Blood Atonement

As early as 1853 intimations of the doctrine that an offending

member might be put out of the way were given from the Tabernacle

pulpit. Orson Hyde, on April 9 of that year, spoke, in the form

of a parable, of the fate of a wolf that a shepherd discovered in

his flock of sheep, saying that, if let alone, he would go off

and tell the other wolves, and they would come in; "whereas, if

the first should meet with his just deserts, he could not go back

and tell the rest of his hungry tribe to come and feast

themselves on the flock. If you say the priesthood, or

authorities of the church here, are the shepherd, and the church

is the flock, you can make your own application of this figure."

In September, 1856, there was a notable service in the bowery in

Salt Lake City at which several addresses were made. Heber C.

Kimball urged repentance, and told the people that Brigham

Young's word was "the word of God to this people." Then Jedediah

M. Grant first gave open utterance to a doctrine that has given

the Saints, in late years, much trouble to explain, and the

carrying out of which in Brigham Young's days has required many a

Mormon denial. This is, what has been called in Utah the doctrine

of "blood atonement," and what in reality was the doctrine of

human sacrifice.

Grant declared that some persons who had received the priesthood

committed adultery and other abominations, "get drunk, and wallow

in the mire and filth." "I say," he continued, "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 too deep for that."* He explained

that he was only preaching the doctrine of St. Paul, and

continued: "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.... If any of you ask,

Do I mean you, I answer yes. If any woman asks, Do I mean her, I

answer yes.... We have been trying long enough with these people,

and I go in for letting the sword of the Almighty be unsheathed,

not only in word, but in deed."**

* Elder C. W. Penrose made an explanation of the view taken by

the church at that time, in an address in Salt Lake City on

October 12, 1884, that was published in a pamphlet entitled

"Blood Atonement as taught by Leading Elders." This was deemed

necessary to meet the criticisms of this doctrine. He pleaded

misrepresentation of the Saints' position, and defined it as

resting on Christ's atonement, and on the belief that that

atonement would suffice only for those who have fellowship with

Him. He quoted St. Paul as authority for the necessity of blood

shedding (Hebrews ix. 22), and Matthew xii. 31, 32, and Hebrews

x. 26, to show that there are sins, like blasphemy against the

Holy Ghost, which will not be forgiven through the shedding of

Christ's blood. He also quoted 1 John v. 16 as showing that the

apostle and Brigham Young were in agreement concerning "sins unto

death," just as Young and the apostle agreed about delivering men

unto Satan that their spirits might be saved through the

destruction of their flesh (1 Corinthians v. 5). Having justified

the teaching to his satisfaction, he proceeded to challenge proof

that any one had ever paid the penalty, coupling with this a

denial of the existence of Danites.

Elder Hyde, in his "Mormonism," says (p. 179): "There are several

men now living in Utah whose lives are forfeited by Mormon law,

but spared for a little time by Mormon policy. They are certain

to be killed, and they know it. They are only allowed to live

while they add weight and influence to Mormonism, and, although

abundant opportunities are given them for escape, they prefer to

remain. So strongly are they infatuated with their religion that

they think their salvation depends on their continued obedience,

and their 'blood being shed by the servants of God.' Adultery is

punished by death, and it is taught, unless the adulterer's blood

be shed, he can have no remission for this sin. Believing this

firmly, there are men who have confessed this crime to Brigham,

and asked him to have them killed. Their superstitious fears make

life a burden to them, and they would commit suicide were not

that also a crime."

** Journal of Discourses, Vol. IV, pp. 49, 50.

Brigham Young, who followed Grant, said that he would explain how

judgment would be "laid to the line." "There are sins," he

explained, "that men commit, for which they cannot receive

forgiveness in this world nor in that which is to come; and, if

they had their eyes open to see their true condition, they would

be perfectly willing to have their blood spilt upon the ground,

that the smoke thereof might ascend to heaven for their sins...I

know, when you hear my brethren telling about cutting people off

from the earth, that you consider it a strong doctrine; but it is

to save them, not to destroy them."

