On 10 December, 2013, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints quietly released its latest statement to date on Race and the Priesthood. It completely repudiates two previous official statements by the church’s First Presidency, one in 1949, and one in 1969, both of which declared that God had directly and clearly commanded that the “Negro” should be denied the priesthood, until some indefinite, and probably millennial epoch—or until the Lord directly came down and said otherwise. Both of these previous declarations credited the source of this ban to be both ancient scripture and modern revelation.
The most authoritative LDS statement on the so-called, “Negro Question,” however, still lies in 1978’s Declaration 2, now a part of the church’s modern canon. Until 10 December 2013, this was considered by most LDS leadership, and membership alike, to have been the “last word” on the matter. Declaration 2 however, does no more than announce that the time had come to repeal the ban, and makes no allusions to renouncing either the validity of instituting the practice in the first place, or rationalizing the often canonically convoluted, “doctrinal”canards that Mormon theologians and LDS leadership promoted and elaborated through the generations, to defend and justify the church’s position on Race and the Priesthood over the previous century and a quarter. (Officially from 1852-1978.)
Between Declaration 2 and the present statement of 10 December 2013, there was roughly 35 years in which the only authoritative LDS answer from the First Presidency to the greater “Negro Question,” was “We don’t know why there was a ban in the first place.” This later evolved into, “Declaration 2 says it all. What more is there to add?” to paraphrase president Gordon B Hinckley’s take on it. During this silent era, for the most part, Mormon Curse of Cain theology continued to roll forth in what totaled a run of about 161 years, unbroken and virtually unchallenged in culture, classroom, seminary and chapel, having been overtly unharmed by any direct “revelation” contained in Declaration 2, and essentially undisturbed by any vague implications that document may have suggested on the subject of LDS attitudes toward race in general. Declaration 2 said exactly what you wanted it to say whoever you were, to allow you to retain your faith in modern prophecy, while adjusting to a new “eternal truth” about “The Negro Question.” For 35 years then, after Declaration 2, there remained a lot of Latter-day Saints, of all races and colors, who clearly saw many troubling implications in this new “revelation,” and strongly disagreed with any of the weak and evasive “official” answers that begrudgingly emerged from LDS leadership, whenever pressed by a troubled membership and dubious general public and media, to reconcile the question of Mormonism’s previous history of a clear and overtly 2nd-class treatment of the Negro, and dark-skinned peoples in general, with the new policy of “That’s all behind us now,” again, in the words of president Hinckley. No, Declaration 2 did not say it all, discerning Saints in particular contended. It hardly said anything to actually “fix” the problem of Mormonism’s longstanding culture of racism. It did not address the “why?” of it all. It’s not like we didn’t know. It’s not like nobody ever sat down and wrote volumes and volumes of canon-referenced opinion and research on the matter. It’s not like we never had a prophet or First Presidency author any specific statements of doctrine on it. Yes, we do know very well why there was a restriction placed on the priesthood ordination of the Negro. LDS leadership however, was not prepared to officially connect all of the doctrinal dots relative to their sudden reversal on the issue, and were unwilling to complete the picture for the faithful and all the world to see–not until 10 December of 2013. And the consensus of all concerned in and out of the church was at that point, the First Presidency simply threw Brigham Young under the bus.
Problem solved. Sort of. Because the latest statement on Race and the Priesthood doesn’t really quite “say it all” either. But, compared to 35 years of what some have called “stonewalling” the question, it’s a well-crafted and satisfying article, even if it does pose more questions than it gives answers to. It also comes a day late and a dollar short for some of us who were born, raised, aged and steeped in LDS Curse of Cain mythology. The First Presidency’s latest statement also essentially concedes that for decades, many good Saints left the church, and many investigators refused to join on what were doctrinally correct, and highly moral grounds, strictly over this one “policy.” And not accepting the validity of their concerns, the allusion as and continues to be made by implication, that these most conscientious of objectors were still just being petty and rebellious. It is now claimed that Curse of Cain/Ham theology was never LDS “doctrine” at all, and so all the fuss was about nothing. The irony of that doesn’t escape some of us.
The 10 December 2013 LDS statement on Race and the Priesthood says, in a nutshell:
“Never mind all that stuff about the Negro…”
On the one hand, thanks, I will, and with pleasure. On the other hand, it’s not quite that easy. The primary justifications for this ban were based both in Biblical and modern LDS scripture. Until the 10 December 2013 statement, with only one or two exceptions in 161 years, all previous LDS ecclesiastical authorities and lettered Mormon theologians, particularly those “establishment” favorites bearing doctorates from church universities, have ostensibly pronounced a perpetual curse on Cain and his lineage alleged to have been based in the LDS canon, not to mention backed up by modern revelation:
3 And in process of time it came to pass, that Cain brought of the fruit of the ground an offering unto the Lord. 4 And Abel, he also brought of the firstlings of his flock and of the fat thereof. And the Lord had respect unto Abel and to his offering: 5 But unto Cain and to his offering he had not respect. And Cain was very wroth, and his countenance fell. 6 And the Lord said unto Cain, Why art thou wroth? and why is thy countenance fallen? 7 If thou doest well, shalt thou not be accepted? and if thou doest not well, sin lieth at the door. And unto thee shall be his desire, and thou shalt rule over him. 8 And Cain talked with Abel his brother: and it came to pass, when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother, and slew him. 9 And the Lord said unto Cain, Where is Abel thy brother? And he said, I know not: Am I my brother’s keeper? 10 And he said, What hast thou done? the voice of thy brother’s blood crieth unto me from the ground. 11 And now art thou cursed from the earth, which hath opened her mouth to receive thy brother’s blood from thy hand; 12 When thou tillest the ground, it shall not henceforth yield unto thee her strength; a fugitive and a vagabond shalt thou be in the earth. 13 And Cain said unto the Lord, My punishment is greater than I can bear. 14 Behold, thou hast driven me out this day from the face of the earth; and from thy face shall I be hid; and I shall be a fugitive and a vagabond in the earth; and it shall come to pass, that every one that findeth me shall slay me. 15 And the Lord said unto him, Therefore whosoever slayeth Cain, vengeance shall be taken on him sevenfold. And the Lord set a mark upon Cain, lest any finding him should kill him. 16 And Cain went out from the presence of the Lord, and dwelt in the land of Nod, on the east of Eden. –Genesis 4 KJV
