I’m the daughter of a mixed-race couple. I left the Mormon Church because of the racism in its past. Why would there be (in my opinion) racism within ‘the Lord’s church’? I’m very passionate about this – and my own story, so I have to speak up. What am I to understand about the “curse of Cain” theories?


6 Responses to “I’m the daughter of a mixed-race couple. I left the Mormon C…”

Daniel Rios
August 27, 2009

Hi Anonymous. I don’t know when you left the Church; it may be that you’re simply not familiar with modern trends in Mormonism.

You say, “why would there be (in my opinion) racism within ‘The Lord’s Church.’” I, of course, completely agree with you that God is not racist. I ask, though, what church or group of millions of people is entirely free of racists? Are your expectations reasonable? Just because God is at the head of the Church does not mean that He controls us all like puppets. Those within the church who are racists are clearly acting contrary to God’s will. As much has been said over the pulpit at General Conference.

Beyond that, what church does not have some institutional racism in its past? Catholics had the inquisition, which targeted Jews; Protestants used the “curse of Cain” doctrine to justify slavery; Martin Luther, the founder of Protestantism, was an anti-Semite, etc, etc.

At some point we need to acknowledge that people and peoples can change. We shouldn’t forget past racism, nor should we ignore the problem when it creeps up now days, but it’s simply unfair to condemn the Church when so much has changed.

It’s also unfair to focus only on the negative. While it is true that Mormons, like most peoples, have struggled with racism in the past, we have also been quite extraordinary in many instances. Joseph Smith, for example, was remarkably ahead of his time.

You say, “I’m very passionate about this – and my own story, so I have to speak up.” I can completely sympathize. It’s my story too, since I’m married to a lovely African American woman. I’m also passionate about this issue. My experience has been very different from yours, perhaps because I am still a member of the Church and so have a more up-to-date perspective. The simple fact of the matter is that in my own story, racism has not played a prominent role. My wife and I have always been welcomed and accepted by our ward families, and by my extended (Caucasian) family, including the grandparents, who have overcome and buried past attitudes.

I’ll leave you with a few quotes about the “curse of Cain” that you might find interesting:

“And 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 [theologically] 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…” Bruce R. McConkie, in 1978.

“One clear-cut position is that the folklore must never be perpetuated. … I have to concede to my earlier colleagues. … They, I’m sure, in their own way, were doing the best they knew to give shape to [the priesthood-ban policy], to give context for it, to give even history to it. All I can say is however well intended the explanations were, I think almost all of them were inadequate and/or wrong. … But some explanations were given and had been given for a lot of years. … At the very least, there should be no effort to perpetuate those efforts to explain why that ‘doctrine’ existed…” Elder Dallin H. Oaks, of the Twelve, in a PBS interview, regarding the racial theories of Brigham Young and others.

“I remind you that no man who makes disparaging remarks concerning those of another race can consider himself a true disciple of Christ. Nor can he consider himself to be in harmony with the teachings of the Church of Christ. How can any man holding the Melchizedek Priesthood arrogantly assume that he is eligible for the priesthood whereas another who lives a righteous life but whose skin is of a different color is ineligible? … Brethren, there is no basis for racial hatred among the priesthood of this Church. If any within the sound of my voice is inclined to indulge in this, then let him go before the Lord and ask for forgiveness…” Gordon B. Hinckley, prophet and president of the LDS Church, in 2006.

August 27, 2009

I’m so happy that racism has not affected you. I don’t think that LDS people are racist, what a crazy generalization. I just worry about some of the doctrines of the church. I have received countless e-mails and comments from very active, strong in their faith LDS people who are uncomfortable with this history. Sure it’s true that nearly every church has some history of racism, but are they claiming to be God’s true church, like the LDS church does? Besides, the church needs to acknowledge past mistakes. And what about the quote from Spencer W. Kimball in the Aaronic Priesthood Manual and the BYU Marriage Preparation manual? When I talked to my stake president about the quote, he gave some confusing answer about the curse of Cain. It’s all folklore that no one buys anymore when a member of a stake presidency at BYU of all places is still perpetuating it? My decision has been to walk out of a faith because I am a proud African Americans woman.

