Mormon Church does not require “bloodletting”

Last week the Utah Senate voted to reinstate death by firing squad as one of the state’s options in carrying out a judiciously imposed penalty of capital punishment. The bill awaits the signature of Utah’s governor before it can become law.

As the bill is written, the firing squad alternative would be required if lethal injection drugs are unavailable. As reported by the Los Angeles Times, Representative Paul Ray, who introduced the bill, said firing squad is “the most humane” option for capital punishment. This is a turn-around from the reasoning suggested in 2004 when Utah banned the use of firing squads. At that time, as Utah Governor Olene Walker prepared to sign the banning into law, her spokesperson said the Governor “thinks there could be some more humane ways, other than firing squad” to enforce capital punishment.

John D. Lee awaiting his execution by firing squad. Mountain Meadows, Utah, 1877.

John D. Lee awaiting his execution by firing squad.
Mountain Meadows, Utah, 1877.

Be that as it may, death by firing squad has had a long history in Utah, having been used in 40 of 50 formal executions between 1847 and 2004. Many people think the reason Utah has so long employed this method of execution is because so many Mormons believe there are some serious sins (crimes) that can only be expiated by the shedding of the sinner’s own blood; lethal injection will not accomplish this required blood-shedding. The Times article addressed the Mormon angle while employing a Q&A format:

“Is the use of firing squads tied to Utah’s founding by Mormons?

“There has been speculation that the practice was once tied to the Mormon principle of ‘blood atonement,’ which says certain sins are so serious that people must spill their blood to make amends. Today, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints renounces any connection between firing squads and blood atonement.

“‘Mormons disown that idea now,’ [Richard] Dieter said. ‘They say, “We do not require bloodletting.”'”

Though the Church does not require bloodletting, some Mormons believe that under certain circumstances it is the right thing to do. Famous Mormon forger Mark Hofmann was charged in 1986 with committing two murders (and other crimes). His father, Bill Hoffman, said that if Mark was guilty, he needed to die by firing squad. As told by author Robert Lindsay,

“’If Satan got hold of you, son, and you’ve committed these acts, you should confess and ask for the firing squad so you can be with us in the next life.’

“If Mark was guilty, his father said, he must admit his guilt and be executed so that the family could be reunited in the next world. In Utah, condemned criminals were given a choice of death by lethal injection or a firing squad. To atone, Mark would have to die before a firing squad.” (A Gathering of Saints, 217)

Where did Mormons get such an idea? It appears to have started with the religion’s founder, Joseph Smith:

“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 ever have the privilege of making a law on that subject, I will have it so.” (Joseph Smith, History of the Church 5:296)

This teaching was carried on by subsequent Mormon Authorities throughout much of the history of the Church.

“There are sins that men commit for which they cannot receive forgiveness in this world, or 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 as an offering for their sins; and the smoking incense would atone for their sins, whereas, if such is not the case, they will stick to them and remain upon them in the spirit world. I know, when you hear my brethren telling about cutting people off from the earth, that you consider it is strong doctrine; but it is to save them, not to destroy them.” (Brigham Young, September 21, 1856, Journal of Discourses 4:53)

“Brethren and sisters, we want you to repent and forsake your sins. And you who have committed sins that cannot be forgiven through baptism, let your blood be shed, and let the smoke ascend, that the incense thereof may come up before God as an atonement for your sins, and that the sinners in Zion may be afraid.” (Jedediah M. Grant, September 21, 1856, Journal of Discourses 4:51)

“Joseph Smith taught that there were certain sins so grievous that man may commit, that they will place the transgressors beyond the power of the atonement of Christ. If these offenses are committed, then the blood of Christ will not cleanse them from their sins even though they repent. Therefore their only hope is to have their own blood shed to atone, as far as possible, in their behalf.” (Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation [copyright 1954] 1:135)

“But if, as seems to be the case, from the foregoing considerations, there are certain limitations to vicarious atonement, even to the vi- carious atonement of the Christ, then these ancient laws proclaiming that the life of the flesh is in the blood, and that ‘the blood maketh an atonement for the soul,’ make plain what is needful for the salvation of the soul where one’s sins place him beyond the reach of vicarious means of salvation—then it is the shedding of the sinners own blood that must here be referred to.” (B.H. Roberts, A Comprehensive History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints [copyright 1957] 4:128-129)

“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.” (Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine [copyright 1958], 314. Italics in original)

The blood atonement doctrine believed by so many Mormons may not be “official” Church doctrine, yet the idea stubbornly persists, perhaps due to the equivocal nature of statements that have come from Church leadership. A University of Utah professor noted,

