Mormonism and the Mythical Curse of Cain Part 2: Why now?

Though Curse of Cain theology was almost universally upheld as Biblically correct in nearly all Christian, Jewish, and for that matter, Muslim schools of scholarship at the time of the founding, or “restoration” of the download-43_thumb1Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, (also known as the LDS or “Mormon” church as I should have mentioned by now,) its first modern prophet and president, Joseph Smith, was for the most part not supportive of it. He certainly showed no support for the American manifestation of it in black, African, chattel slavery. Smith was executed by a mob roused and authorized by the local “God fearing Christian Patriots” in a bloody, pitched gun-battle. His martyrdom was effected via a bigoted, racist, mob-assassination by enemies of the church who were also pro-slavery Christian religious and political foes opposed to his presidential aspirations on an Abolitionist platform. They also called him a heretic–the supporting clergy found this an important charge in the mix–but as far as the mobs and militias and “regulators” (forerunners of the KKK) were concerned, any excuse would do to gun “ol’ Joe Smith” down by that point. After Joseph Smith was murdered, Brigham Young and subsequent leaders fell into familiar Christian Curse of Cain traditions. It was not long before Young and his successors added an411R7g-f8oL._SY344_BO1204203200__thu additional system of apologetic rationale that went beyond loyalty to the Biblical canon, and deviated well into a very Mormon-specific litany of apologetics. The principal thesis of these extra-canonical arguments contended, that there was a pre-mortal war in heaven in which mankind, as “spirit children,” chose to support Jesus Christ as our Redeemer and Advocate, or Mediator with the Father, who’s “plan of salvation” granted all of mankind “free agency” to choose images-92_thumb1good from evil here on earth, and suffer the consequences for our choices. The alternative was to accept Lucifer’s plan, who promised our Heavenly Father, or Elohim, He would insure that every spirit child who took up a mortal body returned to His Celestial household and none would be lost in the experiment. Lucifer’s program did not involve free will of any sort, in addition to which, he demanded that he receive all the credit for the effort. Jesus, or Jehovah in LDS (very non-Trinitarian) “godhead” theology, gave all glory to the Father, and argued that it was mandatory that mortally incarnated spirit children have a world and environment they could personally manipulate at will, that they should learn stewardship, and that they could not learn and grow if they did not have the power and authority over their earth and their own society to make functional choices and affect themselves and others through these choices. Needless to say, Jesus got the job. Lucifer did not take it well. He fell from his respected position with the Father, rebelled, became Satan, and took one-third of the hosts of heaven with him in a great battle with Michael the Archangel and all the loyal spirit children who fought on the side of Christ.

1 And I, the aLord God, spake unto Moses, saying: That bSatan, whom thou hast commanded in the name of mine Only Begotten, is the same which was from the cbeginning, and he came before me, saying—Behold, here am I, send me, I will be thy son, and I willdredeem all mankind, that one soul shall not be lost, and surely eIwill do it; wherefore fgive me thine honor.

2 But, behold, my Beloved aSon, which was my Beloved andbChosen from the beginning, said unto me—cFather, thy dwill bedone, and the eglory be thine forever.

3 Wherefore, because that aSatan brebelled against me, and sought to destroy the cagency of man, which I, the Lord God, had given him, and also, that I should give unto him mine own power; by the power of mine Only Begotten, I caused that he should bedcast down;

–Moses 3 Pearl of Great Price

22 Now the Lord had shown unto me, Abraham, the aintelligencesthat were organized before the world was; and among all these there were many of the bnoble and great ones;images-64_thumb2

23 And God saw these souls that they were good, and he stood in the midst of them, and he said: These I will make my rulers; for he stood among those that were spirits, and he saw that they were good; and he said unto me: Abraham, thou art one of them; thou wast achosen before thou wast born.

24 And there stood aone among them that was like unto God, and he said unto those who were with him: We will go down, for there is space there, and we will take of these materials, and bwe will make an earth whereon these may cdwell;

25 And we will aprove them herewith, to see if they will bdo all things whatsoever the Lord their God shall command them;

26 And they who akeep their first bestate shall be added upon; and they who keep not their first estate shall not have glory in the same kingdom with those who keep their first estate; and they who keep their second cestate shall have dglory added upon their heads for ever and ever.

Fall_of_Lucifer_thumb127 And the aLord said: Whom shall I bsend? And one answered like unto the Son of Man: Here am I, send me. And canotheranswered and said: Here am I, send me. And the Lord said: I willdsend the first.

28 And the asecond was angry, and kept not his first bestate; and, at that day, many followed after him.

–Abraham 3 Pearl of Great Price

Unlike “orthodox” Christian dogma, LDS theology inherently, by LDS canon, normally holds that everyone on earth arrived here innocent and already proven worthy of the adventure and ready to be judged based upon their stewardship over eternal principles, and we had been eager to accept such responsibility. It’s essential to the question of fathoming LDS racial attitudes in general, to understand this unique and very specific bit of Mormon theology, especially for the non-Mormon. The “Orthodox” Christian doctrine of Original Sin is considered by the Mormon to be a dark perversion of God’s pure gospel. Mormonism’s third Article of Faith states:

We believe that men will be punished for their own sins, and not for Adam’s transgression.

Mormonism preaches a gospel of universal resurrection, universal “salvation” in a sense. The whole point of mortality is to learn and grow, and become more like our Heavenly Father. Mormonism has nothing to do with have to desperately accepting Jesus as our Savior, motivated primarily because otherwise we’re damned to the Lake of Fire as children of the Devil. In Mormonism, signing on with Jesus is the only way of saving our arses from a lesser reward for the most part, and seldom required to keep us from burning in Hell. Mortality and the final judgment of it all is mostly a matter of learning and growing, and securing one’s eternal placement status or “reward” in the next phase of existence. Being washed in the shed blood of Christ through the waters of Baptism has very little to do with simply keeping your sinful backside out of a default trip to the Eternal Lake of Fire, in LDS dogma. Everyone born to this mortal life has already earned a universal resurrection, and a place in God’s household.

22 And now, behold, if Adam had not transgressed he would not have fallen, but he would have remained in the garden of Eden. And all things which were created must have remained in the sameimages (99) state in which they were after they were created; and they must have remained forever, and had no end.

23 And they would have had no achildren; wherefore they would have remained in a state of innocence, having no bjoy, for they knew no misery; doing no good, for they knew no csin.

24 But behold, all things have been done in the wisdom of him who aknoweth all things.

25 aAdam bfell that men might be; and men care, that they might have djoy.

26 And the aMessiah cometh in the fulness of time, that he maybredeem the children of men from the fall. And because that they are credeemed from the fall they have become dfree forever, knowing good from evil; to act for themselves and not to be acted upon, save it be by the punishment of the elaw at the great and last day, according to the commandments which God hath given.

27 Wherefore, men are afree according to the bflesh; and callthings are dgiven them which are expedient unto man. And they are free to echoose fliberty and eternal glife, through the great Mediator of all men, or to choose captivity and death, according to the captivity and power of the devil; for he seeketh that all men might be hmiserable like unto himself.

–2 Nephi

Mormonism does however, feature a fairly conventional “orthodox Christian” belief in thedownload universal forgiveness of sin upon baptism and repentance, through the shed blood of our Lord and Savior. In fact, Mormonism holds that even those who don’t run into a guy with a Bible and experience a “come to Jesus” moment in this lifetime, will ultimately have that option in the next. This more than adequately covers the overtly elitist and unfair Calvinist “Doctrine of the Heathen Nations,” (in the words of the late D. James Kennedy) or as it is usually explained, Calvin’s doctrine of the Irresistible Election of God. Calvinism, like all of “orthodox” Christianity, leaves leaves the non-Elect in darkest Africa burning in hell through no fault of their own. Until very recently essentially all Christian sects would proudly and openly proclaim that God created the heathen savages in those backwards nations on those accursed continents, knowingly so they were doomed to go to hell and suffer eternal torment. Why? It’s a “mystery.” One cannot judge nor understand the will of God.

Inasmuch as Mormonism’s first great slap in the face of “orthodox” Christianity, apart from scoffing at the Trinity, was declaring the doctrine of Original Sin heresy, that we are all literally the children of God at birth, and related to that notion, therefore doctrines like Irresistable Election, Election, or any other attempt by “orthodoxy” to explain away why God is perfectly happy to send the bulk of his human creation into Satan’s eternal chains of torment for no obvious reason are likewise heresy,  it strikes one that in juxtaposition to such central and clear LDS doctrines of the universal innocence and goodness of mankind, the conception that any race or lineage through and permutation of the several Curse of Caine/Curse of Ham theories could be pre-determined to be damned to some fixed, substandard outcome, amounts to a very troubling paradox that upsets all of mainstream Mormon theology that cres out for resolution. This oxymoronic juxtaposition did not exist in early developing “orthodox” Christian or Jewish circles, and in these it was easy enough to simply point to an ignorant, savage, “unsaved” Negro as “marked” for the Curse of Cain and Curse of Ham, and sentence him to whatever damnation here or in the next life the Bible appeared to mete out for him.

Where Mormon leadership through the ages took their greatest departure from the conventional, Jewish or hqdefault-4_thumb1Christian orthodoxy on the Curse of Cain and Curse of Ham traditions, is in trying to rationalize the uniquely Mormon paradox of simultaneously believing that all men are born innocent, that a man’s record is a blank slate, which each individual writes up themselves through word and thought and deed all through mortality, to be judged in the end for that mortal record alone, (before the Father, mediated by our Savior Jesus Christ)—while at the same time arguing that the entire Negro race is the one exception which arrives in this world pre-condemned to an ugly face, a nappy head of hair, a black skin, an inferior body, an inferior intellect, marked for segregation from procreation with the superior “white” races, doomed to be a servant in this life and the next, and banned from priesthood office in the Lord’s True Church.

Furthermore, in Mormon theology, God did not arbitrarily create mankind out of boredom from nothing. Mankind is the literal family of God, consisting of co-eternal “intelligences,” first-born into a spiritual form during a finer existence, and now given mortal form as the second “estate” in a schooling process designed to perfect God’s offspring.

36 And it came to pass that Moses spake unto the Lord, saying: Be merciful unto thy servant, O God,images-94_thumb1 and atell me concerning this earth, and the inhabitants thereof, and also the heavens, and then thy servant will be content.

37 And the Lord God spake unto Moses, saying: The aheavens, they are many, and they cannot be numbered unto man; but they are numbered unto me, for they are mine.

38 And as one earth shall pass away, and the heavens thereof even so shall another come; and there is no aend to my works, neither to my words.

39 For behold, this is my awork and my bglory—to bring to pass the cimmortality and deternal elife of man.

In Victorian or even Edwardian “Christian” terms, the Mormon logic used to dismiss the LDS disposition toward the Negro was relatively liberal and progressive. Many other “orthodox” Christian sects were debating whether or not the Negro was anything to do with God’s invention at all. Theories abounded that the Negro had descended from the apes, and never even had a soul capable of salvation, and thus was part of the animal kingdom like livestock. To many Christian leaders in America, encountering scrawny, stunted, malnourished, uneducated African slaves fresh off the boat from the Stone Age, it would have appeared to Victorian-era, educated, technologically advanced Anglo-European Americans that the creatures they were looking at might well be some other species entirely. You may well condemn me today for even suggesting this characterization of black African “Negroes” could ever seem fair and logical, but my point is simply that it would have sounded like an entirely reasonable argument to most of the world’s “Christian” population, mostly white mind you, up until about WWII and the roots of the Civil Rights Era. Naturally, spawning from this “Christan” pool of believers, many of these overtly racist, bigoted, truly ignorant sentiments about black Africans were pre-absorbed from general Christian schools of thought and leaked directly into LDS culture and leadership.

black people according to the 1911 Britannica

Tue 28 Feb 2012 by abagond

Black people in America according to the Eleventh Edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica (1911):

  • evolutionary plane: low: measurements of their skulls and bones show that they are closer to apes than to white people – though white people do have more apelike hair.
  • hair: more like wool than “true hair”.
  • intelligence: “the mental inferiority of the negro to the white or yellow races is a fact”. Black children were “sharp, intelligent and full of vivacity, but on approaching the adult period a gradual change set in. The intellect seemed to become clouded, animation giving place to a sort of lethargy, briskness yielding to indolence. ” Causes:
    • psychological: “the arrest or even deterioration in mental development is no doubt veryape-vs-man-3_thumb1 largely due to the fact that after puberty sexual matters take the first place in the negro’s life and thoughts.”
    • physical: “the growth of the brain is … arrested by the premature closing of the cranial sutures and lateral pressure of the frontal bone.”
    • evolutionary: “the easy conditions of tropical life and the fertility of the soil have reduced the struggle for existence to a minimum.”
  • better than whites: “negroes far surpass white men in acuteness of vision, hearing, sense of direction and topography.”
  • temperament: “very similar to that of a child, normally good-natured and cheerful, but subject to sudden fits of emotion and passion during which he is capable of performing acts of singular atrocity, impressionable, vain, but often exhibiting in the capacity of servant a dog-like fidelity which has stood the supreme test.”