A few early Church Fathers and Christian scholars asserted that all of Cain’s lineage perished in the Great Flood. Most however, ignored any canonical evidence and maintained that the Negro race was indeed descended from Cain. Modern revelation in Mormon canon also asserts that Cain’s line was spared from the Flood, and continued through Noah’s youngest son Ham. Furthermore, LDS canon adds implicitly that this line was Negroid, or at least had a black skin, and all LDS leadership has since Brigham Young, explicitly maintained that the Negro was to be denied priesthood ordination due to Mormon canon:
27 Now, Pharaoh being of that lineage by which he could not have the right of aPriesthood, notwithstanding the Pharaohs would fainbclaim it from Noah, through Ham, therefore my father was led away by their idolatry;
Ham had been given an additional curse by Noah in Genesis 9, for what can only be described as a very obtuse offense. Talmudic observations suggest Ham found his father drunk and naked in his tent, and proceeded to molest his father’s private parts in some sort of a joke, possibly involving what at frat party in modern times would have been a Sharpie permanent marker and a Smiley Face, and then called his brothers in to have a laugh. The the rabbis in one or two schools of thought estimate that this would be the ancient equivalent of posting his father’s naked, drunken keester on Facebook. Quite an offense then–quite an offense now. The actual text however, states simply that Ham caught sight of his father’s naked and drunken condition, and called this to his brothers’ attention, and they went in with a garment, averting their eyes, to get the old man covered up. Be that as it may. Noah’s curse was not however, directed immediately at Ham, but heaped in apparent randomness upon his fourth son Canaan. The “Curse of Ham” is something of a misnomer from the get-go.
Historically, according to both common Christian and modern-canon-enhanced Mormon interpretation, Noah prophetically condemned Ham’s son Canaan and his offspring to be eternal servants. This, notwithstanding for the most part that such cursings are Biblically limited to some limited set of generations. By heaping Ham’s curse onto the original Curse of Cain and loading this cumulative damnation onto the seed of Canaan, the Christian historical consensus of this whopping great curse included the proposition that Cain himself would fail at farming and be a starving outcast, despised vagabond, and the descendants of Cain through Ham and Canaan, would be forever the lowest caste of all of Noah’s tribe. That might not sound very eternal and universal. The whole incident might be dismissed as a family quarrel and have little relevance today. Canaan could simply walk away and ignore his curse and be his own man somewhere else with some other people in some other culture and civilization. Except, you have to remember that Christian, Jewish, Muslim, and Mormon Biblical theology declares that everyone populating the earth today is in fact a descendant of Noah’s family. That’s why he’s often called “Father Noah.” That makes the children of Canaan, Cain’s accursed seed, the most universally, perpetually despised caste of human life in any tribe, nation, race creed or color, alive today on the face of the earth:
Cursed be Canaan; lowest of slaves shall he be to his brothers.” He [Noah] also said, “Blessed by the LORD my God be Shem; and let Canaan be his slave. May God make space for Japheth, and let him live in the tents of Shem; and let Canaan be his slave.” – Genesis 9:25-27 The harshness of the curse of Ham, his son Canaan and their descendants has been a source of scholarly debate for multiple millennia. A new reading of the Dead Sea Scroll 4Q180-4Q181* provides a fresh perspective on Canaan’s transgression.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints didn’t invent Curse of Cain theology. In fairness, the Mormon version was far more benevolent than the “orthodox,” traditional, “fundamentalist” Christian versions.
I knew that something did not sound right about the curse of Ham theory when I first heard it as a teenager. A white minister was giving me the biblical reason why my people and I had to endure the humiliation of American racism. Because I couldn’t prove otherwise and because my favorite Bible, the famous Old Schofield Reference Bible (5), which had become the official version of American fundamentalism, endorsed the curse of Ham theory, I had little recourse other than to accept it. After all, those promoting it were “trained” in the Bible and theology at the finest fundamentalist institutions in our country-institutions, by the way, that at that time would not allow blacks to enroll as students. With the endorsement of the Old Schofield Bible, coupled with the legal status of American segregation, the myth was firmly established and embedded in the American psyche. Tony Evans
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has been accused of coming to a late-arriving enlightenment regarding Curse of Cain theology. Indeed, until the most recent declaration on the matter in December of 2013, the church has engaged primarily in speculative rationalization in an earnest and honest belief in maintaining and defending this mythology, rather than undertaking a serious search for its canonical or revelatory basis. And while Mormonism continues to grow one of the largest integrated congregations in the world, those who criticize its past racial tenets should consider that the Southern Baptist Convention didn’t repudiate their overtly racist belief that the Negro had no soul and was incapable of salvation until 1995.
Mormon Curse of Cain/Ham mythology never approached that level of contempt. And the presumption that Mormons are unique in maintaining a segregated religion isn’t fair either:
Americans may be poised to nominate a black man to run for president, but it’s segregation as usual in U.S. churches, according to the scholars. Only about 5 percent of the nation’s churches are racially integrated, and half of them are in the process of becoming all-black or all-white, says Curtiss Paul DeYoung, co-author of “United by Faith,” a book that examines interracial churches in the United States. DeYoung’s numbers are backed by other scholars who’ve done similar research. They say integrated churches are rare because attending one is like tiptoeing through a racial minefield. Just like in society, racial tensions in the church can erupt over everything from sharing power to interracial dating. … American churches haven’t traditionally done a good job at being racially inclusive, scholars say. Slavery and Jim Crow kept blacks and whites apart in the pews in the nation’s early history. Some large contemporary black denominations, like the African Methodist Episcopal church, were formed because blacks couldn’t find acceptance in white churches. Large denominations like the Methodists, Baptists and Presbyterians split over race in the 19th century when their members clashed over the issue of slavery, Michael Emerson, a scholar on interracial churches, recounted in his book, “Divided by Faith.”
