Capital Punishment and LDS Doctrinal Development

This morning my facebook and twitter feeds were inundated with declarations by my Latter-day Saint friends decrying capital punishment and the execution of Troy Davis last night. “I want to take this opportunity to voice my outright and unequivocal opposition to the death penalty,” said one. “A sad day to be a Georgian,” lamented another. I wasn’t really surprised, but I am fascinated by how the tide of public support of capital punishment has ebbed among Mormons in my own lifetime.

In the 1970′s with the reinstatement of the death penalty in Utah (1973) and the execution of Gary Gilmore (1977), Mormons in general seemed to support secular capital punishment law. Though it was seldom overtly stated, justification of this method of punishment was related to the doctrine of blood atonement. Thus Utah’s preferred method of execution was by firing squad, rather than hanging or lethal injection. Joseph Smith himself had expressed an opposition to hanging, and stated that if he was going to make a law on judicial execution, he would support shooting, or cutting off the head; thus “spill[ing] his blood upon the ground and let[ting] the smoke thereof ascend up to God.” [1]  Brigham Young developed these thoughts further, saying that it was possible for men to commit sins for which the blood of Christ could not atone. “And if they had their eyes open to see their true condition,” he said, “they would be perfectly willing to have their blood spilled upon the ground…” [2]

Much of the information we have on the idea of blood atonement among Mormons comes through the discussion of capital punishment and how it should be administered. For example, Jedediah M. Grant, counselor in the First Presidency of the Church, preached blood atonement in connection with his role in implementing capital punishment law in Utah:

“But if the Government of God on earth, and Eternal Priesthood, with the sanction of High Heaven, in the midst of all his people, has passed sentence on certain sins when they appear in a person, has not the people of God a right to carry out that part of his law as well as any other portion of it? It is their right to baptize a sinner to save him, and it is also their right to kill a sinner to save him, when he commits those crimes that can only be atoned for by shedding his blood. If the Lord God forgives sins by baptism, and . . . certain sins cannot be atoned for . . . but by the shedding of the blood of the sinner, query, whether the people of God be overreaching the mark, if they should execute the law . . . We would not kill a man, of course, unless we killed him to save him.” [3]

In 1891, President Wilford Woodruff explained that it was a fundamental doctrine of Mormonism that capital crime committed by an “enlightened” member of the Church could only be atoned for by the shedding of his own blood. He hastened to add that this be done “through capital punishment as practiced by the State and not the Church,” and that “the law must be executed by the lawfully appointed officer.” [4]

General Authority, historian and politician B.H. Roberts taught:

“But if, as seems to be the case . . . there are certain limitations to vicarious atonement, even to the vicarious 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 be referred to.” [5]

In the 1960s capital punishment began to fall out of favor in the United States. There were no executions performed from 1967 to 1977. However, Utah opinions on the issue continued to be guided by positions of Church leaders on blood atonement. Tenth prophet and president Joseph Fielding Smith wrote,

“Man may commit certain grievous sins – according to his light and knowledge – that will place him beyond the reach of the atoning blood of Christ. If then he would be saved, he must make sacrifice of his own life to atone – so far as the power lies – for that sin, for the blood of Christ alone under certain circumstances will not avail. 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.” [6]

In his early ministry, Bruce R. McConkie (son-in-law of Joseph Fielding Smith) seemed to concur. One may find quotations by this Apostle which teach Blood Atonement and support capital punishment. [7] But by this time, Hugh B. Brown and other Mormon leaders and thinkers were repudiating it. In his later writings, Elder McConkie made a drastic change. He conceded, “We do nor 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.” He went on to say,

“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.” [8]

Following Bruce R. McConkie’s reconsideration, the doctrine of Blood Atonement has not been publicly taught. Neither do Church leaders emphasize the few scriptures which pertain. Since this doctrine does not now influence the opinions of the Latter-day Saints regarding capital punishment, they have been left to form their own conclusions on the subject. From what I see, despite our foundational history, Mormon sentiment now comes down overwhelmingly in opposition to judicial execution. I’m not sure that my view is an accurate representation, and would welcome further discussion along the following lines:

First, do you agree with me that a majority of Latter-day Saints, both liberal and conservative, currently oppose the death penalty?

