Mormonism, throughout much of its history, has had a relationship with violence. Many religious institutions have histories where violence has been used by the church as well as against it. The effect of this violence has had an impact on the history of the Latter Day Saint movement and its doctrines.
- 1 Overview
- 2 Capital punishment
- 3 Penalties
- 4 Theological violence
- 5 Violence related to LGBT people
- 6 List of Mormon wars and massacres
- 7 See also
- 8 Notes
- 9 References
In the early history of the United States, violence was used as a form of control. Many people of different faiths were harassed and persecuted because of differences in religious beliefs. The Latter Day Saints found themselves in this situation after the founding of their church, which eventually led to the murder of church founder and leader Joseph Smith, Jr. In return, there were years when the church justified violence against others.
Capital punishment in Mormon scripture
Religious justification for capital punishment is not unique to Mormonism Template:Harv. Like the Bible, the Book of Mormon has passages that speak favorably about capital punishment. The book described a theocratic government with a law that "if a man murdered he should die" (Alma 42:19; see also 2 Nephi 9:35; Alma 27:6-9). Nevertheless, the Book of Mormon did not always require capital punishment and never indicated that capital punishment was a requirement to atone for sins. The Book of Mormon provided an example where God (and the government) forgave "many murders" after repentance, "through the merits of [God's] Son" (Alma 24:10). The book also stated that murderers could avoid an "awful hell" if they "repent and withdraw [their] murderous purposes" (Alma 54:7).
Mormonism teaches that in some situations, the blood of a slain righteous person "cries out" for retribution, an idea that finds several examples in Mormon scripture. In the Bible, for example, the blood of Abel ascended to the ears of God after he was killed by Cain (Genesis 4:10). In the Book of Mormon, the "blood of a righteous man" (Gideon) was said to "come upon" the theocratic leader Alma "for vengeance" against the murderer (Nehor) (Alma 1:13). Mormon scripture also refers to the "cry" of the blood of the saints ascending from the ground up to the ears of God as a testimony against those who killed them (2 Ne. 26: 3; D&C 88:6).
The need for vengeance is sometimes seen as a justification for capital punishment.
Though Mormonism generally does not condone vigilante retribution, there are circumstances in which vengeance is authorized, such as when the government is unresponsive to an injustice:
- Missouri revelation: forgive three times, then the Lord delivers them into your hands.
Joseph Smith, Jr., the founder of the Latter Day Saint movement, was a strong proponent of capital punishment, and favored execution methods that involved the shedding of blood as retribution for crimes of bloodshed. In 1843, he or his scribe commented that the common execution method in Christian nations was hanging, "instead of blood for blood according to the law of heaven." In a March 4, 1843 debate with church leader George A. Smith, who argued against capital punishment, Smith said that if he ever had the opportunity to enact a death penalty law, he "was opposed to hanging" the convict; rather, he would "shoot him, or cut off his head, spill his blood on the ground, and let the smoke thereof ascend up to God" Template:Harv. In the church's April 6, 1843 general conference, Smith said he would "wring a thief's neck off if I can find him. if I cannot bring him to justice any other way." Sidney Rigdon, Smith's counselor in the First Presidency, also supported capital punishment involving the spilling of blood, stating, "There are men standing in your midst that you cant do anything with them but cut their throat & bury them". On the other hand, Smith was willing to tolerate the presence of men "as corrupt as the devil himself" in Nauvoo, Illinois, who "had been guilty of murder and robbery", in the chance that they might "come to the waters of baptism through repentance, and redeem a part of their allotted time" Template:Harv.
Brigham Young, Smith's successor in the LDS Church, initially held views on capital punishment similar to those of Smith. On January 27, 1845, he spoke approvingly of Smith's toleration of "corrupt men" in Nauvoo who were guilty of murder and robbery, on the chance that they might repent and be baptized Template:Harv. On the other hand, on February 25, 1846, after the Saints had left Nauvoo, Young threatened adherents who had stolen wagon cover strings and rail timber with having their throats cut "when they get out of the settlements where his orders could be executed" Template:Harv. Later that year, Young gave orders that "when a man is found to be a thief,...cut his throat & thro'Template:Sic him in the River". Young also stated that decapitation of repeated sinners "is the law of God & it shall be executed". There are no documented instances, however, of such a sentence being carried out on the Mormon Trail.