Daniel Rios
August 27, 2009

Hi Anonymous. Thanks for your thoughtful response. The truth is that many Churches claim to be God’s true church. It’s a common claim made by Catholics, many Protestant denominations (think Evangelicals), Muslims, etc. I don’t doubt that you heard “this is the true Church” often when you were LDS, but how often did you hear claims that the leaders of the church were perfect or infallible? I think you may have misunderstood what being the “true church” means. It doesn’t mean leaders never make mistakes. Even in Christ’s time, church leaders were not perfect. I seem to recall Peter, the chief apostle, denying Christ three times. To be a mouthpiece is not to be a puppet.

How can you claim that the Church has not acknowledged past mistakes and repudiated past policies in light of the quotes I provided, made by high-ranking church authorities, and in one instance even the prophet himself?

I’m afraid I’m not aware of the Spencer W. Kimball quote to which you’re referring. Could you please clarify? I’m not familiar with the BYU Marriage Prep manual, but it wouldn’t surprise me too much to learn that a rogue professor chose to teach outdated ideas. I know that some BYU professors still teach against evolution, for example. These professors should be corrected, but that hardly makes their teachings “official” from the viewpoint of the institutional Church.

“[How can you say that] it’s all folklore that no one buys anymore when a member of a stake presidency at BYU of all places is still perpetuating it, and no one in is correcting it.”

Unfortunately, without knowing what quote you refer to and without being privy to the conversation you had with your Stake President (both sides, his and yours), I can’t really comment on what happened. For the sake of argument, however, let’s suppose that your Stake President did err in this case. If prophets are not infallible, are Stake Presidents? If an apostle openly proclaims that the old racist ideas are “folklore” and not “doctrine,” and a Stake President *implies* otherwise, which has more authority to speak for the institutional Church? Had I been present at your meeting, I would have emphatically challanged the Stake President who spoke about the “curse.” I know many other Mormons, including, apparently, Dallin H. Oaks and Gordon B. Hinckley, who would do the same.

For the record, I’m not making the argument that no one buys the “curse of Cain” idea any more. I’m making the argument that most do not, and that the institutional church does not.

“I’m so happy that racism has not affected you. I don’t think that LDS people are racist, what a crazy generalization.”

I think we agree on this issue, acknowledging, of course, that there are some few racists in our ranks. The question seems to be if the church *as an institution* is racist, i.e. does it officially proclaim racist doctrines? In my experience as a member for over 25 years, the modern church does not.

“I have received countless e-mails and comments from very active, strong in their faith LDS people who are uncomfortable with this history.”

I am certainly one of the active LDS people who is uncomfortable with the history! The question at hand, however, is whether or not the modern Church still espouses the old ideas about race. It does not.

“My decision has been to walk out of a faith that did not serve to uplift me, and as a proud African Americans woman. Sorry, couldn’t do it.”

I respect your decision to leave, but you must know that there are many African-American women, including my wife, who are proud of both their Mormon and their African heritage. It is not inevitable that one must choose between the two. I feel that it is insulting to suggest as much, given the many noble Mormon women of African descent that I personally know and love.

Daniel Rios
August 27, 2009

Hey Anonymous. Thanks for your message. I appreciate your follow up with the specifics of the quote. While that quote certainly doesn’t sit right with me (as much because of the economic and social suggestions as because of the racial suggestion), I’m not entirely convinced that it is racist. It’s full of qualifiers like “recommend,” “generally,” and “not an absolute necessity,” which don’t have the “absolutist” tone you generally get with racist remarks. Taken in context, it’s pretty clear that the idea is that you should marry someone somewhat similar to yourself to minimize potential conflicts. Right or wrong, Pres. Kimball wasn’t saying that those of other races are inferior, which is what would constitute racism. Besides, President Kimball was the one that received the revelation to lift the priesthood ban; he would be an unlikely racist.

For what it’s worth, I’m pretty sure Pres. Kimball was referring to interracial marriages with Native Americans when he made the statement you cite, not marriages with African Americans. He clarified the motives behind his thinking, which were clearly not racist, elsewhere:

Cultural differences pose dangers for marriage. When I said you must teach your people to overcome their prejudices and accept the Indians, I did not mean that you would encourage intermarriage. I mean that they should be brothers, to worship together and to work together and to play together; but we must discourage intermarriage, not because it is sin. I would like to make this very emphatic. A couple has not committed sin if an Indian boy and a white girl are married, or vice versa. It isn’t a transgression like the transgressions of which many are guilty. But it is not expedient. Marriage statistics and our general experience convince us that marriage is not easy. It is difficult when all factors are favorable. The divorces increase constantly, even where the spouses have the same general background of race, religion, finances, education, and otherwise. The interrace marriage problem is not one of inferiority or superiority. It may be that your son is better educated and may be superior in his culture, and yet it may be on the other hand that she is superior to him. It is a matter of backgrounds. The difficulties and hazards of marriage are greatly increased where backgrounds are different…” ~ Spencer W. Kimball, “The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball,” p.303.