Second, do you agree that there has been a change since the 1970s?

Third, what factors do you think have led to this change?

_________________________________________________________________
[1] Joseph Smith, Jr., History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 5:296 (1949)
[2] Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses, 4:51-54.
[3] Jedediah M. Grant, Deseret News, July 27, 1854, p. 2, col. 1.
[4] Wilford Woodruff, in a letter to the editor of Illustrated American (January 9, 1891)
[5]  BH Roberts, Comprehensive History of the Church, 4:128,129.
[6] Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation, 1:135,138.
[7] “But under certain circumstances there are some serious sins for which the cleansing of Christ does not operate, and the law of God is that men must then have their blood shed to atone for their sins. Murder, for instance, is one of these sins; hence we find the Lord commanding capital punishment.” (Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, p. 92)
[8] Bruce R. McConkie, Letter to Thomas B. McAffee (October 18, 1978) on file at the University of Nebraska College of Law.

 

  • http://www.approachingjustice.wordpress.com Chris H.

    “First, do you agree with me that a majority of Latter-day Saints, both liberal and conservative, currently oppose the death penalty?”

    I highly doubt this is the case. My assumption is that a vast majority of Mormons support the death penalty.

    BTW, some kick butt posts! FPR was smart to bring you on. :)

  • Clark

    I’d never seen that BRM quote before. Very interesting. It often seems to me that BRM is the best argument against de fact infallibility. He’s dogmatic and opinionated on many subjects but significantly changed his views many times.

  • Clark

    BTW – to your main point. No, I think most Mormons especially in the western corridor, still support the death penalty. I don’t not out of any sense of ethics (I think it far worse to lock someone up for the rest of their life in prison than to kill them) but simply out of practical reasons. I think it’s just too expensive.

  • Randy B.

    A Deseret News/KSL poll from last year confirmed that the vast majority of Utahns — 79% — still favor the death penalty. That figure remained largely unchanged from a 2003 poll (which found that 78% of Utahns support the death penalty). http://www.deseretnews.com/article/700039365/79-percent-of-Utahns-support-death-penalty-poll-finds.html

    I don’t know what the numbers were in prior decades, but there’s not much room there for the approval number to go higher. I’m not aware of any numbers specific to Mormons, but these numbers tend to match up with my anecdotal experience.

  • John Mansfield

    Your collection of quotes leave me wondering about murder as a special sin. Is murder a sin next to murder?

  • Gas

    I believe the percentage of members that oppose capital punishment to be small, less than a quarter as the Utah statistics seem to indicate. I believe that much of this is historic doctrine as you have referenced. More troubling though I believe it to be further evidence that many members derive their political viewpoints from ultraconservative viewpoints. While church doctrine supports some of this (gay marriage, abortion, et al), many members have adopted other extreme social conservitive values. I am conservative but I fear this Idiology on a large scale will bring embarrassment to the church.

  • Clark

    Gas, I don’t think support for the death penalty is an “ultraconservative” viewpoint. It’s honestly a pretty mainstream view popular even amongst Democrats. The polls for the death penalty are around 2/3rd support among Americans and has been reasonably consistent. Democrats are nearly divided on the issue.

  • http://notoriousbiggins.blogspot.com austin

    I also think a majority of Mormons support the death penalty, though I think it’s not quite as high as it has been traditionally. I conducted an informal poll of people in my student ward at BYU a few years ago while people were waiting around to be set apart for callings at the beginning of a new year (I was the executive secretary and this is what I did with my free time) and of about 30 people, I think 3 (including myself) opposed the death penalty unconditionally. There were a few more who were on the fence but thought there were at least some cases where it remained appropriate. I also had a Book of Mormon professor once claim that church doctrine required support of the death penalty.

    But overall I don’t feel like Mormons see it as “wrong” to oppose capital punishment like they would see it as “wrong” to be pro-choice. Many might disagree, but I get the feeling it’s more on conservative political grounds than on theological ones. So yes, I think there’s been a change since the 1970′s (not that I have much to base that off besides reading stuff–I wasn’t alive then).

