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Racism in the LDS church

Statements about race in the Book of Mormon

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Theological foundation for racism in the LDS church:

According to sociologist Amand L. Mauss, a president of the Mormon History Association, the church's racist beliefs originated within protestant denominations from which many Mormons converted. He said in 1998: "Every major Protestant denomination in history has taught that blacks are descendants of Cain and Ham." 1

bulletCain is described in the book of Genesis of the Hebrew Scriptures (a.k.a. Old Testament) as a son of Adam. Cain was jealous of his brother Abel, because God had rejected Cain's offering, while accepting Abel's. In Genesis 4:8, he is described as having "attacked his brother Abel, and killed him."

bulletHam is described in Genesis 9 as a son of Noah who had seen his father naked. Ham himself was not punished. But Ham's son, Canaan, was cursed. Genesis 9:25-27:

"Cursed be Canaan! The lowest of slaves will he be to his brothers. He also said, 'Blessed be the Lord, the God of Shem! May Canaan be the slave of Shem. May God extend the territory of Japheth; may Japeth live in the tents of Shem and may Canaan be his slave'."

This became known as the "Curse of Ham."

bullet Most Christians found it convenient prior to the 19th century to assume that the Curse of Ham was to continue to all of Ham's African descendents. This justified human slavery.

It may seem unethical, immoral, and irrational to let the perpetrator go unpunished while cursing the son of the perpetrator and further cursing all of his descendents. However this concept of scapegoating -- of transferring punishment from a sinful person to innocent persons is a theme that runs throughout the Bible from Genesis to Revelation.

Protestant denominations in the early 19th century interpreted the Bible as implying that the black race was formed from Cain and Abel's descendents. The Curse of Ham was used extensively prior to the Civil War to justify slavery as a biblically condoned, recognized and regulated practice. The abolition movement caused a great deal of distress among many Christians because they had to finally reject slavery as profoundly immoral -- a practice which the Bible accepted as a normal aspect of the culture of the Middle East.  They had to wrap their minds around the fact that the Bible taught something that was apparently against the will of God. Beliefs of the inferiority of blacks died a slow death among the leading denominations: Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterians, etc.

However, the LDS church was an exception. The Pearl of Great Price is one of four source texts that are accepted by Mormons as divinely inspired and authoritative scripture --the "Standard Works." The Pearl had specifically prohibited the ordination of anyone who was black or who had even one distant black ancestor. Its teachings could not be easily altered. 

Another inspired scripture, according to the LDS, is the Book of Mormon. It discusses the Lamanite race among Native Amerricans, and how they received dark skins and a degenerate status as punishment:

2 Nephi 5:21-23:

"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."

"And thus saith the Lord God: I will cause that they shall be loathsome unto thy people, save they shall repent of their iniquities."

"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."

"And because of their cursing which was upon them they did become an idle people, full of mischief and subtlety, and did seek in the wilderness for beasts of prey."

In 2 Nephi 30:6, the the Book of Mormon as originally translated (or written; opinions differ) by Joseph Smith said that if Lamanites accepted the true gospel,

"...their scales of darkness shall begin to fall from their eyes; and many generations shall not pass away among them, save they shall be a white and a delightsome people."

After 1981, the term "white and delightsome" was changed to read "pure" -- an unusual action for a book considered to be inspired by God in its original version. 2

3 Nephi 2:15 reads:

"And their curse was taken from them, and their skin became white like unto the Nephites." 2

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Statements in the Book of Mormon which are non racist:

Notwithstanding the Book of Mormon's references to blackness as a curse, it does contain some passages in 2 and 3 Nephi implying that persons of all races may attain salvation:

bullet2 Nephi 26:24: "He doeth not anything save it be for the benefit of the world; for he loveth the world, even that he layeth down his own life that he may draw all men unto him. Wherefore, he commandeth none that they shall not partake of his salvation." 3

bullet2 Nephi 26:33: "For none of these iniquities come of the Lord; for he doeth that which is good among the children of men; and he doeth nothing save it be plain unto the children of men; and he inviteth them all to come unto him and partake of his goodness; and he denieth none that come unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female; and he remembereth the heathen; and all are alike unto God, both Jew and Gentile." 3

bullet3 Nephi 27:14 & 15: "And my Father sent me that I might be lifted up upon the cross; and after that I had been lifted up upon the cross, that I might draw all men unto me, that as I have been lifted up by men even so should men be lifted up by the Father, to stand before me, to be judged of their works, whether they be good or whether they be evil—And for this cause have I been lifted up; therefore, according to the power of the Father I will draw all men unto me, that they may be judged according to their works." 4

Emphasis ours.

Even though the Book of Mormon teaches that African Americans are inferior and loathsome, -- uncouth, uncomely, disagreeable and low in their habits, wild, and seemingly deprived of nearly all the blessings of the intelligence that is generally bestowed upon mankind according to Mark E. Peterson -- it does state that they may eventually be saved. However, even in Heaven, LDS theology said that they will be servants to others.

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. Bill Broadway, "Black Mormons Resist Apology Talk," Washington Post, 1998-MAY-30, Page B09. See: http://www.lds-mormon.com/lds_race.shtml
  2. Bill McKeever & Eric Johnson, "White and Delightsome or Pure and Delightsome? - A Look at 2 Nephi 30:6," at: http://www.mrm.org/
  3. "The Book of Mormon," 2 Ne 26:24, at: http://scriptures.lds.org/
  4. "The Book of Mormon," 2 Ne 27:15, at: http://scriptures.lds.org/

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Copyright © 1997 to 2012 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2002-AUG-12
Latest update: 2012-MAR-11
Author: B.A. Robinson

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