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 Church 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 an 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 good 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.
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
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;
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.
–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 same state in which they were after they were created; and they must have remained forever, and had no end.
24 But behold, all things have been done in the wisdom of him who aknoweth all things.
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.
Mormonism does however, feature a fairly conventional “orthodox Christian” belief in the 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 Christian 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, 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.
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 very 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 Negroes 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 but 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 revelational 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. But 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:
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.
The 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….
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 races 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 cases 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 much 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, forgiveness, 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)
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 the 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 spirits 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 failure 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, used 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’s 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 of 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.
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,
“This 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 a 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 the 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 is 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 the “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 General 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 half 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. What 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
holding 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 Mitt 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.