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The issue of "Blood Atonement" is a classic in the charges used against the LDS Church by anti-Mormons.  It originated with the so-called Danite band formed in Far West, MO by Sampson Avard (a group condemned by the LDS Church from the beginning).  Blood Atonement continues to rear its ugly head because critics would rather find something sinister to lodge against the LDS Church, than to accept the facts.

The following is a copy of a letter from Elder Bruce R. McConkie, acting under the direction of the President Kimball and the First Presidency, responding to this issue.

Letter to Thomas B. McAfee


The Council of the Twelve
47 East South Temple Street, Salt Lake City, Utah 84150

October 18, 1978

Mr. Thomas B. McAffee
Utah Law Review, College of Law
The University of Utah
Salt Lake City, Utah 84112

Dear Mr. McAffee:

          This is in reply to your letter of September 20, 1978, to President Spencer W. Kimball of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in which you asked some questions about the so-called doctrine of blood atonement.  I have been asked, by President Kimball and by the First Presidency to respond to your inquiries

          You note that I and President Joseph Fielding Smith and some of our early church leaders have said and written about this doctrine and you asked if the doctrine of blood atonement is an official doctrine of the Church today.

          If by blood atonement is meant the atoning sacrifice of Christ, the answer is Yes.  If by blood atonement is meant the shedding of the blood of men to atone in some way for their own sins, the answer is No.

          We believe that the blood of Christ, shed in the Garden of Gethsemane and on the cross of Calvary, cleanses all men from sin on condition of repentance.  As expressed by a Book of Mormon scripture: "Salvation was, and is, and is to come, in and through the atoning blood of Christ, the Lord Omnipotent. (Mosiah 3:18.)

          We do not believe that it is necessary for men in this day to shed their own blood to receive a remission of sins.  This is said with a full awareness of what I and others have written and said on this subject in times past

          In order to understand what Brigham Young, Heber C. Kimball, Charles W. Penrose and others have said, we must mention that there are some sins for which the blood of Christ alone does not cleanse a person.  These include blasphemy against the Holy Ghost (as defined by the Church) and that murder which is the unlawful killing of a human being with malice.  However, and this cannot be stressed too strongly, this law has not been given to the Church at any time in this dispensation.  It has no application whatever to anyone now living whether he is a member or a non-member of the Church.

Mr. Thomas B. McAffee
October 18, 1978
Page 2

          There simply is no such thing among us as a doctrine of blood atonement that grants a remission of sins or confers any other benefit upon a person because his own blood is shed for sins.  Let me say categorically and unequivocally that this doctrine can only operate in a day when there is no separation of Church and State and when the power to take life is vested in the ruling theocracy as was the case in the day of Moses.  From the day of Joseph Smith to the present there has been no single instance of so-called blood atonement under any pretext.

          Anything I have written or anything said by anyone else must be understood in the light of the foregoing limitation.  Brigham Young and the others were speaking of a theoretical principle that operated in ages past and not in either their or our day.  As I recall, Brigham Young's illustrations were taken from the day of Moses and the history of ancient Israel and could not be applied today.

          There is no such a doctrine as blood atonement in the Church today nor has there been at any time.  Any statements to the contrary are either idle speculation or pure fantasy.  It is certainly not the current teaching of the Church and I have never in over 60 years of regular church attendance heard a single sermon on the subject or even a discussion in any church class.

          You asked if the statements of our leaders of the past, including those found in the Journal of Discourses, represent the official stand of the Church.  The answer, as indicated in the comments above set forth, is that they do not.  The statements pertain to a theoretical principle that has been neither revealed to nor practiced by us.

          If by blood atonement is meant capital punishment, then any proper analysis of the subject would call the matter by the name capital punishment and not by the name blood atonement.  To use this latter term is wholly misleading and stirs up the idea that we believe in that which we most emphatically do not believe.

