LDS Discussions Blog
Come Follow Me: What is the Curse of Dark Skin in 2 Nephi? (January 19, 2020)
This week (January 18, 2020) the Salt Lake Tribune published an article about a controversy surrounding the Come Follow Me manual as published by the Church of Jesus-Christ of Latter-day Saints about the Book of Mormon. At issue is how there is a very distinct change from the original printed manual and the online version regarding the "skin of blackness" in 2 Nephi, and how the church is trying to rewrite their own teachings and scriptures to avoid the implications of the text.
In the 2020 Come Follow Me printed manual, the Church of Jesus-Christ of Latter-day Saints discusses the curse upon the Lamanites of a "skin of blackness." In this version, the church teaches:
“The dark skin was placed upon the Lamanites so that they could be distinguished from the Nephites and to keep the two peoples from mixing [see 2 Nephi 5:21-23; Alma 3:6-10]. The dark skin was the sign of the curse. The curse was the withdrawal of the Spirit of the Lord [see 2 Nephi 5:20]. ... Dark skin ... is no longer to be considered a sign of the curse” (Joseph Fielding Smith, “Answers to Gospel Questions,” comp. Joseph Fielding Smith Jr. , 3:122-23)
This is mostly in line with what the church has taught since the beginning - that the skin of blackness was a literal darkening of the skin so that the Lamanites would "not be enticing" to the "white and delightsome" Nephites. While they do say that "Dark skin ... is no longer considered to be a sign of the curse," they are at least admitting that the Book of Mormon teaches that the Lamanites were given a dark skin by God to become unattractive to the "white and delightsome" Nephites so that they would not mix with them. This also plays into Joseph Smith's revelations that the Native Americans were indeed the Lamanites that they should preach to and why the church called all Native Americans, Polynesians, or dark skinned people Lamanites in church manuals, videos, pageants, etc.
Compare the above teaching in the printed manual to their online version:
"In Nephi’s day the curse of the Lamanites was that they were ‘cut off from [the Lord’s] presence … because of their iniquity’ (2 Nephi 5:20–21). This meant the Spirit of the Lord was withdrawn from their lives. When Lamanites later embraced the gospel of Jesus Christ, ‘the curse of God did no more follow them’ (Alma 23:18).
"The Book of Mormon also states that a mark of dark skin came upon the Lamanites after the Nephites separated from them. The nature and appearance of this mark are not fully understood. The mark initially distinguished the Lamanites from the Nephites. Later, as both the Nephites and Lamanites each went through periods of wickedness and righteousness, the mark became irrelevant as an indicator of the Lamanites’ standing before God.
“Prophets affirm in our day that dark skin is not a sign of divine disfavor or cursing. The church embraces Nephi’s teaching that the Lord ‘denieth none that come unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female’ (2 Nephi 26:33). President Russell M. Nelson declared: ‘The Lord has stressed his essential doctrine of equal opportunity for his children. … Differences in culture, language, gender, race, and nationality fade into insignificance as the faithful enter the covenant path and come unto our beloved Redeemer’ (“President Nelson Remarks at Worldwide Priesthood Celebration” [June 1, 2018], newsroom.ChurchofJesusChrist.org).”
In the online version, the church completely whitewashes what the text of 2 Nephi says along with how it was taught to members since the beginning of the church. We've covered a lot of the LDS Gospel Topics Essays along with the more recent "Now You Know" videos, but this seems to take gaslighting to a whole new level.
The church responded to the changes with the following statement according to the Salt Lake Tribune:
“During the publication of the ‘Come, Follow Me’ manual for 2020, there was an error that resulted in the printing of material that doesn’t reflect the church’s current views on the topic,” she said in a statement. “To correct this, a decision was made to modify the content in the digital version of the lesson."
These days, Caso added, the church “disavows the theories advanced in the past that black skin is a sign of divine disfavor or curse, or that it reflects unrighteous actions in a premortal life; that mixed-race marriages are a sin; or that blacks or people of any other race or ethnicity are inferior in any way to anyone else. Church leaders today unequivocally condemn all racism, past and present, in any form."
There are a lot of problems with this statement, but to really explain why we need to look at both the passage in the Book of Mormon itself along with the teachings around it. First, let's look at the passage in 2 Nephi as it is in the Book of Mormon:
2 Nephi 5:21-23 - 21 And he had caused the cursing to come upon them, yea, even a sore cursing, because of their iniquity. For behold, they had hardened their hearts against him, that they had become like unto a flint; wherefore, as they were white, and exceedingly fair and delightsome, that they might not be enticing unto my people the Lord God did cause a skin of blackness to come upon them.
22 And thus saith the Lord God: I will cause that they shall be loathsome unto thy people, save they shall repent of their iniquities.
