Changing World of Mormonism
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Response to claims made in The Changing World of Mormonism, "Chapter 20: Blood Atonement"

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Response to claim: 490 - Heber C. Kimball claimed that the apostles killed Judas

The author(s) of The Changing World of Mormonism make(s) the following claim:

Heber C. Kimball claimed that the apostles killed Judas. Reed Peck said that Joseph Smith told him of a revelation in which Apostle Peter stated that he had hung Judas.

Author's sources:

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains mistakes and/or errors - The author has stated erroneous or incorrect information or misinterpreted their sources

The authors have misrepresented what Heber C. Kimball said. This claim is repeated in One Nation Under Gods: ONUG - apostles kill Judas?

Question: Did Heber C. Kimball claim that the apostles killed Judas?

Heber did not claim the apostles carried out the killing, saying instead that he was "trodden under foot of men"

Heber did not claim the apostles carried out the killing, saying instead (all emphasis added to original):

Jesus said to his disciples, "Ye are the salt of the earth; and if the salt loses its saving principle, it is then good for nothing but to be cast out." Instead of reading it just as it is, almost all of you read it just as it is not. Jesus meant to say," If you have lost the saving principles, you Twelve Apostles, and you that believe in my servants the Twelve, you shall be like unto the salt that has lost its saving principles: it is henceforth good for nothing but to be cast out and trodden under foot of men." Judas lost that saving principle, and they took him and killed him. It is said page 126 in the Bible that his bowels gushed out; but they actually kicked him until his bowels came out.

The reference to the apostles is preparatory material; it introduces to whom Jesus said if they lost their savor, they would be "trodden under foot of men." Judas is described as being trampled, but the "they" referred to is not the apostles, but the "men," he will be trodden by; i.e., a generic group or mass of others.

Heber then continues:

I will suffer my bowels to be taken out before I will forfeit the covenant I have made with Him and my brethren." Do you understand me? Judas was like salt that had lost its saving principles—good for nothing but to be cast out and trodden under foot of men. It is just so with you men and women, if you do not honour your callings and cultivate the principles you have received. It is so with you, ye Elders of Israel, when you forfeit your covenants. Brethren and sisters, as the Lord liveth, and as we live and exist in these mountains, let me tell you the world is ripe, and there are no saving principles within them, with a very few exceptions; and they will gather out, and the rest of mankind are ready for destruction, for they will have no salt to save them. I know the day is right at hand when men will forfeit their Priesthood and turn against us and against the covenants they have made, and they will be destroyed as Judas was.

This is not a threat that Heber's bowels will "be taken out," but simply a vivid metaphor for describing the consequences of failing to keep his covenants, which he then extends to the entire congregation. What does Heber fear will be the cause and consequence of this covenant breaking?

Ye Elders, Apostles, Seventies, High Priests, Bishops, Priests, Teachers, and Deacons, never be guilty of that which you have been guilty of once before. If it were not for your ignorance, you would have been cut off from the earth; but, in consequence of your ignorance, I feel as though God would forgive you, if you will never do it again. But if you do it again, your time for repentance is past, and you do not again get pardon.

I do feel bad to think that men will enter into the new and everlasting covenant of our God, and then defile themselves with uncleanness. Is there a woman in this city that could have committed the sin of debauchery, if there had been no person to debauch her? No. Who is guilty? The man, who should have the saving principles of God Almighty in him; and he is the man who must pay the debt.

Again: If the woman would never consent, the man could not accomplish his vile purpose. You have been taught different all the day long. You have been taught, from your mother's womb that these things are wrong. Would the Devil have power to make you tell a lie, if you did not yield to him? No. When you consent to it, the Devil then has seduced you, debauched you, just as much as a man goes to work and debauches a woman after she has consented to him. We are agents to refuse or to accept. Who is the most to blame? The man holding the Priesthood of God.

Heber fears that if they again commit sexual sins, they will be unable to be forgiven, since they will have twice broken their covenants. This is taught in the Doctrine and Covenants:

23 And he that looketh upon a woman to lust after her shall deny the faith, and shall not have the Spirit; and if he repents not he shall be cast out.

24 Thou shalt not commit adultery; and he that committeth adultery, and repenteth not, shall be cast out.

25 But he that has committed adultery and repents with all his heart, and forsaketh it, and doeth it no more, thou shalt forgive;

26 But if he doeth it again, he shall not be forgiven, but shall be cast out. (DC 42:23-26)

Heber's message is not about murder or the early apostles killing people—it is about the natural consequences of serious sin, and the need to keep covenants made with God, not with other mortals

Heber concludes:

I talk about these things because I am led so to do. They may be considered small things, but they are the things that destroy this people—that is, all that will be destroyed. You can lose your saving principles as much as salt or sugar can. Sugar can be placed in a state that it will become sour—have no sweetness about it; and bread will become sour through the power of leaven put into it; and if the leaven was not sour, it could not sour the bread. When sugar becomes sour, it has lost the saving principles of sugar, just the same as salt. Be cautious that you do not receive filthy leaven. Stop your tattling, your lying, and mischief-making....

I want you to understand that you make covenants with God, and not with us. We were present and committed those covenants to you, and you made them with God, and we were witnesses. When you got your endowments, did you not make a covenant not to speak against the anointed? And every woman that received this ordinance made a covenant with her husband that she would be true and faithful to him, be a guardian angel to him, and watch over his pillow by night and by day, and be true to her God and to the anointed.


Response to claim: 490-491 - Brigham Young advocated blood atonement

The author(s) of The Changing World of Mormonism make(s) the following claim:

Brigham Young advocated blood atonement.

Author's sources: Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses 4:53-54.

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains mistakes and/or errors - The author has stated erroneous or incorrect information or misinterpreted their sources

Brigham taught the principle of blood atonement, but it was never put into practice.

