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Blood Atonement in Mormon history

Blood Atonement in Mormon Theology

McConkie on Blood Atonement

Tom Jones was singing "The Green Green Grass of Home" on my car radio as I swung into Idaho's maximum security prison parking lot. I walked up the sidewalk and through two security gates set amid twelve foot high pyramids of razor wire. Then a guard checked my ID, took my brief case, and checked me through what Rolf Kehne, the appeal lawyer, said would be "the most sensitive metal detector" I would ever go through.
       I was subpoenaed as an expert witness in the death penalty appeal of murderer James Wood. I was to testify on the Mormon doctrine of blood atonement.
       I had mixed emotions. Wood had confessed to the grizzly murder of an eleven-year-old girl-who he had abducted while she collecting for her paper route. No one has seriously doubted his guilt. He has in fact confessed to the crime.
       Judge Winmill sentenced Wood to death.
       Wood's attorneys, Kehne and John Adams, see some problems with the trial. First of all, everyone involved in the case is Mormon: the judge, the original defense attorneys, the victim, and Wood himself. The trial of a Jack Mormon in a predominately Mormon town who has committed a heinous crime against a Mormon girl raises serious questions about the ability of justice to prevail. The emotion-charged atmosphere may well have been more than the local stewards of justice could control.
       No one is suggesting that Wood is not guilty. I for one am in favor of the death penalty in general and see no reason it should not be administered in this case. Even Wood's lawyers think he should be imprisoned for life. However, they think he did not get a spirited defense. They believe that if he had, he would probably not have received the death penalty but rather life in prison. For them (and for Wood), that is a very important distinction.
       At any rate, the question for me is one of procedure. Rolf Kehne said it best when he said, "Everybody deserves a _____ defense!" The original trial lawyer admitted, during the appeal process, to making "mistakes" in Wood's defense. Even the judicial review board for the State of Idaho has wondered why judge Winmill did not disqualify himself from the case.
       A tape recording of a conversation in Wood's cell between him and two Mormon leaders-a Stake President and a Bishop-reveal they talked to him about the Mormon doctrine of blood atonement.
       The Stake President, Kert Howard, asked Wood, "You don't believe that a person needs to give his own blood to be forgiven, as it says in the scriptures?"
       Wood answered, "I know my sins are forgiven through God's grace."
       Then the Bishop, Thomas Clark asked, "You don't believe you need to shed your own blood to make restitution for Jeralee?"
       Wood answered, "I sure don't. If I did, if that would be the case then why did Jesus die on the cross?"
       Clark said "Christ cannot make restitution for the sins. He paid the penalty for the sins, but I don't know about the restitution."
       My testimony was offered in a courtroom at the maximum security prison. Wood was brought in chains and sat attentively at the defense table.
       Kehne had advised me that the judge was not going to consider my testimony in his decision. However, he was going to allow it to be entered into the record. The judge thought the discussion of blood atonement was irrelevant to Wood's defense. However, Kehne said the judge didn't dare forbid the testimony because so doing would open him up to criticism in a court of review.
       Kehne does not expect any judge in Idaho-at any level-to consider the evidence. However he is committed to taking the case all the way to the Supreme court.

       My Testimony was divided into seven parts:
       I. My qualifications to testify.
       II. My estrangement from the Mormon Church.
       III. The Christian Theology of Atonement.
       IV. The Mormon Theology of Blood Atonement.
       V. Historical Evidence that the Mormon Church Believed and Practiced Blood Atonement.
       VI. Would the Defense Attorney Know About Blood Atonement?
       VII. Why Would He say He Did Not?
       Of course, my qualifications to testify in this matter include the fact that I was a Mormon Elder for ten years, married in the temple, and taught Gospel Doctrine classes in the Mormon Church for five years.
       In 1974 I was born again, left the Church, and subsequently was called to full-time Christian ministry, where I have now served for fifteen years. I have written eight books, four of which deal specifically with Mormonism and another which deals with it in a lesser degree. The judge did not seem to question my ability to comment on Mormonism, but he continued to assert that he could not see how the Mormon doctrine of blood atonement had anything to do with the Wood case.
       Atonement is a central doctrine of orthodox Christianity. In order to understand the Mormon confusion over atonement, forgiveness, and restitution, it is important to understand the biblical position. Here is a dictionary definition of atonement:

  1. Amends or reparation made for an injury or wrong; expiation.
       2.a. Theology. Reconciliation or an instance of reconciliation between God and human beings. b. Atonement. The redemptive life and death of Jesus. c. Atonement. The reconciliation of God and human beings brought about by Jesus.