23 And cursed shall be the seed of him that mixeth with their seed; for they shall be cursed even with the same cursing. And the Lord spake it, and it was done.
If you take this passage at face value, the cursing caused a "skin of blackness to come upon" the Lamanites so that they would "not be enticing" to the white and delightsome Nephites. Again, the Book of Mormon states that the Lamanites (and who the church believes are Native Americans in our day) were cursed with dark skin so that the "white and delightsome" Nephites would not be attracted to them to mix with their seed.
Now apologists will argue that the curse is entirely different from the skin of blackness, and that the text seprates the two. If that were the case though, how does that explain the confirmation of the curse in Alma chapter 3? From the Book of Mormon:
And the skins of the Lamanites were dark, according to the mark which was set upon their fathers, which was a curse upon them because of their transgression and their rebellion against their brethren, who consisted of Nephi, Jacob, and Joseph, and Sam, who were just and holy men. (Alma 3:6)
Alma 3 confirms that the skin of blackness is indeed a curse from God. There's no way around it if you take the Book of Mormon at face value. I don't know what else to say, which is why I look at what the church is doing here as so dishonest. Nowhere in Alma 3 does it mention the curse being cut off from the Lord, but it surely mentions the dark skin. But if that's not clear enough, here is Jacob:
"Behold, the Lamanites your brethren, whom ye hate because of their filthiness and the cursing which hath come upon their skins, are more righteous than you; for they have not aforgotten the commandment of the Lord, which was given unto our father—that they should have save it were one wife, and concubines they should have none, and there should not be whoredoms committed among them." (Jacob 3:5)
This verse makes crystal clear, again, that the dark skin is a curse from God, and bonus points to this verse for pointing out that polygamy and polyandry are wrong, as Joseph Smith will engage in down the road as we all know.
Furthermore, this is a view that many people in Joseph Smith's day held - it's a 19th century idea that Native Americans were originally from Israel and a lot of people believed dark shin was a curse as was used to justify slavery. You can see this in the book View of the Hebrews which was written before the Book of Mormon and often used by critics to show that these ideas were all around Joseph Smith, and Mormon historian Dan Vogel wrote a book called Indian Origins and the Book of Mormon that goes into much more historic detail that you can read online here.
And the problem doesn't end with the Book of Mormon itself - just look at a few quotes from church leaders in reference to this curse:
"Verily, I say unto you, that the wisdom of man, in his fallen state, knoweth not the purposes and the privileges of my hold priesthood, but ye shall know when ye receive a fullness by reason of the anointing: For it is my will, that in time, ye should take unto you wives of the Lamanites and Nephites, that their posterity may become white, delightsome and just, for even now their females are more virtuous then the gentiles." (Prophet Joseph Smith, Jr., 1831 revelation, recorded in a letter from W.W. Phelps to Brigham Young, Aug 12, 1861)
"But, on the other hand, the Lamanites, because of the hardness of their hearts, brought down many judgments upon their own heads; nevertheless, they were not destroyed as a nation; but the Lord God sent forth a curse upon them, and they became a dark, loathsome, and filthy people. Before their rebellion, they were white and exceedingly fair, like the Nephites; but the Lord God cursed them in their complexions, and they were changed to a dark colour; and they became a wild, savage, and ferocious people; being great enemies to the Nephites, whom they sought, by every means, to destroy" (Apostle Orson Pratt writing about Joseph Smith's teachings, 1840)
"The day of the Lamanites is nigh. For years they have been growing delightsome, and they are now becoming white and delightsome, as they were promised. In this picture of the twenty Lamanite missionaries, fifteen of the twenty were as light as Anglos; five were darker but equally delightsome. The children in the home placement program in Utah are often lighter than their brothers and sisters in the hogans on the reservation…. At one meeting a father and mother and their sixteen-year-old daughter were present, the little member girl-sixteen sitting between the dark father and mother, and it was evident she was several shades lighter than her parents on the same reservation, in the same Hogan, subject to the same sun and wind and weather. There was the doctor in a Utah city who for two years had had an Indian boy in his home who stated that he was some shades lighter than the younger brother just coming into the program from the reservation. These young members of the Church are changing to whiteness and delightsomeness. One white elder jokingly said that he and his companion were donating blood regularly to the hospital in the hope that the process might be accelerated." (Prophet Spencer W. Kimball, General Conference, Oct. 1960)
"The Lord has never indicated that black skin came because of being less faithful. Now, the Indian; we know why he has changed, don't we? The Book of Mormon tells us that; and he has a dark skin, but he has promise there that through faithfulness, that they all again become a white and delightsome people." (Apostle LeGrand Richards, Interview by Wesley P. Walters and Chris Vlachos, Aug. 16, 1978, Church Office Building)
"The Lamanites [Native Americans], now a down-trodden people, are a remnant of the house of Israel. The curse of God has followed them as it has done the Jews, though the Jews have not been darkened in their skin as have the Lamanites." (Prophet Wilford Woodruff, Journal of Discourses, v. 22, p. 173)
"You native Americans who are called Indians…your ancestors were once a mighty nation upon the American continent.
