On this date in 1978, the Mormon Church stunned the world by announcing that God would finally permit “worthy” African men to be ordained to its priesthood. This “revelation” by Mormon prophet Spencer W. Kimball defused decades of anger and controversy, and opened new doorways of privilege to members whose access to church leadership and secret temple rituals had always been denied.
It also cleared the way for the Mormon missionaries to seek converts across Africa. On April 13th of this year the New York Times featured an article on the church’s increasing missionary work in Uganda, noting that fully a third of its members here have been converted in just the past year.
But the church’s announcement in 1978 left something completely unchanged by its leaders—men with the same authority as the prophets and apostles in the Bible, who direct “the only true and living Church upon the face of the whole earth.”
For more than a century, Mormon prophets and apostles openly taught that Africans are black because of a divine curse—the dreaded “mark of Cain.” This is not obscure folklore or opinion, but doctrine stated plainly by some of the church’s highest spiritual officers in formal conferences and respected publications.
What have revered Mormon leaders taught about the African race? Space only allows for four examples among many.
In 1859, Mormon prophet Brigham Young identified Africans as the descendents of Cain (Genesis 4), declaring: “Cain slew his brother. Cain might have been killed, and that would have put a termination to that line of human beings. This was not to be, and the Lord put a mark on him, which is the flat nose and black skin. Trace mankind down to after the flood, and then another curse is pronounced upon the same race—that they should be the ‘servant of servants,’ and they will be until that curse is removed….”(Journal of Discourses, Vol. 7, p. 290)
Mormon prophet Joseph Fielding Smith clarified this view in 1931, stating: “Not only was Cain called upon to suffer, but because of his wickedness he became the father of an inferior race. A curse was placed upon him and that curse has been continued through his lineage and must do so while time endures. Millions of souls have come into this world cursed with a black skin and have been denied the privilege of Priesthood and the fullness of the blessings of the Gospel.” He added: “This doctrine did not originate with President Brigham Young but was taught by the Prophet Joseph Smith....we all know it is due to his teachings that the Negro today is barred from the Priesthood.” (The Way to Perfection, pp. 101–102, 110–111)
Mormon apostle Mark E. Petersen asked in 1954, “Who placed the Negroes originally in darkest Africa? Was it some man, or was it God?” His answer: “The Lord segregated the people both as to blood and place of residence. At least in the cases of the Lamanites [i.e., Native Americans] 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)
Mormon apostle Bruce R. McConkie further explained in 1966 that “Cain, Ham, and the whole negro race have been cursed with a black skin, the mark of Cain, so they can be identified as a caste apart, a people with whom the other descendants of Adam should not intermarry.” (Mormon Doctrine, p. 114)
In recent years the Mormon Church has converted famous athletes and entertainers of African descent. In 2009 it elevated a Kenyan to the upper levels of its authority structure.
But on this date we are reminded that the Mormon Church has never renounced or changed its oft-stated doctrine that Africans are black because God Himself has cursed them. The Mormon Church should either publicly embrace its leaders’ racist teachings, or openly renounce them.
Hoping that we will not notice is not enough.