Overview of Race in the Scriptures of Mormonism
In the previous overviews, we've covered a lot about how we can use scholarship to show that the scriptures of Mormonism are not historically true. Throughout those overviews I've pointed out how we can see Joseph Smith's fingerprints all over his productions, both in terms of using surrounding materials to create them such as the King James Bible, but also how he used surrounding influences to create the stories including the Moundbuilder myth as well as the contemporary ideas about the Masons as well as the Christology of the 1820s.
Now it's time to look at the views on race in the scriptures of Mormonism and what they tell us not just about the truth claims of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but about where Joseph Smith pulled these ideas from and why they further prove that these scriptures are the creation of Joseph Smith using the ideas surrounding him during his lifetime.
This is a topic that is emotionally charged, which I realize will make this material difficult to digest if you are an active, believing member. What I want to again reiterate at the beginning here is something I have been repeatedly mentioning throughout these overviews: Please evaluate and think about the issues below as you would if they were from any other religious leader, church, or organization.
Just like the overviews on polygamy, this has always been a topic that really bothers me on a personal level. When I was still a believing member of the church, polygamy and the embedded racism within the scriptures of Mormonism always bothered me because I knew that both could not be from a God that loves us equally. It just never made sense to me until I dug into the history and understood where the ideas came from and how they were implemented.
If you are a believing member of the church, you will likely feel discomfort reading this post, and I know that because I once felt it strongly and still feel it to a lesser degree today. All I can tell you is that the uncomfortable feeling isn't the adversary trying to lead you away - it's your mind trying to do everything it can to stop you from entertaining information that conflicts with your core beliefs. I really love this website's illustration of how our minds process information, and I hope you might read it if you feel discomfort with this post.
While we often think about racism in the church's scriptures as being about the way that members with African descent were banned from the priesthood and the chance at eternal exaltation until 1978, the Book of Mormon itself begins these teachings by explicitly declaring that Native Americans were the descendants of Lamanites, cursed with a dark skin from God.
In the overview below, I am going to highlight the scriptures in Mormonism that embody the racist beliefs of Joseph Smith’s timeline and look at how the church’s apologists have attempted to redefine them following the removal of the priesthood ban in 1978. This overview is going to be very difficult to get through, but I promise that it is important to read with an open mind because, just as with polygamy, these scriptures are still considered doctrine today that was given to us by God.
Race in the Book of Mormon:
Any dive into the teachings about race in the scriptures of Mormonism needs to start with the Book of Mormon, and the beliefs in the Book of Mormon regarding skin color are extremely important. I want to jump right to the scriptures themselves and we will address the apologetic responses to these problems as we go through the verses and again at the end.
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 (the people that 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 separates the two. If that were the case though, how does that explain the confirmation of the curse in Alma chapter 3? From Alma in 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 the redefining of words the church is doing as so disingenuous. 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 forgotten 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 polygamy and polyandry 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 skin was a curse as was used to justify both the destruction and slavery of the Native Americans. You can see this same idea 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)
This final selection is from a church published pamphlet in 1974 that was given to the Native Americans and Polynesians:
"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 dark skin was, without any question, 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. As I covered in the overview on surrounding influences for the Book of Mormon, the idea that a dark skinned, savage race killed off all of he superior white settlers was a predominant view with the Moundbuilder myth. It should then be no surprise that the racism in the Book of Mormon matches the racism of Joseph Smith's milieu. 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 explicit racism until it became socially untenable to believe that dark skin was a curse from God, and because 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. That the church did not change this 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 his seer/peep stone 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 more you can see the fingerprints of Joseph Smith all over his productions.
Before we move on from the Book of Mormon, I want to point out how the church works today to completely redefine not just the scriptures, but the teachings of the prophets of the church. In 2020, the church's Come Follow Me lessons were based on the Book of Mormon, which led to a controversial lesson in the manual that differed from the online version. This is how the 2020 Come Follow Me printed manual deals with the curse of dark skin:
"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 in bold 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 changed back to a dark skin 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 beyond dishonest 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. This is confirmed by Joseph Smith's revelations from God, telling them to preach to the Lamanites. And where does God instruct Joseph to preach? Right where the Native Americans were. This is not difficult, and the problem of identifying Lamanites as those with dark skin does not end with the Book of Mormon, but with Joseph Smith's claimed revelations from God.
I know how loaded a term 'white supremacy' is, but that is what the Book of Mormon is teaching and we need to address this. I saw many people say that the Mormon church is a white supremacy religion following the Come Follow Me manual controversy, and I cringed because at a quick glance it's a ridiculous argument to make and would only cause the backfire effect among those you hope will actually listen to what you have to say. But as I thought about it, I read the scriptures that discuss skin color along with the teachings of the church and it becomes clear that it is actually a fair argument.
Just look at Oxford Dictionary's definition of white supremacy: "The belief that white people are superior to those of all other races, especially the black race, and should therefore dominate society."