Opinions of the Negro from Mormon leadership in the past have been now officially and authoritatively confessed to have been ignorant, uninspired, patronizing, racist and insulting. This is not me saying that, though I am. This is the 10 December 2013 statement from the LDS First Presidency saying that. I must add however, that LDS patronization of the “Negro” may well have been ignorant and ethnocentric, but it has seldom been dehumanizing. Take for example the commentaries of one “Christian” patriot and author of the early 20th Century:

1] America’s racial climate in the early 1900s as depicted by Charles Carroll in his work The Negro a Beast (1900) is atrocious, unnerving, and irrefutably racist. He defends the low social status of African Americans on the grounds that their place within society is modernly, biblically, and scientifically supported and appropriate. The book opens with this short poem that crystallizes Carroll’s heavily biased view of blacks: “The Negro a beast, but created with articulate speech / and hands, that he may be of service to his master / —the White man” (Carroll 1). He also examines the negrobeast_thumb4Negroes and their physical and emotional being according to his own beliefs along with the opinions of others that he supports with factual evidence and primary sources. Carroll employs the infamous scientist Charles Darwin as well as the teachings of both The Scriptural School of Divine Creation and The Atheistic School of Natural Development to support his prejudicial views. Though the argument Carroll makes regarding the degrading state of African Americans is both ludicrous and wildly fictitious, he does create a compelling argument that allows readers to understand how films and societies such as The Birth of a Nation, and the Ku Klux Klan came into existence and had such a devout following during the early 1900s.

7] In conclusion, Carroll’s The Negro a Beast presents degrading and licentious evidence regarding African Americans and provides a clear depiction of the racial climate during the early 1900s. He felt so intensely that blacks were unequal to whites that he claimed they lacked souls, mental ability, emotional value, defining physical characteristics separate from apes, and, ultimately, that they were such disgraceful beasts that God himself would not even recognize them. To support these various viewpoints, Carroll enlisted the use of scientific evidence, primary sources such as the Bible, and various organizations and schools of thought. Imagining that such material was not only present butkkk500_thumb rampant during the early 1900s provides audiences with the startling reality of the era in which Birth of a nation was produced and its biased racial viewpoints. Though the theory he wished to validate in his work was wildly outlandish and unbelievable, Carroll still created a cohesive and compelling argument that would leave any reader questioning the humanity of blacks.

The whole idea of a non-Elect, slave caste created deliberately by God to be born, live, and die as black heathens in uncivilized nations, and be damned to hell from birth, or to be harvested as slaves for the superior “white” race, was incompatible with many well-adjusted Mormon doctrines both related to the “Negro Question,” and others entirely unrelated. (While eminently popular in many Christian theological and social circles, particularly amongst Calvin’s legacy.)

Though most wouldn’t suspect it based upon the hysterical, contemporary “liberal” claims of Mormon detractors these days, from the original rising of the KKK, and through its three or four now, resurrections, the Mormon church has been declared by these avowed racists to be its sworn enemy. The feeling has always been mutual. Mormon racism was a kinder, gentler, patronizing sort of bigotry. LDS leaders demonstrated genuine love and empathy for the struggle and suffering of the American Negro, while unfortunately, ironically, simultaneously contributing to it by conceding from what they believed to be Biblical and modern revelational6a00e54f0b409b8834015391ddf0bb970b-800wi sources, that the Negro was indeed inferior—even if they should be treated with human dignity, be granted full civil rights, and afforded all the opportunities of work and wealth and business opportunities America can offer, insofar as the poor creatures can handle it. Even at their most earnestly bigoted, Mormon church leaders honestly meant well. But they were men of a bygone era. Patronization of the “poor Negro,” is what they actually thought passed for respect, Christian charity, and equal treatment. And why would you question that? It’s in the Bible!

Joseph Fielding Smith, while president of the Quorum of Twelve, appeared in the 22 October 1963 issue of Look magazine, as the interview subject of journalist Jeff Nye, and had a seminal LDS encounter with the popular press:

Memo from a Mormon: In which a troubled young man raises the question of his Church’s attitude toward Negroes

With a political rise of Governor George Romney of Michigan, a Mormon, and the thrust of the Mormon Church into the urban life of our nation, the position of the Negro in the Mormon Church is gaining new attention. There has been a good deal of confusion surrounding this question for some time. Non-Mormons have been confused. As a lifelong Mormon, I have been, too.

The Mormon Church taught me that the Negro was not equal to the white in terms of religious rights and opportunities. It taught me that the Negro was cursed with loss of God’s priesthood and that the evidence, or mark, of this curse was his dark skin. Consequently, the Negro could not hold the priesthood in the Mormon Church and was thus unequal to the white in a very important sense. Butlook_thumb2 the reasons for this doctrine, and the scriptural evidence behind it, had always seemed unconvincing to me.

Then one evening, I came across an article on the subject that quite surprised me. This article, printed in the Deseret News, a Salt Lake City newspaper owned by the Mormon Church, quoted at length one of the highest officials of the Mormon Church, Joseph Fielding Smith, president of the Council of the Twelve Apostles, a body that serves directly under the President of the Church and his two counselors in directing the affairs of the Church.

President Smith, whose position is traditionally been the steppingstone to the presidency of the Church, is the Church’s doctrinarian. He officially answers to questions of Mormon youth in the Church’s monthly magazine, The Improvement Era.

The Deseret News quoted President Smith as saying:

“The ignorance on the part of writers who do not belong to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in relation to the views of the ‘Mormons’ on the status religiously or otherwise of the Negro is inexcusable. There is no doubt that in the campaign of George Romney enemies will play up the Negro question to the very limit.”

Then President Smith made a statement that surprised me. He said:

MOW2-581x744_thumb“The Latter-day Saints, so commonly called ‘Mormons,’ have no animosity toward the Negro. Neither have they described him as belonging to an ‘inferior race.’ ”

President Smith went on to quote a passage from the Book of Mormon that says Christ. “denieth none that come unto him, black and white, bond and free….” Next came his major point: “the [Mormon] Church can do more for the Negro than any other Church on the face of the earth.

“President Smith concluded the article by saying, “it is strange that so many persons are tried and condemned by well-meaning people because of assumed notions and prejudice without a true knowledge of the facts.”

This article said just the opposite of what I had learned throughout my teenage years as a member of the Church.

A few minutes after I had read it, I began to wonder about the knowledge I had acquired as a Mormon.

In the weeks that followed, my inquiries led me to the same answer that I had before reading President Smith’s words: the Negro is not equal to the white in the Mormon Church, and equality is impossible as long as the Church denies the priesthood to the Negro. This is the policy of the Church.

lunchcounter3_thumb1The Negro is a junior partner in my Church. He is a junior partner because he cannot hold the priesthood, and the priesthood is the foundation of the Church. Only males hold the priesthood, but the females share it through marriage. A Negro woman who, according to Mormon doctrine, is also cursed, cannot share the priesthood through marriage.

Today, if a Negro becomes interested in the Church, he can join, and he can be baptized and confirmed a member by the laying on hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost. He can come to most of the church meetings. But he cannot pass the sacrament, as the 12 and 13 year old boys do. He cannot prepare the sacrament, as the 14 and 15-year-olds do. Nor can he bless the sacrament or perform baptisms, as the 16, 17 and 18-year-olds do. Nor can he perform any of the other duties of the lesser, or Aaronic, priesthood.

A Negro cannot hold the higher, or Melchizedek priesthood or perform any of its numerous and significant functions. He cannot offer the confirmation prayer for a person who has been baptized. He cannot offer the prayer to heal a sick relative or friend or anyone else in the priesthood. Most important, he cannot enter the temple to perform the covenants of the temple. This restricts him. from an important lesson, since temple work in the hearts and minds of many Mormons is their choicest earthly blessing.

Deprived of the privileges of the temple, the Negro cannot be married to his wife and sealed to his family for eternity. This is the highest covenant, the Mormon may solemnize….

Lacking the priesthood, the Negro can never hold any position of leadership in the Church, because timages-81_thumb1he priesthood is the prerequisite for any position of authority.

As for scriptural evidence to support this policy, there is very little. There are four books of scripture that are used in the Mormon religion: the Bible: the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants and the Pearl of Great Price. Out of the four volumes, Mormons can offer only three verses that support, although not conclusively, the Negro doctrine. These three passages are found in the Pearl of Great Price and are a part of a revelation given to Joseph Smith, who founded Mormonism in 1830. They appear in a section of the Pearl of Great Price calledthe “Book of Moses.” In chapter 5, verses 40 and 41, the book says:

“… And I the Lord set a mark upon Cain, lest any finding him should kill him. And Cain was shut out from the presence of the Lord, and with his wife, and many of his brethren dwelt in the land of Nod on the East of Eden.”

And in chapter 7, verse 22, the same “Book of Moses” says:

“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 were the seed of Cain, for the seed of Cain were black and had not place among them.”

This is where the Mormon question about the Negro merges into the larger question of racial prejudice. The best way to perpetuate racial prejudice is to provide as little real association between rap_detroit_riots_1967_121025_thumb2aces as possible. Prejudice thrives on ignorance. The Mormon’s Negro doctrine reinforces the ignorance of most Mormons about Negroes.

True, this policy seems to have been feasible up to now, because there are few Negroes in the Mormon Church, because few whites have objected to it and because there have been scarcely any outside pressures. Most Mormons seem indifferent to questions concerning the Negro. But times are changing. The Mormon Church, like so many others, is making major efforts to acquire new members through missionary work, particularly in our urban centers. And as these young Mormon missionaries move about in our cities, they are coming into contact with the realities of the race problem today. They are seeing, at firsthand, the great drive of the Negro for equality, for his full measure of freedom.

Can the principle of equality be reconciled with the Mormon doctrine of denial of priesthood? This is the question, that troubles me today. Perhaps the conditions that shape our world today, will produce a new view. If we Mormons believe that God is directing our Church, we can hope that God is preparing a new revelation that will revise our present Negro doctrine. If we do not believe this, we can hope that the more liberal element of the Mormon leadership will produce a doctrinal change as the problem intensifies. JEFF NYE


The article from the Deseret News, referred to by Mr. Nye, appeared in an issue of that newspaper dated July 14, 1962. William B. Arthur, managing editor of LOOK, asked President Smith of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to comment on the article during an interview with him last summer, in his office in the Mormon Church’s office building in Salt Lake City, Utah.

“I stand by every word in the article,” President Smith said, after reading it aloud in Mr. Arthur’s presence. “The Mormon Church does not believe, nor does it teach, that the Negro is an inferior being. Mentally, and physically, the Negro is capable of great achievement, as great and in some BLAKE10_thumb1cases greater than the potentiality of the white race. He can become a lawyer, a doctor, a scientist, and he can achieve great heights. The word ‘inferior’ is indeed unfortunate.”

Mr. Arthur asked President Smith if a Negro boy can pass the sacrament in the Mormon Church, as 12 and 13-year-old white Mormon boys do. President Smith replied, “No.” He then was asked whether Negro boys could prepare the sacrament, as 14 and 15 -year-old white Mormon boys do. The answer was “No.” “Can he bless the sacrament or perform baptism, as a 16, 17 and 18-year-old white Mormon boys do?” Mr. Arthur asked. Again, the reply was, “No.”

“The Negro cannot achieve priesthood in the Mormon Church,” President Smith said. “No consideration is being given now to changing the doctrine of the Church to permit him to attain that status. Such a change can come about only through divine revelation, and no one can predict when a divine revelation will occur.

“I would not want you to believe that we bear any animosity toward the Negro. ’Darkies’ are wonderful people, and they have their place in our Church.”

Though not as egregious in context, that last line is often quoted alone. It’s an anti-Mormon sound-bite sent from anti-Mormon heaven. Up to that point president Smith was almost holding his own, and then he flushed it. The thing is, he was 87 years old at the time, born in 1876, and he thought he was being kind to the Negro. But the issue is not the now racially insensitive terminology “darkies,” or even the great concern of the two Look magazine interviewers over the denial of the priesthood to black African church members. That can almost make sense in terms of ancient restrictions of the priesthood to the tribe of Levi, and some very direct canonical allusions to the Curse of Cain, Ham, and Canaan.

