Racism and Mormonism

I have made many mentions of racism within Mormonism, but I feel the need to make things clear before I go off on my (informative) rant.

First, Mormonism is racist. The Book of Mormon is at many times a big, giant, prejudiced rant against the world of pigmentation.

Second, not all Mormons are racist, but because of the Book of Mormon, its obvious that racism is popping up in their culture.

Third, I don’t think Mormons intend to be racist. Nobody really intends it (well, minus the KKK or Nation of Islam).

Fourth, not all Mormons are White.

That all being said, I can’t just tell “Racist!” in a crowded room and expect people to believe me. As with my own religion, or any religion, for that matter, its best to go straight to the sources. Nothing is more annoying than getting called out on something that you don’t actually do. Case in point: “Worshipping” the Saints. Also, I’d like to add that putting things out of context (other than for a purely humorous reason) is not something I’m a fan of doing.

So, thanks to Wiki, here is a list of *some* but not *all* of the racist quotes from the BOM.

Out of context, 1 Nephi 11:8 sounds like it might as well be discussing the White Tree of Gondor, but in context, you find that it is settling all those arguments about Jesus.  Yes, Jesus is white (or fair if you want to politically correct it up a bit) and delightsome. In the verse after that, you learn that Mary is also pure and white. Then there’s a verse about the good ol’ days when Gentiles were Gentiles- and exceedingly white.

Now, one can go ahead and interject here that this isn’t an issue, because Mary and Jesus are often portrayed as white. Right? Well, no. The Holy Family (Joesph is there too, ya know) is often depicted as whatever race or ethnicity is depicting them as. Hence why my nativity set has Jesus and Mary looking like Japanese people with really odd hair colors. In any case, the way in which the Holy Family is depicted in the Bible doesn’t even mention the physical appearance. The closest we get is that they were a bunch of Hebraic Jews, so the most that we can extrapolate is that they looked…Jewish. Specifically Semitic.

But those verses above are the soft verses! Wait till you get to the real meat and potatoes of it all. In 2 Nephi 5:21 we get to learn about how people are cursed with melanin. Obviously Joseph Smith was a little too stuck in his time, because geneticists have already found that all people started out as dark skinned. Us whiteys are a mutation.

Yes. Mutations. HA!

And you would think reading these verses in context would make them less offensive, or prove them to be absolutely not racist. Nope- the more you read the more you’re going to be offended. Don’t believe me?

In the verse I listed after 2 Nephi 5:21, you get to learn about how people will become white if they’re good little Mormons, and in Jacob, you learn that you had better repent before your sins toast you into a healthier  tan than that of your “bretheren”.

 

OMG Her sister is going to hell! LOOK AT THE TAN!

But don’t worry people! There is still hope! Just be good little Mormons and your skin will turn colors back to white! That one gets repeated a lot. But for those of you darkies out there, be careful. Apparently  you’re filthy, dark, and loathesome.

All because of some melanin.

But wait…didn’t I mention that there were Black people that were Mormons?Why haven’t they turned white?

“There are Blacks here today who are members of the Church. Why have we not turned White? But there are Blacks who have joined the Church, married White spouse, and their children became lighter than their Black parents. Then those kids grew up to marry those that believe as they do, which most are White, so they married White, and their kids became even lighter, and so on. Makes you think a bit, doesn’t it?”

All I can say is…wow.

And, here is a great example of how and why some people of color might become Mormon, given the right “inoculation . I love how its assumed that the Blacks leaving the Mormon religion are leaving because some horrible “Aunt Sally” with an agenda up her a$$ told them after they were “baptized” and not because the fact of the matter is that it’s offensive. In fact, I could list the things I love about this article, in an ironic, sarcastic way:

  1. Aunt Sally, the evil anti-Mormon, got through to those poor Black folk.
  2. “Everybody did it” is used as an excuse. Its also not entirely true.
  3. “Nobody else’s church gets dragged through the mud of history. Wha-iiineee….”
  4. As always, questioning anything is borderline dangerous.
  5. People might leave because they find they don’t agree with the Mormon religion, but its not like that could ever happen right?
  6. Why do we have to mention these ideas at all if they’ll be a stumbling block?