In the Salt Lake Valley, Young acted as the executive authority while the Council of Fifty acted as a legislature. One of his main concerns in the early Mormon settlement was theft, and he swore that "a thiefTemplate:Sic should not live in the Valley, for he would cut off their heads or be the means of haveingTemplate:Sic it done as the Lord lived." A Mormon listening to one of Young's sermons in 1849 recorded that he said "if any one was catchedTemplate:Sic stealing to shoot them dead on the spot and they should not be hurt for it."
In Utah, there existed a law from 1851 to 1888 allowing persons convicted of murder to be executed by decapitation Template:Harv.
Blood atonement is the controversial concept that there are certain sins to which the atonement of Jesus does not apply, and that before a Mormon who has committed these sins can achieve the highest degree of salvation, he or she must personally atone for the sin by "hav[ing] their blood spilt upon the ground, that the smoke thereof might ascend to heaven as an offering for their sins" Template:Harv. Blood atonement was to be voluntary by the sinner, or was contemplated as being mandatory in a theoretical theocracy planned for the Utah Territory, but was to be carried out with love and compassion for the sinner, not out of vengeance Template:Harv. The concept was first taught in the mid-1850s by the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church) during the Mormon Reformation when Brigham Young governed the Utah Territory as a near-theocracy. Even though there was discussion about implementing the doctrine, there is no direct evidence that it was ever practiced by the Mormon leadership in their capacity as leaders of both church and state Template:Harv. There is inconclusive evidence, however, suggesting that the doctrine was enforced independently a few times by Mormon individuals Template:Harv. Scholars have also argued that the doctrine contributed to a culture of violence that, combined with paranoia from the Church's long history of being persecuted, incited several extra-judicial killings by Mormons, including the Mountain Meadows massacre Template:Harv.
LDS Church leaders taught the concept of blood atonement well into the 20th century within the context of government-sanctioned capital punishment, and it was responsible for laws in the state of Utah allowing for execution by firing squad (Salt Lake Tribune, 11/5/94, p. D1). Although the LDS Church repudiated the teaching in 1978, it still has adherents within the LDS Church and within Mormon fundamentalism, a branch of the Latter Day Saint movement not affiliated with the LDS Church that seeks to follow early Mormon teachings to the letter. Despite repudiation by the LDS Church, the concept also survives in Mormon culture, particularly in regards to capital crimes. In 1994, when the defense in the trial of James Edward Wood alleged that a local church leader had "talked to [Wood] about shedding his own blood," the LDS First Presidency submitted a document to the court that denied the church's acceptance and practice of such a doctrine, and included the 1978 repudiation.
The original Nauvoo Endowment ceremony contained "penalties" for breaking a covenant not to reveal certain names and gestures given as part of the ceremony. These penalties consisted of oaths made while enacting gestures representing four ways in which a person's life could be taken—one each for the first three sacred "tokens" (handshakes) and their accompanying names and signs. In 1990, without official comment, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints removed these penalties from their version of the Endowment, together with some other elements of the ceremony that had been considered controversial.
Being "destroyed in the flesh" for violation of celestial marriage covenants
The most immediate precursor to the blood atonement doctrine stems from a controversial section of Mormon scripture dictated by Smith in 1843 commanding the practice of plural marriage (D&C 132). This revelation stated that once a man and a woman enter the "New and Everlasting Covenant" (a celestial marriage), and it is "sealed unto them by the Holy Spirit of promise" (which Smith later taught was accomplished through the second anointing ritual), that they are guaranteed to become gods in the afterlife no matter what sins or blasphemies they commit, so long as they "commit no murder whereby to shed innocent blood", and they do not commit the unpardonable sin of "blasphemy against the Holy Ghost". If a sealed person shed innocent blood, they would suffer the fate of David, who was redeemed, but fell short of his exaltation, and did not become a god (D&C 132:39). If a sealed person committed the unpardonable sin, they would become a son of perdition. According to early Mormon teachings, the unpardonable sin consisted of entering the New and Everlasting Covenant, and then falling away to become an "apostate".