What was not challenged in this article, and what this Mormon journalist apparently never even caught on to, or perhaps wasn’t shocked about at all, was the long history of overtly racist and overtly authoritative “speculations,” attempting to justify the ban. It is in these uniquely Mormon “speculations” where I have always found the only openly racist, allegedly “authoritative” LDS theology. Call it “doctrine” or “speculation” or “mythology,” LDS Curse of Cain theology has been widely spoken and published for generations in the church by its highest officials, including Joseph Fielding Smith. Particularly Joseph Fielding Smith. Smith’s Answers to Gospel Questions Q&A feature of the church’s youth magazine, the Improvement Era, cited in the Look article as the writer’s main reason for approaching Smith, was later bound into a set and is still a “doctrinal” reference library readily available and images-67_thumb2much used to this day. Joseph Fielding Smith was the “Mormon Answer Man” of his day, and in print he works away at it still.

Please note also that president Smith clearly, officially, and for public consumption with the full permission of the First Presidency, and in his capacity representing the Quorum of Twelve as its president, went on the record claiming that the ban on ordaining Negroes to the priesthood was instituted as a revelation from God. A revelation from God. Period.

Six years later, 1969, after a failed vote to rescind the ban, the First Presidency, under David O McKay, endorsed by Joseph Fielding Smith and the Council of Twelve, released a very detailed statement declaring the ban wasn’t going anywhere anytime soon, that the ban on Negro ordination to the priesthood was, as it had always been, God’s express will, that it was a fundamental LDS doctrine, and was clearly related to unsatisfactory valiance and pre-mortal failure on the part of the Negro:

Our living prophet, President David O. McKay, has said, “The seeming discrimination by the Church toward the Negro is not something which originated with man; but goes back into the beginning with God….

“Revelation assures us that this plan antedates man’s mortal existence, extending back to man’s pre-existent state.”

President McKay has also said, “Sometime in God’s eternal plan, the Negro will be given the right to hold the priesthood.”

Until God reveals His will in this matter, to him whom we sustain as a prophet, we are bound by that same will. Priesthood, when it is conferred on any man comes as a blessing from God, not of men.

The 1949 and 1969 “official” First Presidency statements ignore the centrally racist nature of the Negro priesthood ban and rely upon popular and common “speculations,” to persuade the faithful to look away from conflicts with far more central Latter-day Saint beliefs, like Free Agency, or the very function of baptism, fdownload-36_thumborgiveness, and the Atonement. The device used to rectify all these problems was the accepted LDS scenario of a pre-mortal council, and a Satanic rebellion that led to spiritual war. LDS prophets and other leaders quickly developed the premise that the Negro must have been guilty of some misconduct or poor performance in Mormonism’s pre-mortal war in heaven to have been the mortal subjects of so great a curse and to have accepted a birth into so many handicaps in this life. If canon scripture could proclaim that certain, “special” spirit children were set apart, or fore-ordained to be great leaders, then, reasoned pioneer-era prophets like Brigham Young, John Taylor and essentially all the others who followed, it must certainly be true that others might be set-apart and fore-ordained to become the accursed children of Cain due to their lack of valiance and wishy-washy support of Our Lord and Savior in these pre-mortal wars and councils. They concluded that these weaker spirits did not choose to follow the Devil, but they just didn’t put much of an effort into their fight for Christ. Thus, having failed their first estate, they entered their second estate in a lesser position than those who thoroughly committed to the battle for hearts and minds in the “War in Heaven.” These lesser spirits would eagerly come to earth even as lowly Negroes just for the chance at mortality and a promised future exoneration in the eternal scheme of things.

Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee, and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations. (Jeremiah 1:5)

Or this out of Abraham 3, Pearl of Great Price:

22 Now the Lord had shown unto me, Abraham, the aintelligences that were organized before the world was; and among all these there were many of the bnoble and great ones;

23 And God saw these souls that they were good, and he stood in the midst of them, and he said: These I will make my rulers; for he stood among those that were spirits, and he saw that they were good; and he said unto me: Abraham, thou art one of them; thou wast achosen before thou wast born.

Or, conversely, as early LDS leaders obviously extrapolated: Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb I knew thou wast a screw-up, and I ordained thee a servant and second class citizen of humanity, to be despised unto the nations, just to keep you out of leadership positions where you would surely only make trouble and mess up theimages-43_thumb2 Kingdom of God on Earth. Trust Me. It’s for your own good…

John Calvin would be proud of that argument. It is dangerously close to Calvin’s Pre-destination, Election, Irresistible Election, and non-Election, except it provides “rational” justification for what clearly appears to be an injustice on God’s part. All Calvin would have said was, “It’s a mystery. We cannot know the mind of God. To suggest otherwise is arrogant blasphemy.”

I’m not mocking prophets of God, I’m simply illustrating how the hereditary LDS defense of its Curse of Cain mythology has been perceived by those of black African heritage, and other people of color. And that’s just how the traditional LDS line of reasoning has always sounded to Saints of black African descent, and potential Saints, of color–or for that matter, just plain dumb white guys like me who were not raised along the Wasatch Front. And as a matter of full disclosure, even I, a self-proclaimed “enlightened”(even if lily-white) soul, personally, did not have a true and full understanding of the issue and the specific arguments being made by LDS leaders and other high authorities in the past, until I came across the 10 December 2013 statement from the Brethren, and began to do some hard research.

It’s clear that while departing from standard Jewish and Christian interpretations of the Curse of Cain/Curse of Ham Biblical texts, the tact first taken by presidents, prophets, apostles, and other LDS General Authorities, was to make a host of supplemental speculations allegedly harmonizing the apparent injustice of relegating the Negro to oppression and slavery, with higher LDS canon law. In more recent decades, specifically after the 1978 “revelation” of Declaration 2, the LDS First Presidency preferred to remain silent on the subject, and for the most part, allowed and sometimes apparently encouraged others to do the speculating, leaving themselves “plausible deniability.” Prior to that however, there was no such bashfulness from the First Presidency or the Council of Twelve:

Let us reason together. In the Book of Moses, Chapter 4, and in the Book of Abraham, Chapter 8, we are taught that there was a council held in heaven and our Eternal Father presented a plan by which we could come down on the earth and receive tabernacles (bodies) of flesh and bones for our spirits which are begotten sons and daughters unto God. We learn also that one third of those spirita4326136e5479dcd4f1321f4c4d93763_thus rebelled against the plan and followed Satan. For this they were denied bodies of flesh and bones and have to remain spirits. Why do not those who complain about the Negro and the priesthood also complain about the punishment which was given to this third of the spirits? They were denied even the blessings of bodies! Was this an injustice on the part of our Eternal Father? Well, there were other spirits there who were not faithful in the keeping of this first estate. Yet they have not sinned away their right to receive bodies and come to earth and receive the resurrection. They were restricted in the privileges that were given to those who keep their first estate and who were promised to have “glory added upon their heads for ever and ever.” Therefore the Lord prepared a way through the lineage of Cain for these spirits to come to the earth, but under the restriction of priesthood.

–Answers to Gospel Questions, Volume 2

Kindly see chapters 15 and 16, in The Way to Perfection, for further light in relation to the reason why the Negro cannot receive the priesthood. In brief, it is as follows: Because of transgression in the first estate which deprives him in this second estate. Since Cain slew his brother Abel in order to obtain all the rights of priesthood to descend through his lineage, the Lord decreed that the children of Cain should not have the privilege of bearing the priesthood until Abel had posterity who could have the priesthood and that will have to be in the far distant future. When this is accomplished on some other world, then the restrictions will be removed from the children of Cain who have been true in this “second” estate.

–Answers to Gospel Questions, Volume 2

Keep in mind again, that until Bruce R McConkie, his son-in-law, assumed the title from him in his waning years, Joseph Fielding Smith was considered the “go-to” Mormon Doctrinal Answer Man:

“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 with black skin and have been denied the privilege of Priesthood and the fullness of the blessings of the Gospel. These are the descendants of Cain. Moreover, they have been made to feel their inferiority and have been separated from the rest of mankind from the beginning.

In justice it should be said that there have been among the seed of Cain many who have been honorable and who have lived according to the best light they had in this second estate. Let us pray that the Lord may bless them with some blessings of exaltation, if not the fullness, for their integrity here.

In the spirit of sympathy, mercy and faith, we will hope that blessings may eventually be given to our Negro brethren, for they are out brethren-children of God-notwithstanding their black covering emblematic of eternal darkness.” (The Way to Perfection, pp.101-102)

One resulting longtime and very popular Mormon theory thus evolved out of this thesis, proposed that the Negro was denied the priesthood as something of a favor. Being a “lesser” spirit, and thus prone to almost certain mortal faildownload-40_thumbure due to his inherently weak will, the Negro was given a free pass, an exemption from the responsibility of priesthood office. It was commonly maintained in popular LDS culture that this arrangement negated any possibility of the spiritually feeble Negro from violating temple covenants or the oath and covenant of the priesthood, which would put him at risk of eternal banishment to “outer darkness,” as Mormons usually describe the LDS equivalent of hell. While this sort of rationalizing served to salve the collective conscience of the sheltered, white, Anglo-European Mormon culture of the Wasatch Front for generations, it grew exponentially more unconvincing in and out of the church as the enlightening wave of the American Civil Rights Era dawned after WWII, and crested in the 1960’s.

Utah-based Mormonism and its leadership responded quite provincially, sometimes even quite defensively, to critics from outside of the “Valley” as if their very culture had been personally insulted. Civil Rights Era LDS leaders, theologians, academics and apologists, responded with even bolder volumes of rationale for continuing the deeply invested position of the church on the “Negro Question.” Consider this epic anti-Negro Mormon apologetic classic from 1967:

William E. Berrett is former Vice President of Brigham Young University and former Vice-Admin­istrator of the Unified School System of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He is also a member of the Utah Bar Association.

As a Church Historian he is the author of THE RESTORED CHURCH, widely used as a textbook in church schools, and co-author of the three-volume, READINGS IN L.D.S. CHURCH HISTORY, used80170355_132090954097_thumb1 widely in church colleges.

The viewpoint of the Church in 1852 is well ex­pressed in an article appearing in the Deseret News for April 3rd of that year:

The descendants of Cain cannot cast off their skin of blackness, at once, and immediately, although every soul of them should repent, obey the gospel, and do right, from this day forward. The mark was put upon Cain by God himself, because Cain killed his brother Abel, thereby hoping to get the birth­right, and secure to himself the blessings which legally belonged to Abel; but Cain could not obtain Abel’sdownload-48_thumb birthright by murder…

Cain did not obtain Abel’s birthright and bless­ing, though he killed him for that purpose; the bless­ings which belonged to Abel, descended to his pos­terity; and until the blessings of Abel’s birthright are fully received, secured, and realized, by his (Abel’s) descendants, Cain and his posterity must wear the mark which God put upon them; and his White friends may wash the race of Cain with Ful­ler’s soap every day, they cannot wash away God’s mark: yet, the Canaanites may believe the Gospel, repent, and be baptized, and receive the Spirit of the Lord, and if he continues faithful until Abel’s race is satisfied with his blessings, then may the race of Cain receive a fullness of the priesthood, and become satisfied with blessings, and the two of them become as one again, when Cain has paid the uttermost farthing.24

–The Church and the Negroid People, WILLIAM E. BERRETT

Berrett’s treatise was soon combined in one volume with the more grandiose exhortations of007morm1_thumb3 John J. Stewart, Editor of Publications, Associate Professor of Journalism at Utah State University, Logan, Utah, in Mormonism and the Negro. These were both written in advance of Declaration 2, but remained long afterward in wide circulation, entirely unchallenged to fill the authoritative silence that followed Spencer W Kimball’s “revelation” on the repeal of the ban on black African priesthood ordination in 1978. Berrett and Stewart in their amalgamated musings, effectively continue to offer reasons for the ban on black African priesthood ordination to the date of this writing. Their combined tome is in circulation and use today, it is still available on Amazon and various other media outlets.

Stewart outlines various apologetic options in handling the “Negro Question” as an LDS doctrinal dilemma:

(1) Be apologizers for the Church: say that it is old fashioned, outmoded on this point: prejudiced.

(2) Confess that we do not know the reasons for this policy, although we accept it; that we have blind faith in it.

(3) Proclaim that it is a correct and reasonable doctrine, that it is tenable, that we have no reason either to apologize for it nor evade questions about it. We must then explain the reasons for it and show that it is consistent with the rest of LDS doctrine.

The first two alternatives are totally unacceptable to me:download-21_thumb1

If we are apologizers for the Church on this point, then we admit in effect that all Gospel doctrine is not sound; we say in effect that either the original position of the Church was incorrect on this matter, or, if it was correct, that we as a Church do not enjoy continuous revelation and thus have become out-dated on this doctrine. If we deny continuous revelation in the Church then we place ourselves in much the same position as all other so-called Christian sects, and isolate ourselves from God, the head of our Church.