Part 2 of this will come up later. Until then, adios!

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18 Comments

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18 responses to “Racism and Mormonism

  1. Just curious… do you also consider the movie “The Dark Crystal” racist because it uses the word “dark?”

    • Can’t say that I’ve ever seen that movie, so I wouldn’t know. It would depend upon the context of the story, and what lines are used. For instance, if a “curse of darkness” is followed up repeatedly by “skin of blackness”, which is constantly compared to descriptions of people being exceedingly “white and delightsome” I’d say the chances of that movie being racist are considerably high.

      If they stick to the usual literary device of light verses dark, like what you see reflected in art and novels, then I don’t see how that could be construed as racist.

      What makes the Book of Mormon so obviously racist is that skin color is repeatedly referenced (even in the politically corrected versions). Oddly enough, prejudice based on skin color is an extremely modern phenomena, and not one would have found in ancient times. Think of the Samaritans, who were often at odds with the Jews- in all probability they looked similar, with Semitic features. The separating factors with them had more to do with culture and religious beliefs- and they were often the butt of a lot of Jewish prejudice. (Vice-versa to the Jews, as well.)

  2. hi ya! found your blog by clicking on the link you provided when you left a comment in my blog. you have an interesting insight on how Blacks turn whiter as they produce new generations… hahaha. i had a almost similar blog post in another personal blog where I wrote about Sandra Bullock adopting a black baby & how the Blacks will eventually get richer & richer as Hollywood actors adopt more & more Black babies.
    Cool blog you have, I will visit more often. ;)

    • Hi! Your blog is pretty interesting, and it was really funny to find someone who’s had similar experiences. (My advice on the annoying kid- just ignore her, unless she does something good. Very, very frustrating I know. Unfortunately you can’t attempt to influence the parental behavior of someone else.)

      I’ll enjoy reading more as time goes on!

    • Oh…as far as the Black population getting richer… sadly its going to be very hard for that to happen. Even though there are so many awesome actresses, singers, actors, producers- you name it- that have really shown the success of the Black community, there is still so much prejudice and racism that is really ingrained into society over here.

      Its going to take generations to clean it out.

  3. shematwater

    Personally, I think people don’t quite understand the meaning of the verses referenced, nor do they really understand what it means to be racist (sorry if that is offensive).
    However, I do understand why and how it is misunderstood.

    • Well, what does it mean to be racist, then? It is very difficult to misinterpret these verses, especially when they are backed up by the Mormon Prophets, who are very clear as to what the meanings are. The idea that God cursed people with a skin color, so that they’d be loathed by all of the pretty pretty white people is sad and ridiculous. For one thing, a quick look through Galatians in the Holy Bible brings you to that verse about “neither slave nor free, Jew nor Greek, all are one in Christ Jesus.” Obviously, race isn’t mentioned (at least not based on skin color) because that is a pretty modern idea, but one gets the idea that God is not a fan of referencing others as “filthy, dark, and loathesome”.

      Also, a lot of Mormon apologists assert that J. Smith was not a racist because he didn’t support slavery. While I definitely consider that a positive on his part (it was a step up from a lot of other people of the day) he was still racist, and theologically so. Asserting that Blacks and Native Americans have an inherent weakness in them due to some sort of pre-existence failure (or rejection of Christ) is something very anti-Biblical, and also very racist. He may have been a nicer racist, but he’s still a racist.

      Its kind of like going to Japan- no matter where you go there, you are always “Gaijin” (or more politely, gaikokujin). Most people aren’t nasty towards you, but there is always an air of superiority among many people. They need to bend down to help you up, because you will never learn to speak Japanese, or get around in Japanese society. You’re a good person, but still just an American, so you are going to need lots of help from the enlightened Japanese, who are so patient as to be hospitable even when you don’t know what you’re doing… It doesn’t matter if you don’t want help, you obviously need it, so listen to your betters, who just want the best for you. (Racism doesn’t need to be mean.)

  4. Seth R.

    My own view of the book of Mormon is that – read as a whole – it is not particularly racist.