However, if a sealed and anointed person broke their covenants to any extent short of murder or the unpardonable sin, they would still gain their exaltation and become gods and goddesses in the afterlife, but would be "destroyed in the flesh, and shall be delivered unto the buffetings of Satan unto the day of redemption" (D&C 132:26). The revelation did not, however, specify the mechanism by which such people would be "destroyed in the flesh", and it did not indicate whether that "redemption" would be the result of the sinner's own blood or the atonement of Jesus.
Oath of vengeance against the United States for killing "the prophets"
After the death of Joseph Smith, Jr., Brigham Young added an Oath of vengeance to the Nauvoo Endowment ritual. Participants in the ritual made an oath to pray that God would "avenge the blood of the prophets on this nation" Template:Harv. "The prophets" were Joseph and Hyrum Smith, and "this nation" was the United States Template:Harv. This oath was removed from the ceremony during the 1920s Template:Harv. In 1877, Brigham Young noted what he viewed as a similarity between Joseph Smith's death and the blood atonement doctrine, in that "whether we believe in blood atonement or not", Joseph and other prophets "sealed their testimony with their blood".
Mountain Meadows massacre
The Mountain Meadows massacre of September 11, 1857 was widely blamed on the church's teachings of blood atonement and other anti-United States rhetoric by LDS Church leaders during the Utah War. The widely-publicized massacre was a mass killing of Arkansan emigrants by a Mormon militia led by prominent Mormon leader John D. Lee, who was later executed for his role in the killings. After escalating rumors that some of the emigrants had participated in early Mormon persecution, the militia conducted a siege, and when the emigrants surrendered, the militia killed men, women, and children in cold blood, adopted some of the surviving children, and attempted a cover-up.
Though widely connected with the blood atonement doctrine by the United States press and general public, there is no direct evidence that the massacre was related to "saving" the emigrants by the shedding of their blood (as they had not entered into Mormon covenants); rather, most commentators view it as an act of intended retribution. Young was accused with either directing the massacre, or with complicity after the fact. However, when Brigham Young was interviewed on the matter and asked if he believed in blood atonement, he replied, "I do, and I believe that Lee has not half atoned for his great crime." He said "we believe that execution should be done by the shedding of blood instead of by hanging," but only "according to the laws of the land" Template:Harv.
Thomas Coleman murder
An example used by some to illustrate the alleged practice blood atonement is the 1866 murder of the former-slave, Thomas Coleman (or Colburn), who was in good standing as a member of the LDS Church. As Mormon historian D. Michael Quinn has documented, Coleman was apparently secretly courting a white Mormon woman, contrary to both territorial law and Mormon teachings of the time.Template:Weasel-inline At one of their clandestine meetings behind the old Arsenal (on what is now Capitol Hill in Salt Lake) on December 11, Coleman was discovered by "friends" of the woman. The group of vigilantes hit Coleman with a large rock. Using his own bowie knife, his attackers slit his throat so deeply from ear to ear that he was nearly decapitated, as well as slicing open his right breast, in what some believe was a mimicry of penalties illustrated in the temple ritual. Not all of Coleman's wounds correlated with the temple ritual, however, since he was also castrated. A pre-penciled placard was then pinned to his corpse stating, "NOTICE TO ALL NIGGERS - TAKE WARNING - LEAVE WHITE WOMEN ALONE." Even though it was the middle of winter, a grave was dug and Coleman's body was buried. The body was disposed of in less than three hours after its discovery. Less than twelve hours after that, Judge Elias Smith, first cousin of Joseph Smith, appointed George Stringham (a Mormon ruffian and vigilante with ties to Porter Rockwell, Jason Luce, and William Hickman) as the foreman of the Coroner's Jury; they briefly met and summarily dismissed the case as a crime that was committed either by a person or by persons unknown to the jury, abruptly ending all official inquiry into the bizarre murder.
It has been suggested that the ritualistic elements involved in the execution of Coleman’s murder may have been in response to a public sermon made three years earlier by Brigham Young on March 3, 1863. In this sermon, Young states, “I am a human being, and I have the care of human beings. I wish to save life, and have no desire to destroy life. If I had my wish, I should entirely stop the shedding of human blood.” Following this statement, however, Young makes a statement regarding interracial relations in which he continues, "Shall I tell you the law of God in regard 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." Young continues his sermon by condemning whites for their abuse of slaves with the proclamation, “for their abuse of that race, the whites will be cursed, unless they repent.”