If we accept the second alternative, that of blind faith in the doctrine, something that we do not understand but do not question, then we place ourselves in much the same position as churches that favor blind faith. And we find ourselves having to evade rather than face issues. But LDS theology teaches us that our faith should be an intelligent faith, not a blind faith….

So, the true Church member rules out the first two alternatives and moves to the third: to proclaim that it is a correct doctrine, then explain why this is so.

We were all eager for an opportunity to partake of mortality, knowing that it was a necessary step in eternal progress. And we were willing to come into mortality under those circumstances that we had merited by our conduct in that first estate – the pre-mortal existence, even though undoubtedly those who had not been valiant there wished that they had been, just as those of us not valiant in the Gospel cause in this life will have regrets in the next life.

A typical critic(1) of the LDS policy regarding Negroes has asserted that,

images-47_thumb1This doctrine pressed to its logical conclusion would say that Dr. George Washington Carver, the late eminent and saintly Negro scientist, is by virtue of the color of his skin, inferior even to the least admirable white person, not because of the virtues he may or may not possess, but because – through no fault of his – there is a dark pigment in his skin.”

There is nothing in LDS teaching to support or indicate a notion such as this. The circumstances of our birth in this world are dependent upon the our performance in the spirit world, just as the circumstances of our existence in the next world will depend upon what use we make of the blessings and opportunities we enjoy in this world. According to LDS doctrine, Dr. George Washington Carver – who incidentally, was a mulatto rather than a Negro – will be far ahead of many of us born under more favorable circumstances in this life, for he made the most of his opportunities, while many of us are forfeiting our birthright. We were ahead of him in the first lap of the race, but he has gone far ahead of many of us in the second. God has told us that He will judge men according to what they do with the light and knowledge and opportunities given them.

“For of him unto whom much is given, much is required; and he who sins against the greater light shall receive the greater condemnation.”(D. & C. 82:3)

While the Negro and others of Negroid blood cannot hold the Priesthood, in this stage of life, apparently because of a lack of valor in the pre-mortal existence, neither are any of them likely to become Sons of Perdition – as many of the Priesthood bearers might become. Again in this we see the justice and mercy of God; that while in certain stage of existence a man cannot attain the highest blessings, neither is he so subject to the danger of falling to the lowest state.

(COPYRIGHT © 1978)

Stewart feels compelled to point out that George Washington Carver is a “mulatto,” not a “Negro,” and apparently, that’s a key point in his argument. The compulsion for Stewart to clarify Carver’s mixed blood DNA clearly exposes this Mormon apologist’s belief that it’s the “white” DNA making George Washington Carver adownload-50_thumb1 Genius. The suggestion of course, is that if Carver was a pure-blood Negro, he’d just be pickin’ cotton like the rest’o dem. Obviously, in Stewart’s mind, it’s George Washington Carver’s “white” genetics compensating for his inferior Negroid intellect that made him a genius with peanuts and peanut accessories. In fairness, that may not have been Stewart’s point at all, but I wanted to illustrate how easily critics of Mormon Curse of Cain mythology have always been able to leave well-meaning Mormon authors twisting in the winds of rebuttal. It’s the Mormon anti-Negro argument itself that is absurdly false and unsustainable, making criticism of it child’s play.

Clearly, the 10 December 2013 declaration by the First Presidency dismisses the entire history of Curse of Cain mythology in and out of the LDS church as just that: mythology. It “unequivocally” abandons the whole theological train of thought about black-skinned or Negroid fundamental inferiority and makes no excuses for its racist roots. I know the Brethren don’t spell it out to this depth in the news release itself, but they leave me just enough authoritative credibility to print it in big block letters on a Big Chief writing tablet anyway. (Dating myself again, and that probably sounded a bit racist there with the writing tablet reference…)

If we accept Dr. Stewart’s all-or-nothing, straw-dog propositions, then we have to concede that the current Brethren have clearly endorsed Stewart’s option #1 and are happy to deal with any doctrinal consequences. Curse of Cain/Ham theology is antiquated, obsolete, old-fashioned and ignorant–so the Brethren have now thus decreed. The December 2013 First Presidency statement on Race and the Priesthood, in essence admits that the pioneer leaders who originated images-73_thumbthe LDS system of Curse of Cain mythology were utterly wrong. So was anyone at any time afterward who tried to rationalize or justify their mistaken doctrines. This admitted, in Stewart’s reasoning, then it is not we, the rank and file, nor the LDS intellectual, historian, or academic classes who have conceded that all LDS doctrine is now “unsound.” It download-49_thumbis Thomas S Monson’s First Presidency, and the current Council of Twelve under Boyd K Packer, who have done so.

But Stewart argues a false dichotomy. Rather than surrender to some vapid, academic postulate and confess that all LDS doctrine is now “unsound,” I’d simply concede that this particular, singular doctrine never ever looked good from the beginning. It’s the legacy of ancient Judaism, Islam, and “orthodox” Christianity–enhanced with provincial, Utah-Mormon alchemy and superstition. It’s finally died the ignoble death it deserved. And God bless the Brethren for it.

It is also clear that In 1978, immediately after officially rescinding Brigham Young’s ban on Negro priesthood ordinations in Declaration 2, the First Presidency adopted Stewart’s second proposition, that the whole thing was incomprehensible and we just didn’t know the reasons for the ban. Again, Calvin would be pleased. “It’s a mystery. We cannot fathom the mind of God.” Splash splash. Hands washed of it.

The Brethren it seems, were working in reverse order to Stewart’s thesis. Previous generations of LDS leaders were perpetually justifying the LDS anti-Negro position as a reasonable and canonically valid tenet of the gospel of Jesus Christ via scripture and modern revelation. Stewart’s 2nd rationale by contrast, contends that this ban was actually demanded mainly by tradition and the supposition that somewhere, somebody after tmormon-doctrine-mcconkie-spine_thumbhe “restoration” had a revelation from God demanding it. Just who, what, where, when, why, and how, wasn’t known. If you accept Stewart’s second premise that the ban was a mystery, and concede his first proposition that it’s just old-fashioned and silly, you probably get a good idea of the sort of debates going on amongst the Brethren prior to the release of Declaration 2 in 1978. The Brethren it seems, had internally, fully embraced a policy of, “never mind all that stuff about the Negro…” They just never told anyone about it. Thus, outside this circle of the Brethren, we found LDS loyalists plugging right onward, working on bigger and better justifications for generations-old assumptions. In LDS media and academic circles, authors like Berrett and Stewart were moving in the opposite direction of the progressive will of the Lord, because no specific orders had been given them to abandon the whole anachronistic Curse of Cain tradition. This does not mean simply acknowledging the termination of the ban, but terminating the whole background story. And we don’t have to argue this point. The Brethren have now produced a statement that authoritatively demonstrates that what the Lord ultimately really wanted to do is have the Brethren confess and forsake the whole Negro-doctrinal fiasco. This, we must admit, is the last thing in the world William E Berrett, John J Stewart, or any other LDS scholar, historian, or any Latter-day Saint outside the rarefied cloister of LDS Generaldownload (53) Authorities might have anticipated.

I think in this day and age it’s become apparent that we really do need to provide a series of answers that will help our members better understand these chapters of our history.

–Elder Steven E. Snow

But likewise, as Latter-day Saints, we must confess that even a significant doctrinal about-face after a century and a halfimages-77_thumb1 of waffling about on a secondary but admittedly critical gospel subject, is within the stewardship and authority of the First Presidency and Council of Twelve. A church based upon an open canon and ongoing, modern revelation is going to have to be able to embrace change. The Brethren are equipped we must assume, with all the spiritual and intellectual tools to deal with any consequential doctrinal or historical paradoxes. If they’re not so equipped, the Lord will provide tools or counselors with doctrinal repair kits as needed. Or “take them out of their place” if you prefer to think along those lines. I would however, submit that any of the Brethren one might care to accuse of leading the church a bit “astray,” on the matter of the “Negro Question,” have already been “taken out of their place.” It didn’t come as a thunder-clap and flash of light, or a theatrical heart-attack in mid-speach at the Marriott Center in front of 30,000 BYU students at a morning devotional or anything. It came in a painfully slow but faithful progression of generations of leadership seeking greater inspiration, greater enlightenment. Many of you are uncomfortable with that suggestion. On the other side of the issue, some of you are cheering. Some of you are thinking, better late than never.

Most of you are puzzling: what prompted the Brethren to make this statement now?

One obvious factor in the timing of this release is that apparently the LDS church is compelled to issue clarifying spiels about its fundamental doctrines regarding the “Negro Question” every time a Romney is running for president.

George Romney in his era, (1963-68) was on the other side of the Brethren’s LDS “Negro Question” flip-flop. download-1_thumbWhat George’s son Mitt, some forty-plus years later, didn’t know apparently, is that the Brethren had covertly flushed all the LDS anti-Negro dogma his father had been forced to contend with, down the doctrinal pooper decades ago. The Brethren just didn’t overtly tell anyone about it. So when Mitt Romney made his run for the presidency of the United States of America, once in primaries two cycles ago, and again this last cycle as the official Republican candidate, he had to battle the same criticisms of LDS racial dogma from the popular press that his father had to deal with in the 60’s. But more devastatingly, the internet and social media was so rife with anti-Mormon material at the time of Mitt’s run, it didn’t matter at all that the “legitimate” or “mainstream” media had officially backed off of any religious angles in Mitt Romney’s vetting. Unfortunately, the Brethren were not yet ready to commit to purging the church of a legacy of previous LDS leadership and their racial dogma on a timetable convenient for Mitt Romney’s run for presidential office. In the resultant doctrinal pause after Declaration 2, and particularly during a new period of reorganization under president Monson, while the current leadership structure was still collecting its thoughts on the matter, Mitt got left

images-78_thumbholding the bag. The church gave him no ammunition with which to defend himself from anyone who pulled the “race card.” The race card was indeed pulled–frequently and with flourish. Out of this very public, very political controversy, arose the real reason for this latest LDS First Presidency statement on Race and the Priesthood. It wasn’t about download-46_thumb1Mitt Romney and his run for the US presidency. That put the church and its articles of faith on everyone’s plasma screen every night on the news, but a Mormon presidential candidate was just one component of the potentially explosive public relations mixture brewing in the spring of 2012. Mitt Romney’s campaign was harmless to the church without a catalyst to set off the public relations blast the church still had waiting to go off inthe form of its history of Curse of Caine/Ham theology, and a vessel to contain the explosion. The Curse of Caine/Ham history was the powder. The container was a venue, an event. It was an interview with the Washington Post on 29 February of that year. The third and final component, the catalyst, the happy, willing and faithful, unwitting little matchstick, was a noted LDS theologian and scholar who accepted the invitation to talk to the Post about the church’s “Negro” position.

You wouldn’t be be wondering what motivated the LDS leadership to issue its 10 December 2013 statement on Race and the Priesthood, if you lived in “Happy Valley,” and you knew who Randy Bott was.


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Mormonism and the Mythical Curse of Cain Part 1: Never Mind all That Stuff About the Negro…

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 images (45)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 moreimages (40) 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 reconcileAnswersBundle_detail 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 thedownload (34) 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 theimages (95) 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 images (97)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; GoldenbergCurse 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 tonyevansteenager. 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 Southern Baptist Name Change2013, 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 racialslaveryly 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.[15]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,[16] and it has recently been pointed out that in 1st 300px-Drunken_noahmillennium Babylonia, looking at another person’s genitals was indeed regarded as a serious matter.[15] 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.”[17] Ancient commentaries have also debated that “seeing” someone’s nakedness meant to have sex with that person (e.g. Leviticus 20:17).[16] 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.[18] 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.[17] The castration theory has its modern counterpart in suggested parallels found in the castration of Uranus by Cronus[19] 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”.[20] 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).[16] 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.[21]

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[edit]

  • Genesis 9:25: “And he said, Cursed be Canaan; a servant of servants 220px-Noah-Curses-Hamshall he be unto his brethren,”

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[30] or, at least, it is not mentioned in the Bible that he had confirmed it.