The Mormons were certainly not the first, nor the wackiest in their theorizing attempts to justify the ongoing condemnation of the black and “heathen” nations. Christian and Jewish traditions explaining the Curse of Cain and Ham, were millennia old by the time Joseph Smith and Brigham Young began to develop their own theology about the subject, and many of these “orthodox” Christian or Talmudic excuses and overall attitudes towards the Negroid, “cursed” race were automatically, unthinkingly, absorbed primarily by Smith’s successors, and infused into Smith’s “restored” gospel without any further scrutiny or analysis.
The majority of commentators, both ancient and modern, have felt that Ham’s seeing his father naked was not a sufficiently serious crime to explain the punishment that follows.Nevertheless, Genesis 9:23, in which Shem and Japheth cover Noah with a cloak while averting their eyes, suggests that the words are to be taken literally, and it has recently been pointed out that in 1st millennium Babylonia, looking at another person’s genitals was indeed regarded as a serious matter. Other ancient commentators suggested that Ham was guilty of more than what the Bible says. The Targum Onqelos (an Aramaic translation of the Bible dating from the first few centuries AD) and several other sources had Ham gossiping about his father’s drunken disgrace “in the street” (a reading which has a basis in the original Hebrew), so that being held up to public mockery was what had angered Noah; as the Cave of Treasures (4th century) puts it, “Ham laughed at his father’s shame and did not cover it, but laughed aloud and mocked.” Ancient commentaries have also debated that “seeing” someone’s nakedness meant to have sex with that person (e.g. Leviticus 20:17). The same idea was raised by 3rd-century rabbis, in the Babylonian Talmud (c. 500 AD), who argue that Ham either castrated his father, or sodomised him. The same explanations are found in three Greek translations of the Bible, which replace the word “see” in verse 22 with another word denoting homosexual relations. The castration theory has its modern counterpart in suggested parallels found in the castration of Uranus by Cronus and a Hittite myth of the supreme god Anu whose genitals were “bitten off by his rebel son and cup-bearer Kumarbi, who afterwards rejoiced and laughed … until Anu cursed him”. Modern scholars have suggested that to “uncover the nakedness” of a man means to have sex with that man’s wife (e.g. Leviticus 20:11). If Ham had sex with his mother, and Canaan was the product of this forbidden union, it could explain why the curse falls on his son; the weakness, however, is that Genesis 9:21 has Ham “seeing” his father’s nakedness, not “uncovering” it.
In reality, many millennia before Joseph Smith “restored” the Church of Jesus Christ (of Latter-day Saints, for legal purposes) theological speculation concerning Curse of Cain and Curse of Ham, Curse of Canaan mythology, was a major fascination of the various political and religious orders of the day:
Curse of Canaan
It is noteworthy that the curse was made by Noah, not by God. Some biblical scholars claim that when a curse is made by a man, it could only have been effective if God supports it, unlike the curse of Ham and his descendants, which was not confirmed by God or, at least, it is not mentioned in the Bible that he had confirmed it.
Dead Sea Scrolls
4Q252, a pesher (interpretation) on the Book of Genesis found among the Dead Sea Scrolls, explains that since Ham had already been blessed by God (Genesis 9:1), he could not now be cursed by Noah. The 4Q252 scroll probably dates from the latter half of the first century BC. A century later, the Jewish historian Josephus argued that Noah refrained from cursing Ham because of his nearness of kin, and so cursed Ham’s son instead. A new alternate interpretation of a Dead Sea scroll 4Q181 which is a Genesis scroll parallels the Book of Jubilees, suggesting that Canaan was cursed because he defied Noah’s division of the land.  
For the record, as overtly problematic as LDS Curse of Cain/Ham theology has been, it is not the Mormons who professed for centuries that Ham castrated his father Noah, had sex with his mother, married his sister, and founded a race of giants in Sicily:
Ham also figured in an immensely influential work called Commentaria super opera diversorum auctorum de antiquitatibus. In 1498, Annius of Viterbo claimed to have translated records of Berossus, an ancient Babylonian priest and scholar; which are today usually considered an elaborate forgery. However, they gained great influence over Renaissance ways of thinking about population and migration, filling a historical gap following the biblical account of the flood. According to this account, Ham studied the evil arts that had been practiced before the flood, and thus became known as “Cam Esenus” (Ham the Licentious), as well as the original Zoroaster and Saturn (Cronus). He became jealous of Noah’s additional children born after the deluge, and began to view his father with enmity, and one day, when Noah lay drunk and naked in his tent, Ham saw him and sang a mocking incantation that rendered Noah temporarily sterile, as if castrated. This account contains several other parallels connecting Ham with Greek myths of the castration of Uranus by Cronus, as well as Italian legends of Saturn and/or Camesis ruling over the Golden Age and fighting the Titanomachy. Ham in this version also abandoned his wife who had been aboard the ark and had mothered the African peoples, and instead married his sister Rhea, daughter of Noah, producing a race of giants in Sicily.
Curse of Cain/Curse of Ham mythology has surprisingly, not always been directed exclusively at the Negro. In Joseph Smith’s America, obviously circumstances found the white, Anglo-European ruling classes lording it over a black, African slave population. But long before that clash of cultures came to be, European nobles were finding Curse of Cain/Curse of Ham theology very convenient to justify their absolute power over their vassal “commoners.”
