Twenty-six years ago, in June of 1978, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints announced the end of its priesthood restrictions regarding African blacks. Since the LDS Church has a lay priesthood, the ban had kept blacks from any leadership positions. One of the foundations of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the claim that priesthood is essential to act in God's behalf. In the LDS manual Gospel Principles we read:
We must have [LDS] priesthood authority to act in the name of God when performing the sacred ordinances of the gospel, such as baptism, confirmation, administration of the sacrament, and temple marriage. If a man does not have the priesthood, even though he may be sincere, the Lord will not recognize ordinances he performs (Gospel Principles, published by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1995 edition, p. 81).
In addition to this, Mormonism teaches that a person must be married in the temple in order to achieve the highest level of heaven, or eternal life. In Gospel Principles we read:
Those who inherit the highest degree of the celestial kingdom, who become gods, must also have been married for eternity in the temple (p. 297).
However, the priesthood ban on blacks meant that they could not have a temple marriage, thus keeping them from achieving the highest form of eternal life, known as exaltation or godhood. This ban was only enforced on blacks of African ancestry. Such groups as Maori and Fiji Islanders were allowed to hold the LDS priesthood.
While the ban has been lifted the church has yet to clarify its theological view on race or why the ban was ever instituted.
Mormonism began in upstate New York, where whites predominated and blacks were free. Joseph Smith seems to have accepted the common view of his community that dark skinned people were inferior to whites, while rejecting slavery. Although the LDS Church allowed people of various races to join, there was an underlying belief in the superiority of the white race. Indians and blacks were seen as "cursed" by God with a dark skin, but given the hope that in the hereafter they could become white. At first blacks could be baptized and ordained in the LDS Church. But as the Mormons moved from New York to Ohio, Missouri and Illinois and finally to the Utah territory, they developed stronger negative teachings on race and restricted priesthood ordination for blacks. [p. 6] Brigham Young University professor Eugene England observed:
. . . Mormon publications equivocated and became racist when the Church came under threat of violence for being "abolitionist" in Missouri in the early 1830's. Many Mormon converts from the South kept their slaves and indeed took them West with them (where Utah became the only western territory that allowed slavery). At least by 1852, Blacks were specifically denied the priesthood and temple blessing. ("Becoming a World Religion: Blacks, the Poor—All of Us," by Eugene England, Sunstone, June 1998, pp. 54-55)
This policy did not change until 1978 when President Spencer W. Kimball announced God had revealed to him that priesthood could now be extended to all men, regardless of race.
This study outlines the development of racial teachings in the LDS Church from its founding in 1830 to the present.
In the early 1800s many people viewed Native Americans as a remnant of the lost ten tribes of Israel. Sociologist Armand Mauss explains:
While early Mormons differed somewhat from other Americans in their conceptions and policies toward Indians, they also shared in the general political ambivalence and selective romanticism of most other Americans. In the early nineteenth century, as Joseph Smith was reaching maturity and starting his ministry, theories and rumors about the so-called Indians abounded, . . . According best with the popular millenarianism of the period were those theories that defined the Indians as constituting one or more of the lost ten tribes (All Abraham's Children: Changing Mormon Conceptions of Race and Lineage, by Armand L. Mauss, University of Illinois Press, 2003, p. 48).
This attitude is reflected in Joseph Smith's first literary work, the Book of Mormon. Joseph Smith claimed that in 1827, on a hill in upstate New York, a heavenly being delivered into his hands a long hidden record of the ancient inhabitants of the Americas. Over the next three years Smith worked on his translation of the record, assisted by various scribes and then returned the ancient plates to the messenger (see History of the Church, vol. 1, by Joseph Smith, Deseret Book, 1978, pp. 18-19).
After convincing a neighbor to help finance the printing, Smith published his work in 1830, titled the Book of Mormon.
This record tells the story of a group of Israelites who fled Jerusalem about 600 B.C. and came to America. They soon divided into two groups, the righteous Nephites, who were "white," and the wicked Lamanites, who were cursed with "a skin of blackness." Part of the rational for God making the wicked "dark" was to insure that they were less "enticing" to the righteous "white" people:
And it came to pass that I beheld, after they had dwindled in unbelief they became a dark and loathsome, and a filthy people, full of idleness and all manner of abominations (Book of Mormon, 1 Nephi 12:23).
And he had caused the cursing to come upon them, yea, even a sore cursing . . . 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 (Book of Mormon, 2 Nephi 5:21).
Behold the Lamanites your brethren, whom ye hate because of their filthiness and the cursing which hath come upon their skins . . . (Book of Mormon, Jacob 3:5).
O my brethren, I fear that unless ye shall repent of your sins that their skins will be whiter than yours, when ye shall be brought before the throne of God (Book of Mormon, Jacob 3:8).
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 were just and holy men . . . and the Lord God set a mark upon them, yea, upon Laman and Lemuel, and also the sons of Ishmael, and Ishmaelitish women.
And this was done that their seed might be distinguished from the seed of their brethren, that [p. 7] thereby the Lord God might preserve his people, that they might not mix and believe in incorrect traditions . . . (Book of Mormon, Alma 3:6).
Towards the end of the Book of Mormon one of the righteous leaders, Mormon, declares that in the last days the gospel will again be taken to the Lamanites
that the seed of this people may more fully believe his gospel, which shall go forth unto them from the Gentiles; for this people shall be scattered, and shall become a dark, a filthy, and a loathsome people, beyond the description of that which ever hath been amongst us, yea, even that which hath been among the Lamanites, and this because of their unbelief and idolatry (Book of Mormon, Mormon 5:15).
The Lamanites purportedly destroyed all of the Nephites in battle approximately A.D. 400, thus leaving only the dark skinned people in the land.
While the Book of Mormon states that God "denieth none that come unto him, black and white, bond and free" (2 Nephi 26:33), it still embraces a racist concept that dark skin is a curse from God.
The Introduction to the current Book of Mormon maintains that the Lamanites "are the principal ancestors of the American Indians."
Although the LDS Church uses the term "Lamanite" sparingly these days, thirty years ago any native of North and South America, Polynesia, Hawaii, or Tonga was considered a descendent of the Book of Mormon people.
In the July 1971 Ensign, the official magazine for the LDS Church, is an article by Apostle Spencer W. Kimball, who later became president of the church. In this article titled "Of Royal Blood," Kimball declared:
With pride I tell those who come to my office that a Lamanite is a descendant of one Lehi who left Jerusalem six hundred years before Christ . . . and landed in America. And Lehi and his family became the ancestors of all the Indian and Mestizo tribes in North and South and Central America and in the islands of the sea, . . . Now the Lamanites number about sixty million; they are in all the states of America from Tierra del Fuego all the way up to Point Barrows, and they are in nearly all the islands of the sea from Hawaii south to southern New Zealand (Ensign, July 1971, p. 7).
An early LDS magazine, the Juvenile Instructor, seemed uncertain about the natives of New Zealand being descended from the Book of Mormon people, but still considered them under a curse:
We are asked if the natives of New Zealand and of the Samoan, Society and Sandwich Islands are descendants of the Nephites or of the Lamanites. If of the former, how can their dark color be accounted for? . . . if they are descendants of Nephi, how came they to be dark as the Lamanites?
It is plain from the history which the Lord has given us in the Book of Mormon that this dark skin has been brought upon them by transgression. Whether this transgression occurred before they left this continent or afterwards, is not clear (Juvenile Instructor, vol. 30, 1868, p. 129).