While it is incredibly difficult to come to terms with, the Book of Mormon holds a white supremacist belief. It teaches that white skin is "delightsome," while those who have dark skin have so much "filthiness" that the white Nephites wouldn't be enticed to engage in relationships with them. Again, I know how loaded a term white supremacy is, but it needs to be noted that this teaching in the Book of Mormon is the textbook definition of it.
Last, beyond these teachings of the Book of Mormon being explicitly racist and harmful, they are also stealing the identities of the Native Americans and Polynesians and then attempting to sell them back. I covered this in the overview on DNA and the Book of Mormon, but the church today has absolutely no idea who the Lamanites could even be, yet they have been selling Polynesians and Native Americans on the idea that they are the descendants of the Book of Mormon people because of their dark skin, and using those teachings to convert them to the church.
I quoted the church published pamphlet above that tells the Polynesians and Native Americans that the Book of Mormon is a history of their people, and that is simply not true. The Book of Mormon is not an ancient, historical document, and I outlined the many reasons why scholars are certain of this in the Book of Mormon overviews. Whatever people they are describing, it is not the Native Americans or Polynesians.
It's dishonest, it's wrong, and the church should have removed these teachings in the Book of Mormon long ago. If they ever want to truly repent of these awful beliefs, the prophet of the church should announce that they disavow these teachings at General Conference, but instead they fund apologists to attempt to redefine what the words "curse" and "skin" mean. I will cover that later, but first I want to cover the other scriptures of Mormonism and what they teach us about skin color and righteousness.
Race in the Book of Moses and the Book of Abraham:
As outlined above, the Book of Mormon teaches that dark skin is a curse from God, but that if you become good again your skin will turn back to white. We've covered that in the DNA and the Book of Mormon overview as well, and leaders from the church repeatedly confirmed that until it became untenable following the 1978 lifting of the priesthood ban. While the Book of Mormon is focusing on the Native Americans having dark skin because they are taught to be the descendants of the Lamanites (an issue that DNA has proven to be a false teaching), it carries over to black skin being a curse in both the Book of Moses and Abraham.
From the Book of Moses:
Moses 7:8 - There was a blackness came upon all the children of Canaan, that they were despised among all people
Moses 7:22 - They were a mixture of all the seed of Adam save it was the seed of Cain, for the seed of Cain were black, and had not place among them.
From the Book of Abraham:
Abraham 1:24 - When this woman discovered the land it was under water, who afterward settled her sons in it; and thus, from Ham, sprang that race which preserved the curse in the land.
Abraham 1:27 - Now, Pharaoh being of that lineage by which he could not have the right of Priesthood, notwithstanding the Pharaohs would fain claim it from Noah, through Ham, therefore my father was led away by their idolatry.
To further illustrate that Joseph Smith was incorporating the ideas around him with regards to what dark skin meant and why dark skin is inferior, look at how he (incorrectly) 'translates' the one black figure in facsimile 3 of the Book of Abraham:
Joseph Smith's translation: Fig. 6. Olimlah, a slave belonging to the prince.
Actual translation of the papyri: Anubis, guide of the dead, with literal Egyptian characters above the head that confirms this is Anubis.
In other words, Joseph Smith saw a black figure and assumed it must be a slave because that was what fit his worldview (and his Book of Abraham manuscript), even though that figure had nothing to do with being a slave in actual Egyptian. In fact, you can actually see in the woodcut for facsimile 3 that someone around Joseph Smith chiseled off the nose of the figure to make it look like a black human instead of having the pointed ears and snout that Anubis would typically have.
Both of these books make clear that black people were "despised" by the others (who just happen to be white) around them, and that they were not worthy to hold the priesthood due to the color of their skin. In other words, just as with the Book of Mormon, these books make clear that those with white skin are favored in the eyes of God to those with dark skin.
Now this fits in with the language in the Book of Mormon that describes the faithful Nephites as being "white and delightsome." In fact, the church has changed much of this language over the years due to the public pressure that arose from the clear teachings that white skin is superior to black or brown skin.
Some changes that the church made:
-The words "skin of blackness" were removed from the introductory summary in 2 Nephi Chapter 5. It now says that "the Lamanites are cut off from the presence of the Lord, are cursed, and become a scourge unto the Nephites."
-In Mormon Chapter 5, they have changed the chapter heading from "The Lamanites shall be a dark, filthy, and loathsome people" to "because of their unbelief, the Lamanites will be scattered, and the Spirit will cease to strive with them."
-In 1981, three years after the ban on blacks was lifted, the church quietly changed the phrase "white and delightsome" to describe what would happen to dark skinned people who came unto Christ to "pure and delightsome."
With regards to the "white and delightsome" change, church apologists will argue that Joseph Smith (likely himself) did change one reference of "white and delightsome" to "pure and delightsome" in the 1840 edition, but left the other references to "white and delightsome" unchanged. But that of course leaves open the questions as to why it was written that way in the first place, why other references to "white and delightsome" were left unchanged, and why Joseph continued this theme of non-white skin being a curse in the books of Moses and Abraham, both of which were written years after the Book of Mormon.