    I do personally feel the author Nephi himself was a bit racist (hardly a surprising thing for a person who lived around 600 BC – they were all racists back then to some degree or other). My own feeling is that he simply observed his wicked brothers intermingling with the local native population (something forbidden by the Law of Moses for any Israelite), and when their children had darker skin as a result – he simply took it as a sign of God’s displeasure and wrote the lines you quote (most of the scripture cites you have provided originate from Nephi (and one from his younger brother Jacob).

    But by the time we hit the Book of Mosiah, it seems fairly clear that there weren’t any racial distinctions by that point. Both Lamanites and Nephites seem to have intermingled so thoroughly with the indigenous populations as to be indistinguishable from each other on basis of skin color.

    The passage in Alma speaks of a “mark” that does not appear to be related to skin color. And the passage in Mormon doesn’t seem to have much to do with skin color on its face either. The only problematic passage is the one you provided in 3 Nephi.

    When reading any book after Jacob in the Book of Mormon, it needs to be kept firmly in mind that the author is Mormon – the man who took all the records and history and abridged and condensed it down to the Book of Mormon. So it always has to be kept in mind how he would be viewing things. I view the passage in 3 Nephi as possibly merely an instance of Mormon extemporaneously attempting to harmonize the record with Nephi after the fact. But this passage gives us little to go on in understanding the true nature of Nephite racial views.

    I personally think its a mere matter of population demographics and genetics to reach the conclusion that Lamanites and Nephites wouldn’t have even had skin color differences by the time the events in 3 Nephi happened.

    However, it is possible that Nephite society simply valued light-colored skin in the same way the Japanese do. Since you mentioned experiences in Japan, I’m sure you have heard that the Japanese consider lighter skin to be a mark of beauty and don’t like looking tan (unlike we Americans). Yet Japanese are all of the same race. So it’s not so much a racist quirk as a vanity quirk (or defect). Nephite society may have been similar to this by the time of 3 Nephi. But this is admittedly pure speculation on my part.

    The point is, if you actually view this as a real historical record (as faithful Mormons do), then the racist character of the ENTIRE book is far from clear.

    Consider also, the countless stories in Alma of the Lamanites proving more righteous and praisworthy than the Nephites. Helaman even has an account of a Lamanite prophet condemning the evil Nephites from the city walls. At that point in history, Mormon praises the Lamanites extensively as morally superior to the degenerate Nephites.

    If the Lamanites were darker skinned than the Nephites at this point (and I don’t really think they were), and if the Book of Mormon is a bona fide historical document – it would probably stand as one of the most stunningly racially PROGRESSIVE books of its time period (keep in mind that other books of that time period were unapologetically racist in nature).

    So anyway…

    Now, what to make of early Mormons and their leaders.

    Yes, they appear to have been racists – like most Americans of that time period (even the most die hard abolitionists prior to the Civil War would have been horrified at the idea of interracial marriage, for instance).

    That said, Joseph Smith’s own views appeared to be remarkably progressive. He enthusiastically sent missionaries to the American Indians until told to stop by Federal authorities. If he considered them “fallen” – it was only in the sense of not having had the true Gospel of Jesus Christ in his mind, and not due to race.

    You noted a change in 2 Nephi 30:6 from “white” to “pure.” You are correct that old editions of the Book of Mormon have the word “white.”

    What you may not know is that the word “white” was included in the first print editions of the Book of Mormon due to printer error. The guy who did the type setting put in the word “white” himself. Looking at Joseph Smith’s original handwritten manuscripts, the word “pure” is the original correct choice. Recent changes were actually made to make the book CLOSER to what Joseph Smith actually claimed to translate. The 1830s print edition of the Book of Mormon appears to be incorrect here.

    Joseph also came from the abolitioinist-leaning north of the United States – as did most of his followers. So they naturally disliked the institution of slavery and occasionally denounced it. It’s true – they weren’t “abolitionists” by any stretch – nor did they do a lot of activist work on behalf of blacks in America. But then again, neither did most Americans in the northern states. Abolitionists back then were kind of viewed in the same way Greenpeace activists who ram whaling boats are viewed today. As dangerous and inflammatory radicals and occasionally a bit crazy. Mormons probably viewed them the same way as most northerners did.

