Question: Did Brigham Young and Heber C. Kimball encourage members to kill apostates in an attempt to save their souls?

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Question: Did Brigham Young and Heber C. Kimball encourage members to kill apostates in an attempt to save their souls?

Heber C. Kimball and Brigham Young did not encourage members to kill apostates, much less to do it "out of love"

The critical book One Nation Under Gods states that Brigham Young "encouraged faithful Saints to murder, out of 'love,' all unfaithful Mormons so their souls might be saved." Heber C. Kimball said "[T]his people will never, no never, prosper to a high degree until we make a public example of—what? Men, who have been warned and forewarned....[W]e will take them and slay them before this people. I am talking of those that will persist in this course of iniquity, and not about those who will repent and forsake their sins....They are worthy of death, and they will get it....If God forgives you, I will; but there will be a public example made of such characters, and the time is just at our doors." (paperback edition) [1]

However, when the quotes are seen in their complete context, the critics' claims collapse. They are situated during the Mormon Reformation.

Brigham emphasizes that the sinner must voluntarily submit to this penalty if it were to be applied: This is not a call for mayhem or murder

Brigham Young said:

We talk about the reformation, but recollect that you have only just commenced to walk in the way of life and salvation. You have just commenced in the career to obtain eternal life, which is that which you desire, therefore you have no time to spend only in that path. It is straight and narrow, simple and easy, and is an Almighty path, if you will keep in it. But if you wander off into swamps, or into brambles, and get into darkness, you will find it hard to get back....

And I will say that 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. The time has been in Israel under the law of God, the celestial law, or that which pertains to the celestial law, for 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.

...Now take a person in this congregation who has knowledge with regard to being saved in the kingdom of our God and our Father, and being exalted, one who knows and understands the principles of eternal life, and sees the beauty and excellency of the eternities before him compared with the vain and foolish things of the world, and 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?"[2]

As always with his discussion of blood atonement, Brigham emphasizes that the sinner must voluntarily submit to this penalty. This is not a call for mayhem or murder. And the context is that it is a FUTURE circumstance.

Note that the principle is not said to be "in full force" when Brigham spoke

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 shed[d]ing of their blood? Will you love that man or woman well enough to shed their blood?

Now take the wicked, and I can refer to where the Lord had to slay every soul of the Israelites that went out of Egypt, except Caleb and Joshua. He slew them by the hands of their enemies, by the plague, and by the sword, why? Because He loved them, and promised Abraham that He would save them....

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. 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.

This is loving our neighbour 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]

Note that the principle is not said to be "in full force" when Brigham spoke. Thus, he cannot be advocating blood atonement in the present.

Heber is speaking of unrepentant adulterers. He, like Brigham, says the time is "near by," "just at our doors," but it is not now

The quote used in the hardback edition of One Nation Under Gods:

I feel the Lord designs the thing should move along and no blood be shed, because I do not consider God is so anxious that we should be bloodthirsty men as some may be. God designs we should be pure men, holding the oracles of God in holy and pure vessels; but when it is necessary that blood should be shed, we should be as ready to do that as to eat an apple. That is my religion, and I feel that our platter is pretty near clean of some things, and we calculate to keep it clean from this time henceforth and forever, and, as the Scripture reads, "Lay judgment to the line and righteousness to the plummet." We shall do that thing, and we shall commence in the mountains. We shall clean the platter of all such scoundrels; and if men and women will not live their religion, but take a course to pervert the hearts of the righteous, we will "lay judgment to the line and righteousness to the plummet," and we will let you know that the earth can swallow you up, as it did Korah with his host; and as brother Taylor says, you may dig your graves, and we will slay you, and you may crawl into them.[4]

I do not mean you, if you are not here. I mean those corrupt scoundrels. Well, this is just as brother Brigham has said here hundreds of times.

The quote used in the paperback edition of One Nation Under Gods:

I do think it is outrageous to unwisely expose so much filth as some of our Elders and Missionaries do. If a man is asleep and has besmeared himself, do not expose him, unless the necessity of the case requires it. I feel a good, wholesome spirit and a fatherly spirit to you, brethren; you know I do. But I want my brethren to take a course, if they find their brethren lying under blankets besmeared, not to pull the blankets off from them before they first get water and wash them; save them if you can. You hear us talk about it a great deal, and probably many do not believe one word we say, but this people will never, no never, prosper to a high degree until we make a public example of—what? Men, who have been warned and forewarned, but who will associate with the wicked and take a course to commit whoredom, and will strive to lead our daughters and our wives into the society of poor, wicked curses, with a view to gratify their cursed passions; we will take them and slay them before this people. I am talking of those that will persist in this course of iniquity, and not about those who will repent and forsake their sins. Are there men in our midst who will court other men's wives? Yes, and will take them right to the ungodly for them to seduce, and they will take our daughters and do the same. What are such men worthy of? They are worthy of death, and they will get it. That time is near by, and God has spoken from the heavens, and when certain things are about right, we shall make a public example of those characters. Do you see me? Do you see this Bible and Book of Mormon? If there were ten thousand of those books, I could raise them all to heaven, saying, it is as true as the contents of those books. Do you believe me, brethren? [Yes.] There is no doubt of it. But do all believe me? No. If God forgives you, I will; but there will be a public example made of such characters, and the time is just at our doors. Can we stop this iniquity, until that is done? No, no more than we can stop some from stealing. There is some stealing right in the midst of your reform, brethren.[5]