Joseph Smith seems to have accepted the prevalent view of his day that darker skinned people were not as favored by God as white skinned people.
According to the Book of Mormon, the Lord promised that in the last days, when the Lamanites (Native Americans) converted to the gospel they would become a "white and delightsome" people:
And then shall they rejoice; for they shall know that it is a blessing unto them from the hand of God; and 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 (2 Nephi 30:6). [The word "white" was changed to "pure" in 1981.]
Preaching in 1854, Brigham Young looked forward to the day when the Lamanites would be made white:
Here are the Lamanites . . . Their wickedness was not so great as those [Jews] who slew the Son of God. Jesus revealed himself to them after he was slain, preached to them the Gospel. But in the fourth generation the Priesthood was driven from their midst, . . . Is their curse as great as that [p. 8] of those in Palestine? No, it is light, in comparison. They began to thirst for each other's blood, and massacred each other, from generation to generation, until they sunk into wickedness, and evil principles the most degrading, and have become loathsome and vile. Still the curse will be removed from them before it will be removed from the children of Judah; and they will become "a white and delightsome people" (Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses, vol. 2, Latter-day Saints' Book Depot, 1855, p. 143).
Five years later, at October Conference in 1859, Brigham Young again taught that the Book of Mormon prophecy of the Lamanites becoming "white" would eventually be fulfilled:
You may inquire of the intelligent of the world whether they can tell why the aborigines of this country are dark, loathsome, ignorant, and sunken into the depths of degradation; and they cannot tell. I can tell you in a few words: They are the seed of Joseph, and belong to the household of God; and he will afflict them in this world, and save every one of them hereafter, even though they previously go into hell. When the Lord has a people, he makes covenants with them and gives unto them promises: then, if they transgress his law, change his ordinances, and break the covenants he has made with them, he will put a mark upon them, as in the case of the Lamanites and other portions of the house of Israel; but by-and-by they will become a white and delightsome people (Journal of Discourses, vol. 7, p. 336).
Writing in 1909 B. H. Roberts, famous LDS Church leader and author, stated that the fulfillment of the Book of Mormon prophecy that the Native Americans would become "white and delightsome" would be a witness to the world of the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon:
I may say it is the universal opinion that the native American race is doomed to extinction; and, in fact, that it is now on the high way to that finality. Against such general opinion, however, the Book of Mormon utters the surprising declaration not only that the American race shall not become extinct, but that fallen as its fortunes are, and degraded as it is, yet shall it become, and that before many generations pass away, "a white and delightsome people!" Than this declaration I can think of nothing more boldly prophetic, nor of any inspired utterance which so squarely sets itself against all that is accepted as the probabilities in the case. But with complete confidence we await the time of the fulfillment of God's decree; of its signal triumph over the opinions of men (New Witnesses for God, by B. H. Roberts, vol. 3, Deseret News, 1909, p. 291).
Evidently many of the current LDS leaders no longer share the views of Brigham Young and B. H. Roberts and are trying to dissolve the doctrine that the Native Americans will turn white after conversion. In 1981 a very important change was made in 2 Nephi 30:6. It now promises the Lamanites that they will become "a pure and delightsome people."
This change is not the result of correcting a printing error, as the manuscript of the Book of Mormon reads "white" and the first two printed editions use "white" not "pure." The verse was changed to "pure" in the 1840 edition, but returned to "white" in editions after that date.
There is another passage in the Book of Mormon which demonstrates the term "white" is related to a change in skin color: "And their curse was taken from them, and their skin became white like unto the Nephites" (3 Nephi 2:15).
Prior to 1981 LDS prophets and apostles repeatedly stated that the skin of Native Americans would one day become "white." Spencer W. Kimball, who became the twelfth president of the LDS Church, believed that those who converted to Mormonism were actually becoming lighter. In the LDS General Conference, October 1960, Kimball made these comments:
"I saw a striking contrast in the progress of the Indian people . . . they are fast becoming a white and delightsome people. . . . For years they have been growing delightsome, and they are now becoming white and delightsome, as they were promised . . . 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. . . 4. These young [p. 9] members of the Church are changing to whiteness and to delightsomeness (Improvement Era, December 1960, pp. 922-23).
Unfortunately, many Native American members were subjected to various condescending statements by well-meaning white Mormons. For example, Eduardo Pagan wrote the following letter to the editor of Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought:
Being blessed with the mark of Laman, I have wrestled firsthand with the racist assumptions of the Latter-day Saints I grew up with. As a child I listened in sacrament meeting to fervent prayers on behalf of my people, then heard on Mondays these same members discourage their children from becoming close friends with me ("doors may be closed to them"). On the walls of my Sunday school class, I saw pictures of a white-looking Jesus holding blond children. My seminary teachers taught that the more righteous my ancestors were, the whiter they became, and that someday I too would become "white and delightsome." During my teenage years girlfriends told me that their parents were strongly encouraging them to date more "acceptable" boys (Letter to the editor, Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, vol. 23, no. 1, Spring 1990, p. 6).
Helen Candland Stark, in the same issue of Dialogue, commented:
After my husband retired, we moved to a small Utah town where many families were participating in the Indian Placement Program. One of the ward "pillars" and his foster son were evening sacrament meeting participants. It may have been for a priesthood advancement ceremony.
At any rate, the boy spoke first, adequately but quietly. Then his foster father rose to commend him. He concluded his remarks with these words: "If he continues to make progress, he may someday be white and delightsome." Did any one in the congregation flinch? Is "red" not beautiful? (Letter to the editor, Dialogue, Spring 1990, pp. 7-8).
Up until the time of the new edition of the Book of Mormon in 1981, LDS teachings about the American Indian indicated a belief in a literal change in skin color in the last days.
The origin of Native Americans has been a matter of discussion since the days of Columbus. Mormonism has traditionally maintained that they descended from a group of Israelites who migrated from Jerusalem to the New World at approximately 600 B.C. While many people in Joseph Smith's day speculated that the American Indians descended from the lost ten tribes of Israel, later scientists rejected that theory. The traditional scientific view has been that Native Americans descended from Asiatic people who crossed the Bering Strait thousands of years ago. Dan Egan, writing for the Salt Lake Tribune, observed:
Generations of Mormons grew up with the notion that American Indians are descended from a lost tribe from the House of Israel, offspring of a Book of Mormon figure named Lehi, who left Jerusalem and sailed to the Americas around 600 B.C.
For faithful members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Lehi's story is neither fable nor parable. It is truth. Historical fact. . . .
The problem is mainstream science has failed to back that story. Instead, archaeologists, linguists and genetic experts outside Mormon culture say all the evidence points to Asia as the place from which American Indians originated. . . . ("BYU Gene Data May Shed Light on Origin of Book of Mormon's Lamanites," by Dan Egan, Salt Lake Tribune, November 30, 2000, p. B1)
Over the last twenty years there has been great interest in DNA research, and especially in Mitochondrial DNA. Nancy Shute, writing for U.S. News & World Report, commented:
Mitochondrial DNA has proved a marvelous tool for tracing human history. Mothers pass it down to offspring almost intact—unlike nuclear DNA, the genetic material commonly used in criminal investigations. ("Haven't Got a Clue? Maybe DNA Will Do," U.S. News & World Report, July 24, 2000)
The problem for Mormonism is that Mitochondrial DNA supports the view that the principal ancestors of Native Americans were Asiatic people.
Mormon defenders have maintained that only a small percent of American Indians would be [p. 10] descendants of the Lamanites, which would explain why they don't show up in the DNA samples that have been taken. However, the Introduction to their own Book of Mormon claims that "the Lamanites . . . are the principal ancestors of the American Indians," not an insignificant group.