  • http://kolobiv.blogspot.com Bored in Vernal

    Randy B, thanks for those stats! Hmm, I guess what this tells me is that I am hanging out with a different crowd than I was in the 70s?? :)

    Clark, I didn’t realize there was a great deal of support for the death penalty among Democrats as well. Of course, there are reasons one might support capital punishment besides religious ones. Many people support capital punishment because it delivers both retribution to the individual and provides a deterrent to society as a whole. Do you think that Mormons still bolster their support for capital punishment by the scriptures and early doctrines such as blood atonement, or do they hold more secular views?

  • http://kolobiv.blogspot.com Bored in Vernal

    Oh, Austin, your comment went up as I was posting, but I’m glad you are seeing something of what I am seeing among your associates. You make a good point that the change I am noticing may be less in terms of numbers and more in terms of a difference in theological basis of belief.

  • Clark

    I suspect that even within Utah there are few who tie the death penalty with blood atonement. If only because even the highly degenerate folk view of blood atonement common when I was a kid just isn’t heard much anymore. Add in some of the very public repudiations of the view by the brethren (especially around the time of executions in Utah) and I think it’s largely a dead issue.

    I think the driver for western Mormons is their Republicanism rather than their Mormonism.

  • http://Wesak.blogspot.com EBrown

    There are no credible studies that show that capital punishment serves as a deterrent. If it were TX, the buckle of the death belt would have fewer murders per capita than states without it, which it doesn’t. Opposition seems to track education a nd other socio-economic factors.

  • http://www.minnecentric.com Ren

    McConkie reconsidered his earlier stances on issues multiple times. That’s understandable; we all do. However, it would have been nice had he not been so arrogantly certain he was right to begin with.

    While the Troy Davis story became well known, a lesser publicized story caught my eye. James Craig Anderson, a black man in Mississippi, was killed because of his race. His family has asked the prosecutor not to seek the death penalty.

  • http://thegooddemocrat.wordpress.com Dan

    Capital punishment does not serve as a deterrent. Moreover, capital punishment is disproportionately used on blacks.

  • Clark

    I think most people supporting capital punishment don’t justify it in terms of it’s deterrence. My impression is the focus is primarily on justice. It’d be interesting to tease out issues though – perhaps using the gss data.

  • http://thegooddemocrat.wordpress.com Dan

    Clark,

    Yes, actually they do use deterrence as one of the excuses to kill prisoners. Rudy Giuliani, for instance said the death penalty is “justified and [an] effective deterrent for other people doing the same thing.”

    http://pewforum.org/religion08/candidates/rudolph-giuliani/

    And just today on facebook one other guy brought up deterrence as the argument for the death penalty when discussing the man murdered by the state of Georgia just this week.

    As for justice, I tend to agree with Albert Camus, even though I hated The Stranger back in high school…i think i might have to reread that book

    “Capital punishment is the most premeditated of murders, to which no criminal’s deed, however calculated, can be compared. For there to be an equivalency, the death penalty would have to punish a criminal who had warned his victim of the date on which he would inflict a horrible death on him and who, from that moment onward, had confined him at his mercy for months. Such a monster is not to be encountered in private life.”

    That’s not justice. That’s vengeance. Particularly when America’s version of capital punishment overwhelmingly targets poor African Americans. That’s not justice.

  • Clark

    I know some do, I said “most.”

    If I have time I’ll hit the data and see if anyone has teased out the relationship.

  • http://infiniteenigma.wordpress.com/ Nate

    Thanks for that insightful history. I’m liberal, but pro-death penalty, (in theory).

    But what I hate about capital punishment in America, is that it costs an unbelievable amount of money. Such a waste on years and years of appeals, mounting into the millions of dollars.

    Is a man’s death worth millions of taxpayer dollars? In my opinion, no. It’s cheaper to just let him/her rot in a cell.

    But I sympathize with the doctrine of blood atonement, symbolically at least. In a way, the victim of capital punishment is like a sacrifice, which society sets on the alter, as a demonstration of it’s commitment to the laws of God and the sanctity of human life.