Dead Sea Scrolls[edit]

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.[31] The 4Q252 scroll probably dates from the latter half of the first century BC.[32] 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.[33] 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. [34] [35]

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.[55] 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).[50] Elimages (90)sewhere 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.[51][52] 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.[53] As serfdom waned in the late medieval era, the interpretation of serfs being descendants of Ham decreased as well.[54]

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.[201] Luther argued that the Jews were no longer the chosen people but “the devil’s people”, and referred to them with violent, vile language.[202][203] Luther advocated setting synagogues on fire, destroyingdownload (51) 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”.[204] In Robert Michael’s view, Luther’s words “We are at fault in not slaying them” amounted to a sanction for murder.[205] 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”.[206] Luther spoke out against the Jews in Saxony, Brandenburg, and Silesia.[207] 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.”[208] 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.[207] Luther’s influence persisted after his death. Throughout the 1580s, riots led to the expulsion of Jews from several German Lutheran states.[209]

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 download (52)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,who_john_wesley 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.images (98)

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 custerin 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 whilimages (91)e 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.

images (79) 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 bloodHugh_Nibley”-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. bat smileConfused smileSurprised smileSmile with tongue out

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 with0050_ku_klux_klan_03 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 download (35)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 writinglibyan-rebels 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 img-4of 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, convertedimages (62) 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 download (42)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 on02darfur-600 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”.[39] 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”;[40] according to another, Noah cursed him because he castrated his father.[41] 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,[42] that the curse did not apply to all of Ham but only to his eldest son Cush, Cush being a sub-Saharan African.[43] 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.[44]libyan-rebel-threatens-captured-blacks 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.[45][46] This is despite the fact that the account of the drunkenness of Noah is not included in the Qur’an.[47] Islam holds that prophets of God are infallible.[48] 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.[49]

download (41)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 ad_SLH1910presumptions, 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 makedownload (14) 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, images (38)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, blacksbeast3 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 david_o_mckayof 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, B36500_all_004_05-presidency (1)razil. 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 download (23)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

Posted in Mormonism and the Mythical Curse of Cain Part 1: Nevermind all That Stuff About the Negro | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The Godhead

Two years before his martyrdom, the Prophet Joseph Smith wrote a letter to a newspaper editor, John Wentworth, who asked Joseph for a brief statement outlining the basic tenets of the “Mormon” faith. In response, Joseph Smith authored what we now call the “Thirteen Articles of Faith.” The first of these states:

We believe in God, the Eternal Father, and in His Son, Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Ghost.

But then again so does every other professing Christian denomination. If that were accepted throughout Christendom as the simplest declaration of a Christian understanding of the Godhead, there would have been little need for a Restoration movement at all. The belief in the Father, Son and Holy Ghost has been the first and foremost, fundamental Christian doctrine from the beginning of the Church. The belief in, and understanding of these three divine characters, and their relationship to mankind is the basis of the entire religion. It has also been the central issue in all of the most heated debates, even open warfare over what is or isn’t “orthodox” and what is or isn’t “heresy” particularly in the early centuries of the Church.

One of the earliest attempts to define, assemble and harmonize a “catholic,” or “universal” gospel after the death of the Original Apostles, was made by a group of saints the Church came to call the “Apostolic Fathers”—saints in leadership who were left behind in the wake of the typically brutal murder and fatal persecution of Christ’s chosen successors like Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Peter, James, and the rest of the New Testament authors.

Contrary to popular belief, none of the New Testament was written directly by the various Apostolic authors of the texts it includes. There are no “Original Autographs,” of these Biblical texts, as religious scholars call them, meaning texts written by, in the hand and language of the New Testament Gospel writers. When scholars or clergymen refer to the “original Greek,” they are referring to records allegedly, and at the very earliest, written down by the “Apostolic Fathers,” not the Original Apostles, and not in Aramaic or Hebrew, or other languages many of the original authors may have used, or even Latin, but writings at best dictated into, transferred to, or recorded from memory in Greek, the scholarly language of the times. Though we now think of Latin as a scholarly language, or the language of the Church, the first Latin Biblical texts were actually called the “Vulgate,” from the same root as “vulgar,” meaning common, and so called because Latin was considered the vulgar or common tongue of the average citizen of Rome.

The earliest New Testament manuscripts then, are in Greek, are at best copies of the Original Autographs, at worst paraphrases, and date from decades and sometimes guestimated to have first appeared a hundred years or more after the passing of the Original Apostles who authored them.

And again, contrary to common belief, there was never a smooth and timely decision as to which books should be included in the Bible. It took over a century before anyone even bothered to start picking and choosing through the available writings. Every church had its favored books, official use of any given text was decided bishop-by bishop under local authority only, and since there was nothing like a clearly-defined universal orthodoxy until the 4th century, there were in fact many simultaneous literary traditions. The grand claims we hear today about “what Christianity has always believed,” are made plausible only because the church that came out on top simply preserved texts in its favor and destroyed or ignored and “lost” opposing documents. And then of course, chose to translate what they canonized into language crafted to best bolster their preconceived “traditions” and “orthodox” understanding of the apostolic teachings. Christian “orthodoxy” was in this fashion, ultimately written by the victors of centuries of theological, political, and military warfare.

The assertion that the King James Bible was “inerrant” complete and perfectly preserved and essentially ghost-written (Holy Ghost-written) through Divine Providence was nearly universal in Joseph Smith’s day. This notion has been greatly disabused by the ample availability of early manuscripts and the ease in which modern Bible scholars can compare all the historical translations to the oldest manuscripts. Unfortunately, even though today’s translators can rightfully claim they have produced cleaner and far less editorialized Biblical texts, there still rages in many Christian quarters the contention of Biblical “inerrancy,” and this mostly connected in the US, with such assertions about the King James Version.

The Lutheran take on this controversy is probably the most well-thought out. Lutherans by-and-large, though not universally, maintain that only the Original Autographs are inerrant. That way they can profess a theoretical allegiance to “inerrancy,” while at the same time equivocate every passage of the Bible word-by-word under the license of the Good Book only being a translation of an inerrant text, and not in and of itself inerrant.

The greater body of Christianity has drifted into this more-or-less Lutheran view of the Bible. But Christianity has yet to deal with the ideological repercussions of the Lutheran approach to the issue of Biblical inerrancy. The companion claim in the Biblical inerrancy doctrine, is that the Bible is also “complete.” This demands that everything necessary for man’s salvation and good order be contained therein, and not one jot or tiddle more or less did God find necessary or helpful to preserve in order to work His will with mankind.

With the confession that no Original Autographs are known to exist, there remains the possibility that this is just ignorance on our part and they may at some point turn up. And also, there is the equal possibility that there might indeed be previously unknown manuscripts out there, some day to be discovered, also written by the Original Apostles. What if these new, hidden gospels contradict “orthodox” thought on any number of issues? What if some of the Original Autographs show up and differ significantly in various key theological areas from the earliest surviving copies in the “originals” (note of sarcasm there…) we now have only in Greek?



Most Christian sects have long abandoned any future possibility of new apostolic writings turning up. “Divine Providence” has taken care of the canon. It’s closed. It’s complete as-is. The Original Autographs are declared lost to time and wear. Were a letter in the hand of Jesus Himself to be unearthed today, all of “orthodox” Christianity would by current Christian dogma and Church tradition, as a matter of faith, be forced to reject it, however clear its provenance and authentication.

So, today, most of Christianity is amenable to the idea that while the surviving manuscripts from which we assembled our current canon, were Divinely inspired and preserved through Divine Provenance, there is no absolute guarantee of their preservation of the original authors’ intent and specific language. The vast majority of Christian bodies today in this matter, agree soundly on the assertion that neither the King James Version or any other translation in any other language from any other era, is without unwitting error, or in the worst cases, political, ideological, social, scholarly, and theological manipulation, gatekeeping, or editorializing.

(In short, they’ve gradually come around to agreeing with Joseph Smith.)

Due to this hodge-podge, early canonical disorganization and translational or interpretational controversies that roil somewhat even today, in the first century after the death of Christ and His apostles, the Apostolic Fathers began to hear in the Church, a growing disagreement on the basic nature of the Christian message. In reaction to the “Great Commission” <> and the need to present a concise, unified gospel message to the world, there emerged what is now called the “Apostle’s Creed.” Before we even had a New Testament, this was the first attempt in the post-apostolic Church to define a universal statement of faith:

I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth:

And in Jesus Christ his only Son our Lord, Who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, Born of the Virgin Mary, Suffered under Pontius Pilate, Was crucified, dead, and buried: He descended into hell; The third day he rose again from the dead; He ascended into heaven, And sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty; From thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Ghost; The holy Catholick Church; The Communion of Saints; The Forgiveness of sins; The Resurrection of the body, And the Life everlasting. Amen.

(Church of England Book of Common Prayer 1662)’_Creed

If you understand the vocabulary, the Latter-day Saint would have little problem at all accepting that statement of faith.

Joseph Smith’s 13 Articles of Faith, the Church of England’s 39 Articles of Religion that he used as a format, and similar stabs at chartering formal Christian creeds arise out of this early, post-apostolic tradition of trying to condense sometimes complicated history and theology into concise, encapsulated summaries. In the case of the Apostles’ Creed, legend has it that the Apostles gathered together and wrote it down for posterity on the tenth day after Christ’s ascension into heaven. That’s clearly not possible however. But each of the elements found in the creed can be traced to statements found in the Original Apostles’ writings and Church tradition of their period. The earliest written version of the creed is probably the Interrogatory Creed of Hippolytus (ca. A.D. 215). The current form is first found in the writings of Caesarius of Arles (d 542).

Some have suggested that the Apostles’ Creed was spliced together with phrases from the New Testament.] For instance, the phrase (“he descended into hell”) echoes Ephesians 4:9, ” (“he descended into the lower, earthly regions”) in the Greek text. This phrase and the reference to the communion of saints are articles found in the Apostles’ Creed, but not in its original form, called the “Old Roman Creed,” nor were these included in the Nicene Creed which later took on the issue of Father, Son and Holy Ghost more specifically.

The name of the Apostles’ Creed again, came from the  5th-century tradition that, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit after Pentecost, each of the Twelve Apostles dictated one statement of Christian faith to add to it, and thus it is traditionally divided into twelve articles. The title, Symbolum Apostolicum (Symbol or Creed of the Apostles), appears for the first time in a letter from a Council in Milan  in about 390: “Let them give credit to the Creed of the Apostles, which the Roman Church has always kept and preserved undefiled”.[3][4]

But what existed at that time in the Roman Church was not what is now known as the Apostles’ Creed. Instead, it was a shorter statement of belief that, for instance, did not include the phrase “maker of heaven and earth”, a phrase that may have been inserted as late as the 7th century.[5] So though ancient Church fathers may have contended that even this first, simple creed has been preserved “undefiled” from its beginnings, the Church’s own records prove otherwise.

The Apostles’ Creed was in any case, well based on Christian theological understanding of the 4 Canonical gospels, the letters of the New Testament and to a lesser extent the Old Testament. It does not however address some issues defined in the later Nicene and other Christian Creeds. For instance, it says nothing explicitly about the divinity of either Jesus or of the Holy Spirit.

Even today, disputes over the wording of the Apostles’ Creed live on in the various Christian sects. For example, the creed is either altered or footnoted in some Lutheran circles due to its clergy replacing the word “catholic” with the word “Christian.” These sects claim that “Christian” inthe ancient text reads “catholic,” meaning the whole Church as it confesses the wholeness of Christian doctrine.

The Church of Denmark  is one of several Lutheran, Reformed or Protestant sects that still uses the phrase “We renounce the devil and all his works and all his ways” as the beginning of this creed, before the line “We believe in God the Father Almighty etc.” That added preface to the Apostles’ Creed survives intact in the Roman Church tradition as an integral part of adult baptismal vows, and is observed in a question-and-answer format that then goes on to break the Apostles’ Creed down into a call-and-respond format. In Roman tradition, infant baptisms require these vows to be made in proxy by the child’s sponsors or usually, Godparents.

Some Christian sects dispute the phrase “descended into hell,” preferring “descended to the dead.” The LDS notion of Christ visiting “Spirit Prison” is not out of harmony with the actual language of the creed however and the typical Mormon probably has a far better understanding of what that line means than all of orthodox “Christian” academia.

Christianity remains to this day split on the opinion of just who the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are, who or what Jesus Christ is in relationship to these other two Biblical characters, and how mankind dovetails into the whole Divine scheme of things.

Even those of you born and raised as Mormons along the Wasatch Front will probably know that in 325 the Roman Emperor Constantine ordered a council of regional bishops to convene at Nicaea to squelch a rising unrest in his growing Empire. In Constantine’s day, the name “Christian” was in reality a dirty word hung on the early saints by their Roman oppressors. Rome had persecuted them viciously for centuries. Then on the eve of a great battle (or so you may have been taught) Constantine had a vision of a great crucifix in the sky, under which the words “By this sign conquer” appeared.

But that’s not quThe Godhead_html_m3b51e7b3ite what the record shows. The ancient Christian scholar Lactantius tells us that the emperor fought and won this battle in the name of Christ after having a dream in which he received instructions to print the Christian monogram (looks roughly like the letters X and P printed on top of each other) on his troops’ shields. The historian Eusebius, who had Constantine himself as his source, says that the monogram appeared in the sky along with the motto: “By this sign, conquer”.

Among other things, we learn from all this that if you dig a little deeper into the history of the Church itself, even the Roman Church as we know it today, its own records indicate that the crucifix, and certainly one with an effigy of Jesus hanging from it, was not originally used by the early Christians as a logo or banner of worship.