Even President of the LDS Church, Gordon B. Hinckley, endorsed the claim that the American Indians are mainly descended from the Lamanites. Dan Egan reported:
. . . Mormons believe American Indians have a special place in their church. It is a constant theme for their missionary efforts in South American and the Pacific Islands, and Mormon President Gordon B. Hinckley even uses the story of Lehi to inspire converts at temple dedications abroad.
"It has been a very interesting thing to see the descendants of Father Lehi in the congregations that have gathered in the temple," Hinckley said at an August 1999 temple dedication in Ecuador. "So very many of these people have the blood of Lehi in their veins, and it is just an intriguing thing to see their tremendous response and their tremendous interest."
But most scientists outside LDS culture argue that if a band of Israelites did come to America 2,600 years ago, they left neither a linguistic nor an archaeological trace.
"I don't think there is one iota of evidence that suggests a lost tribe from Israel made it all the way to the New World. It is a great story, slain by ugly fact," says Michael Crawford, a University of Kansas professor of biological anthropology and author of Origins of Native Americans, published by Cambridge University Press. . . .
Author Crawford said all the evidence gathered so far so powerfully demonstrates the Asian-American Indian connection that it is as close to a "truth" as science can get (Salt Lake Tribune, Nov. 30, 2000, p. B1).
LDS scientist Thomas W. Murphy, chair of the Department of Anthropology at Edmonds Community College in Washington, wrote:
Now that quantitative scientific methods can indeed test for an Israelite genetic presence in ancient America, we learn instead that virtually all Native Americans can trace their lineages to the Asian migrations between 7,000 and 50,000 years ago. While molecular anthropologists have the technological capability to identify descendants of ancient Hebrews, no traces of such DNA markers have appeared in Central America or elsewhere among Native Americans. . . .
From a scientific perspective, the Book of Mormon's origin is best situated in early nineteenth-century America, . . . The Book of Mormon emerged from an antebellum perspective, out of a frontier American people's struggle with their god, and not from an authentic American Indian perspective. As Mormons, we have a moral and ethical obligation to discontinue this view of Native American origins and publicly disavow the offensive teaching that a dark skin is a physical trait of God's malediction ("Lamanite Genesis, Genealogy, and Genetics," by Thomas W. Murphy, in American Apocrypha: Essays on the Book of Mormon, Signature Books, 2002, p. 68).
Writing in Anthropology News, Thomas Murphy and Simon Southerton, another LDS scientist who became disillusioned after studying DNA, observed:
Genetic research into Native American and Polynesian origins is sending shock waves through Mormon communities around the world. The Book of Mormon, claimed as scripture by 11 million members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS), purports to tell of three migrations from the ancient middle East to the Americas. The title page claims that the descendants of the migrants from Jerusalem "are the principal ancestors of the American Indians." Mormon folklore, likewise, postulates a Middle Eastern heritage for Polynesians.
Southerton has completed a book-length manuscript on the subject. [Losing a Lost Tribe: Native Americans, DNA, and the Mormon Church, by Simon Southerton, Signature Books, 2004.] Simon Southerton, a plant geneticist, . . . resigned his position as bishop and withdrew his church membership. In Mar 2000, he published the story of his disillusionment on the Internet. [http://www.exmormon.org/whylft125.htm] He "failed to find anything that supported migration of Jewish people before Columbus" and found "no reliable scientific evidence supporting migrations from the Middle East to the New World."
[p. 11] . . . Investigation of mitochondrial DNA of more than 5,500 living Native Americans reveals that 99.4% can be traced back to Asia primarily via maternal lineages known as A, B, C, D and X. Only 0.6% came from Africa or Europe, most likely after 1492. Lineages A through D are only found in Asia. While the X lineage also is found in Europe and the Middle East, Asian and American lineages have distinctive markers that indicate an ancient separation long before the events described in the Book of Mormon. Similar results from nearly 1,000 paternal lineages substantiate a Northeast Asian origin of American Indians. Likewise, approximately 99% of the Polynesians surveyed to date can trace their maternal lineages back to Southeast Asia. The other 1% almost certainly came from Europe in the recent past. . . .
Folk biological claims of an Israelite ancestry, a curse with a dark skin, and a whitening of dark-skinned Native American and Polynesian Mormons fail to stand up to scrutiny among scientifically literate Latter-day Saints ("Genetic Research a 'Galileo Event' for Mormons," by Thomas W. Murphy and Simon Southerton, Anthropology News, February 2003, p. 20).
The lack of DNA evidence that Israelites came to America and grew to a major population prior to the arrival of the Europeans certainly raises serious questions about the historicity of the Book of Mormon.
The first page of the Book of Mormon explains that it is a record of God's dealings with the "remnant of the house of Israel" in America and that the record was preserved to "come forth in due time by way of the Gentile" (non-Israelites). Armand Mauss observed:
Here Gentiles apparently included the white LDS custodians of the Book of Mormon . . . Later in the nineteenth century, such passages were reinterpreted to mean that white Mormons, though part of a Gentile nation, were actually Ephraimites. As indicated in [2 Nephi 3:6-13] . . . the Book of Mormon contained a passage seeming to identify its translator, the prophet Joseph Smith, as a descendant of the biblical patriarch Joseph, but an awareness that Mormons more generally could be literal Israelites seems to have developed only gradually. The original understanding seems to have been that all whites or Euroamericans were Gentiles, but those who joined the LDS Church were repentant Gentiles who could then be "grafted" into the house of Israel and become fully "Abraham's seed" . . .
Later on, Latter-day Saints came to understand themselves as literal remnants of Israel (especially of Ephraim) . . . (All Abraham's Children, p. 50).
Further discussion of the Mormon concept of being literal descendants of Israel can be found in the section on Patriarchal Blessings.
Soon after publishing the Book of Mormon in 1830, Joseph Smith began working on a revision of the Bible. The Book of Moses (printed in the Pearl of Great Price) was part of this revision and reflected the community concept that blacks descended from Cain:
. . . Behold the people of Canaan, which are numerous . . . shall divide themselves in the land, and the land shall be barren and unfruitful, and none other people shall dwell there but the people of Canaan; For behold, the Lord shall curse the land with much heat, and the barrenness thereof shall go forth forever; and there was a blackness came upon all the children of Canaan, that they were despised among all people . . .
And it came to pass that Enoch continued to call upon all the people, save it were the people of Canaan, to repent; . . . And Enoch also beheld the residue of the people which were the sons of Adam; and 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 (Pearl of Great Price, Moses 7:8, 22).
Even though the Mormons at that time accepted the common idea that blacks were from the cursed lineage of Cain, they did not view this as restricting their church participation. A small number of blacks were baptized and at least two were ordained to the priesthood.
When Mormons started settling in Missouri in the early 1830s their open attitude toward Native Americans and blacks became a concern of their neighbors.
