There is much about the sin of murder in the scriptures. Beginning in Genesis, with the murder of innocent Abel by his brother Cain, we see this most grievous sin. Mormons believe there is only one sin more serious than murder, and that is “the sin against the Holy Ghost.” The sin against the Holy Ghost is to see Christ and therefore, to gain a perfect knowledge of Him that transcends faith, and then to deny Him, thus putting Him to open shame. This is akin to assenting to His crucifixion, like crucifying Him anew. The few people who actually commit this sin become “sons of perdition,” and they are the only ones who will not inherit a kingdom of glory in heaven, but will be cast out into “outer darkness” with Satan and his angels. All others, even those who reject Christ, will be saved into a kingdom of heaven. Understand, however, that those who do reject the Savior, must suffer for their own sins; for them, it is as if the atonement never happened. This suffering takes place before the resurrection and final judgment.
In the Doctrine and Covenants, a collection of modern revelations of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (often mistakenly called the Mormon Church), it says this about murder, and these are the words of Christ Himself, given by revelation:
And now, behold, I speak unto the church. Thou shalt not kill; and he that kills shall not have forgiveness in this world, nor in the world to come (Doctrine and Covenants 42:18).
It is important to understand how repentance works in Mormonism. One must recognize his or her sin and feel “godly sorrow,” which is the kind of sorrow that results from the realization that one has offended God. One must confess to God that one has sinned and prayerfully seek for forgiveness. Serious sins must also be confessed to one’s bishop (the head of the congregation), and church discipline could be enacted. Then the person must forsake the sin, turn to God and fully keep His commandments. The person should also make restitution for whatever he has taken or damaged by restoring what he can to the person or people he has offended. And here is the reason why blasphemy against the Holy Ghost, murder, abortion, and adultery are the most serious sins — restitution is nearly impossible, so repentance can never be completed. To be forgiven means to go through this process of repentance with utmost faith in Christ. Through the grace of Christ, then, our sins are forgiven, and we need not suffer for them, as Christ has suffered for us. When a sin cannot be forgiven, it means that we must suffer ourselves for that sin, not only in this world, but in the afterlife.
Murder violates the sanctity of life and cuts off the ability of its victims to “work out their destiny” (Benson, p. 355). Moreover, because “man cannot restore life,” and restoration or restitution is a necessary step for repentance, obtaining forgiveness for murder is impossible (Kimball, 1969, p. 129; D&C 42:18-19). Murder wrenches all lives connected to the victim, and ultimately the perpetrator of this crime suffers even more than the victims. “For Cain suffered far more than did Abel, and murder is far more serious to him who commits it than to him who suffers from it” (Kimball, 1982, p. 188 — as quoted in the Encyclopedia of Mormonism).
Mormon doctrine holds that murderers should be dealt with according to the laws of the land where it occurs; Mormons are law-abiding citizens and do not have as doctrine any certain form of earthly punishment for murder. However, they admit that the death penalty may be acceptable punishment for murderers. “Those who have been convicted of, or have confessed to, homicide cannot be baptized without clearance from the First Presidency [of the Church of Jesus Christ], and excommunication of members guilty of murder is mandatory. Joseph Fielding Smith, as an apostle, indicated that vicarious temple work should not be done for deceased murderers” (DS 2:192) (Encyclopedia of Mormonism).
Note that “murder” can have all sorts of variations, and what we are talking about is premeditated murder, not self-defense, murders that occur in the process of war, or negligent homicide. Only God can judge what murders might qualify for forgiveness, or not.
If only those who commit the sin against the Holy Ghost are condemned to outer darkness in the afterlife, what then becomes of murderers? The answer lies in the fact that there is a difference between an unforgivable sin and an “unpardonable sin.” The sin against the Holy Ghost is both unforgivable and unpardonable.
Spencer W. Kimball, the twelfth LDS Prophet said, “Even the murderer is justified in repenting and mending his ways and building up a credit balance in his favor” (The Miracle of Forgiveness,
p. 131). Explaining this is easiest when using King David of old as an example. David began to repent of his two very serious sins — committing adultery with Bathsheba after having her husband Uriah killed — the minute the prophet Nathan exposed him. He repented all the rest of his life, and he is still repenting. He is suffering for his own sins, since forgiveness cannot come to him through the atonement of Christ, because murder is unforgivable. He will continue to suffer until the last resurrection, which will occur after Christ has finished His work on the earth, after His millennial reign.
God revealed to Joseph Smith, the prophet, that because of David’s repentance and suffering, he will be saved into the Terrestrial Kingdom, which is second in glory to the Celestial Kingdom of heaven (1 Corinthians 15:40-42). (See also Doctrine and Covenants 132:39 .) David received a promise that the Lord would not leave his soul in hell—which is the process of suffering for one’s own sins in the Spirit World before resurrection and final judgment. Thus, David has not been forgiven, but will be pardoned. Thus, murder is not forgivable, but it is pardonable. Murderers will suffer for their own sins, meaning they are unforgiven, but they will not be completely cast outside the influence of God’s glory in the life to come, if they do try to repent.