“Accordingly, the doctrine asserts that those who commit certain grievous sins such as murder and covenant-breaking place themselves beyond the atoning blood of Christ, and their only hope for salvation is to have their own blood shed as an atoning sacrifice. In his writings, Joseph Smith only hinted at the doctrine, Brigham Young successively denied and asserted it, Joseph F. Smith ardently defended it, and in more recent years, Hugh B. Brown repudiated it and Joseph Fielding Smith and Bruce R. McConkie both have vigorously defended it in principle while staunchly denying that the Church has ever put it into actual practice, whereas most other General Authorities have prudently preferred to remain silent on the subject. It should be noted that the whole notion of blood atonement is so obviously linked to the Mormon literal mind-set that it does not seem to admit of a mitigated, symbolic interpretation and is either accepted or rejected outright, depending on one’s level of literalistic belief.” (“Quintessential Mormonism: Literal-Mindedness As a Way of Life,” Richard J. Cummings, Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, Vol. 15, No. 4 [Winter 1982], 93)

It is a sad truth that Mormons have not been clearly taught about the sufficiency of the atonement of Christ. According to the Bible, Jesus “is the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 2:2). And “If we confess our sins He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). Jesus’ sacrifice is enough — enough for us all.

About Sharon Lindbloom

Sharon surrendered her life to the Lord Jesus Christ in 1979. Deeply passionate about Truth, Sharon loves serving as a full-time volunteer research associate with Mormonism Research Ministry. Sharon and her husband live in Minnesota.
This entry was posted in LDS Church, Mormon Culture, Mormon History and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

20 Responses to Mormon Church does not require “bloodletting”

  1. falcon says:

    I must admit that I don’t support the death penalty. That’s pretty unusual since most conservative Attila the Hun types like myself generally do. I live in Wisconsin (oops self-disclosure) and we don’t have the death penalty and we do fine without it.
    But any way, I digress from the topic at hand.
    This blood atonement belief which is wrapped-up in Mormonism, is just one more example of what happens when people follow false prophets. When the early history of Mormonism is examined, it’s evident that these guys, were in full-on creative free-fall mode. They got impressed with the idea that they could receive direct revelation from God so any thought that passed through their mind, became a revelation. That’s my impression any way.
    Couple that with their practice of second sight vision and other occult practices and you have a real formula for disaster.
    Think of the larger implications with their mental meanderings, in this case. They basically deny Christ’s sacrifice on the cross for all sin. But then what would we expect from a bunch of religious entrepreneurs who denied the atonement took place on the cross.

  2. Mike R says:

    I have no problem with capital punishment for first degree murder convictions . But to stick with the topic at hand which is what Brigham Young and others taught about ” blood atonement” , I find it interesting why this doctrine still persists in the minds of many Mormons today , Sharon mentioned Mark Hoffman’s father , and there is Garry Gilmore , those are just the high profile examples . No doubt the reason why Mormons take Brigham’s teaching serious even today is the fact that they knew he was listening to God in what he counseled LDS , otherwise they might as well join another church etc . There was a good reason why Jesus warned about prophets arising in the latter days claiming to be appointed by Him , but these individuals are not sent by Him . Despite claims to have restored the very same church established by Him through His apostles with the very same gospel of salvation those apostles preached , Mormon leaders like B.Y. were not supervised by Jesus in their ” gospel preaching ” , and what he taught about blood atonement is another good reason which identifies him as one of those false prophets who would come in the latter days — Matt 24:11 .

    falcon ,
    ” Atilla the Hun ” types ? How about Lucas McCain instead ?

  3. historybuff says:

    Let’s not forget that the doctrine of “blood atonement” as preached by Brigham Young was intended as absolute scripture:

    “I say now, when they [my discourses] are copied and approved by me they are as good Scripture as is couched in this Bible . . . ” (Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses, vol. 13, p. 264)
    “I have never yet preached a sermon and sent it out to the children of men, that they may not call Scripture.” (Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses, vol. 13, p. 95)

    Mormons, therefore, have a terrible problem when they consider blood atonement: Was Brigham Young a false prophet when he made these statements, or is the doctrine of blood atonement a directive from God? And remember some of the corollaries of blood atonement. From Brigham’s own mouth:

    “Shall I tell you of the law of God in regards 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.” (Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses 10:110)

    Revealed truth or false prophecy?

