I served a mission in Guatemala. I whole heartedly believed I was in Book of Mormon territory! Preaching to the Lamanites in their native tongue of K’ekchi.
For those of you that may not know about the Book of Mormon, it is a story of two groups of people; They fight wars, build great nations and worship God, all sorts of great stories of faith, redemption, even subterfuge and war. It spans 1000 years, starting about 600 BC and tells of a family that left Jerusalem and ended up in the Americas.
One fundamental theme running through the book is an ongoing war between the good guys and bad guys. The bad guys are the Lamanites, named such after following Laman and Lemual (the rebellious bothers) and not walking the path of God.
They are generally annoyances in the side of the folk known as the Nephites. Named after, you guessed it, Nephi! Nephi isn’t a lazy good for nothing gomer like his brothers though, he is a spiritual giant. He does exactly what God wants done, when he wants it done. He is even willing to chop off a guys head and impersonate him because the spirit of God told him to.
In summary, you have a family feud that results in some people following Nephi and others not so much. The lord didn’t like how these Lamanites were acting and told Nephi this. Rather than me summarizing I think you should read it for yourself.
In the Book of Mormon 2 Nephi chapter 5 it says:
20 Wherefore, the word of the Lord was fulfilled which he spake unto me, saying that: Inasmuch as they will anot hearken unto thy words they shall be bcut off from the presence of the Lord. And behold, they were ccut off from his presence.
21 And he had caused the acursing 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 andbdelightsome, that they might not be centicing unto my people the Lord God did cause a dskin of eblackness to come upon them.
22 And thus saith the Lord God: I will cause that they shall bealoathsome unto thy people, save they shall repent of their iniquities.
23 And cursed shall be the seed of him that amixeth with their seed; for they shall be cursed even with the same cursing. And the Lord spake it, and it was done.
25 And the Lord God said unto me: They shall be a scourge unto thy seed, to astir them up in remembrance of me; and inasmuch as they will not remember me, and hearken unto my words, they shall scourge them even unto destruction.
Did you catch that? The lord cursed the Lamanites, gave them a black skin like the color of flint. Made sure they were loathsome to the exceedingly fair and white Nephites. He even made sure that if you hooked up with a Lamanite you’d have little flint colored babies too. Once cursed they got all lazy and became a scourge to the good people that did what God wanted.
Over the next 1000 years recorded in the book these two factions fought back and forth. Sometimes the Lamanites were even the good guys, especially when the Nephites got prideful. But eventually the Nephites were wiped completely out, only the darker skinned evil Lamanites were left, there was still hope though. They were told if they repented they would eventually blossom like a rose and become white* and delightsome people. They just had to do what God wanted. One of the overriding morals of the story in the Book of Mormon is God curses you when you don’t do what he wants you to. In this case he cursed them with a skin of blackness.
Ok so by now you are wondering why the lesson on this book? I promise I will get to that, but first understand, on my mission I taught the people that I thought were the Lamanites above, the ones that were promised if they came back to the truth they would blossom like the rose and become less tan and more delightsome. I had the truth for them too. I believed it to the core.
Now to my point. There are some people that read those passages and say they are racist, I didn’t think so back then. You see the way this doctrine was explained to me was that this whole skin color thing was part of a greater plan that started in the preexistence (the life we lived before this one). When we were up in heaven before being born I learned one third of us followed Lucifer and two thirds of us followed Jesus. Those two thirds are everyone that has or ever will live on earth. (what happened to the followers of the light bringer is a whole other topic)
Now since everyone is different I was taught not everyone was as valiant as everyone else in our pre-earth life. The Book of Abraham even specifically says there were some noble and great ones, lending credence to this understanding. If there were more valiant spirits, then that meant some were less valiant. It was also explained to me that some were just not ready for the responsibility of holding the priesthood here on earth, they chose not to have it in the life before this one. I suppose some where just plain female too 🙂 but again I digress. Given this understanding it made sense to me that God might color a people with his skin crayons. By doing so he made it easy for us to understand who got what in this life. I felt if a guy before this life didn’t cut the mustard or just didn’t want the responsibility of holding God’s sacred priesthood who was I to second guess that? It was either Gods, or that persons prerogative. Also there was a great plan in execution as well. I was taught that eventually all those (male)souls that didn’t deserve or didn’t want it would have come to earth. Once all of them were born, grown old and passed on, it would be at that point God would give the black people the priesthood (well the males at least). This happened when I was 7 years old, cheers were heard all around. 12 years later I was teaching the poor cursed remnant of the Lamanites telling them the good news! Your time to blossom is now! I felt like I was fulfilling prophecy. I hope you can see how in light of this greater plan I didn’t believe these passages to be racist at all.
Fast forward another 25 years and this happens. The church that I preached for makes this declaration in the linked article posted last week.
“Today, the Church disavows the theories advanced in the past that black skin is a sign of divine disfavor or curse, or that it reflects 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.”
Please let me draw your attention to the first sentence:
“the Church disavows the theories advanced in the past that black skin is a sign of divine disfavor or curse…”
Say what??? Isn’t that exactly what the Lord did when he was talking to Nephi? Didn’t the lord himself divinely curse the poor Lamanites with a skin like flint?
Then it says:
“…or that it reflects actions in a pre-mortal life”
Which completely eliminates the way I was able to view those scriptural doctrines as non-prejudicial. In one swoop, not only is the scripture called into question, but the justification for it being in the book is completely destroyed. The statement from the church goes on to say it condemns these racist doctrines unequivocally. Leaving no room for misunderstanding their stance on this. Racism is bad, even in the past, even if it was Nephi’s theory as to why people are black and considered a scourge.
Now don’t get me wrong, I am happy as a clam that the church is trying to put the racist stuff behind it and look to the future. But, didn’t they just disavow the very foundational book that the church was built on? The Book of Mormon is why we are called Mormons after all. It is a story of white guys and flint guys, good guys and bad guys, blessed guys and cursed guys. I mean the whole book is based on these two groups. I can’t imagine how the story would read if you took out the references to colors and curses.
Maybe that is the long term plan, maybe in 50 more years that book will be just an allegory, a remnant of the past as taught by female priesthood holders. Maybe they are saying the entire Book of Mormon was just a theory of some guy. Or maybe this is all just a ruse to appease the masses and win more converts while deep down inside the leaders still believe that God will curse the evil apostate with a dark skin for causing the church grief.
Speaking of which, do I look more tan to you?
*Pure in the post 1987 version of the book
In case you were wondering if this release was approved by the leaders of the church, Apologist Mike Tannehill recently called the church headquarters upset for the very reasons posted here, he was assured this release was approved by the presidency and council of the 12.