The Roman Church sometimes claims the Christian Monogram is a “P” for “Peter” or The Godhead_html_m5ed3cd73“Petros” (the rock) with a cross laid over it. Sometimes the “P” is drawn these days like a shepherd’s crook to reinforce that notion.

But in reality, it’s the two Greek Letters Chi and Rho, nothing to do with “P” as we pronounce it. More like a K and an R sound. These are the first two letters of “Christos.” They were overlayed to abbreviate His name as was a common custom then for all monograms. It was often enclosed with a circle. It was this monogram that Constantine painted onto his army’s shields to conquer the world in the name of Christ, most decidedly not a crucifix. And next time you are criticizing the abbreviation of “Christmas” as “Xmas,” keep in mind that so did the early saints. X is another abbreviation of Christos, based on its first letter in Greek, and used to avoid printing the name of God, a holdover from Hebrew tradition.

Having conquered the world however, and assuming the role of ruler of the Christian people, Constantine soon discovered that there were a lot of versions of Christianity, and they didn’t all get along with each other. The solution to these inter-Christian feuds he thought, was a refinement of the disorganized processes that had produced the rather vague Apostles’ Creed, or “Roman Creed” in his day. He wanted hard and fast rules on what was “orthodox” or “standard” or essentially “catholic and universal.” Thus, after a season of debate, in 326 the council at Nicaea issued what we now know as the Nicene Creed.

After a year of arguing over the Greek word “homoousios,” and debating if Father, Son, and Holy Ghost were entirely separate or just manifestations of God’s character made out of the same substance, the Nicene Creed pretends to define once-and-for-all, the true nature of God for all Christian faithful. It is the beginning of what “orthodox” Christianity still calls, the Great Mystery of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, or, the Mystical Nature of the Godhead:

We believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all that is, seen and unseen.

We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten not made, of one Being with the Father. Through him all things were made. For us and for our salvation he came down from heaven: by the power of the Holy Spirit he became incarnate from the Virgin Mary, and was made man. For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate; he suffered death and was buried. On the third day he rose again in accordance with the Scriptures; he ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end.

We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son.

With the Father and the Son he is worshiped and glorified. He has spoken through the Prophets.

We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church.

We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.

We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen.

The Lutheran Book of Worship

The Book of Common Prayer (Episcopal)

It’s important to note that the bishop of Rome, who we all now know as “The Pope,” didn’t even appear at the Nicene Council. He sent a routine delegate to observe, and history records no particular input from him. The “Pope” did not preside at this conference that would define Christian orthodoxy because at that time the bishop of Rome was just one bishop out of many. Though an important post, the bishop of Rome had no binding authority outside his own diocese, the equivalent to an LDS stake, and was making no claim to any right of central authority over the council. The Emperor Constantine had demanded the conference, and his delegated bishops from Alexandria, in Egypt, and nearby regions ran it, not the “Pope” as we think of the structure of the Roman Church today. (Nicaea is in modern Turkey and called Isnik. Rather a ways off from Rome.)

The Nicene Creed didn’t stop the bickering however, and it took over 50 years of dissent just to enforce its universal adoption into the Western Church. In fact, what really happened is the original creed and its language became so lost and obfuscated with editorial variations it was necessary to convene another council in Constantinople in 381 and entirely re-compose the statement of faith, into what we now have today, beefing up the proto-Trinitarian nature of God, the divine nature of Jesus, and the role of the Virgin Mary. This is one of many harsh realities that is very rarely mentioned and almost unknown in “orthodox” Christian circles. Everyone talks of the Nicene Creed and the council of 325-26 that produced it. But that paperwork was all lost. What we now call the “Nicene Creed” was actually reconstructed from memory in 381 in the city built by the emperor to be the center of political power in the new Christian “Rome.”

Though the Second Ecumenical Council of Constantinople in 381, was able to produce nearly universal agreement East and West on a basic Christian creed, the body-and-fender work done in this fashion to hammer together an “agreeable” statement wasn’t enough for many of the Western Church’s driving personalities. Having gotten most of what it wanted after re-working the original Nicene Creed, with this victory, the Roman or “Western” Church set about drafting what was supposed to be the more precise and undebatable language of the Athanasian Creed, which took the concept of unifying the Father, Son and Holy Ghost so far that it defined them clearly as a single entity.

This then, was the birth of the now allegedly “universal, catholic” Christian concept of the Holy Trinity. The Triune God. And also the root of the first major schism of the Christian Church into Eastern and Western “orthodoxies.” The entire Eastern Church split off in 1054, for among other things, disagreement with the use of the Greek word, homoousios, which was translated to mean “of one substance,” in the several Nicene Creed versions, and then rationalized to ridiculous extremes in the Athanasian Creed:

  1. Whosoever will be saved, before all things it is necessary that he hold the catholic faith;

  1. Which faith except every one do keep whole and undefiled, without doubt he shall perish everlastingly

  1. And the catholic faith is this: That we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity;

  1. Neither confounding the persons nor dividing the substance.

  1. For there is one person of the Father, another of the Son, and another of the Holy Spirit.

  1. But the Godhead of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit is all one, the glory equal, the majesty coeternal.

  1. Such as the Father is, such is the Son, and such is the Holy Spirit.

  1. The Father uncreated, the Son uncreated, and the Holy Spirit uncreated.

  1. The Father incomprehensible, the Son incomprehensible, and the Holy Spirit incomprehensible.

  1. The Father eternal, the Son eternal, and the Holy Spirit eternal.

  1. And yet they are not three eternals but one eternal.

  1. As also there are not three uncreated nor three incomprehensible, but one uncreated and one incomprehensible.

  1. So likewise the Father is almighty, the Son almighty, and the Holy Spirit almighty.

  1. And yet they are not three almighties, but one almighty.

  1. So the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God;

  1. And yet they are not three Gods, but one God.

  1. So likewise the Father is Lord, the Son Lord, and the Holy Spirit Lord;

  1. And yet they are not three Lords but one Lord.

  1. For like as we are compelled by the Christian verity to acknowledge every Person by himself to be God and Lord;

  1. So are we forbidden by the catholic religion to say; There are three Gods or three Lords.

  1. The Father is made of none, neither created nor begotten.

  1. The Son is of the Father alone; not made nor created, but begotten.

  1. The Holy Spirit is of the Father and of the Son; neither made, nor created, nor begotten, but proceeding.

  1. So there is one Father, not three Fathers; one Son, not three Sons; one Holy Spirit, not three Holy Spirits.

  1. And in this Trinity none is afore or after another; none is greater or less than another.

  1. But the whole three persons are coeternal, and coequal.

  1. So that in all things, as aforesaid, the Unity in Trinity and the Trinity in Unity is to be worshipped.

  1. He therefore that will be saved must thus think of the Trinity.

  1. Furthermore it is necessary to everlasting salvation that he also believe rightly the incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ.

  1. For the right faith is that we believe and confess that our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is God and man.

  1. God of the substance of the Father, begotten before the worlds; and man of substance of His mother, born in the world.

  1. Perfect God and perfect man, of a reasonable soul and human flesh subsisting.

  1. Equal to the Father as touching His Godhead, and inferior to the Father as touching His manhood.

  1. Who, although He is God and man, yet He is not two, but one Christ.

  1. One, not by conversion of the Godhead into flesh, but by taking of that manhood into God.

  1. One altogether, not by confusion of substance, but by unity of person.

  1. For as the reasonable soul and flesh is one man, so God and man is one Christ;

  1. Who suffered for our salvation, descended into hell, rose again the third day from the dead;

  1. He ascended into heaven, He sits on the right hand of the Father, God, Almighty;

  1. From thence He shall come to judge the quick and the dead.

  1. At whose coming all men shall rise again with their bodies;

  1. and shall give account of their own works.

  1. And they that have done good shall go into life everlasting and they that have done evil into everlasting fire.

  1. This is the catholic faith, which except a man believe faithfully he cannot be saved

After beating the Triune God concept to death line after line, the Athanasian creed drifts back into familiar territory a while in attempting to define an orthodox “Christology,” as it became called amongst Christian scholars and clergy, making Jesus both man and God, which perhaps was worth some effort. But in the context of the many paragraphs reiterating the Trinity concept, inserting a fourth concept of a Triune God, who one-third of which was also 100% mortal, the Athanasian Creed doesn’t really clarify anything.

The most important language changes in the Athanasian Creed compared to all previous creeds, is the introductory and summary lines demanding that all self-professing Christians confess and embrace this creed else they are damned to hell and anathema to the Church.

For what it’s worth, the Eastern Church mainly wanted to say the Holy Ghost proceeded only from the son exclusively. It’s splitting hairs a bit perhaps, in light of the surrounding absurdity of the other circuitous language, but if you’re not following this, I submit you’re not supposed to follow it. It’s a mystery. It’s beyond human reason to comprehend the nature of God. That’s the operative theory here.

The Godhead_html_1d63c6c4 - Copy (2)And where did this type of thinking come from? Particularly: this insistence that all three personages of the Godhead must absolutely be made out of the same substance, or that this Triune entity must not have been created from anything. It didn’t come from a canon that hadn’t even been assembled and agreed upon yet.

The Triune God came from trying to reason out the references to three personages in the Godhead in the apostolic writings, againstThe Godhead_html_m6ff40533 - Copy the “hard science” of Greek philosophers named Aristotle, Plato, and Socrates. It came from a a branch of philosophy I call for clarity, “Perfect Being Theory.” In this mental exercise, these great pagan Western thinkers sat around for generations, trying to imagine what a perfect being, whom you could call “God” if you wanted to, would be like.

Since the philosophers and logicians of the Greek Academic World had long decided that all matter was corrupt, the first “logical” conclusion made by their peers in the new Christian Church, was that God, the perfect being, could not therefore be made of matter. A perfect being could not be composed of imperfect matter, and this later evolved into suppositions about “immaterial matter.” Also, a perfect being could not be dependent upon sub-parts or particles of any sort. A perfect being must be of one substance otherwise it could be separated and diminished. It could also be changed in this fashion—something perfection cannot be capable of. If it was less than before, or more than before, or arranged differently than before, it is not perfect. Perfection cannot be capable of being less perfect, or a different sort of perfect. There is only one perfect and anything not exactly like it is not perfect.

A perfect being must be omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent, omnibus, omnidirectional and omnitheatre. Some surmised that the cosmos itself was this perfect being. And they went on and on from there into a number of highly illogical assumptions based on a very primitive understanding of the universe.

These later Church historians and scholars became known as the “Apologists.” Many argued against Plato’s view of God, but they were in the minority and were all excommunicated and most tortured to death, primarily for not taking a Trinitarian spin on the emerging canon. In a Church now being administered by professional clerics and scholars, all educated in the Greco-Roman or “Western” arts and sciences, the Trinity as these Church authorities explained it to themselves and their secular peers, was perfectly logical and made complete sense. It was easily grasped as a philosophical construct, as they argued their new religion with fellow academics and scholars of the day.

What happened then at the Council of Nicaea, and all those that followed, is a group of Church academics getting together to homogenize the scraps of an incomplete canon with Church tradition and “science.” As they shuffled through these elements to sort out what it all really meant, they did this doctrinal divination through a filter constructed by hundreds of years of Platonic and other pagan theories about what they should really be looking for in a really really perfect God. And sure enough, they clearly found Plato’s God in the apostolic and other historical Christian writings, exactly as they had predetermined to do, according to their rigid Greek philosophical and academic programming. Then they canonized those writings that supported this image, and sometimes conveniently lost or ignored the others.

The third big schism in the Church you may know, even if as I say, if you grew up in Provo and were born and raised in the LDS faith like 99.8% of your friends and neighbors, was the breakoff of the Church of England from Rome in 1534. The Roman Church and a number of Protestant detractors still call the Church of England, the Anglicans, the Presbyterians, Episcopalians and variants associated with this schism, “Catholic Light.”

Here’s the Church of England take on the Trinity, found in its First Article of Religion:

There is but one living and true God, everlasting, without body, parts, or passions; of infinite power, wisdom, and goodness; the Maker, and Preserver of all things both visible and invisible. And in unity of this Godhead there be three Persons, of one substance, power, and eternity; the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.

This is the Trinity statement Latter-day Saints are usually most familiar with. Again, the Platonistic concept of a perfect, and therefore immaterial God made of one inseparable substance (non-substance…) was transferred directly into the Anglican Communion from the Roman Church as a matter of unquestioned tradition because the concept was by then a thousand years or so old. (The Anglican Communion has no central structure or authority, that’s just what the circle of still-friendly branch-offs from the Church of England call themselves)

Even if the Latter-day Saint could accept a formless, nonexistent God, one would be even more hard-pressed to accept an Almighty Deity without any “passions,” as described in the theismGOAnglican Creed. Again this is a function of Classical Theism. A Perfect Being is “impassible,” meaning nothing is capable of affecting it. Nothing in existence can physically, mentally, or emotionally disturb God. If our suffering made God sorrowful, God would be less than perfect because He was affected by lesser entities.