    It’s also symbolic of Christ’s atonement, which pays for our sins. So also, the blood of the executed helps pay that price for his own sins, and the sins of those who wronged him and led to his grossly sinful state. Those who raised him up into the culture of violence and immorality also share blame for his violence, and his blood also is a kind of atonement for their sins as well. The executed is both a criminal, and a savior for his own ancestors and culture, who helped make him who he is. (Speaking in symbolic, not literal terms.)

  • http://infiniteenigma.wordpress.com/ Nate

    Another point to add to the above thought I had on blood atonement, the victim of the murderer is also part of the blood atonement cycle, and plays the roll of “savior” by acting as a sacrificial lamb for sins of the murder. It’s not just the act murder itself that is the sin, it’s the heart of the murderer before the act that is full of sin. The murder is the fulfillment and fruition of that sin.

    When the sin bears fruit in murder, it allows the murderer to move on and heal the sin, by shedding his blood reciprocally.

    Sorry, maybe just crazy thoughts. But something about blood atonement rings true to me.

  • http://thegooddemocrat.wordpress.com Dan

    Nate,

    It’s also symbolic of Christ’s atonement, which pays for our sins. So also, the blood of the executed helps pay that price for his own sins, and the sins of those who wronged him and led to his grossly sinful state. Those who raised him up into the culture of violence and immorality also share blame for his violence, and his blood also is a kind of atonement for their sins as well. The executed is both a criminal, and a savior for his own ancestors and culture, who helped make him who he is. (Speaking in symbolic, not literal terms.)

    of course, you’ve gotta make sure you have the right guy…Cameron Todd Willingham, for instance, was NOT the right guy

  • http://kolobiv.blogspot.com Bored in Vernal

    Nate, thanks for sharing your thoughts. I sort of figured there were people around for whom the blood atonement doctrine still held some appeal. But you are the first one I’ve really heard expound on it.

  • Glenn Smith

    I declare my support of capital punishment. I agree with Dan that the right person must be the one executed. I don’t know enough about the Georgia case to comment on that execution.
    In lds.org: Capital Punishment
    murderer who deliberately kills shall die, 2 Ne. 9:35
    Nehor condemned to die because he shed blood of righteous man, Alma 1:13–14
    he who murders is punished unto death, Alma 1:18 (Alma 30:10).
    law requires the life of him who has murdered, Alma 34:12
    he who kills shall die, D&C 42:19
    those who kill will be delivered to law of land, D&C 42:79

  • Clark

    Found this site which summarizes a lot of poll data. According to a Rasmussen telephone poll from last June apparently 45% say it can deter crime while 43% disagree. Of course that’s not the same as saying they favor the death penalty in order to deter crime which is what I was asking about. A poll from 2008 found 52% didn’t think it deterred crime. There were a few other earlier ones around the same rate. So the country seems close to evenly divided on the deterrent issue except that a 2006 Gallup poll found a really high number disagreeing with deterrence: 64 to 34. A 2004 Gallup poll found similar results.

    For the record I don’t think the death penalty can remotely be justified by deterrence arguments. However neither do I agree with Chris that it’s really just about vengeance. Questions of justice seem hard to establish. After all it’s not at all clear to me why death would be about vengeance but life in prison would be about justice.

  • http://kolobiv.blogspot.com Bored in Vernal

    Questions of justice seem hard to establish. After all it’s not at all clear to me why death would be about vengeance but life in prison would be about justice.

    Good point, Clark, that is hard to articulate. I wish Loydo would come on here and answer it for us..

    Glenn Smith: so are you justifying your support for the death penalty from latter-day scripture? Do you feel that is the Church’s position, since you cite lds.org?

  • Glenn Smith

    Using scripture for justification: No, I feel capital punishment is appropriate anyways. However, scriptures equal doctrine.
    Quoting lds.org as church position: Yes, of course. But here is apartial quote from an official statement:

    OFFICIAL DECLARATION. Salt Lake City, December 12th, 1889. “”””We solemnly make the following declarations, viz:

    That this Church views the shedding of human blood with the utmost abhorrence. That we regard the killing of a human being, except in conformity with the civil law, as a capital crime which should be punished by shedding the blood of the criminal, after a public trial before a legally constituted court of the land.

