Mormons have frequently been decried as racists. These claims seem to come from three sources:
1. Apparently racist statements from the 2nd President and prophet of the Church, Brigham Young.
2. The policy of the LDS Church excluding blacks from holding the Priesthood until 1978.
3. Passages from the Book of Mormon regarding two peoples, the Nephites and the Lamanites, the second of which were “cursed” with a “dark skin”.
Here’s the story in a nutshell. The Book of Mormon starts out with a guy named Lehi leaving Jerusalem with his family and a few others around 600 BC. Two of Lehi’s sons are named Laman and Lemuel and they’re rebellious and wicked, and Lehi’s other sons Nephi, Sam, Jacob, and Joseph are righteous. They travel to the Americas, and soon thereafter divide into two separate groups of people and have wars and such. Laman and Lemuel’s descendants are called “Lamanites” and are “cursed” with “dark skin” because of their rebelliousness and wickedness. Here’s the actual passage:
21 And he had caused the cursing to come upon them, yea, even a sore cursing, because of their iniquity. For behold, they had hardened their hearts against him, that they had become like unto a flint; wherefore, as they were white, and exceedingly fair and delightsome, that they might not be enticing unto my people the Lord God did cause a skin of blackness to come upon them.
22 And thus saith the Lord God: I will cause that they shall be loathsome unto thy people, save they shall repent of their iniquities.
23 And cursed shall be the seed of him that mixeth with their seed; for they shall be cursed even with the same cursing. And the Lord spake it, and it was done.
2 Nephi 5:21-23
So there you go, does this make the Book of Mormon a racist book? Are Mormons racist because they believe this happened? Well, let’s discuss.
Here are a few definitions of racism taken from various sources:
- Having or showing the belief that a particular race is superior to another
- the prejudice that members of one race are intrinsically superior to members of other races
- discriminatory or abusive behavior towards members of another race
- the belief that the genetic factors which constitute race are a primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race.
- defined broadly as stigmatization of those we perceive as different from us; defined specifically as the doctrine that inherent differences among the various human races determine cultural or individual achievement, usually involving the idea that one’s own race is superior.
Let’s consider each point of the definition of racism and compare it to the statements in the Book of Mormon.
1. Does the Book of Mormon teach that a particular race is superior to another?
Answer: No. First of all, the Book of Mormon doesn’t deal with multiple races. The Lamanites and Nephites came from the same guy, Lehi. They’re the same race.
Second, racism is generally taken to mean, as the other definitions state, that one race is intrinsically superior to another and that “genetic factors which constitute race are a primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race”. This is not at all the situation in the Book of Mormon. The Lamanites chose to be wicked, and therefore were cursed with a dark skin. The dark skin followed a choice, but the Book of Mormon never states in any way that Lamanites were intrinsically inferior to Nephites, or that their genetics or the color of their skin determined their capacities or abilities.
2. Well…actually, that’s about it. It’s quite clear from other parts of the Book of Mormon that the Nephites never saw the Lamanites as inherently or intrinsically inferior, but as having been cursed due to the bad choices of their parents, but perfectly capable of doing whatever the Nephites could do. Just check out this passage:
3 But, wo, wo, unto you that are not pure in heart, that are filthy this day before God; for except ye repent the land is cursed for your sakes; and the Lamanites, which are not filthy like unto you, nevertheless they are cursed with a sore cursing, shall scourge you even unto destruction.
4 And the time speedily cometh, that except ye repent they shall possess the land of your inheritance, and the Lord God will lead away the righteous out from among you.
5 Behold, the Lamanites your brethren, whom ye hate because of their filthiness and the cursing which hath come upon their skins, are more righteous than you; for they have not forgotten the commandment of the Lord, which was given unto our father—that they should have save it were one wife, and concubines they should have none, and there should not be whoredoms committed among them.
6 And now, this commandment they observe to keep; wherefore, because of this observance, in keeping this commandment, the Lord God will not destroy them, but will be merciful unto them; and one day they shall become a blessed people.
7 Behold, their husbands love their wives, and their wives love their husbands; and their husbands and their wives love their children; and their unbelief and their hatred towards you is because of the iniquity of their fathers; wherefore, how much better are you than they, in the sight of your great Creator?
8 O my brethren, I fear that unless ye shall repent of your sins that their skins will be whiter than yours, when ye shall be brought with them before the throne of God.
9 Wherefore, a commandment I give unto you, which is the word of God, that ye revile no more against them because of the darkness of their skins; neither shall ye revile against them because of their filthiness; but ye shall remember your own filthiness, and remember that their filthiness came because of their fathers.
Here the Book of Mormon prophet Jacob makes it plain that the Lamanites are cursed because of a choice, and that the Nephites shouldn’t condemn the Lamanites merely because of the color of their skin. In fact, the Nephites better watch out because they’re in danger of receiving a worse curse than the Lamanites, because the Lamanites’ curse is a temporary thing and has no bearing on their eternal state, whereas if the Nephites continue to be wicked they’ll be cursed forever with something far worse than merely a different color of skin.
One additional point–the Book of Mormon makes no statement about the color of anyone else’s skin. Do Mormons believe black Africans were cursed skin, because the Lamanites were cursed with a dark skin, and therefore anyone with a dark skin must have been cursed? Other than those statements by Brigham Young, which I freely admit are troubling, I’ve never heard such a thing taught in the LDS Church. It’s certainly not what I believe. The Book of Mormon is not making a general statement about dark skin, it’s talking about a particular group of people. To claim the Book of Mormon is saying anything about Africans or any other race is to engage in fairly wild speculation.
So, is the Book of Mormon racist? Not by any definition of the word that I can find. But if you disagree chime in, spout off, or otherwise let us know what your opinion is.