When you read these verses from scriptures of the church, it absolutely implies that those with white skin are more pure, chaste, and worthy than those with black skin. While some want to claim that "skin" actually means "clothes," as I outlined in an earlier Come Follow Me post, that simply does not work in the context of the verses or the teachings from the prophets, seers, and revelators through revelation with regards to knowing who the Lamanites are based on the color of their skin (i.e. Native Americans). Again, this is the very definition of white supremacy, and it is embedded in the church's doctrines whether we want to take them at face value or not.
And that problem is compounded by the church's prophets, seers, and revelators teaching that black skin is inferior to those born with white skin. While we have more quotes in our page that cites some of the quotes from church leaders about dark skin, here are a few to illustrate this point:
Prophet Joseph Smith: "And he said cursed be Canaan; a servant of servants shall he be unto his brethren. And he said, Blessed be the Lord God of Shem; and Canaan shall be his servant.— God shall enlarge Japheth, and he shall dwell in the tents of Shem; and Canaan shall be his servant.”—Gen, 8:25, 26, 27... Trace the history of the world from this notable event down to this day, and you will find the fulfillment of this singular prophecy. What could have been the design of the Almighty in this wonderful occurrence is not for me to say; but I can say, that the curse is not yet taken off the sons of Canaan, neither will be until it is affected by as great power as caused it to come; and the people who interfere the least with the decrees and purposes of God in this matter, will come under the least condemnation before him; and those who are determined to pursue a course which shows an opposition and a feverish restlessness against the designs of the Lord, will learn, when perhaps it is too late for their own good, that God can do his own work without the aid of those who are not dictated by his counsel." (Joseph Smith in letter to Oliver Cowdery, 1836)
Prophet Brigham Young: "I will remark with regard to slavery, inasmuch as we believe in the Bible, inasmuch as we believe in the ordinances of God, in the Priesthood and order and decrees of God, we must believe in slavery. This colored race have been subjected to severe curses, which they have in their families and their classes and in their various capacities brought upon themselves. And until the curse is removed by Him who placed it upon them, they must suffer under its consequences; I am not authorized to remove it. I am a firm believer in slavery." (Prophet Brigham Young in the Joint Session of the Legislature, January 1852)
Apostle George Q. Cannon: "The question also came up whether a white man who was married to a woman having negro blood in her veins could receive the Priesthood. I explained what President Taylor had taught me when I was a boy in Nauvoo concerning this matter; he had received it from the Prophet Joseph, who said that a man bearing the Priesthood who should marry or associate with a negress, or one of that seed, if the penalty of the law were executed upon him, he and her and the offspring would be killed; that it was contrary to the law of God for men bearing the Priesthood to have association with that seed." (Journal of George Q. Cannon, December 16 1897)
Apostle George F. Richards: "I cannot conceive our Father consigning his children to a condition such as that of the negro race, if they had been valiant in the spirit world in that war in heaven." (Apostle George F. Richards, October 1939, General Conference)
Prophet George A. Smith: "From the days of the Prophet Joseph even until now, it has been the doctrine of the Church, never questioned by any of the Church leaders, that the Negroes are not entitled to the full blessings of the Gospel. Furthermore, your ideas, as we understand them, appear to contemplate the intermarriage of the Negro and White races, a concept which has heretofore been most repugnant to most normal-minded people from the ancient patriarchs till now. God’s rule for Israel, His Chosen People, has been endogamous. Modern Israel has been similarly directed. We are not unmindful of the fact that there is growing tendency, particularly among some educators, as it manifests itself in this area, toward the breaking down of race barriers in the matter of intermarriage between whites and blacks, but it does not have the sanction of the Church and is contrary to Church doctrine.” (LDS First Presidency (George Albert Smith), letter to Virgil H. Sponberg (critic of the anti-black ban), May 5, 1947)
Elder Ezra Taft Benson: "There is no doubt that the so-called civil rights movement as it exists today is used as a Communist program for revolution in America just as agrarian reform was used by the Communists to take over China and Cuba. This shocking statement can be confirmed by an objective study of Communist literature and activities and by knowledgeable Negroes and others who have worked within the Communist movement." (Elder Ezra Taft Benson Of the Council of the Twelve Apostles, 1967)
Prophet Harold B. Lee: "The privilege of obtaining a mortal body on this earth is seemingly so priceless that those in the spirit world, even though unfaithful or not valiant, were undoubtedly permitted to take mortal bodies although under penalty of racial or physical or nationalistic limitations." (Prophet Harold. B. Lee in his book, Decisions for Successful Living)
These quotes make clear that not only do the church's scriptures teach that black skin is a curse from God and therefore inferior to white skin, but that the prophets of God both believed and taught that those with dark skin were "not valiant" in the pre-mortal life. Again, this line of thinking is the very definition of white supremacy, as loaded of a term as it might be, and this thinking was borne out of Joseph Smith's milieu along with the scriptures he produced.
