(excerpted from The Youngest Bishop in England, by Robert Bridgstock)
“There are no righteous societies; there are simply different degrees of depravity.”
—Howard Bloom, The Lucifer Principle
Brigham Young once said, “I have never yet preached a sermon and sent it out to the children of men, that they may not call scripture.” (Journal of Discourses) So, no one can say he was not speaking as a prophet whenever he said anything from the pulpit.
Church leaders argue that Brigham Young and Joseph Smith only talked about blood atonement; according to them, it was just rhetoric, a means of frightening the Saints into obedience. But why would a prophet teach a principle if he never intended to implement it? There is far too much evidence available to allow this “just rhetoric” excuse to stand.
Many years ago, my perception of Brigham Young was much the same as that of other members of the Church—he was the second prophet of this dispensation, raised up to give decisive direction to the Church at a time of great change and transition. I always thought his abiding strength was his firm leadership as he led the Latter Day Saints to the Salt Lake Valley, and there built a city as a sanctuary and refuge from the world. I have visited Salt Lake City, and toured both the Beehive and Lion houses. I noticed all the home-made furniture, and left with an impression of industry, work, and collective order—a testament, I thought, to both Mormonism and Brigham Young’s leadership.
The air-brushed character of Brigham Young, which the Church wishes you to accept, has always been that of a dynamic and inspiring pioneer leader. And essentially he was that. But the Church does not want you to know about the flip side of this man. No one is without their faults, their delusions, their hypocrisy. Consider for a brief moment the qualities of a man I learned about many years ago; he received a coveted medal for repeated instances of bravery award in World War I. He was kindly and affectionate toward children and animals; he loved to draw and paint, and he adored classical music. While still young, he contemplated the idea of a monastic life and was drawn to the Catholic priesthood, though he never entered a seminary. He eventually became a gifted speaker and brilliant leader. That’s the flip side to Adolf Hitler.
The Church portrays Brigham Young and all other prophets in their very best light. For instance, the priesthood manual published in 1997, called Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Brigham Young, says nothing about his polygamous marriages, and there is not a single word in it about blood atonement. The Church refuses to be honest with its members, so it only depicts the good side of Brigham Young. If the bad side just consisted of normal human weaknesses, then we would not need to trouble ourselves about it. But unfortunately, because the worst of Brigham Young was vile—especially for a self-proclaimed prophet supposedly in touch with God. He was an outright disgrace.
As I will show in the chapter, “Paradox and Contradictions,” we all have a shadow side, Luckily for most of us, our dark side will not destroy thousands of people (or millions, as Hitler did), because: 1) our power and authority are limited; and 2) our shadow side is really not that bad. The difference between major historic figures, compared to you and me, is that their charisma and influence, their power and authority, extended over many, many other individuals. And in many cases their influence, for good or bad, lives on.
The problem with Brigham Young—who started off very sincerely at the time of his conversion—was that he slowly became corrupted by the authority bestowed upon him, though doubtless his misogynistic and racially prejudiced views were there before he even met Joseph Smith. Notwithstanding all his other qualities, when Brigham Young was the Church’s prophet, he was a thug; his rhetoric and his behavior demonstrate this. Though he tried to disguise it—through charm and a feigned godliness—President Young was indeed a first rate thug, a murderer, and very selfish, as well as a strong, formidable leader. When he offered help, friendship, or cooperation, more often than not he did it for reasons of personal gain. He was cold, pitiless, and ruthless, and driven by avarice and thirst for advancement.
Brigham Young is simply not what the Church portrays him to be. In recent years, priesthood teaching manuals depicting his life and teachings simply whitewash all his now-controversial statements and say almost nothing at all about his polygamous life. As a result, Church members have a very incomplete picture of the man. It would destroy their faith in Mormonism if they knew who and what Brigham Young actually was. I am still utterly shocked and disgusted by what I learned about him. Reading books by and about those who knew him intimately, such as John Doyle Lee, Ann Eliza Young, and Fanny Stenhouse, has revealed to me Young’s real character and his miserable ethical standards. Members obeyed his every command, sacrificed to help him build his empire, and he manipulated them for personal gain.