That these were not the mere expressions of a sudden impulse is

shown by the fact that Young expounded this doctrine at even

greater length a year later. Explaining what Christ meant by

loving our neighbors as ourselves, he said: "Will you love your

brothers and sisters likewise when they have committed a sin that

cannot be atoned for without the shedding of blood? Will you love

that man or woman well enough to shed their blood? That is what

Jesus Christ meant.... 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."*

* Journal of Discourses, Vol. IV, pp. 219, 220.

Stenhouse relates, as one of the "few notable cases that have

properly illustrated the blood atonement doctrine," that one of

the wives of an elder who was sent on a mission broke her

marriage vows during his absence. On his return, during the

height of the "Reformation," she was told that "she could not

reach the circle of the gods and goddesses unless her blood was

shed," and she consented to accept the punishment. Seating

herself, therefore, on her husband's knee, she gave him a last

kiss, and he then drew a knife across her throat. "That kind and

loving husband still lives near Salt Lake City (1874), and

preaches occasionally with great zeal."*

* "Rocky Mountain Saints," p. 470.

John D. Lee, who says that this doctrine was "justified by all

the people," gives full particulars of another instance. Among

the Danish converts in Utah was Rosmos Anderson, whose wife had

been a widow with a grown daughter. Anderson desired to marry his

step-daughter also, and she was quite willing; but a member of

the Bishop's council wanted the girl for his wife, and he was

influential enough to prevent Anderson from getting the necessary

consent from the head of the church. Knowing the professed horror

of the church toward the crime of adultery, Anderson and the

young woman, at one of the meetings during the "Reformation,"

confessed their guilt of that crime, thinking that in this way

they would secure permission to marry. But, while they were

admitted to rebaptism on their confession, the coveted permit was

not issued and they were notified that to offend would be to

incur death. Such a charge was very soon laid against Anderson

(not against the girl), and the same council, without hearing

him, decided that he must die. Anderson was so firm in the Mormon

faith that he made no remonstrance, simply asking half a day for

preparation. His wife provided clean clothes for the sacrifice,

and his executioners dug his grave. At midnight they called for

him, and, taking him to the place, allowed him to kneel by the

grave and pray. Then they cut his throat, "and held him so that

his blood ran into the grave." His wife, obeying instructions,

announced that he had gone to California.*

* "Mormonism Unveiled," p. 282.

As an illustration of the opportunity which these times gave a

polygamous priesthood to indulge their tastes, may be told the

story of "the affair at San Pete." Bishop Warren Snow of Manti,

San Pete County, although the husband of several wives, desired

to add to his list a good-looking young woman in that town When

he proposed to her, she declined the honor, informing him that

she was engaged to a younger man. The Bishop argued with her on

the ground of her duty, offering to have her lover sent on a

mission, but in vain. When even the girl's parents failed to gain

her consent, Snow directed the local church authorities to

command the young man to give her up. Finding him equally

obstinate, he was one evening summoned to attend a meeting where

only trusted members were present. Suddenly the lights were put

out, he was beaten and tied to a bench, and Bishop Snow himself

castrated him with a bowie knife. In this condition he was left

to crawl to some haystacks, where he lay until discovered "The

young man regained his health," says Lee, "but has been an idiot

or quiet lunatic ever since, and is well known by hundreds of

Mormons or Gentiles in Utah."* And the Bishop married the girl.

Lee gives Young credit for being very "mad" when he learned of

this incident, but the Bishop was not even deposed.**

* Ibid., p. 285.

** Stenhouse quotes the following as showing that the San Pete

outrage was scarcely concealed by the Mormon authorities: "I was

at a Sunday meeting, in the spring of 1857, in Provo, when the

news of the San Pete incident was referred to by the presiding

Bishop, Blackburn. Some men in Provo had rebelled against

authority in some trivial matter, and Blackburn shouted in his

Sunday meeting--a mixed congregation of all ages and both sexes:

'I want the people of Provo to understand that the boys in Provo

can use the knife as well as the boys in San Pete. Boys, get your

knives ready.'" "Rocky Mountain Saints," p. 302.

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