Question: What is "blood atonement"?

If a person thereafter commits a grievous sin such as the shedding of innocent blood, only by voluntarily submitting to whatever penalty the Lord may require can that person benefit from the Atonement of Christ

From the Encyclopedia of Mormonism:

The doctrines of the Church affirm that the Atonement wrought by the shedding of the blood of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is efficacious for the sins of all who believe, repent, are baptized by one having authority, and receive the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands. However, if a person thereafter commits a grievous sin such as the shedding of innocent blood, the Savior's sacrifice alone will not absolve the person of the consequences of the sin. Only by voluntarily submitting to whatever penalty the Lord may require can that person benefit from the Atonement of Christ.

Several early Church leaders, most notably Brigham Young, taught that in a complete theocracy the Lord could require the voluntary shedding of a murderer's blood-presumably by capital punishment-as part of the process of Atonement for such grievous sin. This was referred to as "blood Atonement." Since such a theocracy has not been operative in modern times, the practical effect of the idea was its use as a rhetorical device to heighten the awareness of Latter-day Saints of the seriousness of murder and other major sins. This view is not a doctrine of the Church and has never been practiced by the Church at any time.

Early anti-Mormon writers charged that under Brigham Young the Church practiced "blood Atonement," by which they meant Church-instigated violence directed at dissenters, enemies, and strangers. This claim distorted the whole idea of blood atonement-which was based on voluntary submission by an offender-into a supposed justification of involuntary punishment. Occasional isolated acts of violence that occurred in areas where Latter-day Saints lived were typical of that period in the history of the American West, but they were not instances of Church-sanctioned blood Atonement.[1]

Reports of "blood atonement" having occurred were exaggerated and sensationalized

As one historian noted,

That the doctrine [of blood atonement] was preached by high officials is a matter of record; the intent of the sermons became a matter of conjecture; and the results therefrom set vivid imaginations working overtime. Blood fairly flowed through the writing of such men as Beadle in Life in Utah or the Mysteries of Mormonism and Polygamy, in Linn's The Story of Mormonism, and even Stenhouse's anonymous chapter on Reformation and Blood Atonement in his Rocky Mountain Saints. Numerous killings, including the Mountain Meadows massacre, were credited as the fruits of the doctrine....

Omitted from quotations used by the anti-Mormons were restraining clauses such as follow from Brigham Young:

. . . The time has been in Israel under the law of God 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.

The wickedness and ignorance of the nations forbid this principle's being in full force, but the time will come when the law of God will be in full force.

The doctrine of blood atonement which involved concern for the salvation of those to be subjected to it, could have little meaning in the [p.62] Mountain Meadows massacre, or any other of the murders laid unproved on the Mormon threshold (emphasis added).[2]

There is evidence that some crimes were considered worthy of death, even in the apostolic age among Christians

Despite the critics' claims, there is evidence that some crimes were considered worthy of death, even in the apostolic age among Christians:

Whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer: and ye know that no murderer hath eternal life abiding in him....[Chapter 5] If any man see his brother sin a sin which is not unto death, he shall ask, and he shall give him life for them that sin not unto death. There is a sin unto death: I do not say that he shall pray for it. All unrighteousness is sin: and there is a sin not unto death. We know that whosoever is born of God sinneth not; but he that is begotten of God keepeth himself, and that wicked one toucheth him not" (1 John 3:15; 1 John 5:16-18) (italics added).


Charles Penrose (1912): "Do you believe in "blood-atonement"?

Charles W. Penrose, Improvement Era (September 1912):

Question 9: Do you believe in "blood-atonement," or in other words, do you accept and believe in the principles taught in Brigham Young's sermon of 8th of February, 1857, Journal of Discourses, volume 4, pages 219, 220?

Answer: We believe in "blood atonement" by the sacrifice of the Savior, also that which is declared in Genesis 9:6. A capital sin committed by a man who has entered into the everlasting covenant merits capital punishment, which is the only atonement he can offer. But the penalty must be executed by an officer legally appointed under the law of the land.[3]


Question: Did early Mormon leaders teach that apostasy was the unforgivable sin, and that the only thing an apostate could do to redeem himself was to give his own life, willingly or unwillingly?

Accusations are unsupported which seek to establish these as activities promoted, condoned, or concealed by the Church or its leaders

While one is no doubt able to dig up examples of blood being shed by those of the LDS faith, accusations are unsupported which seek to establish these as activities promoted, condoned, or concealed by the LDS church or its leaders generally.[4]

As Gustave O.Larson noted in the Utah Historical Quarterly:

Denials of murder charges which rode in on the backwash of the Reformation gradually resolved into defensible positions that (1) some known killings of the reform period resulted from motives not related to blood atonement, (2) that in spite of extreme statements by some of its leaders the church did not officially condone taking life other than through legal processes, (3) responsibility for any reversions to primitive practices of blood shedding must rest upon fanatical individuals. The whole experience continued in memory as a reminder of ill effects growing out of good causes carried to extremes.[5]

The Deseret News reported the following on June 17, 2010, reporting the Church's recent statement on the subject of Blood Atonement:

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints released this statement Wednesday:

In the mid-19th century, when rhetorical, emotional oratory was common, some church members and leaders used strong language that included notions of people making restitution for their sins by giving up their own lives.

However, so-called "blood atonement," by which individuals would be required to shed their own blood to pay for their sins, is not a doctrine of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. We believe in and teach the infinite and all-encompassing atonement of Jesus Christ, which makes forgiveness of sin and salvation possible for all people.[6]


Response to claim: 491-492 - Jedediah Grant advocated blood atonement

The author(s) of The Changing World of Mormonism make(s) the following claim:

Jedediah Grant advocated blood atonement.

Author's sources: Jedediah Grant, Journal of Discourses 4:49-50.  [ATTENTION!]