[p. 12] The Mormons felt called to evangelize the American Indians, believing them to be descendents of the Book of Mormon people. As part of the restoring of Israel in the last days, Joseph Smith sent a few Mormons on a mission "into the wilderness among the Lamanites" in October of 1830 (see Doctrine and Covenants 32:2). However, their efforts were viewed with suspicion by their Missouri neighbors. Armand Mauss commented:
In assessing the significance of Mormon relationships with the Indians during the lifetime of Joseph Smith, one must concede the part that these relationships played in inciting the hostility of other Americans against the Mormons, especially in Missouri. . . . Prophecies in the unique Mormon scriptures, as well as some Mormon commentary on those prophecies, seemed to justify such suspicions. When the Book of Mormon has Christ promising that the "remnant of Jacob" (i.e., Indians) shall go among the unrepentant Gentiles "as a young lion among the flocks of sheep" (3 Nephi 21:12‑13), it would make the Gentiles wonder. Nor would they likely be reassured by public proclamations warning the unrepentant Gentiles that God is about to sweep them off the land because of the "cries of the red men, whom ye and your fathers have dispossessed and driven from their lands" . . . As part of an emerging separate ethnic identity, the Mormons began to define their destined homeland as extending from Wisconsin down to Texas and from Missouri across to the Rockies and even beyond, with the Indians as partners in building Zion throughout that entire region (All Abraham's Children, p. 55).
LDS Historian David Whittaker observed:
The first Mormon preaching among native Americans occurred when Joseph Smith sent several missionaries to the western border of Missouri in the winter of 1830-31 . . . In a revelation given in Missouri on 17 July 1831 Joseph Smith told these first missionaries to the Indians: "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 than the gentiles." William W. Phelps included the "substance" (two pages) of the revelation in a 12 August 1861 letter to Brigham Young, now in the Church Historical Department. Several things are apparent: (1) While the Book of Mormon strongly teaches that God removes the curse of the dark skin, this document implies that intermarriage can; (2) Some scholars think that this revelation was the initial impetus for plural marriage, as some of the missionaries had wives in Ohio; and (3) This document seems to have begun the Mormon practice of marrying native Americans. . . .
This first Indian mission ended in failure, produced the first non-Mormon charges that Mormons and Indians were in league to destroy other whites on the frontier, and sparked Protestant missionary efforts to prevent Mormon proselyting . . . . In spite of their denials, Mormons were being charged as late as 1838 with converting Indians in Missouri to use them against the local whites ("Mormons and Native Americans: A Historical and Bibliographical Introduction," by David J. Whittaker, Dialogue, vol. 18, no. 4, pp. 35-36). [The complete text of the 1831 revelation can be read in H. Michael Marquardt's book, The Joseph Smith Revelations Text and Commentary, pp. 374-376. The revelation is also posted on our web site: Indian Polygamy Revelation.]
LDS conversions among the North American Indians has been minimal, thus causing some to question the Book of Mormon promise that the Indians would be converted in the last days. However, many LDS have shifted their hope to Latin America. Speaking at the October 1921 LDS Conference, Andrew Jenson asserted:
The remnants of the house of Israel, now known as the North American Indians, have so far disappointed us to a certain extent. We have had missionaries among the Indians since the beginning of 1831, and some of the very best and most faithful elders in the Church have devoted the principal part of their lives endeavoring to learn the various languages or dialects spoken by the several tribes of Indians in the United States. But after all their efforts in that regard they have only been able to reach a few people, and their labors have resulted in bringing a still smaller number of Lamanites to a knowledge of the truth, and [p. 13] of those who have been baptized quite a few have not been faithful to their covenants, but have returned to their old habits and uncivilized ways and thus rendered the Church very little assistance. On this account we have been inclined to attach but very little importance to our Indian missions, or even to the mission established many years ago in our sister republic on the south, the Mexican mission. For compared with some of the missions among white people in our own country, and in foreign lands, the fruits or results have not been satisfactory. In view of these facts, some of us have been led to query: How shall the predictions of the Book of Mormon regarding the Lamanites be fulfilled? And will they ever become a white and delightsome people and assist the so-called Gentiles (who shall be converted, to build up Zion and establish truth and righteousness upon the earth? Those of us, however, who have accepted the Book of Mormon as an inspired record will not concede for a moment that the words of the Lord will fail; hence, we naturally extend our vision and researches to other tribes of Indians, besides these once powerful tribes within the boundaries of the United States.
We, therefore cast a glance southward into old Mexico and through the great countries beyond — down through Central America and South America, where there are millions and millions of Lamanites, direct descendants of Father Lehi (LDS Conference Report, October 1921, p. 120).
Today, the main effort of the LDS Church to reach Native Americans is in Mexico and South America. There are currently almost as many Mormons in Mexico, Central and South America, and the Pacific Islands as there are in the United States. Below are the LDS membership numbers as of December 31, 2003 from the official LDS website, www.lds.org.
Membership Distribution (31 December 2003)
United States - 5,503,192
Mexico - 980,053
Caribbean - 133,969
South America - 2,818,103
Central America - 513,067
South Pacific - 389,073
Other membership areas are given as:
Canada - 166,442
Europe - 433,667
Asia - 844,091
Africa - 203,597
Besides the anxiety regarding the Mormon efforts to evangelize the Native Americans, the Missourians were concerned about the Mormons' attitude towards blacks. Many worried that Smith's church, founded in New York, was anti-slavery. Researcher Lester E. Bush Jr. observed:
At this time the Mormons were mostly emigrants from northern and eastern states, and were not slaveholders. In less than a year a rumor was afoot that they were "tampering" with the slaves ("Mormonism's Negro Doctrine: An Historical Overview," Dialogue, vol. 8, no. 1, Spring, 1973, p. 12).
In July of 1833, the Mormons published an article in the Evening and Morning Star entitled "Free People of Color." It stated:
To prevent any misunderstanding . . . regarding Free people of color, who may think of coming to the western boundaries of Missouri, as members of the church, we quote the following clauses from the Laws of Missouri.
The article then quoted two sections from the law which outlined that a "free negro or mulatto" must have a "certificate of citizenship," and anyone aiding such persons to migrate to Missouri were obligated to ensure the blacks had proper identification and papers. The Mormon article continued:
Slaves are real estate in this and other states, and wisdom would dictate great care among the branches of the church of Christ, on this subject. So long as we have no special rule in the church, as to people of color, let prudence guide; and while they, as well as we, are in the hands of a merciful God, we say: Shun every appearance of evil (Evening and Morning Star, Independence, Missouri, July 1833, p. 109).
On page 111 of the same issue it stated:
Our brethren will find an extract of the law of this state, relative to free people of color, on another [p. 14] page of this paper. Great care should be taken on this point. The saints must shun every appearance of evil. As to slaves we have nothing to say. In connection with the wonderful events of this age, much is doing towards abolishing slavery, and colonizing the blacks, in Africa (Evening and Morning Star, July 1833, p. 111).
These statements upset their slave-holding neighbors, as some people felt the Mormons were encouraging free blacks to move to the area. In an effort to calm the fears of the Missourians, the Mormons put out a special one page extra of their newspaper dealing with blacks:
Having learned with regret, that an article entitled FREE PEOPLE OF COLOR, in the last number of the Star, has been misunderstood, we feel in duty bound to state, in this Extra, that our intention was not only to stop free people of color from emigrating to this state, but to prevent them from being admitted as members of the Church. . . . To be short, we are opposed to have free people of color admitted into the state; and we say, that none will be admitted into the church, for we are determined to obey the laws and constitutions of our country, . . . (Evening and Morning Star, Extra, July 16, 1833; see photo below).