  4. Mike R says:


    Thanks for mentioning that teaching about Mormon men forbidden to marry black women .
    There’s also the teaching of violating temple endowment covenants . The penalty for that sin was to have persons going through the endowment ritual to mimic having their throats cut for divulging their secret name , tokens , and such to outsiders . To much public exposure of the endowment by ex Mormons resulted in these oaths and penalties finally being dropped from the endowment ceremony in 1990 .

    This is a good example of a counterfeit gospel by counterfeit prophets — Gal 1:8 .

    Rank and file LDS in B.Y.’s day ( and today ) deserved better .

  5. falcon says:

    I think we’re in the Mormon Fun House of “counts, doesn’t count” when it comes to BY and blood atonement. It’s only for those Mormons who get serious about studying the history of Mormonism and delving into their prophets’ utterances that they start to get those “ah-ha” moments. But they have to get to the point where they can challenge their own thinking that the LDS church is the “one true church” and that the prophets are hearing from the Mormon god.
    For those Mormons who are truly into the program, issues like blood atonement are a distraction. It’s only those who can get past their fear that this type of doctrine will start to erode their confidence. Then, of course, they have to also get past the idea that Satan is leading them astray. Their are different types of Mormons and for the hard core “chapel Mormons” this sort of thing may nudge them over a little.

    Lucas McCain? Wasn’t he “The Rifleman” as portrayed by Chuck Connors?

  6. Mike R says:

    falcon, yep , that’s the Lucas McCain I mentioned .

    Mormons have to admit that B.Y. taught this egregious doctrine , the evidence is there . But since there is little examples about this doctrine being practiced , that gives them a way to deny it altogether and spin Brigham’s teachings etc .
    I’m thinking that for men to keep a ” sacred” part of their religion from observed by non Mormon (” gentiles ” ) then Mormon leaders could certainly keep the practice of this doctrine secret also . While it was not a common practice , I’m sure it was carried out at times secretly by a select group of “priesthood ” leaders .
    The Danites?

  7. Jim Stiles says:

    I am happy with whatever the people’s representatives decide concerning capital punishment in Utah. While the Bible does give the state the right to enforce its laws with the death penalty, I can see no instance, outside of the Ancient Israel’s civil code (no longer in effect), where one is required. The Ancient Israelites were not allowed to have a Weregeld system, monetary payment in lieu of formal capital punishment or non-judicial killing (Numbers 35:31-32), but there is no reason why a modern state could not institute such a system. I do not think the Constitution of the United States would allow a state to have a Weregeld system.

    As good as the blog post was, I would like to add another word to the discussion: satisfaction. Jesus on the cross was the satisfactory propitiation of the wrath of the Father for the sins of the entire elect (John 19:30). τετελεσται means it is finished or paid in full and would be tattooed on prisoners at the end of their prison sentence.

    Particular atonement is another discussion for another day.

  8. historybuff says:

    To the best of my knowledge the Danites were a secret vigilante group under the leadership of Joseph Smith for several years. If blood atonement was deemed necessary during Joseph Smith’s lifetime, they might have been called to “officiate.” Of the Danites, Joseph Smith stated in his journal:

    “We have a company of Danites in these times, to put to right physically that which is not right, and to cleanse the Church of every great evil which has hitherto existed among us inasmuch as they cannot be put to right by teachings and persuasyons [sic]. This company or a part of them exhibited on the fourth day of July — They come up to consecrate, by companies of tens, commanded by their captains over ten.”
    Scott Faulring, An American Prophet’s Record: The Diaries and Journals of Joseph Smith (2 ed.), p. 198, Salt Lake City, Utah (1989).

    Smith eventually denounced the Danites, purportedly for excessive violence. In their heyday, the Danites served as an informal militia to protect the Mormons from mobs and to drive out Church dissenters, often violently. After Joseph Smith’s death, the Mormons fled to Utah under Brigham Young and many of the Danites went with him.

    Although Young continued the use of militias, historians cannot say with any certitude that the Danites continued to serve the Church. Legends and folklore refer to Danite attacks, but much of this can be attributed to the fact that in Utah former Danites became leaders of territorial and local militias, and leaders in the Church. They often served as law enforcement officials and military commanders preparing for an attack by the U.S. Government. (The U.S. Government generally frowned on polygamy and Young’s Great Basin “Kingdom” in Utah. )

    As an example of Danite folklore, and of no particular relevance but really, really intriguing, is former Danite and famous Mormon gunslinger Orrin Porter Rockwell, who served as Salt Lake City Sheriff and Utah militia scout. He’s famous among Western historians and gunwriters for carrying two .44 caliber Colt 1860 Army revolvers with sawed-off barrels, and for absorbing more outlaw bullets than any man should be expected to tolerate. He has been portrayed in film by John Carradine and James Coburn.