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains propaganda and/or spin - The author, or the author's source, is providing information or ideas in a slanted way in order to instill a particular attitude or response in the reader

Jedediah Grant was known for his strong rhetoric. This is what he said:

I say, that there are men and women that I would advise to go to the President immediately, and ask him to appoint a committee to attend to their case; and then let a place be selected, and let that committee shed their blood.

We have those amongst us that are full of all manner of abominations, those who need to have their blood shed, for water will not do, their sins are of too deep a dye. You may think that I am not teaching you Bible doctrine, but what says the apostle Paul? I would ask how many covenant breakers there are in this city and in this kingdom. I believe that there are a great many; and if they are covenant breakers we need a place designated, where we can shed their blood.

However, despite Grant's suggestion that such a thing ought to be done, it never actually happened. Grant was trying to make an impression, not teach that blood atonement should be actually implemented.



Response to claim: 493 - Murder was worthy of death

The author(s) of The Changing World of Mormonism make(s) the following claim:

Murder was worthy of death.

Author's sources:
  • History of the Church 5:296
  • Doctrines of Salvation 1:136
  • Mormon Doctrine, 1958, p.314

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim is based upon correct information - The author is providing knowledge concerning some particular fact, subject, or event

Murder is a crime that is often "worthy of death" even in the 21st century. The Tanner's point is that it required blood atonement. However, the evidence that blood atonement was required is not strong.



Question: Was murder a crime that was "worthy of death" among 19th century Mormons?

The allegation that murder was a crime worthy of death is based upon a quote from Joseph Smith during a Nauvoo City Council meeting

Joseph Smith said,

In debate, George A. Smith said imprisonment was better than hanging. I replied, I was opposed to hanging, even if a man kill another, I will shoot him, or cut off his head, spill his blood on the ground, and let the smoke thereof ascend up to God; and if ever I have the privilege of making a law on that subject, I will have it so.[7]

The quote above shows that Joseph preferred certain other modes of execution to hanging

It is apparent that Joseph Smith had an opinion regarding what should be done with a man who kills another. The quote above shows that Joseph preferred certain other modes of execution to hanging. However, this statement says little regarding the crimes for which this punishment would be applied, other than the statement "even if a man kill another."

The idea that murderers ought to be executed for their crimes is certainly not new or unique to Joseph Smith's time. Even today there is an ongoing and vigorous debate regarding the merits of capital punishment. The question here is whether or not this issue relates to blood atonement. Recall that the concept of "blood atonement" required that an apostate be willing to sacrifice his own life. This does not seem to relate to Joseph Smith's expressed preference regarding forms of execution.

It appears to have been Bruce R. McConkie who connected the form of execution with blood atonement

In his first edition of Mormon Doctrine, which was later recalled, Elder McConkie stated:

As a mode of capital punishment, hanging or execution on a gallows does not comply with the law of blood atonement, for the blood is not shed.[8]

Joseph Fielding Smith wrote:

...the founders of Utah incorporated in the laws of the Territory provisions for the capital punishment of those who wilfully shed the blood of their fellow men. This law, which is now the law of the State, granted unto the condemned murderer the privilege of choosing for himself whether he die by hanging, or whether he be shot and thus have his blood shed in harmony with the law of God; and thus atone, so far as it is in his power to atone, for the death of his victim. Almost without exception the condemned party chooses the latter death.[9]

The Tanners conclude that "[a]s long as the Mormon church teaches the doctrine of blood atonement there is probably little chance of Utah using a gas chamber or electric chair for the condemned murderer." Utah, however, replaced hanging with lethal injection in 1980. This provided two choices to the condemned: firing squad or lethal injection. If the condemned failed to make a choice, lethal injection was to be employed.[10]


Response to claim: 493 - Adultery and immorality were worthy of death

The author(s) of The Changing World of Mormonism make(s) the following claim:

Adultery and immorality were worthy of death.

Author's sources:

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains mistakes and/or errors - The author has stated erroneous or incorrect information or misinterpreted their sources

Kimball is not talking about punishing others - he is talking about punishing himself.

Heber C. Kimball said that he would rather die than be guilty of adultery,

These are my views, and the Lord knows that I believe in the principles of sanctification; and when I am guilty of seducing any man's wife, or any woman in God's world, I say, sever my head from my body. These have ever been my feelings from the days of my youth. This is my character, and the character of President Brigham Young. It was the character of Joseph Smith and of Jesus Christ; and that is the character of the Apostles of Jesus, and that must be sustained by this people.[11]

Response to claim: 493 - Brigham Young said that he would put a javelin through the heart of an adulterous woman

The author(s) of The Changing World of Mormonism make(s) the following claim:

Brigham Young said that he would put a javelin through the heart of an adulterous woman.

Author's sources: Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses 3:247.

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains mistakes and/or errors - The author has stated erroneous or incorrect information or misinterpreted their sources

Brigham was using a biblical reference to illustrate a point, but he was not endorsing killing adulterers.

Question: Were adultery and immorality crimes that were "worthy of death" among 19th century Mormons?

This assumption is based upon a well-known "javelin" quote from Brigham Young

Among the various references used to "prove" that adultery is "punishable by death," the critics employ a well known quote from Brigham Young. Here is the quote as the Tanners present it:

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 ... (Journal of Discourses, vol. 3, p.247).

As is always the case with the Tanners' work, it is always a good idea to fill in the parts that they omit in order to find out what Brigham was actually talking about. Here is the same quote with the parts mined by the Tanners highlighted.

A few of the men and women who go into the house of the Lord, and receive their endowments, and in the most sacred manner make covenants before the Almighty, go and violate those covenants. Do I have compassion on them? Yes, I do have mercy on them, for there is something in their organization which they do not understand; and there are but few in this congregation who do understand it.

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. But you who trifle with your covenants, be careful lest in judging you will be judged.