In April 1836, Joseph Smith wrote an article for the church's publication, Messenger and Advocate, which was later reprinted in the History of the Church. In this article he made it clear that he favored the practice of slavery and was very opposed to abolitionists. The Mormon prophet stated:
Dear Sir:—This place [Kirtland] having recently been visited by a gentleman who advocated the principles or doctrines of those who are called Abolitionists, and his presence having created an interest in that subject, if you deem the following reflections of any service, or think they will have a tendency to correct the opinions of the Southern public, relative to the views and sentiments I entertain, as an individual, and which I am able to say from personal knowledge are the sentiments of others, you are at liberty to give them publicity in the columns of the Advocate . . . I fear that the sound might go out that "an Abolitionist" had held forth several times to this community . . . I am happy to say that no violence, or breach of the public peace, was attempted; so far from this, all except a very few, attended to their own vocations, and left the gentleman to hold forth his own arguments to nearly naked walls. I am aware that many, who profess to preach the Gospel, complain against their brethren of the same faith, who reside in the South, and are ready to withdraw the hand of fellowship, because they will not renounce the principle of slavery, and raise their voice against every thing of the kind. This must be a tender point, and one which should call forth the candid reflections of all men, and more especially before they advance in an opposition calculated to lay waste the fair states of the South, and let loose upon the world a community of people, who might, peradventure, overrun our country, and violate the most sacred principles of human society, chastity and virtue.
No one will pretend to say that the people of the free states are as capable of knowing the evils of slavery, as those who hold slaves . . . And besides, are not those who hold slaves, persons of ability, discernment and candor? . . . I do not believe that the people of the North have any more right to say that the South shall not hold slaves, than the South to say the North shall . . .
How any community can ever be excited with the chatter of such persons, boys and others, who are too indolent to obtain their living by honest industry, and are incapable of pursuing any occupation of a professional nature, is unaccountable to me; when I see persons in the free states, signing documents against slavery, it is no less, in my mind, than an army of influence, and a declaration of hostilities, against the people of the South. What course could sooner divide our union?
After having expressed myself so freely upon the subject, I do not doubt, but those who have been forward in raising their voices against the South will cry out against me as being uncharitable, unfeeling, unkind, and wholly unacquainted with the Gospel of Christ. . . . the first mention we have of slavery is found in the Holy Bible, pronounced by a man who was perfect in his generation, and walked with God. And so far from that prediction being averse to the mind of God, it remains as a lasting monument of the decree of Jehovah, to the shame and confusion of all who have cried out against the South in consequence of their holding the sons of Ham in servitude . . . I can say, the curse is not yet
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[p. 16] taken off from the sons of Canaan, neither will be until it is affected by as great a power as caused it to come; and the people who interfere the least with the 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 decrees 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 (History of the Church, by Joseph Smith, vol. 2, pp. 436-438).
In 1838, Joseph Smith answered some questions that were frequently asked regarding the church. Question number thirteen was concerning slavery:
Thirteenth— "Are the Mormons abolitionists?" No, unless delivering the people from priestcraft, and the priests from the power of Satan, should be considered abolition. But we do not believe in setting the negroes free (History of the Church, vol. 3, p. 29).
Toward the end of his life Joseph Smith seemed to change his mind somewhat concerning slavery. Under the date of January 2, 1843, Joseph Smith wrote:
"Had I anything to do with the negro, I would confine them by strict law to their own species, and put them on a national equalization" (History of the Church, vol. 6, pp. 217-218).
In 1835 Joseph Smith purchased a collection of mummies and papyri from Michael Chandler, who was traveling through Ohio. He started working on a translation of one of the rolls of Egyptian papyri but did not publish his manuscript until 1842. This work was titled The Book of Abraham, now part of the Pearl of Great Price, and was published in the church-owned Times and Seasons. This new work, canonized in 1880, reflected Smith's growing racist attitude towards blacks and priesthood:
Now this king of Egypt was a descendant from the loins of Ham, and was a partaker of the blood of the Canaanites by birth.
From this descent sprang all the Egyptians, and thus the blood of the Canaanites was preserved in the land.
The land of Egypt being first discovered by a woman, who was the daughter of Ham, and the daughter of Egyptus, which in the Chaldean signifies Egypt, which signifies that which is forbidden;
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.
Now the first government of Egypt was established by Pharaoh, the eldest son of Egyptus, the daughter of Ham, and it was after the manner of the government of Ham, which was patriarchal.
Pharaoh, being a righteous man, established his kingdom and judged his people wisely and justly all his days, seeking earnestly to imitate that order established by the fathers in the first generations, in the days of the first patriarchal reign, even in the reign of Adam, and also of Noah, his father, who blessed him with the blessings of the earth, and with the blessings of wisdom, but cursed him as pertaining to the Priesthood.
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 (Pearl of Great Price, Book of Abraham, 1:21-27).
When a reporter asked LDS President David O. McKay in 1961 about the basis for the policy of restricting blacks from priesthood, "he replied that it rested solely on the Book of Abraham. 'That is the only reason,' he said. 'It is founded on that.' " ("David O. McKay and Blacks," by Gregory A. Prince, Dialogue, Spring 2002, p. 146).
LDS author Stephen Taggart observed:
With the publication of The Book of Abraham all of the elements for the Church's policy of denying the priesthood to Negroes were present. The curse of Canaan motif borrowed from Southern fundamentalism was being supported with the Church by a foundation of proslavery statements and attitudes which had emerged during the years of crisis in Missouri. . . . (Mormonism's Negro Policy: Social and Historical Origins, by Stephen G. Taggart, University of Utah Press, 1970, pp. 62‑63).[p. 17]
The heading on the Book of Abraham states that it is "translated from the papyrus, by Joseph Smith." He specifically claimed that the Book of Abraham is "A translation of some ancient Records, that have fallen into our hands from the catacombs of Egypt" (see the introduction to the Book of Abraham). When the Mormons moved west this collection stayed behind with Joseph's widow, Emma, and were thought to have been destroyed in the Great Chicago fire in 1871.
Interestingly, in 1967 the original papyrus from which Joseph Smith claimed to "translate" the Book of Abraham was rediscovered in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. These artifacts were presented to the LDS Church. Photos of the eleven papyrus fragments, including the original of Facsimile No. 1, were printed in the February 1968 issue of the Improvement Era, an official LDS magazine. The papyri are also mentioned in the LDS publication, The Pearl of Great Price: Student Manual, Religion 327, pp. 28-29. Below is a photo of part of the Egyptian papyri owned by Joseph Smith.
Egyptologists found that the papyrus was in reality a copy of the Egyptian Book of Breathings, a pagan text that had absolutely nothing to do with Abraham or his religion. Robert K. Ritner, Associate Professor of Egyptology at the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago, commented:
In 1967, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York made a gift to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints of eleven papyrus fragments once owned by Joseph Smith and employed as the basis for "The Book of Abraham." . . . Egyptologists John A. Wilson and Richard A. Parker identified fragments within this collection as sections of a late mortuary text known as a "Book of Breathings," copied for a Theban priest named Hor. . . . Like the "Book of the Dead," the sole purpose of the later texts is to ensure the blessed afterlife of the deceased individual, . . . The text is a formal document or "permit" created by Isis [an Egyptian deity] and copied by Thoth [another Egyptian deity] to assure that the deified Hor regains the ability to breathe and function after death, with full mobility, access to offerings and all other privileges of the immortal gods. The implications, basic symbolism and intent of the text are certain ("The 'Breathing Permit of Hor' Thirty-four Years Later," Dialogue, vol. 33, no. 4, Winter 2000, pp. 97‑99, 115).
Since the Book of Abraham is obviously not a translation of the papyrus, why does the LDS Church keep it and its racist teachings as part of their canon of scripture? (For a larger treatment of the Book of Abraham problems see our book, Mormonism—Shadow or Realty? pages 249-369; and By His Own Hand Upon Papyrus, by Charles Larson.)