While apologists would argue that these quotes are not from prophets, but from prophets simply "speaking as men," the undeniable fact is that these beliefs come directly from the scriptures of Mormonism. You cannot argue that these prophets were speaking as men and not as a prophets until you admit that these scriptures were also written by men and not by God.
This is a problem the church can not get away from no matter how many donations they make to the NAACP or how many times they say they can not find a reason for these teachings in the first place. At the church's "Be One" event to celebrate 40 years since the ban on members with African blood in them was lifted, President Dallin Oaks said the following:
"I observed the pain and frustration experienced by those who suffered these restrictions and those who criticized them and sought for reasons. I studied the reasons then being given and could not feel confirmation of the truth of any of them. As part of my prayerful study, I learned that, in general, the Lord rarely gives reasons for the commandments and directions He gives to His servants. I determined to be loyal to our prophetic leaders and to pray — as promised from the beginning of these restrictions — that the day would come when all would enjoy the blessings of priesthood and temple. Now, on June 8, 1978, that day had come, and I wept for joy." (Dallin Oaks, 'Be One' Event)
The problems here should be obvious at this point, but to me what sticks out is that Oaks stood by and supported the ban until 1978 even though he now claims to find no confirmation of it. This is self-serving to Oaks to be sure, but it throws every past prophet, seer, and revelator under the bus who not only found confirmation of this ban, but cited the church's scriptures as the foundation for the ban.
Again, I know this is going to be a pretty blunt statement, but it shows that Oaks was either calculated in not speaking out against the ban because he knew he was on a track to church leadership or he was too afraid to speak out against the living prophet. People were being harmed by this policy, and Oaks stood by and watched even as he now claims he could not find any reasons for the ban. The church always puts their leaders above their members, and this is a perfect example of how they do it.
Last, Oaks reiterated that the ban was a commandment when he said "he Lord rarely gives reasons for the commandments and directions He gives to His servants," which is a pretty stunning admission. The problem then is why God cave this commandment (or direction) to the prophets of the church and yet God didn't give Oaks a confirmation that it was from Him. Again, I ask whether Oaks was being calculated in not speaking out or too afraid to speak out.
While the current prophet, Russell M. Nelson. says that "prejudice, hate and discrimination are learned," he neglects to add that this church has been consistently been the one teaching these ideas in the name of God. Yes, prejudice is learned, but the church has been a large reason that people 'learned' these beliefs by inserting the predominant views of the 1820s into their scriptures.
How the Priesthood Ban Was Lifted
One of the biggest myths of church history is that the priesthood ban was lifted through a revelation from God. From the church's essay on Race and the Priesthood:
This “revelation on the priesthood,” as it is commonly known in the Church, was a landmark revelation and a historic event. Those who were present at the time described it in reverent terms. Gordon B. Hinckley, then a member of the Quorum of the Twelve, remembered it this way: “There was a hallowed and sanctified atmosphere in the room. For me, it felt as if a conduit opened between the heavenly throne and the kneeling, pleading prophet of God who was joined by his Brethren. … Every man in that circle, by the power of the Holy Ghost, knew the same thing. … Not one of us who was present on that occasion was ever quite the same after that. Nor has the Church been quite the same.”
The reality is that it was nothing of the sort, and we have a first person account from Apostle Legrand Richards to explain how the ban was actually lifted. From his interview with Wesley Walters:
WALTERS: On this revelation, of the priesthood to the Negro, I’ve heard all kinds of stories: I’ve heard that Christ appeared to the Apostles. I’ve heard that Joseph Smith appeared; and then I heard another story that Spencer Kimball had had a concern about this for some time and simply shared it with the apostles, and they decided that this was the right time to move in that direction. Now are any of those stories true, or are they all…
RICHARDS: Well, the last one is pretty true, and I might tell you what provoked it in a way. Down in Brazil, there is so much Negro blood in the population there that it’s hard to get leaders that don’t have Negro blood in them. We just built a temple down there. It’s going to be dedicated in October. All those people with Negro blood in them have been raising the money to build that temple. And then, if we don’t change, then they can’t even use it. So Brother Kimball worried about it, and he prayed a lot about it.
He asked each one of us of the Twelve if we would pray – and we did – that the Lord would give him the inspiration to know what the will of the Lord was. And then he invited each one of us in his office – individually, because you know when you are in a group, you can’t always express everything that’s in your heart. You’re part of the group, you see – so he interviewed each one of us, personally, to see how we felt about it, and he asked us to pray about it. And then he asked each one of us to hand in all the references we had, for, or against that proposal. See, he was thinking favorably toward giving the colored people the priesthood.
