By Tim Martin
I read with mixed emotions the Observer article “Mormons in media drive” dated 6 March 2013. The article explained that the Mormon Church has created a new web site that “will publish all there is to know about the faith” and help “Ugandan journalists and the general public [to] get credible information” about their religion.
The article was positive and accurate in its depiction of Mormonism’s moral positions. For instance, the Mormon Church should be commended for its “strong stance against cohabiting, alcoholism, pre-marital sex and homosexuality.”
However, the Mormons’ new site fails to cover some of the important topics that the Observer article said it would address. For instance, the article quotes Sean Donnelly as saying that the site “would throw more light on…controversies like…racism.” But the site’s article on racism sidesteps the main points of this controversy almost entirely.
Concerning racism, the site accurately discusses the 1978 change in Mormon Church policy allowing male church members of African descent to hold its priesthood. It also describes the current state of racial integration in many Mormon congregations. While true, these points beg the question at hand.
The most controversial race issue is that the Mormon Church’s top leaders have repeatedly claimed that dark skin is a curse from God. For instance, revered Mormon Apostle Mark E. Petersen declared: “At least in the cases of the Lamanites [American Indians] and the negroes we have the definite word of the Lord Himself that He placed a dark skin upon them as a curse—as a punishment and as a sign to all others.” (“Race Problems—As They Affect the Church,” an address given at Brigham Young University on August 27, 1954)
Notice that Petersen is not claiming that this is his personal opinion. As an apostle of the Mormon Church, he claimed that this was the “definite word of the Lord Himself.”
The Book of Mormon also supports this teaching. Although “black and white” people are all invited to approach God (2 Nephi 26:33), the fact that some have much darker skin is based on divine curses against their ungodliness. Second Nephi 5:21 explains that the people known as Lamanites received “a sore cursing, because of their iniquity.” What was the nature of the curse? God “cause[d] a skin of blackness to come upon them” so the Lamanites would not “be enticing” to His followers.
(It’s worth noting that on 1 March of this year the Mormon Church announced its new digital edition of the Book of Mormon. While the main text of the book remains the same, the church has strategically altered some of the chapter descriptions. For example, in the 1981 print edition of the Book of Mormon, the chapter description for 2 Nephi 5 says that the “the Lamanites are cursed, receive a skin of blackness, and become a scourge unto the Nephites.” The new version omits the phrase “skin of blackness” and merely says that the Lamanites “are cut off from the presence of the Lord.”)
The same theme is found in another Mormon scripture, the Pearl of Great Price. In the Moses 7:8 the people of Canaan were cursed, “and there was a blackness came upon all the children of Canaan, that they were despised among all people.”
Sadly, the Mormon Church’s apostles and prophets have never apologized for these and many other statements—some of them far worse. (See “The Mormon Church and the African,” published by the Africa Centre for Apologetics Research, for extensive quotations.) Instead, the church diverts attention from the issue by repeated references to the racial harmony one can observe in Mormon congregations since the 1978 “revelation.”
Still, there is another aspect of this issue that the Mormon Church needs to openly admit if it wants to engage in genuine full disclosure. According to the Book of Mormon and Mormon leaders, once a person with dark skin ceases to practice evil and begins following the Lord, his/her skin will transform into lighter shades. In the second chapter of 3 Nephi some of the Lamanites left their tribe and joined with the righteous Nephites. Verse 15 explains: “And their curse was taken from them, and their skin became white like unto the Nephites.
At the church’s General Conference in October of 1960, Mormon Apostle Spencer W. Kimball described his visit to an Indian community in Arizona. The Mormon Church had been making converts there for 15 years and had over 8,400 members. Now that these dark-skinned Indians had been accepting the Mormon gospel, Kimball—who would later become the church’s prophet—could report:
For years they have been growing delightsome, and they are now becoming white and delightsome, as they were promised (2 Ne. 30:6). … 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. (Conference Report, October 1960, pp. 32–37; accessed at http://scriptures.byu.edu/gettalk.php?ID=1091&era=yes)
This aspect of Mormon teaching has not been properly addressed. Instead, it is covered up. Though Mormon leaders avoid the topic, its implications still permeate Mormon culture. For example, Mormons often produce large outdoor pageants depicting scenes from the Book of Mormon. Every one of them depicts Lamanites as savages with dark skins and Nephites as more sophisticated people with light skins. If you were to ask any lifelong Mormon why there is a difference in skin color between the Lamanites and Nephites, they know the correct answer.
People in Uganda and other nations where the Mormon Church is attempting to make inroads may never hear the facts about this racist doctrine—at least from the church’s missionaries. •