To better understand the Mormon attitude concerning blacks, a person must first be aware of the doctrine of pre-existence or pre-mortal life. Joseph Smith taught that man is the same species as God and his direct offspring, born as a spirit child in an earlier existence, then raised to maturity prior to being sent to earth as an infant. Preaching at the funeral of an early Mormon, Joseph Smith stated:
First, God himself, who sits enthroned in yonder heavens, is a man like unto one of yourselves, that is the great secret . . . I am going to tell you how God came to be God. We have imagined that God was God from all eternity . . . God himself; the Father of us all dwelt on an earth the same as Jesus Christ himself did . . . I have another subject to dwell upon . . . the soul, the mind of man, the immortal spirit. All men say God created it in the beginning. The very idea lessens man in my estimation; I do not believe the doctrine . . . The mind of man is as immortal as God himself. I know that my testimony is true, hence when I talk to these mourners; what have they lost, they are only separated from their bodies for a short season; their spirits existed co-equal with God . . . God never did have power to create the spirit of man at all (Times and Seasons, vol. 5, pp. 613-615; also in History of the Church, vol. 6, pp. 302-312).
The LDS Church teaches that God was once a mortal on some other world. He and his wife were faithful on that earth, died, were resurrected and eventually advanced to godhood. Their spirit children, who were literally born to them in that state, were later sent to an earth to obtain a mortal body and possibly advance as their heavenly parents did before them.
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The doctrine of pre-existence pours wonderful flood of light upon the otherwise mysterious problem of man's origin. It shows that man, as a spirit, was begotten and born of heavenly parents [God and His Wife], and reared to maturity in the eternal mansions of the Father, prior to coming upon the earth in a temporal body to undergo an experience in mortality.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, basing its belief on divine revelation, ancient and modern, proclaims man to be the direct and lineal offspring of Deity. By his Almighty power God organized the earth, and all that it contains, from spirit and element, which exist co-eternally with himself.
Man is the child of God, formed in the divine image and endowed with divine attributes, and even as the infant son of an earthly father and mother is capable in due time of becoming a man, so that undeveloped offspring of celestial parentage is capable, by experience through ages and aeons, of evolving into a God ("The Origin of Man," LDS First Presidency, Encyclopedia of Mormonism, vol. 4, edited by Daniel H. Ludlow, Macmillan Publishing Co., 1992, Appendix 4)
Joseph Smith's doctrine of man's pre-mortal existence brought about the idea that some of God's children were more noble than others in that prior life and thus earned the right to be born on earth into a Mormon family.
Preaching in the Salt Lake Tabernacle in 1852, Apostle Orson Pratt stated:
I have already told you that the spirits of men and women, all had a previous existence, thousands of years ago, in the heavens, in the presence of God; and I have already told you that among them are many spirits that are more noble, more intelligent than others, that were called the great and mighty ones, reserved until the dispensation of the fulness of times, to come forth upon the face of the earth, through a noble parentage . . . Do you believe, says one, that they are reserved until the last dispensation, for such a noble purpose? Yes; and among the Saints is the most likely place for these spirits to take their tabernacles, through a just and righteous parentage. . . . This is the reason why the Lord is sending them here, brethren and sisters; they are appointed to come and take their bodies here, . . . The Lord has not kept them in store for five or six thousand years past, and kept them waiting for their bodies all this time to send them among the Hottentots, the African negroes, the idolatrous Hindoos, or any other of the fallen nations that dwell upon the face of this earth. They are not kept in reserve in order to come forth to receive such a degraded parentage upon the earth; . . . (Journal of Discourses, vol. 1, pp. 62‑63).
The Book of Abraham explains that those who were "noble" in the pre-existence (man's first estate) were to be the "rulers" on earth (man's second estate). (Pearl of Great Price, Book of Abraham 3:22-23). This led to an interpretation that each person's birth on earth is a direct result of his/her worthiness in a prior life in heaven. Thus those less valiant were born black, and sent through the lineage of Cain, while the righteous were born white. And those most worthy were born into Mormon families. Heber C. Kimball, a member of the First Presidency of the LDS Church under Brigham Young, preached:
I tell you there is not a purer set of women on God's earth than there is here; and they shall live and bear the souls of men, and bear tabernacles for those righteous spirits that are kept back for the last time, for the winding up scenery (Journal of Discourses, vol. 5, p. 133).
The second Article of Faith of the LDS Church reads as follows: "We believe that men will be punished for their own sins, and not for Adam's transgression" (Pearl of Great Price). To avoid the idea that Cain's descendants were punished for his transgression, the Mormon leaders have taught that those born black were "indifferent in their support of the righteous cause" in the pre-existence.
In 1845 LDS Apostle Orson Hyde explained that those spirits who were unworthy were sent through the cursed lineage:
At the time the devil was cast out of heaven, there were some spirits that did not know who had authority, whether God or the devil. They consequently did not take a very active part on either side, but rather thought the devil had been [p. 20] abused, . . . These spirits were not considered bad enough to be cast down to hell, and never have bodies; neither were they considered worthy of an honourable body on this earth: . . . But those spirits in heaven that rather lent an influence to the devil, thinking he had a little the best right to govern, but did not take a very active part any way were required to come into the world and take bodies in the accursed lineage of Canaan; and hence the Negro or African race ("Speech of Elder Orson Hyde, delivered before the High Priests' Quorum, in Nauvoo," April 27, 1845, printed by John Taylor, p. 30).
In 1885 B. H. Roberts, famous LDS author and member of the Council of Seventy, explained the Mormon doctrine of the war in heaven between God's spirit children:
The contest was a severe one, and during its progress all degrees of integrity were manifest. Those who stood with Christ and the plan He favored for the salvation of man, formed one extreme, while those who stood with Lucifer and for the plan of salvation devised by him, which was destructive of man's agency, formed the other extreme; between these two extremes every shade of faith, fulness and indifference was exhibited. Only those, however, who wickedly rebelled against God were adjudged to deserve banishment from heaven, and become the devil and his angels. Others there were, who may not have rebelled against God, and yet were so indifferent in their support of the righteous cause of our Redeemer, that they forfeited certain privileges and powers granted to those who were more valiant for God and correct principles. We have, I think, a demonstration of this in the seed of Ham. . . . I believe that race is the one through which it is ordained those spirits that were not valiant in the great rebellion in heaven should come; who through their indifference or lack of integrity to righteousness, rendered themselves unworthy of the Priesthood and its powers, and hence it is withheld from them to this day (The Contributor, vol. 6, pp. 296-297).
Gaylon L. Caldwell, LDS researcher and author, made the following observation:
This doctrine is not without logical difficulties, however. Considering the Latter-day Saint dictum that "man is punished for his own sins" the curse on Cain is understandable and consistent with Mormon philosophy, since the Mormon scripture insists that he sinned knowingly and willfully. But how is one to account for the penalty on all his alleged descendants? An arbitrary God who would permit millions of people to be deprived of the priesthood, and hence its concomitant blessings, by accident of birth simply does not fit into the Mormon theology. As would be expected, this problem has led to the formulation of several theses. One of the most popular was framed by B. H. Roberts from a suggestion by Orson Hyde, early Apostle. Roberts suggested that since all spirits before living in the flesh had an opportunity to prove their fidelity to God and His laws during the "war in heaven" some of them might have been neutral, or proved less valiant than others, and thus lost the right of priesthood during their earthly sojourn ("Moral and Religious Aspects of the Negro in Utah," by Gaylon L. Caldwell, Western Humanities Review, Winter 1959, p. 105).