          We believe in capital punishment. In a revelation to Joseph Smith, on February 9, 1831, the Lord said:  "And now, behold, I speak unto the church.  Thou shalt not kill; and he that kills shall not have forgiveness in this world, nor in the world to come.  And again, I say, thou shalt not kill; but he that killeth shall die." (D. & C. 42:18-19.)

          In answering some false and scurrilous charges published against the Latter-day Saints, the President of the Church, who then was Wilford Woodruff, on January 9, 1891, wrote to the

Mr. Thomas B. McAffee
October 18, 1978
Page 3

editor of the Illustrated American.  President Woodruff referred to the doctrine herein being considered as "the blood atonement fiction," and as "the false theory of blood atonement copied by the writer in the American from old newspaper fiction."

          Then he recites what the doctrine of the Church is when the term blood atonement is used simply as a synonym for capital punishment.

          "It is a fundamental doctrine of our creed that a murderer cannot be forgiven; that he 'hath not eternal life abiding in him'; that if a member of our Church, having received the light of the Holy Spirit, commits this capital crime, he will not receive forgiveness in this world nor in the world to come.  The revelations of God to the Church abound in commandments forbidding us to shed blood."

          With specific reference to capital punishment as practiced by the State and not the Church he said:  "It is part of our faith that the only atonement a murdere[r] can make for his 'sin unto death' is the sheddinq of his own blood, according to the fiat of the Almighty after the flood:  'Whoso sheddeth man's blood by man shall his blood be shed.'  But the law must be executed by the lawfully appointed officer.  This is 'blood atonement,' so much perverted by maligners of our faith.  We believe also in the atonement wrought by the shedding of Christ's blood on Calvary; that it is efficacious for all the race of Adam for the sin committed by Adam, and for the individual sins of all who believe, repent, are baptized by one having authority, and who receive the Holy Ghost by the laying on of authorized hands.  Capital crime committed by such an enlightened person cannot be condoned by the Redeemer's blood.  For him there is 'no more sacrifice for sin'; his life is forfeit, and he only can pay the penalty.  There is no other blood atonement taught, practiced or made part of the creed of the Latter-day Saints."

          I repeat:  Except for the atonement of Christ, which is or should be a part of the creeds of all Christian churches; and except for the use of the term "blood atonement" as a synonym--nothing more--of "capital punishment" where "enlightened" members of the Church are concerned, there is no such a doctrine in this dispensation as blood atonement.

          I have in my file a letter dated February 12, 1971, signed by Presidents Joseph Fielding Smith and Harold B. Lee as and for the First Presidency which shows that the theoretical principle of blood atonement has no application in any dispensation when there is a separation of Church and State.  They refer to the death of Christ by Jewish hands as a "capital crime," and then quote the following from the third chapter of Acts:

Mr. Thomas B. McAffee
October 18, 1978
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          "And now, brethren, I wot that through ignorance ye did it, as did also your rulers . . .

          "Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord;

          "And he shall send Jesus Christ, which before was preached unto you.":

          Then they say:  "From the above it is understood that this is a matter which must be left in the hands of the Lord, not for man to determine."

          Now, as to your final question--whether blood atonement, "if" it is "a valid doctrine," would hale any affect on the mode of imposing the death penalty, I need only say:

1. Since there is no such thing as blood atonement, except as indicated above, the mode of execution could have no bearing on the matter of atoning for one's sins; and
2. If we are speaking simply of capital punishment (and falsely calling it blood atonement), still I can see no reason for supposing that it makes the slightest difference how an execution is accomplished.

          As far as I can see there is no difference between a firing squad, an electric chair, a gas chamber, or hanging.  Death is death and I would interpret the shedding of man's blood in legal executions as a figurative expression which means the taking of life.  There seems to me to be no present significance as to whether an execution is by a firing squad or in some other way.  I, of course, deleted my article on "hanging" from the Second Edition of Mormon Doctrine because of the reasoning here mentioned.

          As far as I am concerned you are at liberty to quote from or use this letter in any way you deem proper.

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Bruce R. McConkie