Criticism of Mormonism/Books/Mormonism 101/Index/Chapter 16

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PERSPECTIVES MEDIA QUESTIONS RESOURCES 2014 CONFERENCE

    Response to claims made in "Chapter 16: Lamanites, Seed of Cain, and Polygamy"


A FairMormon Analysis of: Mormonism 101
A work by author: Bill McKeever and Eric Johnson
Their views do not move us toward the solution or definition of problems that public debate is for. Instead, they deal with the phony and the titillating and the shocking, and raise once again questions that were decided long ago.
—Tom Braden, "I Was the Target of a Hate Campaign," LOOK (October 22, 1963), 60.

233

Claim
  • As they begin this chapter, the authors tip their hand with an improperly referenced thirty-nine-year-old quote from a popular magazine of the day that would be almost impossible for the average reader to find:

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.

President Joseph Fielding Smith LOOK magazine, 22 October 1963, 79 [sic]


Response

In 1963, Joseph Smith, the founder of Mormonism, was quoted in Life Magazine defending his religion’s racism, saying, “Darkies are wonderful people.” (emphasis added)

  • One respondent notes, "That's a pretty impressive trick-- considering Joseph Smith died in 1844."
  • For a detailed response, see: Mormonism and racial issues/Blacks and the priesthood/Double standard.
    • In the above article, we peruse LOOK magazine and its 1963 article titled "A Memo From A Mormon," from which the authors cherry-picked their quote from Joseph Fielding Smith. We discuss the double standard that anti-Mormons apply to the LDS Church while nervously whistling past the graveyard of their own troubled religious history.
    • Critics appeal to an audience that is ignorant of the abysmal history of most of Christianity's dealings on race issues. They are obviously hoping their target audience will not notice that Latter-day Saints have always had integrated churches while other Protestant churches struggle with the residual division brought about by their own prolonged discrimination or outright expulsion of black members.
    • LDS are, of course, not immune from the same human foibles. We, like all Christians, might wish that we had played a larger role in correcting social injustices. We must all look at our past and learn from it. But for the here and now, the LDS do have a decided advantage in our centralized leadership and our historical practice of maintaining congregations based on geographical boundaries rather than personal preference or race. Our members have never traveled past a white or black church to get to their own. We cannot fire ministers who do not succumb to the wishes of a congregation to remain racially segregated. Yet, we join all concerned followers of Christ in acknowledging that we have work ahead of us in putting aside differences accumulated through centuries of misunderstanding and intolerance.
    • Last, it is time to ask a question of those who continue to pit racial groups against one another in the name of Christ. Are they guilty of engaging in a subtle but virulent racism by reducing the black race to nothing more than a convenient brickbat in their polemical assaults on other Christians?


The Lamanites

234

Claim
  • The authors claim that the "dark-skinned" Lamanites wiped out the "white-skinned" Nephites at the battle of Hill Cumorah.

Response

Claim
  • In 1981 the Church changed "a white and a delightsome people" to "a pure and a delightsome people."

Response

Claim
  • Apparently, the authors are not very comfortable disclosing LDS scripture and therefore quote very little of it. They make much of a few selected verses from the Book of Mormon, however, while leaving out any verses that could explain the use of "dark" or "black." They quickly quote the following from 2 Nephi:

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.[1]

  • The authors then interpret LDS scripture in the most inflammatory manner possible, again using outdated quotes.


Response

  • In contrast, we offer the authors an abbreviated tour of the Bible:

Many shall be purified, and made white… (Daniel 12:10)

When I looked for good, then evil came [unto me]: and when I waited for light, there came darkness… My skin is black upon me. (Job 30:26, Job 30:30)

Before their face the people shall be much pained: all faces shall gather blackness. (Joel 2:6)

Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean: wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. (Psalms 51:7)

  • Are the authors completely ignorant of the repeated biblical use of black and white as symbolic references to good and evil? An African-American minister, Frederick Price, has a point that the authors and any others of similar mindset should contemplate:

If God cursed Ham and the curse was blackness so that all of his children came out black, then what shade of black would they be? Black people come in every shade-but if God cursed Ham, it would mean that every cursed black person would have to be the same shade… If Ham were cursed, the color could never change, because it would not be determined by genetics, it would be determined by the curse. The only way that a child could come out a different shade than a parent who carries the curse would be if the curse changed.[2]

  • The authors, not satisfied to leap frog through LDS belief and history, prattle on about a few hopeful expressions by LDS leaders that the disappearance of any "curse" would literally manifest itself in a change of skin color. However, scholars such as Forrest Wood plainly state that the Christian justification of slavery would come "crashing down" without a belief in a curse and "could be sustained only on the assumption that God either changed the color of Ham's skin instantly or that of his descendants in a relatively brief period. This was orthodox Christian thinking."[3]
  • For a detailed response, see: Blacks and the priesthood/The "curse of Cain" and "curse of Ham"


235

Claim
  • The authors claim that Joseph Smith said that intermarriage with the Lamanites would produce a "white and delightsome posterity."