His contemporaries, men such as Wilfred Woodruff, John Taylor, Heber C Kimball, and George Q. Cannon were almost as unsavory as Young. John Taylor, for instance, on his mission across Europe, deliberately misled converts into believing that polygamy didn’t exist in Utah, and that it could not be justified under God, citing the Book of Mormon and the Bible as evidence. Yet, all the while, Taylor had a number of wives back in the Salt Lake Valley.
So, having been misled by Taylor and others like him, across the seas they came, fine devout women with their daughters. Upon completion of their long, exhausting journey, they found a harsh theocracy and a system of marriage and control, which was the very antithesis of all they had dreamed of. Some turned back, some went on to California, but many felt helpless, powerless, alone, and afraid—and so they stayed in Utah. By that time, they had already invested so much in Mormonism, and had been sufficiently indoctrinated in their new faith that they could only accept what the hierarchy demanded of them—polygamy. As they entered that drudgery and adjusted to that system, the light in their eyes went out and by and by their souls were murdered.
Brigham Young was corrupted by his position of complete control over his people. He was an illiterate convert with nothing to his name, who fraudulently offered to act as “caretaker” leader to the Church after Joseph Smith’s murder, until the anointed successor (Joseph Smith, Jr.) was old enough to take control of the Church. Years later, when Joseph Smith, Junior came to Salt Lake to assume that authority, Brigham Young refused to relinquish power. His greediness and dishonorable dealings with both Saint and Gentile were well known. He used tithing funds to support and sustain his own lifestyle. He neglected his wives materially and financially (but for his latest favorite), and was cold and inconsiderate. And he ended up with tracts of land, many homes and other assets, businesses, and bulging bank accounts—all from corruption.
While today no money-grubbing prophet is reaping massive personal profit, the Church is one of the biggest land owners in America and has many dozens of businesses, which have nothing to do with saving souls. Its approximate daily revenue from tithing is around $19 million—over $7 billion a year. Not a great deal has changed, really, except appearances.
A Word about The Mormon Reformation
These days the Church does its best to appear to the general public as a respectable religious institution. But in its early days, under the polygamous tyrant Brigham Young, it was a cauldron of blood and fanaticism. He instituted what became known as the “Reformation”—a period of unquestioning obedience to the priesthood. At this time, in 1856–1857, the Church resembled a police state. There was pressure on all males to embrace polygamy. Timid male members were “obliged” to find a second wife, to make sure they wouldn’t lose their eternal kingdom. Those who already had many wives sought more. The Church required public confessions to minor or major infractions. It encouraged Saints to report other people’s sins to leaders in public. People just went “missing,” dispatched with the approval and under the direction of President Young. Other “sinful” members “cooperated” with the brethren in the deluded belief that forfeiting their lives, under the blood atonement doctrine, was essential for their forgiveness. They would appear in a high council court, and after the semblance of a trial their throats were cut in a darkened room. Tell this to any LDS member today, and they won’t believe it. Why? Because they have been taught a wholly different history.
Condemned by his Own Words
Are Brigham Young’s life and words consistent with those of a prophet? Was he ultimately a good or a bad person? Was he a hypocrite? We need look no further than his own speeches for the answers to these questions.
In Utah, under the dreadful regime of plural marriage, older wives of polygamous men were consigned to oblivion and neglected as if they were widows, while their husbands preyed on younger women. As a husband’s desire for his oldest wives diminished, he would gradually abandon them until they were left alone in some scanty, perhaps squalid accommodation to look after themselves and to eventually die of old age. Their only hope (if not already extinguished) was the belief that they would enter the celestial kingdom as queens to their once-youthful husbands.
As lack-of-space pressures increased in polygamous households, so did negative emotions, not to mention poverty. Despite the toil and work of all the females to help provide for themselves, each other, and their children, poverty among polygamous families was appalling.