    The revelations of God to this Church make death the penalty for capital crime, and require that offenders against life and property shall be delivered up to and tried by the laws of the land.””””
    -found at http://www.gospelink.com

  • http://ironrod.wordpress.com John W. Redelfs

    I do not agree that a majority of members have repudiated capital punishment. I do not believe there has been a change in the truth concerning capital punishment, but I believe there has been a change in our understanding of the truth in this matter, a change in emphasis in our teaching of this understanding, and a false perception that there has been a change in our doctrine. Lastly, I believe there been a change in our understanding and perception because along with the rest of world, the Church is becoming increasingly secular and the scriptures and teachings of the modern prophets no longer inspire the same level of testimony that they once did.

    I maintain a blog focused on doctrine in the tradition of Joseph Fielding Smith and Bruce R. McConkie called THE IRON ROD (http://ironrod.wordpress.com/). For the most part, I agree with everything Smith and McConkie ever said. However, according to scripture it is a true doctrine that only the President of the Church can establish new doctrine, change existing doctrine, or interpret scripture for the whole Church. So when Smith contradicts the President of the Church on matters of doctrine before becoming the President of the Church himself, and when McConkie, who was never the president of the Church, contradicts established doctrine, their pronouncements must be considered personal opinions only. Further I have a testimony that both Joseph Smith and Brigham Young were true prophets and presidents of the Church. Therefore, their teachings concerning capital punishment cannot be overturned except by a later President of the Church which to my knowledge has never occurred.

    I am almost certain that presidents of the Church have taught the doctrines of Blood Atonement and capital punishment. And I am unaware that any President of the Church has overturned those doctrines. Therefore, I believe those doctrines once taught by Presidents of the Church remain in force. Truth is always unchanging. And while our perceptions of the truth may change, the doctrines taught by the President of the Church can only be overtuned by a subsequent President.

  • http://www.approachingjustice.wordpress.com Chris H.

    “For the most part, I agree with everything Smith and McConkie ever said.”

    Shocker!

  • http://www.approachingjustice.wordpress.com Chris H.

    “…. the Church is becoming increasingly secular and the scriptures and teachings of the modern prophets no longer inspire the same level of testimony that they once did.”

    So, Kimball, Hinckley, and Monson all have led the Church astray by not teaching what you think they should teach. I am not the one who should be worried buddy.

    I personally am strongly committed to the scriptures. They keep me from needing to cling to the ideas of a few modern figures to justify my ideology.

    I am a disciple of Jesus Christ. McConkie and Smith did not ask you to follow them and their every word. Instead they did their best to encourage all of us to follow Jesus Christ. By taking such a narrow focus on their words you have missed their larger message and the message of the atonement.

    Repent!

    ….or at least be self-righteous on your own blog.

  • http://ironrod.wordpress.com John W. Redelfs

    Those who maintain that capital punishment is not a deterent to murder are having a problem with their math. Some murderers commit multiple murders. That is a fact. Some murderers in prison kill fellow prisoners and prison employees. That is also a fact. Some kill again after escaping from prison. That is also a fact. All of these murders could be prevented if they were executed in a timely manner because dead men never commit murders, another fact. Simple math demostrates that when murderers are put to death, fewer murders take place. Whether or not execution deters murders outside of this argument cannot be determined by flawed studies because “all things being the same” never exists in such studies. Yet common sense suggests that capital punishment is a deterent to some degree.

    Some feel that capital punishment is needed so that punishment can fit the crime. Others feel it is necessary for justice to be done. Still others feel it is needed to prevent future murders. However, these are not my reasons.

    My reasons are twofold. Capital punishment is a form of killing in self-defense on both an individual and societal level. And I am in agreement with Joseph Fielding Smith who taught that only by capital punishment can we wash our hands of the blood of this generation. We cannot escape guilt if we look the other way. We become to some degree accessories to this horrible crime when we do not execute our murderes.

    These are my secular reasons for favoring the death penalty. My reason is theological. Joseph Smith taught that God requires it, and no President of the Church has since overturned this teaching.

    And of course, calling capital punishment “murder” is absurd. It is no more “murder” than killing a person on the battlefield, or killing an armed stranger trying to break into your home.