You are right that this quote does appear in the current Aaronic Priesthood Manual, which has not been updated in nearly 15 years (ouch!). I’d be surprised if this quote made it into the next edition, which is probably long overdue, because it is so confusing. By reading the quote in context, however, we can see that the manual is likewise not racist. Following the quote, this question appears in the manual: “Why is it important for a couple to have a similar economic, educational, and cultural background?” I think it is telling that “racial” is not included in this followup list. The manual clearly has the same intent as President Kimball’s original statement: we should minimize differences to maximize relationship success. Right or wrong, President Kimball in 1976 apparently thought racial differences could impact a marriage, but, at least in 1995, the Church seems to have distanced itself somewhat from that idea.

A few years back I moved from Utah to San Diego. As random luck would have it, a lot of the new friends I made were Asian, many of them born in the U.S. I noticed that my Asian friends tended to date mostly other Asians. This struck me as a little racist at first, but I quickly realized that my friends were not racists. They were always very friendly with me, always treated me with respect and clearly didn’t think I was inferior. Perhaps they shared Pres. Kimball’s opinion that it’s best to minimize differences, even racial differences, to maximize relationship success.

I still think the idea is antiquated, though, even if it is common. I agree with Pres. Kimball that it’s a good idea to try to marry someone like yourself, though I think racial differences are becoming increasingly irrelevant in our modern society, certainly more irrelevant than they were in 1976. Note that there are no quotes from church leaders in recent years that echo Pres. Kimball’s 1976 sentiment. I think that’s telling.

Hope this helps.

Pamela Dean
August 31, 2009

I, too, had a difficult time with this part of the church’s history when I was investigating the church and even for the first few years after becoming a member. Over the years, however, after much studying and research both of church materials and general historical items, I have come to terms with it and have developed a greater understanding of it as well as many other often contentious issues. Not being of African descent, I cannot say I understand how you feel, because I don’t. There is no way I could. But I do know that America’s history in this regard is still very much present in your life. With regards to this particular issue, even though I do not personally like that people of African heritage could not hold the priesthood, I now better understand why this was so when the greater historical picture is examined.

There are no words to describe how unfortunate it was that some people hundreds of years ago decided that people from Africa should be slaves. Slavery has been a part of many cultures for thousands of years, and there are instances of slavery recorded in scripture. In our enlightened day, we can see that this is wrong, but for those peoples it was a way of life. That doesn’t make it right by any means.

Elijah Abel

At the time that Joseph Smith restored the church in America in 1830, slavery was still an accepted practice by many people. At that time, and even into the 1960s and early 1970s the issue of race in america was such a divisive issue. Blacks were free to join the church throughout this period, and many did. Until 1848 blacks had all the same privileges as any other worthy member of the church. In fact, the prophet appointed his adopted brother – who was of African heritage – Elijah Abel (1810-1882) to the Third Quorum of the Seventy in 1839, a position he served in until his death. Walker Lewis of Massachusetts was ordained an elder, and was one of the founders of the American Abolishionist Society which sought to end slavery in America. During 1844-1845, the presiding elder of the church in boston was Joseph T. Ball, an African-American. It is clear that though Joseph Smith had agreed with slavery before 1830, he had changed his mind as he understood more the work of the Lord.

After Joseph was martyred in 1844, Brigham Young became the prophet. At first, all indications are that Brigham also saw no difference in the worthiness of blacks and non-blacks. It is recorded that several black men were ordained elders, received the priesthood, and received their endowments after Brigham became the prophet. So what happened to change this practice?