In medieval Christian exegesis, Ham’s sin was regarded as laughter (for mocking his father and doing nothing to rectify his condition). Elsewhere in Medieval Europe, the “Curse of Ham” also became used as a justification for serfdom. Honorius Augustodunensis (c. 1100) was the first recorded to propose a caste system associating Ham with serfdom, writing that serfs were descended from Ham, nobles from Japheth, and free men from Shem. However, he also followed the interpretation of 1 Corinthians 7:21 by Ambrosiaster (late 4th century), which held that as servants in the temporal world, these “Hamites” were likely to receive a far greater reward in the next world than would the Japhetic nobility. The idea that serfs were the descendants of Ham soon became widely promoted in Europe. An example is Dame Juliana Berners (c. 1388), who, in a treatise on hawks, claimed that the “churlish” descendants of Ham had settled in Europe, those of the temperate Shem in Africa, and those of the noble Japheth in Asia – a departure from normal arrangements, which placed Shem in Asia, Japheth in Europe and Ham in Africa – because she considered Europe to be the “country of churls”, Asia of gentility, and Africa of temperance. As serfdom waned in the late medieval era, the interpretation of serfs being descendants of Ham decreased as well.
Martin Luther, the “inventor” of the Reformation, was an avowed anti-Semite, again, based upon curses of the “Jews” found or at least implied in the New Testament. He grew increasingly bitter towards them later in his life when efforts to convert them proved futile. He wrote anti-Jewish tracts throughout his life and frequently made personal tours around what is now modern Germany, encouraging their destruction:
Luther’s other major works on the Jews were his 60,000-word treatise Von den Juden und Ihren Lügen (On the Jews and Their Lies), and Vom Schem Hamphoras und vom Geschlecht Christi (On the Holy Name and the Lineage of Christ), both published in 1543, three years before his death. Luther argued that the Jews were no longer the chosen people but “the devil’s people”, and referred to them with violent, vile language. Luther advocated setting synagogues on fire, destroying Jewish prayerbooks, forbidding rabbis from preaching, seizing Jews’ property and money, and smashing up their homes, so that these “envenomed worms” would be forced into labour or expelled “for all time”. In Robert Michael’s view, Luther’s words “We are at fault in not slaying them” amounted to a sanction for murder. Luther’s “recommendations” for how to treat the Jews were a clear reference to the “sharp mercy” of Deuteronomy 13, the punishments prescribed by Moses for those who led others to “false gods”. Luther spoke out against the Jews in Saxony, Brandenburg, and Silesia. Josel of Rosheim, the Jewish spokesman who tried to help the Jews of Saxony in 1537, later blamed their plight on “that priest whose name was Martin Luther—may his body and soul be bound up in hell!—who wrote and issued many heretical books in which he said that whoever would help the Jews was doomed to perdition.” Josel asked the city of Strasbourg to forbid the sale of Luther’s anti-Jewish works: they refused initially, but did so when a Lutheran pastor in Hochfelden used a sermon to urge his parishioners to murder Jews. Luther’s influence persisted after his death. Throughout the 1580s, riots led to the expulsion of Jews from several German Lutheran states.
Jean Cauvin, or John Calvin as we know him in English, something of a contemporary of Luther’s, invented most of what we now call modern Protestantism, particularly relative to American sects in close contact with early Mormonism. (Calvinism.) Originally trained as a humanist lawyer, he broke from the Roman Catholic Church around 1530. Like Luther, Calvin had a similar disaffection for the Jews, again claiming to pull it directly out of the Holy Bible. Both Luther and Calvin claimed Sola Scriptura, meaning the Bible was the sole of God’s earthly wisdom and authority, not priesthoods or Church tradition. Calvin was also a full professor of the whole Christian traditional Curse of Cain theology. Why? Because it actually is in the Bible. But, as it happens, he never ran into contact with many Jews, and he never ran into many Negroes either—till his legacy came into North America and founded the United States. While Luther’s legacy ultimately followed his anti-Semitic theological rants around the Holy Roman Empire, Saxony, Germany, into the Third Reich and the Holocaust, in the US, Calvin’s legacy of Biblical arguments gave us 400 years of American slavery. The truth be told, it wasn’t Joseph Smith or Brigham Young who brought racism into their “restored” church. That was John Calvin, with a few mixed, American frontier theological co-conspirators. Naming the players and tenets of the religious sects and professors surrounding Joseph Smith in his day, would take days to read and would involve founders of essentially every major Christian denomination. Current Mormon “Word of Wisdom” theology is for example, more an outgrowth of John Wesley’s Holy Club theories pioneered at college in Oxford England, with his Calvinist partner in non-crime George Whitefield. They started the Methodist movement, which made its way to the Americas as a result of being laughed out or booted out of England. The Word of Wisdom in it’s current “commandment” form is connected more with Emma Hale Smith’s Methodism and the very pious Hale family’s religious traditions, than Joseph Smith’s “revealed” truths about diet, alcohol, tobacco, and “hot drinks.” The fact that it began as a side-note to Emma’s complaints about Joseph Smith and company’s untidy habits at his “School of the Prophets,” and not quite a century later became the central tenet of the religion, was an outgrowth of Heber J Grant’s devotion to the “Dry” political movement and the Temperance League’s drive for national prohibition, rather than the actual language or message of what eventually became the 89th Section of the Doctrine and Covenants.
American Prohibition was a political expression of John Wesley’s notions of self-denial and his “Method” of insuring salvation by living a rigidly “Holy” lifestyle–meaning devoid of anything enjoyable basically. All human pleasure is temptation and makes man weak, which can lead to sin. Unlike Calvin, Wesley was an Anglican Arminian and believed you could “backslide” out of election basically by having too good a time in this life. He thus invented a religion dedicated to very methodically making sure nobody enjoyed themselves any more than they absolutely had to. John Calvin on the other hand, simply didn’t like anyone having fun at all even if they were not in danger of going to hell for it. Among other Calvinist attitudes grafted into Mormonism after the murder of Joseph Smith, is his subscription to an inerrant and literal belief in Christian Curse of Cain/Ham theology. But that wasn’t the key element in the politically legalized, institutionalized, racism that developed among so many of his followers. Calvin’s claim that Christ died only for the Elect, that Election was irresistible and pre-set, that the Elect were pre-destined to be Elect, that, the heathen nations were not Elected and thus sons of Satan, and God had no plan to save them at all, is the primary heart of Christian or “Bible-based” racism in all its forms. That would include Jewish and Muslim traditions as well, both of which presume the same sort of divine “Election,” or “Chosen-ness.” That basic notion also lived at the heart of most of Joseph Smith’s converts, including Brigham Young, John Taylor, and most of the leaders who followed. It’s a strong element in the church’s social, “folk” doctrinal world view today.