Then we had a meeting where we meet every week in the temple, and we discussed it as a group together, and then we prayed about it in our prayer circle, and then we held another prayer circle after the close of that meeting, and he (President Kimball) lead in the prayer; praying that the Lord would give us the inspiration that we needed to do the thing that would be pleasing to Him and for the blessing of His children. And then the next Thursday – we meet every Thursday – the Presidency came with this little document written out to make the announcement – to see how we’d feel about it – and present it in written form. Well, some of the members of the Twelve suggested a few changes in the announcement, and then in our meeting there we all voted in favor of it – the Twelve and the Presidency. One member of the Twelve, Mark Petersen, was down in South America, but Brother Benson, our President, had arranged to know where he could be reached by phone, and right while we were in that meeting in the temple, Brother Kimball talked with Brother Petersen, and read him this article, and he (Petersen) approved of it.
WALTERS: Now when President Kimball read this little announcement or paper, was that the same thing that was released to the press?
WALTERS: There wasn’t a special document as a “revelation”, that he had and wrote down?
RICHARDS: We discussed it in our meeting. What else should we say besides that announcement? And we decided that was sufficient; that no more needed to be said.
The entire interview can be found here
If you read the church's essay, you can see how hard they work to frame the lifting of the ban as a grand revelation from God, but when you actually look at how the ban was lifted, it was nothing more than a signed statement that allowed the church to solve an attendance problem for the Brazil temple.
It's also pretty shocking when you realize that it wasn't the Civil Rights Movement that changed the church's mind, but a desire to increase attendance at a new temple where the population was predominantly of those with dark skin. Of all of the struggles that black members of the church had dealt with since the ban was implemented, it was, as Apostle Richards admitted, the desire that "all those people with Negro blood in them" were able to attend the new temple in Brazil that finally pushed the prophets, seers, and revelators to action.
I don't know what more to say on this one, but any idea that the lifting of the ban was the kind of grand revelation that has been implied, and often taught, is simply not how it happened. More importantly, even with a statement that lifted the ban on members with African blood from attending the temple or receiving exaltation, the church still left all of the scriptures that led to the ban in place.
Implications of the Church's Teachings on Race for the Idea of Prophetic Revelation
When I began studying church history, I noticed an unmistakable pattern that all prophets from Joseph Smith to Russell Nelson are simply inserting their own personal biases and environment into the word of God to teach what they believed long before holding the power to do anything about it. I believe that Russell Nelson's wife Wendy put it better than I ever could:
"It is as though he's been unleashed. He's free to finally do what he came to earth to do. … And also, he's free to follow through with things he's been concerned about but could never do. Now that he's president of [the Church], he can do those things." (Mormon Newsroom)
As we covered previously in a post about how revelation has changed during the church's history, the first major 'revelation' of Russell Nelson as prophet was to implement a change he had fought for his entire life: not using the name Mormon. Yet we can see by looking at Nelson's previous talks along with the prophets during those times that Nelson was unsuccessful in that mission until he lived long enough to claim that authority.
When Joseph Smith was rejected by women he propositioned for polygamy, he would tell these young women that they were given by God to them through revelation and if they rejected him further, Joseph Smith told them that an angel with a drawn sword told him if they did not marry him as polygamous wives, he would lose his life. We cover all of this in our overviews on polygamy, but it is important in understanding how revelation is used by prophets to obtain their personal desires.
In other words, Joseph Smith used the idea of revelation constantly to insert his own worldviews and desires into the church, because as prophet he was trusted and followed completely. If Joseph Smith asked for something on his own, he would be much more likely to be rejected compared to when he told his followers that the request was from God. It's how Joseph got Martin Harris to pay for the Book of Mormon, got women to enter into marriage and sexual relations with him, and how he increased his authority by changing the priesthood restoration and First Vision accounts. More relevant to this topic, this is also how Brigham Young implemented the ban on blacks, and why every prophet until 1978 believed that black skin was a curse for those who were less valiant in the pre-mortal life.
Because this church claims to be the 'only true and living church,' it becomes an even bigger problem that they championed white supremacist beliefs for about 150 years and still teach it in their scriptures. There is a reason that the church's prophets believed they could turn the Native Americans white by teaching them the gospel or even adopting Native American children into their families. From Prophet Spencer W. Kimball:
"I saw a striking contrast in the progress of the Indian people today as against that of only fifteen years ago. Truly the scales of darkness are falling from their eyes, and they are fast becoming a white and delightsome people." (Spencer W. Kimball, October 1960 General Conference)
This is a teaching that is racist, harmful, and just factually false. How could a church truly led by a fair and loving God teach that those who are not white are from a cursed lineage. Why should every black person (or Native American) pay for the sin of their fathers? And even if you make room for the possibility that God would command this, you then have to ask what kind of God would design a world where he would punish the descendants of black and brown people in order to elevate white people?
I don't think there's a better way to illustrate that this church is led by men and not God than this: We are to believe that God sent an angel with a drawn sword to force Joseph Smith to marry and have sex with many young women who follow him, but allowed His other prophets to make up and teach racist doctrine for 150 years without being corrected by a revelation or any visits from an angel?
