From The Encyclopedia of Mormonism
Author: Snow, Lowell M.
The doctrines of the Church affirm that the Atonement wrought by the shedding of the blood of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is efficacious for the sins of all who believe, repent, are baptized by one having authority, and receive the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands. However, if a person thereafter commits a grievous sin such as the shedding of innocent blood, the Savior's sacrifice alone will not absolve the person of the consequences of the sin. Only by voluntarily submitting to whatever penalty the Lord may require can that person benefit from the Atonement of Christ.
Several early Church leaders, most notably Brigham Young, taught that in a complete theocracy the Lord could require the voluntary shedding of a murderer's blood-presumably by capital punishment-as part of the process of Atonement for such grievous sin. This was referred to as "blood Atonement." Since such a theocracy has not been operative in modern times, the practical effect of the idea was its use as a rhetorical device to heighten the awareness of Latter-day Saints of the seriousness of murder and other major sins. This view is not a doctrine of the Church and has never been practiced by the Church at any time.
Early anti-Mormon writers charged that under Brigham Young the Church practiced "blood Atonement," by which they meant Church-instigated violence directed at dissenters, enemies, and strangers. This claim distorted the whole idea of blood atonement-which was based on voluntary submission by an offender-into a supposed justification of involuntary punishment. Occasional isolated acts of violence that occurred in areas where Latter-day Saints lived were typical of that period in the history of the American West, but they were not instances of Church-sanctioned blood Atonement.
McConkie, Bruce R. "Blood Atonement Doctrine." In Mormon Doctrine, 2nd ed. Salt Lake City, 1966.
Penrose, Charles W. Blood Atonement, As Taught by Leading Elders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Salt Lake City, 1884.
Peterson, Paul H. "The Mormon Reformation," pp. 176-99. Ph.D. diss., Brigham Young University, 1981.
Smith, Joseph Fielding. "The Doctrine of Blood Atonement." In Answers to Gospel Questions, Vol. 1, pp. 180-91. Salt Lake City, 1957.
LOWELL M. SNOW