There’s more to Calvinism than this, but these two ideas are at the heart of my point. If you believe humanity ultimately is depraved, and that only a preordained few are to receive God’s sovereign grace, this is fertile ground for seeing much of the world as “less than.” And what’s more, Calvinists can divest themselves of the culpability for such supremacist thinking, because, after all, it’s God’s will! This isn’t how we want it, they say, but it just is how it is. Sorry, but you’re depraved. You’re doomed. You have no hope, as evidenced by the fact that you’re not part of our tribe. Were you one of God’s chosen, you would find your way to our side of the line, because God would lead you there.
The Christian move into American institutional slavery of the black African race, is not unique. Among other regions and nations, the exact same cultural theology unfolded in white-ruled South Africa–likewise directly through Calvinism.
The second factor that differentiated Afrikaner Calvinism from its European counterpart involves the long series of conflicts with the native peoples of this area. The Boers perceived themselves as threatened both physically and culturally by the indigenous peoples of South Africa. These confrontations provided widespread support of the theory that if only some men are predestined to salvation, then they must naturally be the “superior” white Christians–not the pagan black and colored (those who were not of the Negro race) peoples of Africa.(19)
Nearly all Americans in the LDS “restoration” era of the 19th century were “Christians,” more or less, of one stripe or another, and in period terms, ultimately, with regard to Curse of Cain/Ham mythology, even Mormonism’s period critics differed mainly in whether they despised and subjugated the “cursed” Negroid victims of their God-blessed domination, or patronized them and felt pity for their wretched and inferior nature. I might add for perspective, that the overwhelming majority of Americans, under similar Calvinist grounds, also felt it was their “Manifest Destiny” to exterminate the native “red” population of America and spread “Christian Civilization” from sea to shining sea. With the exception of Joseph Smith himself and a few others of note, nobody in the 19th Century was cheering for the American Indian. And almost nobody of wealth or substance or education and political or religious power of any sort, was making the argument that the Negro was perfectly capable of displaying all the intellect, all the refinement and culture that any “white” man was naturally disposed to display, given a proper education and upbringing. There was almost no intellectual, academic, or social justice movement in Smith’s day, interested in disproving either a scientific or Biblical justification for reaping the benefits of a slave-caste. Even most Abolitionists believed in a Negro that was basically human but limited in intellect, and defended the race like animal lovers would defend a stray dog from torture and abuse. Native Americans got even less respect. And while early American Curse of Cain/Curse of Ham mythology aimed itself at the black, African American slave, again I remind you that previous generations of white ruling classes had already used the same arguments to functionally enslave, exploit and repress their Anglo-European serf-caste white “countrymen,” while at the same time sleeping soundly and innocently in the comfort of knowing that their victimization and abuse of the underclass was sanctioned by God directly in His Holy Word. Oh yes, and sanctified by the ultimate political and religious authority: the Church.
Mormon Curse of Cain/Curse of Ham mythology is admittedly a bit “goofy” from either a devout, fundamentalist Christian perspective of “orthodoxy,” and even screwier in the eyes of philosophers of the modern, progressive, liberal Church. It seems downright backwards according to agnostic, libertarian, secular-humanist schools of devotion. Ok then. I’m willing to concede that much. But just to be clear one more time, Joseph Smith and Brigham Young never claimed that Ham castrated Noah, had sex with his mum, then married his sister, abandoned his black wife, and founded a race of giants in Sicily. That would be your “orthodox” Christians. That would be the Christian Church Fathers et-al who constitute the progenitors, if not biologically, then theologically, of those religious professors in frontier America who produced “Joe Smith,” and “Brother Brigham,” in the first place. And having produced the early founders of Mormonism, and schooled them in centuries of Curse of Cain mythology, this so-called “orthodox” Christian Church eventually after a couple of millennia grew into a new “enlightenment,” and produced today’s “modern” free-thinking “Christians,” who find it easy to ignore what even they and their Church Fathers had once held to be a fully canonical tradition, and who have now ironically become the primary critics of the Mormon version of their own “canonical” myths. But criticism of LDS traditional interpretations of Curse of Cain, Curse of Ham theology, does not all come from outside the church:
None of the above is news; in analyzing Mormon teachings about ethnicity and lineage, each of Newell Bringhurst, Lester Bush, Arnold Green, and Armand Mauss have pointed out the role of the Cain/Ham teachings in justifying Mormon practices, and Green and Mauss have identified JFS and BRM [Joseph Fielding Smith and Bruce R McConkie] as the primary forces spreading the teachings among 20th century Mormons. (5) What is new is additional scholarship that supports the scriptural interpretations of those who, like Bush , Mauss, and Nibley in the 1970s, and Lowry Nelson and David O. McKay in the 1950s, felt that the Cain and Ham stories could not be applied to black Africans. As an example of such a 1970s viewpoint, here is Lester Bush’s description of a 1976 conversation with Nibley:
[Nibley] [BYU historian and professor of religion Hugh Nibley] does not think the blacks are related to Cain, or the early Canaan, and probably not to Ham, Egyptus, Canaan or Pharaoh. He’s unsure but would guess now that Brigham Young was “wrong” relating blacks to Cain. He said–”we all have Negro blood”-there was intermixture everywhere. I asked about the accounts of the early patriarchs marrying apparent blacks. He exclaimed yes[.] I mentioned Moses–Yes. But the real “irony” was Joseph marrying a daughter of the priest of On–who he says by definition had to have been a Hamite–and their sons were Ephraim and Manasseh, who[m] we are all so proud to claim. He said it was as though the Lord was trying to tell us something.” (emphasis in original) Bush, “Writing ‘Mormonism’s Negro Doctrine: An Historical Overview’ (1973): Context and Reflections, 1998, ” JMH, 25:1 (Spring 1999), 268-269.