Every man and women has got to have clean hands and a pure heart, to execute judgment, else they had better let the matter alone.

Again, suppose the parties are, not caught in their iniquity, and it passes along unnoticed, shall I have compassion on them? Yes, I will have compassion on them, for transgressions of the nature already named, or for those of any other description. If the Lord so order it that they are not caught in the act of their iniquity, it is pretty good proof that He is willing for them to live; and I say let them live and suffer in the flesh for their sins, for they will have it to do.

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.

It is clear that the point of Brigham's story is not to claim that adultery was "punishable by death"

There are a few things that are important to note.

  1. Brigham is talking about the breaking of covenants. The adultery example was used to illustrate a point.
  2. Brigham was talking about having compassion for those people.
  3. Brigham's reference to the use of a javelin was taken directly from Numbers 25:6-9.

And, behold, one of the children of Israel came and brought unto his brethren a Midianitish woman in the sight of Moses, and in the sight of all the congregation of the children of Israel, who were weeping before the door of the tabernacle of the congregation. And when Phinehas, the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron the priest, saw it, he rose up from among the congregation, and took a javelin in his hand; and he went after the man of Israel into the tent, and thrust both of them through, the man of Israel, and the woman through her belly. So the plague was stayed from the children of Israel. And those that died in the plague were twenty and four thousand. (Numbers 25:6-9)

It is clear that the point of Brigham's story is not to claim that adultery was "punishable by death." Brigham was relating a modern, literal interpretation of the Old Testament account of Phineas.[12]


Response to claim: 496 - Stealing was worthy of death

The author(s) of The Changing World of Mormonism make(s) the following claim:

Stealing was worthy of death.

Author's sources:

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim is a falsehood - The author has disseminated false information

The authors deliberately remove a portion of Brigham Young's quote that clearly indicates that he is speaking rhetorically. Brigham's statement that he has never harmed a man "except with his tongue" was removed from the quote by the critics in order to alter its meaning.



Question: Was stealing a crime that was "worthy of death" among 19th century Mormons?

The critics who claim that stealing was a crime worthy of death are misrepresenting the words of Brigham Young. This is the way critics Jerald and Sandra Tanner present the quote. Note the portions of the quote that have been omitted:

If you want to know what to do with a thief that you may find stealing, I say kill him on the spot, and never suffer him to commit another iniquity... if I caught a man stealing on my premises I should be very apt to send him straight home, and that is what I wish every man to do.... this appears hard, and throws a cold chill over our revered traditions ... but I have trained myself to measure things by the line of justice.... If you will cause all those whom you know to be thieves, to be placed in a line before the mouth of one of our largest cannon, well loaded with chain shot, I will prove by my works whether I can mete out justice to such persons, or not. I would consider it just as much my duty to do that, as to baptize a man for the remission of his sins (Journal of Discourses, vol. 1, pp.108-9).

Looking at the first part of that quote, with some of the missing parts restored, and the Tanners' quote mining highlighted:

If you want to know what to do with a thief that you may find stealing, I say kill him on the spot, and never suffer him to commit another iniquity. That is what I expect I shall do, though never, in the days of my life, have I hurt a man with the palm of my hand. I never have hurt any person any other way except with this unruly member, my tongue. Notwithstanding this, if I caught a man stealing on my premises I should be very apt to send him straight home, and that is what I wish every man to do, to put a stop to that abominable practice in the midst of this people.

I know this appears hard, and throws a cold chill over our revered traditions received by early education. I had a great many such feelings to contend with myself, and was as much of a sectarian in my notions as any other man, and as mild, perhaps, in my natural disposition, but I have trained myself to measure things by the line of justice, to estimate them by the rule of equity and truth, and not by the false tradition of the fathers, or the sympathies of the natural mind. If you will cause all those whom you know to be thieves, to be placed in a line before the mouth of one of our largest cannon, well loaded with chain shot, I will prove by my works whether I can mete out justice to such persons, or not. I would consider it just as much my duty to do that, as to baptize a man for the remission of his sins. That is a short discourse on thieves, I acknowledge, but I tell you the truth as it is in my heart.[13]

Notice how Brigham's statement that he has never harmed a man except with his tongue is carefully excised from the quote by the critics

Also notice that there is no mention of blood atonement, apostasy, or a willingness to give one's life to atone for some grievous sin. Brigham is simply expressing his disgust with thievery.

Brigham's remark was made in 1853—the Saints were in the midst of a serious struggle for subsistence in the Salt Lake Valley. Famine was often a real threat in these years. Those who thieved from their neighbors under such conditions put others' well-being and even lives at risk. If livestock were stolen, for example, this reduced a man's ability to plow his fields or do other animal-powered work. Such theft also took food and dairy animals from poverty-stricken settlers. Supplies, machinery, hardware, tools, or other items imported at great effort from the east could not be easily replaced in the Territory, even had the Saints had the money to do so.

The frontier was also known for lawless behavior among some, far from military or police power. Under these conditions, thievery could well result in the suffering and death of victims and others in their communities—hence Brigham's determination to stamp it out.


Response to claim: 496 - Using the name of the Lord in vain was worthy of death

The author(s) of The Changing World of Mormonism make(s) the following claim:

Using the name of the Lord in vain was worthy of death.

Author's sources: Journal of Hosea Stout, vol. 2, p.71; p.56 of the typed copy at Utah State Historical Society

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim is a falsehood - The author has disseminated false information

The authors infer this from a second hand quote, and ignore what Brigham Young actually said on the subject.



Question: Was using the name of the Lord in vain a crime that was "worthy of death" among 19th century Mormons?

