The Legacy of Blood Atonement? Gauging Mormon Support for the Death Penalty




Bartkowski, John P.
Kohler, Janelle
Hoffmann, John P.

Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title



American support for the death penalty has declined over time, but conservative religious groups have exhibited more favorable attitudes toward this practice than their mainline religious and secular peers. Scholars have generally overlooked Latter-day Saint (LDS, Mormon) support for capital punishment. However, this faith tradition is a case worthy of careful examination. Historically, LDS leadership was supportive of the death penalty, which was congruent with their teachings on blood atonement, i.e., theological rationales for capital punishment as a just response to murder. However, Mormon leaders have more recently adopted a neutral position toward the death penalty. To what degree might changing social attitudes and flagging LDS leader endorsements of the death penalty have contributed to diminished grassroots Mormon support for capital punishment? This study uses data from the General Social Survey to test three hypotheses: (1) those with an LDS affiliation will exhibit greater support for the death penalty when compared with their non-Mormon peers, including other religious conservatives; (2) LDS support for the death penalty will diminish over time; and (3) LDS support for capital punishment will be bolstered by frequent Mormon worship service attendance. Using cross-tabulations, logistic regression, and time series analyses, the results indicate support for all three hypotheses. Implications and directions for future research are discussed.



Latter-day Saint, Mormon, religion, faith, capital punishment, death penalty, crime, retribution, justice


Religions 14 (2): 208 (2023)