[T]he best source of true information that tells who you are, where you came from, and what you can achieve is found in an important book—the Book of Mormon.
The Book of Mormon is a history of your people.
The Book of Mormon tells how your forefathers came from Jerusalem about 600 years before the birth of Jesus Christ.
The Lamanites were marked by the Lord with a darker skin." (1974 church published pamphlet, "Lamanites and the Book of Mormon")
Again we could put 100 more quotes here, but the point is that this was taught as fact from Joseph Smith all the way until today, and if you read the quotes you can see that the skin of blackness was a curse from God. While the apologetics contend that the actual curse was being cut off from the Lord, even then the darkened skin is still part of the curse as both the scriptures and prophets have told us.
The Book of Mormon is clearly a book written by someone with a 19th century worldview, where people were trying to understand how the Native Americans arrived to America before the white settlers did. It should be no surprise then that the racism in the Book of Mormon matches the racism of Joseph Smith's time. There is a reason that LDS historian Richard Bushman said the following:
"There is the fact that there is phrasing everywhere–long phrases that if you google them you will find them in 19th century writings. The theology of the Book of Mormon is very much 19th century theology, and it reads like a 19th century understanding of the Hebrew Bible as an Old Testament. That is, it has Christ in it the way Protestants saw Christ everywhere in the Old Testament. That’s why we now call it “Hebrew Bible” because the Jews never saw it quite that way. So, these are all problems we have to deal with."
The church did not begin backing off of this inherent racism until it became socially untenable to believe that dark skin was a curse from God, and that DNA has proven that Native Americans are not from Israel, but from Asia. That is what forced the church to change the actual introduction page to the Book of Mormon:
The real problem for the church is that science has proven that the Native Americans came from Asia, which was damaging enough for the Book of Mormon that they were forced to change their introduction page along with teachings on the subject. The Book of Mormon was written as a history of the Lamanites, as we noted in the quote above, yet the church has no idea who the Lamanites are now. Think about that for just a second, because it means every prophet got it wrong, the Book of Mormon got it wrong, and God got it from (via Joseph's revelations). This is a massive problem and we cover it by annotating the official Gospel Topics Essay on DNA and the Book of Mormon.
That the church did not change this horribly racist teaching until science proved that Native Americans have nothing to do with Book of Mormon ideas is the most telling part of all. Joseph Smith claimed to translate the Book of Mormon by reading the words off of a rock in a hat, and yet we are to believe that God did not change the part about the dark skin to indicate the curse was merely being cut off from the Lord? The further you look, the problems continue to mount for the credibility of the Book of Mormon and the credibility of the church's leaders.
In addition to the horrendous gaslighting being done by the church with this change to the Come Follow Me manual, I want to point out that even the printed version is being very deceptive. Here is the quote from Joseph Fielding Smith in the printed version:
"The dark skin was placed upon the Lamanites so that they could be distinguished from the Nephites and to keep the two peoples from mixing [see 2 Nephi 5:21-23; Alma 3:6-10]. The dark skin was the sign of the curse. The curse was the withdrawal of the Spirit of the Lord [see 2 Nephi 5:20]. ... Dark skin ... is no longer to be considered a sign of the curse” (Joseph Fielding Smith, “Answers to Gospel Questions,” comp. Joseph Fielding Smith Jr. , 3:122-23)
Here is the full quote of what Joseph Fielding Smith said that the printed manual carefully cuts around (I will highlight only the areas the church quotes from so you can see everything they left out):
"The dark skin was placed upon the Lamanites so that they could be distinguished from the Nephites and to keep the two peoples from mixing. The dark skin was the sign of the curse. The curse was the withdrawal of the Spirit of the Lord and the Lamanites becoming a "loathsome and filthy people, full of idleness and all manner of abominations." (I Nephi 12:23.) The Lord commanded the Nephites not to intermarry with them, for if they did they would partake of the curse.
At the time of the Savior's visit to the Nephites all of the people became united, and the curse and the dark skin which was its sign were removed. The two peoples became one and lived in full harmony and peace for about two hundred years.
There were no robbers, nor murderers, neither were there Lamanites, nor any manner of -ites; but they were in one, the children of Christ, and heirs to the kingdom of God. (IV Nephi, verse 17.)