       As you can see, the secular, as well as the religious world defines atonement in terms of reparation or expiation. Expiation has to do with fully settling a debt-appeasing, paying the penalty, ending guilt. Reparation has to do with making amends, or repairing, or paying for something.
       Propitiation is another word the Bible uses to talk about the settlement of the debt of sin. To propitiate is similar to expiate; it means to conciliate or appease an offended power.
       God is the offended party when we sin. When we degrade or destroy his creation, His justice demands we make an appropriate repayment to him. However, we discover we do not have the ability to offer a suitable payment for sin. God made an idyllic kingdom in the Garden of Eden, and Adam rebelliously mucked it up. Mankind continues in Adam's footsteps. God's whole creation is disturbed by man's sinful actions. (Rom. 8:22)
       How then is restitution to be made to God? How is His righteous anger to be assuaged? How is His demand for justice to be satisfied? The Bible offers a solution to those problems. It is a solution which is unique to Christianity. Every other religious system contends that mankind has within itself the ability to handle the debt of sin. Christianity disagrees.
       The Bible says that God's compassion viewed mankind's inability to undo his sinful actions. God undertook to do what man was unable to do: For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: Whom God hath set forth [to be] a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God(Rom. 3:23-25-KJV)
       The word propitiation occurs only two other places in the New Testament:
And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for [the sins of] the whole world.
Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son [to be] the propitiation for our sins. ((I John 2:2). & I John 4:10-KJV)
       In the Old Testament, the Hebrews spoke of the "mercy seat" of the Holy of Holies. This mercy seat was the lid which was placed upon the ark of the covenant. It had great significance to the Jews: The Hebrew concept of the mercy seat is revealed in the word they used for it-kapporeth {kap-po'-reth}:

 Mercy-seat, place of atonement: The golden plate of propitiation on which the High Priest sprinkled the seat 7 times on the Day of Atonement symbolically reconciling Jehovah and His chosen people. The slab of gold on top of the ark of the covenant which measured 2.5 by 1.5 cubits; on it and part of it were the two golden cherubim facing each other whose outstretched wings came together above and constituted the throne of God.

       Exodus tells us that God explicitly instructed Moses to build a wooden casket, or "ark" to house the broken tablets of the Law which Moses had received at Mt. Sinai. It was also to include a gold jar filled with manna and Aaron's rod which budded. (Num. 17:8) Here were the instructions for the ark and its covering:

And thou shalt make a mercy seat [of] pure gold: two cubits and a half [shall be] the length thereof, and a cubit and a half the breadth thereofAnd thou shalt put the mercy seat above upon the ark; and in the ark thou shalt put the testimony that I shall give thee. And there I will meet with thee, and I will commune with thee from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubims which [are] upon the ark of the testimony(Ex 25:17 & 21-22 KJV)

       An accurate rendering of those Old Testament into English (as done in the Septuagint Version: Greek and English, by Sir Lancelot C. L. Brenton, Zondervan, 1970) is:

And thou shalt make a propitiatory, a lid of pure gold; the length of two cubits and a half, and the breadth of a cubit and a halfAnd thou shalt set the propitiatory on the ark above, and thou shalt put into the ark the testimonies which I shall give thee. And I will make myself known to thee from thence, and I will speak to thee above the propitiatory between the two cherubs, which are upon the ark of testimony

       The Gospel of Christ is centered in the idea that man owes a debt of sin he cannot pay. The broken law of God's commands lays in a casket to condemn us. We need to be protected from the just requirements of that broken law. So God prepares a golden mercy seat to cover the casket.
       In the New Testament, Jesus becomes that merciful covering. He shields all who will allow Him, from the requirements of the broken law. He is the mercy seat, the cover of propitiation for us.
       The Good News is that Christ's Atonement is our shield. It is an atonement we could not make for ourselves. Our only part is to acknowledge it and allow Jesus to pay it for us individually. We have to consent to His intervention to appropriate it on our behalf.