Apologetic Responses to the Issues with Race and the Scriptures of Mormonism
There have been many apologetic answers to deal with the racism that is embedded in the scriptures of Mormonism, and I want to cover the most common ones here.
Skin Does Not Actually Mean Skin
In response to the Come Follow Me issue in 2020, an article began making the rounds from the Salt Lake Tribune titled "What if 'skin' doesn't mean human skin" by Holly Richardson. This is a common apologetic that attempts to relieve the Book of Mormon from the teachings of the curse of dark skin by claiming that "skin" doesn't actually mean 'skin,' but instead means clothes.
You can read the entire article here. From the article by Holly Richardson:
"What if our interpretation was a cultural artifact of the mid-1800s, when slavery was still legal in the United States? What if we have misunderstood words like “skin” and “black” and “dark”? Could there be another interpretation?
I believe there is.
In 2015, Ethan Sprout, a professor of English at Utah Valley University, published an article in the Journal of Book of Mormon Studies that explored the idea of “skin” or “skins” referring to clothing and not to human skin.
Pointing to verses in Alma 3:5-6, he shows us why we can interpret “skin” as clothing: First, the Lamanites were naked, “save it were the skin which was girded about their loins,” and then, “the skins of the Lamanites were dark.” He asks — as we should ask — do they not refer to the same thing? Clothing, or garments? Surely that is a possibility."
As we've previously pointed out, this argument is just silly. Look at how Richardson frames the text of Alma 3:5-6 above to give the "possibility" that skins being worn over their loins equates to the skin that was darkened by the curse. Now let's look at Alma 3:5-6 in its entirety:
"5 Now the heads of the Lamanites were shorn; and they were naked, save it were skin which was girded about their loins, and also their armor, which was girded about them, and their bows, and their arrows, and their stones, and their slings, and so forth.
6 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."
It is just silly to think that the same "skin which was girded about their loins" is being referred to in verse six. If the author of the Book of Mormon here was trying to make that direct connection, he would not mention the skin that was girded about their loins and then follow with five other items before coming back to the same "skin." Also, to make this connection we would have to believe that they are still wearing the clothes from their fathers or that every piece of clothing they create instantly turns dark as Alma 3:6 states "the skins of the Lamanites were dark, according to the mark which was set upon their fathers." I hope you can see why this apologetic is so disingenuous - the verse states "according to the mark which was set upon their fathers," which just doesn't make sense if referring to clothes, but makes perfect sense if it is referring to human skin.
Furthermore it is insulting to tell members that God would "curse" the skins covering their loins as a way to "not be enticing" to the white and delightsome. Have you even found someone to not be attractive because they are wearing dark clothing? Are women not enticing in black clothing, because if so there is some serious issues with all of the black dresses and lingerie that is sold. This argument is silly and it is insulting to our common sense, lived experience, and teachings from this very church. And apologists know on some level how ridiculous this argument is, which is why even after this carefully selected text in the article, it is still called by Richardson as merely "a possibility." Just as we see with the Gospel Topics essays, they throw out a bunch of possibilities and hope members will settle on one and stop digging deeper.
One more point from this article that I want to highlight which is the end of Richardson's article:
"For Latter-day Saints who truly believe that God is no respecter of persons, doesn’t it make sense to ask ourselves if there could possibly be other interpretations from a translated record written over 2000 years ago than the one passed down through the lens of Civil War and then Civil Rights culture? That perhaps our lens of white privilege has colored our view? I believe we can and should be asking those kinds of questions, especially as members of a church that began because of a counter-cultural question asked by a teenage boy."
This ending is really curious to me, because Richardson is making the point that critics have been making for almost 200 years: the Book of Mormon is written as if the author was only familiar with 19th century ideas and writings. There's nothing that matches ancient history of the Americas, and there's nothing that matches future events unknown to the author. Everything points to a 19th century worldview including the use of the King James Bible which is not even considered the more accurate translation as scholars have found older manuscripts to give us a better understanding of what the original texts actually said.
The reason the Book of Mormon discusses how the Native Americans got here is because that was a hot topic around Joseph Smith's lifetime. And it's the same reason people wondered how they got dark skin, because as the white settlers they felt superior to them and to their culture, but still couldn't make sense of their heritage. The racism of the 19th century made its way into the Book of Mormon not because we are misreading it today, but because Joseph Smith was writing the Book of Mormon using the sources and questions surrounding him.
So maybe the real question Richardson should be asking here is not if there's another way to read the literal words in the Book of Mormon, but what all of these 19th century problems being in the Book of Mormon tell us about its authenticity as an ancient scripture preserved by God.
Just as the church has attempted to redefine what translation means, here they are trying to tell us that what the scriptures say at face value isn't correct, and Joseph Smith identifying the Native Americans as Lamanites because of their dark skin was just a coincidence.
