“This is loving your neighbour as ourselves; if he needs help, help him; and if he wants salvation and it is necessary to spill his blood on the earth in order that he may be saved, spill it.”
– Prophet Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses, v. 4, p. 220
‘Blood Atonement, Capital Crimes and Mormon Murders’
a 1988 Sunstone Symposium Presentation by C. Jess Groesbeck M.D.
[with Owen E. Clark, M.D. responding]
(click above link to hear or download audio presentation)
Who was C. Jess Groesbeck, M.D.?
C. Jess Groesbeck (May 7, 1934 – October 26, 2009) was a physician, psychiatrist, and Jungian psychoanalyst. He was one of the Forensic Psychiatrists who examined Ron Lafferty after his arrest for the murder of his sister-in-law Brenda Wright Lafferty and her 15-month-old daughter, Erica. According to investigators, the killer claimed he had received a “removal revelation” from God that targeted four people, including Brenda and Erica. This crime was featured prominently in Jon Krakauer’s bestselling book ‘Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith’. This case as well as the Mark Hofmann “White Salamander” Mormon Murders case are cited extensively as case studies in this superb presentation.
Owen E. Clark is a physician and frequent contributor to Dialog Journal, Sunstone Magazine as well as other Latter-day Saint publications.
Both men are (and in Dr. Groesbeck’s case ‘were’) lifelong practicing Latter-day Saints and this presentation is, in my opinion, profound enough, and thought provoking enough to merit special attention.
Poignant excerpts from Mr. Groebeck’s presentation
“One of the most dangerous traits and trends of any culture that claims, ‘to have the truth,’ is the tendency to not see it’s blind side and it’s capacity to project it’s own shadow onto others. And then identify with only what is light and good and right from God. And assume that all others that are different belong to the Devil.
This is, in my estimation, one of the most serious – if not THE most serious problem we face in collective Mormonism today. Our inability to acknowledge or see our own shadowy side.
How desperately do we need to hear, ‘. . . why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?’ (Matthew 7:3)”
[37:05 into the presentation]
“But when no one looks behind the scenes at the collective elements that fomented and set the stage for these kinds of individuals, then painful realities need to be acknowledged in this culture.
As Richard Howard, Historian for the Reorganized Church said to me, ‘When individuals are isolated and their own religious outlooks are not honored or given at least legitimate discussion, does this not produce the kind of isolation that breeds idiosyncrasy, anger, frustration, alienation and hence aggression toward others?’
The answer to that question would have to be a painful, ‘Yes!'”
[36:00 into the presentation]
Wikipedia article on Mormonism and Violence
Wikipedia article on Blood Atonement
Two good overviews of the topic from a neutral source.
Mormon quotes on Blood Atonement
Original source, first person quotes from Mormon Leaders on Blood Atonement throughout Mormon History.
The LdS Church’s Statement on Blood Atonement
Published in the June 18, 2010 edition of the LdS Church owned “Deseret News”.
Jon Krakauer ‘Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith’
This book was published in 2003, several years after Dr. Groesbeck’s 1988 presentation, and has become somewhat infamous in Mormon culture in particular and Mormon Studies in general as a provocative treatise on how Blood Atonement has been interpreted and practiced throughout Mormon History.
AUDIO: Sunstone Symposium: “Book Review Panel: Under the Banner of Heaven”
Dr. Groesbeck was a participant on this remarkably diverse 2003 panel. Many of the themes discussed in his presentation are repeated and explored within the context of Mr. Krakauer’s best selling book. The full panel roster is as follows: Robert A. Rees (Attorney), C. Jess Groesbeck (Psychiatrist), Anne Wilde (LDS Polygamist), Jana Bouck Remy (Author) and Nadine Hansen (Attorney)
AUDIO: Infants on Thrones Panel Discussion of Under the Banner of Heaven
Tom Perry (of Mormon Expression fame) hosts a 2012 panel discussion to review and discuss the book Under the Banner of Heaven by Jon Krakauer. This presentation is unique in that it contains interesting period audio clips from the author and LdS leaders regarding the book. It also includes short audio excerpts from the book itself.
Steven Naifeh & Gregory White Smith, “The Mormon Murders: A True Story of Greed. Forgery, Deceit, and Death”
Link to the Amazon page for the 2005 book from two non-Mormon Pulitizer Prize winning authors documenting the 1985 Mark Hofmann “White Salamander” murders that are also mentioned in Dr. Groesbeck’s lecture.
Allen Dale Roberts and Linda Sillitoe, “Salamander: The Story of the Mormon Forgery Murders”
Link to the Amazon page for the 1990 book from two Mormon authors – Allen Dale Roberts, an Award-winning architect and Linda Sillitoe, a journalist.
A free online edition of Jerald Tanner‘s direct, first hand experience with Mark Hofmann and many other figures during the “White Salamander” chapter of Mormon History. Tanner’s perspective is interesting because Hofmann first approached him privately with the offer to sell him the White Salamander paper but Tanner refused believing that it was a forged document. When Tanner voiced these suspicions publicly after the bogus manuscript was purchased by the LdS Church from Hofmann he was relentlessly criticized and condemned for being an obstinate fool – though he was eventually vindicated.
(NOTE: a free PDF edition of this online book can be downloaded from here)
Martin R. Gardner, “The Blood Atonement Doctrine”
As published in the June 2010 issue of Dialogue Journal.
Garn LeBaron, Jr. “Mormon Fundamentalism and Violence: A Historical Analysis”
Reprint of Mr. LeBaron’s noted 1995 article.
Bill McKeever, “Blood Atonement – If It Was Never Taught, Why Do So Many Mormons Believe It?”
Analysis from a well known researcher and critic.
Will Bagley, ““Will You Love that Man or Woman Well Enough to Shed Their Blood?” Brigham Young’s Culture of Violence and the Murders at Mountain Meadows”
Mormon Historian Will Bagley’s watershed article on the culture of violence that Brigham Young created prior to the Mountain Meadows Massacre.
D. Michael Quinn, “The Culture of Violence in Joseph Smith’s Mormonism’s”
Mr. Quinn’s infamous Sunstone magazine article on the subject of the Mormon culture of violence created by Joseph Smith during his lifetime.
James Walker “Mind Control in Kirtland, Ohio: Attorney Ties Murders to Young’s ‘Blood Atonement”
Online article regarding the crimes of former RLDS Church member Jeffrey Don Lundgren who came to believe in the LdS doctrine of Blood Atonement based solely on his personal study of LDS scripture supplemented by personal revelation. These crimes included murder. This case is unusual because the RLDS church (now know as “The Community of Christ”) has never accepted either polygamy or blood atonement as legitimate doctrine, claiming that they were inventions of Brigham Young alone – who they consider a false prophet. The Wikipedia article on Lundgren can be found here.
Vincent McCann, “Mormonism, the Sin of Murder, and Blood Atonement Does Christ’s Death Atone for the Sin of the Murderer?”
Evangelical analysis comparing and contrasting Blood Atonement doctrine to Biblical Theology.
(Note: this article was appended to and revised from the original by Fred W. Anson on September 11, 2014)