Fueling the English break from Rome, or rather, helping justify the English King Henry the VIII’s quest for multiple divorces, the second great Roman Church schism had already begun in 1517 on 31 October, what Lutherans and some others now call “Reformation Day.”

Was that a trick, or a treat? I’d say from the LDS perspective a little of each.

On that day, Martin Luther, the director of religious study at Wittenburg Castle Church, in Germany, tacked 95 complaints or “theses” about Roman Catholicism to the massive outer door of his church for all the world to see, and kicked off a wave of revolution and reform that reshaped the religious and political world for the next 500 years and more. The good reverend’s biggest complaint had to do with the notion of the Pope encouraging wealthy patrons to buy their way out of hell by making generous donations to the Church, called “indulgences,” which the professional clergy in turn just used to buy lavish accommodations and finance a life of luxury. But Luther had no intention of breaking from the Roman Church, and never questioned the Trinity tradition nor the creeds associated with it.

Martin Luther also promoted for the Church, a replacement system of lay-clergy very similar to the modern LDS model, he called the “Universal Priesthood” that is now the main claim to authority of most Protestant clergies. Today it is usually called the “Priesthood of all Believers.” The Christian canon by his time had been fairly settled, and inasmuch as Luther was thoroughly disgusted at the institution-wide level of corruption, overt sin and greed, in his “catholic and universal Church,” he bolstered his argument against its professional clergy by claiming that the canon of scripture was the ultimate Christian authority, not the clergy, historical councils, or tradition.

“Sola Scriptura.” The Bible Alone.

The Roman Church still calls this whole approach a blueprint for anarchy. And even while claiming the ultimate authority of Biblical scripture alone, even Martin Luther took exception to a number of books considered to be part of it. He had little use for the Old Testament at all, was a raving anti-Semite, and when he printed the first German Bible he took out Hebrews, James, Jude, and Revelation, and placed them in an appendix with a preface warning the reader that they were not very reliable or important. He also cut out the deuterocanonical books that filled the “400 Years of Silence” between the Old and New Testaments, and called them “Apocrypha,” meaning they were essentially just interesting reading but totally unreliable.’s_canon

Another one of the Reformation’s Sola Scriptura anarchists was a French lay-minister, or religious hobbyist named Jehan Cauvan. We know him in English as John Calvin. Calvin had little regard for Luther due to the latter’s monkeying with the canon, but took many of his other ideas to the extreme.

Calvin went on to invent most of what we in America know as religion. Calvin’s concept of a pure religion based entirely on Biblical texts, and the notion of purifying the corrupt Roman Church, soon produced in England a group known as the “Puritans,” who were driven out of the England by a Church-State that was essentially Roman Catholic in every way except for the king demanding to be the prime religious authority and protector, rather than the bishop of Rome, or “Pope.” They fled to Holland, found backing there, sailed to Plymouth Rock and the rest is history. Not the history you have been taught however. That’s subject matter for anotherdownload (1) time, but it must be said that the Puritans as it turns out, were not quite as dedicated to religious liberty as the spinners of American Christian history have led us to believe. Apparently they just wanted to enforce their own religious system using the same sort of oppressive Church-State tactics they’d experienced in England. This they did, armed with the political theology of John Calvin.

While we often snub the Roman Church for its obvious historical corruption and brutality, best exemplified in the Inquisition, John Calvin among other things founded one of the most abusive and repressive theocracies in Geneva Switzerland in 1541. It soon came to be called the “Protestant Rome.”

Calvin’s rise to power in Geneva is nothing short of baffling. At his first visit he irked the wrong social-movers-and-shakers, and was thus driven out and banished. He licked his wounds and eked out a living writing and giving religious lectures in nearby Strasbourg, till he’d built up quite a reputation and following. The socio-political structure that had banned him in Geneva fortuitously got turned around by a new crop of social climbers, this time filled with many who had heard and read his lectures and thought him to be just the religious thinker to solve their law-and-order problems. Calvin was practically begged to return at the end of this convoluted religious and political trail, and was offered a nice salary and home if he would do so.

Having no Church commission or clerical certification of any sort, Calvin thus eventually won over the Geneva town council wholeheartedly, with this theories about ruling society directly from the Bible, urging the use of the Bible itself as the absolute arbitrator of the law. He was appointed supreme Biblemaster and lawmaker for lack of a better title.

Calvin’s apologists like to claim he never imagesdirectly supervised any of the atrocities committed by his word or decree, and like to dismiss the daily repression the population of Geneva labored under in his name as “typical of the period.” They excuse his oppression, so they say, because he never had any official status as a civil or Church officer. In point of fact, anything Jehan Cauvan said to the combined Geneva Church/State city council was in practice law. Calvin in effect was commander of the courts, law enforcement, and the Church.

Ironically, during Calvin’s preliminary, “fleeing and being banished” phase, he was almost excommunicated for not adopting any Trinitarian dogma into the official statement of faith he initially drafted in order to recruit support for his Biblical empire.

Calvin had embraced Luther’s Sola Scriptura concept with both arms, and frankly, he hadn’t seen any Trinitarian teachings in the Bible. If he didn’t see it in the Bible it wasn’t part of the Church. And for all his other faults, John Calvin at first perusal, did not see the Trinity in the Bible. (Many modern Bible scholars will still admit Calvin’s first impression was correct.) When it became clear he would either die horribly or be unemployable and permanently impoverished, he conceded that the Bible didn’t preclude Trinitarian thinking.

It was only in his second or third incarnation as a would-be religious reformer, in crafting the pitch that ultimately won him supreme control over the huge city-state of Geneva, that he surrendered to a vague acceptance of what he preferred to call the “Godhead” because that term actually was in the Bible. And even so, Calvin usually bypassed the issue of what either that term or the “Trinity” exactly meant. Calvin’s writings on the subject of the Godhead are not any clearer than the Athanasian creed and hundreds of pages longer. His disciples and religious scholars today still debate what his feelings on the matter really were, or what his commentaries on it actually mean.’s%20Corner/Doctrines/godhead.htm

All of which takes us back to Joseph Smith and the First Article of Faith. It is only after gaining a basic understanding of ancient Church history and the machinations that resulted in todays prevailing “orthodox” Christian, Trinitarian dogma, that we can come to a genuine understanding of the issues and religious environment in which Joseph Smith read James 1:5 and subsequently went into the grove to pray for an answer about which of church to join.

The Puritans may have landed first, but their former antagonist, the Church of England, was close on their heels, and was the first significantly organized Christian force to appear institutionally in the United States. In Scotland, Wales, and the US, remote from the central control of the English Church, the Presbyterians and Episcopalians split off originally just attempting to ignore or deny the acceptance of the King of England as supreme Church commander and Protector of the Faith. They held to Luther’s “Priesthood of all Believers” and maintained that they were free to form their own governing bodies, in the former, the presbytery, which is a council of elders, and in the latter, the episcopate, which is a council headed by a local bishop.

Eventually, the American, Scottish and some other Presbyterian or Episcopalian branches absorbed the Puritan ethic, and embraced Calvinism to the point where they were considered “Non-Conforming” and no longer under the blessing of Mother Church. The Presbyterians in particular became extremely attached to Calvinistic dogma.

wesley_preach_470x352Meanwhile, back in England, John Wesley, a staunch Anglican, joined up at Oxford with George Whitefield, mixed Whitefield’s stump-preaching skills and Calvinism with his own Anglican upbringing, swerved into Arminianism, organized a “Holy Club” on campus, worked out a methodical approach to living a holy lifestyle, and that too got sneaked across and sometimes driven over the pond by Church of England suppression, thrived in America’s religiously free environment, and finally, at the death of Whitefield, eventually lost most of its Calvinism, and became Methodism as it is known today.

Meanwhile, the much persecuted Baptists came into their own when they moved into the liberty of the American frontier. They, like the Methodists, were also a product of Jacobus Arminius, the man who led the Reformation of Holland. They had been beaten up by nearly everyone across Europe, because of their insistence on baptism by immersion and their persistent habit of telling the Roman, Lutheran, and Anglican State-Churches that their baptisms didn’t count.

Arminius studied religion in Geneva, following Calvin’s great reign of terror there. Taking Calvin at his word, he studied the Bible himself and then argued that Calvin’s doctrines of Predestination and Unconditional Election made God the author of evil and were un-Biblical. This conclusion developed into the now infamous Calvinist/Arminian feud reflected in Joseph Smith’s day between the Baptists, Presbyterians and Methodists. The Methodists at the time took the middle ground, sidestepped most of the theological debate, and concentrated on being pious, healthy, well-studied and stoic. The Baptists and Presbyterians of the day however, went at it tooth and nail.

The Presbyterians claimed if you joined up it was Predestined and inevitable, you were one of the Elect, God had created you intentionally to be saved, and anyone else was not part of God’s election by God’s deliberate design. The non-Christian, the “Heathen Nations,” were created to burn in hell, and never would nor could be saved, and thus never will be. Free will was an illusion they argued. Mankind existed and prospered or failed entirely at the will design of God.

The Baptists claimed salvation was an “election of believers” and conditioned upon faith in Christ and an express confession of same. They believed they could save anyone they could get the message out to, and it was your duty as a Christian to go out and win for Christ all the damned souls you could call into the waters of baptism, anywhere around the world. They believed salvation was a choice mankind could, and most would make if argued enthusiastically enough, and thus salvation had to come through a deliberate act of faith by confessing Jesus as Lord and entering the waters of baptism to symbolize it.

The Methodists added to the Baptists’ message, that salvation was not fixed, entirely unconditional and irreversible, even for the devout. It was possible to “backslide” into damnation they argued, by falling into bad company, bad, habits, physical, mental, and thus spiritual sloth. Baptism was a big deal alright but Methodists remain noncommital on defining a “correct” mode even today. Wesley from his Anglican background even held that infant baptism by whatever method held a spiritual value of some useful sort for the baptizee but, again, it wasn’t a sure lock to salvation. In contrast, he was very precise however on claiming that Cleanliness was next to Godliness. Hence, the Methodist emphasis particularly in Joseph Smith’s day, went well beyond “conversion,” and into rigidly enforcing a strict, “holy” lifestyle that would prevent a backslidden condition from developing.

These a289067_f260re the questions for which Joseph Smith went to the Lord on his knees and begged answers. They had nothing whatsoever to do with the basic nature of God and in all truth Joseph Smith didn’t even know who he was going to be talking to when he kneeled down in the grove. Joseph probably never doubted or seriously questioned the Triune God common to all of those Christian denominations attempting to win him over. Joseph had a very simple question of which church to join in light of the sorts of quibbing interpretations of scripture the Calvinists, Papists, Arminians and the others were bickering over in his day. The answer he got to this mundane quiery, was a personal visitation from the father and son, preceded by a bracing battle between the Spirit of Darkness and his deliverer from same, the Holy Ghost.,4945,104-1-3-4,00.html

A personal appearance from the Godhead was the answer to a question Joseph Smith didn’t even have the knowledge or wisdom to ask. Joseph was just looking to be pointed in the right direction. The entire Godhead appeard to warn him that the Church of Jesus Christ could not be found heading in any of the directions his religious recruiters wanted to take him:

The Lord says: “These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me us made up of rules taught by men.”

It may have been a long and convoluted literary journey, but I have struggled here to impress upon the reader just exactly what this one single passage of Biblical canon means, and why a reliable translation can make all the difference in understanding scripture. Connotation is everything, and I hope I have rewarded the reader with some small idea just who these men were, where they got their rules about the “Perfect Being,” they called the “Trinity,” and how they taught and enforced their human scholarship, science and philosophy, for generations, until human, academic “reason” had entirely superimposed itself over the canon and apostolic tradition.

The one thing all Joseph Smith’s “professors of religion” agreed upon was the Neo-Platonistic nature of the Mystical Trinity. But Plato’s God didn’t come to visit Joseph Smith in answer to his first uttered prayer. It wasn’t the Godhead of Athanasius, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Luther, Calvin, Arminius, Wesley, or any existing Christian tradition, that spoke to Joseph Smith in the Sacred Grove.

In Joseph Smith’s day the Roman Church was treated to nearly ghetto-like conditions at times and subject to general abuse almost universally among the American population. Most of America’s Christian population had fled the Old World to escape the domination of Rome in one way or another. Rome would have to take a back seat to America’s raging Protestantism and sometimes forcefully, brutally so for almost two centuries even after the signing of the Constitution granting all Americans religious liberty.