  • http://ironrod.wordpress.com John W. Redelfs

    Second draft of my last comment which was incomplete:

    Chris H, what a load of manure! Can’t you read? You are claiming that I wrote the exact opposite of what I did. Notice the words FOR THE MOST PART I agree with Smith and McConkie. I then went on to explain why neither of them were qualified to establish new doctrine, change it, or interpret scripture for the whole whole. Only the President of the Church (Joseph Smith and Brigham Young in this case) can do that.

    And where do you get off suggesting I think Kimball, Hinckley or Monson have led the Church astray? To the best of my knowledge thay have never overturned Joseph Smith and Brigham Young on these things?

    And IF the Church is becoming more secular, it is because many of the members are not following the prophets as they should, not that Kimball, Hinckley and Monson are misleading the Church.

    And if you feel I am self-righteous, it is because you would consider me self-righteous if I recommended the Kirkland brand of toilet paper intead of Charmin. You might examine your own attitudes to see if you can find a particle of self-righteousness in yourself.

  • http://ironrod.wordpress.com John W. Redelfs

    If it matters to anyone here, I never heard Kimball, Hinckley or Monson utter a word that I disagreed with. I wish President Hinckley had been a bit more forthcoming about the Lorenzo Snow couplet when he was asked about it in a media interview, but I certainly did not diagree with what he said.

  • http://www.approachingjustice.wordpress.com Chris H.

    Yes, you [deleted] twit, I can read. I have even read books. You should try it.

    You are totally right about the death penalty. That explains why Europe has much higher violent crime rates than we do. Oh…wait.

  • Bradley

    Capital punishment is a political issue, not a religious one. Mormon culture is conservative, so most LDS fall on the side of the GOP. The scriptures support both sides, and it is up to us to choose. Just as with the Garden situation, you have Adam who says “I won’t partake, no matter what” and Eve who says “Sometimes you gotta partake”. So, there’s no simple answer to “Thou shalt not kill”. But as they say, obedience is better than sacrifice.

  • http://thegooddemocrat.wordpress.com Dan

    Why do we let our church be hijacked by such extremists as John W Redelfs?

  • Ben S

    Dan, based on your comments around the Naccle, some might ask the same question of you. While I’m certainly not in Redelf’s camp (indeed, I was part of a group he joined once, assuming to find like-minded JFieldingSmith/McConkie groupies, then quickly termed “apostate” and was then booted from said group), it’s largely a question of perspective.

  • http://thegooddemocrat.wordpress.com Dan

    Ben,

    If I used scripture to denounce fellow Mormons, then there could be a comparison. But if I’m just simply a partisan jerk, then there is no comparison. I’m not an extremist within my faith, Ben.

  • http://www.wesak.blogspot.com EBrown

    Many, if not most, violent felons, including many on death row, in CA favor the death penalty which is commensurate with their education, religious beliefs, and level of socio-economic attitudes and development.
    “You have heard it said “an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth. Bit

  • Glenn Smith

    Following is the complete declaration from which I quoted earlier. Maybe it will help the discussion on the subject Bored in Vernal first posted.
    Source: Messages of the First Presidency, vol. 3; James R. Clark
    http://www.gospelink.com/library/document/5211?highlight=1

    Official declaration of Church on “Blood Atonement” Capital Punishment, Civil Liberty, Loyalty to the Government of the United States, December 12, 1889

    The Official Declaration was a direct outgrowth of the testimony and accusations made in the John Moore and other alien cases before Judge Anderson, November 14th through 30th and of Judge Anderson’s decision and ruling in those cases. The Revelation to Wilford Woodruff on November 24, 1889, the declarations in the call for a special Fast Day issued December 2, 1889 but to be held on the anniversary of Joseph Smith’s birth (December 23) and then this Official Declaration of December 12, 1889 are all an integral past of the same decision on the part of L.D.S. Church leadership. The three documents should in reality be read and considered together.

    Again the diary of L. John Nuttall throws some interesting sidelights on the issuance of this Declaration.

    According to Nuttall the First Presidency on December 4, 1889 requested Charles W. Penrose to “make a draft of a denial to the false accusations made by Judge Anderson in his decision in the John Moore case.”

    On December 5th, Charles W. Penrose called at the office of the First Presidency and “submitted two drafts of denials of the assertions made by Judge Anderson in his decision, which were read and left for further consideration.”