Brigham is claimed to have said that "the penalty will be affixed and immediately be executed on the spot," but he does not state what the penalty is

Critics Jerald and Sandra Tanner use a second hand quote to "prove" that Brigham Young considered taking the name of the Lord in vain to be worthy of death:

In the journal of Hosea Stout, Brigham Young is recorded as saying: "... I tell you the time is coming when that man uses the name of the Lord is used the penalty will be affixed and immediately be executed on the spot ..." (Journal of Hosea Stout, vol. 2, p.71; p.56 of the typed copy at Utah State Historical Society).

As with any Tanner quote, it is best to see the quote in full context before proceeding further:

If ever we live to see the kingdom of God set up we shall see the judgment poured out upon that man who seeks to overthrow the kingdom, for righteousness shall be put to line. I [Brigham Young] would also caution you against using the name of God in vain; it has been used too much and will be with us; like the ancients of old, they forbade them the frequent use of the same. For I tell you, the time is coming when that man [who] uses the name of the Lord [and] is used, the penalty will be affixed and immediately be executed on the spot. Why should we use it in our private and public conversation--the ancients have given us an example of reverencing they had for the name of the deity by calling the priesthood not after God, but after Melchizedek. It must be held sacred, nor must it be the common practice from this time and hencefor. If we do not purify ourselves we shall be devoured by our enemies. Even if we are gathered into the wilderness He will there destroy them either by famine or by Indians, who will be brought upon us and thereby destroyed.[14]

Notice that Brigham says "the penalty will be affixed and immediately be executed on the spot." Brigham does not state what the penalty is. He is not saying that the person who takes the Lord's name is vain will be "executed on the spot," although that is what the Tanners apparently hope to achieve with this quote.

Brigham's actual words: "Some who do take his name in vain may be called gentleman, but it is a mistake, they are not gentlemen"

It is interesting that the Tanner's had to dig into secondary sources to make their point. There are plenty of primary sources in which Brigham's own words on the subject of "taking the Lord's name in vain" were recorded:

No gentleman takes the name of the Deity in vain. Some who do take his name in vain may be called gentleman, but it is a mistake, they are not gentlemen. A gentleman carries himself respectfully before the inhabitants of the earth at all times, in all places and under all circumstances, and his life is worthy of imitation.[15]


Response to claim: 496 - Not receiving the Gospel was worthy of death

The author(s) of The Changing World of Mormonism make(s) the following claim:

Not receiving the Gospel was worthy of death.

Author's sources: Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses 3:226.

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains propaganda and/or spin - The author, or the author's source, is providing information or ideas in a slanted way in order to instill a particular attitude or response in the reader

This is an absurd claim.



Question: Was "not receiving the Gospel" a crime that was "worthy of death" among 19th century Mormons?

The critics of the Church would like us to believe that Brigham was literally talking about killing those who were opposed to the Gospel

The Tanners use the following quote from Brigham Young to conclude that those who do not receive the gospel should be killed:

The time is coming when justice will be laid to the line and righteousness to the plummet; when we shall ask, 'Are you for God?' and if you are not heartily on the Lord's side, you will be hewn down.[16]

The critics would like us to believe that Brigham was literally talking about killing those who were opposed to the Gospel. The first thing to note is that the Tanner have removed a phrase from the quote without indicating it's absence. The actual quote says:

The time is coming when justice will be laid to the line and righteousness to the plummet; when we shall take the old broad sword and ask, "Are you for God?" and if you are not heartily on the Lord's side, you will be hewn down. (emphasis added)

Brigham is clearly not advocating that anyone who does not receive the gospel should be put to death

One wonders why the critics felt they needed to remove the reference to "the old broad sword"—Perhaps it is because this phrase clearly indicated that Brigham was speaking figuratively rather than literally? Consider also, that just prior to the statement shown above, Brigham said:

I would rather that this people should starve to death in the mountains, than to have the Lord Almighty hand us over to a cursed, infernal mob. I would rather go down to the grave in peace than to fight a mob, unless the Lord would give me enough Saints to fight and kill the poor devils; in such case I wish to live and fight them.[17]

Brigham is clearly not advocating that anyone who does not receive the gospel should be put to death.


Response to claim: 496 - Marrying an African was worthy of death

The author(s) of The Changing World of Mormonism make(s) the following claim:

Marrying an African was worthy of death.

Author's sources:
  • Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses 10:110.
  • Wilford Woodruff's Journal, January 16,1852
  • Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, Spring 1973, p.26

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim is based upon correct information - The author is providing knowledge concerning some particular fact, subject, or event

Brigham did make statements to this effect, however, there is likely just an example of his rhetoric, since there is no evidence that such a thing ever occurred.



Question: Did Brigham Young say that race mixing was punishable by death?

Brigham Young said that race mixing was punishable by death

Yes, Brigham Young did makes statements to this effect. One of the most well known is this one from March 8, 1863:

Shall I tell you the law of God in regard to the African race? If the white man who belongs to the chosen seed mixes his blood with the seed of Cain, the penalty, under the law of God, is death on the spot. This will always be so. The nations of the earth have transgressed every law that God has given, they have changed the ordinances and broken every covenant made with the fathers, and they are like a hungry man that dreameth that he eateth, and he awaketh and behold he is empty. [18]

It was a complex issues (after all, laws against interracial marriage still existed in a number of states until June of 1967 (Utah was not one of them), when the Supreme Court finally argued that they were unconstitutional - a hundred years after some of Brigham Young's comments). President Young's views were connected to his views on priesthood and sealings, they were affected by his own cultural upbringing, and they were affected by changes that happened in the late 1840s. Among these was the challenge of black men actually marrying white women in the Church, and the stir this caused among certain groups of Church membership. While there were a couple of instances where violence actually happened (and several cases of interracial marriage),

Brigham Young didn't ever actually try to have someone killed for doing this, and this was typical of Young's over the top rhetoric that he used from time to time at the pulpit

Brigham Young didn't ever actually try to have someone killed for doing this, and we assume that some of this (although based in racist attitudes that were prevalent in American society and held by Brigham Young) was typical of Young's over the top rhetoric that he used from time to time at the pulpit for effect.