Author's source(s)
  • Sunstone (November 1992) fn. 5, p. 62.
Response

235

Claim
  • The authors quote Brigham Young,

You may inquire of the intelligent of the world whether they can tell why the aborigines of this country are dark, loathsome, ignorant, and sunken into the depths of degradation...When the Lord has a people, he makes covenants with them and gives unto them promises: then, if they transgress his law, change his ordinances, and break the covenants he has made with them, he will put a mark upon them, as in the case of the Lamanites and other portions of the house of Israel; but by-and-by they will become a white and delightsome people.[4]


Response

  • Here is the full quote, with the sentence that the authors removed highlighted:

You may inquire of the intelligent of the world whether they can tell why the aborigines of this country are dark, loathsome, ignorant, and sunken into the depths of degradation; and they cannot tell. I can tell you in a few words: They are the seed of Joseph, and belong to the household of God; and he will afflict them in this world, and save every one of them hereafter, even though they previously go into hell. When the Lord has a people, he makes covenants with them and gives unto them promises: then, if they transgress his law, change his ordinances, and break the covenants he has made with them, he will put a mark upon them, as in the case of the Lamanites and other portions of the house of Israel; but by-and-by they will become a white and delightsome people.

  • Why is this one missing sentence so important that it had to be removed by the authors? This was said in an era in which there was active debate in the scientific and Christian community as to whether all races came from a common ancestor, an argument that was ultimately settled by Darwinism. This sentence leaps out as a declaration that Native Americans are not just descended from Adam and Eve--they are from the favored seed of Joseph.
  • Thus, the authors' attempt to use Brigham Young's racist-sounding but unfortunately typical nineteenth-century verbiage as an indictment against the modern Church brings up the question of their intellectual integrity. We have learned from sad experience that when anti-Mormon writers use ellipses, it is most likely not because the information is irrelevant but because there is something which must be removed to keep the picture uniformly bleak and, well, titillating.


236-237

Claim
  • The authors claim that Brigham Young taught that unrighteousness would "result in a black skin."

Author's source(s)
Response
  • Brigham's quote,

I feel to bless this people, and they are a God-blessed people. Look at them, and see the difference from their condition a few years ago! Brethren who have been on missions, can you see any difference in this people from the time you went away until your return? [Voices: "Yes."] You can see men and women who are sixty or seventy years of ago looking young and handsome; but let them apostatize, and they will become gray-haired, wrinkled, and black, just like the Devil. If we will stand up as men and women of God, the yoke shall never be placed upon our necks again; and all hell cannot overthrow us, even with the United States to help them. It is not pleasant to the natural feelings to be obliged to talk in this manner about fellow-citizens with whom we have been reared; but when they act like the Devil, it is impossible for us to bow to their unjust and illegal mandates without becoming as corrupt as they are. It is an honour to resist the wicked; and my name will be had in, honour, and so will Joseph Smiths, and so will your names, for not bowing to their iniquitous doings.


The 1978 "Revelation" and the Seed of Cain

237

Claim
  • The authors claim that LDS believe that one's behavior in the preexistence determines race.

Author's source(s)
  • Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation, 1:61.
  • Smith, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, Section Six, 349.
  • Smith, Doctrines of Salvation, 1:64-66.
Response

237

Claim
  • The authors provide a list of racist statements made by past Church leaders.

Author's source(s)
Response
  • One statement alone, given by Bruce R. McConkie to Church seminary and institute teachers shortly after the 1978 revelation granting priesthood to all races, answers each and every objectionable statement or action that the authors can dredge up from bygone eras:

There are statements in our literature by the early brethren which we have interpreted to mean that the Negroes would not receive the priesthood in mortality. I have said the same things… All I can say to that is that it is time disbelieving people repented and got in line and believed in a living, modern prophet. Forget everything that I have said, or what President Brigham Young or President George Q. Cannon or whomsoever has said in days past that is contrary to the present revelation. We spoke with a limited understanding and without the light and knowledge that now has come into the world. We get our truth and our light line upon line and precept upon precept. We have now had added a new flood of intelligence and light on this particular subject, and it erases all the darkness, and all the views and all the thoughts of the past. They don't matter any more. It doesn't make a particle of difference what anybody ever said about the Negro matter before the first day of June of this year [1978]. It is a new day and a new arrangement, and the Lord has now given the revelation that sheds light out into the world on this subject. As to any slivers of light or any particles of darkness of the past, we forget about them. We now do what meridian Israel did when the Lord said the gospel should go to the gentiles. We forget all the statements that limited the gospel to the house of Israel, and we start going to the gentiles.[5]

  • Last and most important, the defining scripture that is binding on Latter-day Saints says, "he inviteth them all to come unto him and partake of his goodness; and he denieth none that come unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female; and he remembereth the heathen; and all are alike unto God, both Jew and Gentile."6
  • For a detailed response, see: Blacks and the priesthood


238

Claim
  • The authors misrepresent a quote from Joseph Smith. They only tell the reader of this portion: "Had I anything to do with the negro, I would confine them by strict law to their own species and put them on a national equalization."[6]:238

Response
  • Yet, Joseph Smith had preceded this remark by saying:

They came into the world slaves, mentally and physically. Change their situation with the whites, and they would be like them. They have souls, and are subjects of salvation. Go into Cincinnati or any city, and find an educated negro, who rides in his carriage, and you will see a man who has risen by the powers of his own mind to his exalted state of respectability. The slaves in Washington are more refined than many in high places, and the black boys will take the shine off many of those they brush and wait on.[6]:217

  • If the authors are seeking to truly inform and educate the reader concerning Mormonism, why would they not want to disclose this part of Joseph's thinking? In fact, why would they not want to elaborate on Joseph's revolutionary solution for abolishing slavery? Instead of commenting on the revulsion of Mormon leaders towards the widely accepted standard of abuse and cruelty, they choose only to make known the rather common thinking of the day that demanded races remain separate.


241

Claim
  • The authors leave out a portion of a sermon that again stands out favorably from the Christian practice of the day. The authors give the following portion of one of Brigham's fiery sermons condemning politicians. They offer the reader no background from which they can understand the rhetoric from the leader of a persecuted group watching their security threatened one more time when they are put in the middle of pro-slavery supporters and abolitionists:

Shall I tell you the law of God in regard to the African race? If the white man who belongs to the chosen seed mixes his blood with the seed of Cain, the penalty, under the law of God, is death on the spot. This will always be so.[7]


Response

  • Here is the portion of the sermon that the authors neglect to show the reader, however:

If the Government of the United States, in Congress assembled, had the right to pass an anti-polygamy bill, they had also the right to pass a law that slaves should not be abused as they have been; they had also a right to make a law that negroes should be used like human beings, and not worse than dumb brutes. For their abuse of that race, the whites will be cursed, unless they repent.[8]

  • Compare this to the views of the founder of American evangelicalism, George Whitefield, who "urged kinder treatment of slaves, but noted that cruelty can have the positive effect of heightening 'the sense of their natural misery,' thereby increasing receptivity to the Christian message."[9] Or the stories of "Christian slaveholders, including clergymen, 'brutalizing their slaves' which 'abound in the narratives of former slaves.'"[10]


A Doctrine that was Always to Be

241-242

Claim
  • Brigham said that blacks would not obtain the priesthood until the resurrection. This was reiterated by later LDS leaders.

Author's source(s)
  • Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses 2:143.
  • Milton R. Hunter, Pearl of Great Price Commentary, 142.
  • Smith, The Way to Perfection, 101.
  • Lund, The Church and the Negro, 45, 47, 104-105.
Response

Polygamy: One Man, Many Wives

244

Claim
  • The Book of Mormon condemns polygamy.

Response

245-246

Claim
  • The authors claim that Mormon leaders "taught that the practice of polygamy was necessary for man to receive exaltation, yet the majority of the membership remained monogamous." Brigham said that the "only men who become gods" would be those that practiced polygamy.

Author's source(s)
Response

246

Claim
  • The Doctrine and Covenants denied polygamy.

Response

248

Claim
  • Polygamy continued to be practiced in Utah after the Manifesto.

Author's source(s)
  • Van Wagoner, Mormon Polygamy, 155.
Response

Polygamy Today

249

Claim
  • The author state,

[T]hose who practice polygamy today are probably much more consistent with the teachings of Joseph Smith and Brigham Young than the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints that condemns them.


Response

  • Polygamy, as practiced by various groups today, is not "consistent with the teachings of Joseph Smith and Brigham Young."
  • For a detailed response, see: Polygamy


Notes

  1. 2 Nephi 5:21; quoted in Bill McKeever and Eric Johnson, Mormonism 101. Examining the Religion of the Latter-day Saints (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books, 2000), 234. ( Index of claims )
  2. Frederick K.C. Price, Race Religion and Racism: A Bold Encounter With Division in the Church (Los Angeles: Faith One Publishing, 1999), 149.
  3. Forrest G. Wood, The Arrogance of Faith: Christianity and Race in America from the Colonial Era to the Twentieth Century (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990), 88.
  4. Brigham Young, "Re-Organization of the High Council, Etc.," (8 October 1859) Journal of Discourses 7:336., partially quoted in McKeever and Johnson, Mormonism 101, 235.
  5. Bruce R. McConkie, "All Are Alike unto God," an address to a Book of Mormon Symposium for Seminary and Institute teachers, Brigham Young University, 18 August 1978.
  6. 6.0 6.1 Joseph Smith, History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 7 volumes, edited by Brigham H. Roberts, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1957). Volume 5 link
  7. Brigham Young, "The Persecutions of the Saints, Etc.," (8 March 1863) Journal of Discourses 10:110., quoted in McKeever and Johnson, Mormonism 101, 241.
  8. Brigham Young, "The Persecutions of the Saints, Etc.," (8 March 1863) Journal of Discourses 10:111.
  9. Richard O. Emerson and Christian Smith, Divided by Faith: Evangelical Religion and the Problem of Race in America (New York: Oxford University Press, 2000), 26
  10. Albert J. Raboteau, Slave Religion: The "Invisible Institution" in the Antebellum South (New York: Oxford University Press, 1978), 167.


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