EVIL BROUGHT RETURN OF DARK SKIN
After the people again forgot the Lord and dissensions arose, some of them took upon themselves the name Lamanites and the dark skin returned. When the Lamanites fully repent and sincerely receive the gospel, the Lord has promised to remove the dark skin. The Lord declared by revelation that, "before the great day of the Lord shall come, Jacob shall flourish in the wilderness, and the Lamanites shall blossom as the rose." (D. & C. 49:24.)
The dark skin of those who have come into the Church is no longer to be considered a sign of the curse. Many of these converts are delightsome and have the Spirit of the Lord. Perhaps there are some Lamanites today who are losing the dark pigment. Many of the members of the Church among the Catawba Indians of the South could readily pass as of the white race; also in other parts of the South."
Look at what the church cut out of this quote. They left out that the Lamanites became a "loathsome and filthy people, full of idleness and all manner of abominations" following the curse, that their skin was turned white when Jesus visited, but that their skin was again cursed afterwards. Most offensively, Joseph F. Smith concludes that members of the church who joined see their skin color go from dark to white, just as promised with a removal of the curse.
This change by the church would never pass their own definition of honesty, and it is gaslighting to tell members of the church that dark skin was not part of the curse. I am still a member of record, and I remember being told that Native Americans had dark skin due to a curse from God, and that the dark skin was how the church knew who to preach to in order to save them.
Most older members will also note that the church ran the Indian Placement Program, where they would take Native Americans and place them in member homes where they could be taught LDS doctrines along with telling them their identity through the Book of Mormon. This program began in 1954 and ran all the way to 1996, and as the quote from Prophet Spencer W. Kimball above stated, they believed this would make these Native Americans more "white and delightsome" after being taught about the church by a Mormon family.
Now we know these Native Americans that were "placed" have no lineage to Book of Mormon times, yet the church stole their identity by telling them a story of how their ancestors were cursed with a skin of blackness and if they become righteous they will turn white and delightsome again. Just think about how abhorrent that is, and then remember that the man who claimed to speak for God not only approved the program but spoke of how the church was already seing these children turning white as they lived with Mormon families. Words can not describe how racist, harmful, and wrong that is.
As we've covered so many topics in church history, I sometimes am shocked that I ever believed this. But the fact remains that most of these things were not taught to me by the church - they began "correlation" in order to avoid members learning about the problems like Book of Mormon translation, Book of Abraham translation, Polygamy/Polyandry, or issues with the First Vision. Going through their gospel topics essays and following the footnotes made it clear that they do not trust members with this information, because their true history is one that does not match the narrative I was asked to pray about by the missionaries.
Remember that when the church spokesperson says that the church "disavows the theories advanced in the past that black skin is a sign of divine disfavor or curse, or that it reflects unrighteous actions in a pre-mortal life; that mixed-race marriages are a sin; or that blacks or people of any other race or ethnicity are inferior in any way to anyone else. Church leaders today unequivocally condemn all racism, past and present, in any form," they are merely cutting and pasting from their Race and the Priesthood essay. But more importantly, when they make that statement they are not only disavowing every prophet from Joseph Smith through today, but the Book of Mormon as well.
The Book of Mormon can be proven to be a 19th century work by using Biblical scholarship, DNA studies, migration studies, Joseph Smith's surrounding materials, and the concepts being talked about during his lifetime. That the church is calling it an "error" that the Come Follow Me manual took the Book of Mormon at face value tells you everything you need to know about their belief that the church's truth claims can withstand scrutiny, and how afraid they are when people take their doctrines and history at face value.
Every time you pray about the Book of Mormon, ask if God really wanted to separate people between the "white and delightsome" and the "skin of blackness." Or why they were given dark skin to "not be enticing" to the white and delightsome. Ask God if he really told Joseph Smith to take additional Lamanite wives so their offspring could be more white and delightsome.
This is horrible doctrine that is now just swept under the rug by a church telling us that words don't mean what we think they mean, and the only way to make it right is to apologize for their racist history, admit that the Book of Mormon is not a historical text, and disavow the harmful teachings that flourished from it. People are dedicating their lives to a church that doesn't trust them with an honest, complete history, and that is a choice these leaders continue to make today. And in doing so, the church continues to demonize research and strike fear into those who have doubts, and no church that has the truth would need to do that if they actually believed in what they were teaching.
If the church claims wants to claim it is an error that the idea of a curse of a "skin of blackness" was published in the printed edition of the Come Follow Me manual, what does that say about the 100+ million plus Book of Mormons printed that all say the exact same thing?
If you made it this far, thanks for reading. We've mentioned on many other posts how difficult it is to take in this new information and changes in policies, and we understand how painful it is to process. Please email us anytime at email@example.com if you would like more resources to learn about these issues or if you are looking for people that you can safely talk to as you continue your faith journey. And please email us if you disagree with our post - we welcome all comments!