Response to claim: 498 - Breaking covenants was worthy of death

The author(s) of The Changing World of Mormonism make(s) the following claim:

Breaking covenants was worthy of death.

Author's sources:

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim is a falsehood - The author has disseminated false information

Brigham Young stated exactly the opposite.



Brigham Young (1866): "There is also a man down the street who tried to exhibit the endowments to a party who was here. You will see what becomes of that man. Do not touch him."

Brigham Young,

There is also a man down the street who tried to exhibit the endowments to a party who was here. You will see what becomes of that man. Do not touch him. He has forfeited every right and title to eternal life; but let him alone, and you will see by and by what will become of him. His heart will ache, and so will the heart of every apostate that fights against Zion; they will destroy themselves. It is a mistaken idea that God destroys people, or that the Saints wish to destroy them. It is not so. The seeds of sin which are in them are sufficient to accomplish their destruction.[19]


Response to claim: 498-499 - Apostasy was worthy of death

The author(s) of The Changing World of Mormonism make(s) the following claim:

Apostasy was worthy of death.

Author's sources:

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains mistakes and/or errors - The author has stated erroneous or incorrect information or misinterpreted their sources

Regardless of any rhetoric preached across the pulpit by Brigham Young and others, apostates were never put to death.

Question: Were apostates secretly put to death by "blood atonement" during the administration of Brigham Young?

Despite a number of rhetorical statements in the late 1850s, there is no evidence that anyone was "blood atoned" at the orders of Brigham Young

Brigham Young spoke of a doctrine called "blood atonement." Despite a number of rhetorical statements by LDS leaders in the late 1850s, there is no evidence that anyone was "blood atoned" at the orders of Brigham Young or any other general authority. Contemporary claims for such actions uniformly come from anti-Mormon books and newspapers with lurid titles such as The Destroying Angels of Mormondom[20]and Abominations of Mormonism Exposed.[21]

The First Presidency issued an official declaration on the matter of killing apostates, as a form of blood atonement, in 1889. This declaration reads, in part:

Notwithstanding all the stories told about the killing of apostates, no case of this kind has ever occurred, and of course has never been established against the Church we represent. Hundreds of seceders from the Church have continuously resided and now live in this territory, many of whom have amassed considerable wealth, though bitterly opposed to the Mormon faith and people. Even those who made it their business to fabricate the vilest falsehoods, and to render them plausible by culling isolated passages from old sermons without the explanatory context, and have suffered no opportunity to escape them of vilifying and blackening the characters of the people, have remained among those whom they have thus persistently calumniated until the present day, without receiving the slightest personal injury.

We denounce as entirely untrue the allegation which has been made, that our Church favors or believes in the killing of persons who leave the Church or apostatize from its doctrines. We would view a punishment of this character for such an act with the utmost horror; it is abhorrent to us and is in direct opposition to the fundamental principles of our creed.[22]


Response to claim: 500 - Lying was worthy of death

The author(s) of The Changing World of Mormonism make(s) the following claim:

Lying was worthy of death.

Author's sources: "Manuscript History of Brigham Young," December 20, 1846

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim is a falsehood - The author has disseminated false information

Liars were not put to death. The authors misrepresent a quote from Brigham Young to be associated with the concept of "blood atonement."



Question: Was lying a crime that was "worthy of death" among 19th century Mormons?

It is obvious that Brigham had strong words for "the wicked," but this quote has nothing to do with death by "blood atonement"

Jerald and Sandra Tanner propose that lying is "worthy of death" based upon a statement made by Brigham Young. According to the Tanners:

Brigham Young made this statement in 1846: "I ... warned those who lied and stole and followed Israel that they would have their heads cut off, for that was the law of God and it should be executed" ("Manuscript History of Brigham Young," December 20, 1846, typed copy; original in LDS church archives).

The quote in context:

I instructed the Bishops to hold meetings where the Saints might assemble, confess their sins, pray with and for each other, humble themselves before the Lord and commence a reformation that all might exercise themselves in the principles of righteousness; and, if those who had received the Holy Priesthood did not abide their covenants and walk uprightly before the Lord and their brethren, that those who did would be taken away from their midst, and the wicked would be smitten with famine, pestilence and the sword, and would be scattered and perish on the prairies. I said I would prefer traveling over the mountains with the Twelve only than to be accompanied with the wicked and those who continued to commit iniquity; and warned those who lied and stole and followed Israel that they would have their heads cut off, for that was the law of God and it should be executed.

Brigham is talking about thieves and liars, and he is expressing his desire that harsh judgment be brought upon them

It is obvious that Brigham had strong words for "the wicked." Brigham Young himself once said on March 2, 1856:

I will tell you what this people need, with regard to preaching; you need, figuratively, to have it rain pitchforks, tines downwards, from this pulpit, Sunday after Sunday. Instead of the smooth, beautiful, sweet, still, silk-velvet-lipped preaching, you should have sermons like peals of thunder, and perhaps we then can get the scales from our eyes. This style is necessary in order to save many of this people.JD 3:22 .wiki

What is not obvious in this quote is what relationship this is supposed to have to "blood atonement." Brigham is not talking about apostates who willingly wish to sacrifice their lives to atone for their sins—He is talking about thieves and liars, and he is expressing his desire that harsh judgment be brought upon them. It is also important to note that, despite the harsh words and rhetoric, the historical evidence shows that people didn't get their throats cut for committing such crimes.


Response to claim: 500 - Counterfeiting was worthy of death

The author(s) of The Changing World of Mormonism make(s) the following claim:

Counterfeiting was worthy of death.

Author's sources: "Manuscript History of Brigham Young," February 24,1847

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim is a falsehood - The author has disseminated false information

There is no evidence that counterfeiters were ever "put to death".