As for polygamous males, we need look no further than Brigham Young. What did he have to say about all this?
Brigham and Joseph—Fine Examples
Brigham Young’s nineteenth wife, Ann Eliza Young, quotes him (Vol. 2, p. 470) as saying:
The old women come snivelling around me, saying, I have lived with my husband thirty years, and it is hard to give him up now…. If you had your husband that length of time, it is long enough, and you ought to be willing to give them to other women, or give other women to them; you have no business with your husbands, and you are disobeying God’s commands to live with them when you are old.
How nice. Try to find that in any current Mormon teaching manual.
What can you say about a man—let alone a self-proclaimed spokesman for God—who had such dreadful sentiments and opinions about women? Perhaps President Young had his first polygamous wife in mind when he spoke those words to an elderly lady Ann Eliza Young describes as living alone in poor accommodations.
John D. Lee, the confidant and bodyguard to Young, said of women living under polygamy:
But the darkest side of Mormonism is seen when one considers the stamp of moral and mental degradation it sets upon these men and women who comprise what one might term the peasantry of the church . . . . Instead of being uplifted she is beaten down. She must not think; she must not feel; she must not know; she must not love. Her only safety lies in being blind and deaf and dull and senseless to every better sentiment of womanhood. She is to divide her husband with one or two, or ten or twenty; she is not to be a wife, but a fraction of a wife. The moment she looks upon herself as anything other than a bearer of children, she is lost. Should she rebel—and in her helplessness she does not know how to enter upon practical revolt—she becomes an outcast; a creature of no shelter, no food, no friend, no home.
It is not difficult to understand the use of the term “soul murder” when you read such things. What a blessing Joseph Smith and Brigham Young have been to women.
Lying for the Lord
“Lying for the Lord” began in the days of Joseph Smith and continues in the Church today. All of the early prophets lied brazenly in denying the existence of polygamy. They lied about it right up to, and long after, the famous 1890 Manifesto. They lied, saying they had stopped it completely, yet secretly continued to practise it. Parley P. Pratt (quoted in Wilford Woodruff’s Declaration I; Polygamy Manifesto, September 24, 1890, p. 292) advocated lying for the Lord, whenever circumstance required it. It is a well known fact that Joseph Smith lied about polygamy from the pulpit, feigning great conviction, while he secretly had a number of wives. Even his wife Emma did not know of all the extra wives he took, nor was she allowed to give her permission, as the Law of Polygamy (D&C 132) said she should.
Brigham Young learned from Joseph Smith. Whenever his patience ran out—after endless refusals from the next prospective bride—he would employ the same types of threats that Joseph had used so successfully. The carrot was offered first, then the stick. To persuade his next victim, he claimed revelations, including:
* The certainty that his proposal was “God’s will”
* Guaranteed eternal salvation for the prospective bride’s entire family
* He was ordained to take the prospective bride into the Celestial Kingdom as a queen
* Failure to agree or comply meant the destruction in body and spirit of the prospective bride–Smith threatened his wife Emma with this
Despite a woman’s feeling fundamentally unloved, neglected and taken for granted, or too powerless and guilt ridden to escape, she was still expected to depict a positive image before the outside world and to remain “sweet,” and so that’s what she did. She was exactly where Church leaders wanted her to be: subjugated. That was precisely the position of Joseph Smith’s and Brigham Young’s plural wives.
The inspired doctrine of plural marriage as found in section 132 of The Doctrine and Covenants, instituted by Joseph Smith, is still incorporated as scripture today.
Christ’s Blood is Inadequate, According to Mormonism
Blood atonement is a Christian concept, in the sense that Christ shed His blood to save us. However, Mormonism has a very different take on this. Blood atonement in Mormonism does not refer to Christ’s shedding of blood. Rather, it refers to the shedding of blood by sinners (either self-inflicted or inflicted by worthy Mormons) for sins that cannot be atoned for in any other way. This is blasphemous, implying as it does that Christ’s sacrifice is inadequate, that some sins cannot be redeemed by the blood of Christ. Biblically, I am at a loss to find the slightest shred of evidence to support this contention.