    Just the same, the anti-slavery tendencies of the Mormons made their slave holding neighbors in Missouri extremely nervous and was probably a major factor in the violence that was soon directed at the Mormons in Missouri. During this period, Joseph Smith and other LDS leaders made several conciliatory statements that some have viewed as “pro-slavery.” In reality, they were quite ambiguous and basically amounted to: “look, we’re not going to interfere with your slaves, so please don’t kill us.”

    That pretty much sums up the extent of Joseph’s pro-slavery views I think.

    When in Illinois, Joseph Smith ran for president. Part of his presidential platform was to purchase the freedom of every slave in America with the proceeds from sale of Louisiana Purchase land. A rather innovative idea. Who knows if it would have worked if he won?

    Finally, Joseph Smith himself ordained a black man – Elijah Abel – to the First Quorum of the Seventy. The second highest governing body in the LDS Church – right beneath the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. Elijah Abel got full temple endowments, held the Priesthood, and served in leadership and died strong in the church.

    Once Joseph died however, Brigham Young took over as prophet.

    I have looked extensively for evidence that Brigham Young ever gave a bona fide revelation denying temple entrance and Priesthood participation to blacks. I have never found one.

    The closest I have ever found is an address that Brigham Young made as Territorial Governor to the Territorial Legislature calling the blacks a fallen race and declaring that full participation should not be extended.

    But there was never any real binding revelation – nor have I found Brigham Young anywhere claiming to have had one.

    From that point, Church POLICY definitely took a turn for the worse, and blacks were denied the Priesthood, and temple participation (but not baptism – you could still be baptized as an African American). From that point, you start to see sermons and stuff including the ban. And from that point, Mormon leadership started offering theological explanations for the ban – such as the “Mark of Cain” and “Curse of Ham” – both of which they borrowed from Protestant ministers of that day who looked for Biblical justifications for first slavery, then Segregation. They also came up with uniquely Mormon innovations – such as the speculation that blacks may have been “less valiant” in God’s cause in the pre-mortal phase of existence and therefore were punished by being black.

    I see very little scriptural basis for these claims however. And they run counter to other Mormon scripture declaring God to be no respecter of persons, etc. I think the LDS leadership were basically acting solely on their own here and were incorrect. I view Brigham Young’s views on the subject as wrong as well.

    Basically, I think this is an example of an informal policy in the LDS Church that got out of control and became almost de-facto “doctrine.”

    Around the 1960s, the LDS Church started hitting the point were its missionary efforts were starting to go beyond the boundaries of “white America.” Specifically, the LDS missionary efforts started to spread into the racially mixed populations of Brazil and Central America.

    During the 1960s there was a lot of media attention and public protest directed against the LDS Church – but the LDS Church refused to budge, and eventually the outcry died out. By the 1970s, most people had written the Mormons off as a bad job and very little attention or pressure was being applied on the LDS Church over the race issue.

    However, internally, the pressures were building up. The Priesthood ban was becoming absolutely impossible to enforce in hopelessly racially mixed places like Brazil. And the LDS membership was exploding in these places. But no one really knew who had African blood in the line. It was really a hopeless mess, and the impossibility of enforcement started to make many of the entrenched white LDS leadership seriously reconsider the viability of the ban – and its scriptural basis.

    Once the doubts were planted, the leadership started looking at the real scriptural foundation of the ban, and found it highly suspect (as I do).

    President David O. McKay himself wanted to end the ban. But I don’t think he ever had enough support in the rest of the Quorum of the Twelve. Once Spencer W. Kimball became prophet however, the tables had turned. Opponents of the ban now highly outnumbered supporters of it among the Twelve, and only a couple were still stubbornly holding out. At this point, an official and declared revelation was had extending full membership and full Priesthood participation to all worthy male members. Whether that revelation was from God or the product of organizational politics, I guess you can pick for yourself.

    I consider it a genuine revelation from God – as do most faithful Mormons.

    At this point, one of the biggest proponents of the old doctrines about the “Mark of Cain” and “Curse of Ham” – Bruce R. McConkie – took the stand in front of the entire membership at General Conference and formally told everyone to “disregard” anything he or any other LDS leader had ever said on the race issue. He declared that the new revelation trumped those statements and they were not to be preferred any longer.