But while the Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterians and others courting Joseph Smith’s loyalty universally condemned Roman Catholicism as corrupted, they ironically also held true to the image of the very Triune God that Plato, Constantine, Athanasius and the Roman Church’s “corrupted” authorities had trademarked in the fourth and fifth centuries.

The LDS belief in the “Godhead” and our understanding of it’s nature isn’t based on any of the historical Church creeds. How could it be? They don’t make any sense. All they amount to is an agreement that the nature of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost is a mystery beyond the understanding of the human mind. God is incomprehensible and so unlike we mere mortals that it doesn’t even bear pondering.

The LDS concept of the Godhead isn’t based entirely upon the Biblical canon either. It began in the Sacred Grove as direct observation, and developed in its fullest through modern revelation:

Although the three members of the Godhead are distinct personages, their Godhead is “one” in that all three are united in their thoughts, actions, and purpose, with each having a fulness of knowledge, truth, and power. Each is a God. This does not imply a mystical union of substance or personality.

Joseph Smith taught: Many men say there is one God; the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost are only one God. I say that is a strange God anyhow-three in one, and one in three! It is a curious organization anyhow.

“Father, I pray not for the world, but I pray for those that thou hast given me…that they may be one as we are.”…I want to read the text to you myself–“I am agreed with the Father and the Father is agreed with me, and we are agreed as one.” The Greek shows that it should be agreed. “Father, I pray for them which thou hast given me out of the world,…that they all may be agreed,” and all come to dwell in unity [TPJS, p. 372; cf. John 17:9-11, 20-21; also cf. WJS, p. 380].

The unity prayed for in John 17 provides a model for the LDS understanding of the unity of the Godhead-one that is achieved among distinct individuals by unity of purpose, through faith, and by divine will and action. Joseph Smith taught that the Godhead was united by an “everlasting covenant [that] was made between [these] three personages before the organization of this earth” relevant to their administration to its inhabitants (TPJS, p. 190).

The prime purpose of the Godhead and of all those united with them is “to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man” (Moses 1:39; Hinckley, p. 49-51).

Each member of the Godhead fulfills particular functions in relation to each of the others and to mankind. God the Father presides over the Godhead. He is the Father of all human spirits and of the physical body of Jesus Christ. The human body was formed in his image.

Jesus Christ, the Firstborn son of God the Father in the spirit and the Only Begotten son in the flesh, is the creative agent of the Godhead and the redeeming mediator between the Father and mankind. By him God created all things, and through him God revealed the laws of salvation. In him shall all be made alive, and through his Atonement all mankind may be reconciled with the Father.

The Holy Ghost is a personage of spirit who bears witness to truth. The Father and the Holy Ghost bear witness of the Son, and the Son and the Holy Ghost bear witness of the Father (3 Ne. 11:32; cf. John 8:18). Through the Holy Ghost, revelations of the Father and of the Son are given.

(Author: Dahl, Paul E.)

To this I’d like to add my testimony that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God, and that he restored the truth of Man’s relationship to God: That Our Father in Heaven is literally our Father, that we are all his children in and out of His church, that we are all brothers and sisters, of every race, creed and color, on every continent, and that we can all become like our Father in Heaven, and that his only begotten son, Jesus Christ was sent to redeem us from our sins and weakness and mistakes, and that we can know this is true through the ministry of the Holy Spirit.

caravaggio-thomas_thumb.jpgBut most importantly, Joseph Smith restored to us the truth that God is not some intangible, incorporeal, incomprehensible being forever beyond our understanding. He is our Father in Heaven, and Jesus Christ is our brother, the Holy Ghost can be our daily companion, and we are all part of God’s family.

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The Last Words of Christ

Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.

(John 15:13)

If that doesn’t sound entirely familiar to the Mormon congregation, it’s because I’ll be using text from theimages (3) World English Bible for ease of reading. And maybe a quote or two from the NIV. Both of these have some very interesting translations from texts older than the King James Version that tend to clarify the LDS perspective now and again. You can follow along in your King James Bible if you can keep up, just to keep me honest.

There’s an Easter custom not very familiar to LDS tradition, but very common throughout the rest of the Christian world, of celebrating the “Seven Last Words of Christ.” Great artists and composers have based paintings and symphonies after this Seven-Word theme.

Basically the Seven Last Words phrase refers to the seven last statements made by Christ as recorded in the four gospels. The gospels don’t agree entirely on this issue and some of Christ’s last expressions only exist in one or two gospels. The list of Christ’s seven last words and the order in which they are traditionally assigned, comes from a combined and harmonized collection of all four gospel texts.


Father, forgive them, for they know not know what they do.”

(Gospel of Luke 23:34)

This first word appears only in the Gospel of Luke, just after He was hung on the cross between two thieves. Most images (1)readers assume that Jesus is asking His Father to forgive the soldiers below Him, who are parting His raiment, mocking Him and have barely finished binding and nailing him to the cross. But this can also apply to all of His enemies in the crucifixion–Caiaphas and the Sanhedrin; Pontius Pilate and Herod; and the many other soldiers and guards who have scourged him, mocked him and tortured him. This could also be extended to His Apostles and companions who have deserted him, to Peter who has denied him three times, to the fickle crowd, who only days before had praised him on His entrance to Jerusalem, and then days later chose him over Barabbas to be crucified.

We could also also apply this gift of forgiveness to us, who daily forget him in our lives.

Right up to His final hours on earth, Jesus preached forgiveness. He fervently taught the importance of forgiveness in the Lord’s prayer:

Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us”

(Matthew 6:12)

When asked by Peter how many times we should we forgive someone, Jesus answered “seventy times seven” (Matthew 18:21-22). At thezhivago-last-supper-st-isaacs-cathedral-1600x1200x72 Last Supper, Jesus explains His crucifixion to His Apostles when He tells them to drink of the passover cup:

“Drink of it, all of you; for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins”

(Matthew 26:27-28)

Christ’s whole mission on earth was in fact so that He could effect our atonement and return us to our Father in Heaven, through the forgiveness of our sins.


“Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

(Gospel of Luke 23:43)

As Christ was first raised to the cross, He got mockery from even one of the two criminals hung on either side of him, dropping from the status of at first being mocked by the high and mighty, to now being ridiculed by common thieves. But the thief on the right spoke up for Jesus, accepting the fact that he and his fellow criminal were receiving justice. He then pointed to Jesus, saying:

…This man has done nothing wrong…Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.

(Luke 23:42)

Jesus reassures him that this glimmer of faith promises him a place of glory in images (3)the next life. Even Christ’s own disciples have doubted, betrayed, denied, and wandered off in general to avoid the incrimination of being associated with Jesus at this point. Even after Christ’s resurrection Thomas had to physically handle the nail holes in Jesus’ hands and feet, and test the scar in the Savior’s side before he would believe He was the Christ. Whatever this thief or robber did to be sentenced to the cross, he knew that he deserved it. Likewise he knew that Jesus was not only innocent, but had to be the Messiah or at least some great prophet, to suffer such pain and persecution without complaint as an innocent man.

Jesus taught by example. Jesus taught us first and foremost forgiveness, this time directed not at an ignorant offender, but to a confessed, deliberate criminal and sinner. We should alsojesus-to-the-thief-on-the-cross[1] note that the thief simply asked to be remembered, he had expected no great reward. Jesus in response to this humility, gave him paradise to look forward to.

Jesus had previously told the parable of the workers in the vineyard who got in on the job on the last hour of the day because the farmer apparently needed a big rush of labor towards the end to finish up. These latecomers got the same pay as the those workers who spent the whole 12 hour day sweating in the field. Even in the case of this repentant thief who literally found Jesus on his deathbed, a guilty sinner and criminal, in the act of being executed for his crimes, the Lord of the vineyard, taught Jesus, will reward His laborers as He sees fit. Jesus Christ is the only perfect judge of conscience and character, and though the circumstances of this repentant criminal’s life had stained and convicted him to a physical death, the Lord promised him a paradise beyond this life as a reward for his faith.

Or as Jesus said in Matthew 19:29-30:

Everyone who has left houses, or brothers, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my name’s sake, will receive one hundred times, and will inherit eternal life.

But many will be last who are first; and first who are last.

Personally I interpret this to mean, it’s not so much when you repent, or how much you give up to repent, it’s just important that you do repent.


Jesus said to his mother: “Woman, this is your son”.

Then he said to the disciple: “This is your mother.”

(Gospel of John 19:26-27)

There were four at the foot of the cross below Christ as He suffered–Mary the images (4)Mother of Jesus, John, the disciple sometimes called “John the Beloved,” Mary of Cleopas, His mother’s sister, and Mary Magdalene. This third word of Christ on the cross, is addressed to Mary and John. Jesus looked out at those He would be leaving behind and showed compassion for His mother. To assure that she was taken care of, Jesus personally assigned His best friend to take over His role as Mary’s son and provide for her. It was also an honor for His disciple.


“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

(Matthew 27:46 and Mark 15:34)

Both the Gospels of Matthew and Mark relate that this expression came in the ninth hour, and that Jesus cried it out loudly. It’s from the opening of Psalm 22:

1 My God, my God, why have  you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from my cries of anguish?

2 My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer, by night, but I find no rest.

3 Yet you are enthroned as the Holy One; you are the one Israel praises.

6 But I am a worm and not a man, scorned by everyone, despised by the people.

7 All who see me mock me; they hurl insults, shaking their heads.

8 “He trusts in the LORD,” they say, “let the LORD rescue him. Let him deliver him, since he delights in him.”

Also in Psalm 22 David made a prophecy concerning Christ’s crucifixion:

They have pierced my hands and my feet, they have numbered all my bones…they divide my garments among them, and for my vesture they cast lots…


But Jesus knew full well what had toChristCrucified14 happen. He had to die. That was the plan from the beginning. It is only through the resurrection of Jesus the Christ that we are redeemed. That is His mission. It was a mission He had to accomplish alone.

For there is one God. There is also one mediator between God and the human race, Christ Jesus, himself human, who gave himself as ransom for all.

(l Timothy 2:5-6)


“I thirst”

(Gospel of John 19:28)

Jesus is now in shock. The wounds inflicted upon him in the scourging, the crowning with thorns, and the nailing upon the cross are now taking their toll. He lost blood and vital hydration on the three-hour walk through the city of Jerusalem to Golgotha. But even before this came His ordeal in the Garden of Gethsemane where He took upon Himself the sins of the very world He had created, and suffered so greatly that He wept blood from every pore. But it wasn’t enough to figuratively pay the price of sin, He literally had to fulfill the whole law and1AD43 the prophets. He had to lay Himself down as a sinless sacrifice without blemish or spot. He had to seal His mission with His blood.

He himself bore our sins in his body upon the cross,

so that, free from sin, we might live for righteousness.

By his wounds you have been healed

(l Peter 2:24)


“It is finished.”

(Gospel of John 19:30)

Jesus then bowed His head and surrendered His spirit to His Father in Heaven.

It wasn’t finished however. Only the earthy portion of Christ’s mission had ended. His Eternal mission continues. For us, as His disciples, husbands, wives, priesthood holders and fellow children of our Father in Heaven, the sacrifice Jesus made at the cross represents only the very start of our personal Christian missions on this earth. We have been commissioned to pick up His work where He left off. And one day through our faith in His sacrifice, we too can ascend to meet Him at His throne as part of the covenant we make with Him at baptism.

Christ did not however leave us alone to fend for ourselves. At the Last Supper, Christ announced He would ask the Father to send:

“another Advocate to be with you always, the Spirit of truth”

(John 14:16-17)

The word Advocate is also translated as Comforter, Helper, or Counselor.

“But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you”

(John 14:26)


“Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.”

(Gospel of Luke 23:46)

The seventh word of Jesus is from theimages (6) Gospel of Luke, and is directed to His Father in heaven. Just before He dies, Jesus recalls Psalm 31:5 –

“Into thy hands I commend my spirit; thou hast redeemed me, O Lord, faithful God.”

I’d like to close as Jesus did, if I may presume to do so, with a condensed reading from the same Psalm:

5 Into thy hands I commend my spirit, thou hast redeemed me, O Lord, faithful God.

7 I will be glad and rejoice in your love,for you saw my affliction and knew the anguish of my soul.

9 Be merciful to me, LORD, for I am in distress; my eyes grow weak with sorrow,my soul and body with grief.

10 My life is consumed by anguish and my years by groaning; my strength fails because of my affliction, and my bones grow weak.

11 Because of all my enemies, I am the utter contempt of my neighbors and an object of dread to my closest friends—those who see me on the street flee from me.

12 I am forgotten as though I were dead; I have become like broken pottery.

23 Love the LORD, all his faithful people! The LORD preserves those who are true to him, but the proud he pays back in full.

24 Be strong and take heart, all you who hope in the LORD.

May the blessings of Easter be uponLG132112701 you all year ‘round. In the name of Jesus Christ…Amen.

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