A little known part of church history is known as the ‘McCary incident’. Apparently, in 1847 a half-black priesthood holder declared himself to be a prophet of God, claimed that he was Adam re-incarnated, set about seducing women in the church and telling them that they were Eve re-incarnated, and that they were commanded to multiply and replenish the earth with him. Brigham was enraged. This incident – and in my opinion only probably coupled with his pre-Mormon views and the views of society in general – led to his preaching of the Curse of Cain in 1848. This included the following points:

1. The curse could only be removed by the Lord.

2. Those of African descent were banned from holding the priesthood.

3. They were the children of Cain, and the mark of Cain was the colour of their skin.

As unfortunate as this was – and this is a difficult thing to hear or even acknowledge – church growth would probably have been severely stunted in the United States if blacks were able to hold the priesthood after this time. The racism that existed particularly in the Southern states would probably have meant persecution of those men and their families, church members who supported them, and the church itself. Even though slavery was officially abolished in America in the 1860s, those racist attitudes continued to flourish well into the 1970s and in some places in America, even today.

Now change continents…. Apartheid was happening in South Africa. The church was non-existent there and throughout much of Africa. This caused much anguish for church leaders. They had hundreds if not thousands of African men and women begging for the church to come to them. One African man found a Book of Mormon in the garbage and was holding meetings and sharing the gospel with others before he even knew what it was. Tremendous stories of faith and belief and testimony were borne. Yet, congregations were not officially organized by church leaders.

But society changed. We are given things line upon line and precept upon precept, both in our own undestandings and in the church as a whole. Take the Word of Wisdom. When first announced, it was basically a suggestion. When most of the first generation of latter-day saints had passed on, it became a commandment. A hundred years after the abolishment of slavery no one was left alive who had witnessed it personally. Society was removed from it, and could look back, see it for what it was, and work on changing the laws and ideals of the land to reflect a better way of thinking. The civil rights movement was the result of this. When society had shown a significant change, the prophet prayed on his knees for days begging the Lord to allow all worthy men to receive the priesthood, received revelation that it was to be so, and was accepted unanimously and immediately by all church leaders. And, as Brigham said, the “curse” would be lifted by the Lord, and it was lifted through revelation.

This unanimous acceptance is reflective of the latter-day saint beliefs on the matter all along. Fairmormon.org lists the following items:

  • Officialy church doctrine never held that blacks were less than human or without souls, as some denominations did.
  • Joseph Smith taught that any mental or economic weakness suffered by blacks was not due to any in-born defect, but simply due to not having ample opportunity to advance and receive the same education as whites.
  • Church members were overwhelmingly abolitionist and were even persecuted and driven out because of their anti-slavery leanings.
  • The church never had segregated congregations; all members worshipped together.
  • The church supported equal civil rights for many years before the 1978 revelation: to the church, the issue of priesthood was not one of civil rights or granting status, but of revelation.
  • Sociologic studies demonstrated that pre-1978 mormons were no more or less racist than their contemporaries.

Church members of African descent have their own auxiliary unit, which was organized on october 19, 1971. It is still very much an active unit within the church, and is overseen by a member of the area seventy. It’s purpose is “to strengthen members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints by supporting and edifying black members, their families and friends, and individuals interested in the church.”

Perhaps if you contacted the Genesis Group they could give you much better insight than I ever could, they having more of an understanding of your background having shared it themselves. None of this information I have written condones anything that happened to people of African descent in our church’s history, nor does it negate the feelings you have. But I hope it gives you some more insight. Perhaps the questions to ask are whether you believe Joseph Smith was a prophet of God and whether the Book of Mormon is true. If you do, then I pray that you will not let the past affect your eternal progression. You are a beloved daughter of our Heavenly Father. He loves you, and wants you to return to him. One final note… The church today is far from it’s 1848 to 1978 ban on the priesthood. Elder Joseph W. Sitati of Nairobi, Kenya, was called recently to the First Quorum of the Seventy. Freebody A. Mensah of Takoradi, Ghana, and Hesbon O. Usi of Nairobi, Kenya, were called as Area Seventies at the same time. And elder Helvecio Martins of Brazil served from April 1990 to September 1995 in the Second Quorum of the Seventy. I’m sure there are others.

August 27, 2009

Here’s the quote: “We recommend that people marry those who are of the same racial background generally, and of somewhat the same economic and social and educational background (some of those are not an absolute necessity, but preferred), and above all, the same religious background, without question” (“Marriage and Divorce,” in 1976 Devotional Speeches of the Year [Provo: Brigham Young University Press, 1977], p. 144).

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