Joseph Fielding Smith, who became the tenth president of the LDS Church, explained the church's position on race:
There is a reason why one man is born black and with other disadvantages, while another is born white with great advantages. The reason is that we once had an estate before we came here, and were obedient, more or less, to the laws that were given us there (Doctrines of Salvation: Sermons and Writings of Joseph Fielding Smith, compiled by Bruce R. McConkie, vol. 1, Bookcraft, 1954, p. 61).
This teaching was clearly stated in a letter written by the LDS First Presidency on July 17, 1947:
Your position seems to lose sight of the revelations of the Lord touching the pre-existence of our spirits, the rebellion in heaven, and the doctrine that our birth into this life and the advantages under which we may be born, have a relationship in the life heretofore.
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 (as quoted in Mormonism and the Negro, by John J. Stewart and William E. Berrett, Horizon Publishers, 1978, p. 47).
We cannot escape the conclusion that because of performance in our pre-existence some of us are born as Chinese, some as Japanese, some as Indians, some as Negroes, some Americans, some as Latter-day Saints. These are rewards and punishments . . . Is it not reasonable to believe that less worthy spirits would come through less favored lineage? . . .
Let us consider the great mercy of God for a moment. The Chinese, born in China with a dark skin, and with all the handicaps of that race seems to have little opportunity. But think of the mercy of God to Chinese people who are willing to accept the gospel. In spite of whatever they might have done in the pre-existence to justify being born over there as Chinamen, if they now, in this life, accept the gospel and live it the rest of their lives they can have the Priesthood, go to the temple and receive endowments and sealings, and that means they can have exaltation. . . .
Think of the Negro, cursed as to the Priesthood. . . . This negro, who, in the pre-existence lived the type of life which justified the Lord in sending him to the earth in the lineage of Cain with a black skin. . . . In spite of all he did in the pre-existent life, the Lord is willing, if the Negro accepts the gospel . . . he can and will enter the celestial kingdom. He will go there as a servant, but he will get celestial glory ("Race Problems—As they Affect the Church," address by Apostle Mark E. Petersen at the Convention of Teachers of Religion on the College Level, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah, August 27, 1954; see Appendix B for entire speech).
LDS Apostle Bruce R. McConkie discussed the curse on Cain:
Though he was a rebel and an associate of Lucifer in pre-existence, and though he was a liar from the beginning whose name was Perdition, Cain managed to attain the privilege of mortal birth. Under Adam's tutelage, he began in this life to serve God. . . . Then he came out in open rebellion, fought God, worshiped Lucifer, and slew Abel. . . .
As a result of his rebellion, Cain was cursed with a dark skin; he became the father of the Negroes, and those spirits who are not worthy to receive the priesthood are born through his lineage. He became the first mortal to be cursed as a son of perdition. As a result of his mortal birth he is assured of a tangible body of flesh and bones in eternity, a fact which will enable him to rule over Satan (Mormon Doctrine, by Bruce R. McConkie, Bookcraft, 1958 edition, p. 102; in the 1966 and 1979 editions, p. 109).
Alvin R. Dyer, assistant to the twelve apostles and later ordained an apostle, spoke on racial issues to the Norwegian Mission gathering in Oslo, Norway, on March 18, 1961. In this talk he said:
We have talked a lot about missionary work and heard the testimonies of those who have spoken. I want to talk to you a little bit now about something that is not missionary work, and what I say is not to be given to your investigators by any matter of means. . . . Why is it that you are white and not colored: Have you ever asked yourself that question? Who had anything to do with your being born into the Church and not born a Chinese or a Hindu, or a Negro? Is God such an unjust person that He would make you white and free and make a Negro cursed under the cursing of Cain that he could not hold the Priesthood of God? . . . Those who have been cursed in the pre-existence were born through this lineage of Ham. . . .Why is a Negro a Negro? . . . The reason that spirits are born into Negro bodies is because those spirits rejected the Priesthood of God in the pre-existence. This is the reason why you have Negroes upon the earth.
You will observe that when Cain was influenced by the power of Lucifer to follow him and to fall down and worship him in the beginning, it was then that . . . Cain rejected the counsel of God. He rejected again the Priesthood as his forebearers had done in the pre-existence. Therefore, the curse of the pre-existence was made institute through the loins of Cain. Consequently, you have the beginning of the race of men and women into which would be born those in the pre-existence who had rejected the Priesthood of God. . . . Ham reinstated the curse of the pre-existence when he rejected the Priesthood of [p. 22] Noah, and in consequence of that he preserved the curse on the earth. Therefore, the Negroes to be born thereafter, or those who were to become Negroes, were to be born through the loins of Ham.
All of this is according to a well worked-out plan, that these millions and billions of spirits awaiting birth in the pre-existence would be born through a channel or race of people. Consequently, the cursed were to be born through Ham ("For What Purpose," talk by Alvin R. Dyer, Oslo, Norway, March 18, 1961, typed copy in our files. Part of this talk is quoted in The Church and the Negro, by John L. Lund, 1967, p. 97).
In a letter dated April 10, 1963, Apostle Joseph Fielding Smith wrote:
According to the doctrine of the church, the Negro, because of some condition of unfaithfulness in the spirit-or pre-existence, was not valiant and hence was not denied the mortal probation, but was denied the blessings of the priesthood (Letter to Joseph H. Henderson; see Appendix C).
The LDS concept of race is also present in their Patriarchal Blessings, usually given to members during their teen years. The Patriarch, a man specially appointed to this office, lays his hands on the person's head and says a special prayer, stating from which line of the twelve tribes of Israel the person descends, as well as giving certain guidelines for life. The person is often promised a full life, happy marriage with children and numerous "callings" (church appointed service), all blessings predicated on faithfulness to the LDS Church.
The lineage for a white member is usually identified as the line of "Ephraim." American Indians are usually identified as from "Manasseh." Those born in the favored line of Ephraim are considered to have earned this right in their prior existence in heaven. An example of this type of teaching is found in one of the author's (Sandra's) Patriarchal Blessing, given February 10, 1955. It states:
You have royal blood in your veins for you are a descendant of Father Abraham. You come from the house of Joseph the favorite son of Jacob who was sold into Egypt and from the loins of Ephraim. . . . You were valiant in your first estate [pre-mortal life] and the Lord has rewarded you for it. You struggled valiantly that we might have our free agency and the Lord held you in reserve to come forth at this late time to the home of goodly parents. . .
The Encyclopedia of Mormonism, under EPHRAIM, states:
For Latter-day Saints, identification of a person's lineage in latter-day Covenant Israel is made under the hands of inspired Patriarchs through patriarchal blessings that declare lineage. Elder John A. Widtsoe, an Apostle, declared, "In giving a blessing the patriarch may declare our lineage—that is, that we are of Israel, therefore of the family of Abraham, and of a specific tribe of Jacob. In the great majority of cases, Latter-day Saints are of the tribe of Ephraim, the tribe to which has been committed the leadership of the Latter-day work. Whether this lineage is of blood or adoption it does not matter . . .
The patriarchal blessings of most Latter-day Saints indicate that they are literal, blood descendants of Abraham and of Israel. Those who are not literal descendants are adopted into the family of Abraham when they receive baptism and confirmation (see Law of Adoption). They are then entitled to all the rights and privileges of heirs (TPJS [Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith], pp. 149-50). This doctrine of adoption was understood by ancient prophets and apostles . . . (Encyclopedia of Mormonism, vol. 2, p. 461).