Sooner or later every religion comes down to arguing, my lunacy is better than your lunacy. And that’s the position “orthodox” Christians of either liberal or fundamentalist persuasions find themselves in when they choose to criticize Mormon attempts to harmonize and rationalize thousands of years of canon tradition with what inherently feels right on a spiritual level. If we are prepared to admit that Mormon leaders and theologians misunderstood these troubling, cryptic passages for over a century and a half, or that they allowed cultural, historical, and traditional prejudices hold sway over God’s full inspiration, then we ought to weigh that allegedly tardy, slow, and lumbering Mormon path to enlightenment, fairly and honestly, in light of the balance of “orthodox” Christianity’s over two-thousand year history of overt anti-dark-skin, anti Negro racism, which, in many pockets of the world, still clings to notions of “White Power” and black or red or other-colored inferiority to this day. And while most of the Jewish and Christian faith communities at this late epoch may have eventually found enlightenment on the matter a few decades ahead of the Mormons, the Muslim world obviously has not yet worked its way around these canonical passages, and are still using Curse of Cain/Ham/Canaan theology to justify domination and abuse of black, African peoples well into the 21st Century.
The Khartoum regime, brought to power in a highly ideological and fundamentalist Islamist coup 20 years ago, has killed an estimated 400,000 of its fellow Muslim citizens. Yet, there is near silence about massive human rights abuses in the remote western corner of Sudan. As Tareq Al-Hamed, editor of the Asharq Alaswat paper, has asked, “Are the people of Darfur not Muslims as well?” When the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for the Sudanese leader, President Bashir, in March, Muslim politicians from Senegal to Malaysia rallied behind him. The same people who demand international justice for war crimes in Lebanon and Gaza abruptly changed their tune. Instead of denouncing Bashir as the architect of ethnic cleansing, they congratulated him for defying the “conspiracy” to undermine Sudan’s sovereignty so the West can take its oil. The Iranian Parliamentary Speaker, Ali Larijani, said the ICC warrant was “an insult to the Muslim world”. … So, are Darfuris the “wrong” kind of Muslims because they self-identify as black Africans rather than Arabs, despite widespread inter-marriage in Sudan? The Ugandan president, Yoweri Museveni, cites Arab chauvinism against Africans. I have lived in Arab countries and seen first hand the racism and bigotry that commands the minds of the Arab political class. The Canadian academic Salim Mansur claims: “Blacks are viewed by Arabs as racially inferior, and Arab violence against blacks has a long, turbulent record.” For the Nobel Prize winning novelist Wole Soyinka, the unwillingness to confront Arab racism is rooted in the role of Arabs in the slave trade. “Arabs and Islam are guilty of the cultural and spiritual savaging of the Continent,” he writes. The Ethiopian academic Mekuria Bulcha estimates that Arab traders sold 17 million Africans to the Middle East and Asia between the sixth and twentieth centuries. Yet, there is an almost total reluctance on the part of Arab intellectuals to examine their central role in slavery, past or present. Any attempt to confront persistent Arab racism is shouted down by appeals to Arab/African solidarity against the neo-colonialist West, a sentiment that seldom moves beyond slogans. Sheikh Saleh Al-Fawzan, a member of the senior council of Wahhabi clerics responsible for writing Saudi school text books, states: “Slavery is part of Islam. Slavery is part of jihad and jihad will remain as long as there is Islam. It has not been abolished.” Arab racism is familiar to African guest workers in countries like Libya and Egypt, enduring routine verbal and physical attack. Sudanese Arabs suffer from their own racial identity dilemma, viewed as black by their Egyptian neighbours to the north (Sudan is a corruption of the Egyptian word for black). I have heard the Arab Sudanese use the word for slave (abid) to the faces of their fellow citizens who self-identify as non-Arab. It is also known for Sudanese parents to tease their darker-skinned children, calling them slaves.
What is not clarified in these articles cited above, is that Islam also uses New and Old Testament scripture as authoritative sources of doctrine and history, particularly the old Jewish Canon, and the whole legacy of Curse of Cain/Curse of Ham traditions. While the Koran tempers, directs, and enhances these older scriptures, and certainly, the Islamic scholars have a different take on New Testament theology, like the claimed divinity of Jesus of Nazareth among other things, but the nonstop, ongoing practice of Arab, “Semitic” Muslims, the children of Ishmael and cousins to the Jews, of enslaving and persecuting of black, African races, and the perpetuation of negative attitudes toward darker skinned peoples of all races, is rooted in Islamic notions of Biblical Curse of Cain mythology just as it was, has been, and in some cases, still is, in Christian and Jewish schools of religious thought.
In Islam, the Bible is held to reflect true unfolding revelation from God; but revelation which had been corrupted or distorted (in Arabic:tahrif); which necessitated the giving of the Qur’an to the Islamic prophet, Muhammad, to correct this deviation. The Qur’an identifies books known as the Tawrat (Torah) given to Musa (Moses), the Zabur (Psalms) given to Daud (David), and the Injil(Gospel) given to Isa (Jesus) as genuine divine revelations brought by true messengers to the Jews and the followers of Ibrāhīm(Abraham). Together with the Qur’an itself, and the now unknown Suhuf Ibrahim (“Scrolls of Abraham”), these make up the kitab, theIslamic holy books. Belief in the divine inspiration of all of these books is one of the fundamental tenets of Islam. However, Islam holds that since all the Books prior to the Quran have been corrupted by human hands, Muslims are only to get their guidance from the Qur’an.