Question: Was counterfeiting a crime that was "worthy of death" among 19th century Mormons?

There is no historical evidence that any such punishment was ever applied to such perpetrators

Critics Jerald and Sandra Tanner use a quote from Brigham Young to imply that the penalty for counterfeiting is death by "blood atonement."

Brigham Young declared: "I swore by the Eternal Gods that if men in our midst would not stop this cursed work of stealing and counterfeiting their throats should be cut"[23]

The quote in context:

Wednesday, 24 -- I met with the brethren of the Twelve. We investigated several orders purporting to be drawn by J. Allen, Lieut. Col., signed by James Pollick; which I requested should be burned. I swore by the Eternal Gods that if men in our midst would not stop this cursed work of stealing and counterfeiting their throats should be cut.

There is no doubt that Brigham had harsh feelings toward those who committed crimes. And again, there is no historical evidence that any such punishment was ever applied to such perpetrators.


Response to claim: 500 - Condemning Joseph Smith was worthy of death

The author(s) of The Changing World of Mormonism make(s) the following claim:

Condemning Joseph Smith was worthy of death.

Author's sources:
  • Quest for Empire, p.127
  • Daily journal of Abraham H. Cannon,"" December 6, 1889, pp.205-6

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim is a falsehood - The author has disseminated false information

This claim by the critics is absurd.



Question: Was condemning Joseph Smith a crime that was "worthy of death" among 19th century Mormons?

If everyone who condemned Joseph Smith were "worthy of death," there would have been few critics left

Critics Jerald and Sandra Tanner really have to stretch on this one, since if everyone who condemned Joseph Smith were "worthy of death," there would have been few critics left! This was obviously not the case during the 19th century, and the only support that the critics can gather for such a far-fetched idea is a second-hand quote from Brigham Young and a single entry in Apostle Abraham H. Cannon's journal. Cannon's journal says:

Bro. Joseph F. Smith was traveling some years ago near Carthage when he met a man who said he had just arrived five minutes too late to see the Smiths killed. Instantly a dark cloud seemed to overshadow Bro. Smith and he asked how this man looked upon the deed. Bro. S. was oppressed by a most horrible feeling as he waited for a reply. After a brief pause the man answered, "Just as I have always looked upon it—that it was a d—d cold-blooded murder." The cloud immediately lifted from Bro. Smith and he found that he had his open pocket knife grasped in his hand in his pocket, and he believes that had this man given his approval to that murder of the prophets he would have immediately struck him to the heart.[24]

The only other evidence offered by the Tanners is a second hand quote said to have come from Brigham Young. Norton Jacob claims that Brigham said:

A man may live here with us and worship what God he pleases or none at all, but he must not blaspheme the God of Israel or damn old Jo Smith or his religion, for we will salt him down in the lake.[25]

The Tanners take the story about Joseph F. Smith's emotional reaction to hearing of the death of Joseph and Hyrum, along with an alleged quote from Brigham Young from a second hand source, and ridiculously expand this to mean that "blood atonement" requires death for anyone who condemns Joseph Smith. The evidence for such an assertion by the critics is practically non-existent, and one must assume that they added this for the simple reason that they wanted to make the list of "crimes" that they relate to "blood atonement" more impressive.


Response to claim: 501-503 - Blood atonement was "put into practice" in Utah

The author(s) of The Changing World of Mormonism make(s) the following claim:

Blood atonement was "put into practice" in Utah.

Author's sources:
  • Confessions of John D. Lee, 1880, pp.282-83
  • Utah Historical Quarterly, January 1958, p.62, note 39

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains propaganda and/or spin - The author, or the author's source, is providing information or ideas in a slanted way in order to instill a particular attitude or response in the reader

The "Last Confession and Statement of John D. Lee" was put together by his attorney William W. Bishop after Lee's execution, and its reliability is suspect. If blood atonement were a common occurrence among 19th century Latter-day Saints, there would be a record of such things beyond Lee's statement.



Response to claim: 501 - Modern church leaders have confirmed the principle but denied the practice of blood atonement

The author(s) of The Changing World of Mormonism make(s) the following claim:

Modern church leaders have confirmed the principle but denied the practice of blood atonement.

Author's sources:
  • Mormon Doctrine, 1958, p.87
  • Doctrines of Salvation, vol. 1, pp.133-36

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim is based upon correct information - The author is providing knowledge concerning some particular fact, subject, or event

Correct.



Question: What is "blood atonement"?

If a person thereafter commits a grievous sin such as the shedding of innocent blood, only by voluntarily submitting to whatever penalty the Lord may require can that person benefit from the Atonement of Christ

From the Encyclopedia of Mormonism:

The doctrines of the Church affirm that the Atonement wrought by the shedding of the blood of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is efficacious for the sins of all who believe, repent, are baptized by one having authority, and receive the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands. However, if a person thereafter commits a grievous sin such as the shedding of innocent blood, the Savior's sacrifice alone will not absolve the person of the consequences of the sin. Only by voluntarily submitting to whatever penalty the Lord may require can that person benefit from the Atonement of Christ.

Several early Church leaders, most notably Brigham Young, taught that in a complete theocracy the Lord could require the voluntary shedding of a murderer's blood-presumably by capital punishment-as part of the process of Atonement for such grievous sin. This was referred to as "blood Atonement." Since such a theocracy has not been operative in modern times, the practical effect of the idea was its use as a rhetorical device to heighten the awareness of Latter-day Saints of the seriousness of murder and other major sins. This view is not a doctrine of the Church and has never been practiced by the Church at any time.