    Also of no particular relevance but also an intriguing part of the American West, is the folklore associated with the hulking figure and the Danites, in the form of a ballad:

    “Have you heard of Porter Rockwell?
    He’s the Mormon triggerite.
    They say he hunts for horse thieves
    When the moon is shining bright.
    So if you rustle cattle boys,
    I’ll tell you what to do,
    Get the drop on Porter Rockwell
    Or he’ll get the drop on you.
    They say that Porter Rockwell
    Is the fist of the Danites.
    They ride across the countryside
    And take their foes by night.
    So if you’ve crossed the Mormons, boys,
    I’ll tell you what to do:
    Get the drop on Porter Rockwell
    Or he’ll get the drop on you.”

    Feel free to sing this to the tune of your choice as you ponder the subject of blood atonement, Danites, and vengeful Mormon gunfighters….

  9. falcon says:

    This sort of odd doctrine is part-and-parcel of cults. Sorry again sensitive Mormon readers, but this is a feature of what makes a cult. It’s these odd, aberrant teachings that are highlights of fringe groups. I won’t even call it heresy because in order to be heretical, a group would actually have to be Christian in orthodoxy.
    How prevalent is this type of thinking with modern day Mormons? I don’t know I guess it would depend on the generation of the believer.

  10. historybuff says:

    Most Mormons will say it’s all lies and refuse to discuss it. Then they’ll tell their bishop that “Sister Jones is spreading faith-destroying rumors.” Then the bishop calls Sister Jones into his office, gently chastises her, and warns her to stay off the Internet and to only discuss faith-promoting gospel topics. Sister Jones almost always gets the message.

  11. falcon says:

    That’s the sort of thing that takes place in cults or cult-like organizations. It’s the out sourcing of a person’s thinking and judgement to leaders they suppose have some form of authority. All these false prophets and leaders have are a bunch of people who hand power (over themselves) to these leaders in huge buckets full.
    I suppose I’m thinking about this since I’m watching “Codes and Conspiracies” on the American Heros Channel. I’m half way through the episode dealing with religious cults. They’ve dealt with Jim Jones and the People’s Temple cult and David Koresh and his Branch Davidians. Over 900 people died when forced to drink poison for Jones and 50 some people when Koresh set fire to his compound.

  12. cattyjane says:

    The whole bloodletting ritual is kinda ridiculous anyway. If Moses couldn’t die for the sins of Israel would could any man die for the sins of themselves or someone else? The video was a nice touch by the way.

  13. Mike R says:

    When one reads the sermons of Brigham Young and those other officers he sent out to preach , it becomes evident that these men were truly the kind of prophets that Jesus warned would come in the latter days — Mark 13:22-23 . Look what Young and Jedediah Grant stated in the quotes that Sharon posted above , this was one example of the kind of teaching that Mormon leaders introduced to their flock . Another one was that of polygamy . Brigham called it ” one of the best doctrines ever proclaimed to any people ” [ Deseret News Extra , Sept. 18, 1852, p.25 ] , and one Brigham’s wives publically testified that polygamy was ” It is a principle of the gods , it is heaven born . God revealed it to us as a saving principle , we have accepted it as such ….” [ p. 101 “Mormon polygamy” , by Richard S. Van Wagoner ] .

    These are examples of what Mormon leaders preached to the flock while they claimed that their
    gospel was the very same one that Paul preached , and that their church was the very same one that Jesus had established 1800 years earlier through His apostles , now restored :

    ” The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints , set up by the power of God , by the authority of the most High , is EXACTLY the same church that Jesus built up — that is , the same in all it’s essential principles , the same organization , the same kind of offices, the same doctrines , the same in it’s spirit, the same in it’s ordinances , the same in the power that attends those ordinances, doctrines , principles , commandments as were revealed to the ancient church .”
    [ Charles Penrose , see J.of D. v 25, p. 223 ] .

    Mormonism is not what it has claimed to be . While it’s leaders have made exclusive claims of
    authority , their claims ring hollow once their teachings have been compared ( tested — 1Jn 4:1 ) to what Jesus’ true apostles taught in their travels — Rom 1:16 . Whether it be Brigham Young’s blood atonement teaching or his polygamy teaching , both of those reveal how far he drifted from the truth
    2 Tim 4:3, 4 . He was a good example of a latter days false prophet , and thus those who followed him then and who continue to follow his successors are in danger spiritually .


    I’ve been praying for you in your New Testament study . I hope you have met Jesus there and have fallen in love with Him .