Clearly, Curse of Cain/Curse of Ham analysis has been a serious problem for the faithful Biblical theologian of either Jewish, Christian, or Muslim persuasion for ages. Few modern American academic “liberals” or affiliated “Civil Rights” activists, have any understanding that it was Semitic, Arab Muslims, and Africoid, converted Muslims, who enslaved the animists and “infidel” black, African populations and sold them to the Portuguese, who in in turn sold them on into the Americas, that instigated New World Slavery in what would become the United States and elsewhere in the New World. While much spin is given to the religion of Islam in preserving and elevating some of these black, African slaves in the New World, the hard truth is that their Arab “brothers in Islam,” were the very ones who sold them into slavery to the Christian forces of the New World. While Malcolm X, or “El Haj Malik El Shabazz” finally made the haj to Mecca, and came back professing a Muslim world full of blue-eyed, white skinned faithful, and every other shade and race under Allah’s blue skies—much to his surprise—the real truth is that it was almost certain an Arab or black African Muslim convert who captured his ancestors in Africa and sold his stone-aged, animistic progenitors into slavery in the first place. This should be no news to those who’ve followed current events of the last two decades, where Arab Muslims have been riding camel trains into Darfur, loaded with RPG’s and Kalashnikovs, ambling into black, African villages, and genocidally exterminating them. At first, Darfur raised the eyebrows of international Christian agencies when it appeared that it was the Muslim Arabs killing off Christians. A few years later, after the black African Christians had been genocided, it became clear that the Arab Muslims were continuing their killing spree into the black, Muslim population, and this, based upon vague Curse of Cain/Ham theology that the Negro race was inferior regardless of any professed, “peaceful surrender to Allah,” and could never be “true” Muslims.
In Sudan and Mauritania, racist Arab societies enslave blacks. Today. Most of the slaves are African Muslims. Yet there is no Arab Apartheid Week on American campuses. Why not? One might think American student activists would be upset about Mauritania, the West African country with the largest population of black slaves in the world – estimates range from 100,000 to more than a half-million. In Mauritania, slaves are used for labor, sex and breeding. The wholly owned property of their masters, they are passed down through generations, given as wedding gifts or exchanged for camels, trucks, guns or money. … While the Koran forbids the enslavement of fellow Muslims, just as in the West, in North Africa racism trumped religious doctrine. The descendants of those Arab invaders are today’s slave owners. The descendants of those captured as slaves in jihad raids are in human bondage today. These are, then, black Muslim slaves – who, for racist reasons, aren’t allowed to touch the Koran with their black hands, who can’t marry without their owners’ permission, and whose children belong to the master. …
While Genesis 9 never says that Ham was black, he became associated with black skin, through folk-etymology deriving his name from a similar, but actually unconnected, word meaning “dark” or “brown”. The next stage, are certain fables according to ancient Jewish traditions. According to one legend preserved in the Babylonian Talmud, God cursed Ham because he broke a prohibition on sex aboard the ark and was “was smitten in his skin”; according to another, Noah cursed him because he castrated his father. Although the Talmud refers only to Ham, the version brought in the Medrash goes on further to say “Ham, that Cush came from him” in reference to the blackness, that the curse did not apply to all of Ham but only to his eldest son Cush, Cush being a sub-Saharan African. Thus two distinct traditions existed, one explaining dark skin as the result of a curse on Ham, the other explaining slavery by the separate curse on Canaan. The two concepts may have become merged in the 7th century by some Muslim writers, the product of a culture with a long history of enslaving black Africans; the origin and persistence of the “Curse of Ham”, in which Ham, blackness and slavery became a single curse, was thus the result of Islam‘s need for a justifying myth. Many mediaeval Muslim authorities including Muhammad ibn Jarir al-Tabari, Ibn Khaldun, and even the later Book of the Zanj all asserted the view that the effects of Noah’s curse on Ham’s descendants included blackness, slavery, and a requirement not to let the hair grow past the ears. This is despite the fact that the account of the drunkenness of Noah is not included in the Qur’an. Islam holds that prophets of God are infallible. However, an independent interpretation of the curse being imposed on all of the descendants of Ham persisted in Judaism, especially since the other children of Ham were situated in the African continent, i.e. Mizraim fathered the Egyptians, Cush the Cushites, and Phutthe Libyans.
The modern, “progressive,” or “enlightened” western Church, or in secular terms, even just general current “western” culture, presumes that Curse of Cain and Curse of Ham mythologies simply mean that all white folk have always persecuted and denigrated all black folks because white folks are natural racists and bigots. The claim today is that Anglo-Europeans presume themselves to be superior to black African races for petty and superficial reasons of advantages in education, diet, and technology. They then justify their abuse of darker races through Biblical license. But, it’s not that simple. It’s not a “black and white” issue at all. Because, all brown folks have essentially always persecuted all darker-brown folks, who in turn have persecuted all very black folks as well. And this is common whether dealing with the Christian, Jewish, or Muslim in faith, or many other ethnic traditions, and usually regardless of higher education. The practice is common even in Hindu cultures like India, with certainly a familiarity with, but very little religious connection to Biblical curse of Cain/Ham traditions. The same preference for “fair” skin is also currently raging in Indonesia.
It is often today also assumed that the persecution of dark-skinned and particularly black African races is a question of “ignorance.” But to the contrary, in thousands of years of previous cultures and religious nations, particularly those based around the still venerated “Holy Bible,” or “Torah,” or Koran, the more educated and well placed in these cultures, the more schooled they were in justifications for enslaving and abusing whoever you and yours designated as the legacy of Cain, Ham, and Canaan. Joseph Smith’s “restored” church inherited thousands of years of the same sort of bigoted canonical and social presumptions, combined with a “scientifically” perceived inferiority of African native populations, based upon a clearly observed technologically and intellectually retarded condition. Latter-day Saints, like the Jews, the generation of previous “Christians” and Muslims who dealt with the historical and canonical record before them, proceeded to invent even more problematic, inherently Mormon twists on the narrative.
Again for the sake of immediate clarity, I want to reiterate that the LDS church as of 10 December 2013, has simply abandoned the prospect of trying to justify Curse of Cain theories via any premise–Biblical, scientific, modern-revelational or otherwise. Rather than attacking this move by the LDS First Presidency, as some of you truly confused Saints might be hoping for, I’m wholeheartedly in favor of it. No, I’m not heading toward a “hit job” on the Mormon church or its leadership, and yes, I’m suggesting you might be too stupid to see that. So I’m doing what I contend the First Presidency should have done in 1978. I’m spelling it out for you–It’s not just over. It was wrong in the first place.