Early anti-Mormon writers charged that under Brigham Young the Church practiced "blood Atonement," by which they meant Church-instigated violence directed at dissenters, enemies, and strangers. This claim distorted the whole idea of blood atonement-which was based on voluntary submission by an offender-into a supposed justification of involuntary punishment. Occasional isolated acts of violence that occurred in areas where Latter-day Saints lived were typical of that period in the history of the American West, but they were not instances of Church-sanctioned blood Atonement.[26]

Reports of "blood atonement" having occurred were exaggerated and sensationalized

As one historian noted,

That the doctrine [of blood atonement] was preached by high officials is a matter of record; the intent of the sermons became a matter of conjecture; and the results therefrom set vivid imaginations working overtime. Blood fairly flowed through the writing of such men as Beadle in Life in Utah or the Mysteries of Mormonism and Polygamy, in Linn's The Story of Mormonism, and even Stenhouse's anonymous chapter on Reformation and Blood Atonement in his Rocky Mountain Saints. Numerous killings, including the Mountain Meadows massacre, were credited as the fruits of the doctrine....

Omitted from quotations used by the anti-Mormons were restraining clauses such as follow from Brigham Young:

. . . The time has been in Israel under the law of God 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.

The wickedness and ignorance of the nations forbid this principle's being in full force, but the time will come when the law of God will be in full force.

The doctrine of blood atonement which involved concern for the salvation of those to be subjected to it, could have little meaning in the [p.62] Mountain Meadows massacre, or any other of the murders laid unproved on the Mormon threshold (emphasis added).[27]

There is evidence that some crimes were considered worthy of death, even in the apostolic age among Christians

Despite the critics' claims, there is evidence that some crimes were considered worthy of death, even in the apostolic age among Christians:

Whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer: and ye know that no murderer hath eternal life abiding in him....[Chapter 5] If any man see his brother sin a sin which is not unto death, he shall ask, and he shall give him life for them that sin not unto death. There is a sin unto death: I do not say that he shall pray for it. All unrighteousness is sin: and there is a sin not unto death. We know that whosoever is born of God sinneth not; but he that is begotten of God keepeth himself, and that wicked one toucheth him not" (1 John 3:15; 1 John 5:16-18) (italics added).


Notes

  1. Lowell M. Snow, "Blood atonement," Encyclopedia of Mormonism.
  2. Gustave O. Larson, "The Mormon Reformation," Utah Historical Quarterly 26/1 (January 1958): 60-62.
  3. Charles W. Penrose, "Peculiar Questions Briefly Answered," Improvement Era 15 no. 11 (September 1912).
  4. Criticisms regarding "blood atonement" are raised in the following publications: Richard Abanes, One Nation Under Gods: A History of the Mormon Church (New York: Four Walls Eight Windows, 2003), 232-236 ( Index of claims ); "Achilles" [pen name for Samuel D. Sirrine], The Destroying Angels of Mormondom; or a Sketch of the Life of Orrin Porter Rockwell, the Late Danite Chief; Sally Denton, American Massacre: The Tragedy at Mountain Meadows, (Secker & Warburg, 2003), 16. ; Contender Ministries, Questions All Mormons Should Ask Themselves. Answers; William Hall, The Abominations of Mormonism Exposed (Cincinnati: I. Hart & Co., 1853), ?.; Walter Martin, The Kingdom of the Cults (Revised) (Minneapolis: Bethany House Publishers, 1997), 236. ( Index of claims ); Watchman Fellowship, The Watchman Expositor (Page 3)
  5. Gustave O. Larson, "The Mormon Reformation," Utah Historical Quarterly 26/1 (January 1958): 62.
  6. See Deseret News Thursday, June 17, 2010
  7. Joseph Smith, History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 7 volumes, edited by Brigham H. Roberts, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1957), 5:296. Volume 5 link
  8. Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, 1958, p.314.
  9. Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation, comp. Bruce R. McConkie, 3 vols., (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1954–56), 136.
  10. CAPITAL PUNISHMENT IN UTAH, Utah History Encyclopedia
  11. Heber C. Kimball, Journal of Discourses 7:20.
  12. Mike Parker, Did Brigham Young Say that He Would Kill an Adulterous Wife with a Javelin?, FAIR Web Site
  13. Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses 1:108-109.
  14. Diary of Hosea Stout (1810 - 1899)
  15. Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses 17:118.
  16. Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses 3:226.
  17. Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses 3:224.
  18. Brigham Young, (March 8, 1863.) Journal of Discourses 10:110.
  19. Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses 11:262. (12 August 1866).
  20. "Achilles" [pen name for Samuel D. Sirrine], The Destroying Angels of Mormondom; or a Sketch of the Life of Orrin Porter Rockwell, the Late Danite Chief, (San Francisco, 1878).
  21. William Hall, The Abominations of Mormonism Exposed (Cincinnati: I. Hart & Co., 1853), {{{pages}}}.
  22. Official Declaration, 12 December 1889, signed by the First Presidency (Wilford Woodruff, George Q. Cannon, and Joseph F. Smith), the Quorum of the Twelve (Lorenzo Snow, Franklin D. Richards, Brigham Young Jr., Moses Thatcher, Francis M. Lyman, John Henry Smith, George Teasdale, Heber J. Grant, John W. Taylor, M.W. Merrill, A.H. Lund, and Abraham H. Cannon), and counselors (John W. Young and Daniel H. Wells).
  23. "Manuscript History of Brigham Young," February 24,1847, typed copy.
  24. "Daily journal of Abraham H. Cannon," December 6, 1889, pp.205-6.
  25. Klaus J. Hansen, Quest for Empire—The Political Kingdom of God and the Council of Fifty in Mormon History, (1967), p.127; Hansen in turn quotes Dale Morgan, The Great Salt Lake (New York 1947) p. 202.
  26. Lowell M. Snow, "Blood atonement," Encyclopedia of Mormonism.
  27. Gustave O. Larson, "The Mormon Reformation," Utah Historical Quarterly 26/1 (January 1958): 60-62.