Question: Did Brigham Young's preaching style induce people to perform "blood atonement"?

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Question: Did Brigham Young's preaching style induce people to perform "blood atonement"?

Many have often misunderstood or misrepresented Brigham Young's preaching style

Many have often misunderstood or misrepresented Brigham Young's (and others LDS preachers') preaching style, seeing them in ways differently than the Saints of the day did:

There grew between the Mormon leader and his congregation a bond that permitted...irreverence [toward Brigham personally]. Brigham cast himself as the Saints' gruff but loving father, alternately scolding and befriending his flock. As lawgiver, he felt he should preach without compromise.

"I will tell you what this people need, with regard to preaching," he said. "You need, figuratively, to have it rain pitchforks, tines downwards.... Instead of the smooth, beautiful, sweet, still, silk-velvet-lipped preaching, you should have sermons like peals of thunder."

True to his word, Brigham gave saints and sinners pitchforks aplenty. The latter might be especially hard hit if guilty of malicious anti-Mormonism....

But his outbursts were the exception rather than the rule, and even when thundering he often softened his blows with humor....He conjectured that some women's dresses might conceal a six-horse team, with "a dozen dogs under the wagon."....Far from rankling under his thrusts, the Mormon membership came to tolerate, expect, and even enjoy the show....

One did not have to go far to find the keys to his speaking popularity. For one thing, his audience sensed that behind his strong words lay a genuine concern". my heart yearns over [the Saints]... with all the emotions of tenderness, so that I could weep like a child," he said, but I am careful to keep my tears to myself." He assured his people that he never intended malice. "There is not a soul I chasten but what I feel as though I could take them and put them in my bosom and carry them with me day by day."

Brigham believed that his strong words had not separated him from his flock. "Although I may get up here and cuff... [the people] about, chastising them for their forgetfulness, their weakness and follies, yet I have not seen a moment when they did not love me The reason is, because I love them so well." He had rebuked with caution, he thought, employing a primary rule: "When you have the chastening rod in your hands, ask God to give you wisdom to use it, that you may not use it to the destruction of an individual, but to his salvation."...

The Saints also understood that there was little bite to his celebrated bark. Young admitted as much. "I have had some people ask me how I manage and control the people," he once remarked. "I do it by telling them the truth and letting them do just as they have a mind to."...

Thus, Young's words and platform manner were often calculated for effect. For a typical Tabernacle congregation, he thought normal and respectable words were like "wind," going "into the ear and... [soon] forgotten," Therefore, he used stronger measures. "When you wish the people to feel what you say," he once said revealingly, "you have got to use language that they will remember, or else the ideas are lost to them. Consequently, in many instances we use language that we would rather not use."[1]

Notes

  1. Ronald W. Walker, "Raining Pitchforks: Brigham Young as Preacher," Sunstone 8 no. (Issue #3/3) (May 1983), 5–9. off-site This article is a worthwhile discussion of Brigham Young's preaching style generally, and how the Saints saw it.