Indisputably, the teachings of the New Testament state that the blood of Christ does atone for all sins, including murder. Both Christ and the apostles taught that Christ’s sacrifice was sufficient to provide forgiveness even for those responsible for Christ’s death. Mormonism begs to differ, and thereby insults the universal redeeming nature of Christ’s atonement.
If you had lived at the time of Brigham Young or even Joseph Smith, and had become an apostate, there was a possibility that the shedding of your own blood might have been required. Not only did the Church feel obliged to apply the blood atonement principle to the “unpardonable” sin of murder, it applied it to other sins, especially apostasy. The Church took an unbiblical stance on sin and forgiveness and used it to literally dispose of irritating, annoying, or threatening people. Brigham Young used his murderous police force to ensure conformity, control, and absolute obedience. In September 1857, he even declared martial law. Terror was Brigham Young’s means of ensuring total subjection.
Official teachings contributed to the paranoid mindset. At the time, the Church taught Latter Day Saints they were living in “the last days.” They were, in theory, at war with the American people (gentiles) and their government. Innocent gentiles travelling through Utah were easily seen as government spies, and some were murdered. Saints believed the kingdom had come, and not only the American government, but the entire world would be overcome and swallowed up by it. They saw themselves as part of a holy crusade. They still essentially believe this, though they never talk about it.
If you think the Church has ever seriously complied with the twelfth article of faith, which is obeying civil law, then read Lee Baker’s book, Mormonism, A Life Under False Pretenses. It states:
Within their temple ceremonies LDS literally vowed “an oath of vengeance” calling for the death and destruction of the US government and the gentile world—all those elements responsible for the murder of their beloved prophet Joseph Smith, as well as Parley P. Pratt. Cleansing the earth of the wicked was part of God’s imminent plan anyway.
Even when I joined the Church in 1964, the legacy of these anti-government, anti-gentile blood atonement rituals remained. They continued to be practiced in temples up to the 1990s, when the brethren quietly dropped them from the endowment, without a word of explanation.
The Practice of Blood Atonement
Michael Quinn is a renowned historian and former Brigham Young University professor. Over many years he has seen more secret Church documents than anyone is ever likely to do again. He has written at least six articles for the Church’s Ensign magazine, and he specializes in the subject of post-Manifesto polygamy. In his book, The Mormon Hierarchy: Extensions of Power, he offers stark evidence that blood atonement was, in fact, both advocated and acted on by Mormon leaders:
… Brigham Young and other Mormon leaders . . . repeatedly preached about specific sins for which it was necessary to shed the blood of men and women … Some LDS historians have claimed that blood-atonement sermons were simply Brigham Young’s use of ‘rhetorical devices designed to frighten wayward individuals into conformity with Latter-day Saint principles’ and to bluff anti-Mormons . . .
Writers often describe these sermons as limited to the religious enthusiasm and frenzy of the Utah Reformation up to 1857 … [O]fficial LDS sources show that as early as 1843 Joseph Smith and his counsellor Sidney Rigdon advocated decapitation or throat-cutting as punishment for various crimes and sins … Moreover, a decade before Utah’s reformation, Brigham Young’s private instructions show that he fully expected his trusted associates to kill various persons for violating religious obligations …”
The LDS church’s official history still quotes Young’s words to ‘the brethren’ in February 1846: “should be perfectly willing to see thieves have their throats cut.”
The following December he [Young] instructed bishops, ”when a man is found to be a thief, he will be a thief no longer, cut his throat, & throw him in the River,” and Young did not instruct them to ask his permission … A week later the church president explained to a Winter Quarters meeting that cutting off the heads of repeated sinners “is the law of God & it shall be executed …” A rephrase of Young’s words later appeared in Hosea Stout’s reference to a specific sinner, “to cut him off—behind the ears—according to the law of God in such cases …”
When informed that a black Mormon in Massachusetts had married a white woman, Brigham Young told the apostles in December 1847 that he would have both of them killed ‘if they were far away from the Gentiles.’