With regard to Coleman's murder, LDS apologists point out that the practice of "blood atonement" is said to apply to endowed Mormons who apostatized. Coleman was a member in good standing and was not endowed, suggesting that his death may have actually been the result of racism.
One of the examples cited by critics of the church is a set of murders in Springville, Utah of individuals who, according to historical documents and court records, were "very questionable characters." Judge Elias Smith stated in regard to the case: "We have carefully examined all the evidence furnished by a remarkably accurate stenographic reporter, and can only conclude that evidence before the court goes to show' that Durfee, Potter and two of the Parrishes got into a row about matters best, if not only, known to themselves, and for that Potter and two Parrishes were killed."
The LDS Church teaches that homosexuality is incompatible with Christian beliefs. Latter-day Saints believe that homosexuality can be overcome with intense prayer and faith and adherence to a strictly heterosexual lifestyle. Further, the church has taught, "It is better to choose as friends those who do not publicly display their homosexual feelings." Being homosexual is not considered to be a reason to be excommunicated in itself, until one commits a homosexual act.
In the time since the LDS Church has begun teaching its beliefs on homosexual practices, there have been situations of violence, and prosecution against gays, lesbian and transgendered people from church leaders and members,[who?] discouraged by some and encouraged by others.[who?]
In 1959, Brigham Young University conducted an aversion therapy program to "cure" gay men. Suspected homosexuals were referred to the program and placed in a dark room and shown erotic photos of both men and women. The participants were encouraged to masturbate to the illustrations of women and were shocked with electricity through attachments to their arms if they became aroused by the male images.
Boyd K. Packer sermon and pamphlet
In a general conference sermon in October 1976, LDS Church apostle Boyd K. Packer encouraged young Latter-day Saints to "vigorously resist" any males "who entice young men to join them in these immoral acts." Packer cites the example of a male missionary he had known who "floored" his missionary companion. Packer said:
After learning a little more, my response was "Well, thanks. Somebody had to do it, and it wouldn't be well for a General Authority to solve the problem that way"
I am not recommending that course to you, but I am not omitting it. You must protect yourself.
D. Michael Quinn and David E. Hardy have argued that Packer's comments constitute an endorsement of gay bashing, and that the church itself endorses such behavior by continuing to publish Packer's speech in pamphlet form. Apostle Dallin H. Oaks asks; "How do we react when persons who do not share our beliefs accuse us of being intolerant or unmerciful when we insist that erotic feelings toward a person of the same sex are irregular and that any sexual behavior of that nature is sinful?". He writes, in regards to application of doctrines and responsibilities, "Our doctrines obviously condemn those who engage in so-called 'gay bashing'—physical or verbal attacks on persons thought to be involved in homosexual or lesbian behavior." He also writes; “… Beware the argument that because a person has strong drives toward a particular act, he has no power of choice and therefore no responsibility for his actions. This contention runs counter to the most fundamental premises of the gospel of Jesus Christ."
California Proposition 8
Some LDS Church property was vandalized during the 2008 election campaign in California. The LDS Church encouraged its members to support Proposition 8. At an LDS Church building in Orangevale, Sacramento County, vandals spray painted "No on 8" and "No on Prop 8" on the front sign and sidewalk. An affiliate group of the radical Trans/Queer organization Bash Back!, claims credit for pouring glue into the locks of an LDS Church building and spray painting on its walls. A internet posting signed by Bash Back!’s Olympia chapter said: “The Mormon church ... needs to be confronted, attacked, subverted and destroyed.”
According to the Chicago Tribune, the acts of vandalism against the LDS Church appear to be in retaliation for support of Proposition 8. The Anti-Defamation League released a statement condemning the "defacement and destruction of property."
List of Mormon wars and massacres
- Capital punishment
- Execution by firing squad
- Gladdenites (Attempted move to Utah)
- Pace memorandum
- Violence against Mormons
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- This statement is found in Template:Harvnb, which was written by Willard Richards in 1843 Template:Harv. Years before making this remark, however, Smith was quoted as saying that the hanging of Judas Iscariot was not a suicide, but an execution carried out by Saint Peter Template:Harv.
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- first manuscript version, minutes of general conference, LDS Archives. See Template:Harvnb.
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- Template:Harvnb Young also declares that he is “neither an abolitionist nor a pro-slavery man” but that if he had to choose, he would “be against the pro-slavery side of the question.”
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