One of the curious aspects of these blessings is that some people in the same family have been declared to be from different blood lines. Writing in 1960, Joseph Fielding Smith, tenth president of the LDS Church, explained how this could happen:
Question: "I wish to receive an answer to the following question: Is it possible for all the members of a family, including father and mother, to be of the tribe of Ephraim and one son in that family to be of the tribe of Manasseh?"
Answer: It is very possible that a patriarch in giving blessings to a family may declare that one or more may be of a different lineage from the [p. 23] others through the inspiration which he receives. We have in our archives, blessings showing this difference to exist in families. Without giving this question careful thought one might conclude that the patriarch had spoken without inspiration, but such would be an incorrect conclusion.
The fact is that we, each and all, have descended through a mixed lineage. . . . Therefore, through the scattering of Israel among the nations, the blood of Israel was mixed with the Gentile nations, fulfilling the promise made to Abraham. Most of the members of the Church, although they are designated as descendants of Abraham, through Israel, also have in their veins Gentile blood. This is to say, no one is a direct descendant through Ephraim through each generation, or through Manasseh or any other one of the sons of Jacob, without having acquired the blood of some other tribe in Israel in that descent. . . .
The Book of Mormon states that Joseph Smith the Prophet was a descendant of Joseph, son of Jacob. By revelation we learn also that he is of the tribe of Ephraim, but it is evident that he also had some Gentile blood in him, for it is written in the Book of Mormon, that it came forth, "by way of the Gentile," and it came by Joseph Smith. It is reasonable, therefore, to understand that we one and all have come through a mixed relationship, and that the blood of Ephraim and also of Manasseh could be in the veins of many of us, likewise the blood of others of the twelve tribes of Israel, and that none of us had come through the ages with clear exclusive descent from father to son through any one of the tribes (Answers to Gospel Questions, by Joseph Fielding Smith, vol. 3, Deseret Book, 1960, pp. 61-64)
LDS author Irene Bates discussed the issues of race, linage and patriarchal blessings in an article for Dialogue:
Following the death of Joseph Smith the policy of the church was to exclude blacks from ordination to the priesthood and from Latter-day Saint temples. Although some black members of the church were given patriarchal blessings, declarations of lineage were omitted as a matter of policy. But guidelines were not consistent, and the question remained the subject of debate. In a 24 September 1972 interview, President Harold B. Lee said "skin color is not what keeps the Negro from the priesthood. It [is] strictly a matter of lineage and involves only African Negroes. In comparison, he noted, dark or black islanders, such as Fijians, Tongans, Samoans, or Maoris, are all permitted full rights to the priesthood."
That color did have a negative connotation, however, can be seen in several early blessings referring to native Americans. The Saints were told they should preach the gospel to the Lamanites (Mormon terminology for American Indians) to enable them to "become a white and delightsome people." . . . The expression "white and delightsome" is included in all but the latest, 1981, edition of the Book of Mormon, where the phrase now reads, "a pure and delightsome people" (2 Ne. 30:6). On 8 June 1978, however, priesthood and temple blessings were extended to "every worthy man in the Church . . . without regard for race or color" (D&C OD 2). . . . It would be interesting to survey patriarchal blessings given to black members of the church both before and after the 1978 declaration.
Although declaration of lineage is still one of the salient features of all patriarchal blessings, more sophisticated knowledge may demand some adjustment of the earlier claims of pure blood relationship ("Patriarchal Blessings and the Routinization of Charisma," by Irene M. Bates, Dialogue, vol. 26, no. 3, Fall 1993, pp. 7-8).
As recently as 1998 Apostle Richard Scott taught that one's race is based on past performance. Speaking at the LDS Conference he said:
Your Heavenly Father assigned you to be born into a specific lineage from which you received your inheritance of race, culture, and traditions. That lineage can provide a rich heritage and great reasons to rejoice ("Removing Barriers to Happiness," Ensign, published by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, May, 1998, p. 86).
One of the more bizarre doctrines that Joseph Smith taught was that a Gentile must literally have his blood changed so that he is actually of the seed of Abraham:
. . . as the Holy Ghost falls upon one of the literal seed of Abraham, it is calm and serene; . . . [p. 24] while the effect of the Holy Ghost upon a Gentile, is to purge out the old blood, and make him actually of the seed of Abraham (History of the Church, vol. 3, p. 380).
Brigham Young, the second President of the LDS Church, approved of Smith's teaching:
Again, if a pure Gentile firmly believes the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and yields obedience to it, in such a case I will give you the words of the Prophet Joseph—"When the Lord pours out the Holy Ghost upon that individual he will have spasms, and you would think that he was going into fits."
Joseph said that the Gentile blood was actually cleansed out of their veins, and the blood of Jacob made to circulate in them; and the revolution and change in the system were so great that it caused the beholder to think they were going into fits (Journal of Discourses, vol. 2, p. 269).
According to this doctrine we would expect that a Jew would have the proper blood, but Brigham Young taught that even a Jew must have his blood changed:
If a Jew comes into this Church, and honestly professes to be a Saint, a follower of Christ, and if the blood of Judah is in his veins, he will apostatize. He may have been born and bred a Jew, . . . and have openly professed to be a Jew all his days; but I will tell you a secret—there is not a particle of the blood of Judaism in him, if he has become a true Christian, a Saint of God; for if there is, he will most assuredly leave the Church of Christ, or that blood will be purged out of his veins. We have men among us who were Jews, . . . here is brother Neibaur; do I believe there is one particle of the blood of Judah in his veins? No, not so much as could be seen on the point of the finest cambric needle, through a microscope with a magnifying power of two millions (Journal of Discourses, vol. 2, p. 142).
Armand Mauss observed:
With the passage of time, especially in recent decades, authoritative Mormon discourse has placed less emphasis on the salience of literal lineage and more emphasis on the potentially universal inclusiveness of God's ancient covenant with Abraham. As this change of emphasis continues, the logical paradox is on the way to resolution. After all, if embracing the gospel of Christ is all that really matters for full participation in the Abrahamic covenant, why should one's genetic lineage be given any salience whatsoever? Yet the earlier focus on the importance of literal Israelite has remained influential in the thinking of many Mormons, even into the twenty-first century, seemingly as a residue of the racialist interpretations of history once so common in America as well as in Europe (All Abraham's Children, p. 3).
Mauss further commented:
During the life and ministry of Joseph Smith, Mormonism shared several millennial expectations with its Protestant American environment. These included the gathering of both the Jews and the "lost tribes" of Israel, with a special vanguard role for the tribe of Ephraim in that gathering. . . . Like many other Americans, they also identified the American Indians as descendants of the lost tribes. With the exodus to Utah in the middle of the nineteenth century, Mormon conceptions about lineage evolved into a fuller racialist explanation of history generally and of the Saints' own destiny in particular. This racialist framework synthesized three elements: (1) an emerging and expanded understanding about premortal life; (2) British Israelism; and (3) Anglo-Saxon triumphalism. Anglo-Saxon triumphalism and, to a lesser extent, British Israelism had gained widespread popularity among intellectual elites in America, as well as in parts of Europe.
By the early decades of the twentieth century, a racialist historical narrative had developed in which some lineages were favored over others by deity or destiny or both. The Mormon version of this narrative provided a rank-ordering of lineages that maintained the preeminent position of Mormons as mainly Anglo-Saxon descendants of Ephraim, charged with the responsibility of building and ruling the eventual kingdom of God on earth (All Abraham's Children, pp. 35-36).