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.
BLOOD ATONEMENT IN THE CELL
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
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
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
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
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
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
| 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
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.