  14. falcon says:

    It’s one thing if people are informed and then choose to believe some of these odd, peculiar and strange religious doctrines. However it’s another if they get sucked in through mind control techniques and then are incrementally led into believing these things. One thing that the experts on these cults like Jim Jones’ People’s Temple, David Koresh’s Branch Davidians and Charles Manson’s “family” said, is that those who join are often of above average intelligence and come from upper middle class homes. Many had stable home lives while growing up. The other thing that happens is that often these folks are drawn in while going through some crisis in their lives. And for the leaders? It’s power, sex and money.

  15. Mike R says:

    If Mormon leaders were known as religious leaders who’ve provided a pattern of stable teachings to their followers then we should see Brigham Young’s doctrine ( see the quotes Sharon posted ) taught by current leaders in Mormon meetings . After all, it concerned the Mormon doctrine of how a person is accepted by God to gain salvation . What’s more important than that ? But as the L.A. Times article above stated : ” TODAY the church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day saints renounces any connection between firing squads and blood atonement . ” and ” Mormons disown that idea NOW . ”

    It was once a part of Mormon leaders gospel preaching , it was once owned by leaders like Brigham Young , but now, today , it is disowned by Thomas Monson , the current prophet . This is another
    example of Mormon leaders not being stable teachers of the gospel of salvation . When it comes to telling people how a person can be forgiven by God and receive eternal life from Him to live in His home above ( Jn 14:1-6 ) there should not be confusion about this from those who claim to represent Him , as authorities as preachers of the gospel of salvation . Such preachers need to be trusted to be reliable guides . Mormon leaders have left a track record which reveals they can’t be trusted as such guides .
    The Mormon people have been short changed . It’s easy to follow men who dress well , act polite , and talk about morality and thus believe they have to be true prophets . That type of reasoning is a main reason why Mormons have been detoured from the true gospel of salvation by their leaders — Mormon prophets are latter days false prophets .

  16. falcon says:

    From an article on Mormon Research Ministry:

    No doubt the LDS Church has given mixed signals regarding this teaching. In his article entitled “Quintessential Mormonism: Literal-Mindedness As a Way of Life,” University of Utah professor Richard J. Cummings noted:
    Accordingly, the doctrine asserts that those who commit certain grievous sins such as murder and covenant-breaking place themselves beyond the atoning blood of Christ, and their only hope for salvation is to have their own blood shed as an atoning sacrifice. In his writings, Joseph Smith only hinted at the doctrine, Brigham Young successively denied and asserted it, Joseph F. Smith ardently defended it, and in more recent years, Hugh B. Brown repudiated it and Joseph Fielding Smith and Bruce R. McConkie both have vigorously defended it in principle while staunchly denying that the Church has ever put it into actual practice, whereas most other General Authorities have prudently preferred to remain silent on the subject. It should be noted that the whole notion of blood atonement is so obviously linked to the Mormon literal mind-set that it does not seem to admit of a mitigated, symbolic interpretation and is either accepted or rejected outright, depending on one’s level of literalistic belief (Dialogue, Vol.15, No.4, p.93).

    I think this is where our “types of Mormons” comes into play. The “chapel Mormons” would probably be inclined to believe and accept this doctrine. The “internet Mormons” would dismiss it with a wave of the hand of just one more utterance by the crazy LDS uncles in the attic.

  17. historybuff says:

    Falcon —

    I disagree. As a former card-carrying “Chapel” and “Temple” Mormon, I would guess that your typical Chapel Mormon would first ask what the current prophet has said, then ask what his bishop says, and then accept that as the truth. He or she would also resolve never to discuss the subject because it is not faith-promoting.

    Bottom line: Joseph Smith never taught blood atonement, neither did Brigham Young, and all your quotes are either misquotes or outright lies. Unless you have documentary proof, in which case you are misinterpreting the prophets, who were speaking in figurative terms. Either way, we refuse to discuss it further because you are all apostates and this is not faith-promoting.

    So there.

  18. falcon says:

    It’s been revealed to me and made me feel good so what I think is the truth regardless of the evidence that any LDS member can produce one way or another.
    I’ll be starting my own cult soon!

  19. historybuff says:

    Will you have pancake breakfasts?
    Pancake breakfasts would be good….

  20. falcon says:

    My down fall. I think they’re about 600 calories per. Had one today. My wife and I go out for breakfast every Wednesday morning at the local cafe.
    We NEVER talk about Mormonism! In fact we rarely talk about it ever. What we talk about is why, at our age, we sound like seals when we get out of bed in the morning! You’d have to be our age to get that reference.

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