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Blood Atonement

Just as with the Adam-God doctrine espoused by President Brigham Young, Blood Atonement is a doctrine taught in the church by church leaders at the time that is now no longer accepted as doctrine. Again, there is plenty of evidence that it was taught by Brigham Young while holding the mantle of prophet as well as other leaders of the church until it was officially renounced in 1978.

So what is the doctrine?

As I talked about here, the scriptures and teachings of the church are not clear on whether or not murder is a forgivable sin. The concept of Blood Atonement was that murderers could only obtain forgiveness through shedding their own blood until death, ideally as a voluntary choice by the sinner.

Brigham Young taught that it was charitable and that their mortal life might be ended but they would have a chance at exaltation they would not otherwise have been able to obtain. He also apparently expanded the doctrine to include sins like adultery, apostasy, and miscegenation.

President Wilford Woodruff wrote in his journal, Wilford Woodruff Journal:

“And if any man mingle his seed with the seed of Cain the only way he could get rid of it or have Salvation would be to come forward and have his head cut off and spill his blood upon the ground- it would also take the life of his children.”

Wikipedia does a fine job elaborating on how this doctrine evolved and what effect it had on Utah and the church for over a hundred years.

What does the church teach now?

The church’s official position can be found here:

“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.”

Interestingly, Apostle Bruce R. McConkie, the man responsible for the 1978 renunciation of the doctrine wrote in early editions of Mormon Doctrine that execution by firing squad was preferable to execution by hanging, because without the actual blood being spilled there would be no redemption.

Next Step: The Word of Wisdom

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