Prophets Were Not Asking the Right Questions
One apologetic answer to this is that the prophets weren't asking the right questions. In a lengthy interview with Jim Bennett, who wrote a response to the CES Letter, he repeatedly says that early prophets just weren't asking if this is wrong because they were in an environment of racism and weren't thinking about the policy and teachings being wrong.
But if that is the case, what is the point of having a prophet to receive revelation on the issues of the day? Why is this church always behind society as a whole on the issues that matter most to people? And what does that say about the implication that Joseph Smith that he was constantly asking God about what young women he could marry and have sex with if God only gives us the information we are seeking answers for?
In other words, this argument just does not fit with the concept of a true and living church, but it fits perfectly with a church led by men who are only capable of putting their own worldview into the voice of God to get their followers to adhere to policies and beliefs that they hold themselves.
I don't want to get into revelation too much here, but if you have never seen the video on spiritual witnesses, I highly recommend it to everyone as it details how every religion uses the idea of a spiritual witness to confirm truth, and obviously not everyone in this video can be correct. There is also a clip of a woman in an LDS offshoot church speaking about how she received a spiritual witness of polygamy from God just as the church did until it was revoked, which is odd if personal revelation comes from a consistent and unchanging God.
The Church in an American Racial Culture
In the church's Gospel Topics essay on Race and the Priesthood, they have a section titled "The Church in an American Racial Culture." Within this section they note that the church was created during a time "amidst a highly contentious racial culture in which whites were afforded great privilege."
This is, of course, factually true but it completely misses the point. The entire reason for having a living prophet of God is to guide us through difficult times to do the right thing, not to just continue on with harmful policies because it was what people were doing at the time.
Furthermore, the essay cites the beginning of the ban under Brigham Young in the following way:
"In 1850, the U.S. Congress created Utah Territory, and the U.S. president appointed Brigham Young to the position of territorial governor. Southerners who had converted to the Church and migrated to Utah with their slaves raised the question of slavery’s legal status in the territory. In two speeches delivered before the Utah territorial legislature in January and February 1852, Brigham Young announced a policy restricting men of black African descent from priesthood ordination. At the same time, President Young said that at some future day, black Church members would “have [all] the privilege and more” enjoyed by other members.
The justifications for this restriction echoed the widespread ideas about racial inferiority that had been used to argue for the legalization of black “servitude” in the Territory of Utah. According to one view, which had been promulgated in the United States from at least the 1730s, blacks descended from the same lineage as the biblical Cain, who slew his brother Abel. Those who accepted this view believed that God’s “curse” on Cain was the mark of a dark skin. Black servitude was sometimes viewed as a second curse placed upon Noah’s grandson Canaan as a result of Ham’s indiscretion toward his father. Although slavery was not a significant factor in Utah’s economy and was soon abolished, the restriction on priesthood ordinations remained."
This really sums up the problem for the church's claims to being a church led by God so well: Brigham Young was the first leader of the Utah territory and he chose to make it a slave state. As a living prophet of God, Brigham chose to make Utah a slave state.
Apologists can argue that Brigham was a product of his time all they want, but the fact is that his decisions had tremendous impact on the church and almost every one of his major contributions to doctrine have since been proven to be horribly wrong including the Adam-God doctrine, blood atonement, and the ban on members of African descent from receiving the priesthood and any chance at exaltation.
Last, this essay states the following that I cited above:
"According to one view, which had been promulgated in the United States from at least the 1730s, blacks descended from the same lineage as the biblical Cain, who slew his brother Abel. Those who accepted this view believed that God’s “curse” on Cain was the mark of a dark skin."
This is not just "one view," but the view of the church. They literally teach in their scriptures that blacks descended from Cain and thus had dark skin. I don't know how else to phrase this, but they are literally stating that Joseph Smith was incorporating ideas that "had been promulgated in the United States since at least the 1730s" directly into the Books of Moses and Abraham. This is a huge admission by the church, even if they likely did not want members to connect the dots as to what they were saying.
As I've been saying above, this is why lifting the ban is only a piece of the puzzle. The racist teachings from "at least the 1730s" were written directly into the church's scriptures and remain there today as doctrine. When apologists say that prophets were products of their time, they don't realize just how accurate they are. The problem here is that Joseph Smith left the fingerprints of his time all over every scripture he wrote, and as society has moved on from the harmful teachings of that era, they remain untouched in the scriptures of Mormonisn.
Clearly this is a very difficult topic, and I know if you're a believing member this information probably either has your stomach in knots because of how damning the history of the church is with regards to race, or very angry at me for writing about it. All I can say is that as difficult as it was reading about church history and having any shred of belief crumble from doing so, I am much happier knowing that I have been ahead of current prophets in treating everyone with the dignity and respect they deserve. While leaders have begun to embrace black members since 1978, they have shifted to demonizing the LGBT community, and as we know God gave a revelation in 2015 that was reversed just 3.5 years later. I knew in 2015 that it was wrong to condemn gay members as apostates, and I surely knew before Russell Nelson reversed that policy via revelation that it was going to get removed by the church eventually due to the fact that younger generations are not willing to take the nonsensical disdain that the church continues to push towards the LGBT community.