    On December 6, 1889 the First Presidency, The Quorum of Apostles, Presiding Bishops Preston and Winder and members of the Central Committee of the People’s Party met at the Gardo House to consider a course of action in rebuttal to Judge Anderson’s decision in the John Moore case.

    “Several of the brethren were in favor of the First Presidency and Twelve. [Issuing the denial] Some thought the First Presidency alone-others the 1st President, Twelve and about 100 of the leading businessmen-Some thought a mass meeting to adopt suitable resolutions would be the best [procedure]. But all were in favor of something, a strong denial of the falsehoods should be made. … After hearing those who wished to speak, an adjournment was taken, and the Presidency and the Twelve considered the matter when it was decided as the mind of the Council that the First Presidency and the Twelve Apostles get up a manifesto on this subject, such a one as all can sign.”

    The Declaration or “Manifesto” was dated December 12, 1889 and on December 14, 1889 “It was ordered that the Manifesto of the First Presidency, and Twelve be published in this Evenings Deseret News & tomorrow mornings Salt Lake Herald, and telegrams were sent to Elders L. Snow, F. D. Richards & A. H. Lund for permission to affix their names to it which they granted.”

    On December 16, 1889, according to Nuttall:

    “Pres. Woodruff directed that the names of Bros. M. Thatcher, John W. Taylor, and D. H. Wells be affixed to the Manifesto of the Presidency & Twelve, these brethren being absent from the city.”

    The declaration brands as false any claims that the L.D.S. Church believed in or practiced “blood atonement.”

    OFFICIAL DECLARATION. Salt Lake City, December 12th, 1889. TO WHOM IT MAY CONCERN:

    In consequences of gross misrepresentations of the doctrines, aims and practices of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, commonly called the “Mormon” Church, which have been promulgated for years, and have recently been revived for political purposes and to prevent all aliens, otherwise qualified, who are members of the “Mormon” Church for acquiring citizenship, we deem it proper on behalf of said Church to publicly deny these calumnies and enter our protest against them.

    We solemnly make the following declarations, viz:

    That this Church views the shedding of human blood with the utmost abhorrence. That we regard the killing of a human being, except in conformity with the civil law, as a capital crime which should be punished by shedding the blood of the criminal, after a public trial before a legally constituted court of the land.

    Notwithstanding all the stories told about the killing of apostates, no case of this kind has ever occurred, and of course has never been established against the Church we represent. Hundreds of seceders from the church have continuously resided and now live in this Territory, many of whom have amassed considerable wealth, though bitterly hostile to the “Mormon” faith and people. Even those who have made it their business to fabricate the vilest falsehoods, and to render them plausible by culling isolated passages from old sermons without the explanatory context, and have suffered no opportunity to escape them of vilifying and blackening the characters of the people, have remained among those whom they have thus persistently calumniated until the present day, without receiving the slightest personal injury.

    We denounce as entirely untrue the allegation which has been made, that our Church favors or believes in the killing of persons who leave the Church or apostatize from its doctrines. We would view a punishment of this character for such an act with the utmost horror, it is abhorrent to us and is in direct opposition to the fundamental principles of our creed.

    The revelations of God to this Church make death the penalty for capital crime, and require that offenders against life and property shall be delivered up to and tried by the laws of the land.

    We declare that no Bishop’s or other court in this Church claims or exercises the right to supersede, annul or modify a judgment of any civil court. Such courts, while established to regulate Christian conduct, are purely ecclesiastical, and their punitive powers go no further than the suspension or excommunication of members from Church fellowship.

    That this Church, while offering advice for the welfare of its members in all conditions of life, does not claim or exercise the right to interfere with citizens in the free exercise of social or political rights and privileges. The ballot in this Territory is absolutely untrammeled and secret. No man’s business or other secular affairs are invaded by the Church or any of its officers. Free agency and direct individual accountability to God are among the essentials of our Church doctrine. All things in the Church must be done by common consent, and no officer is appointed without the vote of the body.

    We declare that there is nothing in the ceremony of the Endowment, or in any doctrine, tenet, obligation or injunction of this Church, either private or public, which is hostile or intended to be hostile to the Government of the United States. On the contrary, its members are under divine commandment to revere the Constitution as a heaven-inspired instrument.