    As recently as a few years ago, Prophet Gordon B. Hinckley (recently deceased and replaced by current prophet Thomas S. Monson), declared in General Conference (our semi-annual gathering of the LDS Church were new policy and doctrine is often announced) that any belief that race made a person inferior or less worthy was unworthy of any Priesthood holder and should constitute grounds for a man losing his Priesthood privileges. No enforcement mentioned, and we still have no formal apology for past racial doctrines.

    But it seems clear that the LDS Church is definitely trying to put its racist past behind it. Many don’t think this is enough, and I tend to agree. But there you have it.

    Sorry for the essay.

    • Essay? Dude, that was a novel! But neat stuff- gives me lots to think about (and write once I get done with the slew of exam hell that I’m going through at the moment… Saint Thomas Aquinas and Saint Jude, pray for us poor helpless cases of students….*head desk*

    • “If the Lamanites were darker skinned than the Nephites at this point (and I don’t really think they were), and if the Book of Mormon is a bona fide historical document – it would probably stand as one of the most stunningly racially PROGRESSIVE books of its time period (keep in mind that other books of that time period were unapologetically racist in nature).”

      That is very dishonest. The BOM is *insanely* clear on who’s who and what’s what. When one side finally royally ticks off God, that side gets “cursed with skins of blackness”. Also, if you take the BOM to be historical, you would have to compare it to “other books of its time”.

      If you mean the 18-1900’s there are actually PLENTY of books that espoused the same views as Joesph Smith’s. In fact, it is likely where he got many of his ideas.

      If you mean ancient times, that’s completely erroneous. Most ancient book writing was either prayers, sutras, religious laws, laws in general, mathematics, philosophy, occasional history (that was mostly oral history, with a few notable exceptions), and the very very rare business record. The reason for that would be that people didn’t write down anything on paper since it was so valuable, and when they did write they tended not to load it with words.

      Even the Bible wasn’t compiled until well into the 3rd or 4th century, and the old Testament, the Torah, and other Jewish religious books were all orally taught. Again, it was due to the scarcity and high price of writing materials.

      Hence why when the Bible finally did get compiled, it was encrusted with jewels and whatnot. It was a pretty big deal when the written word of God managed to actually be written on paper.

  5. Seth R.

    Incidentally, I served my mission in Japan. So I totally get the stuff you said about “gaijin” in Japan.

    • Yeah. If you don’t think its rude, did you ever get around to the Word Of Wisdom and the tea thing with the Japanese?

      I’m curious about how they took that. I mentioned it once to my host mom and she was completely confused. You might as well have told her that breathing air was bad for you.

      • Seth R.

        Not rude at all.

        Word of Wisdom was a HUGE barrier to entry in Japan. Not just tea either. Social drinking at company events was a big part of being employed in Japan. You were just expected to go out drinking with your co-workers. If you didn’t, that meant you weren’t a “team player.” It was rough for our members.

        But we always brought it up. It was just one of those non-negotiable things about becoming a Mormon. You couldn’t be baptized without committing to live the Word of Wisdom. I think the concept is brought up in about Lesson 5 for missionaries (at least it was in the early 1990s).

      • Oh God…telling them that they can’t go drinking with work buddies. >.< I'm imagining my host father now…. it would not compute for him in the slightest. He'd be like first tea, then alcohol, then what? Sashimi? Udon? Nabe? hennanogaijindesunee…

      • Seth R.

        Yeah, unsurprisingly, most of our converts were women. Then you ran into the problem of how supportive their husbands were of their wife’s decision.

        We had one faithful Mormon woman in one of my areas who had to meet with people from church in secret because her husband was violently opposed to any contact. Missionaries weren’t allowed to visit her because we (being gaikokujin half the time) were just a bit too visible. She wasn’t allowed to go to church either.

        Japan is rough territory for Mormon proselyting.

      • Crap. Tried to fix it, but unfortunately I replied to this when I was trying to reply to your other comment.

        Well, while I would hope that “violently” opposed would be a bit of a hyperbole, I would say that is rather sad if it is true. I don’t like the idea of anyone being beaten for their religious convictions.