One of the most prevalent observations about the 10 December 2013 statement on Race and the Priesthood, coming from within LDS circles and without, the popular media and academic critics alike, is that the Brethren have thrown Brigham Young “under the bus.” And though it’s clear much care was taken to try not to make that too obvious, it’s certainly fair to note that Brother Brigham seems to be left holding the doctrinal bag for it all. But I wouldn’t be too hard on Brigham Young. He was right when he said that roots of all Curse of Cain, Curse of Ham doctrine is very clearly in the Bible. It’s in there alright, and “Christians,” Jews, Muslims and those they conquered, influenced or colonized, have all used that same presumed Biblical authority, and enhanced that same narrative for thousands of years in countless cultures and civilizations to relegate black, African peoples, and darker skinned people in general, to some lesser place and position in this life and the next, to one extent or the other.
I don’t represent the Mormon church in any way. I’m just casually examining the most recent, authoritative statement on Race and the Priesthood made to date by the First Presidency of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I am not arguing that my superior inspiration or scholarship is desperately needed to understand the significance of this newly “revealed” LDS position. (Though I obviously feel that way or I wouldn’t be going to all this trouble typing it out like this.) My purpose here is simply to announce, affirm and concur with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and its leadership, that I’ve been on board for this development since childhood. Some of the rest of you however, may be thinking I’m just making up this major change of LDS attitude and theology. You may be sitting in your LDS meetinghouse surfing online in the middle of sacrament meeting with a startled look on your face, thinking, What! When did that happen?! So first, click away and have a read for yourself:
[This essay has been enhanced and edited since my original post and may continue to evolve over time, thus it may not be quoted below exactly as it exists on the church web site at any given moment.]
Here’s a summary:
During the first two decades of the Church’s existence, a few black men were ordained to the priesthood. One of these men, Elijah Abel, also participated in temple ceremonies in Kirtland, Ohio, and was later baptized as proxy for deceased relatives in Nauvoo, Illinois. There is no evidence that any black men were denied the priesthood during Joseph Smith’s lifetime. In 1852, President Brigham Young publicly announced that men of black African descent could no longer be ordained to the priesthood, though thereafter blacks continued to join the Church through baptism and receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost. Following the death of Brigham Young, subsequent Church presidents restricted blacks from receiving the temple endowment or being married in the temple. Over time, Church leaders and members advanced many theories to explain the priesthood and temple restrictions. None of these explanations is accepted today as the official doctrine of the Church. … The justifications for this restriction echoed the widespread ideas about racial inferiority that had been used to argue for the legalization of black “servitude” in the Territory of Utah.9 According to one view, which had been promulgated in the United States from at least the 1730s, blacks descended from the same lineage as the biblical Cain, who slew his brother Abel.10 Those who accepted this view believed that God’s “curse” on Cain was the mark of a dark skin. Black servitude was sometimes viewed as a second curse placed upon Noah’s grandson Canaan as a result of Ham’s indiscretion toward his father…..11 … By the late 1940s and 1950s, racial integration was becoming more common in American life. Church President David O. McKay emphasized that the restriction extended only to men of black African descent. The Church had always allowed Pacific Islanders to hold the priesthood, and President McKay clarified that black Fijians and Australian Aborigines could also be ordained to the priesthood and instituted missionary work among them. In South Africa, President McKay reversed a prior policy that required prospective priesthood holders to trace their lineage out of Africa.14 Nevertheless, given the long history of withholding the priesthood from men of black African descent, Church leaders believed that a revelation from God was needed to alter the policy, and they made ongoing efforts to understand what should be done. After praying for guidance, President McKay did not feel impressed to lift the ban.15 … As the Church grew worldwide, its overarching mission to “go ye therefore, and teach all nations”16 seemed increasingly incompatible with the priesthood and temple restrictions. The Book of Mormon declared that the gospel message of salvation should go forth to “every nation, kindred, tongue, and people….”17 Brazil in particular presented many challenges. Unlike the United States and South Africa where legal and de facto racism led to deeply segregated societies, Brazil prided itself on its open, integrated, and mixed racial heritage. In 1975, the Church announced that a temple would be built in São Paulo, Brazil. As the temple construction proceeded, Church authorities encountered faithful black and mixed-ancestry Mormons who had contributed financially and in other ways to the building of the São Paulo temple, a sanctuary they realized they would not be allowed to enter once it was completed…. …Church President Spencer W. Kimball, his counselors in the First Presidency, and members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles received a revelation. “He has heard our prayers, and by revelation has confirmed that the long-promised day has come,” the First Presidency announced on June 8. The First Presidency stated that they were “aware of the promises made by the prophets and presidents of the Church who have preceded us” that “all of our brethren who are worthy may receive the priesthood.”20 The revelation rescinded the restriction on priesthood ordination. It also extended the blessings of the temple to all worthy Latter-day Saints, men and women. The First Presidency statement regarding the revelation was canonized in the Doctrine and Covenants as Official Declaration 2. … …Soon after the revelation, Elder Bruce R. McConkie, an apostle, spoke of new “light and knowledge” that had erased previously “limited understanding.”22 … Today, the Church disavows the theories advanced in the past that black skin is a sign of divine disfavor or curse, or that it reflects actions in a pre-mortal life; that mixed-race marriages are a sin; or that blacks or people of any other race or ethnicity are inferior in any way to anyone else. Church leaders today unequivocally condemn all racism, past and present, in any form.23 … The Church proclaims that redemption through Jesus Christ is available to the entire human family on the conditions God has prescribed. It affirms that God is “no respecter of persons”24 and emphatically declares that anyone who is righteous—regardless of race—is favored of Him. The teachings of the Church in relation to God’s children are epitomized by a verse in the second book of Nephi: “[The Lord] denieth none that cometh unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female; . . . all are alike unto God, both Jew and Gentile.”25