But give credit where credit is due - Russell Nelson is absolutely right when he teaches that "prejudice, hate and discrimination are learned." He's just being very careful not to mention that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints not only used God to teach this prejudice to members for 150 years, but that they're still teaching it in their scriptures today even if they carefully edit quotes of past leaders in their manuals and lessons. And that leaves the church with the most impossible choice: Keep these racist ideas in their scriptures and never fully escape the prejudice they teach their members every Sunday, or change the scriptures and finally admit that Joseph Smith was the creator of the Book of Mormon, Moses, and Abraham as a man - not as the inspired (or literal) word of God.
In Nelson's statement on race, he said that "any of us who has prejudice toward another race needs to repent!" My response to Nelson is simple: You first. Until the church truly repents and apologizes for their history of racism that continues today in their scriptures, they are no better than those they scold in his statement, and no amount of public relations events or donations will change that.
Again, I realize this is a very difficult and sensitive topic, but if we look at the definition of white supremacy and then look at both the church's scriptures and statements from those who claimed to speak for God, there is simply no escaping the reality that this church is based on the idea that white people are favored by God, and that dark skinned people will once again become white and delightsome as they come unto Christ and lift the curse. That is an abhorrent teaching, and it is one that the church will never be able to run away from no matter how much they rebrand their past.
In this overview I tried to provide a wide array of the scriptures that led to these beliefs about the curse of dark skin for Native Americans, Polynesians, and those of African descent along with a selection of quotes from church leaders that solidify that this was the true, literal belief of the church for almost 140 years.
I also tried to cover the most common apologetics about the curse of dark skin in the Book of Mormon because I think it is incredibly important to understand what apologists are seeking to do when they talk to members. In previous overviews I have covered how apologists want to redefine what translation means, and in this overview they are attempting to redefine what the word skin means.
As I said at the beginning, when I was still a believing member of the church the only two problems I was aware of were polygamy and the racism that stemmed from both the 'ban on blacks' and the 'curse of dark skin.' Those problems would occasionally bother me even though I was too afraid to hop on the computer and start searching for information, and I can only say I wish that I had looked into this once I first started realizing that it was wrong. Even though it would have caused me a lot of anguish much earlier, it would have saved me a lot of time having questions about these problems.
Sometimes the hardest part about learning these issues is ripping off the band-aid. I know from talking to so many over the last few years that we all have different reasons for leaving (or staying), but that the hardest part of all is getting to a place mentally where we can even entertain the possibility that the church is not true. I wrote a blog post about this when I first started the site about how it's OK to let go of your beliefs temporarily to put them to the test, and I still believe that today.
If you really want to know if this church is true, you need to let go of your predetermined conclusions and evaluate the information the same way you would any other religious leader, church, or organization. That might be the most difficult thing to get our minds to do, but it is the most important one if you want to know what is true and what is not.
Check us out on Twitter or Facebook as well for future posts and updates, and thank you again for reading!
Next Overview Topic: The Temple Endowment and Masonry
Come Follow Me: What is the Curse of Dark Skin in 2 Nephi? (January 19, 2020): In the 2020 Come Follow Me printed manual, the church points out that the curse of dark skin in the Book of Mormon is a literal curse of a dark skin. They scrubbed this quote in the electronic version, and it caused a bit of controversy. We took a look at the changes the church made, and how they cut around a pivotal quote to make it sound much less offensive than it is when looked at as Prophet Joseph F. Smith originally spoke it.
Come Follow Me: What If 'Skin' Doesn't Mean Human Skin? (January 30, 2020): This was a blog post follow-up to our initial post about the 2020 Come Follow Me manual's reference to the curse of dark skin, and a look at an apologetic article that "skin" doesn't mean "skin," but clothing. We go through the article point by point to explain why this apologetic simply does not work both within the text of the Book or Mormon or the teaching of it by prophets and other leaders.
Timeline: Ban on Blacks for Priesthood and Temple Ordinances: A quick look at the timeline of the ban on black members from the priesthood in the church, and what led to the ban being lifted in 1978.
Church Scriptures and Quotes From Leaders on the Ban on Blacks for the Priesthood/Temple Ordinances: A rundown of some quotes from both LDS scriptures (Book of Mormon, Abraham, and Moses) and leaders on what the curse of dark skin was, and how they spoke of black people while speaking for God.
Official LDS Essay on Race and the Priesthood, Annotated: Our annotations to the official church Gospel Topics essay on Race and the Priesthood. This is the most important piece to read, as it details the church's positions on what led to the ban on blacks as well as what led to the ban being lifted. It includes a lot of the quotes and timeline from above in order to answer the church's claims in the essay.