    Utterances of prominent men in the Church at a time of great excitement have been selected and grouped, to convey the impression that present members are seditious. Those expressions were made more than thirty years ago, when through the falsehoods of recreant officials, afterwards demonstrated to be baseless, troops were sent to this Territory and were viewed by the people, in their isolated condition, fifteen hundred miles from railroads, as an armed mob coming to renew the bloody persecutions of years before.

    At that time excitement prevailed and strong language was used; but no words of disloyalty against the Government or itsinstitutions were uttered; public speakers confined their remarks to denouncing traitorous officials who were prostituting the powers of their positions to accomplish nefarious ends. Criticism of the acts of United States officials was not considered then, neither is it now, as treason against the nation nor as hostility to the Government. In this connection we may say that the members of our Church have never offered or intended to offer, any insult to the flag of our country; but have always honored it as the ensign of laws and liberty.

    We also declare that this Church does not claim to be an independent, temporal kingdom of God, or to be an imperium in imperio aiming to overthrow the United States or any other civil government. It has been organized by divine revelation preparatory to the second advent of the Redeemer. It proclaims that “the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Its members are commanded of God to be subject unto the powers that be until Christ comes, whose right it is to reign.

    Church government and civil government are distinct and separate in our theory and practice, and we regard it as part of our destiny to aid in the maintenance and perpetuity of the institutions of our country.

    We claim no religious liberty that we are unwilling to accord to others.

    We ask for no civil or political rights which are not granted and guaranteed to citizens in general.

    We desire to be in harmony with the Government and people of the United States as an integral part of the nation.

    We regard all attempts to exclude aliens from naturalization, and citizens from the exercise of the elective franchise, solely because they are members of the “Mormon” Church, as impolitic, unrepublican, and dangerous encroachments upon civil and religious liberty.

    Notwithstanding the wrongs we consider we have suffered through the improper execution of national laws, we regard those wrongs as the acts of men and not of the Government; and we intend, by the help of Omnipotence, to remain firm in our fealty and steadfast in the maintenance of constitutional principles and the integrity of this Republic.

    We earnestly appeal to the American press and people not to condemn the Latter-day Saints unheard. Must we always be judged by the misrepresentations of our enemies, and never be accorded a fair opportunity of representing ourselves?

    In the name of justice, reason and humanity, we ask for a suspension of national and popular judgment until a full investigation can be had and all the facts connected with what is called the “Mormon” question can be known. And we appeal to the Eternal Judge of all men and nations to aid us in the vindication of our righteous cause. WILFORD WOODRUFF, GEORGE Q. CANNON, JOSEPH F. SMITH, Presidency of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. LORENZO SNOW, FRANKLIN D. RICHARDS, BRIGHAM YOUNG, MOSES THATCHER, FRANCIS M. LYMAN, JOHN HENRY SMITH, GEORGE TEASDALE, HEBER J. GRANT, JOHN W. TAYLOR, M. W. MERRILL, A. H. LUND, ABRAHAM H. CANNON, Members of the Council of the Apostles.

    JOHN W. YOUNG DANIEL H. WELLS, Counselors

  • Glenn Thigpen

    I am not opposed to the death penalty on moral grounds. I do not think it is immoral. But I am opposed to it when there is any doubt as to the guilt of the party. Too many innocent people have been sent to their deaths. While that number may be a very small percentage of the whole, even one person is one too many.
    It’s like lining up a hundred people, ninety-nine of whom are guilty, and one that is innocent, but not knowing who the innocent party is, and killing them all just to insure that the guilty get what is coming to them.

    Glenn

  • http://ironrod.wordpress.com John W. Redelfs

    Dan says:
    Why do we let our church be hijacked by such extremists as John W Redelfs?

    I am not an extremist just because you disagree with me. Calling me an extremist is just name calling. Who defines “extremist” anyway? Is there a bureau of standards somewhere that defines this for us? I am dead center, not extreme. If the majority opinion lies somewhere else, so what? That just proves the majority is as wrong as it usually is. The majority elected Bush and Obama. That ought to tell you something.


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