Firesides/28 November 2010 - Sweden/7

Table of Contents

Response to questions about blood atonement

1: BoM translation2: Polygamy and Polyandry3: Polygamy forced?4: Book of Abraham5: "Lying for Lord"6: Mark Hofmann7: Blood atonement8: First Vision9: Sanitized history10: "Not all truth is useful"11: Angelic affidavits12: Blacks and priesthood13: Temple concerns14: Evidence of Vikings15: Adam-God16: Kinderhook

The attendees of The "Swedish Rescue" fireside ask the following question:

*Blood atonement. It’s just a strange thing altogether in my view.
  • How many years was it practiced during this time?
  • Did anybody die with blood atonement?

  • Question: Did the Church practice blood atonement?
    Answer: Church leaders associated it with capital punishment.
  • My personal belief is that during Joseph Smith’s time period, based on statements in the bible, Joseph Smith said that when men shed blood, their blood should be shed. He’s talking about scripture. And I think that when you got into the Brigham Young times, that scripture was taken literally for a time [because] leaders taught that if people killed, then they deserved capital punishment. That [yeah] Old Testament-style event. [And t]hat sort of bounces around in the 1850s in particular when people are talking about, well how do you do this, you know? Is it literal? How do you shed a person’s blood in the process of capital punishment? And it gets to the late 1870s when they’re basically saying to people, hey look our belief on this is the same belief that other people have who believe in capital punishment. Now that’s, [that's] my very rapid historical summary of it.

    —Brother Turley's response to this question at the Sweden fireside.
    • Question: For how many years was it practiced?
      Answer: This question assumes something that has not been proven.
    • It is not clear that the Church ever practiced "blood atonement" in the sense usually intended by anti-Mormon critics. That is, there is no evidence that the Church sought out apostates and murdered them extra-judicially. Even taken at its most literal, blood atonement was a voluntary act by a sinner, not something imposed upon him by others.
    • The rhetoric of blood atonement was largely confined to the late 1850s, during the so-called "Mormon Reformation."
    • Critics often ignore data such as Brigham Young's instructions:

    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.

    —Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses 11:262. (12 August 1866).
    • Question: What is the Church's position on blood atonement?
      Answer: The Church states that blood atonement is not necessary.

    From a church standpoint, blood atonement, meaning that it’s required for people to have their blood shed when they commit capital crimes, the church has gone on record saying that’s not necessary. So that’s the church position on it.

    —Brother Turley's response to this question at the Sweden fireside.
    • 1889:

    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.

    — 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).
    • 1912:

    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.

    — President Charles W. Penrose, "Peculiar Questions Briefly Answered," Improvement Era 15 no. 11 (September 1912).
    • 2010:

    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.
    Deseret News (Thursday, 17 June 2010), emphasis added.
    • Question: Did anyone die from being blood atoned?
      Answer: No.
    • To be sure, there was some extra-legal violence in Utah, as there was everywhere on the American frontier (and as there still is today). However, it is not clear that any of these events were due to Church involvement in "blood atonement," though of course some members of the Church were involved. It is important to remember that the idea was to apply onto to apostate members of the Church who were endowed:

    The doctrine of blood atonement which involved concern for the salvation of those to be subjected to it, could have little meaning in the Mountain Meadows massacre, or any other of the murders laid unproved on the Mormon threshold....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.

    — Gustave O. Larson, "The Mormon Reformation," Utah Historical Quarterly 26/1 (January 1958): 61-62.

    The available evidence shows...that beyond a few well-publicized murders, we have every right to believe that compared with surrounding territories, Utah was a relatively murder- and violence-free community. Historians regularly cite such murders as the Potter-Parrish homicides of 1857 and the killing of J. King Robinson and S. Newton Brassfield in 1866 as evidence of Utah's violent character. Instead of making generalizations from juicy anecdotes, historians ought to use statistical and comparative methodology to interpret these events....

    Although we lack a thorough comparative study of murders in Utah and other western areas, the available statistical information contradicts Bagley's [and the other critics'] impression of Utah society. The best evidence we have at this time is that Bagley [a critic] is wrong when he insists that "what made Utah's violence unique in the West was that it occurred in a settled, well-organized community whose leaders publicly sanctioned doctrines of vengeance and ritual murder." In fact, barring further evidence to the contrary, the best evidence we have at this point is that Utah was one of the least violent jurisdictions in the western United States.

    — Thomas G. Alexander, "Review of Blood of the Prophets: Brigham Young and the Massacre at Mountain Meadows," Brigham Young University Studies 31 no. 1 (January 2003), 167–.
    • Even contemporaries saw Utah as peaceful. Non-member Franklin Buck described the difference between southern Utah and his own town of Pioche, Nevada in 1871:

    In Pioche [Nevada] we have two courts, any number of sheriffs and police officers and a jail to force people to do what is right. There is a fight every day and a man killed about every week. About half the town is whisky shops and houses of ill fame. In these Mormon towns there are no courts, no prisons, no saloons, no bad women; but there is a large brick Church and they keep the Sabbath—a fine schoolhouse and all the children go to school. All difficulties between each other are settled by the Elders and the Bishop. Instead of every man trying to hang his neighbor, they all pull together. There is only one store on the co-operative plan and all own shares and it is really wonderful to see what fine towns and the wealth they have in this barren country. It shows what industry and economy will do when all work together....The Devil [i.e., the Mormons] is not as black as he is painted.

    — Franklin A. Buck, A Yankee Trader in the Gold Rush: The Letters of Franklin A. Buck, comp. Katherine A. White (Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1930), 234–36.

    |extlink=http://www.fairlds.org/authors/jones-mckay/dead-men-tell-no-tales |extsubject='Dead Men Tell No Tales!': The Blood Atonement Balance Sheet |extpublication=FairMormon Papers |extauthor=McKay V. Jones |extsummary=For over 150 years, charges and denials of blood atonement have been a significant topic in pro and anti-Mormon polemics. Blood atonement has proven to be a lucrative and effective element in fiction, film, and anti-Mormon publications, providing a means of injecting an element of horror and weirdness into perceptions of Mormons. While Mormon apologists have dealt with blood atonement charges and criticisms from several different angles, this paper examines the complete picture of material from Journal of Discourses regarding blood atonement, pro et con. Critics have passed on and used and defenders have treated the same proof-texts from generation to generation, but looking at the big picture in context effectively exposes the weakness of critics’ claims about blood atonement and the extreme unfairness in how critics use the standard blood atonement proof-texts. When considered in its entirety, critics’ exploitation of blood atonement backfires against their intentions of emphasizing alleged Mormon atrocities and their alleged doctrinal causes.