        However, can’t say I’m unhappy that successes in Japan were low. I wouldn’t be surprised if a lot of the people proselytized were already Christians from the Catholic Church (a friend of mine told me that is how he did it in Asia). Catechism needs to be better taught, especially in countries where the Christians are so outnumbered and undervalued. –> hopes to someday be a Catechist. I’d like to teach adults and kids- the kids are cute and the discussions of adults are interesting.

  6. Seth R.

    Well, if you are going to start making accusations of dishonesty rather than actually engaging my remarks about what the text said, then I think this conversation is over.

    And ancient writings did include some very racist views. Aristotle’s writings come to mind right off the top of my head – as well as some ancient Arab philosophers. Ancient Chinese and Japanese writings of which I’m familiar with were intensely racist – considering peoples like the Koreans as sort of sub-humans.

    So the sentiment was actually rather common in ancient cultures (and I was only talking about ancient cultures – not the 1800s).

    You’ll note that my comments refrain from making insulting remarks to you or making this personal. If you are willing to discuss things without resorting to insults yourself, we can continue.

    Otherwise, best wishes to you.

    • I am sorry that I wasn’t more clear.

      I don’t attack people, but I do attack ideas. Do not confuse one with the other- it is something I often see in religious debates, when one equates the attacking of an idea with the attacking of a person. Ideas don’t feel, they just are, and they are either right, wrong, or irrelevant. I am sorry that I wasn’t more clear.

      Hence why I said that it was dishonest to say that the BOM does not make the myriad of statements concerning skin color (a modern notion of race) and morality. The BOM is overtly clear on the subject of which people is superior to the other, which is whiter than the other, and its attempts at showing the “good side” of the dark race sadly amount to nothing but a display of tokenism. Saying that the BOM is “far from clear” is either an obvious mistake, or a false fact.

      As I made clear above, racism as we know it and define it did not exist in the ancient world. Prejudice existed, but it was over status, tribe, religion, and culture. During the 1800’s, the phrase “filthy, dark, lazy” was used to describe Native Americans, Blacks, and just about anyone else with melanin. However, if one looks back at the ancient documents, for example the Bible, you don’t find references to the physical state of people. The closest you might come is “tall”, as in the case of the Philistine giant, but Samaritans, Caananite, Hittites, or any of the other “ites” are not referred to by physical description, much less skin color, and especially not in conjunction with their moral capabilities. I think there’s maybe one time that skin color is even referenced, and it is to the Queen of Sheba- who, also, is not judged by her “race” and color, although its noted.

      The reason why I brought up the 1800’s specifically is because all of our ideas about race that people hold today spring from about that time- and *not* to the ancient world.

      The way race is viewed in modern times, from the 1800’s until now, is not at all how it was viewed in the ancient world. For this reason it was not a big deal to have a “Black” Pharaoh, nor was even Roman society racially stratified by skin color. It was all social status, religion, and culture. Any person of any race could rise to the top, so long as their status was secure. The Gauls were reviled as barbarians not because of their skin color but because of their culture and their warcraft. The Romans, and any other ancient people, could have cared less about raw physical appearance, and that applies to the Asians as well. Asians even today have a preference for lighter skin, but it is similar to wanting extremely long fingernails- it shows that you have enough status to avoid working in the fields, doing manual work.

      One would think that if racism by skin color were not only ordained by God, but also ancient, one could find clear evidence of it in old writings. But the fact is it hasn’t been found. Nowhere does the Bible even use such an obviously 1800’s influenced American lexicon. “Filthy, dark, loathsome” or its close cousin “filthy, dark, lazy” are only to be found in old newspaper cuttings from Joseph Smith’s time, rather than in a supposedly ancient text. One would think that “another testament of Jesus Christ” would bear similarities in language and structure to the first one, but its not holding up to scrutiny at all.

      I’d like to see if Aristotle actually wrote something racist. Prejudiced? I would believe it to be possible. I believe it might have been him that said that women were just misbegotten males, although I might be mixing him with Socrates. Racist? I highly doubt it. If you have proof to the contrary, provide a link, because I’m interested to read his stuff anyway. Its funny how much Saint Thomas Aquinas was influenced by him.

      This clear things up a bit?

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