Heber is speaking of unrepentant adulterers. He, like Brigham, says the time is "near by," "just at our doors," but it is not now. Again, he cannot be advocating the present implementation of blood atonement, or the execution of adulterers who refuse to repent.

This is strong language, but Heber is encouraging people to repent now. He acknowledges that one cannot wipe out all vice and sin until the truly hardened and unrepentant are removed from society—no more than stealing can be avoided.

Heber does not want a public witchhunt, or obsession with vice. Rather, he wishes people to teach sinners privately, and "repent" and "forsake" their sins

What, then, does he want them to do now?

Don't you think it is a better course to take the gentlemen privately and talk over matters, and then take the ladies privately and instruct them, and not open the budget of the filth of their husbands before the wives, nor that of the wives before their husbands? Such filthy characters seem to be the most sanctimonious, the most holy and gracious. I wish you could know one thing, that is, that we know you and can see right through you. I wish all those kind of men and women would get away to the back side of the congregation, and not stick themselves right under my nose. And if we make a party they stick themselves there also, and want to be the head, back, and everything else. If they would take a proper course, they would never intrude upon decent society, until they had repented of and forsaken their abominations....

Heber does not want a public witchhunt, or obsession with vice. Rather, he wishes people to teach sinners privately, and "repent" and "forsake" their sins. There is no call for vengeance, extra-judicial murder, or blood atonement.

Heber calls for restraint and moderation

Heber reads passages from the Book of Mormon about the seriousness of sexual sin, and then says:

You who are tampering with the sin of adultery are sealing your damnation. Some are sitting right before me, with their locks as white as a sheet, who have tampered in these things. What have they done? They have done more hurt, more injury, and thrown more obstructions in the way of the work of God than they ever can restore. They have an atonement to make, there is a debt against them. Why? Because justice will require the debt to be paid. It is for you to arouse yourselves from these things and pay all you can, that there may not be much against you when the accounts are settled up. Bishops go to now and take the course I have suggested; take a course not to expose and ruin men, but let their private sins be privately acknowledged to the Bishop, and he has authority to report them to head quarters: then there can be a way of disposal—why? because God our Father has made a way. There is no situation or circumstance that ever a man was or will be in, but what there is a law touching his case.

Be cautious of your wild fire; I have touched on that, and I want the Bishops to be cautious about it, and not to be overbearing and hard on the people, nor require them to fast three days in the week, and keep them under the big sledge hammer continually. It will not answer. You should pour in a little wine and oil, and the good things of the kingdom of God, and that will temper the iron so that it will yield to the hammer....

Do right, and let the Bishops and Missionaries understand their duty, and they may be the means of palliating your sins and making you comfortable for life. There are women in this congregation who have, probably, been seduced by Elders, by High Priests and men in authority....

Brethren, don't you think the course you would take with a flock of sheep is better for this people, than it is to keep all the time hitting them on the head? It is well enough to hit a rap now and then, that is, to rap some of the old bucks and does that always want to stick their noses first in the salt. In accordance with my eccentric discourse, don't you see that I have not thrown out salt on the floor or on the grass to be wasted? I have given one sheep out there a lap, and another one there, returning to the centre, and don't you feel just as comfortable now as before you got the salt, and a little more so? That is the way to lead the people along, and do not gag them. You may take custard pie and cram it down a person's throat until it makes him vomit; doubtless some of you have crammed your little children until they have vomited the food you gave them.

Heber counsels moderation, private reconciliation of sinners, and avoiding trying to force people to change. He, like many prophets before him, however, also warns that unrepentant sin will eventually bring grave consequences. But, there is no call for his audience or others to implement those consequences.

Notes

  1. Richard Abanes, One Nation Under Gods, page 234-235 (hardback and paperback)
  2. Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses 4:219-220.
  3. Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses 4:219-220.
  4. Heber C. Kimball, Journal of Discourses 6:34-35.
  5. Heber C. Kimball, Journal of Discourses 4:173-174.