As late as 1868 the Deseret News encouraged rank-and-file Mormons to kill anyone who engaged in sexual relations outside marriage. …
Under such circumstances the Mormon hierarchy bore full responsibility for the violent acts of zealous Mormon[s] who accepted their instructions literally and carried out various forms of blood atonement.
Quinn then notes another example of blood atonement:
… 5 Apr. , “Clyde Felt has confessed to cutting the throat of old man Collins, at his request. The old man was a moral degenerate. The boy is a son of David P. Felt.” Grandson of former general authority, Clyde Felt is fourteen. Despite this blood atonement murder, LDS leaders allow [the] young man to be endowed and married in temple eight years later.”
—D. Michael Quinn, The Mormon Hierarchy: Extensions of Power, pp. 241-261, 251-53, 256-57, 60, 804-05
The following are a handful of quotations from the historical founders of the Church, ordinary members, and scholars. There are many, many more.
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. Therefore their only hope is to have their bloodshed to atone, as far as possible, in their behalf. This is scriptural doctrine, and is taught in all the standard works of the Church.
—Prophet Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation, v. 1, pp. 135-136, 1954
I [am] opposed to hanging, even if a man kill another, I will shoot him, or cut off his head, spill his blood on the ground, and let the smoke thereof ascend up to God; and if ever I have the privilege of making a law on that subject, I will have it so.
—Prophet Joseph Smith, Jr., History of the Church, v. 5, p. 296, 1949
Where are sins that men commit for which they cannot receive forgiveness in this world, or in the world which is to come, and if they had their eyes open to see their true condition, they would be perfectly willing to have their blood spilt upon the ground, that the smoke thereof might ascend to heaven as an offering for their sins; and the smoking incense would atone for their sins, whereas, if such is not the case, they will stick to them and remain upon them in the spirit world… I know that there are transgressors, who, if they knew themselves, and the only condition upon which they can obtain forgiveness would beg of their brethren to shed their blood, that the smoke thereof might ascend to God….It is true that the blood of the Son of God was shed for sins through the fall and those committed by men, yet men can commit sins which it can never remit…
—President Brigham Young, Sept. 21, 1856, Deseret News, page 235; very similar to Journal of Discourses 4:53-54
Suppose you found your brother in bed with your wife, and put a javelin through both of them, you would be justified, and they would atone for their sins, and be received into the kingdom of God. I would at once do so in such a case; and under such circumstances, I have no wife whom I love so well that I would not put a javelin through her heart, and I would do it with clean hands
—President Brigham Young, March 16, 1856, Journal of Discourses, 3:247.
I could refer you to plenty of instances where men have been righteously slain, in order to atone for their sins. I have seen scores and hundreds of people for whom there would have been a chance (in the last resurrection there will be) if their lives had been taken and their blood spilled on the ground as a smoking incense to the Almighty, but who are now angels to the devil, until our elder brother Jesus Christ raises them up — conquers death, hell, and the grave. I have known a great many men who have left this Church for whom there is no chance whatever for exaltation, but if their blood had been spilled, it would have been better for them.
—President Brigham Young, February 8, 1857, Journal of Discourses, 4:220
Accordingly, the doctrine asserts that those who commit certain grievous sins such as murder and covenant-breaking, place themselves beyond the atoning blood of Christ, and their only hope for salvation is to have their own bloodshed as an atoning sacrifice. In his writings, Joseph Smith only hinted at the doctrine, Brigham Young successively denied and asserted it, Joseph F. Smith ardently defended it, and in more recent years, Hugh B. Brown repudiated it and Joseph Fielding Smith and Bruce R. McConkie both have vigorously defended it in principle while staunchly denying that the Church has ever put it into actual practice, whereas most other General Authorities have prudently preferred to remain silent on the subject. It should be noted that the whole notion of blood atonement is so obviously linked to the Mormon literal mind-set that it does not seem to admit of a mitigated, symbolic interpretation and is either accepted or rejected outright, depending on one’s level of literalistic belief.
—Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, v. 15, no. 3, p. 9
To whatever extent the preaching on blood atonement may have influenced action it would have been in relation to Mormon disciplinary action among its own members. In point would be a verbally reported case of a Mr. Johnson in Cedar City who was found guilty of adultery with his step-daughter by a bishop’s court and sentenced to death for atonement of his sin. According to the report of reputable eyewitnesses, judgment was executed with consent of the offender who went to his unconsecrated grave in full confidence of salvation through the shedding of his blood. Such a case, however
primitive, is understandable within the means of this doctrine and the emotional extremes of the [Mormon] reformation.”
—Dr. Gustave O. Larson, BYU Professor, Utah Historical Quarterly, Jan. 1958, p. 62, note 39
I married Jesse Hartly, knowing he was a Gentile in fact, but he passed for a Mormon, but that made no difference with me, although I was a Mormon, because he was a noble man, and sought only the right. By being my husband, he was brought into closer contact with the members of the Church, and was thus soon enabled to learn many things about us, and about the Heads of the Church, that he did not approve, and of which I was ignorant, although I had been brought up among the Saints; and which, if known among the Gentiles, would have greatly damaged us. I do not understand all he discovered, or all he did; but they found he had written against the Church, and he was cut off, and the Prophet required as an atonement for his sins, that he should lay down his life. That he should be sacrificed in the endowment rooms; where human sacrifices are sometimes made in this way. This I never knew until my husband told me, but it is true. They kill those there who have committed sins too great to be atoned for in any other way. The Prophet says, if they submit to this he can save them; otherwise they are lost. Oh! that is horrible. But my husband refused to be sacrificed, and so set out alone for the United States: thinking there might be at least a hope of success. I told him when he left me, and left his child, that he would be killed, and so he was. William Hickman and another Danite, shot him in the canyons; and I have often since been obliged to cook for this man, when he passed this way, knowing all the while, he had killed my husband. My child soon followed after its father, and I hope to die also; for why should I live? They have brought me here, where I wish to remain, rather than to return to Salt Lake where the murderers of my husband curse the earth, and roll in affluence unpunished.
—Miss Bullock of Provo, Utah, quoted by Mary Ettie V. Smith, in Nelson Winch Green, Mormonism: its rise, progress, and present condition, 1858, 1870 ed., p. 273
In the excavations made within the limits of Salt Lake City during the time I have resided there, many human skeletons have been exhumed in various parts of the city. I have never heard that it was ever the custom to bury the dead promiscuously throughout the city; and as no coffins were ever found in connection with any of these skeletons, it is evident that the death of the persons to whom they once belonged did not result from natural causes, but from the use of criminal means.”
—R.N. Baskin, Reminiscences of Early Utah, 1914, pp. 154-155
We all kneeled down, and with our right hands uplifted towards heaven, we took the solemn oath of obedience and secrecy. We sore that by every means in our power we would seek to avenge the death of Joseph Smith, the Prophet, upon the Gentiles who had caused his murder, and that we would teach our children to do so; – we swore, that without murmuring or questioning, we would implicitly obey the commands of the priesthood in everything …”
—Fanny Stenhouse, Tell It All: The Story of a Life’s Experience in Mormonism
Plural marriage and blood atonement are still sacrosanct within Mormon doctrine, and will be restored whenever the Brethren can get away with it. They are merely held in abeyance, yet they pretend they have no interest in these doctrines. As the gentile population slowly increased in Salt Lake City and around Utah generally, it eventually became too risky to butcher members at will, and so the Church gradually dropped blood atonement. Now it pretends it never happened, that it was just rhetoric.
(Editor’s note: The next installment will cover the Mountain Meadows Massacre.)